Archive for July, 2008

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (Gina’s review)

Posted in Fiction, Gina on July 25, 2008 by Gina

“Nothing good ever happens in the cafeteria.   The cafeteria is a giant sound stage where they film daily segments of Teenage Humiliation Rituals.  And it smells gross.”   Melinda (pg 104)

The first day of high school is difficult under the best of circumstances:  Melinda’s circumstances are far from best.   Her friends aren’t talking to her.   The other kid’s at school are talking about her.  And Melinda…well, she’s just not talking.  

They want me to speak”  -Melinda (pg 113)

This is a well written book about a young girl’s struggle with the truth.   Anderson reveals the story slowly and methodically.  The reader travels the road to enlightenment and truth with Melinda with beautiful phrasing and eloquent writing.   We get to know Melinda through her thoughts.  

“Do they chose to be so dense?  Were they born that way?  I have no friends.  I have nothing.  I say nothing.  I am nothing.  I wonder how long it takes to ride a bus to Arizona.”   – Melinda (pg 116)

You can find my fellow Rather Reader’s reviews here and here (major spoiler in this one).

gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

Posted in Fiction, Lisa with tags , on July 20, 2008 by Lisa

Review also posted at Books. Lists. Life.

“THERE ARE GODS in Alabama: Jack Daniel’s, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus.”

With a first line like that, how can this NOT be a great book? I first put gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson on my PBS wishlist some time last summer. I wanted to read it for Maggie’s Southern Literature Challenge. Well, I failed the challenge and I never read the book either. I did, however, add it to my list of books I was DEFINITELY going to read in 2008. I started reading it on Sunday, at the tail end of a perfect day spent on the back deck. From start to finish, I felt no urge to dip into any other book.

I’ve been reading Joshilyn Jackson’s blog for a while. I knew she was funny, but I guess I just didn’t expect her humor to carry over to the book so well. She has quite the way with words, and knows just how to turn a phrase to evoke a perfect picture. For example, her blog is called Faster Than Kudzu. Now, if you’re not from the South this will mean nothing to do, but if you are from the South you know, that’s FAST. There are trees under those vines.
Here’s a little snippet from a recent blog post:


My patented radical Doom-meter needle barely moved. It didn’t even get
past diddly into SQUAT territory.”

Here’s Publisher’s Weekly summary of the book, stolen from

From Publishers WeeklyArlene Fleet, the refreshingly imperfect heroine of
Jackson’s frank, appealing debut, launches her story with a list of the title’s
deities: “high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus.” The first
god, also a date rapist by the name of Jim Beverly, she left dead in her
hometown of Possett, Ala., but the last she embraces wholeheartedly when high
school graduation allows her to flee the South, the murder and her slutty
reputation for a new life in Chicago. Upon leaving home, Arlene makes a bargain
with God, promising to forgo sex, lies and a return home if he keeps Jim’s body
hidden. After nine years in Chicago as a truth-telling celibate, an unexpected
visitor from home (in search of Jim Beverly) leads her to believe that God is
slipping on his end of the deal. As Arlene heads for the Deep South with her
African-American boyfriend, Burr, in tow, her secrets unfold in unsurprising but
satisfying flashbacks. Jackson brings levity to familiar themes with a spirited
take on the clichés of redneck Southern living: the Wal-Mart culture, the subtle
and overt racism and the indignant religion. The novel concludes with a final,
dramatic disclosure, though the payoff isn’t the plot twist but rather Jackson’s
genuine affection for the people and places of Dixie. Copyright © Reed Business
Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Now doesn’t that sound good? Now imagine you’re from Alabama, lived there for the first 27 years of your life, and have now been living in South Dakota for the past 6 years? Doesn’t it sound great? Well, it is. The story alternates between the present and the past and hits both perfectly. Somehow she manages to tell you what happened and still keep you in suspense about.. what happened. The characters are great including the character of Alabama itself. I loved so many of the scenes with Burr and her family, Jackson totally nails the old home racism. Arlene has promised God she won’t lie and some of the ways she gets around that are amazing. (Yes, I realize the author had plenty of time to think of creative ways of NOT lying. I’m still impressed.)

If you want a sneak peak, you can follow this link and read the first chapter at I recommend that you do, and then, buy the book and read the rest. This is such a great debut book, once again I am amazed at what authors seem to have in their heads, just waiting to be written into a book. I have her second book (Between, Georgia ) sitting on my shelves, and I think I might just read it next!

You can see the other TBR Day participants here.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (Lisa’s review)

Posted in Fiction, Lisa with tags on July 18, 2008 by Lisa

Review cross posted at Books. Lists. Life.

Speak was an excellent book and will definitely be at or near the top of my list for the year. Speak is the story of Melinda Sordino. Mel called the cops at a party last summer and is now a social outcast. Now she has to deal with the fallout of her actions as well as dealing with why she called the cops in the first place.

The plot line of this book is dark. Mel is tormented, her grades are slipping, her parents are unsupported and distant. The only class she enjoys is art where she spends the entire year trying to draw a tree. Her best friend abandons her for the popular crowd and the popular guy. Mel stops talking. Despite all this, there are moments of great humor as well. The high school environment is captured perfectly.

The writing is terrific. The book is written as a series of very short paragraphs, sometimes only a sentence long. Some of the turns of phrase are simply breathtaking. Here’s a few examples:

“Maybe I’ll be an artist if I grow up.” (p. 78)

“Of course I want to be a model. I want to paint my eyelids gold. I saw that on a magazine cover and it looked amazing- turned the model into sexy alien that everyone would look at but nobody dared touch.” (p.82)

It’s hard to say much about this book without giving it away, but if you have an interest in YA fiction you should read this. If you know a teenager or were a teenager, read this. It’s so very good.

Speak has also been reviewed by one of my co-bloggers here on We’d Rather Read. Be warned though, her review does contain a major spoiler. I’d recommend not reading it until after you read the book.

TBR Challenge: A Long Way Gone:Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah (2007)

Posted in Gina, Non-Fiction, TBR Challenge on July 16, 2008 by Gina

A Long Way Gone was possibly the hardest book I have ever read — emotionally speaking that is.  I am fearful that I will not convey the beauty and the brutality of this book with this review.  I will try so that Ishmael’s story can reach others- because it is a story in need of hearing.  

From the front/back flap:

This is how wars are fought now:  by children, traumatized, hopped-up on drugs, and wielding AK-47s.  Children have become the soldiers of choice.  In the more than fifty violent conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers.  Ishmael Beah used to be one of them. 

What does war look like through the eyes of a child soldier?  How does one become a killer?  How does one stop?  Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives.  But it is rare to find a first-person account from someone who endured this hell and survived.

In A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Ishmael Beah, now twenty-six years old, tells a powerfully gripping story:  At the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence.  By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts.  At sixteen, he was removed from fighting by UNICEF, and through the help of the staff at his rehabilitation center, he learned how to forgive himself, to regain his humanity, and finally, to heal.

This is an extraordinary and mesmerizing account, told with real literary force and heartbreaking honesty.

This book floored me.  I was amazed at this boys story.  By the time I had finished this book, so many different feelings were brought up from within me.  I was horrified what war had done to the country of Sierra Leone.  You expect that war will be atrocious.  You can even allow that one side may be malicious.  However, both sides of this war acted with such inhumanity and brutality that I can barely recognize them as human at all. 

I was shocked at how normal people reacted to the war.  It was horrible what Ishmael and his friends were subjected to by just regular people who were also fleeing the war.  This was probably one of the most saddening aspects of the book.  Normal men were willing to kill children because they feared these boys; this makes me sad and frightened for our world. 

I loved his telling of his first trip to the United States, specifically to New York City.  He describes the New York that he expected,

My conception of New York City came from rap music.  I envisioned it as a place where people shot each other on the street and got away with it; no one walked on the streets, rather people drove in their sports cars looking for nightclubs and for violence.”

He was shocked with the truths of New York City.  It was the first time that he’d seen snow or experienced winter with its extreme cold and shorten daylight hours.  He says upon his arrival,

“I knew the word ‘winter’ from Shakespeare’s texts and I thought I should look up its meaning again…I felt my skin tighten, I couldn’t feel my face, and it seemed my ears had fallen off; my fingers hurt, and my teeth chattered…I had never in my life felt this cold.  How can anyone survive in this country” 

I would recommend everyone read this book simply because everyone should know that atrocities like this happen in our world.  It is this knowledge that can help us prevent them in the future.  

There are those who dispute Beah’s account.  I have no proof either way on the validity of Beah’s account.  I felt that I should inform readers of the controversy surrounding this book.   

 You can see the other TBR Day participants here.




Sickened by Julie Gregory

Posted in Christine, Mental Health/Mental Illness, Non-Fiction on July 4, 2008 by muerta

Quite possibly the scariest book on child abuse that I have ever read.

“Sickened” is a story about Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome (MBP) where a young girl is subjected to her mother’s persistent cries that her daughter is sick and the frequent doctor’s appointments and tests that the child must undergo.  However, the nature of the illness is that the parent deliberately injures or sickens the child so that the doctor’s think that something is wrong, and end up doing tests and surgeries that are completely unnecessary, often painful, and force the child into a position of complete submission and complacency to the abusing parent’s will.

The child trusts the parent that the medicine will make them better, when actually, the parent is making them sicker to maintain their dominance over child, family and doctors.

Julie is another candid writer.  Her description of her family history and life, her own emotions and physical pains, and her sudden realization of what was actually happening make for a great descriptive story about how her life was lived before doctor’s (and family and friends) realized that a parent could actually do this to a child.

The psychological makeup of her family is beyond frightening; her mother makes Mommy Dearest look tame but the book brings you inside how psychology and medicine need to work together.  It also effectively proves that child abuse is not just limited to physical beatings, but there is an emotional and mental aspect that more often is ignored than assisted.

Like Wasted, realize that the author does not spare words in describing what happened in her youth.  But as MBP is a frequently missed diagnosis and is most likely more prevalent than we realize, it is a great book for spreading awareness of the disease and helping the medical profession to recognize that “doctor shopping” may have a hidden meaning.

Wasted by Marya Hornbacher

Posted in Christine, Mental Health/Mental Illness, Non-Fiction on July 4, 2008 by muerta

I have read this book before, and rereading it, I picked up many things that I had missed during the first read.  This impressed me, as when rereading a book, I often put it down after a few pages because I think “oh, I read this already.”  This time I thought, “Oh, I remember this part” and was thankful.

Marya suffers first from Bulimia and then later from Anorexia Nervosa, and beautifully explains her transition between the diseases, her moments of success, and her moments of failure.  She writes of how these diseases develop, progress, and her own thoughts while she slowly starved herself to death.  She discusses all the typical topics– relationships with therapists, parents, friends, issues of abandonment, issues of consumerism, issues with death– but handles each in a unique way that helps you to truly understand how a person could simply say “I deny myself nurishment.”

She speaks of being scared, and to me, that strikes home the hardest as one deals with a physical or mental illness.  It is fear of the unknown that makes everything that much worse, and in anorexia, the sufferer knows the ultimate outcome of the disease- get better or die.  It opens the reader’s eyes to understanding that it’s not just as simple as “getting better,” but rather, defeating your own demons as well as the demons that surround you.

This book is not for the feint of heart.  She writes candidly.  But if you ever wondered or witnessed the progression of this disease (or any mental or physical disease), Marya narrates it well.  It is a good read for understanding how fear truly can dictate or life and actions.

Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Posted in Fiction, Lisa with tags , on July 3, 2008 by Lisa

Also posted at Books. Lists. Life.

Summer Knight is the fourth in the Dresden Files series. After it’s slow take off for me, I think this series is really picking up. It almost seems like the first one or two were warm ups and Butcher has hit his stride. Harry is much less whiny, much less needy, and his need to be a hero has acquired a little common sense.

In this installment we see Harry working for the Winter Queen to find out who killed a rival faerie. The vampires are going to war with the wizard’s White Council because of what happened in book three. Harry has been called before the Council for his part in those events, and if he can’t disarm the coming war with the vampires his career as a wizard is over. Unfortunately, the war between the Faerie is much more imminent and much more dangerous. Like the others, the action is non-stop. I’m pretty sure Harry doesn’t sleep for days.

The recurring characters are mostly good. Murphy isn’t overwhelmingly “you HAVE TO TELL ME, Harry!” The werewolves are back and in good form. Lea is great. Bob isn’t in it nearly enough. The person from Harry’s past was good, but I don’t know that I like the idea of bringing them in just for this storyline. Almost made it TOO easy to make Harry get involved by throwing them into it. Overall, I think this was the best one yet.

On a related note, series books are almost impossibly hard to review. There’s not a lot you can say without giving away the plot to the previous books. I almost hesitate to even mention the plot summary off the back of the book for fear it will spoil something for someone. I find myself reading more and more series books lately, so this is getting to be more of a problem. Off the top of my head, unfinished series waiting on my shelves include: Kim Harrison, Rachel Caine, Laurell Hamilton, J. D. Robb, Charlaine Harris (ok, the last one isn’t on my shelf, yet), and Janet Evanovich (ditto), and the rest of the Dresdens. Soon this blog will turn into: “Yep, it was good.”