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Spring Cleaning Challenge Update: Reviews

Only two weeks in and readers are really cleaning up their TBR shelves! Below, I’ve posted a few updates with information about prizes, scoreboard, and reviews. Please take the time to read all the reviews — one participant even included a photo. You may find a book that is perfect for you!

New readers – There’s still time to join in this fun challenge and win prizes! Challenge ends June 20, 2015

Prizes

  • In addition, there to the grand prize, there will also be a prize for the person who reads the most books, the person who posted the first review (this prize went to Anita), and one mystery prize (to be revealed when a person unlocks the prize).
  • The grand prize (which is awesome – trust us, you want to win this prize!!) will be randomly drawn using random.org. Each book you read qualifies you for one entry “ticket” so the more you read, the better your odds of winning. But, everyone who reads at least one book will have a chance to win.
  • In the event of a tie (for person who reads the most), the winner will be selected randomly between the individuals tied for first.
  • We want as many people as possible to win so if the grand prize winner and “most read” winner are the same person, we’ll give the most read book to the second place reader.

Current Scoreboard
Kate – 3
Tracy – 3
Becky – 2
Andrea – 1
Anita -1
Ellen – 1
Nicole D – 1

Reviews

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa. Read by Anita
5 stars + a HEART
Find it here:The Housekeeper and the Professor: A Novel

I am shocked that no one has shoved this book into my hands and said “Read THIS right now!” because that’s how perfect a book it is for me. I absolutely loved this little gem. I’m writing this review with tears rolling down my cheeks. It just moved me emotionally, and honestly books don’t usually do that to the extent that I’m actually crying.

This book is not a big one. It’s not action packed. It’s just a beautifully told tale of a mathematics professor who sustained a memory impairment in a car accident and his relationship with his housekeeper and her son. All three of these characters are so well depicted and absolutely delightful, each in their own way. The prose is simple and straightforward and yet the author says so much in just a few words.

It is a story solely about relationships, but it has a lot of math and baseball interwoven into the story. I love baseball and so for me, that added element just enhanced the book for me. Which is why I’m not sure if everyone would love it quite as much as I did . . .I actually felt as though this book was written for me . . .I can’t imagine many readers who wouldn’t be moved by this one.

————
Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks Read by Becky
3 stars
Find it here:Caleb’s Crossing: A Novel
Caleb’s Crossing made it onto my to-be-read list after I read and absolutely adored Year of Wonders; I was especially interested in Caleb’s story because I’m headed to Boston for school next year.  I enjoyed this book as well, but I think it suffered somewhat from the comparison.

Like Year of Wonders, Caleb’s Crossing was extremely engrossing—the prose absolutely gorgeous, the characters believable.  Especially in the beginning, though, I found it hard to become engaged in the story.  As other reviews have said, this isn’t really Caleb’s story—it’s Bethia’s, and that irked me for a little while.

Caleb’s Crossing was definitely a worthwhile read, though; if anything, my rating probably underestimates its quality.  I marked a few of my favorite quotes as I was reading, so they’re listed below:

“Since I was born here, I too have come to feel that I am a person of the first light, perched at the very farthest edge of the new world, first witness to each dawn of the turning globe.”
“I knew that even as her petals withered, a good fruit ripened: the fruit of a life lived for family and faith and the rich harvests of a fertile place.”
“This morning, light lapped the water as if God had spilt a goblet of molten gold upon a ground of darkest velvet.”

———
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Read by Kate
★★★★
Find it here:The Night Circus
The Night Circus appears mysteriously before dawn in empty fields on the edges of cities and towns as widely separated as Sydney, Boston, and Munich. It opens at nightfall and closes at dawn. In between it is a mysteriously silent brooding collection of black and white tents surrounded by a forbidding iron fence. Visitors inside discover an ever changing magical world of almost universally silent performers, magical illusions, encapsulated worlds within the tent walls, and delicious foods. After a stay of days or a few short weeks the circus disappears as mysteriously as it arrived, without warning or any sort of announcement of its next destination.

This is the backdrop for a magical competition or duel between two indentured unwilling competitors. After the death of her mother five-year old Celia was delivered to the doorstep of her father, Prospero the Enchanter, with all the ceremony of a sack of junk mail. No fond father Prospero nevertheless recognizes great talent in the little girl and sets out to train her as his contestant in a high stakes bet against his ancient rival, the mysterious man in the grey suit. Not having a recently delivered child of his own to manipulate, the man in grey, plucks a likely boy, (later revealed as Marco though his benefactor doesn’t care what his name is) from an orphanage and the wheels are set in motion.

The circus and its tents and performers are vividly imagined and many of the main characters thoroughly enchanting once you get to know them but the structure of the novel makes that extremely difficult. It is split into very short chapters (1-10 pages mostly) told from different perspectives, in different settings, flitting back and forth in time from 1873 to 1902. It was more than a quarter of the way through the book before I was able to know immediately who I was dealing with and how they fit into the overall story. Once I did the story took off and I enjoyed it immensely but as I consequence I spent three days slogging through the first 150 pages and then whipped through the rest in an afternoon. My favorite characters were the twins Poppet and Widget, a nice balance to the thoroughly repellent Prospero.
——–
East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Read by Tracy
Rating: 5 stars and a heart
Find it here:East of Eden
Once upon a time there were three American authors. Each had been awarded a Pulitzer and the Nobel Prize for literature. All were contemporaries, and had a rivalry going amongst themselves.
Papa Bear’s writing style was too curt and to the point. Mama Bear’s writing style was Southern Gothic and too flowery. But Baby Bear’s writing was just right.

This is how I feel about the three “greatest” American authors of the 30’s to the 60’s. Hemingway’s style is to the point, but almost too curt. Faulkner drives me crazy with his verbosity. Steinbeck is just right. I have loved Steinbeck since I was in 6th grade, and read The Pearl.

That is why I am so surprised that I had never read East of Eden. It has languished on my shelf for years, waiting for me to pick it up. Now that I have read it, I still wonder why I hadn’t read it yet. I now have a new favorite Steinbeck novel.

The retelling (twice) of the Cain and Abel story, this is set in the Salinas Valley of California, by way of Connecticut and Ireland, and tells of two families, the Hamiltons and the Trasks. The story is an epic, with many well-drawn characters who are good, evil, or just plain human.

This book revolves around one bible story, and one verse, spoken to Cain by Jehovah as he was exiled: “And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.” But the words thou shalt in the King James Version were not the same in the American Standard Version: Do thou. And in the original Hebrew: Thou mayest.

This book is about choices. In the first Cain and Abel story, Charles tries, but does not kill his brother, Adam, whom he loves very much. He does sleep with Adam’s wife. In the second Cain and Abel story, Aron is killed in action during WWI, due to his inability to see the reality of the world: his mother is a prostitute, and his girlfriend doesn’t belong on the pedestal he created for her. Cal, his brother, set this in motion by showing Aron his mother, and blames himself. Asking for his father’s forgiveness, he hears “Timshel”, Hebrew for thou mayest. He asked for forgiveness; he got a second chance.

I loved this book. It is a favorite, and I actually intend to reread it someday. I wish I had read it sooner, so I could have my reactions to it as a younger person, a middle aged person, and, someday, an old lady.
——-
The Underground Girls of Kabul by Nordberg Read by Becky
4 stars
Find it here:The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan
I think the best way to summarize this book is with the opening statement of the book’s synopsis, “An investigative journalist uncovers a hidden custom that will transform your understanding of what it means to grow up as a girl.” In her description of bacha posh—a custom in Afghanistan and several other nations (Albania, Montenegro) in which girls are dressed as boys both to increase a family’s stature and to temporarily escape gender discrimination—Jenny Nordberg not only documents several girls’ stories but also discusses several universal topics like gender and equality.
The stories of the girls and women that Nordstrom relates became bacha posh for various reasons—Azita, a parliamentarian, transformed her daughter Mehnoush into a boy to make their family of four daughters appear “complete”; teenage Zahra as a child pushed her parents to let her dress as a boy—and each story is relayed with grace and compassion. I found their stories fascinating, and I think that Nordberg does a fantastic job of portraying these women as three-dimensional and extremely real. I also found Nordberg’s description of the challenges that she herself faced as a woman visiting Afghanistan extremely interesting. The book does not stop with recounts of these stories, however; Nordberg’s desire to understand the justification and possible ramifications behind this custom eventually leads her to examine greater issues like current research on gender, misguided international aid efforts, and the role of Afghanistan’s unstable economy in perpetuating gender inequality.
I would highly recommend this book, and I think the situations it describes are highly relevant and important.

—–
The Round House by Louise Erdrich. Read by Kate
★★★★★
Find it here:The Round House
A lazy summer afternoon at home for the Coutts family is interrupted by a phone call that sends mom Geraldine running into town to get a file from her office where she serves as the tribal enrollment specialist. When Geraldine fails to return several hours later, dad Bazil and thirteen-year old Joe borrow a relative’s car and go in search of her. They pass her on the road driving like a bat out of hell towards home. When she arrives at her house however she just sits in the driver’s seat clutching the wheel. She has clearly been beaten, brutally raped and reeks of gasoline.

Even after her release from the hospital Geraldine remains withdrawn and uncommunicative as her family, the law and the entire tightly knit reservation community struggles to piece together the evidence to find out who was responsible for this outrage. Told through the perspective of Joe, the reader is introduced to an Orwellian world of disputed jurisdiction, aborted justice, and the legacy of centuries of institutionalized racism against Native Americans. Erdrich’s characters are complex and so lovingly drawn that what should be an irredeemingly depressing story manages to be less so. I thought I understood the extent of the disconnect between rampant sexual assault and law enforcement/judicial response in America before reading this novel. The statistics that Erdrich cites in the afterword opened my eyes even further.

———
Foundation by Asimov. Read by Tracy
Rating: 4 stars
Find it here:Foundation
Foundation is a classic sci-fi novel set far in the future, on other planets. It begins with psychoscientist and mathematician Hari Seldon predicting to representatives of the Galactic Empire that it is on the decline and will not exist in 300 years. When this social collapse occurs, a 10000 year dark age will occur, unless the Empire allows Seldon to take his scientists to two small planets on the periphery of the Galaxy, and preserve the knowledge of the Empire in an encyclopedia. His wish is granted. But the Foundation experiences many Seldon Crises, where they must decide upon a path predicted by Seldon, but never fully revealed by his holographic image that appears at each crisis. The purpose of these two planets is to save the Galaxy and the knowledge. Science, religion and economics are tools used to ensure the survival of the Foundation, but not violence.

This was a fast-paced and interesting book. Asimov was clearly terrified and excited by nuclear power, as were most who lived in the 50s. He saw everything as being powered by nuclear energy, but also the potential to destroy all with the push of a button. He saw space travel as advanced, but not computers…people still used stylus and paper. I found this detail charming. Characters were very well done, it was easy to see the good guys and the bad guys, and motivations were well documented. All in all, a fast, fun read that I would recommend.
———
The Knitting Circle – Ann Hood. Read by Ellen
4 stars
Find it here:The Knitting Circle: A Novel
Mary and Dylan Baxter were that couple that everyone else aspired to be. He was a busy attorney, she worked for the local newspaper writing reviews and their 5 year old daughter Stella was the light of their lives – until meningitis cruelly took Stella’s life in less than 24 hours. Mary and Dylan stumbled through their days not believing that their family had crumbled so completely. Dylan’s work kept him busy but Mary, whose work schedule was sporadic to begin with, grew more withdrawn day after day as her anger and bewilderment threatened to overcome her. Mary’s mother, Maimie, suggested that Mary learn how to knit hoping that the concentration on the stitches and patterns would occupy Mary’s mind for a few hours a day. Mary reluctantly found herself driving to the “Sit and Knit” run by Alice who kindly took Mary under her wing and taught her the basics of knitting. As Mary became more confident in her new hobby she joined the Wednesday night knitting circle where she met the other members, all of whom had their own secret tragedies. Mary slowly learned to make friends with the women and shared in their triumphs and heartache.

Although this was certainly a tragic story it was uplifing too. The power of the human spirit and the love of friends shone through the entire book. I’ve been a knitter for many years and I guess I never saw it as therapy but it certainly could be. This one has been on my TBR for several years and I’m glad that I’ve finally read it.
——–
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. Read by Kate
★★★★★
Find it here:The God of Small Things: A Novel

When a novel opens with the funeral for a young drowned girl you can pretty much predict that it is not going to be a light sunny romance. Narrated primarily from the perspective of the young victim’s cousin, Rahel, this story remains dark and harrowing throughout its entirety. Caste bigotry, child molestation, domestic violence, economic inequalities, police brutality and sexual inequality all play prominent roles but the most corrosive influence in the plot was the banal jealousy of one bitter, frustrated old woman driven to manipulate those around her. Though the narrative is non-linear in the extreme the vividness of the imagery kept me enthralled. I could smell the river and the pickle factory, hear the birds singing and the cacophony of the railroad station, see the colors of the clothing, taste the foods, etc… Unfortunately I don’t believe I’ll ever be able to enjoy the Sound of Music as much again.

——–
Book: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Read by Andrea
Rating: 4 stars
Find it here:The Book Thief: Enhanced Movie Tie-in Edition

Death, as the narrator, tells the story about a little German girl, who after losing her father, her mother carried her and her brother to a foster family, but the little brother died in the journey. While living with her foster family, Liesel Meminger, struggles to survive in a Germany with a Nazi ideology, and the horror of living during WWII. Death does not care of giving spoilers throughout the book, for it, it’s obvious what happens at the end.

The story lasts for about four years, in which, Liesel, learns about love, friendship, death, survival, loyalty, grieve, etc. And according to Death, words saved Liesel from the brutality of Nazism.

This is a must read. It reminds us that through Germany there where families trying to keep up with their lives, even though their sons where given no choice to join the army, or their Jew friends were badly treated and taken away, how a true friendship always prevails and how humans tried to survive during a crisis.
———
We are Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. Read by Tracy
4 stars
Find it here:We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves: A Novel

It is very hard to explain this book, without giving a lot away, but I will try.

Rosemary has a brother, and a sister. She grows up in Indiana, in what could be construed as a normal household…..for her. Her mother is a “housewife” and her father a pysch professor at Indiana University.

In reality, Fern, her sister, is a chimpanzee, and the children are a psych experiment, complete with grad students cleaning their house.

When the girls are five, Fern leaves, and Rosemary can’t remember why, but both she and her brother Lowell blame herself. Lowell leaves home at 18, and becomes an animal activist, with an FBI record.

This book is about closure, but sometimes when you try to close a door, another one opens, or that same door refuses to close, and that may be the best thing.

I enjoyed this book- it was a fun one to read, especially since my husband grew up with chimps. His grandmother owned a roller rink, and had trained the chimps to rollerskate. It was well written, with humor and grace- it treated its subject matter with dignity.

The photo below is my husband, with his sister, and Skipper. Skipper is the chimp. 🙂

———–
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett. Read by Nicole D.
5/5 stars
Find it here:The Secret Garden (Illustrated)

This is one of those books that you think you’ve read but maybe you haven’t.  Have you?  That’s how I was.  Even when I started it, I felt sure that I’d read it before, but that soon passed.
What a fun story!  I absolutely adored the characters.  There was the moors, and a house with a hundred rooms, surly servants, a crabby rich old father, a sour-faced orphan-girl, a boy who thinks he’s dying, and a boy who all the creatures love.

It was a perfect book.  I totally loved it.

Do you see a book that sounds appealing to you? Let us know your thoughts about any of the books reviewed here. And join our challenge for a chance to win and awesome grand prize!!

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Well done everyone loving the reviews and all the books I haven’t read I now want to read lol

    Like

    April 4, 2015
  2. Wow! Some great reviews and happy readers. Particularly happy for Tracy and Nicole who read some of my favorites!

    Like

    April 9, 2015
    • To be more explicit – – Tracy’s read of East of Eden. Loved that book.

      Liked by 1 person

      April 9, 2015
      • I actually haven’t read that one yet. I really have to get to it.

        Like

        April 9, 2015
      • East of Eden is a master piece one of my favourite books ever 🙂

        Like

        April 10, 2015
  3. Lynsey #

    I have not read East of Eden yet but removed it from my wish list before the challenge. My copy is up at my cabin waiting to be read on a rainy weekend. Now I will have to read it this summer!

    Like

    April 18, 2015
  4. Lynsey #

    Tracy – I love that photo!

    Like

    April 18, 2015

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