"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

75 best books of the past 75 years---Parade Magazine

I've been reading Parade Magazine, stuffed into our Sunday newspaper, as long as I can remember. I've always enjoyed it with its little newsy section on celebrities, its recipes, numbrix, and, of course, its one longer article on some topic of interest. This past Sunday that longer article of interest was written by Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto, and the topic was the 75 best books of the past 75 years in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the magazine. I, of course, just gobbled it up, then went to the webpage to get more details on the selections. When Ann Patchett was initially asked to create the list she said no. She didn't want her email stuffed with angry letters demanding answers as to why she hadn't selected this or that book. Then she decided to tackle the challenge as long as she could get input from others working at her bookstore in Nashville. What they decided upon is certainly the best, or some of the best, books of the last 75 years. Though I would argue that a few were left off. I guess there is no perfect list.

(Open in a new tab so you will also have this page open at the same time.)

Ann said the committee decided to only select books written by Americans but one gal threatened to quit if Harry Potter wasn't on the list, so they decided to qualify for the list the book had to be written in English. Also, since they are drawing from only 75 years forward, some shocking books aren't on the list like Gatsby and Grapes of Wrath. Even though 75 years is a long time, the list seems surprisingly modern without any of the old white guys on it (Dickens, James, Fitzgerald, etc.)

Here is a link to my page, a re-creation of the PDF of the original list. On it I have placed stars next to the 29 books I've read. Sadly I've read none of the poetry listed and only a few of the nonfiction: Jaqueline Woodsen's memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming; Stephen King's On Writing; and Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, thanks to Carly and her AP US History class. Other notable books I am happy to see are---
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, my favorite book from childhood by a mile; 
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, possibly the funniest book I've ever read; 
  • Brideshead Revisited, a personal favorite which I rarely see on any lists of best books; 
  • and of course, the whole Harry Potter series. 
Pratchett mentioned that the Harry Potter series got a whole generation of children reading again, so, of course it had to be on the list.  It is every librarian's dream that another series as exciting and spectacularly written would come along for this new generation.

Of the book I've not read, the most intriguing books to me are: The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler; The Perfect Spy by John Le Carre; What is the What by Dave Eggers; and When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Oddly, one of my book clubs just finished reading My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout a month ago. Apparently it was a timely selection. It is impossible to read such a list and not want to add more books to the already teetering pile of TBR (to be read) books.

Hope you have fun perusing the list and thinking up your favorite books from the last 75 years. Say, that gives me an idea. Let's all create a list of our favorite books from the past how many years old we are. That could be fun. If you do come up with a list, be sure to hop back and share our link.

Let's see, what good books were written in 1957, the year I was born...?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Character, Driven by David Lubar

Character, Driven by David Lubar is a funny yet poignant coming-of-age tale where the narrator, Cliff, leads his readers on a romp through the male psyche. Right from the beginning we are not sure if he is a reliable narrator as he draws us immediately in with a scene where he is being beaten up by his dad and then pages later we discover  the abuse didn't happen, it was just a literary technique.  Often Cliff stops the narrative and addresses his readers, a technique not often used in literature. I found it disarming and oddly charming at the same time.  But even though Cliff let me peek into his life I still wasn't ready for the twist at the end of the book.

On the third page Cliff introduces himself this way,
Call me Cliff. The most voracious bookworms among you will instantly wonder whether I've offered this name as a reference to some fictional Clifford...I am not a a reflection or echo of someone you've already met. Cliff happens to be my name. But that doesn't mean it lacks metaphysical echoes...Think about it...cliff, precipice, edge. There you have it. I'm Cliff. Cliff Sparks. At the edge. On the verge. Dangling.
What a wonderful beginning to a powerful coming-of-age story.

David Lubar plays with his readers using all kinds of literary techniques. First take a look at the title: Character, Driven. It is an obvious play on the writing style "character-driven," as compared to "plot-driven" narratives. With the comma instead of the dash, we are led to understand that there is a character and he is driven, but we also suspect, correctly, that the novel will revolve around its characters and we will be a witness to their evolutions, decisions, and attitudes.

Cliff, as our narrator and the author of what we are reading uses word play, foreshadowing, and symbolism. When the plot twist comes he reminds us of all of these and what we probably missed along the way. Since I did miss them, I was glad for the help.

I would be remiss if I didn't remind you that this book is about (or by) a teenage boy, which should, by all right, carry a warning. The book jacket says, "[it is] told in an unadulterated, no-holds-barred teenage boy's voice; by turns honest and untruthful, sarcastic and sweet, inappropriate and hopeful. Boys will recognize themselves, and girls will be fascinated by this insight into the mind of a teenage boy." In other words, there is quite a bit of foul language and sex (or at least, sex thoughts.)

I really liked this book for several reasons. I think most teens appreciate authentic books even if the topic is tough. I do, too. Secondly, I am always looking for more boy books.  Books filled with funny, awkward, kind boys trying to navigate their way through their teen years. This book fit the bill on all those orders. Thirdly (is that a word?), I love the chapter titles. They made me think and laugh. Lastly, and I should have mentioned this before, Cliff has a few wonderful teachers. Often teachers get the shaft in teen novels. These teachers are thoughtful and helpful, one even gives Cliff novels to read because he wants to stretch Cliff's mind. I made a list of these books, more for myself than for you, but you are welcome to check out the list below.

Will I recommend this book to my students? You bet. Do I recommend it to you? Yes, definitely. Do I think this book has a chance at the Printz committee this year? Possibly. I hope so.

2017 Printz Award Contenders

15 / 35 books. 43% done!

Books Mr. Piccaro loaned to Cliff: Fahrenheit 451; The Things They Carried; Geek Love; Stranger in a Strange Land; Slaughterhouse-Five; The Name of the Rose; and a blank journal.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sunday Salon, June 26

Five batches of freezer jam
Weather: blue skies

Jam days of summer: The last day with student for this school year was Monday. Followed by two days of work in the library to finish up all my 'must-do' items on the list before I was ready to say goodbye to the year. Thursday and Friday were in-service days. At 3 PM on Friday, summer officially began for me. First stop---the berry stand. We purchased a flat of strawberries in the nick of time. The gals at the stand said it was one of the last days for strawberries for the year. We made three batches of strawberry freezer jam that night then went back in the morning and bought a flat of raspberries and made two batches of jam with them. In total we made in five batches of freezer jam. We are set. (Now that Carly is leaving for graduate school this will likely be too much jam for Don and I to eat in a year. Ha!)

End of the year haiku: Usually, as the end of the school year approaches, I write a few haiku to commemorate the event. See last sample from last year here. I didn't do that this year but if I had the poems would all have had a similar theme: iPads. Boring stuff, really. Here's an example---
iPads everywhere
Covering all counter tops
of  most book shelves

Books suggestions: My 20 summer books reading suggestions. Follow the link.

Books completed this week:
  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. Need I say more?
  • West With the Night by Beryl Markham. A memoir published in 1942. I don't think I am quite done with this woman year...I must continue the research on her incredible life.
  • The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge---Finally. I had been working on this book for almost a month. That is too slow of reading for a YA book. Watch for my review soon.

Currently reading:
  • Character, Driven by David Lubar. A 2016 YA novel about a teen boy. Ha! That is not a very good description but that is all I know right now. Progress 25%.
Books going on vacation with me:
  • Character, Driven by David Lubar. See note above.
  • Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nyugen---the 2016 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction and an upcoming book club selection. 
  • A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Conner---my Classics Club spin book, a collection of her short stories.
  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stephenson---the audiobook selection for the driving portion of our trip.
Prayers for: Brian who severely burned his hand at work. And for daughter #1 and her hubby as they travel to Europe this week.

We are off to Whistler, BC for a short week. May there be plenty of sunshine and relaxing days ahead! 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

20 Great Books for Summer Reading 2016

I often see lists of books which are suggested summer reads and wonder what makes a book a good summer selection. I remember the summer I sat on the windy Oregon beach reading Olive Kitteridge huddled under a blanket. I doubt that book made too many summer reading lists that year, but I loved it and still have fond memories of reading it while waves from the Pacific Ocean crashed onto the beach nearby. Did I love the book itself or did I love the book because of the reading experience? I think it is the latter. We like books that we associate with positive experiences. I ended up as a Chris Crutcher fan because of the lazy summer spent reading his books while laying in the hammock in the backyard. I have fond memories of reading a really funky short story collection thrown into my bag right before we left for a trip to Italy, a paperback I could leave behind when finished. Italy was wonderful and  I enjoyed every one of the stories in the collection, probably because I was in Italy. Perhaps the most important aspect of a good summer book is one you want to carry with you on a trip or don't mind subjecting to the elements. Then you enjoy it because you are having fun where you are.

A few suggested books you might enjoy this summer----

Looking for something YA?

1-4. The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater. The 4th and last book in the series just came out this spring. If you haven't read this marvelous series about friendship, family, and magical dreams and places, you are in for a big treat. This is my favorite series since the Hunger Games. Start with The Raven Boys. Read all four. You'll love them.

5-8. Any book by Andrew Smith. The guy writes seriously strange, out-there fiction but I guarantee who will find his books entertaining. Grasshopper Jungle about a boy and his friend who unwittingly unleash huge grasshopper things on the earth. It won a Printz honor. The Alex Crow brings together four discordant stories. Weird but amazing. Also try 100 Sideways Miles, or Winger. I should warn you though---Andrew Smith's books are full (and I mean FULL) of foul language.

Looking for something historical? Try...
9. The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry set in Southern France in the 1200s in the days of Crusades and the Inquisitions. This is my favorite YA book of 2016 so far.
10. Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina set in New York City in 1977 when the city was burning up from a heat wave, causing power outages, and Son-of-Sam was harassing the city with his random murders. No one was safe.

Looking for something adult?

11. West with the Night by Beryl Markham
A memoir, published in 1942, by the first person to fly from England to New York, east to west. It is also about her experiences growing up in British East Africa (Kenya.) Beautifully written
12. Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
A novelized memoir of Beryl Markham's life.
McLain is an amazing writer, too.
I am obsessed with these two books right now.

Prefer nonfiction? Try-
13. The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner,
a true story of a girl raised in a polygamist's cult. She was the 39th of her father's 42 children. Riveting.
14. All the Things We Never Knew:Chasing the Chaos of Mental Illness by Sheila Hamilton
The author recounts how she missed the signs of her husband's mental illness before he took his life.

15. This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
This graphic novel is a tremendous coming-of-age story which has recently come under the scrutiny of censors. For this reason, I am telling everyone to read this book so you can see for yourself why censorship is bad. Check out the details in The Guardian article, then go read it!

Like audiobooks? So do I. Try these---

16. The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett
This is the last book written by the author of the wonderful and funny Discworld series before he died. It is also the fifth book in the Tiffany Aching sub-series. Stephen Briggs is the voice actor who reads this book and he does a tremendous job. I laughed. I cried.
17. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.
If you haven't read this nonfiction account of the US Rowing team that won the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, this is a marvelous way to consume the book. A family favorite, it is read by Edward Herrmann, now deceased.
18. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
McCullough reads his own book about the very famous and genius Americans, Orville and Wilbur Wright. Actually everything McCullough writes is excellent in the audio format. His research is impeccable yet approachable and his voice is so easy to listen to.

Join me. I hope to read these books this summer---

19. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The 2016 Pultzer Prize winner. This is also a book club selection. I have it checked out from the library right now so I need to get to it soon!
20. Just Mercy: a Story of Justice and Redemption
by Bryan Stephenson,
My husband doesn't know this yet, but this is what I plan to listen to in the car as we drive to Whistler, B.C. tomorrow. Many blogging friends have recommended it.

Happy Reading.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie's famous mystery novel, And Then There Were None, spins around the verses of the disturbing poem, "Ten Little Soldiers."

Ten strangers are lured to a mansion on a island off the coast of Devon by U.N. Owen. As they dine together the first evening a record begins to play with the voice of their unseen host accusing them all of a deadly secret which caused the death of someone else. Within a few hours the first guest is dead. He chokes to death from cyanide poisoning. Soon the guests figure out their likely murderer is among them. But who is it?

And Then There Were None is Agatha Christie's most popular novel. It was published in 1939. In 2015 it was voted as the favorite Christie novel in a worldwide survey to commemorate her 125th anniversary. It also is the best selling crime novel of all time. (Christie webpage.) And it is the very first Agatha Christie novel I've ever read. Can you believe it?

Last week my family and I listened to the audiobook of And Then There Were None as we traveled to Oregon for a family reunion. Even though the book has been made into numerous movies and spoofs, none of us knew how it worked out and became thoroughly engrossed in the mystery. When we got home from our trip we still had an hour of the story left, so we sat in the family room listening to the conclusion together.

Agatha Christie said it is was a very difficult book to write but the idea of basing a novel on the "Ten Little Soldiers" poem really fascinated her. (Christie)  No matter how difficult is was to write she did it masterfully. What a chilling and perplexing mystery. I highly recommend it. We are reading this book for next month's book club. Betty, a retired teacher, told me she taught this book years ago but before she gave the students their copy of the novel she removed the last chapter of the book so the children wouldn't know who the murderer was before she was ready for them to know. They anxiously awaited the last section which she gave them after a few writing assignments on who they thought did it.  Obviously, she gave this assignment in the days before the Internet, but what a fun assignment.

Now I am off to see if I can locate the BBC series (Dec. 2015) of "And Then There Were None" and the Family Guy spoof, "And Then There Were Fewer" (2010).

Source: Audiobook made available on Hoopla by the Pierce County Library system.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Friday Quotes, June 24th

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from the book.
The Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56.

Check out the links for the rules and for the posts of the participants each week. Participants don't select their favorite, coolest, or most intellectual books, they just use the one they are currently reading. This is the book I'm reading right now---

Title: Character Driver by David Lubar

Book Beginnings:
Thanks God for Alexander Graham Bell. If the phone hadn't started ringing, my crazy-drunk stepfather probably would have finished beating me to death with his belt.
Friday 56:
Picture this---admittedly, a strange request, and probably an unnecessary one, given that you've been picturing I've said. i guess we'll have to that "picture this" is a polite way of asking you to pay close attention, and not just skim these words wile you're doing seven other things.
Comment: I've only read three pages so far. I do know that the opening paragraph is a literary technique to grab the reader. The narrator's dad is not a drunk or violent. The blurb on the book jacket says this is "a powerful coming-of-age tale told in unadulterated, no-holds-barred teenage boy's voice: by turns honest and untruthful, sarcastic and sweet, inappropriate and hopeful. Boys will recognize themselves and girls will be fascinated by the insights into the mind of a teenage boy."

Monday, June 20, 2016

Top Books in the GKHS Library, over the history of the school

We just completed the eleventh year that Graham-Kapowsin HS has been open. Out of curiosity on this last day of the schoolyear, I took a peek at the most popular books of all time in the library. Several of the titles were assigned by teachers but most were just popular books which students wanted to read.

                    Title                                                    Author                             Circulated #
The Hunger Games
Collins, Suzanne.

Collins, Suzanne.

Coelho, Paulo.

Fleischman, Paul.

Zusak, Markus.

Myers, Walter Dean.

Green, John, 1977-

Green, John.

Dashner, James, 1972-

Collins, Suzanne.

Hosseini, Khaled.

Westerfeld, Scott.

Asher, Jay.

Golden, Arthur, 1957-

Meyer, Stephenie, 1973-

Blacklaws, Troy.

Anderson, Laurie Halse.

Clare, Cassandra.

Cashore, Kristin.

Plath, Sylvia.

Westerfeld, Scott.

Alexie, Sherman, 1966-

Paolini, Christopher.

O'Brien, Tim, 1946-

Haddon, Mark.

Isn't this a fun and eclectic list, with a bit of a walk down memory lane? 

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Several years ago I watched a documentary on TV about the practice of snake handling in some churches in Appalachia. The reporter, who went into the project with an open but skeptical mind was probably thinking he would be doing an exposé on the beastly and dangerous practice, but ended up handling the snakes himself. I often thought about that show. The lure of doing something dangerous in a kind trance, kind of like the whirling dervishes of old, has a certain appeal for many people. I thought about all this when I picked up debut author Jeffrey Zentner's The Serpent King this past week. I wondered if the book would predominantly be about the practice of snake handling in church and how I would react if it was.

The Serpent King is thankfully less about snakes and more about friendship, belonging, and making one's own way in the world. Dillard, Lydia, and Travis are misfits in their high school in Forrestville, Tennessee. Their town, Forrestville, is named for the founder of the Ku Klux Clan, Nathan Bedford Forrest, which is not something to be proud about. Dillard's father was a pastor at a church which believed in the signs of the Holy Spirit which included handling snakes. His father is now incarcerated for possession of child pornography. Both of these things make Dillard a pariah in his community. Travis is a huge yet gentle boy who prefers reading a fantasy book series, Bloodfall, than anything else. His family life is a living hell. Lydia writes a fashion blog and refuses to think inside the typical teenage box. The three teens carve out a close and supportive friendship. The reader enters their story a day before school starts their senior year and ends the summer after it. Throughout the year they all go through tremendous trials and growth.

I was very touched by the story of the three friends. In fact, I shed many tears over it. It is a fine example of a coming-of-age story with the characters learning about themselves and others along the way. Very little of the story focuses on snakes but quite a bit focuses on various forms of parental abuse and neglect. Only Lydia has healthy, happy, and helpful parents of the three.

That said, I have a request for YA authors. Would someone please write a YA book which has a healthy religious experience without the character feeling stifled by the faith of their fathers or the weird practices.  And while you are at it, don't make it preachy. Is that too much to ask? Based on what I've read in YA lit, religion is only for crackpots and the parish members are all small-minded and judgmental. This book is an example of this. Instead of being devote and loving, Dillard's parents are judgmental and backwards. Ugh.

Did I like the book? Yes and no.  No for the reasons I cited above. Yes because I liked the coming-of-age story a lot. I liked the main characters and their friendship. Even though I didn't like everything that happened to them along the way, I liked the path the story took. I hope you read it and let me know what you think.

Disclaimer: I listened to the audio version of the book. I purchased the audio CD-set with my own money.

2017 Printz Award Contenders

14 / 35 books. 40% done!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sunday Salon, Father's Day, June 19th

Happy Father's Day!
Weather: Sunny with big fluffy white clouds and a blue sky.

Father's Day: We drove to Portland yesterday to help celebrate Don's aunt and uncle 60th wedding anniversary. It was held at a winery south of Portland and the weather did not cooperate. It was rainy and windy until late in the day. It was a beautiful setting, however, and it was good to spend the day with family. Don's father and his wife were there.  He has been in poor health and it is the first time I've seen him since his diagnosis of congestive heart failure. We were all grateful to be able to spend yesterday and today together. We had breakfast this morning with him before we had to race up the freeway to get home in time to pick up the dog at the boarders before they closed. See the photo above of Don with his brother and dad.

iPads: Thursday we collected around 1400 iPads at school from students so they can be safely stored for summer. It was a very elaborate process which involved all the teachers and school assistants. Afterwards advisors sent kids to clean out their lockers.  Just as the iPads were being returned to the library and students were showing up with stray textbooks the network went down. It was down for three hours. Typical. Just when one needs technology the most it fails. Later in the day we held graduation for our senior class. It was a long, hard day. Sigh!

One more day in the 2015/16 school year: Tomorrow we have a half day with students and a half day to finish up our grades and we call it good on another year. I am so ready.

Carly has found an apartment in New York: We are starting to make plans to help move her across the nation as she prepares for graduate school at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, NY. She and Don will drive so she can have her car. I will fly and meet them in New York. This is really happening!

Reviewathon: I was so far behind on my book reviews I decided to participate in a challenge to write one a day for a week. I only got six done but that is admirable considering the challenges of the busy week at school (plus how tired I was each night.) I am still five reviews behind even though I wrote so many this week. I have a bit of momentum going and want to keep up writing one a day until I am caught up. Click on the hyperlink to read the review:

Currently reading:

  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie...this is the audiobook we listened to going to Portland and back. We have less than an hour left and all want to know how the mystery resolves. This is my very first Agatha Christie book I've ever read. Woot. Woot!
  • Unbecoming by Jenny Downham...another audiobook but this one is a long one so I predict it will take me several weeks to complete. Progress: 11%
  • West With the Night by Beryl Markham...a memoir published in 1942. I am really enjoying the writing. 22%
  • The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge...I've been working on this book for several weeks.  Will I ever get to the end of it?  62%
Finished this week:
  • The Serpent King by Jeffrey Zentner...YA, audio; a book about family, faith, and friends. This will be my next review, I hope to finish it today.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Anna Lania is a happy little seven-year-old Polish girl in 1939. She lives with her father, a college linguistics professor who encourages her to learn and speak many different languages. One day her father leaves her with a friend so he can attend a meeting at the college. He never comes back. The Nazis round up all the professors and send them to a concentration camp in an effort to rid Poland of its intellectual elites. Anna, orphaned and alone, decides to follow the only person who is kind to her, a man we come to know only as the Swallow Man. He and Anna team up and wander the forests of Poland for four years in an effort to survive and to evade both the bears and the wolves (Russians and Germans.) Along the way Anna and the Swallow Man encounter other people who come into their lives and stick around for a while, each contributing color and texture to the narrative. When they are joined by Hirschl, a Jewish escapee from a nearby ghetto, the Swallow Man is forced to address his own feelings about what matters in life. Before the end of the war Anna and her Swallow Man are forced to part and the reader is left with questions as to what happens next.

I read Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit several months ago. I launched into my reading thinking it would be yet another WWII story with a holocaust twist. I was surprised there was very little actual war story stuff in the book. The pair were surviving outside and were eluding wolves and bears who would destroy them but little war language makes its way into the narrative. Because of this I didn't know what to make of this story. Was I seeing war through a child's eyes or was I just missing something?

When I learned that the book has been described as part magical realism and part fairy tale I started to understand a bit more of what I missed. There certainly are magical aspects of the book, many associated with childhood and a young girl trying to make sense of a world which doesn't make sense anymore. And on reflection, the book does have many elements which are often found in the European fairy tales I know. There are always characters who reveal their true natures only after a measure of trust has been given. And the forest. There are always forests in fairy tales where bad stuff happens. Now I am beginning to see a whole other side to this tale.

One of the things I appreciate about writing reviews for books I have been reading is how the whole process forces me to dig deeper, to try harder to gain insights into the narrative, to search further for the truth which the author hopes I will find. Sometimes I think I have done my homework and have, at least to a small degree, uncovered some important truths hidden in the book. This is one of those times. But I did not arrive at these conclusions on my own. I read an excellent review of Anna and the Swallow Man by Elizabeth Wein published in the New York Times. Wein identifies magical and fairy tale elements I totally missed. It helped me to see the book more as an allegory than as a straight narrative.
Little of the plot is linear. It’s more anecdotal, describing habitual patterns in the lives of the two main characters as they wander and survive. But while the novel’s action is simple, its emotional impact, drive, narration, character development and resolution are elaborately layered (Wein, NYT)
I also found an author interview conducted by the Jewish Book Council. This is Gavriel Savit's debut novel. Savit addresses a point I often think about. Just because a book is about a child character does not mean it is a children's book. Though there is nothing too terrifying so it could be read by older children or young teens, I think the book with its nuanced complexities will be more appreciated by adults. When asked about the holocaust aspect of the story, Savit says,
It seems to me, however, that human beings live full lives even in the most atrocious of situations, and it’s somewhat regrettable that it’s not always possible to see the nuance in human experience within these terrible situations. That, I feel, is one of the most fascinating things: How do you grow up surrounded by this horrible danger? But maybe the answer is simply: What is the alternative? (Schindel, JBC
I encourage you to read Wein's review and Savit's interview before you read Anna and the Swallow Man. I like the book better now in retrospect since reading them myself.

Disclaimer: I listened to the audiobook of Anna and the Swallow Man, purchased with my own funds.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan

Fifteen-year-old Amadou and his younger brother, Seydou, are essentially slaves working on a cacao plantation in the Ivory Coast. They left their home in Mali two years earlier looking for work to help support their family who had been hit hard by a drought. The only problem, the boys have never been paid a single penny for their work and Amadou cannot figure out how many more cacao pods to they need to pick to earn their freedom. Just when the brothers have nearly given up hope of ever getting away from the plantation a girl, Khadija, arrives in the camp. Khadija has no intention of staying put and all kinds of troubles befall the brothers and other workers because she tries to run away and does not cooperate with the overseers. Everything at the camp gets stirred up including a rekindled desire in the boys to run away and to somehow get home.

Several years ago my family and I decided to drink only Fair Trade coffee after we learned about the atrocities committed again coffee workers worldwide. Most of them can't make a living wage growing and picking coffee. We extended our use of fair trade products whenever we find them, even if it means we pay a bit more for that product. We have used fair trade lotions and shampoo, eaten fair trade quinoa, sugar, and soups. We liked some of them and didn't like others. After reading The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan I did a little research and learned that most of the cacao (chocolate) is grown in West Africa, and many of workers are children living in slave-like conditions. It is heartbreaking what children have to go through for my chocolate fix. (Please read more at the Food Empowerment Project.) Now I am more determined than ever to eat fairly traded chocolate, though it is often difficult to find.

If you want to explore more about fair trade chocolate and cocoa here are a few companies I recommend: Equal Exchange; Taza Chocolate; Theo Chocolate.

OK. Now you are wondering why you should read a book which makes this reviewer list sources of fair trade chocolate, right? How about if I tell you that the cacao growers do not want this information to get out and the really tense, exciting escape and chase scenes are based on real events that involved the First Lady of Ivory Coast in 2004. And the bonus, Tara Sullivan did her homework inserting Ivorian words and places into her writing. I highly recommend this book.

Disclaimer: I listened to the audio CDs of The Bitter Side of Sweet. I the audiobook with my own money.

Day six

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Friday Quotes, June 17th

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from the book.
The Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56.

Check out the links for the rules and for the posts of the participants each week. Participants don't select their favorite, coolest, or most intellectual books, they just use the one they are currently reading. This is the book I'm reading right now---

Title: West With the Night by Beryl Markham

Book Beginnings:
How is it possible to bring order out of memory? I should like to begin at the beginning, patiently, like a weaver at his loom. I should like to say, 'this is the pace to start; there can be no other.'
Friday 56:
When I was a child, I spent my days with the Nandi Murani, hunting barefooted, in the Rongai Valley, or in the cedar forests of the Mau Escarpment. At first I was not permitted to carry a spear, but the Murani depended on nothing else.
This is a memoir written by Beryl Markham the first woman to fly across the Atlantic east to west. She was a contemporary of Karen Blixen and Denys Finch Hatton (Out of Africa) living in what is now called Kenya. She lived an adventurous life and you see from the quote on page 56. Even as a child she ran wild, hunting with natives. Later on the page she lists all the animals they hunted (and avoided.) Published in 1942. I am currently obsessed with Beryl Markham because I just finished the novelized memoir of her life, Circling the Sun by Paula McLain.