Ramona’s World (audiobook)

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Ramona’s World (audiobook) by Beverly Cleary

“There’s never been anyone quite like Ramona Geraldine Quimby! And now, the irresistible, irrepressible star of Beverly Cleary’s best-loved and bestselling series is back — in the paperback version of her first book in 15 years. Now, Ramona is a fourth grader, struggling with her spelling; feuding and flirting with her old nemesis, Yard Ape; and joyfully making her first real girlfriends. She’s also dealing with life as a middle child — coping with her teenage sister, Beezus, and their new baby sister, Roberta — and simply learning about growing up. But through it all, Ramona remains funny, outspoken, and amazingly real! Ramona’s World is out of this world…a book that’s definitely worth the wait!”

I read every Ramona book as a kid. Over and over and over again. So, a few years ago, when I discovered that Beverly Cleary had written a new Ramona book I was ecstatic. Who cares that I was in my 20’s, I had to have it!

Cleary’s talent and ability to write children in a realistic and believable voice is in no way diminished by her own age. At 95 years old, Cleary must still be a child at heart! Of course, this is one of the many reasons that she is one of my favorite authors.

I love listening to the Ramona books on audio. If I’m driving to one of my stores at the beach, I can usually listen to one book in the morning and another in the afternoon. Stockard Channing narrates the books brilliantly. She has taken on the personality of Ramona to me. She reads with emotion, whether it’s anger, hurt, embarrassment, or humor, she is dead on every time.

Audiobook
Published November 2nd 2010 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published 1999)
ISBN13: 9780061774126
Charlie May Simon Children’s Book Award (2001)

5 stars

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Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Audiobook)

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Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Read by Elijah Wood

“Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain’s sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, became an instant success in the year of its publication, 1884, but was seen by some as unfit for children to read because of its language, grammar, and “uncivilized hero.” The book has sparked controversy ever since, but most scholars continue to praise it as a modern masterpiece, an essential read, and one of the greatest novels in all of American literature. Twain’s satiric treatment of racism, religious excess, and rural simplicity and his accuracy in presenting dialects mark Huck Finn as a classic. His unswerving confidence in Huck’s wisdom and maturity, along with the well-rounded and sympathetic portrayal of Jim draw readers into the book, holding them until Huck’s last words rejecting all attempts to “sivilize” him.”

Mark Twain wrote Huck Finn as a sequel to Tom Sawyer. His original plan was to follow Huck into adulthood but after working on the book for several years he lost interest. When he eventually came back to Huck’s story, he abandoned his idea of telling Huck’s life story and decided instead to write it as a sort of continuation of Tom Sawyer.

Personally, of the two, Huck Finn is by far my favorite. I never really liked Tom. He’s just… annoying. Meanwhile, I find Huck fascinating. He has much more common sense than Tom. He’s deep down a better person I think, than Tom. Sure, he lies and “borrows” but he hates to hurt anyone’s feelings and he has a strong conscience. Even when he logically disagrees with his conscience due to the social constraints of the time period, emotionally, he tends to know what’s right and what isn’t.

It’s been years and years since I read Huck Finn; probably close to twenty years or more. But I read a review online the other day that mentioned this audio edition read by Elijah Wood. I hightailed it to audible.com as fast as possible and bought it. I listen to a lot of audiobooks on my iPod since I drive so much for work. At over ten hours long, this was almost four days worth of listening.

I’m a fan of Twain’s writing. He describes things so well. He uses commonplace descriptions to allow the reader to draw the picture in their head of the scene he’s creating. He also strikes a nice balance between narration and dialogue. I love the fact that Huck tells his own story from his own point of view as well. Twain really brings Huck, as well as the other characters, to life. And listening to Elijah Wood read the story… it was like I was riding down the highway with Huck sitting in the front seat next to me. And the story has laugh out loud funny moments. There were whole sections where I laughed like a fool driving down the road. I can also admit that there were some times that I cried.

Wood did an amazing job with the different accents and dialects that Twain gave his characters. At first I was very aware that I was listening to Elijah Wood but after just a few minutes, it stopped being Elijah and became Huck and Jim and Tom and even Pap.

Huck had it rough there’s no doubt. His Pap was abusive. He felt unloved. He considered himself to be stupid and eventually he came to question his own morals and character. He never sat down and felt too sorry for himself though. He dealt with adversity and made his way the best way he could. Though we know today that Huck had character and morals to spare, in those days he considered himself very close to a traitor to his race for his actions to help Jim. He struggled with his own conscience and the differences between what he felt in his heart was right and what he had been taught was right.

Huck Finn has created controversy for years and years. It is the fourth most banned book in the United States. It has been considered obscene, immoral and racist. As usual, the censors have it all wrong. Twain tells a story of a boy who is anti-racist in a time when it would cause him to be ostracized by society. Because of the use of the “N-word” throughout the book, people assume it must be racist but in actuality Twain used the language and vernacular of the time. If anyone doesn’t read this excellent example of classic American literature because of the use of a word they disagree with, they are missing out.

Audiobook
Published November 9th 2010 by Audible, Inc (first published 1884 in England, first published 1885 in US)
ASIN B004BDL7N6

5 stars

Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone

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Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

“When a letter arrives for unhappy but ordinary Harry Potter, a decade-old secret is revealed to him. His parents were wizards, killed by a Dark Lord’s curse when Harry was just a baby, and which he somehow survived. Escaping from his unbearable Muggle guardians to Hogwarts, a wizarding school brimming with ghosts and enchantments, Harry stumbles into a sinister adventure when he finds a three-headed dog guarding a room on the third floor. Then he hears of a missing stone with astonishing powers which could be valuable, dangerous, or both.”

It was 2000 when I first read Harry Potter. My friend Super Suz recommended the series to me but I put off reading it for ages. I wasn’t into reading much young adult stuff back then and my argument for not reading them was that I wasn’t interested in reading children’s book. How book-snobbish of me.

It was around the time the first film was coming out and I was hearing a lot about the controversy that was being stirred up over witchcraft and censorship. Censorship and banning books is one of my pet issues so it piqued my interest in the books a bit more. I finally broke down and borrowed the first three books.

I read them all in less than a week! I couldn’t put them down. Didn’t want to put them down either! I was hooked from chapter one of the first book. I immediately told my mom that she needed to read them. After she read them, she and my daddy went to see the first movie. After they saw the movie Daddy decided to read the books as well. Now we’re all three addicted to the entire series.

I own several copies of all seven books. This edition of HP & TPS is a Bloomsbury edition that they put out to satisfy adult readers in the UK. Adults didn’t want to be seen on the train reading books with cartoon covers so they released these with adult covers to satisfy that audience. These editions are hard to find as they are only sold in the UK. I was able to get mine on eBay but even then they’re hard to find at a good price.

I read the entire series once a year. I always try to stretch it out and read one book a month so it’ll last for seven months, but I usually end up reading them all back to back and finishing them in a month or less.

Paperback
332 pages
Published July 10th 2004 by Bloomsbury Publishing (first published October 1st 1998)
ISBN13: 9780747574477
British Fantasy Award (1999), Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adolescent Literature (2008), British Book Award for Children’s Book of the Year (1998), Smarties Prize (1997), Prijs van de Nederlandse Kinderjury for 6-9 jaar en 10-12 jaar (2002)
Prijs van de Nederlandse Kinderjury for 6-9 jaar en 10-12 jaar (2002), American Booksellers Book Of The Year Award for Children (1999), West Australian Young Readers’ Book Award (WAYRBA) for Younger Readers (2000), Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award (2001), South Carolina Book Award for Junior Book Award (2001), Grand Canyon Reader Award for Teen Book (2000), Charlotte Award (2000), Nene Award (2000), Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (2000), Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award (2001), Blue Hen Book Award for Chapter Book (2001), Nevada Young Readers’ Award for Young Reader Category (2000), Sasquatch Reading Award (2000), Golden Archer Award for Middle/Junior High (2000), Indian Paintbrush Book Award (2000), Carnegie Medal Nominee (1997), ALA’s Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults (1999)

5 stars

Midwives

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Midwives by Chris Bohjalian

“With a suspense, lyricism, and moral complexity that recall To Kill a Mockingbird and Presumed Innocent, this compulsively readable novel explores what happens when a woman who has devoted herself to ushering life into the world finds herself charged with responsibility in a patient’s tragic death.

The time is 1981, and Sibyl Danforth has been a dedicated midwife in the rural community of Reddington, Vermont, for fifteen years. But one treacherous winter night, in a house isolated by icy roads and failed telephone lines, Sibyl takes desperate measures to save a baby’s life. She performs an emergency Caesarean section on its mother, who appears to have died in labor. But what if—as Sibyl’s assistant later charges—the patient wasn’t already dead, and it was Sibyl who inadvertently killed her?

As recounted by Sibyl’s precocious fourteen-year-old daughter, Connie, the ensuing trial bears the earmarks of a witch hunt except for the fact that all its participants are acting from the highest motives—and the defendant increasingly appears to be guilty. As Sibyl Danforth faces the antagonism of the law, the hostility of traditional doctors, and the accusations of her own conscience, Midwives engages, moves, and transfixes us as only the very best novels ever do.”

When coming to mark this book as read, I saw that I had put it on my to-read list back in 2008. I don’t recall when or where I first heard about the book that caused it to be added to my list. After all, my to-read list holds over three thousand books. I do, however, recall seeing it on the shelf at B&N two months ago and picking it up to read the back flap.

The title alone caught my attention due to the fact that my very best friend in the entire world is currently pursuing her dream of becoming a home birth midwife. She has been an apprentice midwife now for just over a year, so my knowledge and interest of all things midwife-y has grown considerably. I figured, if nothing else, I’d read it, see if it was any good and recommend it to her. It turns out she beat me to it. I was telling her about this book that I had seen that I wanted to read and she had already read it, owned it as a matter of fact, and would loan it to me. I didn’t realize that it was an Oprah read until she handed me her copy and I have to admit to being one of those people who rolls their eyes every time they see an Oprah’s Book Club marker on a book cover. But, as much as it annoys me, typically, the books she chooses are very good.

As for the book itself, I thought it very well written. I liked the way it was told through the memories of the midwife’s daughter with small snippets of Sybl’s journals at the beginning of each chapter.

Now, I personally have never attended a home birth, or any birth for that matter. I do know several women who have had home births over the past two years and I am friends with a home birth midwife and her two apprentices. I am familiar with the attitude towards home birth that many in the medical field have and I felt that was realistically portrayed in the book. I am all too aware of the ignorance of the general public when it comes to home birth. I often get a good laugh when I tell someone my friend is a home birth midwife. “You mean people still have babies at home?”

My one major issue with the book was that I did feel that Sybil would never have called her mother’s “patients”, she would have called them clients instead. But overall it appeared to be very well researched.

Some of the reviews I’ve read say that they feel the book is an indictment against home birth but I don’t think that is the case at all. I haven’t asked my friend what she thought of the book yet, I wanted to wait until I was done with it to discuss it with her but I’ll be interested to hear her take on the story. Personally, I gave it 4 stars, I liked it very much.

Paperback
374 pages
Published November 8th 1998 by Vintage
ISBN13: 9780375706776

4 stars

Mildred Pierce

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Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain

“Mildred Pierce had gorgeous legs, a way with a skillet, and a bone-deep core of toughness. She used those attributes to survive a divorce and poverty and to claw her way out of the lower middle class. But Mildred also had two weaknesses: a yen for shiftless men, and an unreasoning devotion to a monstrous daughter.

Out of these elements, Cain creates a novel of acute social observation and devastating emotional violence, with a heroine whose ambitions and sufferings are never less than recognizable.”

James M. Cain is recognized today as a master of the hard-boiled American novel. What the heck is a hard-boiled novel you ask? Hard-boiled is genre of fiction, a literary style most commonly associated with detective stories, distinguished by the unsentimental portrayal of violence and sex. The style was pioneered by Carroll John Daly in the mid-1920s, popularized by Dashiell Hammett over the course of the decade, and refined by Raymond Chandler beginning in the late 1930s.

I loved the book but occasionally, I want to reach through the pages, grab Mildred by her shoulders, and shake some sense into her! I definitely intend to read more of Cain’s work. He also wrote The Postman Always Rings Twice and I’ve already added it to my to-read list. If you intend to read this book you should keep in mind that it was first published in 1941 and it is about life in the depression, so the language used is quite different. I loved that it was written from a third person point of view. Lately almost everything I read is in first person pov so it was a nice change.

I think Cain did an excellent job of portraying Mildred as a woman who would do whatever she needed to do to give her children the best, whether or not it was actually the best for them. A lot of men try to write stories from a female point of view and fail miserably. Mildred is an enabler of the first degree but she can cook and bake better than anyone in Glendale, CA. Not to mention she’s apparently got sweet legs. She’s a strong woman, stronger than she gives herself credit for I think, but she can’t seem to grasp the one thing she wants most.

Paperback
304 pages
Published March 22nd 2011 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (first published 1941)
ISBN13: 9780307946591

Death By Pantyhose (Jaine Austen Mystery #6)

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Death By Pantyhose (Jaine Austen Mystery #6) by Laura Levine

“Freelance writer Jaine Austen is back! This time around she’s writing jokes for a female comic in order to make a buck. But when the comic’s male rival is found dead, strangled by a pair of pantyhose, and Jaine’s client is arrested, it’s once again up to her to figure out whodunit.

Jaine Austen has never been able to resist the siren call of an Eskimo Pie, just like she can’t resist renewing her romance with Andrew, an old crush. With her bank account hitting new lows, she’s also just agreed to write jokes for Dorcas, a stand-up comic who throws her pantyhose into the audience as a punch line.

Not only is Dorcas’s act a bomb, she is heckled by Vic, a gorgeous fellow comic who is equally good on stage and in the sack. Unfortunately Vic loves performing in both venues. He gets in bed with a sexy waitress, a pretty new lover, and a sweet girlfriend while professing his undying love for each. Worse, he is two-timing his aging agent. Pretty soon Vic has an enemy’s list a mile long, and when he needles Dorcas one time too many, she assaults him at a club’s open-mike night.

Naturally when Vic is murdered with Dorcas’s pantyhose and that same Dorcas is standing over his dead body, the police arrest…Dorcas. They figure it’s an open-and-shut case although Jaine figures no killer can be that dumb-even Dorcas. But when Jaine sets out to find the real culprit, she is distracted by one dating disaster after another with Andrew-and she may not see the dark side of comedy until she faces the business end of a gun and a cold, deadly grin…”

Another fast paced Jaine Austen mystery. Once again, I had no idea whodunit until Jaine figured it out herself. This is a fun series, perfect for the pool or beach this summer. But check out more than one from the library because you’ll soon find yourself at the end and wondering what on earth Jaine is going to get up to next!

Hardcover
256 pages
Published June 1st 2007 by Kensington
ISBN13: 9780758207852

3 stars

The PMS Murder (Jaine Austen Mystery #5)

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The PMS Murder (A Jaine Austen Mystery #5) by Laura Levine

“On the frontlines of the battle of the bulge, otherwise known as trying on bathing suits in the communal dressing room at Loehmann’s, freelance writer Jaine Austen makes a new friend-a wannabe actress named Pam-and gets a new job: sprucing up Pam’s bare-bones resume. Their feeling of connection is mutual, so Pam invites Jaine to join The PMS Club-a women’s support group that meets once a week over guacamole and margaritas.

But joining the club proves to be more a curse than a blessing for Jaine. Though she is warned that Rochelle, the hostess, makes a guacamole to die for, Jaine never takes the warning literally. Until another PMS member, Marybeth, drops dead over a mouthful of the green stuff after confessing she is having an affair with Rochelle’s husband.

While Rochelle and her husband are the obvious suspects, everyone at that night’s meeting is under suspicion, including Jaine. So, instead of dishing dirt with The PMS Club, Jaine has to dig up dirt on the surviving members. And soon it becomes clear: someone in this club thinks getting away with murder should be a privilege of membership…”

A fast, fun read. As with the other Jaine Austen books, I had no idea who did it until Jaine did. I love that! Usually I figure out whodunit way before the hero/heroine so it’s kind of like, come on, catch up with me, so and so did it! But not with this series! Great beach/pool reads.

Mass Market Paperback
256 pages
Published May 1st 2007 by Kensington Publishing Corporation (first published 2006)
ISBN13: 9780758207845

3 stars