Sunday, November 18, 2012

Smuggler's Island

I think this is the first book I've read by Avi, but I've always been interested in checking him out because he has recieved so many awards, and turned out so many successful books.  My 11-year-old son told me several times that I had to read this book, "it is really, really good."  He doesn't often get excited about books, so I was curious to see why he liked it.  He explained that it is "non-stop action."

And I agree, there is no waiting around for things to start. This book takes place on a tiny island during prohibition.  Shadrach decides to solve the mysteries of the men smuggling alcohol on to their island.  He is fueled by the control the head bad guy has over his parents and the other adults of the island.  From the start, he is daring and finds himself in dangerous situations.  They were a little too much for me, but apparantly that's what kept my son interested and reading.  I realize it's fiction, and that it's good for young people to stand up for what is right, but again, as a mom, I don't want kids to put themselves in these horrible situations!

Also, there's this awful scene where his dad is going to follow through with a punishment, and the whole thing is really uncomfortable for me to read.  He doesn't do anything, but then his son is more motivated to catch the bad guys because he knows his dad has given up.

I think the story is clever, and has enough twists and turns to be an exciting book.  I didn't love it, but because my son did, you or your kids might.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

mennonite in a little black dress by Rhoda Janzen

The subtitle of this book is "A Memoir of Going Home."  Rhoda Janzen is an accomplished, smart, funny woman.  This memoir mostly takes place during a sabbatical she takes in her early forties when she has gone through a divorce and then is seriously injured in a car accident.  She has a dry sense of humor and has a unique story to tell.  Because she has chosen her parents' home for her sabbatical, she delves into several aspects of her childhood. I think reading stories about growing up in different sub-cultures of the US is interesting and I think her background growing up as a Mennonite qualifies.  

Janzen fits in a lot of funny stories from her childhood.  One part that was hilarious to me is when she lists "In order of least to most embarrassing, the top five Shame-Based Foods for Mennonite youth lunches."  What follows is a list and detailed description of leftovers and portable food that her mom would pack for her lunch.  This reminded me of Melissa in This Life is in Your Hands  describing how her mom would pack her homemade yogurt in a glass jar for her dessert, while her peers were eating Twinkies.  I like things that are widely universal, and I think wanting the foods other moms packed for your classmates is one of those things everyone relates too.

Because her marriage has ended, and it was rocky throughout, Janzen has found herself dating again.  I thought her commentary on this phenomenon was funny.  Her husband was brilliant, but mentally abusive.  I think her "sexiness" criterias might just as easily be "rules for attraction."  She says, "In my opinon, sexiness comes down to three things: chemistry, sense of humor, and treatment of waitstaff at restaurants.  If the sparks don't fly from the beginning, they never will.  If he doesn't get your sense of humor from the first conversation, you'll always secretly be looking for someone who does.  And if a guy can't see restaurant servers as real people, with needs and dreams and crappy jobs, then I don't want to be with him, even if he just won the Pulitzer Prize."

There are some great ideas as she reflects on her family's religion which she has moved away from.  She quotes her mother saying, "When you're young, faith is often a matter of rules.  What you should do and shouldn't do, that kind of thing.  But as you get older, you realize that faith is really a matter of relationship--with God, with people around you, with the members of your community."

I also liked Janzen's realizations about virtue.  She says, "I have come to believe that virtue isn't a condition of character.  It's an elected action.  It's a choice we keep making, over and over, hoping that someday we'll create a habit so strong it will carry us through our bouts of pettiness and meanness."  I love that.  We choose daily what we are going to do.  And we hope that by making good choices over and over, we will be come more resilient to making bad choices.  I can see this in so many areas of my life.  Gossiping, exercising, cleaning...when I choose the better way over and over, it becomes more of a habit.  Even if it doesn't get easier, I do believe that good habits prevent us from entertaining bad ones.

The main thing that bothered me about this book was that many times the funny, quirky even annoying stories felt forced.  I feel like maybe Janzen made a list of all the entertaining and interesting stories from her life, for example her sister-in-law, bad dates over the years, random weirdos from college, and then orchestrated how to fit them in to the time frame of this memoir.  Sometimes it was in the form of a conversation she had with someone during her sabbatical, and I wanted to say, really?  Did this happen or is it an easy way to squeeze in a story you know will be entertaining?  When she went back in time to explain different elements of her marriage and relationship with her ex-husband, I could follow along and understand the relevance.  But many other times I felt like it was too far of a digression, and the only reason for including the anecdote was to get a laugh.  While her philosophical discoveries were sometimes spot on, other times they felt more like a tirade, and kind of forced.  I know I can be critical, but for me it seems like she was trying to prove how funny she was.  I wanted her to quit trying so hard because I think her intended story was enough.

I enjoyed many parts of this story, but over all too many parts irritated me to give it a glowing recommendation.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

When I started this book, I thought it would be a fluffy teenage romance.  Although it's a bit cheesy, I could see that a younger me would have enjoyed the playful banter and the excitement the main character feels when she meets a boy that is interested in her.  As the book goes on, I thought it dealt with several layers of emotion that are realistic for teenagers.  I think the main characters are clever and interesting and I actually really enjoyed reading this book.

The two main characters are Hazel and Augustus.  They both have cancer.  Hazel was given a terminal diagnosis, but responded miraculously to one of her treatments.  So now she lives with her oxygen tank, her worried and caring parents, and attends community college.  Gus is in remission, and is immediately interested in Hazel when they meet.

The reason I think this story works is that it explores how having cancer has changed these kids' perspective on life and living.  They have some great insight to life, but are also burdened with forboding of the future.  I think it works.  Gus wants to be a hero, he wants the mark he leaves on the world to be important.  Hazel is worried about how many people she is going to hurt when she dies.  They bond over a book they've read that seems honest and insightful about living with cancer.  I liked them both.
There are times when I laughed and times when I cried, that's usually a good sign for a book, right?

My one complaint, which forces me to add a caveat is that *Spoiler* they have sex about 200 pages in. It doesn't add anything to the story, it doesn't change their relationship, it isn't addressed at any point later in the book. I can't figure out why John Green included this scene in his story unless he thought that it's what teenagers wanted to read. I think it is lame.

Since finishing this book, I keep seeing John Green books pop up on lists.  Apparently he's really popular right now.  This is the first book of his I've read, and I'm interested to see if I like his other ones.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

small as an elephant by Jennifer Jacobson

I thought this was a well-written story, but I have struggled to review it.  I liked the writing style and I think young readers will enjoy all the excitement.  Jack is a logical protagonist who tries his best to help himself in difficult situations.

The premise of the story is that Jack's mom is bipolar, and she leaves him alone at their campsite a few states away from their home.  Jack is 11.  He knows that if the authorities find out what she has done, that there will be dire consequences.  He is fiercely loyal to his mom and understands that she is not herself when she is "spinning."  I think that Jack is a perceptive boy, and that his choices are age appropriate.  He is well-developed and interesting.

My struggle with the story is that he is ABANDONED, LEFT ALL ALONE!  As a mother this is terrifying to read and I just want him to trust the level-headed adults that he meets on his quest to find his mom and return home.  Also, I am concerned about young readers reading this and thinking that they too could survive in such circumstances.  Jack doesn't have it easy, but let's face it, in real life HORRIFIC things could have happened to him.

The title is clever and Jack has a poignant memory of touching an elephant at the circus as a young boy.  I liked how elephants brought him comfort and the powerful moment of enlightenment involving an elephant at the end.  The chapters begin with elephant quotes or facts, which string the story together well.

I gave it to my 13-year-old to read and he really liked it.  He read it in one night and we had some good discussion about it.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sudden Flash Youth: 65 Short-Short Stories

Edited by: Christine Perkins-Hazuka, Tom Hazuka and Mark Budman

I really liked this collection.  In college I was introduced to the concept of "short-shorts" and I think they are a fantastic literary form!  For the sake of this collection, submissons were limited to 1000 words, and had "an exclusive focus on childhood and adolescent situations."  So of course I thought it was great.

With 65 stories, I obviously would rate some better than others.  There are a few that deal with dark subjects, but I can only think of two off the top of my head.  And they are short, and you can not finish one and still enjoy the rest of the book.

One of my favorites is "The Quinceanera Text," which of course deals with generational cultural differences and values.  But it is sweet and the young girl realizes the importance of her gift. "Will you teach me some of Juanita's recipes?  She smiled,her black eyes disappearinginto the wrinkles lining her face. "I teach you everything I know."  Love.

Another one I really liked was "The Burden of Agatha" which deals with an all too familiar adolescent emotion of guilt.  It is sad, but so relateable.  "Chalk" has a similiar theme.

"Friday Night" is good.  "Kaddish is a prayer that says how great and exalted God is.  You're supposed to recite it when someone dies, even thought that's probably when you don't believe in God the think: eithert God doesn't care or He can't do anything about it."  I realize that adults are writing these adolescent thoughts, but they are powerful anyway.

"Dodgeball" totally captures what it feels like to think your actions can change what others think of you when really, it's still up to them.  I loved "History," when the girl recalls her teacher telling them, "we believe things are true because we've seen pictures, but then he said, someone had to make those pictures.  Someone had to decide which details were important enough to write down."  Which reminded me of a conversation I had years and years ago with my uncle who is a photojournalist.

Reading all these well-written concise stories really made me want to teach.  The conversations and writing assignments that could spring from them seems endless!  I loved that I could read one or two in the 5 minutes I gave my kids to brush their teeth and use the bathroom. 

They are inspiring and thought-provoking and for the most part very, very good. 
Check it out!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

I really liked this book! It has kind of a dreamy feel, and very little dialouge. The narration is told in present tense, "all of my life I have longed to be alone in a place like be in a place where there was only silence." Trond is 67 and has just moved to a remote cottage in the woods in Norway. He has been successful in life, but is grieving the loss of his wife and sister. The story switches back and forth between present day, and the summer of 1948 when he lived with his dad in another remote cottage. It is kind of like a conversation with your grandpa where he tells you what he's doing now, but then shares poigniant moments from his childhood. "The feeling of pleasure slips into the feeling that time has passed, that it is very long ago, and the sudden feeling of being old." I love the way he says that!
One story I liked was a memory he has of his father. Trond was afraid to cut back some stinging nettles because he thought it would hurt. His dad pulled them up with his bare hands, and then said, "You decide for yourself when it will hurt." This becomes kind of a theme. When Trond is physically hurt or exhausted, he remembers those words and pushes on. I think it works on another level too. He is mourning his losses, but he is still in control. He can choose when it will hurt.

I really liked his explanation of how the people in town knew him.  He hasn't lived there long, but he has been friendly and made contacts.  That isn't the same as making friends. "People like it when you tell them things, in suitable portions, in a modest, intimate tone, and they think they know you, but they do not, they know about you, for what they are let in on are facts, not feelings, not what your opinion is about anything at all, not how what has happened to you and how all the decision you have made have turned you into who you are."  And he goes on.

This is a bit of a spoiler, but he doesn't have a lot of years with his dad. In one of the present day chapters, he explains, "I close my eyes every time I have to do something practical apart from the daily chores everyone has, and then I picture how my father would have done it or how he actually did do it while I was watching him, and then I copy that until I fall into the proper rhythm, and the task reveals itself and grows visible, and that's what I have done for long as I can remember..."

There are significant moments and memories, but if you are looking for an action packed story, or even tidy resolutions, this is not your book. I noticed a real contrast between the last book I read, which also switched back to memories of the past, but followed a more traditional story line including conflict, rising action, climax, denoument, etc.  Out Stealing Horses doesn't follow that pattern at all.

There are questions left unanswered and characters you never really understand.  But for me, it totally works as a novel.  I liked how one summer has affected his whole life, or at least how he feels about his life.  As he dreams or remembers different moments and details of that summer, you can see the significance.  I thought about moments or conversations that proceeded to deeply affect the rest of my life.

Out Stealing Horses is poetic, in fact the final chapter begins with a paragraph that is repeated word for word a couple pages later.  Petterson's writing is so pretty, thoughtful and dreamy that I forget it was written in Norwegian.  So I am also impressed with Anne Born who translated it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

By Bread Alone by Sarah-Kate Lynch

This book surprised me with it's substance.  It took me a while to read the first couple of chapters, and I judged it incorrectly.  When I finally dove in, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the story.  I don't like when authors' hold a key plot line over your head for chapter after chapter the way the family tragedy was kept a secret in this book.  But I will say that the way it is revealed felt perfect and realistic.

The home that Esme is living in now is a tower.  Each bedroom is on a different floor, and it is called the "House in the Clouds."  I think this is also symbolic of the different layers of the story.  Esme bakes bread every morning, and it makes her happy.  When the book begins, she has stopped baking it and her family is worried.  Her family is fun and quirky, an almost too good to be true husband, a 4 1/2 year old son, her grandma that raised her, her father-in-law and a dog.  Of course they all add something unique to the book.  The current story is speckled with Esme's flashbacks of the summer she fell in love and learned to bake pain au levian

I'll warn you that the flash-back-bread-making (love-making) scenes are more risque than I like to read.  They are few and brief, so I finished this up, but I don't want to shock anyone.

The descriptions of the bread, however, are mouthwatering, and I am interesting in seeking out other books by Sara-Kate Lynch.  There are also hilarious moments, like getting gum stuck in her hair, a quince bouncing down the stairs, or the blinding of the goat.  I could see thisstory adapted into a successful movie.

I liked the way the book unfolds and ultimately the insight that Esme gains.

I recommend this hesitantly, because of the reason I mentioned above and some conversations she has with an old friend that are a little crude.

Monday, July 9, 2012

This Life is in Your Hands by Melissa Coleman

In 1968 Melissa Coleman's parents purchased property in Maine with the dream to live off the land.  They build their home, they planted and cultivated crops, and raised their children in a simple, value-driven environment.  They were organic and back to the land before it was popular.  Their story is fascinating.  Melissa does a great job of helping the reader catch the vision of what her parents believed in and worked hard to create.

This is a memoir, but it ends when Melissa is 9 or 10, so the first half or so isn't really from her memories.  I mean, obviously there are memories sprinkled in, but she has heavily researched what was going on with her family during that time.  There are excerpts from her mom's diary, quotes from visitors and apprentices, and facts from books and news articles.  She pulls them together very well, but it was a little much for me.  It seemed a little too documentary, for example, "Cold pinched the inside of Papa's nose as the first rays of sun bloomed behind the darkened points of fir and spruce surrounding the snow-covered clearing."  This is when she is one, so I guess she's trying to paint a picture, but for me it was distracting and felt too forced.

Aside from the sometimes dreamy over descriptions, I enjoyed this story.  You want to cheer for Eliot and Sue who are working so hard to live the principles they believe in.  Melissa has fond memories and I believe includes every moment that she clearly remembers from her childhood.  There's a great memory of being at the public library.  Growing up on a remote homestead, you can imagine that she is lonely.  "The books surrounded us like wrapped presents.  It was only by opening them that you could find out if they held anything special...In a good story, the characters were telling a secret that you knew was true because you remembered it from somewhere deep inside."  I love that, and I think it shows what a good writer Melissa Coleman is.

From the beginning of the book you know there is going to be a tragic ending.  It's mentioned on the cover, and even hinted at through out the story.  This kind of bothered me because there is a sense of foreboding and I kept it going to happen now...

Ultimately this is a well-told story about a family.  Starting with the parents and their passion and dreams.  I think because their story is unique, it's really interesting to read.  I recommend this book, but I didn't LOVE it.

Friday, July 6, 2012

because of mr. terupt by Rob Buyea

This is a charming story of an inspiring 5th grade teacher.  It is told through 7 narrators, all students in the same class.  While they are sometimes cheesy, and maybe stereotypical, I thought their individual stories and perspectives were great.  I really enjoyed this book!

Because of mr. terupt deals with some grown-up issues like divorce, teen pregnancy, special needs students, guilt and death.  But they are all treated and discussed very age appropriately for the characters and the audience.  I passed this on to both my 13 year old and 11 year old sons and they both thought it was a really good book.  I think male and female readers in their age range will like it. 

It's a quick read that deals with sadness and frustration, but is ultimately uplifting and happy!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

This is another book that I've seen around a lot and always with positive reviews.  When "I am Sam" recommended it on another post, I put it back on my hold list at the library.  (I missed it once already!) And it came in on my Kindle which I love!

I really liked this story, but I couldn't help compare it with books that I've already read.  When the story begins, CeeCee's mother is slipping further into mental illness and her father is slipping further away from their family.  Poor CeeCee is left to deal with tragic and embarrassing circumstances and has no friends at school to support her.  Luckily she has a sweet old lady neighbor who fills in a couple gaps and helps CeeCee survive.  Similarly to The Secret Life of Bees, CeeCee ends up moving to the Savannah, Georgia and forming strong motherly bonds with some great women.  I enjoyed CeeCee's perspective and insights.  I would categorize this as a coming of age book.

When CeeCee is thinking about how much she would like a friend she says, "Every day I ached to hear my footsteps walk in rhythm with those of another girl."  I love that, and the clever way that Beth Hoffman illustrated her point.

There are really no positive men characters living in this book.  However, CeeCee's great uncle is spoken about fondly. "He was a powerful man and a kind, kind soul.  Usually them two things don't go together."

I loved this conversation CeeCee has with her aunt Tootie, "One day you'll do something, see something, or get an idea that seems to pop up from nowhere.  And you'll feel a kind of stirring--like a warm flicker inside your chest.  When that happens, whatever you do, don't ignore it.  Open your mind and expore the idea.  Fan your flame. And when you do, you'll have found it."  I think about that a lot as a parent.  I want my kids to find things they are passionate about.  I think as adults we recongnize what we really like to do more easily.  But I guess we don't always have the freedom to pursue those things.  But when we do, I believe we are much happier and that carries over to all the other things we have to do with our time.

I enjoyed reading this book, and I would recommend it.  I've been trying to put my finger on why I didn't love it.  Simply put, it's just not as good as a lot of other books that follow a similar story line.  I thought it was weird that the women in the south who seemed to know everyone, never introduced her to any children.  That seems like the most obvious thing they would have done.  It happens by accident toward the end and it adds a really sweet element.

I also think that CeeCee didn't feel as real to me as other young heroines.  I think the writing just needed to be developed a little more.  The author created a great character, but she doesn't entirely come alive.  For example, she loves to read, but we aren't given a lot of insight into which characters or books mean something to her.  I loved when she read Nancy Drew to Oletta, but we only get Oletta's comments.  I wish that we knew what inspired or comforted CeeCee in what she was reading.  I think it would have helped us understand her.

I love that nothing SUPER horrible happens after the initial tragedies.  There were some moments where I was worried.  In fact several incidents were written with un-realistically happy endings.  But I rarely mind that!

I also really liked all the crazy ladies she meets in Savannah.  The neighbors are almost cartooney in their eccentricities.  The homes and the parties are well-described and lovely.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

This was a fun children's mystery.  I think it would be great for 4th-6th graders, but maybe even better if read as a class.  It definely feels old fashioned.  I can imagine really great discussions and enrichment exercises to go along.

The book begins with a wide variety of people being selected to live in an apartment building, and then ultimately chosen to solve a mysterious death with the reward of a huge inheritance.  Mr. Westing has put them in pairs and given them clues.

Of course each team is made up of two individuals who greatly benefit from their new friendship.  Most of the characters learn something and change for the better by playing the game.

The writing style is cook, the mystery is clever and I recommend this book for a quick fun read.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bookshop Talk

Bookshop Talk has humored me again and posted one of my reviews.  It's pretty much the same as I posted on here, but check it out if you feel like it.  It kind of makes me feel famous!

They also posted my review of Cold Sassy Tree!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff

This is a short little story about 12 year old Hollis Woods who has been moved around through several foster homes.  She has been misunderstood and under-appreciated.  She has been told she is trouble so many times that she believes it.  She is an amazing artist, and she skips school.

I liked her character.  I think the story is well-written and interesting.  I enjoyed the style of writing, and how the chapters alternate between present day, and pictures Hollis has drawn.

I did get super annoyed that the big event that happened last summer that destroyed her first chance at a happy family is kind of held hostage until the very end.  I understand why authors do this, but I wish they wouldn't.  The good news is that the book is short, 166 pages.  If you read it in an afternoon or evening, you might not have been as annoyed as I was.  I spread it out to long, and had to resist flipping to the end to read the details when they were finally revealed.

The ending is sweet and happy.  This is worth a read, and I would guess that girls in 4th or 5th grade would really like it.

PS.  There was a TV movie made in 2007, with Sissy Spacek, I've got to track it down!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany on the subway that she had a great life, but she wasn't as happy as she could or should be.  This lead her to research what seems like anything ever written or said about finding happiness, and ultimately set specific goals for herself to try and be happier.  I think the concept is genius and the book entertaining to read.  I enjoyed both the research she presents and her personal experiences.  It is honest, inspiring, and really interesting.  I recommend it.

I have an ongoing discussion in my head and with other people about whether or not you can really, truly change.  I've probably engaged you in a conversation about it.  Gretchen's assumption that she could consciously make decisions, or a whole series of them actually, and change her level of happiness totally sparked my interest.

Gretchen sets up a birthday tracker online to remind her to send birthday messages to her friends and family, she cleans out her closet and other cluttered areas of her house, she works hard to stop nagging her family members and she starts a collection.  Each month she has a theme like, "Be Serious about Play" or "Remember Love" and then sets a few specific goals to focus on in that category.  She diligently keeps a chart for herself and gives herself a star when she is successful.  This reminded me of Ben Franklin's attempts to rid himself of his vices and reach perfection.  She's a bit more realistic.  Some of her goals were things I think I might try, while others were not appealing to me.  I love that she tries to push herself to try new things, but then realizes that they aren't working or are making her less happy, and abandons them.  

She decides to keep a one sentence a day journal.  I struggle to successfully journal, and I love that no pressure attempt.  She also realizes that if she really wants to nag less, she's going to have to work more.  Do the little annoying tasks around the house that are bothering her, instead of nagging someone else to do it.  I can relate to this and  I've been TRYING to do the same.  I also liked the reference she made to studies about friendships.  (She references many different studies, books and experts--but I didn't find it annoying.)  She says, "Studies show that if you have five or more friends with whom to discuss an important matter, you are far more likely to describe yourself as "very happy."  I like this.  I rarely have a huge crowd of friends, but the few close ones I have are great for me, and definitely contribute to my happiness.

She also says, "One reason that challenge brings happiness is that it allows you to expand your self-definition.  You become larger...Research shows that the more elements make up your identity, the less threatening it is when any one element is threatened.  Losing your job might be a blow to your self-esteem, but the fact that you lead your local alumni association give you a comforting source of self-respect."  Amen.  I think about this all the time with my kids.  They've got to have more than one thing that makes them feel good about themselves.

I also like that she takes on being happier as something you can accomplish by make deliberate choices and expending effort.  "Some people are unhappy because they won't take the trouble to be happy.  Happiness takes energy and discipline."  It really is easier to criticize, find fault and complain than it is to have enthusiasm, support others and work hard to improve things.  "Being critical has its advantages, and what's more, it's much easier to be hard to please.  Although enthusiasm seems easy and undiscriminating, in fact, it's much harder to embrace something than to disdain it.  It's riskier."  This was a good reminder of me.  I used to think of myself as a very positive person, but if I'm honest, I know that I'm much more cynical and critical than I was 20 years ago.

Of course there are parts of this book that kind of bugged me.  Her over-use of the mantra "Be Gretchen," got on my nerves.  It seemed trite and not very helpful.  But obviously it was helpful for her.  There were also several things she works on that were surprising to me because I couldn't relate to them. 

Another really true issue she addresses is how our need for perfection or fear of failure cripples us and prevents us from improving ourselves.  I know this is a theme addressed often, but it always rings true with me.  She quotes Voltaire, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."  I love that.

And ultimately I would agree with a statement that Gretchen Rubin makes on the first page of this book.  "I often learn more from one person's highly idiosyncratic experiences than I do from sources that detail universal principles or cite up-to-date studies.  I find greater value in what specific individuals tell me worked for them than in any other kind of argument--and that's true even when we seem to have nothing in common."  That is why I liked reading this book and why I believe it has been so successful.  In the same way we testify in church, ask our friends for advice on facebook or value stranger's product reviews, we like to hear what others think. We like to share experiences and learn from each other.  It makes us happy!

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Truth About Sparrows by Marian Hale

I enjoyed reading this sweet, easy book.  It takes place in 1933, centering on Sadie who is 12.  Her family has been forced to sell their house, leave precious belongings and head West in an attempt to make ends meet.  I think the characters and story are nice.  It's  predictible and sometimes seems to try a little too hard to get all the historical details in.

I enjoyed reading the story.  I haven't ever read about families during this time making a living fishing or living in this area (Texas), so it was a fresh take to a familiar theme.  I think what I liked best was the growth and self-reflections of Sadie.  She has made a promise to her best friend that even though they have both moved far away they will remain loyal.  She takes this seriously, and I liked reading as she figures out what that means.  Sadie also has to come to terms with her new situation in life.  She reacts poorly to teasing and lashes out at her new friends.  I think this is such a common thing for kids this age and I think the author addresses and resolves it in a realistic and helpful way.

I recommend this book.  I think it is a great piece of historical fiction for younger readers!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

So this is one of those books that I feel like I have seen all over the place.  At some point I put a hold on it at the library and it finally came in.  It is definitely peculiar, but I got into it quick and couldn't put it down.

I had known about the crazy photos, which are all a little creepy and look like someone tinkering with trick photography developing.  The truth behind the photos is that Ransom Riggs, the author, (that can't be his real name, right?) collects crazy old photos, and he's not alone.  In the back he credits which collectors the photos belong too. 

The story begins in modern day centered around a misfit rich kid named Jacob who has a grandfather that he has always admired.  It's hard not to spoil the story, so I'll just mention that there is a fantasy element to the story, but not the one I expected.

I know I've mentioned before that fantasy isn't my favorite type of book to read, but I did like this one.  It was a little scary for me in parts, and there are some elements that just struck me as too weird and unnecessary.  But, overall I do think it is a clever and creative book.  I loved the thread of photographs that moves the story along.  The photos his grandfather had shown him as a child, a collection he finds later and then even later on the island.  I think they were woven in nicely.

I recommend this book.  There are 3 or 4 crude lines in the book which are so unneccessary and kind of stood out of place.  Just a warning.  I've seen this listed as YA fiction, but I'm not sure if I want my 12 year old to read it because of those phrases.  Dumb.

I'd love to hear what you thought of this book!  It's hard to review without giving away the plot twists.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Fighting Ruben Wolfe and Getting the Girl by Marcus Zusak

These have been published as a one volume trilogy with The Underdog as the first novel.  I think Marcus Zusak has a unique writing style that is soothing to read, even when his subject matters are hard.  The protagonist of all three stories is Cameron Wolfe, and the main plots center around his relationship with his brother Ruben.  Each book is better than the last.  I like thinking of reading it as watching Zusak improve in his story writing.  If you liked The Book Thief, you might like this.  The style is reminiscent, but The Book Thief deals with events of worldwide importance and historical significance, Under Dogs deals with seemingly insignificant events of a limited number of people.

In Fighting Ruben Wolfe, the brothers are recruited into an underground fight club.  At the same time, Cameron begins to see himself as different than Ruben.  In someways this makes him feel worse about his situation, but in other ways it helps him realize what he wants to become.  In this story, several of the chapters end with italicized conversations between the brothers in bed at night after they've turned the lights out.  I'm beginning to think that straightforward forshadowing is part of Zusak's signature style.  For example he writes, "He did, and soon it will alter the life of my brothe Rube.  It will put him in a boxing ring.  It will make a heap of girls notice him.  It'll make him successful."

Cameron begins writing poetry, or prose, but Zusak doesn't limit this style of writing to his character.  At the end of a paragraph he writes, "He's half a man, because it seems when a man can't work and when his wife and kids earn all the money, a man becomes half a mak.  It's just the way it is.  Hands grow  pale.  Heartbeat gets stale."  It's poetic, but not cheesy.

"The truth is, there's a lot to hate, and a lot to love.
The People.
The Situation."

Or, "The moment was cut open.  It fell in pieces all around me, and I had no idea what would happen next."

While a lot of the things the boys go through are sad and hard, there are funny, lighter moments.  Like walking their neighbor's dog Miffy.   "I promise you when we're walking that dog and see someone we know, we pull our hoods over our heads and look the other way.  I mean, there's only so much guys like us can get away with.  Walking a Pomeranian that goes by the name of Miffy is not one of them."  But of course they grow found of Miffy.

In all three stories, there is a lot of focus on the family dynamics.  Cameron is very mature in his ablity to see how his actions affect his family members.  "It's always bad when someone believes you when you know they shouldn't.  You feel like screaming at them, telling them to stop, so you can live with yourself a little easier.  But you don't.  You don't want to disappoint them."

This entire book can be read pretty quickly.  While it' actually 500 pages, there are lots of pages with poems, dreams or dialouge.  I liked all three books.  I especially felt like the resolution in the last one was well done and realistic.  Even if it is really sad on it's way to get there.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Amalee by Dar Williams

Yes I definetly should have read this before Lights, Camera, Amalee.  It develops Amalee's father's friends better, and would have helped me like them a bit more the second time around.  Still, I feel like having four of them is unneccessary.  One part I loved is when she recounts the story of when her mom left when she was an infant.  Her dad felt like she deserved a stable home to be raised in and considered adoption, but those friends assured him that he could do it, and they would fill in the gaps.  So that was sweet.

What I liked most about this book is the main character Amalee.  At 11, she is younger than most protagonists I read about coming of age.  But she doesn't reach some unrealistic maturity in the course of this book..  In fact she goes on to grow more in her second book, but she learns some important things about herself and her friends in this story.  I thought this aspect was thoughtfully written, and it felt familiar to how I remember feeling in 6th grade.

"I didn't mind what we were studying, even, but I was in middle school now, which meant less colors, less friendliness, and more meanness.  And there was another problem.  I was meaner, too.  Or I felt meaner."

The subtle examples Amalee gives about her new meanness center around not sticking up for other kids, going along with mean girls, and just not being brave enough to speak her mind.  I can really remember those couple of years when I felt that way.  Where the fear of drawing the negative attention to yourself is so real, that you let things slide that you really don't want to. 

"I wasn't sure if I'd make it through the day.  I decided to pretend I was a river rock, letting the river of whatever hard words I heard today wash over me."

I thought this was a good book.  I'd recommend it for 12 and up.  Probably mostly appeals to girls.
You can read it in an afternoon, it's only 180 pages, pretty large type.

Plus I think Dar Williams is cool and she did a good job turning her lyric writing skills into young adult novels.  Woohoo!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry

OH Lois Lowry.  When I was little I loved her Anastasia series, in college I read Number the Stars, and in book club, The Giver.  What a range of successful books!  Of course she's written a million more. And, I loved this one too. 

The Willoughbys is a fun story about four "old fashioned" kids who are very aware of the archetype of orphans in literature.  The whole thing is written satirically, but its really light and fun!  I think it is hilarious, and my 10-year-old loved it too.

There are four Willoughby siblings.  The oldest is Tim, and he creates these games that his siblings play unwillingly. 
"The Willoughby children were seated on the front steps playing a complicated game to which only Tim knew the rules."  It involves having to move down a step for asking a question, being a dodo, or disagreeing.  Another game is this abstract awarding or deducting of points.  We have a running joke about that with our kids, so I thought it was especially funny.

Next are twin brothers who share the same name and have only one sweater between them.  When they mention to their mom that they might like another sweater, she says, "It's disgusting the way children today all want their own sweaters."  At the same time she is knitting a sweater for the cat.  And finally, sweet little Jane who gets the brunt of it all.  When her parents leave them with a nanny, they forget to mention they even have a 4th child.

I love this sentiment, "Let us not waste time with tears and useless expostulations," Nanny told them. "What if this were a story in a book with a well-worn maroon leather binding? What would good old-fashioned people do in this situation?"  Awesome.

I loved how Lois Lowry uses big words, but includes her own glossary in the back. I wish she mentioned it at the beginning because I bet kids won't look at it.  Here's an excerpt:
"MALEVOLENT means wanting to harm others or having an evil influence.  Even though if you glance quickly at the word, it may look like "male violent," this word has nothing to do with males.  It is actually pronounced mah-LEV-oh-lent.  Some females are very malevolent."

She also includes a little bibliography of "Books of the past that are heavy on piteous but appealing orphans, ill-tempered and stingy relatives, magnanimous benefactors, and transformations wrought by winsome children."

Read this, you'll like it.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister

I liked Joy for Beginners for the same reasons I liked The School of Essential Ingredients.  The writing is pretty, the characters interesting and each chapter leaves you feeling like you've learned something about them and life in general. 

The premise this time is that Kate has gathered her friends for a victory party and to thank them for their support as she fought breast cancer.  "Kate looked at the women around her.  It was an incongruous group--it reminded Kate of a collection of beach rocks gathered over time."  As they encourage her to white water raft the Grand Canyon with her daughter, she challenges each of them to do one thing that they are afraid of,that she picks out.  At first it seemed a little cheesy that she would know what specific thing they need to do to grow or overcome.  BUT if you think about the hours they spent visiting with and supporting her, it feels real that she would have a sense of what they need.

I enjoyed several of the chapters.  I liked the way the characters intertwine, and you figure out how everyone is connected as you read their stories.  There are romantic ones, sad ones and funny ones.

There are sentences that ring so true with me, like a comment on pulling a book down from the bookshelf to re-read, "Open the pages and be caught in the memories of the person she had been when she first read it."  I know exactly how that feels.  It's hard for me to revise my feelings about a book when I read it again because the first impact is always the most powerful.

Or, "Adults need to have fun so children will want to grow up." I love that.  We want our kids to think that their life will just keep getting better, instead of showing them a bleak future in our unhappiness.

And in reference to returning home after sitting with Kate during her cancer treatments, "Afterward, Sara would go home and hold her children, as many as she could fit on her lap, as long as they would stay."  Even re-reading it makes me cry.

"Hadley entered the living room; Sara saw her and merely nodded, any personal need to apologize for the bedlam of her household long gone in the fog of her exhaustion."  I'm grateful that I've passed those years of tiny baby-no sleep craziness.

"Her daughter's voice came across the line, lit with excitement. 'I'm going to have a baby!' But you are a baby, Marion opened her mouth to say. I'm still holding you in my arms."

I also like Bauermeister's use of the English language: "Clarity broke like a plate on the floor."  It is such a perfect simile because the shocking thing is said over dinner in a restaurant, and you can almost image that someone hearing it might drop their piece of china.

And, "The little girl was talking happily, the flow of her words bright and shiny, like candy falling from a pinata."

I think the final chapter of Kate taking the rafting trip with her daughter was meant to be cumulative, to be the big finish that ties it all together.  But for me it was my least favorite chapter.  It felt too forced, too trite.  The other chapters felt more original and fresh.  And the swimming part was just too obvious and stereotypical. 

I can't decide which of these two Erica Bauermeister's books I liked the most, but if you like one, I'll bet you'll like the other.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Underdog by Marcus Zusak

So this is the first book Mr. Zusak wrote, and I think it's OK.   It's recently been released in the US with the next two books that resolve around the same brothers.

For me it really feels like a short story.  It follows an obvious literary format,  climax, denoument, etc. But overall it's not a super eventful action-packed story.

Cameron is a loser, he tells his story in a self-deprecating way.  He and his brother are bored, poor, and end up getting into trouble without even trying very hard.  He wants to do better, to be better.  He says at the beginning that, "A happening was looming.  It was out there somewhere beyond the regular enclosed life that I had been living."

I like his writing style, it feel efforless and smart, but it's definetly stream of conscious, so if that bugs you this will too.  Several chapters include dreams.  I think they are poetic and that teenagers would love to try to interpret them, but they didn't add a lot to the story for me.

"The pages and words are my world, spread out before your eyes and for your hands to touch."

I'm interested enough to read the next one, but it didn't amaze me.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lights, Camera, Amalee by Dar Williams

So I was in the Juvenile section of my library and this little gem was propped up with it's cover facing out, and I got excited to see Dar Williams as the author!  I hadn't thought of her much since college, but a woman who can write an awesome song like The Babysitter's Here, must be able to tell a good story, right? (Although for the record, I like your version best, CCW).

This is the story of the summer between 7th and 8th grade when Amalee decides to make a movie about endangered species.  She was inspired by English teacher, and their end of the year project. He says, "You have many stories ahead of you.  Tell them with creativity, clarity, and integrity."

Maybe it was just my mood, but I did kind of fall for this book.  I found the adult friends of Amalee who are supposed to be these amazing people who have helped raise her to be very annoying.  There were 4 and it was hard to keep track, and to really feel like they were all necessary.  BUT I found out after I finished that there was an original Amalee, and maybe if I had read that first I would have been attached to these characters.  You know how sometimes the second book kind of assumes stuff?

It took me a while, but at about 100 pages in I was taken with Amalee and I think we can all relate to that 12-year-oldness where you feel these big grown-up emotions but you don't really know what to do with them.  Or who your real friends are, and you want to be cool and pretty and smart, you know what I mean, right?  So that part felt very Dar Williams, and I did buy into it.  I liked it.

I thought the writing was good, not amazing.  Here are some sentences I liked:

"It was like Mr. Chapelle's assignment; their silence had a language of its own."

"Thanks, Kyle," I said, trying to sound close to sixteen.

"I'd stopped being friends with Ellen and Hallie--or maybe they had stopped being friends with me-- but they still visited my mind from time to time when I was wearing pants that felt too tight or I had an idea that felt stupid."

"From what I could tell, she didn't stand out in her classes for being smart.  She wasn't an athlete, she definitely wasn't funny, and she probably still wasn't particularly nice, but I wanted her to feel like she fit in the world, because who was I to say she didn't?"


My favorite part of the book is how the movie she is making gives her the chance to repair old insults, strengthen her friendships, and really figure out some things about herself.  At the beginning it felt forced how all the adults jump on board and give her advice and guidance, and even the research at first feels too tidy.  But like I mentioned before somehow it all came together for me and worked.

Now I've got to go look up the first book!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth By Lynne Rae Perkins

I don't remember how I came across this title, but I suggested it to my 12-year-old who needed to find literary devices in a novel.  It is full of metaphors, hyperboles, similies, etc.  When I talked to him about it he said he didn't really like it.  He thought it was kind of boring.  But we both agreed that there are so many mysteries you want to finish the book.

The story begins with Ry, who is travelling on a train to summer camp.  His parents are vacationing in the Caribbean, and his grandpa is housesitting.  Of course they have just moved into a new house, so he doesn't really know his neighbors or have friends at his new location.  He has just discovered that the camp is no longer going to be held, and he is desperately trying to get in touch with someone to figure out what to do.  While he's trying to get a cell phone signal, the train leaves without him, and the adventure begins.

I think Lynne Rae Perkins has a unique writing style.  I liked her clever chapter titles and intermittant illustrations.  But the story was kind of too much for me.  Everything that could go wrong does.  Ships sink, cell phones are left, cars break down.  And ultimately, Ry makes decisions over and over again that I think are crazy!  As a partent it's hard to get past him accepting rides from strangers, sleeping in crummy conditions or cutting of his lifejacket!  I would have thought it would be more appealing to younger readers, but as mentioned above, my son found it boring too.  She won a Newberry medal for another book she wrote, so I might pick it up sometime out of curiousity to see if it was just her subject that bugged me.

Has anyone else read this?  I saw some glowing reviews that kind of surprised me.  I think it's one to skip.

Monday, February 20, 2012

My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

Mary Sutter is a midwife, who has been trained by her mother, and is the best around.  She also wants to be a surgeon, but no one will accept her to medical school or let her apprentice.  But the civil war has just begun and so she leaves to be a nurse.  What follows is an informative story about the horrible conditions and lack of supplies medics worked under during those times.

The book is also the story of the Sutter family who is grieving the loss of their father.  Their interactions and decisions move the story.  Mary, her twin sister Jenny, younger brother Christian and her mother Amelia live in Albany together.  Mary is a like able character, and you do empathize with her family members.  But it almost felt like there was just too much going on to really pick favorites or decide which character you liked best.

The story is told by an omniscient narrator, which allows you to have insight into the thoughts and motivations of several characters.  I liked this, but again, I felt like I had a lot of information, and I didn't fall in love with anyone.  Even so, I enjoyed the book, I liked the characters, and I felt compelled to keep reading.

Mary is spunky, as she challenges a doctor who won't apprentice her, "In your opinion, is there a limit to how much knowledge one person is allowed to accumulate?  Have I reached my quota?"

I love it.

As Mary reflects how after the hard work of birth, she doesn't remember the horrors, but "the gasp of love when at last the mother encircled the infant in her arms."

If you like historical fiction, I think you'll like this book.  I remember reading little books about Clara Barton and Florence Nightengale when I was a kid.  This is a great expansion of those little snippets I learned.  I love the glimpses into the doctors who were really figuring things out.  Trying to solve the mysteries of the human body and to save lives. 

I liked the choices that Mary made.  She had been brought up in comfort, but had worked tirelessly as a midwife.  She didn't take no for an answer, or accept her current life as the only one available to her.  Instead she worked hard.  She did what no one else wanted to do, and ultimately it paid off. 

One complaint about the keep falling in love with Mary.  She's not pretty, they are quick to point out, but there's something about her.  I think this is kind of annoying.  I'm starting to feel like it's a common theme.  Remember how Jane Eyre is like that?

This is my current theory.  The women who write these books, and maybe those of us who read them, want to believe that being clever, skilled, educated, all of these things is more attractive to men then outward beauty.  Which I think is true in real life.  But the way it is written, it feels phony, in the same way falling in love at first site feels forced.

There's a great conversation, which is kind of a turning point because the Doctor is taking her seriously instead of being delicate around her.  He says, "You want to be a surgeon?  To be a surgeon is to look a man in the eye and tell him the truth.  If you can't do that, then get out of here.  Go home.....It is all butchery. Every bit of it."  Then, "Choose who you are, choose who you'll be."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

I'm just going to preface my review with the fact that I read this entire book in sunny, sunny California.  Most of it while sitting or laying in the sand by the ocean, with NO kids.  It was the perfect setting for this book.  I totally believe in books fitting your mood, and maybe if I was in my normal life chaos, I might not have been as taken in.
That being said, I really liked this book!  The premise is very creative, and allows the book to read more like short stories than a novel.  Each chapter follows one member of a cooking class.  Not just any cooking class, but these amazing ones taught by Lillian who gets food, and seeks to teach her class about "Essential Ingredients."  The first chapter gives us a glimpse into her sad childhood, and perspective into her love affair with cooking.  "It was the cooking that occurred in her friends' homes that fascinated Lillian."

The food is described romantically.  I can't think of a word that fits it better.  "The flavor opened like a flower across his tongue, soft and sweet."  And, "the sauce, an untouched snowfield, its smell the feeling of quiet at the end of an illness."  See what I mean?  And I love this description, "he was full of philosophy, his favorite class of the previous term, reciting passages of Plato and Kant as if they had just been written and he the first to find them."  I love that kind of passion for knowledge or litereature.

As the characters cook with each other, they support and love one another.  This can sometimes feel contrived, but I bought into it.  They pass on the things they know to each other.  "Life is beautiful.  Some people just remind you of that more than others." 

Isabelle, the oldest student, is dealing with losing her memory.  She describes, "Our bodies carry our memories of them, in our muscles, in our skin, in our bones.  My children are right here.' She pointed to the inside curve of her elbow. 'Where I held them when they were babies.  Even if there comes a time when I don't know who they are anymore, I believe I will feel them here.'  She's talking to a younger man who is grieving, and I thought it was a sweet exchange.

I liked it from the beginning.  The writing is smart, and the characters are interesting and real, if a little romanticized.

Erica Bauermeister lives in Seattle, and this book is set in the Northwest, without disclosing a specific city that I remember.  If you live here too, you know how true this is:  "It was a clear, cold evening in early February, the end of a miraculously blue day blown in from the north like a celebration.  People in the Northwest tended to greet such weather with a child's sense of joy."  That's exactly how it was here yesterday!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons

This is a short little volume that is told in a unique narrative style.  Ellen is the main character and as she tells her tragic life story, she switches from present to past, to a more recent past and around and around.  As a reader you're not sure of the timeline and how long different periods last.  There are two Christmases, but I imagine the whole story takes place over about 18 months.  It is set in the rural South, I would have thought in like the 1950's, but then there is a reference to the 60's, so my best guess is mid 1970's.

I liked it pretty well.  I think maybe it would be better suited for studying in school where you could discuss how the narrative added to or distracted from the story.  You could have students create their own timeline and piece together what is going on.  I can imagine good book club discussions about it.

The story itself is very sad.  Ellen is 10 then 11 and her mom dies first, her father is a monster and alternately treats her horribly or just neglects her.  She is of course a resilient character and works hard to make things work out.  Every family member who takes her in is bad to her. 

"Everything was so wrong like somebody had knocked something loose and my family was shaking itself to death.  Some wild ride broke and the one in charge strolled off and let us spin and shake and fly off the rail."

Ulitmately, she saves herself and it has a happy ending.  In such a short time you do see growth and more understanding in Ellen.  I liked her as a character. 

"Have you ever felt like you could cry because you know you just heard the most important thing anybody in the world could have spoke at that second?"


Has anyone else read it?  It's only 126 pages long, and I read it in just a couple hours.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

I can't remember how I found Bookshop Talk, but I've found some good book recommendations there.  They have a really good variety of books reviewed, and most of the time I have never heard of them.  One review I read was for Princess of the Midnight Ball, and Jessica Day George is one of the hosts of the website.  So I was curious, and ready for something quick and easy after The Winter Sea and Jane Eyre.

I enjoyed this book!  It is a re-telling of the Grimm fairytale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses.  All I know about the story I learned from the Barbie movie that my daughter has checked out from the library a few times.  So I don't know how much is fairytale and how much is the author's imagination.  Either way I think this was a fun, simple story.  It is written for upper elementary grades, so there isn't a lot of character development, and many of them are stereotypes.  But that's what I expect in a fairytale.

Galen is the hero of the book.  He has just fought in a war and lost his whole family.  He travels to a relative's house where he is employed to work as an undergardener at the palace.  The princesses mysteriously wear out their dancing shoes during the night, but can't tell anyone why.  As a reader, we are slowly let in on the curse that binds them.  I like how it is revealed a bit at a time.

I like Galen's character.  He adapts quickly to his new situation and does his best to help others.  "Here, though, was an intriguing new word.  A world of thinning, mulching, bandaging, grafting, and pruning--it was like building fortifications against an enemy invader."

I liked Jessica Day George's writing style, "She held the flowers to her stuffy nose and tried to breathe in some of the scent.  Only the faintest trickle of the flowers' perfume came through, so she gently stroked her cheek with the soft petals instead, savoring the exquisite feeling."

If you like fairytales, I would recommend this book.  I think my daughter will love it in a couple of years.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

FINALLY!  I've started it three times since I saw the movie this summer.  The beginning is just so, so tragic and awful.  I haven't read this since high school, and I'm wondering how I ever got through it before.

I really, really liked it.  I've been thinking a lot about what makes something a classic, and whether I really think books deserve the title.  For this book, I think it should be studied and held up as a classic because Jane Eyre is a heroic character.  She thinks through her decisions, she chooses what is right and what she is inspired to do.  She does not sacrifice what she knows is right just because she wants something dearly.

I've  been struggling to form a review, and putting it off for over a week!

I assume everyone knows the basic story or has at least seen a movie version.  So I'm including spoilers.  I marked so many great passages as I read, which again, is a sign of a good classic.

Jane is treated so poorly by her aunt and cousins.  But I love that it doesn't break her spirit.  I love this dialogue as she stands up for herself.

"I am not deceitful: if I were I should say I loved you; but I declare I do not love you; I dislike you the worst of anybody in the world except John Reed; and this book about the liar, you may give to your girl, Georgiana, for it is she who tells lies, and not I."

Or this amazing wisdom that Helen gives her:

"But I feel this, Helen; I must dislike those who, whatever I do to please them, persist in disliking me; I must resist those who punish me unjustly. It is as natural as that I should love those who show me affection, or submit to punishment when I feel it is deserved."

(Helen responds.) "Heathens and savage tribes hold that doctrine, but Christians and civilised nations disown it."

I think that is kind of the key to life.  To be able to move past what we feel like we deserve, or are justified in feeling. 

Along the same lines, "Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs."

And again wisdom from sweet Helen, "Everybody Jane?  Why, there are only eighty people who have heard you called so, and the world contains hundreds of millions."

Mr. Broklehurst has got to be among the worst villains in any book, right?  I love how his power and authority is taken away after the epidemic that takes the lives of so many of the girls. 
But for me the best part of the book is when she lives at Thornfield hall.  I love how Charlotte Bronte narrates, and occasionally speaks to the reader.  She explains that this is no ordinary biography, and just skips over the unimportant years.  Of course, Mr. Rochester is so rough, and so rude at the beginning.  I feel like this character has been copied and remade so many times in later fiction.

But his lines are funny, like when they first talk, "I cannot see you without disturbing my position in this comfortable chair, which I have no mind to do." 

or "It would please me not to draw you out--to learn more of you--therefore speak."  Hilarious.

He also says, "I mentally shake hands with you for your answer."  Doesn't that seem like a really modern phrase?

The passages as she begins to fall in love with him are so well-written.

"The ease of his manner freed me from painful restraint; the friendly frankness, as correct as cordial, with which he treated me, drew me to him."

And, "Gratitude, and many associations, all pleasurable and genial, made his face the object I best liked to see; his presence in a room was more cheering than the brightest fire."

"Never had he called me more frequently to his presence; never been kinder to me when there--and, alas! never had I loved him so well."

For me Jane Eyre is romantic.  But it is just weird enough, that it doesn't get sappy for me.  I like the way that Jane responds to Mr. Rochester.  I don't love the way he messes with her.  His whole fake courtship with Miss Ingram seems just cruel.  Especially with Jane having to sit in the window witnessing it all.

But this description is great:  "She was not good; she was not original: she used to repeat sounding phrases from books: she never offered, nor had, an opinion of her own."  I like how Jane can't really be jealous of her because she feels above her.  I can relate to that, even if she sees Miss Ingram getting what she wants. "She could not charm him."

As a reader, I look up to Jane Eyre.  For persevering through a hard, sad, lonely childhood, and then for being self-motivated to change her working situation, but especially in refusing Mr. Rochester after their failed attempt at marrying.  He is so convincing, so logical, that I wanted her to say yes.  To feel justified in running away with him.  But then I like her more for sticking to what she knows is right.

"Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigor; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?"  See, she is a hero.  And this is the lesson I feel myself repeating over and over to my children and the girls I teach at church.

And then, when she hears her mother's voice!  I love it.  I do think the way that she flees is a little melodramatic.  Is it really necessary that she forget her bag in the coach? 

I love Jane's dialogue with herself, and how she is so practical. "But let me not hate and despise myself too much for these feelings; I know them to be wrong--that is a great step gained;"  Totally reasonable.  Check yourself, but forgive yourself.

I love that she resists St. John and his power to guilt her into going with him.  I like that she can resist and even though it is a noble cause, realize that she doesn't have to go.  She doesn't have to sacrifice that much. "God did not give me my life to throw away."

And then the reuniting.  "Choose then, sir--her who loves you best."  Ah.  I love happy endings.  Even if the actual ending is a little abrupt.