Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Pearl

Having read and taught John Steinbeck, I know that his stories pack a punch, no matter the length. As with Of Mice and Men, The Pearl proves good things come in little packages. This book has long sat on my shelf and that is why it ended up on my 2014 TBR Pile Challenge.

The Pearl is the retelling of an old Mexican folk tale in which the main character, Kino, finds a magnificent pearl and instantly begins speaking of all the great things he and his wife and child will do and have because of it. His dreams are neither overly greedy nor unrealistic. He wishes for new clothes (which they sorely need), a rifle, and an education for his son. However, by the standards of the time and their poverty, Kino's fortune breeds jealousy and greed in those around him and begins to distort his reality, which leads to trials and tragedy in only a couple days' time.

The story definitely teaches a lesson about the effect of money on a person and those around him/her. Although a good resource, not only will money not solve your problems, it may cause worse problems.

Are you a John Steinbeck fan? Which of his works have you read? The Grapes of Wrath is also one of my reading goals for this year.

Begin the Week with Words

One of my favorite books so far this year, recently reviewed here.

"...for tyranny to flourish all it required was the complicity of good men." The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North

Friday, March 28, 2014

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North
Publisher: Redhook
Publication date: April 8, 2014
Category: Literature/Fiction
Source: I received this e-galley from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Yes, the blog has been kinda quiet - quieter than usual. But I've been working my tail off finishing my teacher portfolio, wrapping up grades, and dealing with the Seniors' graduation projects. And in between all that, reading a really good book! Not only good, but the longest book I've ever read completely on my Kindle - and fiction at that. (Breaking all kinds of records for myself here...typically mid-sized nonfiction is my Kindle fare).

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August caught my eye because the summary (and title) talks about a man who dies and is born again, repeating the process of death to birth over and over, unable to die. I loved Kate Atkinson's Life After Life and so I didn't hesitate to jump on this one.

And Claire North didn't disappoint. Like Atkinson's Ursula Todd, Harry August is reborn after every death; however, he keeps the knowledge of his previous lives and therefore, catches on much quicker than Ursula, returning to his next life completely aware of events, places, and people he'd experienced previously. He spends centuries learning, doing, and becoming various things - somewhat selfish pursuits at times, but when you've more than enough years to spare, why not?

Also unlike Ursula, Harry is not alone. There are numerous of his kind, usually living quiet lives so as not to disturb the regular flow of the world. But there are others who live for their own purposes, regardless of the havoc it may cause around them. At the end of his 11th life, a little girl (one of his kind, recently restarting another life) approaches Harry with a message - the world is ending. How? Why? What is Harry to do with this information in his next life? As the Amazon summary says, "This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow."

If you liked Life After Life, you should read this. If you didn't, read this one anyway. It's different in set up, purpose, and writing style.

Did you like Life After Life? Aren't you curious how two novels on the same topic would compare?

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Returned are Resurrected

NOTE: Possible spoilers. I try not give events away straight out, however my ponderings may imply or lead to a spoiler in some way, especially about the ending. Read at your own risk. 

I've been meaning to read The Returned, by Jason Mott, and the beginning of the series Resurrection based on The Returned seemed like perfect timing. The series is only three episodes in, but so far there is very little similar.

The Returned are specifically people who have come back from the dead. These Returned recall their last moments, but all they remember from there is waking up again. The story focuses on the Hargrave family, Harold and Lucille, and the return of their eight-year-old son Jacob, who had died fifty years before. (In between every chapter is a mini story of a Returned person's experience. These stories gave small insights into how the Returned felt or how the True Living - those who never died - reacted, but didn't really add up to anything in the end.)

Soon the Returned begin to rise in number, frightening many people just because of the unnaturalness of it all and causing the government to act. The government forms a bureau whose job it is to round up the Returned and keep them locked up in a camp of sorts. With the large number of returned being shipped in, the Hargrave's town is soon taken over by the government and the True Living are soon living as sad and confusing a life as the Returned kept inside the fenced areas.

I kept waiting for an answer. A why or how this was taking place. When I was fifty pages from the end and still could not see any glimpse of an answer forthcoming, the story began to fall flat. Even with some action popping up at the end, the answers themselves still never came. And as mysteriously as the Returned appeared, they begin to disappear again. And that is the end of that.

I was quite disappointed because I felt the story idea had so much potential...which is why I suppose it was picked up as a TV series. The series begins with a focus on Jacob and his family, but adds other Returned and changes some character relationships that are never present in the book. However, because of the book's absolute inability to answer the stirring questions, I feel any changes the series makes are justified and necessary. I know that sounds harsh, but I just couldn't understand how this book could end without a single word to explain it.

Has a book left you completely disappointed because it didn't live up to its potential?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

This reminds me of a line I heard in a movie once: Life is what you make of it, so make it a good one. Certain things in life are above your choosing, but it's your choices that will make your life what it is.

"Her life was her own, and a life could be a good one, or it could be one of empty wishing for more, for something different." 
The House Girl, by Tara Conklin

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The House Girl

I am so excited! First of all, I finished grading all of my essays and book projects! I sat down and just. kept. going. AND this is the third read-a-long type event I've successfully completed this year! I usually get behind or don't start at all. Everyone's picking really good books too! I just finished The House Girl, by Tara Conklin, for Katie's read-a-long (at Words For Worms). If you'd like to join in, there's still time. She will post the discussion at the end of March.

There are a few things I liked about this story. First is the dual narrative, told between slave Josephine Bell in the mid-1800s and lawyer Lina Swallow in the present day, post 9/11. As a slave, Josephine's story is probably one you've heard before, but no less tragic because of it. Lina is a lawyer working on a precedent setting case dealing with reparation of slavery, where she discovers Josephine's history. As the two women's stories unfold they not only give insight to themselves, but also to each other.

Which is the other piece of this story I enjoyed. The characters are all searching and neither time nor place interferes with the familiar story human existence has played out over the centuries. Your past, your present, and what you hope for in the future, all pieces we replay in our minds or search for anywhere we think possible. This similarity despite time binds the characters together and affects Lina in a drastic way.

And for those of you who love how recent stories have included art or music as centers to their stories, The House Girl's characters and events center in part around artwork from the pre-Civil War years and the question as to who is the real artist.

And look at the beautiful cover! Love it!

Art, slavery, search for self...this story has what it takes to make a gripping story. Do you usually find southern Civil War era based stories interesting?

Monday, March 17, 2014

There's a Madness to March

Well, I'm at least a good week away from a decent post here on My Life in Books. It seems every March my life goes to madness, which of course means my reading has to be put on hold. This year I've decided to break my work up and use reading as my reward for getting stuff done. Lol, yea it's all in my head, but it works.

At work it is the month that the Senior Class finishes their graduation projects, of which I am in charge. They all seem to rush around with many last minute needs and finish in the same week. Luckily, I have a fellow teacher who helps me check them off and between the two of us we have a system down. It just takes some time.

It's also the end of the third grading period, so I'm finishing up some big lessons, which happen to be writing lessons. I'm proud of my students' work recently, but last weekend I had 80 essays. I graded 40 over last weekend, 20 during this past week, and still have 20 - my plan for tonight actually. If I can get these 20 done, I get to spend my free time tomorrow reading :)

Also, end of this nine weeks is when I do an independent novel project with my older students. They had eight weeks to read any book they wanted and pick one of six projects from which to tell/show me about their book. I have about 40 of those to grade by the end of March. These are cool though because it's fun to see how creative the students can be or what they thought of the books they read on their own.

Other than work, life is quiet, which I'm going to take advantage of and get this grading done! In the midst of this, I am reading The House Girl, by Tara Conklin. It is just getting good and I can't wait to finish it up and share my thoughts. I've also gone a little crazy requesting some ARCs, but I've been trying to space them out over the upcoming months.

So far I have:
The First Fifteen lives of Harry August - April 8th
The Here and Now - April 8th
All the Light We Cannot See - May 6th
I Kill the Mockingbird - May 20th
Closed Doors - May 20th

Two I have requested but haven't yet received approval for are:
The Word Exchange - April 8th
North of Normal - June 24th

So, know I am around and still reading when I can and I'll be back to the blog ASAP! Any books you have out for review in the upcoming months?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

The last piece of wisdom I gleaned from the Divergent series.

"There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater.

But sometimes it doesn't.

Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life.

                                                                                                              Allegiant, by Veronica Roth

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Visible City

Visible City, by Tova Mirvis
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: March 18, 2014
Category: Literature/Fiction
Source: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review.

When asked if I would review Visible City, this piece of Amazon's summary caught my attention: " intimate and provocative novel about three couples whose paths intersect in their New York City neighborhood, forcing them all to weigh the comfort of stability against the costs of change." As with two books I've recently read for review (Paris, Rue des Martyrs and Wake), Visible City contains one of my favorite plot points - seemingly disconnected characters' lives cross, uniting their different stories into one.

The story begins with Nina, who lives with her husband and two kids in an apartment on the Upper West Side of New York City. With her husband working all hours and two little kids, she isn't able to leave the apartment for a night life, "but it was enough to look out [the window] at the varieties of other people's lives." This phrase instantly seized me, especially when soon after the narration stated: "Nina might be home with her kids, another interminable night with Jeremy at work, but she was also outside, part of the thrumming city." Both sentiments reminiscent of Nick Carraway's commentary in The Great Gatsby: "I was within and without…enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life" as he too looks out over the city and into other windows in wonder of who he is and who others are beyond their appearances.

The story becomes a journey as each character, unhappy in his or her own way, seeks refuge in the lives of others, assuming these others have it all figured out. Nina feels trapped at home while her husband gets to have a life outside their home and all the while her husband feels trapped on his job of long hours with no time for anything else. Claudia and Leon have long felt alone and their grown daughter Emma seems at a loss for what her has become and what it should be. A small cast of other characters intersect the lives of these families as well, all allowing the reader a view of their various searches for and findings of life. Overall, the story is enjoyable and the intersecting of their lives works well.

Any books you'd recommend that have characters with overlapping lives/stories?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Zombie Gardening

Zombie Gardening, by Adam Kessel
Publisher: Severed Press
Publication date: November 14, 2013
Category: Nonfiction
Source: I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. (And I will be completely honest, even though he sent me a signed copy! There's an author who understands a reader!)

Okay, the title throws you off a little bit. Jennine, who keeps distance from all things horror, is reviewing a zombie book? If you've been reading here or know me at all, you know that I would typically give an instant 'no' to a book that slightly sounds or looks like horror, monsters, etc. The year I finally read Twilight, it had taken my students that entire school year to convince me to even read the first page! It is the word 'gardening' in this title that made me stop and check it out before saying no.

My kids have a DS/XBox game called Plants vs Zombies. I've watched them play and it seems like a pretty decent game compared to all the violent and weird alternatives. Zombies are attacking a house, going through the backyard, and the only thing there to save the people inside are the plants and gardening tools, who fight it out with the zombies in the backyard. So, my mind immediately goes to this game and wonders about connections. Turns out that Zombie Gardening has a pretty similar idea, although it is nonfiction and completely useful with ingenious marketing.

The summary from Amazon, which is also on the back cover of the book, is too well written for me to mangle it in a summary of my own words: "In a post-apocalyptic world, food is scarce and most mammals will be partially consumed by the undead, leaving infected ravenous beasts waiting to make a quick meal out of any of your appendages. This is coupled with the uncertainty that the very meat that you hope to make your dinner may in fact carry the sickness, making you prone to infection. There is no doubt that the zombie apocalypse will complicate your evening dinner. But through all this terror, there are silent advocates for the survival of the willing. Only the ones that walk softly with purpose will see them. They are the plants that have been growing in the alleys, sidewalks, vacant lots, and backyards. They were here before the outbreak and they will be here long after. Zombies have no attention or interest in this detail. These small advocates for your survival will remain untouched and uninfected. This book will help you to better understand your neighborhood and all the botanical secrets that it holds, which are vital to your survival."

Ingenious right? A botanic book, of which there are many, but marketed to a specific audience - the Zombie Apocalypsers - that happens to be large and obsessed right now. (And if you don't know about these people, you need to crawl out from under your rock...although that rock may be a good hiding place when the zombies take over.) My first thought was, "My students will love this." Talk about coincidence...I just had a group of thirty kids who wanted to start a survival club, specifically designed to survive the zombie apocalypse. For a few reasons both obvious and not, they weren't able to, but zombie apocalypse or not, the survival information is a relevant skill. I recognized a number of plants in this book that have grown in my backyard all of my life, never knowing how useful they could be.

I recently acquired a book called Zombie Notes, which is a book of Cliff Note type summaries of classics, but with zombies added to the storylines. Students loved it. And look at the raging popularity of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. There's no doubt, zombies are the thing right now and Kessel found a great way to take advantage of it and in the process, possibly interest people in a topic of great value. I recommend it for any zombie/monster/horror lover in your life. Or even someone who wants a short and easy guide to plants useable as food and medicine.

Do you know your plants? Or do you know your zombies? I'm a plant person myself, but the first mention of zombies and I'm headed out to bunker down in WalMart!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Begin the Week with Words


I think the quote below is a pretty amazing take on love, especially for a YA book. No offense to Roth or the YA genre, but generally you get an obsessive or lustful love...this statement tells it like it is. Love is work sometimes.

"I used to think that when people fell in love, they just landed where they landed, and they had no choice in the matter afterward...

...But I don't just stay with him by default as if there's no one else available to me. I stay with him because I choose to, every day that I wake up, every day that we fight or lie to each other or disappoint each other. I chose him over and over again, and he chooses me." 

Allegiant, by Veronica Roth

Thursday, March 6, 2014

King's March: The Shawshank Redemption

I'm a late comer to the Stephen King fan club, mainly because I'm not a fan of anything scary, especially monster-like/horror scary. I can say I actually tried a few in high school: Misery and Carrie, which weren't so bad. Most of Stephen King's iconic work permeates the novel and movie fronts, making it hard to not know his stories, regardless of whether or not you've read or seen them. When I started reading more widely across genres and authors, I found that King had a memoir and some great literary fiction as well. On Writing, his memoir of writing, was the first book I read. And of course, I'd seen the movie version of The Green Mile and loved it, however sad it is. My favorite King read so far is 11/22/63, the time travel novel that coincides with the assassination of JFK.

So, I was more than happy to join Wensend and Fourth Street Review for their March reading event, King's March, in which bloggers will read Stephen King books and link up on their blogs weekly to share their thoughts. This gave me the chance to read a story I'd been curious about for awhile. I decided to read Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, a King short story that may be better known by its movie title, "The Shawshank Redemption." At only 77 pages, it didn't take long at all and was worth it.

In King's short story, Red is the man who can "get things" in Shawshank prison. This sets him up as the perfect narrator because everyone knows him and he knows everyone. Red gives his own background story, the intentional murder of his wife and incidentally, the accidental death of the neighbor woman and her child, in a car with weakened brakes. He then begins to talk about Andy Dufresne, a banker who was found guilty of murdering his wife and her lover. From the start Andy claims innocence, which is hard for any of the inmates to believe. Andy begins the next twenty-some years being abused by fellow prisoners. He soon finds his groove when he begins helping prison guards get the most from their taxes and the warden's money laundering. He becomes important within the prison and is allowed to open a library, also gaining the protection of the guards from the torture of other inmates. Andy becomes so important that it seems the warden will do anything to make sure he never leaves Shawshank, even when a clear opportunity arises.

What no one knows about is Andy's secret activity...not even Red, who is closer to him than anyone. However, I don't want to spoil it, in case you've neither read this story, nor seen the movie. It is too good to know the ending ahead of time.

I have to say, the movie did a satisfactory job at keeping to the story. Of course, having seen the movie countless times, I imagined Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins playing the roles of Red and Andy throughout. Even when the story revealed to me that the character of Red is an Irsihman, therefore also a white man, I still preferred Morgan Freeman...he's the bomb! And honestly, I'd say make sure you see the movie! They changed a few things and even removed a few years and characters to make the movie flow, but overall, the entire story is intact and I much prefer the justice of the movie's ending to that of the story. (And you know you don't hear the movie preference from me often!) Guess you'll just have to read and watch to see what I mean.

What's your experience with Stephen king's short stories?

Monday, March 3, 2014


Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant...a trilogy I put off reading for a long time, only to gobble it up in a week and a half. Divergent was my favorite of the three, leading me to read Insurgent in two days. Allegiant only took me a few days itself and, I'm happy to report, I didn't think it was as bad as everyone led me to believe.

Allegiant picks up with the characters' reactions to the amazing secret with which Insurgent ends...making it a little difficult for me to discuss here without spoilers. When members of the city think they've found a way to solve their problems, they soon find they have landed in a whole other mess. Let's just say, that a few more acts of revolution take place throughout the book.

I didn't read any actual reviews of Allegiant, only hearing people say "yay" or "nay" around the book world, but if I had to take a guess, I think what people may have seen in Allegiant is a winding down of action. What can you expect though? A book that is the end of a revolution has to wind it all down. I do think Allegiant is better than Mockingjay, the conclusion to the Hunger Games trilogy. I felt Mockingjay was rushed and wrapped up just for the sake of being done. Allegiant at least felt like it came together at a rightful pace for its purpose.

The other difference in Allegiant is the dual narrative. Tobias takes turns with the first person narration, instead of solely having Tris narrate as she did in the first two books. There is a very good reason for the switch to a dual narration, one I wonder if Roth didn't have planned from the beginning, which is why the dual narration only shows up in Allegiant. (Not to mention that there are four short stories written from Tobias's point of view coming this summer.) At first, it is hard to remember that someone else is narrating when one specific character narrated for two whole previous books, but not so bad overall.

So I liked Allegiant, although not as much as the first two. Oh, and I've never been one who needs a happy ending, but honestly, I was pulling for one here and'll have to read to see if I got what I wished for!

Do you think the last book of a series is naturally different than the others in the series? Maybe it's more a trilogy thing?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

The Divergent series has had some good one-liner looks into human nature:

"Human reason can excuse any evil; that is why it's so important that we don't rely on it." Divergent, by Veronica Roth


"Sometimes," he says, "people just want to be happy, even if it's not real." Insurgent, Veronica Roth