Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

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“I tasted grit between my teeth. I was a woman of the desert now, no longer the shy outsider, a city girl frightened of scorpions. I had become fierce, willing to do anything to get what I wanted. This was the way hunters were born. I felt that savagery inside of me, a dark glimmering of will that resolved to survive. If I wanted something it became mine. I sneaked up on migrating birds and caught them in my scarf, sometimes in my bare hands. I was cunning, a lioness.”

Every year or so for the past few years a book is written that dignifies the struggle of women and gives them a voice when they have so often been historically silenced. In 2009 it was The Help, a personal favorite of mine. The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman is the book that personifies this trend for the year of 2011 in my eyes. Haunting and written in a breath-taking manner, it is a story of love, companionship, loss and faith. It’s a hidden secret perhaps but one that has truly redefined the art and literally beauty of storytelling.

As is so often the case with novels that affect me so deeply The Dovekeepers was a gift from my mother. I myself had picked it up from time to time while in a bookstore, but always put it down again for some reason. I would like to think I may have been saving it for myself. The story follows the stories of four fascinating women: Yael, the motherless daughter of a famed assassin who possesses more courage than any of the men around her, Revka, an elderly grandmother who now cares for her two young grandsons who have lost as much as her and are equally traumatized by it, Aziza, raised as boy until her teenage years who is just as fearless as any warrior and who earns the love of one just as fierce and brave as herself, and lastly Shirah, the so-called Witch of Moab, a woman who practices earthly and unknown magics and nurtures a forbidden love of her own that has influenced her all her life. While their tales are told individually, their lives converge together as they all come to Masada after fleeing persecution and find themselves the keepers of the vital doves who live on the mountain and help it thrive.

This is one of most beautifully written historical fictions I have ever read. It’s as simple as that. The historical details Hoffman includes are extensive and bring the story to life, but Hoffman succeeds at doing something beyond merely setting a historical stage for her characters. There are countless historical fictions out there in the literary world that do a sufficient job at doing just that, but it is rare for authors to truly submerge themselves and their readers in the historical realities of the time. Hoffman’s details are intimate, from the subtle description of the plants Shirah uses to perform her prayers and sacrifices, to the survival skills that emerge in Yael as she comes to love living in the desert. There is a sense of all things feminine, but that does not necessarily negate them to being of a weak or lacking nature. The characters contain layers of depth, so riddled with their own strife that you cannot help but feel for them and to grow attached to them as their lives change and they struggle to continue forward. Hoffman succeeds wonderfully at writing in such an elegant fashion while not crossing that line that leaves the reality of the situation blurred by excessive description or overly poetic story telling.

When I finished reading the book I read the acknowledgement, something I rarely do. In it Hoffman states that she’s not a historian in any way, but that she performed extensive research in preparation for writing this novel. I was slightly stunned when I read this, because the extent of historical knowledge woven into the story was to an extent that I could only assume a seasoned historian could provide. There’s no doubt that Hoffman touches on some very dark topics; the death and rapes of loved ones, the jealous rivalry and competition between women, deadly persecution, the realities of war and the atrocities soldiers perform. The stories of the four main women would be too hard to read if not for the perseverance and strength that Hoffman incorporates into their characters. They are all Jewish women fleeing the Roman armies who are trying to annihilate their people over two thousand years ago. Society is more familiar with the atrocities committed against the Jewish community in the past century, but it is important to remember that they have faced persecution consistently throughout history. Hoffman gives a glimpse into what these women might have struggled through, to not only protect themselves but also their children and the men they loved.

In so many ways the stories are based on such common elements of life and yet there is a literary complexity that makes The Dovekeepers a memorable read. For anyone who loves an intricate historical fiction, it is a must read. I would also venture to say that it’s a necessary read for anyone who enjoys a book that portrays the historical lives of women as they might have been. History itself often leaves the lives of women buried, because the documents left are so commonly written by men. Historical fiction opens the doorway to allow the stories of women to shine through, told in stories but often laced with historical truth. Much like my mother likely suspected The Dovekeepers is a profoundly touching book for any of the special women in your life.

Devon – athousandbooklife

Other books by Alice Hoffman: She has written extensively (including books for teens and children), but some of her more well known books include Turtle Moon (2002), Here on Earth (2010) and The Red Garden (2011)

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Some (apparently) great Teen books that I want to read!

The Teen genre seems to just keep growing in popularity, not just for teens, but as more and more adults find themselves reading books directed at a younger age group as well. It’s hard not to get pulled into the simplicity of the writing, the sense of adventure and the characters that are becoming more complex and intriguing. Here are some books from the Teen genre that have caught my eye and have made it onto my To-Read list (in no particular order). Enjoy!

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The Chaos Walking Series: The Knife of Never Letting Go (2008), The Ask and the Answer (2009), and Monsters of Men (2010) by Patrick Ness

 The Chaos Walking series has been on my literature radar for some time now, mostly because a fellow Chapters employee insisted that The Knife of Never Letting Go is by far her favorite Young Adult novel. The series follows two main characters, Todd and Viola, as they struggle in a dystopia world that is gradually erupting into civil war. At first glance it seems like a typical world-has-ended series, which is quite common for Teen books nowadays, but there are a few reasons that this series has grabbed my attention and held it, the primary one being that in the novels every living creature can hear, see or sense each other’s thoughts. It’s an element that is unique and I believe would make for a really interesting concept. Secondly, some might argue that Ness began his series before the hook of the post-apocalyptic theme had really sunk into teen literature and that his series is distinctive for that. Thirdly, the fact that his books have collectively won almost every single children’s fictional literature award in the United Kingdom speaks for itself; this must be an awesome series. It’s also mainly told from a boy’s viewpoint, which makes it a good find for young boys and teenagers when most of the more recent Teen books have females as the lead. Hopefully you’ll see reviews for these three books on the blog in the near future!

 The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green *

In all honesty, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is not a book I would have expected to find its way onto my To-Read list. When I first read the synopsis it had a little too much teenage romance in it, but I came to realize it went beyond that. Green tells the tale of Hazel, a young woman who is fighting cancer and Augustus, a basketball player who has recently found himself expelled from his favored sport due to a limb amputation. The possible dynamics of the relationship that follows is what spurned my interest in The Fault in Our Stars, along with the fact that a close friend of mine swears that it’s a great read and a story of many facets. I’ll report back whenever I find the time to read it!

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The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater *

One of my favorite Teen reads in the last few years was Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races so when The Raven Boys was published in 2012 it went onto my wish list. Reviews have raved about its combination of the supernatural and suspense, with a healthy dose of romance. Blue Sargent has spent her life keeping her distance from the boys at Aglionby Academy, also known as the Raven Boys, due to a prophecy that has haunted her for her entire life. With a twist that brings in some old school Welsh mythology, along with the fact that it is rumored that book will now be the first in a four-book series, it’s piqued my interest and I’m hoping to have a read of it soon.

UPDATE: I’ve now read and reviewed The Raven Boys, so click the book’s cover image above to check it out!

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Masque of Red Death by Bethany Griffin

Desire, debauchery, oblivion; three words that are guaranteed to grab my attention. Some might argue that such subjects are beyond the boundaries of the Teen genre, but how far Griffen takes these themes is yet to be seen. The overall scenery is not all that unique, that of a world that has been decimated with the depleted human race struggling to survive. However, where those intriguing three words come in is how some people are choosing to survive. Araby Worth belong to a group who spends their time dressed to the nines and enjoying what is left of the finer things in life to whittle away the time and to help them cope with the devastation around them. No doubt these things become superficial at some point when she finds something more meaningful to live for. I really hope it’s as good as it looks!

UPDATE: I’ve now read and reviewed Masque of the Red Death, so click the book’s cover image above to check it out!

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 Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor **

I’ll admit it, I’m a cover browser. I cannot count the amount of times I walked by this book while at work and always made a mental note to stop and have a read of the back. What I found there seemed to be a great mixture of mystery and fantasy. Karou, the main character, is a talented artist who has always seemed a bit odd, as though she has glimpses into a world that does not belong to everyone else. The truth of that will shock her. It seems to take place in a modern setting and while it seems to draw on some religious elements, it reminded me slightly of City of Bones, minus the odd sibling relationship that turned that series sour for me. The second book Days of Blood and Starlight was published in 2012 so when I do get to this one, I can always enjoy the one-two punch if it’s worth it.

UPDATE: I’ve now read and reviewed Daughter of Smoke and Boke, so click the book’s cover image above to check it out!

above Above by Leah Bobet

I always try to support Canadian authors and if my suspicion of that being the CN Tower on the cover is correct, it gains even more props from me for taking place in the city I currently live in. Plus, the story seems pretty intriguing as well. When the world above ground is full of experiments and danger, people have fled from the sunlight and retreated underground to live their lives in the dark. Everything changes when the dark suddenly becomes just as perilous as well. Edged with some fantasy, the story of Matthew and Ariel is hopefully as magical as some of the reviews I have read imply. I hope to attend a presentation in the next month where Leah Bobet will be speaking, and as a result this novel has moved higher on my list so look for a review soon!

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The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas by John Boyne

I love history, and Teen novels that are based in history get me every time. Some of my all time favorites include The Book Thief and Verity, and I’ve been told The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas can hold its weight easily against those two historic gems. The story follows two boys who form an unlikely friendship, despite their lives being as different as they possibly could be. World War II and the tragic events that took place due to it are always touching subjects, but are ones that I feel need to be recognized and told. This book has long been an Indigo Recommends (a state of recognition in our major bookstore chain as a book of worth) and those who I have discussed it with have been adamant that is a book that must be read, both by teens and adults alike. With my birthday less than 20 days away, here’s to hoping this one gets wrapped.

UPDATE: I’ve now read and reviewed The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas, so click the book’s cover image above to check it out!

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Starters by Lissa Price

Speaking of cover art, how could this cover not snare your attention?! And the premise behind it is pretty darn fascinating as well. In the future Callie finds herself without any family to support herself and her younger brother, but she finds a seedy way to make a profitable living for them; renting her body out to senior citizens so they can enjoy a sense of youth once more. But the results of this agreement will change Callie’s life, seemingly for the better until things begin to take turns that she may not be able to control. This is one of those rare Teen books that addresses the fear of aging and the loss of youth, and the fact that it has a touch of body-snatching to it guarantees that it will find its way into my book pile soon.

UPDATE: I’ve now read and reviewed Starters, so click the book’s cover image above to check it out!

 The Death Cure by James Dashner

The Death Cure (#3 of the Maze Runner series) by James Dashner

The third and final book of the Maze Runner series has been out for some time, but I’ve been enjoying and appreciating the prior novels Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials as I work my way towards The Death Cure. The story begins with Thomas who awakens with no memory of who he is or how he got into the dark elevator that brings him into a large maze where the walls shift every night. There he finds an unwelcoming group of boys who he must find his place amongst. Their world, which had always been consistent, is suddenly turned upside down when one day the elevator delivers a girl into their midst. The story of Thomas and the boys from the maze continues in The Scorch Trials as they find themselves outside of the maze, but slowly realizing that the force that initially put them there is still controlling their journey when they are forced into an unforgiving desert. The books are relatively short and the writing simple, but the twists and turns will keep you hooked. Also, have a look for The Kill Order, a prequel to the series which has also received great reviews!

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs **

Recognized as one of the best Young Adult books of 2012, Riggs novel tells the story of Jacob who finds himself an orphan after a horrible accident and as a result, travels to an orphanage on a remote island. As he wanders this forgotten place he learns that the children who lived there before him were special in many ways, some of which may have edged on dangerous. The story itself contains numerous opportunities for thrills, but what really grabbed my attention was the fact that the book contains aged photographs to accompany and improve the story. Peculiar little children have always been a stable of horror films, so it will be interesting how Riggs works them into a novel for this age group.

UPDATE: I’ve now read and reviewed Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, so click the book’s cover image above to check it out!

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The Diviners by Libba Bray *

The Diviners has been called a thrilling murder mystery for teens that contains elements of folklore and the unknown. Evie, who has spent her life in a small, quiet town, suddenly finds herself living in the hustle and bustle of New York City with her Uncle who is the Curator at a museum that displays items of the Occult and folklore. It may seem a strange profession, but Evie is thrilled to be living in New York and is willing to endure whatever strange family members she has to, to stay. That is until a string of murders start to take place and Evie finds herself at the very center of their investigation. The unknown has always made a great story for me and I’ve been assured by many people that this is well worth the read.

  * 2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults (Young Adult Library Services Association)

** 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults (Young Adult Library Services Association)

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Requiem by Lauren Oliver

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“Take down the walls.

That is, after all, the whole point. You do not know what will happen if you take down the walls; you cannot see through to the other side, don’t know whether it will bring freedom or ruin, resolution or chaos. It might be paradise, or destruction.

Take down the walls.”

 Requiem, the conclusion to the Delirium Series, was everything I was hoping for and maybe even a little bit more. It had been some time since I had read the first two novels of the series (Delirium and Pandemonium) so I had forgotten to some extent how enjoyable Oliver’s writing style is and the elegant way is which she told the story of Lena. However, after working my way through the first few chapters I was reminded and remembered why I had enjoyed the first two books so much.

Oliver puts the finishing touches to the story of Lena in Requiem, but also concludes so much more that became paramount in her series, including the stories of Alex, Julian, Raven and Tack, the revolution for love and the life and individuals that Lena left behind in Portland. As with so many series in Teen fiction a love triangle is front and center, but where Requiem maintains its distinctiveness is the fact that this love triangle is a broken one, one that is unreciprocated and yet continuously present. Where the first two books were often about the thrilling joy of falling in love, for much of this novel it is the sharp rebuttal of love that Lena experiences most. But the story moves far beyond Lena and comes to encompass the struggle of countless people who have been forced outside of “civilized” society because of their disease and are now fighting to make a claim for freedom and to once more see their basic needs met.

One of the elements that was unexpected but became a favorite aspect of the book for me was the switching back and forth between Lena and Hana being the narrator from one chapter to the next. It provided a juxtaposing comparison of two lives that were supposed to be so completely different due to their surroundings and yet in many ways, were very similar. Hana was such a pivotal character in the first novel and while Oliver does offer a more detailed glimpse of her story in Delirium Stories: Hana, Annabel & Raven (which I have yet to read unfortunately) I was grateful to see Hana’s storyline being told to completion in this book as well. The story comes full circle in many ways and I thought the way Oliver touched on their friendship towards the end was a clever way of giving the reader something they might not have necessarily expected, but which was essential to having a sense of closure.

Closure was something else that I thought Oliver did well in this novel. Quite often I find myself disappointed or angry when I feel an author has not provided sufficient closure at the end of a book, even more so if that book is finishing a series. Many might feel that Oliver did just that with Requiem, but I can honestly say that I was content with the ending. In many ways the lives of the main characters remain unfinished and you’re not quite sure if the “happy ending” they were looking for will actually be achieved. You can’t help but think that for some characters it won’t be. But looking back over the series I feel as though Oliver maintained a certain theme through all three books; to live in the present. Whether that was fighting for the future, or refusing to fall to the memories of the past, so many of the events in the books stressed living in the present, because the past was unchangeable and the future would be created from the actions taking place at that very moment. Things were constantly changing, people who Lena thought she knew reappeared as strangers and things were rarely what they seemed. With that in mind, I thought it was rather appropriate for Oliver to leave the stories of the characters so open-ended by implying that this story had concluded, but more would follow. Maybe there’s even a possibility for another novel or series, but time will tell.

Oliver’s Requiem was a fitting conclusion to her Delirium series that was written with a simplicity that made it beautiful to read. While on the surface a book about love being viewed as a disease might seem whimsical, all three novels touched on elements of a far more serious nature: personal freedom, discrimination, family and friends torn apart by prejudice. Those who found themselves outside of acceptable social expectations became outcasts, quite literally refugees in their own land. Oliver succeeded in including just enough harshness to make what might have been a fluffy teenage love story into something with more complexity and edge. If you haven’t read the Delirium series, I highly recommend you do by starting at the beginning with Delirium. Enjoy the ride!

Devon – athousandbooklife

Other books by Lauren Oliver: Before I Fall (2010), Delirium (2011), Liesl and Po (2011), Pandemonium (2012), The Spindlers (2012) and Delirium Stories: Hana, Anabel & Raven (2013)

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The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

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“Of course the book club also gave us a welter of great books to read- books to savor and ponder, to enjoy, and to help Mom on her journey toward death and me on mine to life without her.”

This is one of those books that I stumbled on, initially as a gift for another, but which found its way back to me and for that I think I will be eternally grateful for. It came to me during a stage of my life that can be reflected directly to the very events on the book’s pages and which provoked sorrow but also gave a sense of relief. If I ever believed in fate, then I think it might be safe to say that fate put this book in my hands.

 I initially purchased The End of Your Life Book Club as a Christmas gift for my mother in November 2012, knowing little of the story itself but as it was the Spotlight pick for Chapters a few months prior and hearing that it was a touching read by some fellow employees, I decided it would be the kind of book my mom would enjoy. After reading it herself, my mom quickly gave it to me and insisted I read it. It sat on my shelf for a week or so, but when I began it I could not put it down. The book (which is biographical in nature) is written by Will Schwalbe and is about the journey he, his mother and his family make when his mother, Mary Ann, learns she has pancreatic cancer. With the many doctor appointments and chemo sessions that come, Mary Ann and Will commence a book club of sorts, though it is not named as such for some time, reading the same books and discussing how they related to their own lives and experiences, or how they were unexpected or even disliked.

 While the book centers on Mary Ann’s struggle with her cancer (one which causes the patient to deteriorate incredibly quickly and is rarely curable), it also celebrates the life she lived, the family she created and many of the incredible things she achieved. The book subtly conveys the need for positive action; the need to help others who are far less fortunate, acts of bravery that rarely go acknowledged, the affect that little acts of kindness can have. These are reflected both in the acts of the Schwalbe family, but also in Mary Ann’s own life and the admirable work she performed in many third world countries, and for refugees and women’s groups around the globe. There is no denying she was an amazing woman, commendable for her courage, but even more so for her kindness.

The discussion of literature was one of the main reasons why I purchased this book for my mom; the fact that it was a book about books. Will and his mother obviously valued the comfort and creativeness that books could offer, a bond that I too share with my mother, for she was always the one who encouraged me to read as much as I could. While many of the novels discussed in The End of Your Life Book Club were written before my time or are books that I have not yet read (the exception being The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which any respectable reader should get their hands on), I could still appreciate the discussions concerning the characters and plots and struggles of those books, how they affected Will and Mary Ann, or caused them to remember something from their own lives. In many ways it allows for the reader to reflect on their own reasons for reading, and how much reading means to them on a personal level, whether it is to escape into another world, to find comfort or knowledge, or for so many of the other reasons that causes one to reach for a book.

Many of the reviews that I read concerning The End of Your Life Book Club voiced that while the book was touching, the reader could not relate. I believe it’s one of those books that anyone could enjoy, but particularly anyone who is fighting or has a family member who is fighting a battle against cancer. I have a family member who is facing the exact same kind of cancer at the moment. He has been there my whole life, has influenced me in ways that can never be counted or truly recognized, and watching his struggle has been difficult. So many of the experiences that Mary Ann endured medically, I have witnessed in person as well. The very night after I finished The End of Your Life Book Club I found out my uncle was in the hospital because, like Mary Ann, he was having an increasingly hard time eating. It was beyond comforting to read someone else’s experiences and to see how Mary Ann herself dealt with the reality of her illness. For that, I can never thank Mr. Schwalbe enough, for having the bravery to tell this story and to help many others, like me, without maybe even truly meaning to.

The End of Your Life Book Club was not what I expected to find when I opened the cover and turned to the first page but it ended up being something I needed without knowing it. It touched me on a level that few books have, mostly because of my own personal circumstances at the moment.  It is a comforting and inspiring read for anyone who has been or is currently dealing with the changes that cancer causes, both physically and emotionally. Above anything else, it can truly be recognized as a son’s memorial for a wonderful mother, that focuses not on her passing but on the life she led and the books she valued during that remarkable life.

Devon – athousandbooklife

Other books by Will Schwalbe: Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better (2010)

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