Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I’m emotionally drained…but in a good way.

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Rating: 5/5

Cover Art: 5/5 On first look, you might say, “Hmm? That’s strange. Why is the title written on this outline of a hand? I am confused as to why this is!” Or maybe that was just me. But as I started reading and getting deeper and deeper into the book, I realized that the cover art is kind of genius. There is a character in the book that doesn’t speak (I won’t tell you who, because where’s the fun in that?) and he writes everything he wants to say in “day books.” He also has things written on his hands, and writes a few things on other character’s hands. See? Genius! Well that is just my interpretation. It could be totally different.

Age Limit: 13 and up. But parents, do be advised! There are some sexual scenes in this book. I would say younger children could read this book if it wasn’t for these few moments.

Author: Jonathan Safran Foer

Set in New York, the book opens up through the view of Oskar Schell, an eight year old who is incredibly smart and speaks a little French. He invents things in his mind to take away some of the hurt that he feels and his “heavy boots.” A term that, when you first hear it, kind of confuses you, but you start to understand what exactly those “heavy boots” mean. Oskar’s father, Thomas, is a genius and always gives Oskar little clues to go on adventures. The only problem is (and I’m not spoiling anything, you can find this on the back of the book) Thomas dies on September 11, 2001 in the World Trade Center.

One day Oskar finds a mysterious envelope with the name “BLACK” written on it. Inside there is a key that has no explanation and no instruction. Oskar then plans to visit every single person in New York with the last name of Black in order to get closer to his father and understand the last adventure that his father planned for Oskar. He met tons of people and influenced many of their lives without even realizing it.

The whole novel shifts from Oskar’s point of view to his grandmother’s view to his grandfather’s view. Time in the novel isn’t linear. It jumps from present to past from section to section, and you find out what some of it means later in the novel (so if you’re confused about something, don’t despair, just keep reading!).

The first time I heard about this book is when it came out in theaters. After I first saw the preview, I began to see people around me reading it and discussing it. I was intrigued. At work one day (Barnes and Noble) I was on my lunch break and decided to pick it up and see what it was about. I read 20 pages…and was hooked. I left the break room and bought it.

The entire time reading it, I wanted to give Oskar a big hug. It is such an emotional book (not the “cry for 30 minutes after reading it” type of emotional, but it is a gradual build-up that you don’t even realize is there until you see those final pictures. Oh yeah! The book is filled with pictures of the things that Oskar talks about. There are also sections where there are red pen marks filling the page with corrections. It is an interactive book and you feel like you are growing and learning with Oskar.

Like I said earlier, there is a movie, but I haven’t seen it…yet! I’m going to see it within the next couple of days, hopefully! I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have. It really is a fantastic book.

I even plan on reading Safran Foer’s other novel, Everything is Illuminated, which was also made into a movie. Stay tuned for that one in the future! For now, I will include that trailer as well!

Happy reading everyone!

“The Printed Word: Readable – Usable – Recyclable – Sustainable – Biodegradable”

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Pride and Prejudice. Sorry in advance: I’m a little obsessed.

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Rating: 10/5 (There is a reason I have warned you. I’m just a bit biased.)

Cover art: 5/5 There are so many different versions of this book that it is hard to choose (when I say a lot…I mean a lot!) Even I have two different versions. I will just post one of the ones that I have, even though there are some much greater than this one.

Age Limit: If you can read…do it.

Author: Jane Austen

Perhaps you are familiar with a little lady I like to call “Elizabeth Bennet”? If not, you have come to the right place. For “it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Those famous words are the first you will see when you open up Pride and Prejudice. My hope is that after you read them, you will fall in love, as I have, with Jane Austen.

Set in 19th Century England, the Bennet family (residing at Longbourn estate, in Hertsfordshire, near London), consists of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, and five daughters: Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty and Lydia Bennet. Mrs. Bennet and the three younger daughters are constantly embarrassing the family with their disregard of social norms. Mrs. Bennet  never quiets down about marrying her daughters off to any man with a substantial amount of money.

There is no surprise when Mrs. Bennet becomes frantic when a wealthy gentleman, Mr. Bingley, and his sister move into Netherfield. She forces Mr. Bennet to go introduce himself immediately so that they have a better chance of marrying off one of their daughters. When the whole family is able to attend a ball in honor of Mr. Bingley, the eldest daughter, Jane Bennet, and Bingley fall in love. It is also at this ball that Elizabeth Bennet gets to meet Bingley’s dear friend, Mr. Darcy. And so the story begins.

Elizabeth and Darcy are at odds for most of the novel. Mostly because they are both so full of pride and prejudice (Go Figure). He offends her, she offends him, but throughout the story, they see each other’s true character and slowly start to fall in love. They keep meeting in unexpected places and surprise each other through their actions, both good and bad.

But before that can happen, there is a Mr. Collins (cousin to the Bennets who is to inherit Longbourn estate whenever Mr. Bennet dies) who comes for a visit in search of a wife. Mr. Collins, a clergyman who is very much enthralled with Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Darcy’s aunt and Collin’s Patroness), is devoid of personality and wants a wife in order to please Lady Catherine. Well you can imagine, with Jane in hopes of a proposal from Bingley, Collins is going for the next in line: Elizabeth. When he proposes to Elizabeth, he states the reasons on why he is doing it (in the book, it takes up five pages) and will not accept her refusal. Let me take a second to talk about Elizabeth’s personality:

She is sarcastic and incredibly witty. She always has something to say and she speaks whatever (and I do mean whatever) is on her mind. Elizabeth feels pride for her family, but she is also deeply embarrassed by their social behavior. She loves to read, but is not very practiced at playing the piano (or any other pastime that women in this period were supposed to perfect).

Later in the novel, a tragedy happens to the Bennets and everyone is frantic. But this incident only strengthens Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s relationship. As a reader, you grow with these two characters and fall in love with each of them. Please, please read Pride and Prejudice. It will change your life.

I really could write pages and pages on this novel (I feel as if I already have written too much), but I won’t tell you any more of it. I’m sure most people are at least familiar with the story (or at least have seen the movie). But if you aren’t familiar with the story, I’m going to do something rare and suggest that you see the movie before you read the book. If you aren’t familiar with 19th Century literature and find that you have a hard time reading it, it might be a little difficult. So to help you understand it a little better and follow along with it, it might be better to watch it first. This might be the only time I ever suggest this, so don’t get used to it! Like I said earlier, this is my favorite book and I have read it several times. Sometimes you have to read it again because you get to understand a lot of Austen’s wit and humor the second time around. I have read all of Austen’s novels and she is also my favorite author.

As always, here is the movie trailer (only this time, I am going to post both movie trailers because both of them are good in their own ways.)

The Kiera Knightley version:

And the five hour BBC (Colin Firth) version (side note..I couldn’t find the trailer, but this is my favorite scene in this movie [the swimming doesn’t happen in the book, but everything else does. It’s a good one!]):

Happy reading everyone!

“The Printed Word: Readable – Usable – Recyclable – Sustainable – Biodegradable”

To Dance Once More. Get Ready to Fall in Love. Literally.

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Rating: 5/5

Cover Art: 4/5 The only thing I don’t like about it is that the girl on the front doesn’t really capture how I perceived Lydia. I know that doesn’t matter much, but I would have been happy with just the background of the Barrington Estate.

Age Limit: 13 and up. I think that this book would definitely benefit a younger audience.

Author: Sherri Wilson Johnson (A very dear friend of mine!)

Set in the late 19th Century Florida, Lydia Barrington fights against the stereotype of being a woman solely for the purpose of getting married, having babies, and being limited to what she can accomplish. To Lydia, adventure is the only true way to live, so she fights against the burden of being confined to every other woman’s life every chance she gets, much to the chagrin of her mother and father.

The Barringtons, a wealthy family that has resided at Live Oaks Plantation for many years, are known to have some pretty extravagant parties, and do so whenever they get the chance (mostly for the bazillion weddings that they host). Lydia never shines as much as when she is dancing, and to Hamilton Scarbrough (childhood friend to Nathan, Lydia’s twin brother), this is what he enjoys most about her.

Lydia is thrown into some pretty tough situations with Hamilton and has to use her better judgment when it comes to being alone with him (as it was not proper in this time period for them to be found alone, especially since she was not of courting age). Through many trials in their relationship, and because of a terrible secret that Lydia is burdened with (you can’t possibly think I would tell you!), they are unable to marry (or court for that matter). Lydia longs to get away.

She and one of her sisters travel to Pensacola, Florida to stay with their aunt and her family. While she is there, she learns a lot about love, respect, and humility, and even enjoys the company of the Templetons. However, all good things must come to an end, and she is eventually forced to come back home and face some difficult decisions, including sacrificing something very dear to her heart.

The rest…well I could not possibly ruin it for you, because in the end, I had a hard time putting it down. Everything came tumbling together at the end and entices you to keep reading! I am going to go ahead and say that this is not typically the type of book that I would pick up and read (I’m not that much of a “Romance Novel” type of girl), but I am very glad that I had the chance to read it! It is also not your average romance novel either. (Pick it up to find out!) I would recommend this to many young women (and older women too! It is never too late to have a little romance in life!).

Here is a little book preview!

Here is a link to buy the book! 

Happy reading everyone!

“The Printed Word: Readable – Usable – Recyclable – Sustainable – Biodegradable”

The Help.

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Rating 5/5 (By the way, you might see this rating on many of these books. Just a heads up: there are only a few books that I just don’t like.)

Cover Art: 4/5 I have the movie edition (which I normally try to avoid, but in this case, it was the only one available at the time) and I like it OK. It has four of the main characters on it with the tagline: “Change begins with a whisper.” Now, because of this tagline, I really like the original cover: It has three purple birds on a wire with a yellow background (as seen in the picture). When I think of birds, I think non-stop, persistent chirping. So this “whisper” comes out as persistent chatter to produce the needed change.

Age Limit: 13 and up. I really think this would be good for a younger crowd to start reading to see a small side of how race issues were handled in the early sixty’s.

Author: Kathryn Stockett

Set in the early sixty’s, this novel addresses the issue of racism in the South. Told through the characters Aibileen, Minny (Both African American maids), and Skeeter Phelan, these three women work together to start a change in the way of thinking about race.

Skeeter is a college graduate with no husband and is barely able to get a job writing for a housekeeping article (something of which she knows nothing about). Skeeter goes against everything that a young, white woman should be doing at this point in her life, and tries to do something she wants to do: write. Against her mother’s wishes and to the chagrin of her so-called “friends,” Skeeter screws up her dating life in order to eventually get a job in New York. The editor said that she needed to write something different, something that has never been done before. Skeeter gets an idea: Write a book from the perspective of the help.

She asks Aibileen for help. At first, she refuses, but then, through a series of events, she agrees. They start writing the book.

Minny is hell-bent on sticking it to the white man (or in this case a white woman), but slowly comes to like Skeeter and her crazy idea. (Oh, and a little tip: pay attention to Minny’s chocolate pie, it’s important!) And beware Hilly. You WILL hate her by the time the book is done, and maybe like Minny just a little bit more.

I was determined to read the book before I saw the movie in theaters, so I got the book, read it quickly, and rushed to see it! I loved both versions, but as always, I have a slight preference for the book! I really encourage everyone to pick this one up and read it!

This is a rather short review because I figured many people already saw the movie. You really should read the book though because it is so fascinating and you get so much more information than the movie shows.

However, like always I will include the trailer, because the movie is nicely done.

Happy reading everyone!

“The Printed Word: Readable – Usable – Recyclable – Sustainable – Biodegradable”

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: Insert Tissue, Chocolate, and Someone to Hold You.

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Rating: 5/5

Cover Art: 4/5 It is very simple, just showing a faded, pale blue and white striped cover.

Age Limit: 13 and up. This book is written with children in mind and is a way to show the terrors of the Holocaust to children through the eyes of children. However, a word of caution to parents: judge your kids according to how they handle emotional and stressed situations. Some 10 year-olds can handle it, others may need to be a little older.

Author: John Boyne

We’ve all read them, and we have all seen them: books and movies about the Holocaust. However, there aren’t many (or at least that I myself have heard about) that are through the eyes of a German boy, who doesn’t quite understand the serious nature of what is going on around him, and what his “hero-of-a-father” is actually doing.

Well, if that doesn’t sound like a swimmingly good time, then I don’t know what does! In all seriousness though, there is not a single account of the Holocaust (fiction or non-fiction) that is fun…of course. But this one gives you a different perspective and shows how not all Germans were “on-board” with the Nazis.

Bruno, a 9 year-old boy, is uprooted from his luxurious, 5-story house in Berlin, to the deserted countryside (assumed to be Auschwitz). His father, a Nazi commandant, is moved there to oversee the concentration camp. Bruno doesn’t understand what any of this means, so he just complains until he can sneak off into whatever adventure he can get his hands on. As leaving the boundaries of their property unchaperoned, for obvious reasons, was out of the question, Bruno was limited in how he spent his time. One day, not long after arriving in their new home, Bruno spots some farmers in “striped pajamas.” He is completely puzzled by this and asks his father about these said people. When his father understands what Bruno means, he responds in the typical Nazi response of “Ah, those people,…Those people..well they’re not people at all, Bruno.” He then proceeds by dismissing the subject as if it doesn’t matter at all and shoos his son from the room. Bruno leaves dissatisfied and goes in search of an adventure. On his way, he encounters an elderly Jewish man named Pavel who helps him make a tire swing and repairs a scraped knee for him while Bruno’s mother is away. He gets his first real view of what is going on through a conversation with him.

As the story moves on, Bruno gets further and further off of the property and “accidentally” makes his way to the outskirts of the concentration camp. The boy he meets there, unbeknownst to him, will determine the fate of his family from that point on.

He regularly visits Shmuel (the young Jewish boy of the same age) and learns about what they do in the camps. Not long after they meet, Bruno learns that Shmuel’s father has gone missing and he can’t seem to find him. The only solution that these two little boys come up with, is that Bruno should…You didn’t think I would give away that much did you?

This is a fascinating book and makes you tense throughout reading it. I HIGHLY recommend that you pick it up and read it. (Or if you aren’t a book worm like me, there is always the movie, which is a near perfect rendition of the novel.)

Here is a link to another blog that I wrote that compares the movies, “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” and “La Vita è Bella” (Life is Beautiful in Italian). The entire blog is in Italian, so sorry about that, but there are pictures, so that is an added bonus!

http://myitalianproject.wordpress.com/

As always, if there is a movie trailer or clip available for the books that I review, I will include it!

Enjoy my friends, and I’m serious about having someone to hold you afterwards. I’m serious.

Happy reading everyone!

“The Printed Word: Readable – Usable – Recyclable – Sustainable – Biodegradable”

The Art of Racing in the Rain. Get Your Tissues Ready!

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Rating: 5/5

Cover art: 5/5 I think the cover to this novel is perfect. It’s very simple,

yet it shows us the knowing eyes of our favorite, furry friends: the dog.

Age Limit: 10 and up

Author: Garth Stein

Ever wondered what your dog is thinking about, or if he is thinking at all? Well Enzo does think. He thinks a lot, and is such a critical part in Denny’s life. What better way to tell a story, than through the eyes of your best friend?

Denny, a racecar driver, has a very complicated life. In the beginning it is just Denny and Enzo, living the single life. That is until Denny meets Eve. It is interesting to get to see how the couple acts through the eyes of a dog, and boy is he loyal to Denny. That is all Enzo ever thinks about. Enzo looks up to him so much and almost protects Denny from certain situations. So you can imagine how Enzo has his reservations when Eve comes into the picture and they have a daughter named Zoë.

Enzo has always perceived himself to be more of a human than a dog. He even teaches us, as readers, how to be human. He even is convinced that when he comes back one day in his next life, he will no doubt, be human.

“When I return to the world, I will be a man. I will walk among you. I will lick my lips with my small, dexterous tongue. I will shake hands with other men, grasping firmly with my opposable thumbs. And I will teach all people that I know. And when I see a man or a woman or a child in trouble, I will extend my hand, both metaphorically and physically. I will offer my hand. To him. To her. To you. To the world. I will be a good citizen, a good partner in the endeaver of life that we all share.”

He is larger than life and has so many things to say about living and his adversary, the “zebra,” which you will learn about if you happen to pick up this book and fall in love with it as I have.

When I first heard of this book, I was reading a post of a friend online about it. He quoted something out of the book (although it has been so long that I have forgotten the quotation) and then said how it was his favorite book. Well, knowing me, I have to read everything that is presented as a favorite of someone else (or just read everything in general. Take your pick.).  Little did I know that it would have such an impact on my life. I definitely look at my dog differently and know that she can understand me when I have a heart-to-heart with her. It is also, I will have you know, the only book that I had to put down in order to maintain visibility due to the massive amount of tears erupting from my tear ducts. I have never cried so much reading a book as I did in this one because of Enzo’s complete loyalty to his best friend. He is there for Denny whether he realizes it or not and always looks after him, even if it is detrimental to Enzo. So if you are an emotional human being (such as I) then this is your word of caution. You have been warned.

Denny’s life was flipped upside down following a traumatic event (I won’t tell you what that is. Don’t want to give too much away.), and after, has a horrendous custody battle with (again) unnamed characters over his daughter, Zoë.  Enzo, forever faithful, remains by his side throughout the whole affair.

Many other events happen, but in order not to spoil some of the best parts, I will keep it short and only leave you with these last statements; this book is absolutely wonderful and you will form an attachment to Enzo that doesn’t go away too quickly. I read this book in 2009 and will never forget how the whole book made me feel and actually changed the way I view my relationships with my dog and other people.  So please, please read this book and always remember: “Somewhere, the zebra is dancing.”

Just a side note: They (the lovely people in Hollywood) are planning to turn this into a film and right now it is said to be released in 2014. So this means you have PLENTY of time to read this book in time for the movie. (It is also rumored that Patrick Dempsey will play Denny!) I will attach a link to the book (not movie) trailer below.

I hope you enjoy this book as much as I have!

Happy reading everyone!

“The Printed Word: Readable – Usable – Recyclable – Sustainable – Biodegradable”

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Read it. Now.)

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Rating: 5/5

Cover art: 5/5  You have to read to understand the meaning of the bird (Mockingjay) and the arrow. The symbol is key in the plot of the book and that is why I think they did a fantastic job on the cover. It is simple, but also conveys so much in just one little symbol of hope.

Age Limit: 12 and up

Author: Suzanne Collins

Set in the future, Panem is the dystopian depiction of America that has fallen apart due to the rebellious nature of the Districts against the Capitol.  There are 12 districts in Panem and each district is responsible for a different product. For instance, District 12, the district in which the main character is a citizen, is known for mining. The capitol is full of vain and wealthy people that don’t know anything about working for their money except how to spend it next. The novel opens up on the life of Katniss Everdeen in the days prior to the Reaping.

Katniss lives in the part of District 12 that is known for producing miners, known as the Seam, and they are anything but rich. Katniss lives with her mother and her younger sister, Primrose, who plays a vital role in Katniss’ life. Her father died when she was young, but not before he taught Katniss everything he knew about plants and hunting. The fact that she knew even the slightest bit about plants and hunting for her food, saved her family from starvation. With a mother who is still grief stricken from losing her husband, Katniss became the mother figure of the family and provided for them. Even though going into the woods is illegal (and life-threatening), Katniss, along with her bow and arrow and her friend Gale, slips past the fence enclosing the district, and hunts in order to survive.

As mentioned above, the Reaping is a ceremony in which the Capitol, ensuring that the districts don’t try to rebel against them again, goes to each district, 1 through 12, and gathers every boy and girl, from the age of 12 to 17, into the square to pick the boy and girl tribute for the annual Hunger Games.

What is that, you ask? It is the “show” that the Capitol puts on every year in order to keep the districts from forming a rebellion against them as they once did. This is why there is no District 13 anymore. The Hunger Games takes each boy and girl tribute from each district (24 in all) and puts them into an arena together. You might think that is harmless enough, that maybe they are going to compete in some games. In a way, they are competing. Competing for their lives…for the Hunger Games is a televised fight to the death.

When first hearing about this book is 2010, I was a bit reluctant to read it. A friend was stubbornly trying to talk me in to reading it and I am too much of a reader to turn it down. I broke down and bought the book…And so the frenzy began. I was absolutely hooked. The (this is going to be an awkward description, but it’s the only way I can describe it) hard compassion that Katniss embodied was very relatable and it gave her a bit of realness that had the potential to capture anyone’s interest. She is hard against the world and her situation. She is trapped by the Capitol and the rules of this dystopian society, and also trapped by an emotionally devoid mother who barely takes care of her and her sister. She has so much resentment towards life. But she also has an unyielding compassion for those she loves. Her characteristics are so real and I love how Suzanne Collins didn’t force any unnatural emotions from Katniss.

Back at the Reaping, Katniss is hoping that she and the others that she loves, such as Gale and Primrose, names are not called. However her life is thrown thrashing to the ground when she hears Primrose’s name.

She, of course, can’t let her little sister go through this barbaric “show” for the Capitol’s convenience, so she volunteers to go in her place, which is a rare occurrence and is almost guaranteed suicide. So Katniss and a boy named Peeta Mellark are the District 12 tributes for the 74th annual Hunger games. May the odds be ever in their favor.

What next ensues is a myriad of emotions and determination. Katniss trusts no one and is lost in her own thoughts about the coming events. She is forced to be with the boy that could eventually turn against her, because, ultimately, there is only one winner. The boy and girl on each team could eventually be forced to kill the other. Katniss and Peeta’s relationship is one so full of a confusion that you would have to read the book to understand.

The Hunger Games is an easy read and hooks the reader from the very beginning. I don’t want to spoil anything that happens after the Reaping because what happens is a journey you have to take with these characters. I would (and have many, many times) recommend this to everyone. A wonderful dystopian novel captures the hearts of every reader, and leaves them wanting more of these wonderful characters’ stories.

Some characters and the productions from each district that are useful to know (on the Districts that don’t name the tributes, I will leave blank, but will still put the production that they are known for):

District 1: Marvel & Glimmer > Luxury Goods     |     District 2: Cato & Clove > Weapons

District 3: Electronics/ Explosives                            |     District 4: Fishing

District 5: Foxface (named by Katniss) > DNA     |     District 6: Medicine & Scientific Research

District 7: Lumber and Paper                                       |     District 8: Textiles

District 9: Food Processing                                           |     District 10: Livestock

District 11: Thresh & Rue > Agriculture                   |     District 12: Katniss & Peeta > Mining

With the upcoming movie, due to come out on March 23, 2012, the popularity of the book has skyrocketed! So hurry up and read it before the movie is released so you can be on top of things! The link to the trailer, if you haven’t seen it as of yet, is listed below. Pay attention to the whistle at the end, it is very important in the book.

Happy reading everyone!

“The Printed Word: Readable – Usable – Recyclable – Sustainable – Biodegradable”