Welcome to the MOSL Book Challenge

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bettyville: a Memoir by George Hodgman

George Hodgman grew up in Madison and Paris, in Northeast Missouri. After college, he moved to New York City and worked as an editor and author. A few years ago, he came home to check on his Mother, Betty, who, at 90, is becoming more and more confused and less and less able to function on her own. Having lost his job, he ended up staying in Paris to take care of Betty.

In this memoir, he writes about his childhood in rural Missouri, his parents, Betty and Big George, and his feeling of having 'something wrong' with him all the time. As a gay man in a household and a town where homosexuality was never spoken about, he felt compelled to get away, even though he loved his home and loved his town.

And he writes about taking care of an elderly parent who can no longer be the independent person she wants to be, the one she always was. He writes with low-keyed but powerful imagery of the frustrations and sense of uncertainty of becoming the parent to a parent.

A beautiful, well-written exploration of family, friendship and community.

288 pages

Liar, Temptress, Soldier Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott

During the U. S. Civil War, women played much more of a role than history would lead us to believe. Here, Karen Abbott writes of four women, 2 Confederate and 2 Union, who did their part for their respective sides.

Belle Boyd was a southern belle who became a courier and spy, seducing men on both sides along the way.  Emma Edmonds was a young Canadian woman who posed a man, joining the Union army. Rose Greenhow was a well-connected Washington, D. C. socialite who had affairs with influential Northern Politicians to gather intelligence for the South. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist with Northern roots,  orchestrated an espionage ring right under the noses of suspicious rebel detectives.

Using primary source materials, the author alternates chapters between the lives of these fascinating women.

533 pages

Phantom of the Opera by Gaston LeRoux

There are rumors of a phantom living at the Paris Opera House, and he makes himself known to the managers through letters and malevolent acts. Singer Christine is kidnapped by the phantom and is taken to his home in the cellars of the Opera where he reveals his true identity to her simply as Erik, though not his real name. He plans to keep her there for a few days, hoping she will come to love him.

But she causes Erik to change his plans when she unmasks him and, to the horror of both, beholds his noseless, lipless, sunken-eyed face which resembles a skull dried up by the centuries, covered in yellowed dead flesh. Fearing that she will leave him, he decides to keep her with him forever, but when Christine requests release after two weeks, he agrees on condition that she wear his ring and be faithful to him. But he hears her telling her childhood friend Raoul that Erik abducted her. Raoul promises to take Christine away the next day to a place where Erik can never find her.   Neither is aware that Erik has been listening to their conversation and that he has become extremely jealous.

The next night, Erik kidnaps Christine and forces her to promise to marry him, lifting  his mask to kiss her on her forehead, and is given a kiss back. Erik reveals that he has never received a kiss (not even from his own mother) nor has been allowed to give one and is overcome with emotion. He lets makes Christine go after exacting a promise that she will visit him once on his death day, and return the gold ring he gave her. Upon his death, she returns to his lair, buries him and returns the gold ring.

469 pages
first published in 1910

The Pearl That Broke its Shell by Nadia Hashimi

In 2007, nine-year-old Rahima lives with her parents and four sisters in Kabul. Her father is increasingly dysfunctional, and the family is barely surviving. With no brothers to protect them, the girls can seldom leave the house, even to attend school.  Her mother decides she should become a bacha posh, a girl who dresses as a boy so that she can go to the market, and escort her sisters when they go out.  This is an ancient Afghan custom which allows a girl to dress as, and be treated like, a boy until she is of marriageable age.

Rahima is not the first in her family to adopt this custom. A century earlier, her great-great grandmother, Shekiba, left orphaned by an epidemic, saved herself and built a new life the same way. As a young girl, Sekiba was scarred by kitchen oil and reviled by her family. She eventually made her way to the king’s palace in Kabul, dressing as a man to guard his harem.

For a few years, Rahima enjoys freedoms unavailable to most girls. But when she is 13 she is forced to marry a vicious warlord who decides he wants her for his wife.  She finds strength in her aunt’s stories of her ancestor Shekiba. Alternating between the two, Hashimi weaves a compelling tale of two women, separated by a century, who seem to share a destiny.

Recommended for those who enjoyed 'The Kite Runner'.

469 pages

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

Summary: "When wealthy, seemingly perfect Brittany and Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town, develop a relationship after Alex discovers that Brittany is not exactly who she seems to be, they must face the disapproval of their schoolmates--and others."

Perfect Chemistry is the classic trope of pretty girl falls for bad boy, and it's really juicy! It has a few other typical high school tropes, but the story was still intriguing. The intensity of the story had a lot of potential, and while I don't think it was as good as it could have been, it was still a great read. I enjoyed Alex's character, and his inner turmoil of living up to his gangbanger reputation in the attempt to protect his family was refreshing. 

The series continues with Rules of Attraction and Chain Reaction featuring Alex's younger brothers, Carlos and Luis, as the main characters. I might skim those for some more details on Alex and Brittany!

359 pages

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Oliver Twist is born in a workhouse in 1830s England. His mother dies just after Oliver’s birth. Oliver spends the first nine years of his life in a home for young orphans and then is transferred to a workhouse for adults. He is eventually apprenticed to a local undertaker, but runs away and travels toward London. He is half-starved and exhausted when he meets a boy his own age just outside the city. Jack takes him home with him; he lives with Fagin, a career criminal who trains orphan boys to pick pockets for him.

 After a few days of training, Oliver is sent out with two other boys to pickpocket. He is caught but Mr. Brownlow, the victim, Oliver to his home. Mr. Brownlow is struck by Oliver’s resemblance to a portrait of a young woman that hangs in his house. Oliver thrives in Mr. Brownlow’s home, but is captured by other gang members  and returned  to Fagin.  Fagin sends Oliver to assist in a burglary, and Oliver is shot by a servant of the house and taken in by the Maylie women who live there. They grow fond of Oliver, and he spends the summer with them in the countryside.  When they come to London, they reunite him with Mr. Brownlow.   Mr. Brownlow adopts Oliver, and they and the Maylies retire to a blissful existence in the countryside.

362 pages
Copyright 1837

"Bear, Otter, and the Kid" by TJ Klune

Book description:  "Three years ago, Bear McKenna’s mother took off for parts unknown with her new boyfriend, leaving Bear to raise his six-year-old brother Tyson, aka the Kid.  Somehow they’ve muddled through, but since he’s totally devoted to the Kid, Bear isn’t actually doing much living—with a few exceptions, he’s retreated from the world, and he’s mostly okay with that. Until Otter comes home.  Otter is Bear’s best friend’s older brother, and as they’ve done for their whole lives, Bear and Otter crash and collide in ways neither expect.  This time, though, there’s nowhere to run from the depth of emotion between them.  Bear still believes his place is as the Kid’s guardian, but he can’t help thinking there could be something more for him in the world... something or someone."

This is the first book that I've read by this author and found myself both liking and being annoyed with his writing.   Klune tells an interesting story of abandoned brothers trying to survive day to day with the help of their friends.  Told from Bear's point of view, the reader gets plenty of exposure to his neuroses and inner thoughts, especially his analogy of slowly drowning in the ocean when he gets anxious.  The first part of the story isn't linear, and the chapters are so long that I got a bit confused with the timeline.  It eventually straightened out, though.  My favorite character was the Kid, a smart, intuitive, and compassionate vegan who seemed to be able to deal with life better than Bear.  350 pages (Kindle edition).

Monday, June 29, 2015

Secrets of my Hollywood Life by Jen Calonita

Summary: "Longing to experience the life of a "normal" teenager, sixteen-year-old actress Kaitlin Burke assumes a false identity to attend a local high school." 

Secrets of My Hollywood Life is the first book in the Kaitlin Burke series, and it was a quick and fun read. I enjoyed Kaitlin's voice. Kaitlin gives an inside glimpse into a young celeb's life in Hollywood: all the gossip, pressure, and tabloid stuff that you normally don't get to see. Her attempt to go undercover as a high school student was really enjoyable. I wish I could have read this series as a teenager, but I'll continue reading it anyway! 

242 pages

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Miss Mayhem by Rachel Hawkins

Summary: ""In the sequel to REBEL BELLE, Harper Price and her new boyfriend and oracle David Stark face new challenges as the powerful Ephors seek to claim David for their own."

Miss Mayhem is the eagerly anticipated sequel to the wonderful Rebel Belle, but unfortunately, it did not live up to its promise. Rebel Belle would have made a great stand-alone novel. I'm not sure why there's such pressure to make a trilogy - I'd rather have one really great book all alone rather than one great book followed by two lesser books. Anyway, I would recommend Rebel Belle over and over again, as well as the Hex Hall series, but Miss Mayhem can be skipped. Harper is still a great heroine, but the action and story progression are lacking. The cover of Miss Mayhem is nowhere near as pretty as Rebel Belle either, another disappointment.

277 pages

Monday, June 22, 2015

Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder

Summary: "Yelena has fled to Sitia, her long-lost birthplace, but she is treated like an enemy and is still learning to control her magical powers when a rogue magician emerges and targets her as his next victim."

Magic Study is the sequel to Poison Study, and introduces a new landscape: Sitia. After being kidnapped at age 6, Yelena spent most of her life in the north, aka Ixia. Now she is banned from Ixia and returns to her "family" in Sitia. She also begins to study magic at the Citadel from the other master magicians. Magic Study introduces more characters, more intrigue and more adventure into Yelena's life. I miss the simplicity of Poison Study, but Magic Study is still an excellent sequel. A great series so far!

392 pages

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot

Summary: "For Princess Mia, the five years since college graduation have been a whirlwind of activity. Living in New York City, running her new teen community center, attending royal engagements. And speaking of engagements. Mia's longtime boyfriend Michael managed to clear both their schedules just long enough for an exotic (and very private) Caribbean island interlude where he popped the question! But now Mia has a scandal of majestic proportions to contend with: her grandmother's leaked 'fake' wedding plans to the press. And a scheming politico is trying to force Mia's father from the throne, all because of a royal secret that could leave Genovia without a monarch. Is Mia ready to wed-- and ready to rule as well?" 

Royal Wedding is the first adult novel in the Princess Diaries series. It catches up with Mia as a 26 year-old struggling with princess, royal and family obligations. I am a huge fan of the Princess Diaries series, so I enjoyed catching up with some of my favorite characters. However, this book left me wanting more, but not in a good way. I felt like some really big things happened to Mia in this book, but I didn't get enough info or details to make them satisfying. Way too much time was spent setting up the spin-off series rather than focusing on the HUGE news for Mia! Hopefully there will be a follow-up novel? I need to know more!

434 pages

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works--A True Story" by Dan Harris

Dan Harris is one of the co-anchors of the weekend edition of "Good Morning America" and a contributor to other ABC news programs.  After being in international war zones for years, he tries to find the same excitement with recreational drugs.  This leads to a panic attack on live television while reading the news on GMA in 2004.  After kicking the drugs, he still finds that the constant, critical voice in his head as well as his high stress job is getting the best of him.  At the same time, he's assigned to produce a series of news pieces on religion and ends up meeting Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, the Dalai Lama, and Ted Haggard, among others.  Several Jewish Buddhists suggest that Harris try meditation, which he does reluctantly.  He finds that it takes a lot of practice but it works to calm and focus him.  Harris is a good writer and narrates his story, which is not flattering to Tolle, Chopra, and Harris' own mentor, Peter Jennings.  Recommended for readers who want to know more about Buddhism, meditation, and ABC news. 

Audio:  7 hrs. 45 min.
Print:  256 pages