Current Book Review

Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling

Captains Courageous

Rudyard Kipling (Adult Fiction)

Harvey Cheyne is the spoiled, arrogant, and disrespectful son of a railway tycoon who, while on his way to Europe to complete his schooling, falls overboard into the Atlantic Ocean.  He is rescued by a fisherman and taken aboard the schooner We’re Here, where he quickly realizes that money, power, and social status matter little on the high seas.  Under the watchful eye of Captain Disko Troop, Harvey soon navigates his way not only through perilous oceans, but also through the turbulent lessons that come with life.

This is perhaps one of the finest stories about life on the sea ever written.  Kipling’s narration is masterful and the storytelling is superb.  The details of life on board a schooner are painstakingly described and detailed—right down to the last eye-bolt.  Every word is carefully chosen and crafted and the result is nothing short of poetic: “The dories gathered in clusters, separated, reformed, and broke again, all heading one way; while men hailed and whistled and cat-called and sang, and the water was speckled with rubbish thrown overboard.”

This book is truly deserving of the word “classic”; however, Kipling’s passion for authenticity often makes reading dialogue difficult at times.  His phonetic transcription of a New England dialect in the late 1800s is often tricky to decipher and comprehend (“furriner” for “foreigner”, “naow” for “now”, and “spile” for “spoil”), but it is this same commitment to genuineness that allows the reader to be wholly transported into a world dictated by the weather and ruled by the sea.  A coming-of-age book about loyalty, friendship, and love that truly gets better with time.

Rating: 5/5

 

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr (JB)

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes

Eleanor Coerr (Juvenile Biography)

Sometimes it’s the shortest books that stay with you the longest.

Twelve-year old Sadako Sasaki was just a baby when the atom bomb—the Thunderbolt—was dropped on Hiroshima.  Sadako was always in a hurry to be first and more than anything, she wanted to be on the junior high relay team.  But then the dizzy spells began, and she would soon discover that she had the atom bomb disease…leukemia. Sadako’s friend told her an old story that if a sick person folds one thousand paper cranes, the gods would grant her wish and make her well.  By folding one crane at a time, Sadako begins her dire quest for health.

Using a book published by Sadako’s classmates, Coerr lovingly shares the story of a young girl who faced death fearlessly.  Sadako Sasaki showed more raw courage, determination, and hope in her 12 short years than many of us ever hope to achieve in a lifetime.  Her story deserves to be learned, and her hope for peace should not be restricted between the covers of this book.

Rating: 5/5

The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin

The Pleasure of My Company

Steve Martin (Adult Fiction)

Daniel Pecan Cambridge is a man suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder who, on the surface, appears quite content with the cards that life has dealt him.  However, by peering at the world outside his window, he sees hope, opportunity, and something that absolutely terrifies him…something different.

I adore Steve Martin as an actor and was anxious to see if I would enjoy him as a writer as well.  I must admit that I almost didn’t give this book the chance it deserved. Daniel’s character was a little too self-absorbed (perhaps the title should have clued me in) and neurotic for my liking.  It truly is a matter of sheer will at times to keep reading since Daniel is such an intolerable, infuriating, and exasperating person.  But just as Martin can masterfully pull at his banjo strings, he enables Daniel to somehow pull at our heartstrings and we find ourselves cheering for the unlikeliest of heroes.

Rating: 3/5

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (J)

Tween & Teen Tuesday

Every Tuesday, we review either a juvenile (J) or young adult (YA) book

 

The Tale of Despereaux (J)

Kate DiCamillo

“This story begins within the walls of a castle, with the birth of a mouse.  A small mouse.  The last mouse born to his parents and the only one of his litter to be born alive.”

So begins DiCamillo’s beautiful and heartwarming tale of a mouse with a heart almost as big as his ears.  Despereaux Tilling loves music and stories.  He dreams of knights and princesses and faraway places.  After an unfortunate accident plunges the kingdom of Dor into darkness and despair, it will be up to this one small, unlikely hero—with such very large ears—to save the day.

DiCamillo weaves a wondrous and captivating story that will enchant readers both young and old.  With very short chapters, this book is ideal for younger readers or could be set on a nightstand for shared bedtime reading.

I hope that Despereaux not only finds a permanent place on your bookshelf, but in your heart as well.

Rating: 5/5

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

My Name is Lucy Barton

Elizabeth Strout (Adult Fiction)

Lucy Barton is a woman recovering from what should have been a simple operation.  During her convalescence, her mother sits by her hospital bed and the two begin to idly gossip about hometown neighbors while languishing in their own shortcomings.

This book received mostly positive reviews and appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, although it’s hard for me to understand why.  The story was forgettable, uninspiring, and left me with little to no lasting impression.  Lucy and her mother are unsympathetic, and their constant self-pitying and self-loathing become quite tedious and tiresome.

 

Rating: 1/5

 

The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen (YA)

Tween & Teen Tuesday

Every Tuesday, we review either a juvenile (J) or young adult (YA) book

 

The Devil’s Arithmetic

Jane Yolen (Young Adult Historical Fiction)

The goal is to stay alive.  One day after the next after the next.  One plus one plus one.  The devil’s arithmetic.

Thirteen-year old Hannah Stern is not looking forward to celebrating the upcoming Passover Seder.  She is bored with her family’s stories of the past.  In fact, every Jewish holiday seems to be yet another occasion to relive those bad memories.  But this year, Hannah will be transported into the past and it won’t be long before she desires the comfort and safety of what the future once held.

This period in history is horrific and harrowing, and the stories told by the Holocaust survivors still tear at our very soul and question our humanity.  In the afterward, Yolen describes the heroism of the camp’s survivors: “To witness.  To remember.  These were the only victories of the camps.”  This story and its characters will haunt you long after you’ve turned the last page.  May we never forget.

Rating: 5/5

 

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

The Kitchen House

Kathleen Grissom (Adult Fiction)

The Kitchen House tells the story of seven-year old Lavinia, an Irish orphan with no memory, who is taken by the owner of a tobacco plantation to live on his estate.  She is assigned to work in the kitchen house and placed in the care of Belle, the owner’s illegitimate daughter.  The story takes several dramatic turns as tragedy befalls the household and Livinia’s race begins to interfere with her intended social status.

This is one of those books that opens with a heart-wrenching scene from the end of the book (current time) and then brings you back to the beginning of the story (the past).  I love this writing technique as it immediately creates a sense of urgency and tension.  Alternating narratives between Livinia and Belle, this book combines the best and worst of the human condition while masterfully pulling the reader along for an unforgettable journey from the big house to the kitchen house.

Rating: 5/5