Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Review of Saving CiCi Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

CiCi Honeycutt’s life is a nightmare, relieved only by her escape into books and the normalcy of her neighbor’s house.  Her father is rarely home, and her mother is slowly sinking into insanity.  CiCi’s mother vacillates between deep depression and manic episodes that usually end with her wearing castoff prom dresses from the Goodwill store, a tiara, and red satin heels around town.  CiCi’s mother is miserable living in Ohio and often regales CiCi with the wonders of her childhood in Georgia, where she was a beauty queen.  CiCi attempts to care for her mother, the laughingstock of the entire town, and resents the responsibility and embarrassment of the situation.  She is devastated, however, when her mother steps in front of an ice cream truck and is killed.

CiCi’s father sends her to live with her great aunt Tootie in Savannah.  In the South, CiCi finds the family she has always longed for, friends, and adventures.  Although she encounters challenges, she finds that with the help of friends you can survive almost anything.  There are laugh-out-loud moments in this novel along, with events that will break your heart. 

I think this book would appeal to girls from middle school through high school (although there are some brief, sort of racy moments).  This book is for everyone that ever felt like an outcast, as well as for those who just enjoy a good story and a fascinating pack of characters.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen: A Review

Water for Elephants had been in y reading pile for at least three years.  I just couldn’t get excited about it, despite the glowing reviews.  However, with the moving coming out last week, I knew I had to read it if I was going to.  Now, I wish I hadn’t waited so long.
Jacob Jankowski, in his 90s, is living in an “old folks home.”  He battles the nurses regularly for trying to take away the few pleasures he has left, like a decent meal.  When a circus comes to town, and sets up down the street from Jacob’s home, he begins to recall his own experience with the circus. 
At the height of the Great Depression, Jacob was finishing his degree in veterinary medicine at Cornell when he received word that his parents had been killed in an auto accident.  Returning home to bury them, he discovers that the bank is seizing his father’s veterinary business along with their home and all of their belongings.  Jacob attempts to return to school and take his final exams, but finds himself unable to concentrate.  Instead he leaves college and hops what he believes to be a freight train.  It turns out to be a circus train, and Jacob joins the Benzini Brothers circus as the staff veterinarian even though he keeps telling them that he never took his final exams. 
Through his experiences with the circus, Jacob learns about friendship, love, and compassion, along with brutality, greed, and a callous disregard for life.  Gruen creates a cast of characters that will stay with you long after you finish the book.  The brief, but graphic scenes of sex and violence in Water for Elephants will keep it from being on the shelves of most school libraries, but it is a shame.  This book is beautifully written, disturbing, redemptive, and haunting.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier: A Review

As with her previous works, Chevalier does a masterful job of bringing to life an historical period.  In this novel, the period is the 19th century in coastal England when the discovery of fossils of strange and “remarkable creatures” creates a stir in the scientific and religious communities.  At the center of this turmoil are the novels heroines, Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot.  A friendship develops between these two women (who should not associate at all due to the difference in their social classes) because of their fascination with fossils. 
Today’s reader will be shocked at the impotence of these women against the established society ruled by men.  Their knowledge and contributions are ignored and their reputations are destroyed because they insist on meddling in men’s affairs.  The trials of being a woman in a patriarchal society are fascinating.  Even more riveting, however, are the events at the center of the novel, discoveries of fossils for creatures that no longer exist and the religious controversy that this raises (Does it challenge the notion that God created the heavens and the earth as described in Genesis?)

This is another fascinating piece of historical fiction from Chevalier and will appeal to secondary readers, particularly girls.

A Review of The Dark and Hollow Places

The Dark and Hollow Places is an action/adventure/dystopian/love story that offers something for almost any reader.  Carrie Ryan’s third book in the Forest of Hands and Teeth series focuses on Annah, living in the Dark City.  Annah has survived on her own for several years since her friend Elias left her to join the Recruiters.  She has managed to get by scavenging for food and supplies while avoiding the Unconsecrated (zombies).  Annah’s self-doubt and emotional turmoil over love will appeal to many readers.  As with the previous books, this one is action-packed and fast paced.  This book ties strongly to the second book, The Dead Tossed Waves, which was closely tied to the initial volume.  However, readers who have not read the first two will not be confused about characters or their pasts.  This book is strongly recommended for secondary readers who don’t mind a bit of gore or a touch of mushiness.