“It’s a Book”

Smith, Lane.  It’s a Book.  New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2010.  Print.

Read at the Waverly Public Library.

Read on February 7, 2013.

Five out of five stars.

book

If Lane Smith’s “It’s a Book” were to have a subtitle, it would be “A Print Book’s Manifesto”. The story depicts a conversation between a donkey* (with a computer) and a monkey (with a print book and a mouse sidekick). As children are wont to do, Donkey* pesters Monkey about the book’s capabilities (How do you scroll? Where is the mouse? Can it text? Tweet? Blog?), to which Monkey repeatedly replies, “It’s a book”. Eventually the enigmatic nature of Monkey’s print book entices Donkey* and he finds himself lost in its story, prompting Monkey to take a trip to the library.

Both tongue in cheek and wistfully nostalgic, “It’s a Book” is not anti-technology, but rather celebrates print and its unique ability to foster and stimulate the reader’s imagination. This book teaches a valuable lesson about the importance of books and reading to children, but is told cleverly enough to appeal to adults as well. A well timed one liner told by Mouse on the last page will surely elicit laughs (and gasps) perhaps even a hearty Amen!.

*Smith uses “Jackass” in place of donkey (appears twice), which may offend parents who are themselves being jackasses for making a fuss about a word.

PS, apologies for the lack in recent content.  I have quite a few books I’ve read and have yet to review, I’ve just been pretty busy (two jobs, a practicum, school, training, failing attempting to remain sane)…  I hope to finish and post them soon, but I thought this little gem might tide you over for a few more days.

“Winter of the World”

Follett, Kenneth, narrated by John Lee.  Winter of the World: The Century Trilogy, Book Two.  Westminster: Penguin Group USA, 2012.  Audio Book.

Borrowed from the Waterloo Public Library.

Listened to between September 20 and November 28, 2012.

Four and a half out of five stars.Winter of the World

Winter of the World is the second book in Ken Follet’s Century Trilogy*.  The first, Fall of Giants, followed five families across Europe, Asia, and North America throughout the Russian Revolution and the First World War.   Follett continues these stories vicariously through the children of Giants’ characters taking readers on an intricately plotted ride through the world-wide economic, political, and social turmoil of the 1930’s and 40’s.  Readers will get to know Carla von Ulrich as she struggles to stand up for what is right, in spite of the dire consequences to defying the Nazis; Lloyd Williams the son of a housemaid-turned-Labor Party Parliament member, who travels to Spain to fight Fascism and witnesses the horrors of civil war;  Daisy Peshkov as she climbs the social ladder from Buffalo, New York to London meanwhile her half-brother Greg works to develop a nuclear bomb for the United States and their cousin Volodya spies for Russia, vehemently defending (but eventually questioning) communism; Chuck and Woody Dewar, sons of an American senator who travel vastly different roads to war; and a large supporting cast of complex characters with varying degrees of likability, but all written with such candor and grit as Follett is known for.  Though Winter of the World is packed with action, the characters are developed over time and the overlapping plot lines are slowly unveiled, spanning the course of sixteen years.  There is an equal amount of description and dialogue, both of which are engagingly and richly written.  The tone of the book changes from bleak, melancholy, and sobering as it deals with the realities and hardships of war, to moving, impassioned, and dramatic as the multitude of characters fall in and out of friendship and love.  The book is heavy (both figuratively and literally), and not for the faint of heart as sex and violence are detailed with absolute frankness.  Fans of historical fiction, particularly that dealing with World War Two from different countries’ perspectives, will enjoy Winter of the World, as will those who enjoy a large assembly of multifaceted characters and deeply interwoven plot lines.

John Lee, (who also narrates Follett’s other historical fictions Fall of Giants: Book One of The Century Trilogy, The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End), effortlessly conveys the emotional developments of the novel’s numerous characters with clarity of tone and pitch.  In addition, Lee also captures perfectly the various dialects and accents (Russian, German, Welsh, English, Spanish, French, and more), as well as both male and female characters, throughout the book’s 31.5 unabridged hours of listening time.

Having listened to quite a few audio books, I have developed more than a few personal preferences when it comes to this particular format.  That being said, a few criticisms come to mind with this production of Winter of the World.  For one, there were relatively few tracks per disc, about twelve, which made each individual track around six and a half minutes long (which, from what I can tell, is fairly standard for audio books).  However, I listened to this book while driving, and was therefore not always able to devote my full attention to the story, and occasionally would not miss a minute or so.  This meant I would have to go back to the beginning of the track, or hope I hadn’t skipped anything too important and carry on.  Secondly, there was not any indication on the final track that I had reached the end of a CD, so I would sometimes inadvertently start to re-listen to the first track. These didn’t stop me from listening to the book in its entirety, but are just a few idiosyncrasies I thought I would address, in case Penguin Audio reads this (ha!).  I am already a huge fan of both John Lee and Ken Follett (The Pillars of the Earth is my favorite book of all time…), so it came as no surprise that I loved this book.

*Although it is technically a sequel, Winter of the World could be read as a stand-alone title or as the second book in Follett’s Century Trilogy, which may appeal to readers and readers’ advisors alike.

“Houdini Heart”

Longfellow, Ki.  Houdini Heart.  Port Orchard, WA: Eio Books., 2011.  Electronic Book.

Purchased for Nook Tablet from Barnes and Noble.

Read between October 24-30, 2012.

Four and a half out of five stars.Houdini Heart

Houdini Heart is the harrowing tale of an anonymous narrator, driven by a horrendous ordeal to flee  her glamorous life in Malibu for a small town in Vermont where she briefly stayed with her mother as a child.  There, she finds shelter in the River House, a once magnificent hotel that has been turned into a series of dilapidated apartments and shops.  Within the walls of the River House the narrator sets out to complete a task, her final novel, one to best her others, but soon finds there are forces at work inside the hotel (or, perhaps trapped inside her own tormented mind) that have other plans for her…

Ki Longfellow’s suspenseful, dark, and eerie novel is a compellingly written examination of the intense psychological unraveling of a lone, unnamed protagonist.  Woven together as a series of flashbacks, internal monologues, and excerpts from the central character’s best-known book, “The Windigo’s Daughter*”, Houdini Heart slowly and meticulously reveals the narrator’s  troubled past, and the terrifying events leading up to her arrival at the River House. With extraordinary subtlety and skill, Longfellow slowly spins an inauspicious web, pulling readers in until they’re no longer sure of what is real or imagined.  Is the River House truly haunted, or is our nameless heroine (anti-heroine?) losing what little remains of her sanity after what happened back in California?  Free from vampires, werewolves, zombies and other traditional staples of the genre, Houdini Heart is a work of literary horror that delves deep into the psyche and leaves readers questioning their own lucidity.  This book will stay with readers long after uttering its final haunting words.

I cannot adequately express how much this book affected me.  I’ll admit, I wasn’t immediately drawn in, but by the time I realized what was happening (though I couldn’t really be sure what was happening), I was so engrossed I couldn’t put it down.  Once I finally (regretfully) did, I could not stop thinking about it.  I felt the need to discuss with others what had happened, and if what I thought transpired had really occurred at all. I wanted to not only keep reading far past the book’s conclusion, I also wanted to dive into “The Windigo’s Daughter”, the protagonist’s award-winning-novel-turned-movie that Longfellow expertly ties into the storyline.   My only true criticism is that at present, the book is only available as a print-on-demand or electronic download. That, and I still have no clue what really happened in the River House, though that is equally a criticism and utmost praise for Houdini Heart. I will definitely be reading other works by Ki Longfellow.

*Windigo: The wendigo (also known as windigo, weendigo, windago, waindigo, windiga, witiko, wihtikow, and numerous other variants) is a creature appearing in the legends of the Algonquian people.  It is thought of variously as a malevolent cannibalistic spirit that could possess humans or a monster that humans could physically transform into. Those who indulged in cannibalism were at particular risk, and the legend appears to have reinforced this practice as a taboo. (Thanks, Wikipedia).

“One Thousand White Women”

Fergus, Jim.  One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd.  New York: St. Martin’s Griffin., 1999.  Print.

Borrowed from The Cedar Falls Public Library.  

Read between September 19-September 25, 2012.

Four out of five stars.

Jim Fergus’ One Thousand White Women follows May Dodd and a motley crew of women from her incarceration in a Chicago insane asylum where she had been committed for falling in love with a man beneath her station, to the prairies of the Nebraska Territory as part of President Ulysses S. Grant’s “Brides for Indians” program.  The program, intended to assimilate Native Americans into “white culture” was (unsurprisingly) met with hostility and horror when it was proposed by a Cheyenne chief in 1875.  Grant, however, saw an opportunity and secretly recruited prisoners, patients, and other unsavory women to participate and marry Cheyenne men with the intent to becoming pregnant, thereby joining the two cultures together through matrimony and children.  What ensues is carefully recorded in the fictitious diary of May Dodd in an amusing, offbeat, and bittersweet chronicle.  Writing in a candid, descriptive and witty style,  Fergus is able to capture the triumphs and hardships of this unique group of women who are thrust into the unknown and married to men with whom they can barely communicate.  Like most Western novels, One Thousand White Women relies on strong story telling and descriptive narrative with themes of justice, redemption and survival being present throughout.  It is a tale of strength and character, not only of May Dodd but also the other women and their Cheyenne families, which ranges from sassy and sarcastic to reflective and nostalgic.  May Dodd is at the center of a strong cast of characters who must learn to adapt and evolve to drastically new lifestyles whilst being caught in the middle of a tumultuous time in history as the Cheyenne people try desperately to cling to their traditional way of life, and white Americans press westward in search of land and gold.  At times romantic, occasionally violent, One Thousand White Women will appeal to readers who connect to strong female protagonists, are fans of historical fiction, and those seeking a thought-provoking Novel of the West.

 

I absolutely loved this book, though I tend to really enjoy historical fiction.  I thought the narrator was charming and affable, and I empathized with her struggles, cheered with her victories. The ending was not what I expected, though I found it fitting (I won’t spoil it).  I recommended the book to my mom, who then bought it for my grandmother.  I would definitely re-read this book.