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Karin

Karin's Reading Chronicles

I am somewhat of an eclectic reader who is very active on Shelfari, but since it may not last, am trying out Booklikes :).
Fairest - Marissa Meyer

In this prequel to the Cinder series we follow Levana from the age of fifteen for a number of years, learning her backstory. Some of it we know from other books, but in case you are new to the Cinder series, there’s not really much I can tell you without spoiling those books, especially the first one. Suffice to say that it starts with the death of her parents and her older sister’s ascent to the throne of Luna.

 

Although I took out both the book and the audiobook from the library, I ended up listening to the entire thing. The audiobook performer does a great job of capturing Levana, but there is nothing likable about this twisted woman (that is not really a spoiler, since the is the chief antagonist throughout the Cinder series), despite the feelings and trepidations she may have. I liked this, but didn’t love it. It’s not required reading for the series, and I strongly recommend that you wait and read it after you read Cinder and Scarlet at the very least. I’m glad I read it after I read Winter, but given that there is a preview of Winter in it, you can read it either before or after; either way you’re going to know at least something about the last book you read.

La's Orchestra Saves the World - Alexander McCall Smith

<b>La’s Orchestra Saves the World</b> by Alexander McCall Smith

★★★★


La (Lavender) goes to Oxford with no intention of being married before her late 20s, but ends up romanced, in love, married and then abandoned by her husband. Her inlaws, displeased with their son’s actions, kind and honest people, give her their summer cottage as a home and promise to take care of her after the divorce. She is living there when World War II breaks out. At that time she volunteers to help, and so ends up with two jobs. The official one is to help an arthritic farmer take care of his chickens and collect the eggs. The second one is to organize and conduct an orchestra which can only rehearse once per month.

 

This is a stand-alone, historical fiction novel by McCall Smith, and one I tend to like better than I think I will during parts of it where I might not be happy with what he’s doing with La’s life or something else. There is something endearing about La and the other characters in this novel, which, although the bulk of it is during WW II, spans a good thirty years or so. I think that one of the reviews on the back or the novel that has a sentence that fits, “A fresh and unforgettable story about the power of human kindness.” From the Booklist starred review, and, as the reviewer from The Scotsman wrote, “An excellent re-creation of a woman of her time.”

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs

Jacob finds his grandfather dead in the woods, clearly attacked by some sort of beast. Jacob sees a monster, but naturally that couldn’t be, and since he was told tall tales by his grandfather all of his life, he is sent for therapy to recover from his shock. But after finding something very interesting left for him by his grandfather, he is soon begging to go to Wales to meet someone who has been writing his grandfather. He goes, along with his dad, and this is where things really begin to become peculiar. Jacob finds the remains of the orphanage his grandfather stayed in during part of WW II, and in it, a chest of some very odd old photos. The plot thickens, mysteries no sooner seem to be answered than they become all the more mysterious again. Jacob might be contemporary, but a good deal of this book is set in 1940 as well.

 

I enjoyed the characters, particularly Jacob, and found it easy to relate to him. I loved the photos, but I have always enjoyed photography, and particularly like to view old black and white photos in art museums. Riggs wrote the story after seeing photos, and they tie in beautifully. The writing is fine. So why just a like and not four or five stars? Without giving out any spoilers, I’ll put it in one word—paranormal. I am not keen on paranormal books as a rule, although I used to read more. There were a few other things, but again, no spoilers. I liked the characters enough that I am considering reading the next book in the series.

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban - Christina Lamb, Malala Yousafzai

 

 

There is no question that both before and after she was shot, Malala Yousafzai was a courageous young girl who stood up for what she believed, allowed to do this by her supportive family. This book centres on Malala's life with her family and in her quest not only to become educated herself, but that all girls be educated. Much like Susan B. Anthony, she grew up in a home where the value and opinions of women was valued above society; in this case in a society that, under the fear of the rising terrorism my the Taliban, was moving back in a direction where women would have no value other than as the property of the men controlling their lives.

The story told is generally known, so I won't sum it up here. I was greatly disappointed by the quality of writing; Malala, based on her speaking abilities and grades, is obviously a bright young girl when this was happening. Urdi is her first language, and naturally when this book was being written she was still fairly new in the English speaking world. It's one thing to study English in your home country, but it's an entirely different kettle of fish to suddenly find yourself surrounded by it and to work on becoming fluent while recovering from severe injuries. However, she didn't write it alone. Speeches and books aren't written the exact same way. I felt the writing could have lived more, shown more of the depth of Malala. It was helpful that she was showing that she has normal fears and weaknesses common to youth and even adults, but I never felt it, just read the words about it. Even for a young adult novel I felt we were only scratching the surface and the book felt almost pedantic at times.

This is rather sad, because this story is one of many important stories that join together in a chorus calling for help for women in girls throughout the world. It helps open up a window into what it's like living through a terrorist war, but the writing missed the mark time after time. 

I hope that someday as Malala matures, she will write something on her own, perhaps, that will help us understand better. Not everyone is a writer, of course, but I think in this case she was just too young when this was written to write it.

Surprised By Joy: The Shape of My Early Life - C.S. Lewis

Like so many others, I greatly enjoyed the Narnia series when I was growing up. I read it for fun and had no idea that it was a Christian allegory until I was an adult. While my daughters enjoyed them (one has read them at least four times) they disappointed me somewhat as an adult. However, I have tried a few times to read other books by Lewis, but this is the first one I’ve made it all the way through. To be honest, what kept me going is that this will be part of a book discussion with some old reading friends. I read a chapter per day as if it were a school assignment.

 

The two stars are not because Lewis was unable to write or articulate his thoughts, because he certainly did. However, as a memoir of his journey to atheism and then to Christianity, a subject of keen interest to me, it ended up having little appeal. It was more of his educational and intellectual journey through his youth, punctuated by descriptions of life away at different schools, until he became a Christian. Of course, it’s another example of a brilliant intellectual coming around from atheism to Christianity, something so many feel is impossible, but there was little to tug at my heartstrings or to empathize or sympathize as much with him as I would have liked to given so many of his circumstances. Perhaps it’s because he write it when he was will into his fifties and was so far removed, but I think perhaps it may have been because he was not ever given to having many friends when he was growing up, nor did he really want them most of the time, and those he did make were usually as intellectual as he was.

 

That said, Lewis had some interesting insights at times, but what I found irksome was that girls and women tend to only appear as the odd relative hosting some sort of gathering (his mother died when he was very young) almost another species, or were referred to in light of erotic passion not being a substitute for joy, or how lack of girls in the area led to increased pederasty in public school and how it affected or was affected by the social hierarchy (that’s the term he employed for that) or other things equally bereft of any recognition of women as humans with a capacity for intelligence.

Probability for Kids: Using Model-Eliciting Activities to Investigate Probability Concepts - Scott Chamberlin

When I saw math, I was excited; math is a big deal in our house, and my eldest is now a math major in her junior year of college. We did plenty of math, and I fit our curriculum to each of our children’s needs. When I saw Prufrock Press, I was even more excited. After all, this is the press that gave us <b>Philosophy for Kids</b> one of our favourite books back when we homeschooled. But then I saw those dismal words “Aligns with Common Core Standards,” and then, inside, that Chamberlin is a Mathematical Educator, my heart sank. Nevertheless, I read every single page, hoping to find anything good, wonderful and commendable, and I did; it brought this rating up an entire star from what I give the entire mathematics philosophy of the Common Core to two stars.

 

The Pros – the activities in this book are well described, have excellent leading questions for teachers (whether in brick and mortar schools or at home) to help guide students in creative problem solving, and cover the six main areas of probability.

 

The Cons 

First, these assignments are based on activities that have worked for gifted and talented students and are designed for students with strong math skills. I can see this working for gifted and talented students who enjoy math and for other strong math students who enjoy being creative. However, and this is a big however that virtually every mathematical educator I have met with one main exception, there is no such thing as any sort of math learning method that will work for all math students, and this is certainly no exception to the rule.

 

Second, at no time, before during or after are students permitted to be taught algorithms. For those of you who have spent a good deal of time away from school, algorithms (an algorithm is a procedure or formula for solving a problem) are what mathematicians, engineers and people who actually use math in the real world use. Why? Because they work and because they save a great deal of time. While having students explore ways to figure out how to solve problems first can help them better understand what they are doing, this book has been designed to be used in three different age categories, including high school.

 

Third, I think there is so much emphasis on always being creative, that the word is going to lose its meaning. I am a big fan of creativity; my math loving eldest writes stories and draws, my other two aspire to be musicians and have various creative abilities. But there is no way that all three of them approach math with creativity, despite a strong foundation doing that with them when they were younger. The fact is, it didn’t always work, and if my three children weren’t able to learn all their math exactly the same way, what about classrooms of children?

 

However, if this book were used for the stellar activities and then students actually got to learn the alogrithms at some point, then I think this could be used effectively in some teaching situations.

Mariana - Monica Dickens

Mary Shannon has gone away to brood while her husband is at war in WW II. During a storm she hears on the radio that her husband's ship has gone down; frantically, she tries to telephone to get news, but her line is down. During the long night, she remembers her life from about age 8, and it is part coming of age and part becoming her own person. This is the second novel by Monica Dickens, the great- granddaughter of Charles Dickens, and she said that it was semi-autobiographical.



Part of this book gripped me more than others. I did root for Mary, even if she was often self-centered; I think that is a natural part of most children's development, and if she didn't get out of it as early as many of us think she should have, just look around at how many self-centred teens and early twenties people there are today. 



As far as women authors went, Monica Dickens was only outsold at that time by Daphne du Maurier, however, her work hasn't remained as popular over time. I haven't read du Maurier for years, so can't give a good comparison as to why, but I do think it's a shame she's so little known now. I didn't love this book, although I suspect that when I was younger I'd have liked it more.

Faulty Predictions (Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction) - Karin Lin-Greenberg

This is a group of short stories set in the US, and the title of the book is also the title of one of the stories. And, to be fair to this review, it’s hard to win high points from me in a collection of short stories since in fiction I am first and foremost a novel reader. If I were to rate the stories individually, the stories themselves would get between 1 and 5 stars, but for the overall book 2 ½ stars. There were more 1 and 2 star stories than 4 and 5.

 

On part of the jacket is written, “Lin-Greenberg provides insight into the human condition across a varied cross section of geography, age, and culture.” I’d say yes, but biased. At times the insights were quite excellent, particularly when dealing with things I suspect are closer to Lin-Greenberg’s own experiences, but one of the reasons I’ve given this two stars through all of it there is a clear bias toward liberals tending to be kinder and more giving and conservatives selfish and bigoted. Perhaps because I don’t ascribe to any set political group and therefore have a different bias, I’ve seen all four of those traits across the board, although not necessarily in all people. I suspect Lin-Greenberg has as well, but these are the characters she has chosen to write.

 

If you are a fan of literary short fiction, you may well like this book more than I did. To be honest, I chose it for a reading challenge that included reading a book by an author who shares my first name. Since I am neither a fan of thrillers (Karin Slaughter, who may be an excellent writer, but that’s not my cup of tea) nor romance novels (I found more than one of those) and Lin-Greenberg is the first I found where I thought I might find a closer match.

Agenda 21: Into the Shadows - Glenn Beck

 

★★★.5 rounded up to 4

Emmaline and David made it out of the oppressive compound at the end of the first book, having rescued Emmaline’s baby, Elsa and a young boy named Micah. On the lam, hungry, they need to find a way to survive as they run from the authorities. David’s parents, John and Joan, manage to escape early in this book and even though they don’t know where David and Emmaline went, they have a good idea, so deliberately try to leave clues to distract those in pursuit of them. Steven is the Earth Protector in charge of the manhunt, nasty and angry for being forced out to do this one more time since he’s become used to his now easy life.

 

This sequel was almost as good as the first one was, and I suspect that part of the problem for me was that it’s been too long since I’d read it so had forgotten a few people and events. As with all dystopian novels, the situation created is on the extreme side, but it’s not as unbelievable of a scenario as are some fictional dystopias. I hope there is another book, because I really would like to see what happens next.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simonson

Major Pettigrew, sixty-eight and a widower, has just learned that his younger brother has died of a heart attack when Mrs. Ali, a Pakistani widow and shop owner, rings the doorbell because he has forgotten to leave the newspaper money for the paper boy. When he becomes rather faint, she holds him up, comes in to make him some tea and thus begins a friendship between the two as they find they have common interests, such as literature. His relationship to his sister-in-law is somewhat strained, and questions arise as to the intentions of his late brother over an antique rifle that was supposed to be given to Major Pettigrew. But over all of this, the developing friendship, and the possibility that it just might end up being more, envelopes the loneliness of Pettigrew

 

What makes this story a 4.5 rounded up to a 5 is the writing, the pacing, the endearing qualities of Major Pettigrew and the fact that the secondary characters are developed, albeit interpreted through the Major’s eyes. At once we can see what he thinks of his son but also get a glimpse of how is son probably thinks even if, naturally, we can’t really know any more than we can really know what anyone else thinks. Simonson, who hails from England, captures the area and the attitudes of people in towns such as Pettigrew’s, well.

Morning Glory - Sarah Jio

 

Penny is a newlywed in the 1950s, married to the famous artist Dexter Wentworth living in a houseboat in Washington State; Ada is a young widow grieving her husband and daughter about 50 years later who moves from New York City to that same houseboat to help move on with her life away from the pitiful, caring looks of those she knew. As she begins to find that life can still hold some happiness for her, Ada finds an old chest of Penny’s, and learns that there are secrets kept by the longtime residents of Boat Street.

 

 

Both Penny and Ada were characters I cared about and hoped the best for. The writing is strong and the two tales are woven together well and with good pacing. The book kept me up past my bedtime. While these are all strong signs, I didn’t love it so much that it was a five star read.

Paw and Order - Spencer Quinn

Chet and Bernie head to Washington, DC because Bernie is interested in seeing his girlfriend, Suzie Sanchez. Chet doesn’t mind, he likes Suzie and besides, she keeps snacks for him in her car. However, Chet soon finds out that all is not well when they get there. One of Suzie’s sources is murdered and this strange bird with no eyes that no one else notices keeps coming by. When he’s not distracted by thought of food, the scents of members of the nation within a nation (aka dogs) and other doggie things, Chet is tuned into what the humans around him are saying and doing, even if he doesn’t always quite understand what they mean.

 

 

I read this because my teen son chose it for me for a holiday gift. To be honest, I expected absolutely nothing from this book, since it’s not something I would normally pick up. However, it did give me some laughs. The story is nothing brilliant, but Quinn does a nice job of writing from the POV of a dog, and if not totally believable, it was doggie enough to be quite fun. I may add this series to my roster of light, funny books to read when I want to give my brain a rest.

Queen Lucia - E.F. Benson

<b>Queen Lucia</b> by E.F. Benson

★★★.5


Emmaline (Lucia) Lucas is the undisputed queen of Riseholme during the roaring 20’s, and everyone knows it. She and her husband, Peppino, are close, and her next closest friend and ally is Georgie; while some think they flirt, that couldn’t be further from the truth, but he is definitely her go-to friend and confidante. As the neighbourhood becomes wrapped up in an Indian guru after Lucia snags him away from Mrs. Quantock, Georgie’s tall, strapping sisters bicycle in for a month’s stay after sending their dog and things by train, turning poor Georgie into a mess with their dog, whom he is certain is vicious and their rambunctious ways. Just at about the same time, his friend, the opera singer Olga Barcely, married to a different Georgie,  but who hasn’t changed her name, comes to town, and then such a commotion as people race to be the first to see her and have her over. When Olga unwittingly offends Lucia, things go far from well, and poor Georgie is caught in the middle, and in the meantime romances begin to blossom among some of the local singles.

 

This is a delightful novel about the goings on of a small English community and the splash a newcomer makes. Light, fun, humourous with some glimpses into human nature and a wonderfully surprising amount of grace and compassion from someone you might not expect it from (but which of the characters I won’t say). I hadn’t even heard of this series until one of my Shelfari friends said she was rereading it and that I really must try it. I am planning to read the rest of the Lucia novels, but no more than one per month so I can savour and enjoy them without getting tired of them. This wasn’t so stellar I’d give it five stars, and it lost another half star because of a few little things, such as the odd time Georgie and Lucia talk in baby talk (perhaps this was done more among friends in the 1920s, but since that was before my parents’ time, I have no idea.)

England, England - Julian Barnes

<b>England, England</b> by Julian Barnes


****note that I am not a fan of satire as a rule, even though I understand it, so this greatly affects my rating and dislike of this novel***

 

England, England contains a novel within a novel. Enclosed within the story of Martha Cochrane, is the satirical story of the development of England, England, a historical theme park thought of and spearheaded by Sir Jack Pitman. Throughout this book play with the idea of memory and history, what it is and isn’t, how people perceive it, and of course there is plenty of humour; some of it I even laughed at, particularly earlier on.

 

However, even if I liked satire, some of this—and note that my use of this term is not a judgement on people who like this book, since my parents and extended family will read and enjoy books like this—I found parts of this book was rather crass. Bear in mind that I cover my eyes for violence, etc on screen, too, much to the amusement of my teens and husband.

 

This is my first read by Julian Barnes, and if satire and/or the use of certain words I prefer not to read in print (lest they come out of my mouth in heated moments, which has been known to happen from time to time), then I suspect he’s not the author for me. However, if you are not bothered by these things, like satire and/or Julian Barnes, by all means try this novel; it is evident he knows how to write.

Room - Emma Donoghue

<b>Room</b> by Emma Donaghue started &#9738; finished in print

★★★★


Jack is turning five in Room, where he lives with Ma. Room is his entire world, although he sees things that exist only in TV. Through his birthday and the next few days, we learn, although Jack, the narrator, doesn't realize it, Room is a prison where he and Ma are kept. Ma is sometimes visited in the night by someone Jack has dubbed Old Nick, although Ma only refers to Old Nick as him. During these times, Jack is supposed to be asleep in Wardrobe. But slowly Ma reveals that Room isn't really the whole world, and Jack is about to find out just how big that world is when they plan their great escape.

Poignant, laced with the humour of viewing the world through a five year old's eyes, we see this story unfold. It is well told and gripping, so I am giving it four stars. It's hard not to empathize with Jack and Ma.

Winter (The Lunar Chronicles) - Marissa Meyer

<b>Winter</b> by Marissa Meyer

★★★.5


Winter is still slowly going mad from not using her glamour, Scarlet imprisoned as a pet, Cinder, Cress, Kai, Wolf, Thorne and Iko on the ship they escaped in when Winter opens. But Levana is still plotting, and after glimpsing just how loved Winter is, devises a plan to take care of Winter once and for all. As we all know will eventually happen, they all end up on Luna, endeavouring to overthrow Levana and end her nefarious reign to save Lunars and Earthens alike.

 

This is the longest of the three books, and while the writing level remains consistent, it is not only over twice the length of Cinder, it is more than 260 pages longer in hardback than the next longest book, Cress. I really didn’t think everything in that extra length (in various parts of the book) was necessary for a great end to this tale, and in between times of really enjoying this story again, I got bored or distracted, which is why it’s 3.5 stars, not 4.