The War That Saved My Life, Book Review

My family talks about books. My friends talk about books. And my  SCBWI critique group writes, edits, dissects, revises, and recommends books. Shout out to Kathy who suggested the Newbery Honor and multi-award winning middle grade historical fiction by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, The War That Saved My Life.

I found it interesting to read about efforts in England during WWII to Make Do and Mend while we were quarantining and making do and mending ourselves. At the same time I read about re-purposing fabric, my daughter and I were turning sheets into masks. While characters in the story found meat hard to come by, my butcher rationed his inventory. Fictional and real dinners were invented by using what was in the pantry.

War and quarantine efforts aside, it’s the main character’s struggle and strength in the face of cruelty and uncertainty that makes this story compelling and relatable on so many levels.

What the story about?

This #1 New York Times bestseller is an exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds set during World War II. For fans of Counting by 7s and Sarah, Plain and Tall.

Ten-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

So begins a new adventure for Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?                Amazon

Quotes from The War That Saved My Life

 

“There,” she said, smiling, her eyes soft and warm. “It’s perfect. Ada. You’re beautiful.” She was lying. She was lying, and I couldn’t bear it. I heard Mam’s voice shrieking in my head. “You ugly piece of rubbish! Filth and trash! No one wants you, with that ugly foot!” My hands started to shake. Rubbish. Filth. Trash. I could wear Maggie’s discards, or plain clothes from the shops, but not this, not this beautiful dress.

“All the words in the world are made up of just twenty-six letters,” she said. “There’s a big and a little version of each.” She wrote the letters out on the paper, and named them all. Then she went through them again. Then she told me to copy them onto another piece of paper, and then she went back to her chair. I stared at the paper. I said, “This isn’t reading. This is drawing.” “Writing,” she corrected. “It’s like buttons and hems. You’ve got to learn those before you can sew on the machine. You’ve got to know your letters before you can read.”

I knew ponies from the lane but had only seen them pull carts. I hadn’t known you could ride them. I hadn’t known they could go so fast. The girl leaned forward against the pony’s flying mane. I saw a stone wall ahead of them. I gasped. They were going to hit it. They were going to be hurt. Why didn’t she stop the pony? They jumped it. They jumped the stone wall, and kept running, while the train tracks turned away from their field. Suddenly I could feel it, the running, the jump. The smoothness, the flying—I recognized it with my whole body, as though it was something I’d done a hundred times before. Something I loved to do. I tapped the window. “I’m going to do that,” I said.”

“It had been awful, but I hadn’t quit. I had persisted. In battle I had won.”

Sequel:  The War I Finally Won

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Book Review

During quarantine and this unprecedented time, there are the projects I’ve gotten done, the things half finished, and a bunch of projects I haven’t even started. And then there are books. I’ve been reading a lot so, hon, so get ready for a bunch of book reviews.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets to the Universe is a beautifully written coming-of-age YA contemporary novel by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. It’s no wonder the novel, published in 2012, garnered so many awards! I was invested in the main characters’ relationship, families, backgrounds, and thoughts on the worlds they lived in. The story drew me in, made me laugh out loud, and brought tears to my eyes.

What’s the book about?
Fifteen-year-old Aristotle (Ari) has always felt lonely and distant from people until he meets Dante, a boy from another school who teaches him how to swim. As trust grows between the boys and they become friends (a first for Ari), Ari’s world opens up while they discuss life, art, literature, and their Mexican-American roots. Additionally, the influence of Dante’s warm, open family (they even have a “no secrets” rule) is shaping Ari’s relationship with his parents, particularly in regard to a family secret; Ari has an older brother in prison, who no one ever mentions. In a poetic coming-of-age story written in concise first-person narrative, Sáenz (Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood) crystallizes significant turning points in the boys’ relationship, especially as Ari comes to understand that Dante’s feelings for him extend beyond friendship. The story swells to a dramatic climax as Ari’s loyalties are tested, and he confronts his most deeply buried fears and desires. It’s a tender, honest exploration of identity and sexuality, and a passionate reminder that love—whether romantic or familial—should be open, free, and without shame.  Publisher’s Weekly
Memorable Quotes:
“One of the secrets of the universe was that our instincts were sometimes stronger than our minds.”
“Another secret of the universe: Sometimes pain was like a storm that came out of nowhere. The clearest summer could end in a downpour. Could end in lightning and thunder.”
“Sometimes, you do things and you do them not because you’re thinking but because you’re feeling. Because you’re feeling too much. And you can’t always control the things you do when you’re feeling too much.”
“Why do we smile? Why do we laugh? Why do we feel alone? Why are we sad and confused? Why do we read poetry? Why do we cry when we see a painting? Why is there a riot in the heart when we love? Why do we feel shame? What is that thing in the pit of your stomach called desire?”
Have you read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets to the Universe? What did you think?

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak, Book Review

I gravitate toward books where the main characters are children or teens, even if the genre is adult and not middle grade or young adult. I find children’s innocence, loss of innocence, and coming-of-age deep, beautiful, and truthful. I had read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak’s , an exquisite, devastating story that has taken permanent residence in my thoughts, and looked forward to reading his new novel, Bridge of Clay. In both books, Zusak takes his time building worlds, alternating points of view, time and place. Patience pays off, because the second I finished Bridge of Clay, I vowed to read it again so that I can study and savor the way Zusak uses language.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

The breathtaking story of five brothers who bring each other up in a world run by their own rules. As the Dunbar boys love and fight and learn to reckon with the adult world, they discover the moving secret behind their father’s disappearance.

At the center of the Dunbar family is Clay, a boy who will build a bridge—for his family, for his past, for greatness, for his sins, for a miracle.

The question is, how far is Clay willing to go? And how much can he overcome? (Goodreads)

Quotes from Bridge of Clay:

Once, in the tide of Dunbar past – long before kitchens and boys, and murderers and mules – there was a many-named woman. And what a woman she was.
First, of course, the name she was born with: Penelope Lesciuszko.
Then the one christened at her piano: the Mistake Maker.
Her factory name was Penny Lessing.
Her unfortunate, self-proclaimed nickname was the Broken-Nosed Bride.
And last, the name she died with: Penny Dunbar.
Quite fittingly, she had travelled from a place that was best described by a certain phrase in the books she was raised on.
She came from a watery wilderness.

“At the building and glasswork were them — Michael and Penny Dunbar — and at the bottom of the Opera House stairway, five boys had appeared, and stood standing…and soon they came down to meet us. And we walked back out — through the crowds and words of people, and a city all swollen with sun. And death came walking with us.”

Let me tell you about our brother.
The fourth Dunbar boy named Clay.
Everything happened to him.
We were all of us changed through him.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell, Book Review

My daughter and her friend met Rainbow Rowell at Book Con in Manhattan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not often that my daughter recommends a book to me, but my youngest really wanted me to read Landline by Rainbow Rowell. She had read it and, because it’s about a mom who tries to juggle her work, home life and marriage, she thought I could relate. Familiar were–dare I say it?–the time before cellphones, the mom needing to write, and the questions that plague a marriage. All normal. All relatable. I wasn’t as emotional about the story and characters as I was about Eleanor and Park, but Rainbow Rowell hit the whole doubts-about-where-my-life-is right out of the ballpark.

Quotes from Landline:

You don’t know when you’re twenty-three.
You don’t know what it really means to crawl into someone else’s life and stay there. You can’t see all the ways you’re going to get tangled, how you’re going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten – in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.

She didn’t know at twenty-three.”

“She thought of … the way he never made made her feel crazy, even when she was acting crazy, and never made her feel like a failure, even when she was failing.”

“Having kids sent a tornado through your marriage, then made you happy for the devastation. Even if you could rebuild everything just the way it was before, you’d never want to.”

Summary of Landline on  Goodreads:

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble; it has been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems beside the point now.

Maybe that was always beside the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts…

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

Have you read this book, hon? What did you think?

Eleanor & Park, Book Review

I just finished reading Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and it was so beautiful, heartbreaking, real, and raw that I wanted to cry. It was also laugh-out-loud funny which, since I listened to it while walking Lucy, must have made me seem deranged! Have you read it, hon?  What did you think of it? How did it make you feel? My youngest daughter is a huge Rainbow Rowell fan and now I know why!

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, March 2013: While Eleanor & Park is technically classified as YA lit and has a cutesy cover, don’t let the stigma of “books for teens” fool or deter you. It is written about teens, sure, but the themes are so universal that anyone who survived high school will relate to the lives of the two protagonists. Eleanor is the new girl in town and her wild red hair and patchwork outfits are not helping her blend in. She ends up sitting next to Park on the bus, whose tendencies towards comic books don’t jibe with the rest of his family’s love of sports. They sit in awkward silence every day until Park notices that Eleanor is reading his comics over his shoulder; he begins to slide them closer to her side of the seat and thus begins their love story. Their relationship grows gradually–making each other mixed tapes (it is 1986 after all) and discussing X-Men characters–until they both find themselves looking forward to the bus ride more than any other part of the day. Things aren’t easy: Eleanor is bullied at school and then goes home to a threatening family situation; Park’s parents do not approve of Eleanor’s awkward ways. Ultimately, though, this is a book about two people who just really, really like each other and who believe that they can overcome any obstacle standing in the way of their happiness. It’s a gem of a book. –Caley Anderson

Two misfits.
One extraordinary love.

Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough…Eleanor.

Park… He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises…Park.

Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.  Goodreads.

Quotes from Eleanor and Park:

“Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.”

“I miss you, Eleanor. I want to be with you all the time. You’re the smartest girl I’ve ever met, and the funniest, and everything you do surprises me. And I wish I could say that those are the reasons I like you, because that would make me sound like a really evolved human being …‘But I think it’s got as much to do with your hair being red and your hands being soft … and the fact that you smell like homemade birthday cake”

“You saved me life, she tried to tell him. Not forever, not for good. Probably just temporarily. But you saved my life, and now I’m yours. The me that’s me right now is yours. Always.”

 

 

Frankenstein Is A Household Name

Everyone’s heard of Frankenstein, but have you ever read the book?

My daughter is reading Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley for her high school class “Monsters in British Literature.” I decided to read it, too. I was blown away!

For those who are only familiar with Victor Frankenstein’s creation through his many media incarnations, the original novel comes as something of a shock. Far from being the mute beast that many actors portrayed, Shelley’s creature is an intelligent, sensitive soul who wants nothing more than acceptance into society, fellowship, and friendship. Because everyone with whom he comes into contact rejects him, beginning with his “father” at the very moment of his “birth,” he initiates a campaign of violence and destruction that climaxes at the top of the world with Victor Frankenstein’s death aboard an ice-bound ship and the Creature’s disappearance into the icy wastes.

The book was originally published in 1818 and published anonymously “as it was felt that such a book written by a woman would not be favorably received. As it contained a preface written by Percy Bysshe Shelley (Mary’s husband), many at first assumed that he had written the book.” When a second edition was issued in 1823, Mary Shelley was credited as the author. Her 1831 revision is the story familiar to modern readers.

Did you know Frankenstein is considered one of the first works of Science Fiction?

The whole novel moves around the invention of a scientist and the result of it. Dangerous aspect of experience in the scientific field is the subject matter of the novel.

Frankenstein a classic. One of the main themes: What makes a monster?

The monster is only the most literal of a number of monstrous entities in the novel, including the knowledge that Victor used to create the monster. One can argue that Victor himself is a kind of monster, as his ambition, secrecy, and selfishness alienate him from human society. Ordinary on the outside, he may be the true “monster” inside, as he is eventually consumed by an obsessive hatred of his creation. Finally, many critics have described the novel itself as monstrous, a stitched-together combination of different voices, texts, and tenses.

I’m sure whole term papers have been written about the themes, symbols, and layers in Frankenstein. I asked if I could join my daughter’s class in discussing the novel. She said no.

Hon, have you read Frankenstein? What did you think?

Sources: Goodreads, Heritage Auctions,bachelorandmaster.com, Spark Notes

A Book Called Love, Book Review

Valentine’s Day is the perfect day for Love, a new picture book written by Matt De La Peña and illustrated by Loren Long. Although this exquisite book is for children, it resonates with all ages. I had the opportunity to see Matt and Loren at Words Bookstore in Maplewood, NJ on the second day of their book tour. When they read Love, I choked up. It’s that beautiful.

“In the beginning there is light
and two wide-eyed figures standing near the foot of your bed
and the sound of their voices is love.

A cab driver plays love softly on his radio
while you bounce in back with the bumps of the city
and everything smells new, and it smells like life.”

In this heartfelt celebration of love, Matt de la Peña and illustrator Loren Long depict the many ways we experience this universal bond, which carries us from the day we are born throughout the years of our childhood and beyond. With a lyrical text that’s soothing and inspiring, this tender tale is a needed comfort and a new classic that will resonate with readers of every age.  (Goodreads)

Interestingly, the book has a controversial scene. In it, a child and his dog hide under a piano while the boy’s parents fight. In an interview, Matt said he and Loren were told this scene was too raw and should take it out. Matt and Loren insisted the scene stay. Matt said that a child going through something similar might recognize himself in the picture. If not, where better to explore scary emotions than in the lap of a caregiver? As a response to the controversy, he wrote an excellent article, “Why We Shouldn’t Shield Children From Darkness,” in Time magazine.

Click here to see a beautiful 4 minute video where Matt and Loren talk about their book. Hon, have you read it? Do you have a favorite scene?

The Girl With All The Gifts, Book Review

Looking for an “emotionally charged and gripping book from beginning to end?” 

A month ago, if you asked me whether I liked post-apocalyptic zombie stories, my answer would have been, “Definitely not!” Then I read The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey (pub. 2014). This adult novel could easily be YA since it’s told mainly from the perspective of the ten-year old main character. The story gets more and more interesting as it progresses, and the ending blew me away.

Not every gift is a blessing. Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh. Melanie is a very special girl. Amazon 

Quotes from the book:

“Melanie thinks: when your dreams come true, your true has moved. You’ve already stopped being the person who had the dreams, so it feels more like a weird echo of something that already happened to you a long time ago.”

 

“Growing up and growing old. Playing. Exploring. Like Pooh and Piglet. And then like the Famous Five. And then like Heidi and Anne of Green Gables. And then like Pandora, opening the great big box of the world and not being afraid, not even caring whether what’s inside is good or bad. Because it’s both. Everything is always both.
But you have to open it to find that out.”

 

“It doesn’t matter,” she explains to Miss J. “I want to be where you are. And I don’t know the way back to wherever I was before, anyway. I don’t even remember it. All I remember is the block, and you. You’re…” Now it’s Melanie’s turn to hesitate. She doesn’t know the words for this. “You’re my bread,” she says at last. “When I’m hungry. I don’t mean that I want to eat you, Miss Justineau! I really don’t! I’d rather die than do that. I just mean… you fill me up the way the bread does to the man in the song. You make me feel like I don’t need anything else.”

 

“Melanie finds this interesting in spite of herself — that you can use words to hide things, or not to touch them, or to pretend that they’re something different than they are.” Goodreads.

 

Related Info:

Click here to see an interview with M.R.Carey on You Tube. A movie based on the book came out in 2017. A prequel titled, The Boy On The Bridge was published in 2017.

Have you read the book? Seen the movie? What did you think?

Nurture the Wow, Published Book Review

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“Putting Prayer Into Parenting,” my published review of Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg’s book Nurture the Wow, was published in the October/November 2016 issue of Hadassah Magazine. Click here to read the review and an interview with the author.

Woohoo to an insightful parenting book, and to the opportunity to write about it.