Clan of the Cave Bear; Pigs In Heaven; Pax

Clan of the Cave Bear; Pigs In Heaven; Pax

There really isn’t a time when I’m not playing catch-up on this blog because I spend a lot more time reading than I do writing about the books I read, but I really am trying to get up-to-date on the books I’m reading. I hope someone is still reading this and finding useful suggestions for all of their reading needs.

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The Clan of the Cave Bear

The first book I’m reviewing today is Jean M. Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear. I tried to read this book when I was in middle school but it was just too much for me to get through at that age. This second attempt at reading it was successful, but it really took forever for me to get through.

“This novel of awesome beauty and power is a moving saga about people, relationships, and the boundaries of love. Through Jean M. Auel’s magnificent storytelling we are taken back to the dawn of modern humans, and with a girl named Ayla we are swept up in the harsh and beautiful Ice Age world they shared with the ones who called themselves The Clan of the Cave Bear.
A natural disaster leaves the young girl wandering alone in an unfamiliar and dangerous land until she is found by a woman of the Clan, people very different from her own kind. To them, blond, blue-eyed Ayla looks peculiar and ugly–she is one of the Others, those who have moved into their ancient homeland; but Iza cannot leave the girl to die and takes her with them. Iza and Creb, the old Mog-ur, grow to love her, and as Ayla learns the ways of the Clan and Iza’s way of healing, most come to accept her. But the brutal and proud youth who is destined to become their next leader sees her differences as a threat to his authority. He develops a deep and abiding hatred for the strange girl of the Others who lives in their midst, and is determined to get his revenge.”–Indiebound

I really wanted to like this novel more than I did. I would not say it is a novel of “awesome beauty and power.” It is much less interesting than all that. I admire Auel for her ability to work with a period in history about which little is known. It is an imaginative book, to say the least. But there was very little that stirred my emotion. Though she tried to make me care about the characters, I really did not. I think that perhaps this is a flaw of the time period in which she was writing. The style was so antiquated and old that I really did not connect much with the story or the characters. The character I felt the most emotion for was actually the villain. He was easy to hate, but no one else was really easy to love.

When the plot moved, my interest spiked, but it felt stagnant most of the way through. It could have been much more engaging. Less description, more story. And the violence against women, regardless of whether or not that’s the way cavemen lived, was really off-putting. That also took away from the story for me. I definitely won’t read the rest of the series, but I’m glad I finally alleviated my curiosity and finished the book.

Pigs in Heaven
Pigs in Heaven

The next book, Barbara Kingsolver’s Pigs in Heaven, I managed to enjoy despite realizing most of the way through that it was actually a sequel to a book I haven’t read yet. It is the story of Taylor and her adopted Cherokee daughter Turtle. When Turtle witnesses something no one else sees and ends up on TV after saving a man’s life, the Cherokee nation comes after the mother and daughter, claiming the adoption isn’t valid.

I don’t think I’ve read anything by Kingsolver that I don’t like. She establishes excellent rapport between characters, even if they’re supposed to dislike each other. She makes me laugh constantly, even when the situation calls for gravity. I did not feel like I was missing any part of this story despite it being a sequel.  The story stood very sturdily on its own two feet.  I really enjoyed every element of this novel, and I look forward to reading the first one, even if I did read them in the wrong order.

Pax
Pax

I was immediately drawn to this last novel because it is just so cute. And beautiful. The bookseller at Blue Willow Bookshop told me I would really love it, but sadly I was not completely taken with it. Perhaps, without her rave review, I would have loved it more. But it was very highly hyped to me and my own reading of it didn’t live up to her enthusiasm.

“Pax and Peter have been inseparable ever since Peter rescued him as a kit. But one day, the unimaginable happens: Peter’s dad enlists in the military and makes him return the fox to the wild.

At his grandfather’s house, three hundred miles away from home, Peter knows he isn’t where he should be with Pax. He strikes out on his own despite the encroaching war, spurred by love, loyalty, and grief, to be reunited with his fox.

Meanwhile Pax, steadfastly waiting for his boy, embarks on adventures and discoveries of his own. . . .”Indiebound

I did really enjoy this book. I thought the relationship and the bond between Pax and Peter was really sweet and quite moving. But there was something off-putting about the vague setting and time period, and I did not connect with the human characters much. The only character for whom I felt any warmth was Pax. He’s such a sweet fox and I was really attached to him. I also was somewhat disappointed in the Jon Klassen illustrations. For such a talented illustrator, I felt the chosen scenes did not contain enough color or creativity. They were bland illustrations that didn’t really add to the value of the book at all.

I wish there had been more to this story, but for me it wasn’t the grand, beautiful children’s book that I was led to believe. Yes, it was a sweet story and a good book for children to read, but it wasn’t one of those that swept me off my feet as an adult.

Middle-Grade New Releases That Rock

Middle-Grade New Releases That Rock

I’ve been on a middle-grade chapter book kick, and I’ve really struck gold with the three that I’ve read so far. It’s a fantastic time to be a kid, or a lover of children’s literature. There are so many good books coming out every day, it’s almost impossible to keep up. I was fortunate enough to read three absolutely wonderful books in a row.

#1: Monstrous by MaryKate Connolly

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This is a novel about Kymera, a little monster girl created in a lab for a very special purpose. She has a stinging tale, patchwork skin, and eyes that can switch back and forth between human and cat (for seeing in the dark). She lives with her father deep in the forests outside of the town of Bryre, and only enters the city at night after everyone is asleep. Though she is not allowed to have any friends, she meets a boy named Ren and is unable to resist his companionship. But both Ren and Kymera have deep secrets, and it tests their friendship and their trust for one another. When the town of Bryre faces danger, it’s up to them to reconcile their mistrust and work together to save their home.

This is an absolutely darling story. It’s fairly dark because it combines taboo science with wicked magic, but ultimately it tells a story about love, acceptance, family, and heroism in unexpected places. I recommend this book highly, as I think it’s a fairly unique story that combines the misunderstood monster of Frankenstein with the magical elements of beloved fairy tales. It’s a page-turner, sure to keep readers young and old engaged.

#2: Julia and the Art of Practical Travel by Lesley M. M. Blume

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Julia barely remembers her mother, who disappeared when Julia was seven years old. Now twelve, she faces a rapidly shifting world, as her grandmother, who is also her guardian, passes away, and her family’s debts are called in. Her aunt sells their ancestral home and most of their possessions, and Julia and her Aunt Constance set off on a road trip across the United States, following the rumors of Julia’s mother. With all of their remaining worldly possessions packed into their car (silver candlesticks, Oriental carpets, and some steamer trunks, to name a few practical travel essentials), they visit Greenwich Village in New York City, consult a voodoo priestess in New Orleans, go hunting in the dusty Texas desert, and continue all the way to California. Julia documents some of her adventures with her Brownie camera, which she carries everywhere.

I can’t stress enough how adorable this story is. Julia faces her changing circumstances with a positive attitude and a sense of adventure that one can’t help but love her for. She drags her camera everywhere and takes pictures of everything she sees (some of which are on display in the chapters of the book!). Most importantly, she learns lessons about finding family wherever she can, and about accepting herself and her slightly quirky personality. This is a truly lovely book that reminds me a bit of Matilda, but with its own sassy personality. Plus it encourages kids to travel, and that is incredibly important.

#3: Nightbird by Alice Hoffman

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I picked up this book on a whim and I am so happy I did. That is sometimes the best way to find a book. As a bookseller, a lot of books get buzz, and I just don’t have time to read all of them. Nightbird is a book that deserves the time. I read it in a matter of hours because I couldn’t put it down.

Twig lives in Sidwell, Massachusetts, which is a town with many secrets. Her mother doesn’t socialize, and though she is the most beautiful woman in town, she is also the saddest. Her mother bakes pies, which draw tourists from miles around, and Twig and her mother live in the orchard from which they harvest the fruit for the pies. Rumors and local legends say that a monster inhabits Sidwell, and Twig knows more about that than she lets on to outsiders. Like Kymera in Monstrous, Twig is not allowed to have friends. Her mother worries that their family secrets will emerge if she does. But when two girls close to her age move into the cottage beside their orchard (a cottage rumored to have once belonged to a witch), Twig is unable to refrain from becoming best friends with the younger sister.

Anything I try to say about this book will likely sound hyperbolic. I really thought that it was delightfully beautiful. It is rich with the joys and the headaches that local traditions and folklore can bring to a small town, and there are elements of hidden magic existing beside the everyday things people see with their eyes. The secrets that come out eventually have the potential to be disastrous, but Twig learns that people can be surprisingly generous, accepting, and loving.

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I highly recommend all three of these beautiful novels. These characters are strong and wonderfully themselves, and they make fantastic protagonists and role models for young girls (or boys!). Read these to your children, buy them for your classroom, or read them for yourselves!