Bethany's Readers' Advisory

The place to go for readers' advisory on books for children, teens, and adults

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers July 31, 2011

The story begins in the summer of 2005.  Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun and their four children live in New Orleans.  Syrian-born Zeitoun and his wife own a busy and well-known painting company.  When they begin to hear warnings for a massive hurricane heading their way, they don’t think much of it.  After all, this happens every year.  As the warnings become more dire, however, Kathy decides to take the family north, out of danger.  Zeitoun decides to stay behind, to watch over the houses under construction.  What begins as a small storm turns into a nightmare when the levee is breaks and the city is filled with water.  At first Zeitoun is glad to have stayed behind; he moves their valuables out of harm’s way and rescues those stranded in his secondhand canoe.  One day, Zeitoun and three other men are taken away.  What follows is a horrifying series of events where the men are imprisoned, exposed to inhuman treatment, with no way to contact loved ones.  The most appalling part is that this actually happened.  In America.  In the 21st century.

Zeitoun is a powerful work of narrative non-fiction.  I couldn’t put it down.  At the time, I didn’t really follow what was going on; it was hard to know what to believe in the media reports.  Reading this made me realize just how awful the situation in New Orleans was.  Zeitoun’s story is shocking.  Highly recommended- prepare to be blown away.

 

The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante July 30, 2011

Best friends Agnes and Honey have grown up in a religious commune called Mount Blessing.  Agnes is faithful in her beliefs and serious about following the rules set by Emmanuel, their leader.  Honey is wavering in her beliefs and thinks it is ridiculous for Agnes to spend so much time trying to be perfect.  “The whole point of being human is to make mistakes,” she says.

When Agnes’ beloved grandmother, Nana Pete, makes an unexpected visit to Mount Blessing and discovers what goes on behind the closed doors of the Regulation Room, the girls’ lives change forever.  Will they choose freedom or the security of the only world they’ve ever known?

I really enjoyed this powerful page-turner.  The author grew up on a religious commune herself, lending authenticity to the story and the characters.  The chapters alternate between Agnes’ and Honey’s points of view, allowing readers to relate to both girls and their feelings of betrayal, fear of change, and questioning their beliefs.

 

Lunch Walks Among Us by Jim Benton July 27, 2011

Filed under: ages 7-10,humor,strange fiction — Bethany @ 10:11 pm
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Frannie K. Stein’s family just moved to a new house at the end of Daffodil Street.  This means Frannie is starting at a new school.  The other kids don’t understand the new girl, a mad scientist that keeps a bat (the animal) in her backpack and eats crab ravioli with pumpkin sauce for lunch.  Frannie wants to fit in the with other kids, so she trades her chomping, oozing dolls for pretty dolls, her shish kebab lunches for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on squishy white bread, and her bat with black wings for a baseball bat.  But when a monster terrorizes the school, will the new Frannie be able to save the day?

This was a cute book.  I like Frannie K. Stein so much better than Junie B. Jones and will recommend this series to my 7 to 10-year-old readers as an alternative.

 

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese July 26, 2011

The story begins as Sister Mary Joseph Praise, newly pinned as a nurse and a Carmelite nun, boards a ship toward Ethiopia.  It is on this ship that she, literally, runs into Dr. Thomas Stone for the first time.  Years later, she bears his children; twin boys, Marion and Shiva Stone, are orphaned by their mother’s death during childbirth and their father’s immediate disappearance.

The boys grow up around Missing hospital, raised by doctors and faithful help.  Shiva and Marion share that special bond of twins until a betrayal threatens to tear them apart.  They go their separate ways only to be driven back together again by medicine, family, and love.

Cutting for Stone was one of the finalists for One Book, One Lincoln.  It was a wonderful book, filled with rich characters and an engrossing storyline.  I learned about Ethiopia and its medical and political struggles.  It gave me a deep appreciation for those who provide medical care to those who need it the most, where technology, supplies, and staff are sparse.  Although the length of this book is daunting (658 pages), it is a story worth reading.

 

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss July 7, 2011

Filed under: adult drama,adult fiction — Bethany @ 8:42 pm
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The History of Love primarily follows the lives of two different characters, Leo Gursky and Alma Singer.  Leo is an old man, waiting to die.  Long ago, before Germany invaded Poland, he was in love with a girl.  So in love that he wrote her a book, The History of Love.  The girl moved to America and started a new life without Leo.  Many years later, Leo is a retired locksmith living in America, still thinking about the girl.  Alma is a teenage girl trying to find a companion for her lonely widowed mother and attempting to convince her younger brother to be normal.  Alma is drawn to The History of Love, one of the few remaining connections she has to her dead father.

The story weaves through Leo’s childhood and current life, Alma’s struggles and her quest to find out more about the book from which she was named, and brief encounters with various other people who have been touched by The History of Love throughout time.

This is one of the finalists for my library’s One Book program and has received many glowing reviews.  I can’t say I’m a fan.  I almost stopped reading after the first third of the book.  The transitions between characters was very rough; I often had to flip back a few pages to figure out who was talking.  The plot was interesting, just too convoluted to follow easily.  Also, I’m very tired of the trend of not using quotation marks or separate paragraphs to indicate different characters speaking.

 

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

Filed under: realistic fiction — Bethany @ 8:39 pm
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When 17-year-old Ginny receives a mysterious package from her recently deceased aunt, she is in for a summer of adventure.  Her unpredictable, eccentric Aunt Peg sent her a plane ticket to London and a set of cryptic instructions.  Ginny makes her way across Europe, each of the thirteen little blue envelopes sending Ginny to a new destination.  Along the way, she meets people who were important to her aunt and is forced to do things outside of her comfort zone.  The trip reveals surprises about Ginny’s aunt and why she made the choices she did.

I enjoy reading about travelling and this book made backpacking around Europe seem doable.  I was disappointed in Ginny’s lack of appreciation for the amount of effort her aunt put forth to provide this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I kept waiting for her to realize that despite difficulties along the way, she had a good time.  That moment never came.  I would recommend this book to middle school and high school girls who want a fun, safe read with a little romance and friendship included.

 

 
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