Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Devil in The White City by Erik Larson

Title/Author: The Devil in The White City
Publisher: Vintage Books
Pages: 447
ISBN: 0-375-72560-1

In a nutshell
Firstly, this is non-fiction. I bought thinking it was fiction! Silly me. Anyway, Larson combined tales of two very passionate men, who toiled (one of them, very surreptitiously) to achieve their ambitions, but both have one objective - to create history.

Burnham was the architect behind the legendary 1893 World's Fair, while Holmes was the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death.

In the opening pages, you'll be introduced to them through their words.

"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood." - Daniel Burnham, Director of Works World's Columbian Exposition, 1893

"I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing." - Dr. H. H. Holmes, Confession, 1896

Thus began the story that has captured a wide readership...(including Leonardo di Caprio, who already bought the film rights in 2010)...except, probably me. 

What I liked
Let me share what I liked first. I love learning new stuff, so reading this added some info to my knowledge bank. 

Holmes's story was the page turner. He was such a character! Holmes was like a living dark entity in the real world. A dark entity who had the power to charm and harm. His charisma drew many women into his life - young and old. Once he had charm, he'd harm. He was so malevolent he craved seeing pain in his victims's eyes.

To be honest, I had no idea what the World's Fair was all about until now. It not only sounded fascinating, but its history was too. Here's a little about World's Fair: 
The White City was the nickname for the World's Fair, The World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The central array of buildings were painted white - they were so beautiful that there were stories of people bursting into tears. There were about 200 other buildings in the Fair but the central array that was painted white was why it was called the White City.

The original Ferris Wheel was created at and for the Fair. It was designed and constructed by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. and became the landmark of the Fair.

Basically that's about it. Lots and lots of information thrown into the pages with really lengthy narration. It got kinda draggy when Larson went into too much detail especially about the work that went into the Fair.

Reading this tale of two men made me realize how passion can make and break a person. How success can be so different in the eyes of the beholder. Holmes 'could look at himself in the mirror and tell himself that he was one of the most powerful and dangerous men in the world. He could feel that he was a god in disguise.' That to him, was success - being wanted, being hunted, being able to outwit the authority was success.

This reminded me of a recent tragedy that took place in Sandy Hook school. People blamed the guns and they requested for increased gun control measures. Truly, it's not the weapons that create evil. It's our minds. A criminal will find all ways to get their guns; if not, they'll find other means to hurt and harm. Stricter gun controls won't help curb crimes. We have knives at home, why don't ban knives too? Anything can be used as a weapon as long as the mind intends to. FYI, Holmes didn't use guns to kill his victims. All he needed were his charm and experience in pharmaceuticals.

I think what we need to feed our future generations with is more love and better education.

What I disliked
The architecture and the details put into the book about the World's Fair was just too much. This pretty much sums it all because that's all you'll find in the book.

Definitely won't be in my must-read non-fiction book.

My verdict? 2/5 (But those who enjoy architecture might like this book)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Books for my Niece

My niece has turned 4 months old and my sister wants to instill reading habits in her. She asked me what books are appropriate for an infant.
Reading aloud to babies are very important, especially during infancy, not only because it can help instil reading habits, but also because at this stage, infants are very receptive to language and visuals. This is the time when neurons make connections, a brain process called "synaptogenesis", very rapidly, till the first year of life. Another process called the myelination continues and the neurons controlling hearing and vision become myelinated.
Repetitions are very important at this stage. I suggested her to get board books that have big, colorful images and have repeated words. Those which have textures for them to touch will be great too. These are some of my recommendations:

How to read aloud to an infant:
1) Place them on your lap (not on the bed while you read aloud to them. They need to be able to see the images and colors, and be able to interact with the book and you)
2) Read using different voices (maintaining an infant-directed tone); make it as interactive and interesting as possible
3) Allow them to turn the pages, touch and feel
4) Encourage them to 'point'. Keep repeating your instructions and guide their little fingers. Repetitions will help register meaning to their brains.
Have fun reading to her sis! :)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Decatur Book Fest 2012

It has been a loooonnnnggg while since this blog's been updated...One of the reasons, well, I haven't had any luck in reading a good book. I thought I'd have some luck with Wicked by Gregory Maguire (Fantasy), hoping it'd be as yummy as The Bartimaeus Trilogy, but I was wrong. I have problems finishing the last chapter now...Argghhh...

Ok, so what's new? As stated above, the Decatur Book Fest 2012 that was held recently in Decatur, GA from Aug 31 - Sept 2. And I've gotta check it out. My hubby and I took the train and to no surprise, there were big crowds in every station! One, because there was a football match. Two because there was also a big event - the Dragon Con that was happening in the same weekend. (My hubby and I will definitely check out Dragon Con next year, with me in COSTUME! Muahahaha)

So was the Book Fest good? I can't say it wasn't because books were sold at rock-bottom prices from as low as $5!! Of course I bought a few haha I was really tempted to get more children's books, but had to resist it due to space in our current place.

Decatur Book Festival 2012 (Aug 31 - Sept 2)
See that?? ALL BOOKS $5!!! Checked the books.
All in almost-perfect condition... :)                                          
These 'bird-houses' are placed outside homes or anywhere you
like, with books in it. The idea is, you take a book and replace
it with another book of your own. An interesting way of
doing a book exchange :)
A closer look at the Little Free Libraries :)
The Type Rider has a very interesting story to share. Read below.
Kids trying out a writing tool which has been
replaced by a keyboard.

Get 3 for $8 here!!! And some really good cheap
children's books which I was sooooo tempted to buy!!
The 3 For $8 was one of the most popular tents.
Another highlight for me was meeting the author of one of all-time favorite books, The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern. Oh yes! SHE WAS THERE! :)) Went for her reading. Pictures as follow.

A very punctual lady indeed :)) 
This was just half of those who came. It was full by the time
the reading started!
She read one of her favorite chapters on Bailey,
Poppet and Widget
By the way Erin, this is my 3rd The Night Circus haha
The other 2 are in storage till we get a permanent place :)
Yay!! A photo and autograph! Mission ACCOMPLISHED!
Thanks Erin! :))
By the way, the queue was super long! I waited for almost 2 hours!
I can't wait to see the author line-up for next year! :)) And...I'm DEFINITELY gonna watch The Night Circus when it's out :))

Meanwhile, I can't wait to finish Wicked. It did have some really good reviews, but honestly, I'm not enjoying it so far. I had high expectations of it due to its rave reviews.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Title/Author: The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Publisher: The Berkley Publishing Group
Pages: 530
ISBN: 978-0-425-24513-2

In a nutshell
The Help is set in the 1960's and told by Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter's perspective. Aibileen and Minny are maids who worked for white families and regularly exchanged stories about their bosses they served.

Eugena "Skeeter" Phelan is the daughter of a white family who owns a cotton farm worked by African Americans. She just finished college and has returned home to find a job, hopefully as a writer. She finally got a job as a columnist at a local paper. This job sparked a bond between Skeeter and Aibileen, who reminded her of Constantine, a maid she loved and lost. She often wondered about Constantine's disappearance as they lost touch too suddenly while Skeeter was in college.

When Aibileen shared a story about the death of her son, she inadvertently told Skeeter about an idea he wanted to work on, "he say he gone write down what it was like to be colored working for a white man in Mississippi", which struck an accord with Skeeter who decided to pursue it. And this, ruffled a few feathers but also offered hope, promise and new-found friendships.

What I like
This book centers around racial discrimination - a topic that always captures my attention. Discrimination; be it race, gender, ethnicity or religion, is everywhere and will continue to be, as long as the earth survives, because we are only human. But the good news is, there are people who are trying to make this world a better place to live in. To those who suffered the worst of racial discrimination especially during the colonial and slave era when its at its peak, my hats off to you. I don't think I would've survived it.

The Help was set in Mississippi in the 1960's when blacks were viewed as plague and believed that "99% of all colored diseases are carried in the urine." The helpers had to use separate toilets and wear stockings even in the heat.

My favourite character, or rather characters, are Minny and Aibileen. Minny, because she's got attitude and she spoke her mind. In Missus Stein's (the editor whom Miss Skeeter approached to publish her work) words, "Gertrude (Minny's pseudonym) is every Southern white woman's nightmare. I adore her." But Minny's hard on the outside but soft on the inside. And she shared an equal respect for Aibileen as she her. "That's what I love about Aibileen, she can take the most complicated things in life and wrap them up so small and simple, they'll fit right into your pocket."

Aibileen, she was the opposite of Minny - she thinks before she talks. She talks reason into Minny's hot head. She was Minny's confidante and reason. Skeeter could relate to her too because she was much like Constantine - wise and graceful. Even little Mae Mobley was drawn to Aibileen, who constantly offered her words of encouragement "You is kind. You is smart. You is important." She dreaded the moment when Mae Mobley's innocence would one day be tainted by her environment and upbringing. "I want to stop that moment from coming - and it come with ever white child's life - when they start to think that colored folks ain't as good as whites...I pray that wasn't her moment, pray I still got time."

The carrot of the story. It wasn't until towards the end that we find out why Constantine left Skeeter, and the wait was worth the while. It was devastating but the reason would make you question, 'Who was it to blame?' 'Was anyone at fault?' I shan't reveal any spoilers here.

I also liked to see how the friendship between Skeeter and Aibileen and Minny grew. It was a friendship that knew no creed or color. Wasn't that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought. It was also nice seeing how Minny softened towards Skeeter as the project came to an end. She also played a big part in making the project come to fruition.

Perfect pitch voices and great use of point of views made the story come to live. There was heart in each of them; none were written for the sake of being written, but were there to add depth and character. The POVs helped the reader empathize, question, ponder, reflect. Using different POVs is a tricky technique too. Whose voice would the author want to use? Why? How many voices? When is 'good enough' to stop? Stockett managed all these perfectly.

Mae Mobley. Such a sweetie pie this little girl. I just hope she'd turn out to be like Skeeter. This is one of my many other favorite passages in the book. This is a conversation between her and Aibileen. (p, 461)

"Miss Taylor says kids that are colored can't go to my school cause they're not smart enough."
I come round the counter then. Lift her chin up and smooth back her funny-looking hair. "You think I'm dumb?"
"No," she whispers hard, like she means it so much. She look sorry she said it.
"What that tell you about Miss Taylor, then?"
She blink, like she listening good.
"Means Miss Taylor ain't right all the time," I say.
She hug me around my neck, say, "You're righter than Miss Taylor." I tear up then. My cup spilling over. Those is new words to me.

What I didn't like
Not much really. Except probably the ending. I was expecting Elizabeth to act more reasonably like Lou Anne, especially after really seeing how much Mae Mobley loves Aibileen. But I guess, in the real world, there's rarely a happy ending and that was how Stockett decided to end The Help. Nevertheless, it was 'acceptable'.

Before I end this review, I'd like to share with you this video that I came across here. Storyteller Shanta, tells of her experience as a 'black kid' and couldn't comprehend why the 'white people ran away from us'. It was an experience that continued to hurt her until today.

Book Bite
The novel is Stockett's first. It took her 5 years to complete and was rejected by 60 literary agents before agent Susan Ramer agreed to represent Stockett.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

Title/Author: Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
Publisher: St Martin's Griffin
Pages: 383
ISBN: 978-0-312-30435-5

In a nutshell
This novel is set in the 18t90's to 1970's. The female protagonist, Rachel Kalama grew up in Honolulu and is part of a big Hawaiian family. Her father, was a merchant seaman and she dreamt that she'd travel to places her dad had visited. However, at the age of 7, her dreams shattered as they discovered she had leprosy, ma'i pake and was sent off to Kalaupapa, the isolated leper colony on the island of Moloka'i, because the disease was believed to be contagious. As the disease reached epidemic proportions, the government felt isolation was the best and only solution.

There, Rachel found a new family - Healer, Haleola who became her adopted 'auntie', Sister Mary Catherine Voorhies, one of the many Franciscan sisters who cared for the young girls at Kalaupapa and Leilani who taught her love.

What I liked
Kudos to Brennert for successfully documenting 5 decades of Rachel's story and those who suffered the pain of being a leper. A great topic chosen indeed. Overall, Moloka'i covered a little bit of everything. The focus is on the sufferings of the people in Moloka'i and how they grew as a community then subsequently as a family.

I liked the settings and atmosphere set in Hawaii. One can't deny the charms of that place - its beautiful landscape and people. And being able to escape into that magical island while reading the book is truly the cheapest getaway ever.

I enjoyed reading the author's note too. Although this novel was a work of fiction, it was set in a real place where real people lived and died. The author interweaved real life patients and caregivers with his fictional cast of characters, hence blurring the lines between fact and fiction. Reading this section, the reader will discover fact from fiction and will be more appreciative of their part of the story.

What I didn't like
Honestly, despite the rave reviews, I didn't quite enjoy Moloka'i. I think the author was trying to cover as much as possible, wanting to document more than narrate the story. The beginning looked promising; watching the curtains unveilling the life of Rachel and her family in Hawaii. But as the story progressed, events 'skipped' from one to another, point of views changed from one person to another, true deep emotions barely delved into.

The attempt of telling the story from various characters' point of views didn't quite work for me in this story. It didn't add any weight nor impact. I think in the attempt of trying to do a lot, the author did too little, leaving many characters 'weak' and storyline bare, in that it 'sweeps' through from one decade to another, so gently like the breeze, that it hardly rustled any leaves. There were also many different point of views which did help (a teeny weeny bit) intensify the story, but not enough. I did though, appreciate the relationship between Rachel, her dad and husband.

I've read authors who did much better at using different point of views (one of them is Kathryn Stockett who wrote The Help. Will review this soon). This would've been a much better read if it was written somewhat like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks; lots of facts and details yet still made a very compelling story.

In its entirety, Moloka'i neither swept me off my feet nor left me intrigued as Henrietta Lacks did. That story made me google, youtube, read all other resources about the issue. It is that kind of impact that would make a story, be it historical fiction or autobiography, serve its purpose.

It'd be helpful too if there were some references at the back of the book to help the reader remember some of the Hawaiian terms used earlier in the story.

My verdict? 2.7 / 5 (Doubt I'd be reading Honolulu)

These were some of my favourite quotes from Moloka'i:
"God didn't give man wings; He gave him the brain and the spirit to give himself wings. Just as He gave us the capacity to laugh when we hurt, or to struggle on when we feel like giving up. I've come to believe that how we choose to live with pain, or injustice, or the true measure of Divine within us."

"Fear is good. In the right degree it prevents us from making fools of ourselves. But in the wrong measure it prevents us from fully living. Fear is our boon companion but never our master."

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

Title/Author: Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
Publisher: Bantam Books
Pages: 365
ISBN: 978-0-385-34414-2

In a nutshell
Alice Liddell Hargreaves is the 'Alice' in Wonderland; the girl who followed the White Rabbit into a land of quirky characters such as the Mad Hatter, Queen of Hearts and the Cheshire Cat. If not for Alice, Lewis Carroll wouldn't have written Alice in Wonderland. If not for her, we wouldn't have known Wonderland.

This story takes us back to Alice's childhood. At seven, she was different from other girls her age; young, innocent yet wise beyond her years, who felt a special connection with Lewis Carroll (whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson). He loved taking Alice and her sisters out for walks and boat rides which they enjoyed immensely. However, Dodgson showed a special interest in Alice and his feelings were reciprocated. She felt he was the only one who understood her, who allowed her to be 'Alice' and loved her as she was.

Time passed and Dodgson somehow stopped seeing her and the sisters, and began phasing out of their life much to her dismay. In her 20's, she fell in love with Prince Leopold, who she felt loved the long yellow hair 'Alice' in Wonderland. Although they were head over heels with each other, the Queen didn't approve of it and that ended their relationship.

Alice married Reginald Gervis Hargreaves, a sportsman (a cricketer), whom she would never love him the way she loved Leo. Regi did not care about books at all; his simplicity sometimes ticked her off but also tugged at her heartstrings. Though married, she still often wondered about Prince Leopold, while Dodgson still haunted her thoughts, like a shadow, never leaving her.

What I liked
Everything about this book is beautiful. I didn't want it to end, but couldn't help turning the pages because it was, once again, so beautifully written, except for, maybe the last part (more on that later).

I especially liked Alice's voice and seeing her change from an innocent, free-willed girl to a strong, confident young woman. Benjamin is excellent at capturing Alice's conflicts emotionally. (She managed to do the same with 'Mrs. Tom Thumb') My favorite is the 7-year-old Alice. She was exactly as depicted in Alice in Wonderland - vivacious, full of wonder and ever so vocal!

Alice's love life was nothing but complicated. It's almost as though she was not meant for love. She attracted it for sure; men were drawn to her like moth to a flame, but maybe she was not meant to live it. Prince Leopold was the only man she ever professed her love to, but it ended up bitter. Mr Hargreaves claimed she was his love at first sight. But Alice never truly loved him, until it was too late.
Mr Dodgson on the other hand, as much as she hated to admit it, had a special place in her heart. There was always that longing for him in her voice.

'"Alice", the man in the hat said tenderly - only it was Leo. "Alice, be happy. Be happy with me."

"Of course," I said with a contented sigh. "Of course. I'll always be happy with you, my love."

But no - the man in the hat was not Leo, he was not Regi. He was Mr. Dodgson. I opened my eyes, my girl's eyes, clear and sharp, no need for spectacles, and saw only him. His soft brown hair curling at the ends, his kind blue eyes, no higher than the other.'

That summer, that particular moment that started and ended it all, she was happy, 'I will always believe - the two of us were."'

Ever since that day, she hated talking about him, too afraid the truth will tear her apart.

They were both such romantics. Mr Dodgson, I think, was the only man who was capable of loving her as she was, accepting her eccentricities, her passion for life and intelligence. He was her equal. I think their relationship would have turned out differently if they had met at a different time.

I admire Benjamin's ability to bring a character as enigmatic as Alice come to live. Like 'Mrs Tom Thumb', she created another poignant historical fiction based on research. It takes a very skillful writer to turn a novel of this genre into a keeper.

In my opinion, to be able to write a historical fiction as good as this, one must let dream take over...

'Words, pictures, questions, and finally - dreams; it always begins with a dream, doesn't it? Alice's dream by the river, her head in her sister's lap, dreaming of a rabbit, a white rabbit; my dream also. My dreams.' (p. 338)

What I didn't like
Didn't matter much, really. I just felt bad I couldn't empathize with Alice when she lost her sons; maybe a little for Rex (as he was obviously her favorite) and Edith, her sister. I felt the son's characters were rushed through and were written just to complete Alice's story.

Like I mentioned, not that it mattered, because the central point of this novel, to me, was her love life and the mysterious relationship she had had with Dodgson, which will remain in Wonderland, forever.

My verdict? 4/5 (If you are into historical fiction)

Book bite
Find out what really happened and what was made up in Benjamin's chapter on 'Alice in Wonderland - The True Hollywood Story' found at the end of the book.

My take-away message? Life's happiness is yours to define. Let me end this review with this:

I did not choose this, Peter had said.
I did, I had replied. And so I did; so, now, I do. (p. 344)

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Title/Author: The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Publisher: Vintage International
Pages: 106
ISBN: 0-679-72205-x

In a nutshell
In February 1955, eight crew members of the Caladas, a Colombian destroyer, were washed over-alive, on a deserted beach in northern Colombia. Several of them drowned shortly before arriving at the port of Cartagena de Indias due to the existence of overweight contraband aboard the vessel. Ten days after the shipwreck, one of the sailors, Luis Alejandro Velasco, turned up on a deserted beach and became a hero overnight. Therein began his telling and selling his story to the media, including El Spectador where Marquez worked. Only this time, he tells the whole story, one that wasn't sanitized or authorized by the Colombian government.

What I liked
The lesson learnt - accepting adversity and making the best out of it. Velasco was lost and alone on a drifting life raft, far away from civilization. Nature was his friend and foe. She tore him apart, but also kept him alive. The scorching sun burnt his skin but each sun rise gave him new hope. The shark-infested waters could end his life, but it was also his source of hydration. And in darkness, nobody would be able to spot him from afar, but it was also the only time when the sharks left him alone.

Left with no food, Velasco ate his belt, the 3 business cards he had in his pocket and a 30cm root he found which tasted like blood. He also drank sea water, learning that it’s not harmful to the body and only resorted to it when the pain in my throat became unbearable.

Though Nature challenged Velasco in every possible way, she was also the only thing that also kept him sane and alive.

It’s the same with Life. She's your best friend when things are going your way. But when she throws you lemons (and calls you an ungrateful friend), just make lemonade and make a toast. Thank her for all the good times and wait till she runs outta lemons. Meanwhile enjoy your lemonade :)

What I disliked
Reading the Shipwrecked Sailor was like watching 'I Shouldn't Be Alive' on Discovery, and I think I much prefer it filmed on TV.

I'm in two minds about this book. I can’t say I either enjoyed or hated it. I only finished Shipwrecked because it was a Marquez and it’s only 106 pages :P

I guess I was expecting Marquez’s usual rich and luscious prose that I fell in love with in Love in the Time of Cholera and Melancholy Whore. Maybe because he first wrote Shipwrecked Sailor as a series of newspaper articles that required a different style?

My verdict? 3/5

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin

I've been trying to finish reading my ebooks for a very very very long time and am still half way through most of them. I NEVER HAD TROUBLE FINISHING A BOOK BEFORE (except for really sleep-inducing ones)! So I told myself to stop with the ebooks and get back to paperbacks (I don't really fancy hardcovers either :P). And I MUST SOON as I need a good read for our trip to Florida. And so I did! It was tough choosing the RIGHT book. The book that SPOKE to me. Went to Barnes & Noble but none of the books displayed caught my attention. Checked out Walmart too. None. I almost gave up until we went to Target.

There...I found...The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb. Somehow, my hands just reached out for it. Browsing the first few pages was good enough for me to decide to get it. And my instincts were right :)

Title/Author: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb / Melanie Benjamin
Publisher: Bantam Books
Pages: 458
ISBN 13: 978-0-385-34416-6
In a nutshell: Mrs. Tom Thumb, or rather Mercy Lavinia "Vinnie" Warren Bump, was only two feet, eight inches tall. Even as minute as she was, the world couldn't contain her dreams. She claimed, "Yes, my height would be the first thing people noticed about me, but it would not be the last."
Somehow she knew she was meant to do great things and not confined to her life in her family farm in Middleborough, Massachusetts. She defined herself before the world could. "Never would I allow my size to define me. Instead, I would define it."
She probably got her sense of adventure and need to achieve success of magnanimous proportions from her mother's side. "I can trace my pedigree on my mother's side back through Richard Warren of the Mayflower Company, to William, Earl of Warren, who married Gundreda, daughter of William the Conqueror."
At 17, she was hired as a teacher and immediately drew respect from her students as "Without a murmur, every child obeyed my command." Then, the watershed moment happened in March of 1858, when Colonel John Wood showed up at their door, offering Vinnie a job as an 'entertainer' on his showboat. Thinking of the opportunities it offered she accepted it and before you know it, she worked for the immortal impresario P.T. Barnum, married the tiny supserstar General Tom Thumb in the wedding of the century, and became the world's most unexpected celebrity.
Life couldn't be better, until Vinnie's similary-sized sister, Minnie, joined her in her tours and performances. Vinnie loved her sister tremendously and knew Minnie was too gentle of a soul to be following her path. She did all she could to "keep her sister safe" whose life came to a tragic end. What happened after that made Vinnie really reflected on life, love and purpose.
What I liked
This was a beautifully-written book. I liked how Benjamin made something researched so readable. Her storytelling was strong and solid. The pace was good and story was rich in detail without being cumbersome. It's as though Vinnie wrote this book herself. 
Vinnie's character was so well infused in this autobiography. One particular moment stood out to me: When Vinnie was hired as a teacher, she asked for her wage. Everyone must have thought it amusing as they broke into "helpless guffaws". Later she understood that people found it very odd to hear such a request coming from a person like her - small and female, what more, a female with no other prospects, to be asking for salary. What was offered to her, was she "suspected was likely and act of charity". Did she get her salary in the end? But of course :)
I liked how the author developed Vinnie's relationship with the characters. Each were given equal attention, with more on Barnum and rightly so as we will find out where Vinnie's heart really was.
Although the strength of her relationship with Minnie was brought in later in the story, I could feel their bond and love for each other. And what happened to Minnie later in the story made me cry buckets. It showed me what a big person Minnie was despite her size.
It would have been better if...
there were more pictures of Vinnie, her travels and companions would have made this reading experience more enriching.
My verdict? 4/5
I'm so glad I picked this up for my Florida getaway :)
Let me end this review by sharing one of my favourite paragraphs in this story.
"We were all four (Mr & Mrs Tom Thumb and Mr and Mrs Bleeker) seated in one of the parlors after dinner; it was particularly cozy on this night, as it was frigid outside, but inside we had the warm familiarity of flocked wallpaper, worn carpet, chipped hotel dinnerware. That was the life we knew, the four of us, and we had shared for so long. The few times we saw one another out of such surroundings - not on a train, or in a theater or a hotel - it seemed odd; we always acted stiff, uncomfortable, overly formal. This was where we belonged - in anonymous hotels, in cities we never saw save from a train window or from a stage door. It may sound depressing, but it was not; rather the bland anonymity of our surroundings served only to sharpen our identities, making us dear and recognizable to one another - making us a family." (pg. 371)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Would you let your children read these??

I'm a sucker for children's books; anything for ages 0 - 10; especially those written by Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss, Julia Donaldson and Eric Carle. I normally pick books which are:
* entertaining
* simple but educational
* has good vocab
* well written and conceptualised
* great illustrations! (for picture books)

Recently, I came across this article which listed 10 children's books and I was flabbergasted. Were these books REALLY MEANT FOR CHILDREN??? I won't ever read these books to kids. Would you or allow your kids to?

The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb
Illustrations by Sanya Glisic
First, the title itself turned me off. Suck-a-thumb, and the illustrations seemed to aim at giving children nightmares...Definitely not something I wanna read to my children...

The ABC of Anger
Ghastly, ghostly, gory...A HUMAN HEAD-SWALLOWING HEAD???! Is this Nightmare on Elm Street?? And check out its title...I dare not imagine what's in their ABCs

Brave Mr. Buckingham by Dorothy Kunhardt
This one looks innocent enough. That little red thing on the left looked like a carved out potato to me,..but...after reading its description...that seemingly innocent-looking potato is actually the head of Mr. Buckingham, who had been dismembered!! — losing one foot to a buzzsaw and another to a fish before his arm is sliced off by a gardener and he gets hit by a truck — as he tries to prove to little Billy that it won’t hurt to pull on his loose front tooth. That’s him there, just a head left.
I imagine this conversation between a dad and his son:
"No, daddy! I don't wanna pull out my loose front tooth!"
"Hey son...there's nothing to worry about...Look at Mr. Buckingham! He's left with only his head, and he's still smiling!"

Poor Cock Robin
The title of this book is Poor Cock Robin. I mean, REALLY??? It sounds so wrong whichever way I read it.
Poor, Cock, Robin
Poor, Cock Robin
Poor Cock, Robin
Even if I read it flatly Poor Cock Robin
And what's it about?
circa 1865, the sparrow kills Cock Robin and then all the other terrifying creatures of the forest talk about how they’ll bury him. An excerpt: “Who saw him die? I, said the Fly, with my little eye, I saw him die. Who caught his blood? I, said the Fish, with my little dish, I caught his blood.”

This, my friends, were how the Russians taught their children the important lessons on life:
"You like to fight with your fellow-friends? Then you’ll be bitten by different snakes!” and “If you plan not to listen to father wild black cats would scratch your brother” and “If you are greedy as old and don’t share balls probably you would be eaten by wolves.”
I think I'd stick to, "If you don't do your homework, I'll call the police to come get you." That itself, scared me to death when I was a kid.

Yes, this is a CHILDREN'S BOOK. JorÃ…gumo (which is literally translated as “whore spider”), from Gojin Ishihara’s 1972 children’s book Illustrated Book of Japanese Monsters.
Click here for the complete article.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Awesome book clutches!

Look what I found while reading Vanity Fair - awesome, pretty book clutches! Find all of them here.

Now, guess the price. They start from 490 pounds :P

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult

Title/Author: Handle with Care / Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Pages: 548
ISBN 13: 978-0340979044

In a nutshell
Willow is born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (commonly known as Brittle Bones disease) and her mom, Charloote, is offered a lifeline - to file a wrongful birth – suggesting that Sean and Charlotte (the mother) should have been made aware earlier on in her pregnancy that Willow suffered from this life-threatening condition. If they win the case, they'd receive a monetary payout which would secure Willow's future. And the doctor Charlotte would be suing is her best friend, Piper.

What's worse is filing for wrongful birth also means that if Charlotte had known in advance about the disability, she would have terminated the pregnancy, i.e. openly declaring it in court she would rather her daughter had never been born.

What I liked
As with the other Picoult's books that I've read (My Sister's Keeper, Nineteen Minutes), it's thought-provoking. I liked the controversial issues that were brought up: the emotional conflicts; the grey area; the argument of what's right and wrong (and if there's such a thing?); friendship and love.

I hated (strong word, I know) Charlotte for doing what she did. To me, it's outright selfish, it's as though she wanted to satisfy her need to live up to HER expectations of being a good mom, without taking into consideration the other members of her family - her husband and daughter. And I thought, she should talk things through with Willow too, share Willow her thoughts and give Willow a chance to speak up, to be honest with her mom.

I was so clear of my stand, until I read this on Here's a gist of it:
'So I took particular interest in Emily Rapp’s brave and agonizing essay published Monday on Slate in which she says she would have aborted her son, Ronan. Almost 2, Ronan has Tay-Sachs disease, a progressive genetic disorder that his mother believes will kill him sometime this year. It has already robbed him of his sight and left him paralyzed.

In a failure of modern medicine, Ronan’s condition was not detected prenatally; his mutation was too rare. But had Rapp known ahead of time that she would give birth to a beautiful, bright-eyed boy who would suffer daily seizures and be unable to move or swallow, she says she would have chosen to spare him — and her — the incredible pain. She would have ended her pregnancy “without question and without regret, although this would have been a different kind of loss to mourn and would by no means have been a cavalier or uncomplicated, heartless decision.” '

Heartless? Really? Would you want watch your child suffer? And if you have been told of the condition, and yet you decided against abortion, what kind of mother would that make you?

But then again, would Rapp say the same thing had she had not had Ronan? Would she wonder what Ronan would grow up to be? Did she make a wrong decision? Would she be able to live with it? Isn't there always hope? Isn't there always a teeny, weeny chance of survival? And who knows, this child would bring inspiration to the world, like Carly.

Everything happens, happens for a reason.

Questions. Conflicts. What would you do?

What I didn't like
The repeated characters. This is very much like 'My Sister's Keeper', except for the disease and lawsuit. The many different point of views, the going back and forth, were really exhausting. I think this book would have been at a better pace if it was shortened.

I'd end this review with my favourite quote:
“A dutiful mother is someone who follows every step her child makes...And a good mother is someone whose child wants to follow her.”

My verdict?
3/5 : An 'ok' read if you have not read her earlier books


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