Monday, November 28, 2011

Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall


Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder
review copy provided by publisher
Description from Goodreads:
In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell; shortly afterwards the two Germanies reunited, and East Germany ceased to exist. In a country where the headquarters of the secret police can become a museum literally overnight and one in#160;50 East Germans were informing on their fellow citizens, there are thousands of captivating stories. Anna Funder tells extraordinary tales from the underbelly of the former East Germany. She meets Miriam, who as a 16-year-old might have started World War III; she visits the man who painted the line which became the Berlin Wall; and she gets drunk with the legendary "Mik Jegger" of the east, once declared by the authorities to his face to "no longer to exist." Each enthralling story depicts what it's like to live in Berlin as the city knits itself back together#151;or fails to. This is a history full of emotion, attitude, and complexity.

My take:
I remember when the Berlin Wall came down. I remember being glued to the news during these events and being excited and happy that things were changing in the world.  But, I was far more familiar with the U.S.S.R. than I was  the GDR. This may have been because I hung out with a few Russian Studies majors in college, and I was generally interested in Russian history. Stasiland was a real eye-opener for me. My own ignorance about East Germany was shocking to me.  For some reason, I had always assumed that East Germany wasn't as communist as Russia somehow. I'm not even sure how that could be, but that was the general impression I had.

Stasiland set me straight regarding my misconceptions about East Germany. Anna Funder does an excellent job of conveying the depressing aspects of life in communist Germany while inserting moments of much needed humor. Most of the humor is of the incredulous kind. For instance, when a young woman who has been continually unsuccessful at finding employment makes the mistake of saying that she is unemployed to the clerk at the Employment Office.
'Miss, you are not unemployed, she barked.
'Of course I'm unemployed,' Julia said. 'Why else would I be here?'
'This is the Employment Office, not the Unemployment Office. You are not unemployed; you are seeking work.'
Julia wasn't daunted. 'I'm seeking work,' she said, 'because I am unemployed.'
The woman started to shout so loudly the people in the queue hunched their shoulders. 'I said, you are not unemployed! You are seeking work!' and then, almost hysterically, 'There is no unemployment in the German Democratic Republic!' p. 104
I really liked that the book helped to put history of Germany into perspective for me. I don't know enough about German history to judge how accurate some of her statements are, but because of many of her references, I was able to roughly line up the German history.

I thought the memoir format worked well here. Funder retells personal stories of several people who lived through the communist years and many of them were personally affected by the Stasi. She also interviewed some former Stasi and that was extremely interesting. 

If you've read my blog at all, you probably have guessed that I really like books that make me want to read even more about a topic. And this book succeeded at this.  I found it fascinating, horrifying, funny, sad, and frustrating. All this means it was a very good read.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Belated Readathon

I will be participating in Belated Readathon hosted by Amanda at Dead White Guys and Britteny from The Souls of Thought. Why am I participating?? Because I love the title of the readathon and I love Dead White Guys and besides, who doesn't love an excuse to read all day long? 

Here are the details from Amanda:
THE DEETS.
-The event starts at 7 a.m. on Saturday, December 3rd, and runs until 7 a.m. Sunday, December 4th. If you can't/don't want to participate for all 24 hours, you absolutely do not have to. I have a feeling I won't even do that, and I'm the one (co) hosting it. So. Also, we're in EST, but you can start at whatever time you want in your time zone.
-Brittney and I will be gathering at my house for the duration of our endurance, eating snacks and doing hourly updates on our respective blogs. You are not required to do hourly updates, or any updates, really. HOWEVER, I do encourage you to do some sort of updating so we know you're alive, and not buried under your TBR pile.
-In short, there aren't really any rules, but if you want an excuse to shove your kids/cat/homework into your closet/car/backpack and just read all day and night, I AM HERE! I AM YOUR EXCUSE PROVIDER!

I hope to read for a major portion of the day, but I will have to take some time out to watch the OU/OSU game --- this is a requirement. I have to watch and support my Sooners.

**Updates will be posted to the blog.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Follow Friday

Since it is the Friday after Thanksgiving, this Follow & Feature Friday is about what we bloggers are thankful for. This meme is hosted by Parajunkee's View and Alison Can Read.

Our featured blogger is Shanan from The Book Addict. Be sure to check out her blog and follow.
My name is Shanan. I am the blogger behind The Book Addict. Some my earliest memories of spending time with my grandma were trips to our local library to get stacks of books. Since then, I have been hooked. I love when a story sweeps me away, takes me to a new place, allows me to explore a new idea. I love to read just about anything–fiction, non-fiction, classics, young adult. Some of my favorites are Pride and Prejudice, the Poison Study series by Maria V. Snyder, and The Heir Chronicles by Cinda Williams Chima.
I have a two-year old daughter who keeps me on my toes, but she has also taught me to enjoy the little things in life, to be silly, to dance to the music I hear, and the importance of always knowing where the nearest park is located. I strive everyday to spark a love of reading for her, too. So every night, I get to fall in love with Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, and A.A. Milne all over again.
 Q: It’s Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. so we want to know what you are Thankful for – blogging related of course! Who has helped you out along the way? What books are you thankful for reading?

My answer:
I am so thankful for the whole book blogging community. My tiny little blog has been so much fun. And so many bloggers have inspired and encouraged me while I have been learning and trying to improve my blog. I could not begin to thank everyone, but, I've been especially grateful for Parajunkee's View for all the blogging information provided by the  Blogging 101 feature and the Follow Friday meme.

Some of the books I'm thankful for reading: Dance Lessons, The Legacy, Russian Winter, Stoner and Deadline.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving


This year I just happen to be reading America: A Narrative History Brief Edition by George Brown Tindall and David Emory Shi. This is for my oldest's history this year, but I am reading it as well. I am really enjoying this book. Recently reading about the Revolution and the founding of our nation has made this Thanksgiving even more meaningful for me. I think we all need reminders of our history to keep it fresh in our minds.  I am thankful for so much.

I wish all my fellow bloggers and readers a very Happy Thanksgiving. And happy reading! The long weekend for me is the perfect opportunity to get in lots of reading time.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cutting for Stone



Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
borrowed from a friend
Description from Goodreads:
Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. Orphaned by their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution.

Moving from Addis Ababa to New York City and back again, Cutting for Stone is an unforgettable story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles—and two brothers whose fates are forever intertwined.

My take:

Cutting for Stone was a book choice for my book club. At first I was very impressed with this book. It really is beautifully written. I loved the descriptions of Africa and the depiction of life there. This book was very ambitious. It takes on many issues including love/lust, betrayal, forgiveness, family, sibling relationships, and tragedy. The first two thirds of the book were pretty amazing if you can excuse some pretty big coincidences --which I was completely willing to do because I loved how beautifully written it was. The relationship between the twins, Marion and Shiva was compelling if a little confusing. The two brothers have a complicated relationship and it was rather fascinating to read about the evolution of this relationship. Unfortunately, the final third of the book was so disappointing for me. Actually, the last fourth of the novel just seemed to unravel for me. I felt the coincidence of Marion running into Genet in the US was just too much. And once he ran into her I felt like I had been completely deceived about the character of Marion through the first three fourths of the book. He seemed to devolve into a brutal Neanderthal. At this point, I finished the book just to see how far the story would plunge. I felt let down because the story had started so beautifully and ended in a grungy mess. Maybe I'm missing the point and I should see how fragile life is and all people have their weaknesses, we should forgive and blah, blah, blah. I know many people really loved this book, but I felt disappointed by the ending - especially because of how it started off. So, to recap, loved the first three fourths, should have stopped before the final fourth.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bunheads

Bunheads by Sophie Flack
kindle edition purchased from amazon.com
Description from Goodreads:

As a dancer with the ultra-prestigious Manhattan Ballet Company, nineteen-year-old Hannah Ward juggles intense rehearsals, dazzling performances and complicated backstage relationships. Up until now, Hannah has happily devoted her entire life to ballet.

But when she meets a handsome musician named Jacob, Hannah's universe begins to change, and she must decide if she wants to compete against the other "bunheads" in the company for a star soloist spot or strike out on her own in the real world. Does she dare give up the gilded confines of the ballet for the freedoms of everyday life.

My take:
I originally wanted to read this book because of the insider's view of being a member of a large ballet company.  I have two daughters who dance and I wanted to see if Bunheads would be appropriate for my older daughter to read. 

I found it very interesting to read about the everyday life of a corp de ballet dancer. Hannah is a likable character - not perfect, not bad, just a normal girl. I enjoyed reading about the experience of competing with the same girls who are your closest friends and some of the few people who understand the physical and emotional toll that dancing for a living takes on a person.

I liked that the book explores many of the issues that are prevalent in the dance world -- weight, eating issues, physical injury, dealing with egotistical directors/instructors and weighing the pros and cons of choosing to give so much of yourself into dance and dance alone. I think it is good for young dancers to confront these issues before they have made life changing decisions. 

I was very amused by the portrayal of the dancers' views about The Nutcracker ballet performances.  My daughters have danced in a major ballet company's Nutcracker for the last several years and we mothers always wonder how on earth the company dancers can stand to dance it every year - and so many performances.  I have a friend who used to be a professional ballet dancer and many of the stories she has told me about her experiences are mirrored in Bunheads.  There were a couple of places that Hannah expresses almost exactly the same sentiments of my friend. So, I had a fun time reading this book.

For parents wondering if it is appropriate for their middle to older children: There is some language and some under age drinking. Other than those pretty minor things, I think it is a fine read for teens/tweens.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Second Life

A Second Life by Dermot Bolger
purchased from Kennys Bookshop
Description from Goodreads:
Following a car crash, for several seconds, Dublin photographer Sean Blake is clinically dead. When he plummets back to life, it is into a world which, for him, has profoundly changed. This is not the first time that he has been given a second life. At the age of six weeks he was taken from his mother, when as a young girl in rural Ireland, she was forced to give up her baby for adoption. Beginning the quest for his own identity, Sean determines to find his natural mother. This leads him on a strange and absorbing journey. Bolger exposes a dark wound from Ireland's history to explore how we must not only reclaim the past but try to redeem it. As Sean closes in on the truth of his birth, A Second Life builds with a resonance that is both through-provoking and utterly moving.

My Take:
Until I read this book, I was not very aware of this particular aspect of Irish history.  I think I was vaguely aware of the fact that there were homes run by nuns for unwed mothers and that the children were taken from the young mothers and given out for adoption.  I am sure this was entirely due to other books I have read.  After reading A Second Life, I plan to do further reading and to see the movie The Magdalene Sisters which attempts to shed light on these "fallen" women and their lives within the "laundries".

A Second Life examines the aftermath of Sean Blake's near death experience and his coming to grips with having been adopted. The other narrative in the novel is that of his birth mother - who never forgot her son and was always hoping he would try to find her.  Being forced to give up her baby had a devastating effect on her life and she never really recovered. This is a heart breaking story, but it was a fascinating read.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Follow Friday

It's time for some Follow Friday Fun!  Follow and Feature Friday is hosted by Parajunkee's View and AlisonCanRead.

This week's feature blog is SkyInk.net:


Hi! My name is Jinny. I’m 22 years old, live in Canada. I love reading books, of course. I also love video games and, stereotypically, hockey! I’m currently majoring in English (language, not literature, though I have to take some lit courses anyway as part of my degree) and I hope that after I graduate, I will be accepted into a nursing program so that I can become a nurse.

My book blog was born in November 2009. I started my book blog when a couple friends and I decided to challenge ourselves by reading 50 books in a year, so I used the blog to keep track of my books. From there, it became a sort of review site, though recently I am trying to participate in more memes and whatnot :) I read a bit of everything, though I think by and large the genre I gravitate towards the most is YA.


Now for some follow fun:

Q: Today’s Question is something new, an activity. We want to see what you look like! Take a pic with you and your current read! Too shy? Boo! Just post a fun pic you want to share.



Okay, here I am with my kindle ediiton of Bunheads by Sophia Flack.


Naturally, I'm reading more than one book, so. . .

Me with my copy of Stasiland by Anna Funder.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fool's Sanctuary

Fool's Sanctuary by Jennifer Johnston
book purchased from Kennys Bookshop
Summary from back of book:
The Great War is over; but the war in Ireland is only just beginning, as the IRA and the Black and Tans move on to the attack. It all seems very remote to Miranda Martin, during that miraculous Indian summer.

Her father, hoping to forget his dead wife, thinks of nothing but his trees; Miranda thinks of the future, a future which must surely include Cathal, who brings news from Dublin. Everything seems calm and serene.

But then Andrew, her officer brother, comes home, bringing his eccentric, likeable friend Harry, and as the Indian summer fades, the scent is set for tragedy.

My take:
For such a short novel, it is quite powerful. The beginning of Fool's Sanctuary takes place much after the main action of the novel. It is retold in the flashbacks of a seemingly very old and frail Miranda Martin.  The novel begins:
There are no new days ahead of me.
Is this what they meant by limbo?
Waiting time, floating time, time for snatching at the comfortable and uncomfortable
moments of the past.
It is so sad and sort of ethereal. In the flashbacks to that fateful summer that changed all their lives forever, Miranda seemed to be so sheltered from what was going on in the world and in Ireland all round her.  She and her father seemed to inhabit a quiet oasis in the midst of turmoil. Unfortunately, such a state cannot exist indefinitely. 

There is much left unsaid and the reader must gather it as the story unfolds.  Her father seems to be trying to cope with his wife's death by plunging himself into his work. He is a sharp contrast to his son, Andrew, who finds his father's work and his way of life contemptible. Andrew is full of anger and violence -at whom he is angry is somewhat in doubt. He seems to be angry with everyone.

Like most Irish novels, Fool's Sanctuary is quite sad. It is quite effective at shining a light on a time in Irish history that many in America are only vaguely aware if they are aware of it at all.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Upcoming Challenges



Last year I signed up for way too many challenges. With my homeschooling schedule, the kids' music and ballet activites, I was far too busy to read at the level I have in the past. I am hoping to rally these last two months and at least make a decent showing. That said, I will be participating in The Book Vixen's Outdo Yourself Challenge 2012. This one should be a bit easier to attain as it is just trying to read more books than last year.

Details:
  • Runs January 1, 2012 – December 31, 2012 (books read prior to 1/1/12 do not count towards the challenge). You can join at anytime. Sign up on The Book Vixen’s blog.
  • The goal is to outdo yourself by reading more books in 2012 than you did in 2011. See the different levels below and pick the one that works best for you. Nothing is set in stone; you can change levels at any time during the challenge.
  • Books can be any format (bound, eBook, audio).
  • Re-reads and crossovers from other reading challenges are allowed.
  • Grab the reading challenge button and post this reading challenge on your blog to track your progress. Please include a link back to this sign-up post so others can join the reading challenge too. You do not have to be a book blogger to participate; you could track your progress on Goodreads or LibraryThing.


Levels:
Getting my heart rate up – Read 1–5 more books
Out of breath – Read 6–10 more books
Breaking a sweat – Read 11–15 more books
I’m on fire! – Read 16+ more books


I think I will start out at the "Out of breath" level  by reading 6 - 10 more books.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

In the Forests of the Night











In the Forests of the Night (The Goblin Wars book 2) by Kersten Hamilton
ARC provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company
Description from Goodreads:
Teagan, Finn, and Aiden have made it out of Mag Mell alive, but the Dark Man's forces are hot on their heels. Back in Chicago, Tea’s goblin cousins show up at her school, sure she will come back to Mag Mell, as goblin blood is never passive once awoken. Soon she will belong to Fear Doirich and join them. In the meantime, they are happy to entertain themselves by trying to seduce, kidnap, or kill Tea’s family and friends.
Teagan knows she doesn’t have much time left, and she refuses to leave Finn or her family to be tortured and killed. A wild Stormrider, born to rule and reign, is growing stronger inside her. But as long as she can hold on, she’s still Teagan Wylltson, who plans to be a veterinarian and who heals the sick and hurting. The disease that’s destroying her—that’s destroying them all—has a name: Fear Doirich.
And Teagan Wylltson is not going to let him win.


My take:
I was so excited to receive an advanced reader copy of the latest book in The Goblin Wars series by Kersten Hamilton. Tyger Tyger was such a pleasant surprise for me. My original review can be found here.

In the second installment of this series, In the Forests of the Night, the reader is quickly plunged into the aftermath of Teagan's first trip into Mag Mell. Her father is back home, but he has lost some of his memories. The house is full of family - both human and goblin. Teagan's friend Abby is now living with them as are Roisin and Grendal as well as Thomas. The story is very fast-paced and pulls you along into the world of Mab, Fear Doirich and the Mac Cumhaill.

Not only is the story exciting and tension filled, there is a lot of humor as well. That is one of the many things I like about this series. There is a funny scene about when Roisin finds out that Thomas, who is a shape-shifter, is not the sexy animal he claimed, but a bird instead. It's just not the same as, say, a wolf.

As a literature major, I used to sit in pubs with other students and discuss literature - yes, really. And one of our favorite topics was the Shakespeare issue. Who was Shakespeare, exactly? This was never taken too seriously, but it was so much fun!  And to my joy, this topic is discussed in the book --- with some interesting information provided by Thomas, the Lhiannon-sidhe - Celtic muse. Another thing I loved was that while just reading for fun, I was inspired to research several topics of mythology, read authors I had never actually read but should have, re-read some authors, learn about Irish Travellers and re-read Tyger Tyger to make sure I had everything all straight in my head.

After I read In the Forests of the Night, I gave my daughter Tyger Tyger to read and after she finished it, she confiscated my copy of In the Forests of the Night. She loved them both and was only upset that she would have to wait for the next book.

This is one series that I consistently and often recommend to my friends and other homeschoolers who have tweens/teens. Teagan is a smart girl and she makes her own decisions. I love the depth of mythology and literature within the books and I know that my own kids will be inspired to read more and research for more information after reading them. I hope that other readers will be inspired to do so as well.