Appointment in Samarra

samarraAppointment in Samarra tells the story of the downfall of Julian English over the course of three short days during Christmas in 1930. Julian seems to have it all – he lives on the right street, owns a Cadillac dealership, is a member of the country club, has a beautiful wife, the right kind of friends – when he throws it all away by making a series of ridiculously awful choices (don’t throw a drink in the face of the guy who you owe $20k, don’t sleep with the mob boss’s mistress, don’t beat up a one-armed war veteran…) which cause his life to come crashing down around him, resulting in his ultimate destruction.

Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara is number 22 on Modern Library’s top 100 list of the best English speaking novels written in the 20th century.  Personally, I don’t understand why.  In spite of complete chapters that are dedicated to the background of secondary and even tertiary characters there is no explanation for Julian’s actions – was he always such a self-centered jerk?  If so, then why do I care if his life is falling apart?  If not, then what the heck happened to turn him into one?!   The story takes place in a small town in Pennsylvania in the middle of prohibition and the depression, but you wouldn’t know it, everyone is hanging out at the country club and getting drunk and acting like idiots.  Perhaps that shows a truer picture of society during that time as “new money” was coming into play and “old money” was going away, and I know that it stretched the limits for how sex was addressed in novels at that time, but I honestly found it all a little repetitive, adolescent, and boring.  Oh well, at least I tried…

Title: Appointment in Samarra
Author: John O’Hara
Genre: Fiction, Classic
Publication: Originally published in 1934

The Cherry Cola Book Club

cherry colaI really didn’t like this book.  I really wanted to – it’s the story of a small town librarian, Maura Beth, who has been told by the city council that she has until the end of the year to show the worth of her library or it will be closed.  There is a cast of small town characters – a restaurant owner, an elderly genealogist, a retiree, a cooking show host – who rally around as Maura Beth starts the Cherry Cola Book Club in an attempt to boost library usage and secure their future funding.

Given the current state of library funding as a priority throughout the country, and the importance of libraries to their communities, this book could’ve been so much more than what it was – a sweet story with likable characters of a town pulling together to save their library – at least temporarily.

My frustration with the book was the author’s apparent lack of knowledge about libraries and librarians and what they actually accomplish in their communities.  Maura Beth has been the director for six years, has virtually no one using the library, and this is the first time she’s trying to do something about it?!  Reading this book I had a hard time understanding why she’d been getting paid at all for the past six years – the author made it seem like all she did was sit in her office and occasionally order some books.  But now that her job is in jeopardy she thinks it might be important to do something more?  And her miraculous plan is to start a book discussion group?  Don’t get me wrong, book discussion groups are great – almost all libraries already have them along with computers, internet access, early literacy programming, summer reading programs, entertainers, movie nights, author presentations, computer classes, art classes, writing groups, teen groups, job hunting and continuing education resources, reference resources, GED and ESL classes…

The problem that libraries have is not a lack of use – many libraries are seeing increased usage year after year – the problem is a lack of public funding as budgets continue to shrink and public libraries attempt to support greater need with less resources – the problem is a lack of understanding about what libraries actually do and why it’s so important to our communities.  Someone should write a book about that.

Title: The Cherry Cola Book Club
Author: Ashton Lee
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 304
Publication: Kensington, March 2013

Tuesday Top Ten

toptenbookquotes

 

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. Book bloggers create their own lists based on the chosen topics and post links to our lists. It’s a way of all sharing our thoughts and our love of books.  And who doesn’t love lists??

So this week the challenge was the Tuesday Rewind – go back and pick a topic that you really liked or one that you missed from a previous week.  Since I haven’t been doing this for too long I had a lot to choose from and decided to go with a list of some of my favorite book quotes.  I may have ended up with more than ten… and there were so many more that I wanted to add!

First, two quotes from the amazing Book Thief by Markus Zusak…

  1. I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. 
  2. I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race—that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.
    None of those things, however, came out of my mouth.
    All I was able to do was turn to Liesel Meminger and tell her the only truth I truly know. I said it to the book thief and I say it now to you.
    I am haunted by humans.

And then I will move on to another ten…  😉

  1.  The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go. – Dr. Seuss,  I Can Read with my Eyes Shut
  2. Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. – John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
  3. Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.  –  A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh
  4. “Once upon a time,” he said out loud to the darkness. He said these words because they were the best, the most powerful words that he knew and just the saying of them comforted him.  – Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux
  5. “Harry — I think I’ve just understood something! I’ve got to go to the library!”
    And she sprinted away, up the stairs.
    “What does she understand?” said Harry distractedly, still looking around, trying to tell where the voice had come from.
    “Loads more than I do,” said Ron, shaking his head.
    “But why’s she got to go to the library?”
    “Because that’s what Hermione does,” said Ron, shrugging. “When in doubt, go to the library.” 
     –  J.K. Rowling, The Chamber of Secrets
  6. “But you want murderous feelings? Hang around librarians,” confided Gamache. “All that silence. Gives them ideas.”  – Louise Penny, Rule Against Murder
  7. Walking the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines-it’s hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits. –  Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
  8. “The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are. They’re Caesar’s praetorian guard, whispering as the parade roars down the avenue, ‘Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.’ Most of us can’t rush around, talk to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven’t time, money or that many friends. The things you’re looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book. Don’t ask for guarantees. And don’t look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.” – Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
  9. “It’s like the people who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you. If you see what I mean.” – Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book
  10. From time to time, I do consider that I might be mad. Like any self-respecting lunatic, however, I am always quick to dismiss any doubts about my sanity.  – Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas

Fun Stories to Share!

I’ve talked a lot about how I like to read to my kids at night.  It started when my son was a toddler.  I used to tell him that he could pick three stories for bedtime and he would hand me The Little Engine that Could.  When I told him he could pick out two more?  “No!  I want you to read this one three times!”  I still hate that book…  Other favorites were There’s a Wocket in my Pocket, Goodnight Moon, and Guess How Much I Love You.  We kept reading every night when my daughter was born, and it is something that I still try to do even now that my son is sixteen and my daughter is eleven.  It’s challenging to find the time now that they’re involved in their various extra-curricular activities, but we find it most days.  Turns out they’re not too old to enjoy story time with mom, I think we all love to hear a good story no matter our age.  While I will still occasionally bring home a great picture book from the library, we mostly read chapter books now.  Below are some of our favorites from the last year, good stories that were enjoyable to share aloud and that were enjoyable for all ages.

homesickBenny’s dad is a hoarder – a seriously out-of-control hoarder.  Benny’s mom can’t take it anymore and leaves the small Missouri town for New Orleans – now Benny needs to deal with the situation all on his own.  When a local teacher enters the town in a contest for “America’s Most Charming Small Town” (maybe exaggerating a little – ok a lot – on the application) the town needs to deal with the junk pile that has become Benny’s home.  There is a great supporting cast of characters – a hippie starting a radio station, a teacher encouraging community service projects, a piano teacher, a classroom crush – that cause you to feel like you know and love the quirky people in this small town.  While reading this book we had a lot of laughs, moments where our hearts were breaking for Benny, times when we were holding our breaths waiting to see what happened next, and times when we were cheering him on.

Title: Homesick
Author: Kate Klise
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Pages: 192
Publication: Feiwel & Friends, September 2012

liarspyWhen Georges dad loses his job his family is uprooted and needs to move to a Brooklyn apartment in an unfamiliar neighborhood.  His mom is working extra shifts at the hospital to make ends meet and Georges is feeling depressed and friendless when he sees a sign for a Spy Club.  Encouraged by his dad, he signs up and meets Safer – a twelve-year old spy – who recruits Georges on his mission to figure out what nefarious deeds their upstairs neighbor, Mr. X, is up to.  Eventually, Georges becomes concerned about the morality of what Safer is asking him to do and frustrated with Safer’s moody demands.  As he begins to question Safer and his stories they begin to unravel as does their friendship.  The relationships in the story were great – Georges and his mom leaving messages for each other with Scrabble tiles, how he tries not to put extra stress on his dad, the way that Safer’s family takes him in, and ultimately, his friendship with Safer as he comes to an understanding of the truth.

Title: Liar & Spy
Author: Rebecca Stead
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Pages: 192
Publication: Wendy Lamb Books, August 2012

ungiftedThis story was hilarious, from start to finish.  Donovan is a decidedly ungifted troublemaker who may have finally taken things too far when an administrative screw-up lands him in the Academy for Scholastic Distinction.  If he can hide out there for awhile, maybe his other problems will blow over… plus, his parents are sooo proud!  As his new teachers and fellow students struggle to figure out where Donovan’s gifts may lie (how DID he get here??), he brings something new to the class – himself – his knowledge of “normal” life, video games, and YouTube.  The relationships between these students, their parents, and their teachers are consistently humorous yet insightful.  There was not an evening of reading this together when we didn’t end up laughing.  Mr. Korman – my kids are hoping for a sequel!

 

Title: Ungifted
Author: Gordon Korman
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Pages: 288
Publication: Balzer & Bray, August 2012

Clockwork Princess

clockworkThe Clockwork Princess is the final book in The Infernal Devices trilogy which was written as a prequel series to Mortal Instruments series.

For those who have not read The Infernal Devices trilogy, let me give you a brief overview.  The books are set in Victorian England and the story starts with Tessa Grey heading to London from America to search for her missing brother.  She soon finds herself part of a world that she did not know existed – a world full of Nephilim, warlocks, werewolves, demons, automatons, etc.  As she stays at the Institute, the home for Shadowhunters, Nephilim who fight demons in order to protect us mere humans, she searches for the truth of her own identity, battles demons, and falls in love – of course there’s a love triangle – isn’t there always?  I thoroughly enjoyed this book in spite of becoming tired of love triangles (this one does have a uniqueness), and the books are filled with so much more – adventure, battles, death, triumph, magic, technology, demons, warlocks, politics, family feuds, …  making the series fast and fun – a great way to kill a rainy weekend.

For those who have read the first two books and are eagerly awaiting a chance to read the final piece of the story, the final book does not disappoint.  Maybe things are a little too tidily wrapped up, but hey –this is fiction – why not?  There are epic battles, lives will be ended and changed, new loves will be found, and hearts will be broken.  Will or James?  I’m not telling!  😉

Title: Clockwork Princess
Author: Cassandra Clare
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 592
Publication: Margaret K. McElderry Books, March 2013