Welcome to the MOSL Book Challenge

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Without Merit by Colleen Hoover

Without MeritWithout Merit by Colleen Hoover
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a good story overall, and I read it straight through. However, it's my least favorite Colleen Hoover book and the only one I'm not sure I would ever reread. Now, this isn't meant as an insult, as I obviously still gave the book 4 stars. I just didn't connect with it as well as I have others.

It's a compelling, fast paced read, and it is full of interesting characters, unexpected situations, and a variety of different strained relationships. One minor complaint that I have is that some major/traumatic issues and moments were just brushed over under the philosophy that not all mistakes deserve a consequence. And that's probably true, however it overlooks the fact that even though a mistake might not deserve a consequence, it still may have been harmful and had consequences for others. It may still require more resolution than a mere apology, especially if the mistake went unresolved and unexplained for years and affected the lives of others.

What was fascinating about this book is that it dealt with the amount of harm that people can do to the ones they love when they fail to successfully communicate, whether that's through being the one to speak up, or being the one to actively and patiently listen without judgment. The characters definitely learn a lot across the length of the story, so that was interesting, even when it was uncomfortable.

There's a lot of the drama, and obviously some of the drama is there to keep the plot moving forward. I get that, but it did make some of the drama seem unnecessary, like overkill. The story just didn't sit as well inside the drama as I wanted, I guess.

Overall, I still enjoyed the story enough that I stayed up until 3 AM on a work night to finish it. It's well-written as is everything that comes from CoHo. I'm happy I read it, even if it won't be one that I return to.

Pages: 384

Friday, November 17, 2017

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

All Harry wanted to do was get back to Hogwarts. But just as he's happily preparing to leave his aunt and uncle's house, he receives a warning from a strange creature named Dobby, who tells Harry he must not return to school. Soon after his arrival, it becomes clear Harry should have heeded Dobby's warning, as disaster seems to be in the air. There are the usual minor annoyances: the unwanted attention of Ron's younger sister, Ginny; the obnoxiously arrogant new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, Gilderoy Lockhart; and a morose ghost named Moaning Myrtle, who hides out in the girls' lavatory. All of these pale in comparison to the sudden attacks that leave many of Hogwarts' Muggle-born population petrified. Who could possibly be behind the vicious attacks? Is it the kind but monster-obsessed Hagrid? What about Draco Malfoy, whose family could easily be related to Salazar Slytherin? Or is it the very person most students suspect---Harry Potter himself?

Book 2 in the Harry Potter series. 341 pages.  

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

The Things They CarriedThe Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this years ago, but when I saw it on Audible, I knew I wanted to buy it and listen. It's a great story for listening, because it's so honest in the kind of way that can be both charming and completely uncomfortable. Bryan Cranston is an excellent narrator.

I highly recommend this in any version, but be aware that this story does not in any way romanticize war or the life of a soldier. It's not a feel good story, more like a feel everything story.

Pages: 259

Monday, November 13, 2017

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

When Harry Potter, an 11-year-old orphan, discovers he is a wizard and is whisked away to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he is elated to escape his neglectful aunt and uncle. Even within the Wizarding community, Harry is famous, albeit for something he cannot recall: As a baby, he mysteriously managed to defeat Lord Voldemort, the Darkest wizard ever to haunt the Wizarding world. Not everything is perfect, however. The walls of Hogwarts contain secrets of their own, including an object known as the Sorcerer's Stone. But Harry is determined the Stone will not fall into the wrong hands, and in his desire to protect the Stone and those he loves, Harry comes face to face with terrifying forces beyond his wildest dreams.

Book 1 in the Harry Potter series. 320 pages.  

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas

Summary: "In 1882 England when her beloved sister Rose vanishes, Evelyn, bored with society and its expectations, embarks on a search for Rose, encountering the reclusive, young gentleman Sebastian Braddock, who is also looking for Rose and claiming that both sisters have special healing powers."

I wanted to love this book. I started out loving it, as it was a mysterious take on a Jane Austen-type setting, filled with good humor and fun. But then it spiraled into confusion and lost its spunk.  

298 pages

Some Day You'll Thank Me for This: The Official Southern Ladies' Guide to Being a "Perfect" Mother by Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays

I found this book after reading the authors' tongue-in-cheek article on Thanksgiving etiquette in November's issue of Southern Living Magazine. Some Day You'll Thank Me is filled with Southern recipes that for better or worse remind me of my grandmother's cooking - sherry, mayonnaise, lots of cream cheese. It inspired me to make Country Captain Chicken. It was delicious, but I don't think Metcalfe or Hays would appreciate that I opted for the NEW YORK TIMES recipe over theirs. Audiobook. 234 pages.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Roar (Stormheart #1) by Cora Carmack

Summary: "As the sole heir of Pavan, Aurora's been groomed to be the perfect queen. She's intelligent and brave and honorable. But she's yet to show any trace of the magic she'll need to protect her people. To keep her secret and save her crown, Aurora's mother arranges for her to marry a dark and brooding Stormling prince from another kingdom. At first, the prince seems like the perfect solution to all her problems. He'll guarantee her spot as the next queen and be the champion her people need to remain safe. But the more secrets Aurora uncovers about him, the more a future with him frightens her."

I'm conflicted by my feelings about this story. It is unique, interesting, and magical, but also confusing and ultimately disappointing. It has potential, but was not quite executed the way that I wanted. The storm magic was wonderful, ultimately the book's saving grace. 

380 pages

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Titled Americans by Elisabeth Kehoe

The Titled Americans by Elisabeth Kehoe

The Titled Americans offers a glimpse into the lives of three privileged and glamorous sisters who married into the British aristocracy. When Leonard Jerome arrived in New York in 1850, he would go on to become a successful Wall Street speculator, whose fortunes rose and fell throughout his life. When his wife, Clarissa, took their three daughters, Jennie, Clara, and Leonie, to Europe in the 1860s, the girls would make quite a splash within the British upper class. Jennie married Lord Randolph Churchill, becoming the mother of Winston and the most famous of the three Jerome daughters. Jennie's marriage would launch her sisters into the highest circles of society, resulting in marriages for both. Titles do not guarantee happiness, however, but deep affection united the Jerome sisters so that they could weather life's sorrows and joys, in a bond only broken in death.

452 pages. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Widow's War by Sally Gunning

The Widow's WarLyddie Berry lives on Cape Cod just before the Revolutionary War. Her husband Edward is a whaler, gone on fishing expeditions for months at a time. Lyddie is used to being in charge of her own life, keeping her home and household running smoothly and efficiently and used to being alone. She and her husband have a loving, mutual relationship.

But when he is killed at sea, she finds that he has left her son-in-law in charge of her and all that she thought she owned. However, at that time women could not own property, so she inherits a widow's third of the homestead, and use of the cow. She has only one daughter, so her son-in-law, as the only male relative inherits the rest. She moves into her daughter's home, but chafes under the restrictions placed on her by her son-in-law.

When he finds a buyer for her home and insists she sign the deed, she rebels, and moves back into her third of the house. Her son-in-law makes her life a living hell, but she perseveres, and manages to keep her independence.

336 pages

Prisoner's Base by Rex Stout

Prisoner's BaseArchie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe are at an impasse after an argument when Priscilla Eads shows up on their doorstep, telling Archie that she wants to rent a room for one week. Archie, in order to bedevil Wolfe, installs her in a spare room. Of course Wolfe kicks her out. When she is murdered as soon as she returns home, Archie is determined to find her killer.

I love the Nero Wolfe mysteries; they are pure deductive delights. This one is thoroughly enjoyable.

225 pages

A Cry in the Night by Mary Higgins Clark

A Cry in the NightJenny McPartland is a single mother with two little girls, living in New York City, and working in an  art gallery when a handsome rich young artist sweeps her off her feet, marries her, and takes her off to Minnesota. He wines and dines her, is perfect with her daughters, and is just the perfect man, so different from her ex.

However, there are forebodings of cracks in his armor. He is hostile to her ex-husband, and possessive of her. And once they get to his home in Minnesota, things quickly become sinister. He isolates her from her friends and the community and wages psychological warfare on her.

I found myself really disliking this woman; she was stupid and gullible, all the things I get impatient with women for being. However, the story becomes very suspenseful, as all Higgins stories do.

 352 pages

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

Young Jane YoungA cautionary tale about social media. Aviva Grossman is an intern for an up-and-coming young politician. In an all-too-familiar, she has an affair with the boss. Unfortunately, she also blogs about it. When she and the boss are involved in a fatal automobile accident, the blog is discovered by the press.

When she graduates from college, she finds she is unemployable; once a prospective employer googles her, they lose interest. This leads her to make a drastic change in her life, one that will impact her entire family.

304 pages

Seeker by Veronica Rossi

Seeker (Riders, #2)Seeker by Veronica Rossi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this second and final installment in the series. Having more time with the boys and horses was fun, though the storyline moved in unexpected directions. I enjoyed the emphasis on family and overcoming the things that haunt you from your past.

One of my favorite side characters was separated from the group for a long stretch, and I really missed his chattiness and sense of humor. Also, I would have liked a few more answers to my lingering questions, but overall, this was a good read.

I think it was appropriate to end the series at 2 books, though I can't help wishing this book had grown the characters and world in a way that more books would have been required. I think there was potential here for something more or greater, though I'm not necessarily opposed to how it all wrapped up.

Pages: 352

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Fish in a TreeFish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really loved this MG story about a girl who can't read, because she has dyslexia (and it has gone undiagnosed). The strange thing is that this story has lots of flaws and errors, but it is so heartfelt that I overlooked them all.

In fact, until I sat down to really think about it, I didn't even realize how much of this story is a bit unrealistic in 2017. I was so caught up with the characters that I just accepted everything as fact and overlooked it all.

The things that are problematic include:

--This is not an accurate depiction of what middle school is like in 2017, though it did remind me a bit of my late elementary school years, which gave me the warm fuzzies. Since I taught middle school for 6 years, I think I can say that this does not accurately depict most middle school experiences, though I love how polished and hopeful it is. It's like the bright, shiny version of middle school that we all wish we could have attended and taught.

--There are a lot of errors regarding the military and military families, though since that is only a very minor part of the storyline in this book, I think that it could be overlooked for the most part. However, kids who read this who are from military families are going to notice and not feel very well represented.

--The depictions of bullying and how bullies are handled is not especially accurate, though I really do wish it would work that way.

--Some of the commentary on special education is also inaccurate, especially the suggestion that nothing will happen to help the child until all the paperwork is done and the meetings are held. Yes, the process can be long and drawn out, but as soon as teachers are aware of an issue or concern, they already start making accommodations and working to help the student address it and be successful, until something more official can be put into place. I know that the delay is important to the plotline, but it gives an inaccurate impression of the teaching community.

On the good side:
--The writing itself is flawless and emotional
--The characters are captivating
--The message is A+
--There's lots of emotional resonance
--I appreciate the awareness about not only dyslexia but just the different ways people think and learn in general

I confess, I really enjoyed this story, and I would recommend it to others, even despite the flaws. There's something that I really enjoy about this middle school world, even though it doesn't align with many of my experiences as a middle school teacher. It's almost like this story is the easier and more hopeful version of what school could actually be, and that makes me happy. But deep down, I know it's also a bit of a lie.

Pages: 288

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

The Wild RobotThe Wild Robot by Peter Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This middle grade novel about a robot that gets stranded on a wilderness island is so sweet. I know, I know. You're all thinking, really? A feral wilderness robot is sweet? Yep. It sure is.

There are no people in this novel. Roz, the bot, has to learn how to adapt, survive, and communicate with the animals of the island, after she's shipwrecked, washed ashore, and accidentally activated by an otter. She is involved in an accident that causes the deaths of a family of geese, minus one small gosling, which she then adopts and raises.

This is a charming, adorable story about how great a place can be when there's someone there, even just a robot, who simply wants to do what is right and make life better for everyone, no matter what creature or species you may be. There's something to be learned here about the strength of society, and what makes for stronger communities. It's touching to watch her learn and grow, and to see how the other animals change and adapt with her. She has a positive influence on the whole island.

The only bad thing about the audiobook is the terrible symphonic additions at the start and end of the book. The music is cued up so loud that I can barely separate out the words and focus on the story, which is absolutely frustrating. Don't get me wrong. I am not opposed to music or sound effects with audiobooks. I have my undergrad degree in music, so bring on the orchestra.

HOWEVER, additional sounds should never supersede anyone's ability to hear and focus on the actual story, ESPECIALLY DURING THE CRUCIAL START OF A BOOK. This is so common, and it MAKES ME SO ANGRY.

When the noise/music is louder than the story, that's an utter failure on behalf of the individual who was responsible for adding sound effects and music to the book. That's just wrong and bad on every level. Not everyone has perfect hearing, perfect speakers, and/or a perfect listening environment. The people who cue music for audiobooks need to take the book out with a set of crappy headphones and listen to it in a busy location.

Then, and only then, should they make decisions about the volume of the background music and sounds. If they are sitting in a high tech studio, then they're mixing the book for themselves, not for the everyday audiobook user, which is just frustrating.

Luckily, the very loud, brain impairing noise lasts for only about the first 8 minutes at the start, so if you turn the audiobook up to double speed, you can get through the uncomfortable segment in just over 4 minutes. Hang in there. After those 8 minutes, you'll be able to hear and appreciate this adorable story, despite having basically missed the entire start of the book. Regardless, you'll be able to follow along with the story, even if you take very little out of the section cued with music, because while I hate missing the start of a story, I didn't struggle to figure out what was happening in the story once the noise violence ended.

I did almost quit listening, because somewhere around the 3 minute mark, I suspected the loud music may be cued throughout the whole book, and I knew I couldn't handle that. It's not. Hang in there.

Pages: 288