Friday, September 25, 2009

Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin (O.T. #7 of 10)

Angel Tungaraza and her husband moved from Tanzania to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, a few years after the end of the genocide. Angel has a talent for making cakes, and not just ordinary cakes either. Angel has to know enough about the person the cake is for to make it special whether that means making a cake in the shape of a cell phone or a 3-d airplane. And while each of these cakes celebrate something, each person who orders one has had incredible pain in his or her life. Angel's customers have lost family members to AIDS and the genocide. They are relief workers and prostitutes. But Angel's compassion and goodwill touches each of them as her life has also been filled with sorrow and with joy.

I loved this book. Loved it. Angel's voice is beautiful. She wants to be a good mother and grandmother and sometimes just doesn't know how. She loves her husband but sometimes doesn't know how to talk to him. She is so aware of those around her and always wants to give but sometimes struggles with the decisions she makes.

I have never read a book about Rwanda or the horrors that existed for so long in that country. This book touches on those difficult subjects in a way that allowed me to feel more than sorrow for such huge losses both from AIDS and all out slaughter - Baking Cakes is about people, about individuals and how they survived so much suffering. I will be coming back to this book again I think.

Friday, August 14, 2009

All But My Life by Gerda Weissmann Klein (O. T. 2009 #6 of 10)

Klein's memoir of her time as a Nazi prisoner/slave laborer in Poland in the three years before her liberation was at first difficult for me to delve into. I am not sure what it was...certainly there was tension and the author expressed herself well...I just wasn't there at first. But as the book progressed, I became amazed by her strength and her spirit. She truly never despaired. Even when things were horrific beyond my imagining, one day at a time she survived and lived the best way she could. I can't remember having read holocaust literature in which the main character was not in the concentration camps...but Gerda never was. She was at work camps and was marched all over Poland towards the end of the war.

There were times when I felt very connected to her...when I could see her fears being exactly as mine would be. I loved the love story of her and her husband. It truly is beautiful. A worthy read.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Wings of a Falcon by Cynthia Voigt

The Wings of a Falcon is a novel of the Kingdom. Others include On Fortune's Wheel, Jackaroo, and Elske. This book definitely takes place after On Fortune's Wheel and I am not sure where Elske fits in on the timeline...

The main character does not have a name until about page 70 or so which was a bit disconcerting at first. But part of the fun of this book for me was seeing how it correlated to On Fortune's Wheel and that book has much to do with the name "he" takes for himself, Oriel. The story starts out so violent and sad that I almost stopped reading it. On and island of only boys and one man called the Damall, life is cruel and hard. The Damall takes special pleasure in whipping the boys, terrifying them, setting them against eachother, and selling them into slavery. Not a really fun first fifty pages. If I didn't like the Kingdom stories so much and had faith that it would get better I really would have put it down. But I was right and the story is good.

Oriel and his very loyal friend Grif escape their horrid life on the island going no where but away. Oriel is a tough nut to crack sometimes. He is a good man mostly but definitely has his moments, like we all do, of not being his best self. There was quite a bit of adventure and things certainly moved quickly. I like Voigt's writing, a decent read.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth-Grahame Smith

I honestly can't think about this book without cracking up. Who is this guy?! Seriously. Seth Grahame-Smith who "once took a class in English literature" has given Jane Austen's classic romance a bit of a twist. Just a bit. You really have to have read the original to appreciate this enhanced version. For example, in the very beginning of the story as Mr. and Mrs. Bennett are talking about their daughters,

"Consider your daughters!"
"I am considering them you silly woman! I would much prefer their minds be engaged in the deadly arts than clouded with dreams of marriage and fortune as your own so clearly is! Go and see this Bingley if you must, though I warn you that none of our girls has much to reccommend them; they area all silly and ignorant like their mother, the exception being Lizzy who has something more of the killer instinct than her sisters."

It is the classic story of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. And there are lots of zombies thrown in too - called by many awesome names, "unmentionables, the undead, and dreadfuls There are also and "the stricken, "humans who have caught a sickness that will make them zombies, before they actually die. Regular zombies apparently just crawl out of their graves. The Bennett girls were trained in China in the "deadly arts" and Lady Catherine de Burgh has vanquished more unmentionables than any other woman in England.

Much of the text is lifted right from Pride and Prejudice. There are some hideously gory descriptions, so much so that they aren't even gross! I'm sorry, I think this book is hilarious. A great laugh. I am absolutely sure this isn't for everyone, but I laughed out loud, a lot.

Sahara Special by Esme Raji Codell

Sahara is in fifth grade...again. Her mother insisted that Sahara be removed from the special education program and put in a regular classroom. Her mom sees Sahara reading and writing all the time at home, but at school she won't do her work. Sahara knows where her work goes - into her file in the counselor's office. The file that tells everyone who she is. But Sahara knows she is more.

Told in beautifully written first person, Sahara is painfully aware of why she does what she does. She wants to be a writer - knows she will be a writer. But she won't write. Not for school. But then Miss Pointy, her new teacher arrives. This woman is not the average teacher, and good thing. She gives Sahara and her classmates journals and asks them to write in them every day. This is the beginning of Sahara's journey.

I loved this story. Sahara shows that really can't know what is going on in someone's head. Her mother has no idea what is holding her child back and is constantly angry at her. Sahara isn't willing to let anyone into her secret life, her writer's life - it hurts too much. I appreciate stories about good teachers, about teachers who do things in new ways and truly care about their students. I will give this one to my niece some day. She'll like it.

O Pioneers

I found out a few days ago that my new book club was reading this book and having a discussion on Thursday. I managed to wrangle a library card from my new library and found quite the oldish large printish copy they carried. But it worked. I sat down and read it in a few hours. I quite liked My Antonia so reading another by Willa Cather was a fine prospect.

Alexandra was a strong woman. She was a strong teenager. The story is set on the prairie, a hard Nebraska prairie that has not yet become profitable to many farmers. Alexandra's parents, Swedish immigrants, are barely scraping by, and that was before her father became ill. Being the most level-headed and business minded of her father's children (Alexandra had two older brothers and a younger brother) she was trusted with holding the homestead together after her father died.

It is the homestead, the land, that is Alexandra's constant focus. She is very capable and independant. She takes care of her younger brother Emil as well as others, including "crazy" Ivar, an old man also living out on the prairie. Also playing a role in Alexandra's life are her long time friend Carl, and Marie, a young Bohemian who is full of life and who is a huge part of Emil's life as well.

O Pioneers
portrays the many faces of prairie life. Alexandra loves the land and sees the potential in it -she is she is such a great character. I have to say that I did not see the ending coming which was a nice surprise. Good book club choice.

Alas, Babylon (End of the World Challenge II #3 of 4)

What would have happened to America if the Soviets had actually dropped atomic bombs all over the country? It is this question that Pat Frank explores in his apocalyptic novel Alas, Babylon. Reading this book here in 2009 is a little scary...the threats are a bit different but still read. But this book was written in 1959, during the arms race with Russia and only a few years after Sputnik was launched.
The story revolved around Randy Bragg, a bachelor living in a small Florida town. When his brother Mark sends his family to live with Randy, Randy know that Mark's warnings about an imminent nuclear attack were no overreaction. And it comes. And it is devastating.

It is not just the radiation that is terrifying, it is the loss of electricity, the onset of disease, the lack of food, the lawlessness. Randy and the people he cares about have to navigate a completely new society, hoping that eventually they can create one in which they are not fighting for survival every day.

I loved this book. I loved it and was frightened by it and appreciated it what it must have been like to read this book back in the 1950s/60s. It is an apocalyptic story that depicts a fairly plausible series of events - and that's why it is so alarming.