It’s BANNED BOOKS WEEK, Y’all!!

Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2017

As the attacks on the right to read escalate, a celebration of reading is needed now more than ever. Banned Books Week Coalition is here to support the community of readers, including students, educators, libraries, and booksellers, in the United States and abroad. Please join us during Banned Books Week, September 23 – 29, 2018!

What are YOU reading this week?

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Summary:
This black-and-white illustrated, ingenious fantasy centers around Milo, a bored ten-year-old who comes home to find a large package containing a toy tollbooth sitting in his room. Milo drives through the tollbooth’s gates and begins a memorable journey. He meets characters such as the watchdog named Tock, the foolish, yet lovable Humbug, the Mathemagician, the not-so-wicked “Which,” and King Azaz the Unabridged who gives Milo the mission of returning the two princesses Rhyme and Reason to the Kingdom of Wisdom.

My take: 5 stars and a

There is not enough to say about this book. It is a wonderfully enchanting play on words. It is full of life lessons and unforgettable characters. In short, this is a book that everyone who loves books should read, own, discuss, and read again.

Highly prized and recommended.

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

Summary:

Taking place during the American Civil War, the story is about a young private of the Union Army, Henry Fleming, who flees from the field of battle. Overcome with shame, he longs for a wound, a “red badge of courage,” to counteract his cowardice. When his regiment once again faces the enemy, Henry acts as standard-bearer. Although Crane was born after the war, and had not at the time experienced battle first-hand, the novel is known for its realism. He began writing what would become his second novel in 1893, using various contemporary and written accounts (such as those published previously by Century Magazine) as inspiration. It is believed that he based the fictional battle on that of Chancellorsville; he may also have interviewed veterans of the 124th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, commonly known as the Orange Blossoms. Initially shortened and serialized in newspapers in December 1894, the novel was published in full in October 1895. A longer version of the work, based on Crane’s original manuscript, was published in 1982.

My take: 4 looks

I enjoyed this book, which I should have probably read in my high school years. Crane’s writing has a definite cadence, and at times I found myself in the midst of a true page-turner, as I wanted to know how a particular scene would be played.

The story is more a character study, rather than the description of a particular battle of the Civil War. In that, there is no pro- or anti-war sentiment, but merely the focus of a young man struggling to leave his mother to go to war, and then details of how the war changes him. Because of the frenzy of the writing, it is hard to tell how much time passes from the beginning of the novel to the end, but much growing occurs in the lives of several soldiers. While this story focuses on the Union, I can imagine that the feelings were very similar for the rebels.

Crane uses the language beautifully in describing war. His use of colors, giving human characteristics to inanimate objects, and creating wonderful visuals of the smoke and fog of gunfire on the layout of the land … it’s quite mesmerizing.

Highly recommended.

The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy

Summary:
When Sarah Brown, daughter of abolitionist John Brown, realizes that her artistic talents may be able to help save the lives of slaves fleeing north, she becomes one of the Underground Railroad’s leading mapmakers, taking her cues from the slave code quilts and hiding her maps within her paintings. She boldly embraces this calling after being told the shocking news that she can’t bear children, but as the country steers toward bloody civil war, Sarah faces difficult sacrifices that could put all she loves in peril.

Eden, a modern woman desperate to conceive a child with her husband, moves to an old house in the suburbs and discovers a porcelain head hidden in the root cellar—the remains of an Underground Railroad doll with an extraordinary past of secret messages, danger and deliverance. 

My take: 4 looks
Any book which makes me guffaw or cry is an automatic 4 looks, and this one brought me to tears. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The book is based on a wonderful premise: the perspective of the Underground RR from Sarah, the daughter of John Brown. As the book opens, Sarah is a girl who quickly inserts herself into the cause. There are a number of characters you will recognize, like mentions of Louisa May Alcott and Henry David Thoreau. Sarah is completely committed to abolish slavery, and dedicates her life to it.

Parallel to the story of the UGRR is the modern-day story of Eden, who has moved with her husband Jack from their busy lives in the city to a more rural area to alleviate stress. Eden struggles with infertility and it affects her entire existence. Her almost-eleven-year-old neighbor, Cloe, brings much needed grounding to the aggrieved Eden.

And that is all I will tell you of the story. Instead, let me explain why this book gets 4 looks from me. First of all, I am not a fan of the writing style of two parallel stories in time. I find that I am usually drawn to one story over the other, and start almost skimming the lesser storyline to get to the more compelling one. Not the case here. I was fully invested in both Sarah and Eden’s stories. Each chapter went back and forth, and each provided a significant and satisfying part to that story before moving on to the next. The supporting characters were richly depicted and they added much to both stories.

The other item I found strong was the portrayal of Eden’s struggle to have a baby. I have read a few reviews that Eden was a bit over-the-top; however, I can tell you from watching my best friend go through the same thing that this portrayal was so accurate that it almost hurt me to read, another sign of a great storyteller. Fertility does take over a woman’s life if she is unable to conceive. To see new mothers and hear the laughter of children is heartbreaking each and every time, and I give kudos to McCoy for bringing this to her pages. I felt Eden’s pain.

Finally, when the parallel stories started to weave together, it was delightful. There was a tendril here, a creeping vine there, and before I knew it, the two stories became a wonderfully covered arbor. The way the characters from the past colored and imbued the future brought smile after smile to my face as I read. I was entranced.

And I won’t tell you why I cried, or which storyline elicited it. I will only tell you this: read this book!

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this honest review.

Die Trying by Lee Child

Summary:
A Chicago street in bright sunshine. Jack Reacher, strolling nowhere, meets an attractive young woman, limping, struggling with her crutches, alone. Naturally he stops to offer her a steadying arm, and then they turn together – to face twin handguns held level and motionless and aimed straight at their stomachs.

Chained to the woman, locked in a dark, stifling van racing 2,000 miles across America, Reacher needs to know who he’s dealing with. The kidnappers are saying nothing and his companion claims to be Holly Johnston, FBI agent. She’s fierce enough and tough enough, but he knows there must be more to her than that. And at their remote, hostile destination, they will need to act as a team and trust each other, pitting raw courage and cunning against insane violence and seemingly hopeless odds, with their own lives and hundreds more at stake.

My take: 2.5 looks

Normally I love a good Jack Reacher novel, but this one was slow-moving and more … emotional than the others I have read. While it’s true that I have read them out of order, this is a very different Jack Reacher than in later novels. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The story revolves around the kidnapping of one woman on purpose, and Jack by accident. The woman is an FBI employee, who constantly whines about being the daughter of a high-ranking government official. The militants who capture them are seriously crazy, and at least one has a very dark streak.

Like other Reacher novels, it is full of fighting, figuring, weapons, and pretty straightforward. What I didn’t like about this one was it was a bit long in the tooth. I felt that it could have been edited down to be more succinct. Also, the FBI Agent’s whining got thin quickly. And Jack was so much more emotional. His line of questioning on whether or not his fellow captive had a boyfriend was shockingly out of character.

All-in-all, while this was a fast read, I can’t recommend it as one of the better Reacher novels.

Summer Challenge: 13 Short Stories

While listening to Books on the Nightstand this week, host Michael Kindness announced that he is committing to a summer reading challenge. This one is to read a list of 13 short stories. Here they are:

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce
A Perfect Day for Bananafish by J.D. Salinger
A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
Child’s Play by Alice Munro
The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell
The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
The Catbird Seat by James Thurber
The Aleph by Jorge Luis Borges
Zombie by Chuck Palahniuk
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The Semplica-Girl Diaries by George Saunders
Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut

I have read a number of these, but many will be new for me. I think I will do this challenge, too!