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The Book of Lost Things
John Connolly
Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein After many recommendations and requesting to be a giver for the book for World Book Night, I knew I’d read Code Name Verity. Only, I’m sad to say, I didn’t love it. It’s a setting and time period that I usually find very palatable in reading. It includes women doing awesome things and breaking barriers, which I love. And it’s also great to read a YA WWII book that isn’t about a Jew in a concentration camp or hiding in an attic. Though there is some of that in a peripheral sense.

I liked it, but I didn't love it. Why? The beginning is difficult. Other reviews mention that it is tricky and doesn’t pull you in. I’d have to agree. For being dropped into the action of one of our main characters being interrogated by the Gestapo, I was expecting to be immediately hooked. However, the beginning is very disorienting, understandably so but not great for reading. You’re not even who’s speaking/writing. You’re not sure what information she knows (thus why she’s being kept alive to write this confession of sorts). A lot of technical information about aircraft, flying, and military procedures is listed. It was hard to have an emotional connection with the character at all because you weren’t even sure what had happened and what was going on. This was realistic, but again, challenging as a reader since it broke the usual structure of building a novel.

I kept waiting for the impetus to love the book, and it happened perhaps too late. I appreciated the second section of the book vastly more, which has me wondering if I would have liked Code Name Verity if the two narratives had been interwoven throughout the novel. I’m not sure. I certainly like that we had two perspectives of overlapping events. And Wein was clever to reveal characterization in the way she did. Once I got to the second section, I found myself flipping back and re-reading the same event from Verity’s point of view. That was intriguing. And the ending was richly satisfying. I always appreciate a good ending.

I'm still happy that this is my choice for world Book Night as I do think it's a YA novel that would appeal to both male and female and resonates with readers long after they've finished reading.
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library (Mr. Lemoncello's Library #1) - Chris Grabenstein Yes, it's similar to [b:Charlie and the Chocolate Factory|6310|Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Charlie Bucket, #1)|Roald Dahl|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1309211401s/6310.jpg|2765786] but with books and a library. It's what I imagine [b:Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore|13538873|Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore|Robin Sloan|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1345089845s/13538873.jpg|6736543] Junior would be like. It's a heavy mix of Trivial Pursuit for the biblionerd, Clue (without the dead body), and part word puzzle.

I found it a charming and quick read. I blazed through to discover along with the kids where the rabbit hole would lead. Of course, working in a library I adored it and how Mr. Lemoncello's library would appeal to children of all ages. I wish every one could view a library as holding so many secrets and fun waiting to be discovered.

It's nice to also read about kids getting along, working as a team, and supporting everyone's efforts. I loved the numerous literary references tucked in to all of the dialogue.
The Old Country - Mordicai Gerstein The Old Country has a bit of The Princess Bride feel to it as an elder relative recounts her experience as a young girl before immigrating to The New World. What listener wouldn't be intrigued when the story teller says that in the Old country, "I was a little girl, and where I was a fox." And no, not a foxy lady. A fox. +1 for the shape shifter aspect.

The fairy tale brings a clash of the real world and the magic world (both being destroyed by evil). All of the human characters are wonderfully strong and admirable, but not so virtuous or empty as to be unrelatable. The magic and animal characters were a bit hit or miss. April the chicken had a wonderful voice. I could picture her perfectly, but Nubia the cat had the best line in the whole book when responding she had become a lawyer through night classes. I kept cracking up over that. The bear and the fairy round out the posse, but they are less exciting (though they have tender moments).

The book is short (barely novella length), so the narrative can be a bit sparse. It's a bit like reading a haiku. The conservation of language doesn't detract from its beauty, but things can get a bit vague or pop up unexpectedly. There were just a few scenes that I had trouble understanding some of the action, and later, why some of it was happening.

I think The Old Country is a great pre-cursor for [b:The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making|9591398|The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland, #1)|Catherynne M. Valente|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1317793528s/9591398.jpg|6749837] because the theme of The Old Country focuses on is the very simple good vs. bad conflict. But what makes someone entirely bad or evil? Are we a mixture of both? How much should we allow desire to play a part of our choices?

If reading it with kids, it's not frightening (the war is mostly occurring off stage, so there is tension but not any horror) but the language may be a bit too advanced to entertain the younger grades. I think it's perfect for middle grades to read independently. And of course, any adult that still loves to surround themselves in magic.
A Land More Kind Than Home - Wiley Cash Cash studied with [a:Ernest Gaines|3533|Ernest J. Gaines|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1255909167p2/3533.jpg], and I have to say though they write of two different places and people, as a reader I can see Gaines' influence and style and how that has shaped Cash's work. It's almost like Cash molded the pottery and it has the tiniest of thumbprints around the rim where Gaines has rubbed off. It's great to see that inspiration cultivated into a unique piece of literature.

The central event of the novel is a quick strike of horror and grief: a young boy is killed as the result of some zealous church-goers trying to cure him of being mute. One of the narrators is the victim's brother, another the Sheriff, and a third is a Sunday school teacher. Their chapters are woven together to provide history to the town and to the characters. We get different perspectives of who is to blame and who is responsible, not just for this crime but for past hurt as well.

While I have no personal connection to the subject matter of evangelical snake-handling congregations, Cash writes in such a way that it's like reading the familiar. You lapse into the slow Southern twang, and the feel of the novel becomes very natural and genuine-- even when the characters are manipulators or manipulated. And despite that familiarity of place and of knowing the setting intimately, the reader never feels quite safe. Just like being an outsider in a small town, secrets are kept from you. And you can never get too comfortable with the schema you have concocted for someone.

It was an intense book, and I'd encourage Charles Frazier fans to pick it up (especially if they liked his [b:Nightwoods|10962765|Nightwoods|Charles Frazier|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1331671570s/10962765.jpg|15880539] book), and I'd even say that if some [a:Jodi Picoult|7128|Jodi Picoult|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1339242079p2/7128.jpg] fans want something a little different but still personal and gripping, they'd probably find something of value here.

For a debut novel, I'm beyond impressed. Cash knows exactly how wide to set the scope, so readers get only the the most necessary information for the story. There's no fluff or heavy-handed metaphors. It's well controlled. I can't say I loved the story (it's never anything but depressing to read about immense grief), but I loved the way it was told.
A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True - Brigid Pasulka I wasn't anticipating buying this book. For Christmas, I had been given a sweet giftcard for my local indie bookseller. So I was browsing. I would have passed over this book; however, fate brought it to me. I just happened to glance at their section of award winners. Normally, I don't peruse that endcap as I often find the literature a bit too flowery or too high-brow for my tastes. But this day, I had the time to peek. And when I did, the cover of ALLTA&ET caught my eye. Yep, I said it. I'm a cover art whore. I judge books by their covers.

It's enchanting and sweet. And I suppose I could begin and end the review with just that one sentence. Because at it's core, that's how I want to remember the experience of reading this tale.

I love books with multiple narratives (partly because I feel like I get a bonus story and partly because it's a bit of a mystery to piece together how the two stories are linked). It doesn't take the reader long to figure out the connection between the World War II narrative of the romance between the Pigeon and Anielica and the more contemporary/mid 90's narrative of Baba Yaga. But it's still fascinating to trace the changes not just in characters but in the country of Poland itself.

I felt woefully naive about certain historical details while reading, but Pasulka is able to fill in gaps and paint a very real picture for the reader (or maybe it's more of an impressionist painting as there's always this glimmer of maybe walking in a daydream). All the same, the story left me hungry to do my own research and learn a bit more about Polish history.

The characters are so well drawn (perhaps because many were morphed from real life individuals Pasulka met in Poland). I cheated a bit and saw a sentence on the last page that had me angry. I don't want to spoil it by sharing what I read, but I was angry that Pasulka would create a sense of loss for her main character. I didn't think it was fair. But when I finally got to the end, I had forgiven her.

My husband came in while I read the final pages and saw tears streaming down my face, and (bless him for knowing me so well) said, "It's a good book if you are so impacted by it." And it's true because all I could squeak out in my tiny cry voice was, "It is painfully sad, but it is right and beautiful and hopeful and what love is all about."

When I started reading, I did not expect to be so enchanted by an aimless orphan shopping at the supermarket and the village super couple from the 1940's, but it was a rich and delicate treat of a book that left me smiling for days after I finished it.

I hope Ms. Pasulka writes more (whether they be set in Poland or not) because she captured the emotion of yearning so spot-on. [She is! New book due out early 2014!] I am in total awe!
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie, Ellen Forney The first comparison that has to be made is to [b:House on Mango Street|139253|The House on Mango Street|Sandra Cisneros|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348245688s/139253.jpg|2000351]. They are both coming of age novels written in a vignette style. Personally, I think The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian (TATDOAPTI) eclipses House. It's funny. It's deep. It's relevant. It's endearing. House on Mango Street is obviously those things as well, but sometimes Cisneros' writing is caught up in symbolism whereas Alexie's episodes are direct, understandable, and poignant. TATDOAPTI's Arthur deals with growing pains of any teen, and like Esperanza, his are compounded by being an outsider, by being a minority, by being seen as an "other." Change, puberty, poverty, high school, girls, fighting, drinking, death, friendship are all issues that Arthur addresses head-on with honesty and humor.

Yes, there is dialogue of metaphorical and real boners. The language is sure to grab a younger audience (same as Shakespeare's lines about long swords and country matters). I would tell any parent/teacher concerned that this is not a sexually charged book by any means. Alexie just lays it out like it is for teens. Derogatory words (not just slurs against Indians/First Nations) are also sprinkled throughout. Again, very true-to-life dialogue that teens use these days. It allows for a discussion about appropriate language and why we may use name-calling and labels for our friends.

This book is such a beautiful piece. When you can encapsulate so much anger and depression and still offer laughter, you've created a beautiful book. I keep using the word beautiful. In an odd way the book reminds me of the movie American Beauty. Thankfully the stakes aren't quite so high in TATDOAPTI. The book takes itself far less seriously and I always got the impression that Arthur believed in himself-- even in the darkest times I never felt he was desperate or alone or utterly miserable. He needed to make a list of reminders for why his life wasn't shit, but I didn't need them.

This book invigorated me, made me proud of the next generation coming up, made me so happy to have the life I have and the friends I have. All of that is too cheesy to write in a book review though. The book didn't change my life, just made me happy that books like this exist in my life.
Glaciers - Alexis M. Smith A brief, yet beautiful novella featuring charming and captivating character sketches. Not much by way of plot, but I was still satisfied with the storytelling and realistic ending. If it were a movie, this would not be the big blockbuster but the sweet surprise of a nice indie film. Enjoy.

Edited to add more:
I think Alexis M. Smith was smart. Her novel has so much sweetness in it: lovely vintage frocks and charming tchotchkes at thrift stores and postcards sent from Amsterdam and vegetarian Chinese restaurants and awkward flirting and short vignettes of storytelling and dreams and the most amazing job of working in a library restoring books.

It is so sweet and endearing and wonderful that it could have been saccharine and trivial and vapid. It could have been fluffy feminine drivel. But the slender plot line that exists is of a girl liking a boy is kept very real and down to earth. There is no dreamy hipster lens for lovers who cannot be together. There is no perfect Hollywood ending. There is life.

A review for the book cannot be long because the book is rather short. The action (if one can even call the series of these events action) takes place in a single day. Smith spends so much time sketching marvelous characters with such detail and care that readers would be able to spot Isabel in a crowd, going to work or meeting up with her friend Leo. She is written so fully alive that at times I was disappointed to be reading her story and not observing her out in the real world.

All of this characterization delights me, but I read from some reviewers they were disappointed by a rather abrupt ending. I liked the ending. I personally don't want all of the novels I read to be wrapped up with a bow or to be poised for a sequel. The book had a conclusive nature to me even if it wasn't wholly satisfying and fulfilling for my characters (see, that appropriation of the character is what makes this such a fantastically sincere and sweet book).

As soon as I finished, I immediately searched back through the pages looking for those little lines and quotes that had me smiling when I first read them.
The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern The basic premise is really basic: our protagonists are pawns in a competition of two magicians of differing styles and techniques. A new method vs. old method theme. Very familiar and not at all unique or distinctive, but what was the last original idea?

A few brief points about what I felt Morgenstern got right:

Falling in love. The whirlwind, the unreasonableness, the beauty of it.
Place as character. Like the characters Bailey and Frederick, the readers can easily insert the circus in as protagonist. The haunting beauty of the sublime surroundings are indeed enchanting. Some may argue that she uses too flowery of language or too much purple prose, but it's an intense hold on all of the senses to transport you so thoroughly to the circus.
Fandom. The psychology of fanaticism and fanatical beliefs. Change out the circus venue and change the magic to religion/music/politics/parenting/whatever and you'd have an entirely different story but one that beats in the same rhythm.

What I loved about it:

The hopscotch narrating from different narrators, different points of view and voices, different writing methods, non-chronological events
Freiderick Thiessen (what an endearing man)
so many allusions (gorgeous gorgeous allusions to history to literature to wonder).
mood. This is what I think I was hoping for from The Graveyard Book. Something intriguing and mystifying but not sinister. Something that hints at darkness but is wholesome.

Yet sometimes the special effects and beautiful poetic living language I felt was a manipulation (an illusion just as the characters were using) to distract from the one dimensional characters caught in a plot of urgent yet vague mystifying confusion. It was similar to watching the series Lost play out. It was intense and so many questions and clues to wade through and in the end, it seems the writers wrote themselves into a corner trying to justify why nothing made sense. I felt that the ending was rushed with some loose ends that Morgenstern wrapped into a decadent bow.

Overall its a fabulous book, but I don't feel at ease or a sense of conclusion. For a character to spend decades preparing for battle and to fool and put on illusions and facades, I don't think I ever felt like they let their guard down and thus I never felt a genuine connection with them. I never knew if I was to choose someone to root for in the competition.

But oh what gorgeous language! I will be very excited to read another novel if Morgenstern writes another. I'm secretly (well not-so-secretly now) hoping she might collaborate to create a graphic novel because her prose is full of so much imagery.