The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls

I didn't catch Pico in a good mood.

I didn’t catch Pico in a good mood.

Why I Read It: I had the pleasure of reading Jeannette Walls‘ book The Glass Castle some years ago and was greatly impressed by it.

Where I Got It: A review copy from the publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: If you enjoy a mix of harsh reality and humor in a coming of age story, this is worth your time.

Narrator: Jeannette Walls

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2013)

Length: 7 CDs

Bean Holladay, 12 year old, lover of chicken pot pies, is our narrator for this tale set in 1970. Bean and her older sister Liz have an artistic and temperamental mother, Charlotte, who often feels the need to take off for a while to get her head straight. She always leaves the girls money for food while she is off pursuing her Los Angeles singing career. However, one day Bean catches her mom in a big, elaborate lie and Charlotte has a bit of a melt down and leaves the girls for several weeks before they decide to take a bus to Virginia, where their uncle Tinsley lives. Soon the girls are uncovering family gossip, history, and secrets that Charlotte had always skimmed over with her daughters. Meanwhile, uncle Tinsley had become something of a recluse since loosing his wife and at first he isn’t too sure what to do with the girls, other than feed them venison stew for dinner. As the days stretch into weeks, they realize the three of them will be together for a while. Once the girls get summer jobs, followed by school starting, live becomes pretty intense for all of them.

Let me just say up front that Jeannette Walls is excellent at digging those deep, dark, complex emotions out of me. She at once makes me uncomfortable and yet feel human with her ever insightful writing. The Glass Castle was a super intense read for me and I see that Walls has honed her story telling ability even further. She tells the story simply, directly, through the voice of Bean (a nick name for Jean). All the good and the bad is laid bare and naked before the reader. Charlotte is a beautiful, creative person. She is also a mother who often considers herself before her kids, taking off on this whim or that to pursue her singing or to a month=long spiritual retreat. The sisters are extremely dedicated to each other and the reader sees right away that they have had to grow up before their time, being the responsible adults in the situation.

Having trucked themselves out to Virginia, so much family history that had to this point been denied to them starts to unfold. Bean and Liz didn’t share the same father and Bean learns, over a mistaken case of peach thievery, that she has family in town. While they had always known that Charlotte was the daughter of a mill owner, and hence, one of the richest families in the town, the girls learn first hand what that means through uncle Tinsley’s attitude towards summer jobs: the Holladays don’t work for others; people work for the Holladays. However, Tinsley is living in the past as the family sold off the mill some years before the girls come to visit him. Left and right, we see the short comings of each and every human; yet Walls also shows us the power of the heart to look past those inadequacies, prejudices, and bigotry to care and connect with other humans.

At a time of forced integration of the schools, Liz and Bean don’t understand what all the fuss is about. Coming from California, the school they went to often had Hispanic kids mixed in with Caucasians. While they don’t get what all the fuss is about, they see it first hand, experience it with the rest of the town. Additionally, the Vietnam war is still on at this time, and strong patriotic feelings run through the city, again causing Liz and Bean to feel uncomfortable. These historical bits are easily interwoven into the storyline, creating a backdrop for the tale of Bean and Liz.

While the story is told through the eyes of a 12 year old, Walls treats her adults with equality. Some are better at connecting with kids, or treating them like adults but shorter. Other adults demand obedience from anyone they think of as lesser humans, which includes kids. The main antagonist in this story, Jerry Maddox, is a large man, who can talk the truth and secrets out of an unwary person when he uses his charm. He also is a control freak, often bossing his wife around to the point of forbidding her from leaving the house. This is the man Liz and Bean go to work for, which later on leads to disaster.

SPOILER ALERT I have to say I wasn’t expecting the second half of this story to be about an attempted rape and the reaction of family members, friends, the school, and even the town. But it was told very, very well. I often found myself nodding my head as Bean’s narration captures teachers ignoring the teasing she and her sister receive from schoolmates. END SPOILER

Despite the hardships the girls go through adjusting to Virginia, there is much love and friendship to be dug up and nurtured too. The ending wasn’t what I was expecting, but it was greatly satisfying. Life isn’t perfect, but it can still be worthy.

Narration: Jeannette Walls herself read this book and she did a fine job. As the story is told from a single point of view, having a single narrator with a limited character voice range worked.

What I Liked: There are emus; the balance of light and dark; the historical backdrop; Liz is a rhymer; the meaning of the title of the book; the ending.

What I Disliked: For about 2/3 of the book, I had the impression that the girls were a few years younger – perhaps 9 & 12 instead of 12 & 15.

What Others Think:

Oh, Chrys

Red Headed Book Child

BookNAround

all the books i can read

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

Heldig hoovering, hoping for a) dinner, b) attention, c) dinner.

Heldig hoovering, hoping for a) dinner, b) attention, c) dinner.

Why I Read It: I’m participating in Little Red Reviewer’s Vintage Scifi Month, and this fit.

Where I Got It: The Library.

Who I Recommend This To: In many regards, this is a coming of age story, and if you enjoy those, then this would probably suit you.

Narrator: Full Cast – The Colonial Radio Theatre

Publisher: Blackstone Audio (2007)

Length: 2 CDs

Dandelion Wine was first published in 1957 and is a fix-up novella of other loosely connected short stories, many of which had been previously published. However, upon listening to it, I could not tell that it was written in such a way, which shows Ray Bradbury‘s craftsmanship in sticking them all together into a single fluid story. The setting is 1928 Green Town, IL. Douglas Spaulding is a 12 year old who has the full run of his town and the magic of youth in the perfect summer. This book is divided into 2 parts. Part I is all about the wonder of running through the woods on a hot day, of the fun of collecting dandelions for senior citizens to turn into intoxicants, and of the play of pretending fireflies are more than they are. There’s also best friends, tom girls, new sneakers, listening to heroic tales from old men, and the first crush on the town’s young librarian. Part II, however, is darker and is about realizing that things change, not always for the good, and yet life still goes on.

This tale is 90% mainstream fiction, with a slight, nebulous time travel element; hence, it is classified as science fiction. I had not heard the details of this tale before and I was expecting much more science fiction, or at least Outer Limits type plot. Alas, no. The story was well written for its brevity and I enjoyed certain elements of it, such as Doug’s shy interactions with the librarian and his fascination with a new pair of sneakers. However, this work just didn’t do anything special for me. I found myself waiting for something to happen in the story, and when it finally did, the events were not resolved, but rather the story turned into a Lesson, a lesson about growing up, letting go, and moving on. I know Ray Bradbury, and probably this work in particular, holds a lot of magic for many folks. I just am not one of those folks.

The audio production and performance by The Colonial Radio Theatre was excellent. There were sound effects and various narrators to pull off the cast of characters. My only slight criticism is that at times I had to turn the sound down a bit because of the excited sound effects and then turn up the volume later to catch the conversation between two characters.

VintageScifiBadgeWhat I Liked: This book got me curious about dandelion wine; the magic of a care-free summer.

What I Disliked: The lack of a strong scifi element; story became a Lesson and stopped being a tale.

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This month I am participating in two reading events that this fits into: Little Red Reviwer’s Vintage Scifi Month and Stainless Steel Droppings’ Science Fiction Experience (which runs to the end of February). Make sure to check out both blogs for further science fiction treats from around the blogosphere.

I am also including this in the weekly Read & Review Hop hosted by On Starships and Dragonwings. Make sure to stop by her website to catch more great book reviews.

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Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Why I Read It: I was looking for something outside my normal genres.

Where I Got It: The library.

Who I Recommend This To: This was a tough story. If you’re looking for a well-written tough story, then this might be the one for you.

Narrator: Lisette Lecat

Publisher: Recorded Books (2004)

Length: 10 CDs

I haven’t decided yet whether or not I liked Purple Hibiscus, but it made me think; and I truly enjoy thinking. Every once in while I stick with a book not because I particularly like the subject, enjoy the prose, or find the text entertaining; I stay with it because it is stretching the few brain cells that call my head home. You know what I mean?

C. N. Adichie‘s writing kept me engaged for 10 discs (appr. 11 hours). The setting is Nigeria near present day. Kambili (15), her brother Jaja (17), and her mother all live under the tyrannical roof of her well-respected father. A main theme throughout the story is domestic abuse and how these 3 survive, told through the eyes of Kambili. Her family is rich and privileged; Kambili and Jaja go to private school, the family has at least 2 vehicles and a driver, they have wait-staff, etc.

As the story unfolds, Kambili and Jaja get to go to their aunt’s house for a short visit, their first unsupervised visit away from home. Of course their father sends them with modified schedules; yes, he has day-to-day schedules for everyone in his household. For the first time the kids are free to laugh, watch TV, and listen to music throughout the day. There is even singing, something their father sees as unchristian and therefore not allowed in his house. The kids start to bloom into real people in the few short visits they have at their aunt’s.

Kambili and Jaja of course have to adjust to a less privileged household – like no indoor running water, no guaranteed 24-7 electricity, no guaranteed petrol for the car, no daily meat for supper. But they gladly trade all their privileges for bunking with their cousins, the lack of indoor ventilation, no daily sodas, and the enjoyment and freedom of their aunt’s house. While much of the book was a bit tough to listen to, the book is hopeful and left me with a believe that life would turn out OK for Kambili.

Lisette Lecat was the audioartist for this book and she did an outstanding job. There are sounds in the Nigerian tongue that just don’t exist in the American span of dialect. She pulled off both female and male voices and brought forth the emotional sides to the characters.

What I Liked: Being saturated in a foreign culture; the blooming of the main characters (the children); the book ends with hope; the author took on a tough subject.

What I Disliked: Familial physical abuse can be tough to listen to.

Note: This review was originally published on Darkcargo.com on 08/04/2011 and republished, and reformatted, here with permission of Lady Darkcargo.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Why I Read It: The title caught my eye, I wanted something short, and I like Jeremy Irons’s voice.

Where I got it: The library

Narrator: Jeremy Irons

Publisher: (Harper Audio 2001)

Length: ~4 hours

This is a dense, enchanting novel. For only 4 CDs, there is much that happens in this tale. Paulo Coelho has woven together the elements of superstitious magic, the drive for adventure, and need to fulfill a personal legend into the engrossing novel The Alchemist. Santiago is a shepherd because he likes to travel and he gets along with sheep. He travels the valleys of Andalusia, Spain until he has an odd dream. He bargains with an old gypsy to interpret his dream; she says he must go to the pyramids of Egypt to find his treasure. Later, he comes across an old man (the king of Salem) who tells him to pursue his Personal Legend, which entails retrieving his treasure.

Off to Egypt our young hero goes. Along his way to the pyramids, he meets several other men who are pursuing their Personal Legends. Eventually, he meets The Alchemist, a man who has realized his Personal Legend. The two pal around together in the desert, avoiding bandits and placating warring tribes. In the midst of this, Santiago meets Fatima, and the two fall in love. He vows to return to her once he has realized his Personal Legend.

Coelho took threads of the various religions at the time (sometime after the invention of the printing press and before modern day) and braided them together beautifully. Santiago gains wisdom from nearly everything he interacts with throughout the story – the people, his sheep, the desert, and the wind.

Jeremy Irons has been one of my favorite actors for some time, and one of the reasons is because of his voice. I have always found his voice intense and somewhat mysterious; he was an excellent choice for this novel.

What I liked: Adventure; magic; a story about personal growth; sheep; pyramids; Jeremy Irons.

What I disliked: There are only 3 women in this book, all with small roles, 2 of which have the role of Romantic Interest; none of the ladies have a Personal Legend to fulfill.