The Last Runaway

I finished another fantastic book this morning (at 3:30 am), and I thought I’d share it with you.  It’s called The Last Runaway and it’s written by bestselling author, Tracy Chevalier.  It’s a story about change, and courage, and hope.  It’s a story that will transport you back to the time of slavery and make you feel like you’re hiding alongside the running slaves.

“Ohio 1850.  For a modest English Quaker stranded far from home, life is a trial.  Untethered from the moment she leaves England, fleeing personal disappointment, Honor Bright is forced by family tragedy to rely on strangers in an alien, untamed landscape.  The men sweat and spit; the women drink whiskey and shoot copperheads, even as they stitch bonnets and quilts.  Nineteenth-century America is practical, precarious, and scarred by the continuing injustice of slavery.  In her new home, Honor discovers that principles count for little, even within a religious community famed for championing human equality.  Drawn into the clandestine activities of the Underground Railroad, a network helping runaway slaves escape to freedom, Honor befriends two exceptional people who embody the startling power of defiance.  Eventually she must decide if she too can act on what she believes in, whatever the personal cost.”

Tracy Chevalier does historical fiction better than any author out there.  She has a way of bringing the past to life, and bringing with it an air of truth.  I really enjoyed “living” Honor’s story, and plan to find some more historical fiction from this time period.  It seems that Chevalier has a way of doing that to me…making me go beyond her books to find out more.  The same thing happened to me when I read her book Remarkable Creatures a couple of years ago.  I’ve always remembered that book, and I am sure that will be true with this latest novel.


Navigating Early

I have been eagerly awaiting Clare Vanderpool’s follow up novel to her Newbery Award winning novel, Moon Over Manifest.  Let me tell you that Navigating Early was well worth the wait!

ImageAfter his mother’s death at the end of World War II, Jack Baker is suddenly uprooted from his home in Kansas and placed in a boys’ boarding school in Maine.  There he meets Early Auden, the strangest of boys, who reads the number pi as an unending story and collects clippings about sightings of a black bear in the nearby mountains.  Feeling lost and adrift, Jack can’t help being drawn to Early, who refuses to believe what everyone accepts to be the truth about the great Appalachian bear, timber rattlesnakes, and the legendary school hero known as the Fish, who was lost in the war.  When Jack and Early find themselves alone at school, they set out for the Appalachian Trail on a quest for the great black bear.  Along the way, they meet some truly strange characters, several of them dangerous, all lost in some way, and each a part of the pi story Early continues to reveal.  Jack’s ability to be a steadfast friend to Early will be tested as the boys discover things they never knew about themselves and others.

Navigating Early makes the reader feel as if he/she is walking around in all directions trying to find something to hold on to in the story, something to help make sense of it all…just like the characters.  I believe that in Early Auden, Vanderpool has given us a character for the ages who will be remembered in the world of children’s literature for many years to come.  Navigating Early is a pleasant surprise that will delight many readers of different ages.  I am quite confidant that with this new novel Vanderpool is navigating her way to a second Newbery Award.Image


The Mighty Miss Malone


I was so excited when I saw this gem sitting on the new book shelf at work!  I am a huge fan of Christopher Paul Curtis’ work, and I couldn’t wait to dig into another chunk of history with him.  Curtis has a way of bringing the time period he is writing about to life for his readers.  His characters are more than just “people on a page,” they feel like friends.  This book centers around the character of Deza Malone, or as her Daddy calls her “Darling Daughter Deza.”

We readers have met Deza before in Curtis’ Newbery Award winning novel Bud, Not Buddy.  In this new book, The Mighty Miss Malone, we have the pleasure of seeing what her life was like as a child, and also of meeting her family…the Malone family of Gary, Indiana.
Twelve-year-old Deza Malone is the smartest student in her class, told by her teachers that she’s destined for a special path in life.  Her older brother, Jimmie, is no angel, but he can sing like one, and when he does, people stop to listen.  The Great Depression has hit Gary hard, and there are few jobs–especially for black men like Mr. Malone.  After their father leaves Gary to find work, Deza, Jimmie, and their mother set out in his wake, always holding out hope that they will catch up to him.”  The characters they meet along the way, the hardships they endure as individuals and a family, will make you cheer for this endearing young lady.  As Deza and her family always say, “Kisses…kisses…kisses make you stronger.”

Here is one of my favorite quotes from the book…and it only gets better from there!
“Once upon a time…”  If I could get away with it, that’s how I’d begin every essay I write.  Those are the four best words to use when you start telling about yourself because anything that begins that way always, always finishes with another four words,”…and they lived happily everafter.”  An that’s a good ending for any story.”

The One and Only Ivan

ImageOne good thing about being laid up with a bad back is that I am able to read, read, read.  One good thing about being able to read is that once in a while you come upon a gem of a book, a story that is deserving of a little extra attention.  I was lucky enough to stumble upon just such a book this week…it’s called The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.  According to the book jacket at the back of the book, Katherine was inspired to write The One and Only Ivan after reading a story about the real Ivan.  The real Ivan is a western lowland gorilla who lived alone in a tiny cage for twenty-seven years before being moved to a zoo in Atlanta after a public outcry.  The special thing about Ivan is that he’s an artist.  He is well known for his paintings, which he “signs” with his thumbprint.

In the story of The One and Only Ivan, “Ivan is an easygoing gorilla.  Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain.  He rarely misses his life in the jungle.  In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.  Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog.  But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.  Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home–and his own art–through new eyes.  When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

This story made me laugh, weep, think and most importantly feel.  I know I am going to recommend it to as many children as possible at the library…that will be my way of giving it a little “extra” attention.  The world of children’s literature has given this book a lot of “extra” attention too…this past Monday, The One and Only Ivan was honored by being awarded the “one and only” Newbery Medal!  It doesn’t get any better than that!

ImageHere are a few quotes from the book that I absolutely loved…

Pg. 23  “My visitors are often surprised when they see the TV Mack put in my domain.  They seem to find it odd, the sight of a gorilla staring at tiny humans in a box.  Sometimes I wonder, though: Isn’t the way they stare at me, sitting in my tiny box, just as strange?”—Ivan.

Pg. 51  “Gorillas are not complainers.  We’re dreamers, poets, philosophers, nap takers.”—Ivan.

Pg. 114  “Before Mack, before Bob, even before Ruby, I know Stella is gone.  I know it the way you know that summer is over and winter is on the way.  I just know.  Stella once teased me that elephants are superior because they feel more joy and more grief than apes.  ‘Your gorilla hearts are made of ice, Ivan,’ she said, her eyes glittering.  ‘Ours are made of fire.’  Right now I would give all the yogurt raisins in all the world for a heart made of ice.”—Ivan.

Pg. 131  “Every weekend, Mack and Helen took me in their convertible to a fast-food restaurant, where they ordered me french fries and a strawberry shake.  Mack loved to see the expression on the cashier’s face when he drove up and said, ‘could I have some extra ketchup for my kid?’—Ivan.

Pg. 287  “Is there anything sweeter than the touch of another as she pulls a dead bug from your fur?”—Ivan.

The Queen’s Vow

      One of my favorite people in history is Catherine of Aragon.  I have read up on her on many occasions, but not until I read The Queen’s Vow did I realize that she was the daughter of Queen Isabella and King Fernando!  See, it’s true that you learn something new every day.  Here’s a synopsis of the book…

Young Isabella is barely a teenager when she and her brother are taken from their mother’s home to live under the watchful eye of their half brother, King Enrique, and his sultry, conniving queen.  There, Isabella is thrust into danger when she becomes an unwitting pawn in a plot to dethrone Enrique.  Suspected of treason and held captive, she treads a perilous path, torn between loyalties, until at age seventeen she suddenly finds herself heiress of Castile, the largest kingdom in Spain.  Plunged into a deadly conflict to secure her crown, she is determined to wed the one man she loves yet who is forbidden to her–Fernando, prince of Aragon.  As they unite their two realms under “one crown, one country, one faith,” Isabella and Fernando face an impoverished Spain beset by enemies.  With the future of her throne at stake, Isabella resists the zealous demands of the inquisitor Torquemada even as she is seduced by the dreams of an enigmatic navigator named Columbus.  But when the Moors of the southern domain of Granada declare war, a violent, treacherous battle against an ancient adversary erupts, one that will test all of Isabella’s resolve, her courage, and her tenacious belief in her destiny.

When I finished The Queen’s Vow : a novel of Isabella of Castile by C.W. Gortner this week, I found that  I really liked it and even wanted to know more!  Though it is a fictional account of the life of Isabella of Castile, I found myself lost in the past and even cheering on Isabella.  I have to say, I really loved how the author portrayed the relationship between Isabella and Fernando.  (I kept wanting to call him Ferdinand throughout the whole book…) It’s not often you see a couple in that day in age who are together and want to be together.  I also loved Isabella’s spunk and strong character.  I’d like to think that even though this book is a work of fiction, that perhaps there is some truth to the tale.  I also enjoyed her relationship with her right hand lady, Beatriz.  Theirs was a friendship that endured everything, and yet in those desperate times they were able to find a bit of laughter and joy together.  Here are a few quotes that I really loved from the book… 


Pg. 178
“I can’t believe you are mine,’ he whispered, echoing my own thoughts.  He looked directly into my eyes as he spoke, for without our shoes, we were almost of equal height.  I had a sudden memory of our hands entwined; of how I’d thought they resembled separate strands of silk off the same skein…”

Pg. 331
He stood before me with his chin lifted as though I should have been expecting him, as if everything that had come before was but an interlude to this crucial meeting between us.”

Pg. 333
“The world is only as small as we see it, my lady.  Imagination knows no limits.”–


Shadow of the Wind

Finished a fantastic book this week!  It’s called The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz-Zafon.  I will say it had it all…mystery, intrigue, twists, and best of all the story centered around a book!  The story takes place in the city of Barcelona in 1945…

A city slowly heals from its war wounds, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julian Carax.  But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written.  In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence.  Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets…

I decided to finally pick this up because Ruiz-Zafon has come out with another book this month that picks up where The Shadow of the Wind leaves off.  It’s called The Prisoner of Heaven, and it has received some great reviews.  I thoroughly enjoyed Ruiz-Zafon’s use of words.  He was able to paint a picture of old Barcelona as if you were right there with him.  As usual, I have some great quotes I would like to share.  If you do read the book, let me know what you think…

Pg. 8
“Once, in my father’s bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart.  Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later–no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget–we will return.”

Pg. 27
“Never before had I felt trapped, suduced, and caught up in a story,’ Clara explained, ‘the way I did with that book.  Until then, reading was just a duty, a sort of fine one had to pay teachers and tutors without quite knowing why.  I had never known the pleasure of reading, of exploring the recesses of the soul, of letting myself be carried away by imagination, beauty, and the mystery of fiction and language.  For me all those things were born with that novel.’ “

Pg. 484
“Bea says that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it’s an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day.”

“He used to say that we exist so long as someone remembers us.”—Nuria Monfort


Ape House

I finished a book recently that I haven’t been able to put out of my head.  It’s called Ape House and it’s written by author Sara Gruen.  You may know Sara from her extremely popular novel,  Water for Elephants.  I put off reading this book for as long as I could because I absolutely loved Water for Elephants, and I didn’t want to fall into the trap of comparing this new book to her old one.  Well, I didn’t have to worry.  Ape House turned out to be a wonderful story all on its own.


Here is a synopsis of Sara Gruen’s Ape House.
“Sam, Bonzi, Lola, Mbongo, Jelani, and Makena are no ordinary apes.  These bonobos, like others of their species, are capable of reason and carrying on deep relationships–but unlike most bonobos, they also know American Sign Language.
Isabel Duncan, a scientist at the Great Ape Language Lab, doesn’t understand people, but animals she gets–especially the bonobos.  Isabel feels more comfortable in their world than she’s ever felt among humans…until she meets John Thigpen, a very married reporter who braves the ever-present animals rights protesters outside the lab to see what’s really going on inside.
When an explosion rocks the lab, severely injuring Isabel and “liberating” the apes, John’s human interest piece turns into the story of a lifetime, one he’ll risk his career and his marriage to follow.  Then a reality TV show featuring the missing apes debuts under mysterious circumstances, and it immediately becomes the biggest–and unlikeliest–phenomenon in the history of modern media.  Millions of fans are glued to their screens watching the apes order greasy take-out, have generous amounts of sex, and sign for Isabel to come get them.
Now, to save her family of apes from this parody of human life, Isabel must connect with her own kind, including John; Nathan, a green-haired vegan; and a retired porn star with her own agenda.”


I found it interesting that in order to write this novel, Sara studied linguistics and a system of lexigrams so that she could communicate directly with the bonobos living at the Great Ape Trust in Iowa.  She was actually able to communicate with the apes!  Very cool…very cool.