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Sunday Salon: Hitting the Brakes

The Sunday After a very productive, post-every-day, first week of November, I came to a screeching halt this week, and haven't blogged about anything since my last Sunday Salon post last week. I'm kind of disappointed in myself; I just wasn't able to keep my head in the game, I guess.

I did some book buying, though- probably more than I should have. I brought home several new treasures for myself. On Wednesday, I ran into Borders to get one of those Wedge-Light things, (Love it, by the way), and also got The Meaning of Night: A Confession by Michael Cox. A trip to Barnes & Noble yesterday brought in a remaindered hardcover of Toni Morrison's Love, and at Borders (also yesterday), I got Bloodsucking Fiends and You Suck, both by Christopher Moore. I'm going through a vampire phase right now, and Christopher Moore's books are supposed to be great. Additionally, I also got a couple books in the mail: The King's Daughter: A Novel of the First Tudor Queen by Sandra Worth, which was sent to me for review, and The Gravedigger's Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates, which came from BookMooch.

I'm hoping to get back on the proverbial wagon this week. I'm hoping that the vampires (both Christopher Moore's and others) will do the trick. Because I've got a ton of great review books that I really, really need to review.

I'm also starting to get really excited for the 999 challenge. I know it doesn't start until next year, but I've got most of my books all planned out (two categories are blank because they literally can't be filled yet). My thread on Library Thing is here. As you can tell from some of the categories, I'm feeling pretty ambitious. And there are books that I plan to read next year that don't fall into those categories. The "chunksters" category will give me the most trouble, as most of those books are really, really long. Clarissa may be too much to hope for, but I do have some others I can sub in if need be. If I decide to throw a category over to miscellaneous, that will probably be the first category to go.

But for now, I've got really high hopes for the challenge. And since I won't be in school at all next year (next semester is my first semester out of school in 19 years), I figure I have a better shot to succeed than I did with the 888 challenge this year (which I gave up on in August). And I might be making some small changes to the way I post reviews next year. We'll see how it all works out. I should easily reach 50 books for this year, so I've got my eye on 100 books for next year. Here's hoping that not being in school will do wonders for my desire and ability to read for leisure.

Well, it's pretty late here (my brain still says it's Saturday- I am posting really early), so I'm going to bed. I'll try to comment on other Salon posts more actively this week. Hope you all have a great Sunday.
Autumn Splendor

Sunday Salon: Connecting with a book

The Sunday Wow, this past week has been pretty busy here on Reading and Ruminations. I did the usual Tuesday and Thursday carnival things, reviewed four books, and had the pleasure of hosting my very first author. Dianne Ascroft, author of Hitler and Mars Bars was here on Friday to share some thoughts about war and the role World War II plays in her book. Here are the links for the reviews, as well as the guest post.

-Author visit from Dianne Ascroft
-Review of Hitler and Mars Bars
-Review of Living Dead Girl
-Review of Thirteen Reasons Why
-Review of The Matters at Mansfield

I thought all four of the books were very good, but I thought two were really, truly excellent: Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott, and Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. Living Dead Girl is the kind of book you can't enjoy, but it's powerful; you can't stop reading to see what happens next, and by the end, your emotions are ragged. In light of that, perhaps Thirteen Reasons Why wasn't the best follow-up book. But it was the book that was calling to me. And by the time I finished that one, I was sobbing. My review of Thirteen Reasons Why isn't so much a review as it is my reasons for explaining why and how this book hit so close to home for me (the premise of the book is that a girl committed suicide, and left behind a shoebox full of thirteen tapes to explain why she chose to do so). I lost one ex-boyfriend to suicide two and a half years ago, and I nearly lost another the same way five months ago. At this point, it's my top read for the month of November, and I don't see anything else upstaging it. Because I don't know that there is another book I could connect with on such a powerful and personal level.

So I pose a question: what books have you connected with? I mean, to an extent, I connect to a lot of the books I read. But I haven't connected with any book the way I have with this one. I checked this book out from the library, but I think I might have to go get my own copy. It's quite the book.

With the start I've gotten off to, I really think November is going to be a productive reading month. Here's hoping the next 21 days were as good as the first nine.

Hope everyone has a great Sunday!
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Review: The Matters at Mansfield by Carrie Bebris

After their adventures at Northanger Abbey, Elizabeth and Darcy are looking forward to peacefully celebrating the engagement of his cousin (the older brother of Colonel Fitzwilliam). However, the party comes to an abrupt halt when Anne deBourgh, daughter of the imperious Lady Catherine, runs off to Gretna Green with Henry Crawford to avoid marrying the obsequious Neville Sennex. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam meet up with the married runaways at Gretna Green, and Lady Catherine and Elizabeth join the foursome at Mansfield. Though Henry Crawford is certainly not welcome anywhere near Mansfield Park after abandoning Maria Rushworth (nee Bertram), they are stranded while Anne recovers from an ankle injury. Things are complicated by the arrival of a woman who claims Henry is her husband, John Garrick. Mistaken identity, murder, and duplicity all abound before Anne is able to get her happy ending (and Lady Catherine is appeased enough to accept it).

Like its predecessors in the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mystery series, The Matters at Mansfield by Carrie Bebris is a (mostly) lighthearted mystery featuring the best and worst of Austen's characters. This novel, in particular, features the return of the wretched Mrs. Norris, a character who could have happily stayed buried in Mansfield Park, as far as I'm concerned. But luckily she wasn't nearly as prominent in this novel. Anne and Colonel Fitzwilliam benefit from the attention of Ms. Bebris' development. Lady Catherine and Elizabeth are quite humorous as they again go toe-to-toe over every perceived slight.

There were parts in the middle that kind of dragged, but overall, I found the book to be satisfactory, and definitely enjoyed the ending. This is a good series for those who are interested in following Austen's characters, but aren't interested in the more erotic bent that seems to characterize a good deal of the Austen "sequels."

Buy this book on Amazon

Rating: 3.5 stars
Pages: 286
Publisher, ISBN: Forge, 9780765318473
shootingstarr7 reviews

Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Two weeks ago, Hannah Baker committed suicide. When Clay Jenkins gets home from school, he's surprised by the shoebox full of audiocassettes waiting by the front door. He's even more surprised when he plays the tapes and hears Hannah's voice, explaining that there were thirteen reasons she chose to commit suicide- and if you're one of the ones listening, you're one of the reasons. He spends the night listening to the tapes as he walks through town, allowing Hannah's story to guide him. He's a bit confused as to why he is there. He doesn't know what he did to Hannah; rather than tormenting her, he had a crush on her.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher is the story of what might drive someone to commit suicide- and what the people who are left behind are feeling. And this is perhaps the most personal book review I will ever write. Because I am one of the people who was left behind.

I tend not to let my emotions run away with me when I read. But this book, more than any book I've read in recent memory, hit close to home. Too close to home. Because I know exactly what Clay was feeling. Two and a half years ago, my ex-boyfriend decided his life was no longer worth living. And he shot himself. It took me a week to cry. And once I started crying at his funeral, I didn't think I would ever stop. It took me a long time to come to grips with it. And I'm still not sure that I have, because as I was reading this book, reading why someone would choose to end their life, all I could do is think of him. Hannah had thirteen reasons; I wonder what his reasons were. Was it one thing, or was it the culmination of years of problems? We weren't close in the years before he died, but he was such an important part of my life and my history, that he will always be a part of me. And I think Clay will always feel that way about Hannah.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a powerful read. It rang so true for me, and it made me wonder whether Asher was a part of the club of those left behind once, too. I think it is deeply important that teenagers read this book. I think it's important that everyone read this book, and take a few minutes to think about their actions. You may think your behavior is harmless, but you never know how what you do might affect someone else.

I know this review isn't particularly coherent. But I wasn't necessarily capable of coherent thought on finishing this book. It's beautiful, and it's devastating. I highly recommend it to everyone. For those who know someone who committed suicide, I recommend reading it with tissues handy.

Buy this book on Amazon

Rating: 5 stars
Pages: 288
Publisher, ISBN: Razorbill, 9781595141712
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Guest Post by Dianne Ascroft, author of Hitler and Mars Bars

I am very excited to be hosting Dianne Ascroft today. Dianne is the author of Hitler and Mars Bars, which I reviewed earlier this week (you can find my review here). Below, Dianne shares some thoughts on war as we approach Veteran's Day here in the United States. Thank you, Dianne, for allowing me to be a part of your virtual blog tour.

Thanks for inviting me to Reading and Ruminations today, Shauna, to tell your readers a bit about my historical fiction novel, Hitler and Mars Bars. When I was considering what to talk about I realized that November 11 is only a few days away. Depending on the country you are in, November 11 may be known as Remembrance Day, Armistice Day or Veterans Day. Since the end of the First World War in many countries it is a day to remember and honour military personnel and civilians who died during war and other conflicts. So I’ve chosen war as my theme today and I’ll share the Second World War’s impact on my main character, Erich.

The opening chapter of Hitler and Mars Bars is set in the industrialised Ruhr area of Germany during the last few months of World War 2. The area is devastated by heavy bombing and food supplies are scarce; people are starving. Here’s an excerpt from the chapter -

HITLER AND MARS BARS: Excerpt from Chapter 1

The Gingerbread House
Bredenscheid, near Hattingen, Germany
March 1945

“The bodies were piled one on top of the other on the hill, arms and legs flung in every direction. Jackets flapped open in the wind, blood dripped from ripped shirts. Dirt and blood covered their faces. An arm hung partially severed from its body. Erich crept closer to look at them, horrified and fascinated. There was such a huge pile. He grimaced at the sight confronting him, too frightened to make a sound.

Erich tossed restlessly until shuffling and banging in the large dormitory penetrated the images racing through his mind. The horrible scene faded as he opened his eyes. Boys pushed and shoved, scrambling under beds in search of their boots. The sky was lit with a red glow. Erich stared out of the balcony door. Sharp bangs punctuated the night. Each small explosion was answered by a larger one and flames leapt into the air. It was closer than he had ever seen before. Erich craned his neck upwards watching white sparkles popping and floating towards the ground. The sparkles marked the bombs’ course as they fell.
“Are the bombs falling on our garden?” Erich asked Karl.
“No, it’s not that close. Tante Gretchen says the oil tanks at the plant in Hattingen are on fire. Don’t they make a great bang!” Erich nodded wide-eyed as he watched the display outside.
Staff rushed to and fro, urging the boys to hurry as they herded them towards the door.
Tante Gretchen said, “Erich, get up. We must go to the shelter.” She pulled his bedclothes back.
He sat up and pulled on his boots. Tante Gretchen threw his coat over his shoulders and bundled him towards the door. The dying embers of the fire, glowing in the dark room, warmed him briefly as he passed. The boys jostled each other to be first out of the door. Pushed into the melee, Erich grabbed the doorframe to brace himself against a taller boy’s shove. Ducking down, he pushed through the doorway and stepped into the hall. A muffled pounding rose from the wooden stairs as the children descended.
Small, even for four years old, Erich could not see through the throng. His nose brushed the torn pullover of the boy in front of him as he was pushed forward by the others. On the ground floor Tante Helga stood at an open door, ushering them down the stairs into the musty smelling cellar.
Several years of heavy bombing in the Essen area made these night-time forays a familiar occurrence. The staff counted heads as the children settled wearily into whatever space they could find. Erich laid his head on the lap of an older girl, Hilde, wedged between her and his friend, Karl. Hilde leaned her head on the shoulder of the girl next to her, her hand resting on Erich’s hip.
“Maybe they’ll bomb us tonight. It might just be rubble when we go out in the morning!” Karl exclaimed.
“Don’t say such things! Where would we live?” Hilde scolded.
“No talking,” Tante Helga said firmly. “You must sleep now.”
Silence descended and only the occasional cough disturbed the regular breathing of the roomful of dozing children. Explosions were heard in the distance as the night wore on. But nothing landed near the Home. The bombs fell in the more heavily populated areas.
Dawn broke sending a sliver of light creeping under the door at the top of the stairs. Erich woke and sat up.
“Is the house still there?” Karl whispered.
“You snore so loud, Karl, that you would never hear it if we were bombed! But I think it is still there,” Bernhardt answered the younger, dark-haired boy.
“Maybe everything is gone except our house!” Karl cried.
“Even the forest?” Erich asked.
“Every tree,” Karl asserted. Erich frowned; he liked to go to the forest.
Exaggerated claims and assertions dominated the children’s whispered conversation. After what seemed an unbearable wait, Tantchen Trude led them upstairs. Erich and the other children darted around the house an out into the grounds looking for damage, grey metal fragments or bodies that may have fallen from the sky. But everything was as it had been the night before. Despite the carnage in nearby Hattingen it was another ordinary morning. With a sigh Erich trooped upstairs to his dormitory with the other children to wash and dress. He wondered if his mother would come today. Maybe she wouldn’t have to work if the railway station had been hit. Excited by this thought, he hurried to get ready.”

In any war individuals are harmed - frightened, wounded, displaced and killed. People disappear or die and their loved ones do not know what has happened to them.

Erich knows this.

He spends nights wearily huddled in the Children’s Home cellar, sheltering from the threat of bombs.
His mother disappears after a bombing raid.
Aided by the Red Cross, he leaves his stricken homeland, without finding his mother.
He settles in a foreign land, adapting to new families, strange customs and learning a new language.

During the Second World War it’s estimated that –

* 55 million people died
* Bombing raids displaced 60 million people in Europe from their homes
* For every tonne of bombs dropped on Britain, 315 tonnes were dropped on Germany

The statistics are staggering but they don’t make the horrors of war real to us. Telling a story about a single child, even a fictional one, does. While I did not write the book as an anti-war treatise, the privations and horrors Erich experiences, in the book’s early chapters, remind the reader how terrible war is – and that’s something we shouldn’t forget.

But Hitler and Mars Bars is not only a war story. It’s Erich’s story – a German boy growing up in war-torn Germany and post war rural Ireland. As Shauna has recounted in her review of the book, Erich spends his early years in a Children’s Home in the embattled Ruhr area of Germany. His mother disappears and he is left responsible for his younger brother. Aided by the Red Cross project, Operation Shamrock, after the war he is transported, with hundreds of other German children, to Ireland to recuperate from the devastation in his homeland. During the next few years he moves around Ireland, through a string of foster families, experiencing the best and worst of Irish life. Plucky and resilient, he faces every challenge and the future undaunted. Erich’s childhood is a remarkable journey through loss, loneliness, fear, uncertainty, love and hope.

If this small slice of Erich’s life has piqued your interest, you can learn more about Hitler and Mars Bars at The novel is available to order from Amazon and other online retailers, Trafford Publishing and my website. You can also drop by other stops on my Virtual Book Tour. For the full tour schedule check my blog, ‘Ascroft, eh?’.

Thanks for allowing me to share a glimpse of Erich’s life with your readers, Shauna. It’s been a pleasure to be here today.
Autumn Splendor

Booking Through Thursday: The Gift of Reading

What, if any, memorable or special book have you ever gotten as a present? Birthday or otherwise. What made it so notable? The person who gave it? The book itself? The “gift aura?”

A few years ago, my best friend gave me a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I ended up returning it because I already had a copy, but I remember being really touched that she would remember that I loved a book, and try to give me the gift of owning it (I'd actually just bought it a few months before my birthday, so she wasn't too far off).

I've received a lot of books over the years, but this is one that really sticks out to me.

What about you? What great gift experiences have you had with books?
shootingstarr7 reviews

Review: Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

Fifteen year old Alice has belonged to Ray since she was ten years old- since he took her from her family, her friends, and her life. Now that she is fifteen and getting too old, Ray enlists her help in finding a new little girl to be Alice. She must choose the next little girl to live the nightmare she's been living the last five years, all the while anticipating her fate- the same fate that fell upon the previous Alice.

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott is one of the hardest books I've read all year- but I absolutely think everyone needs to read it. It is horrifying, and unlike most young adult novels, there is no relief from the horror. But it's not really a blood-and-guts kind of horror. It's mostly psychological. I know other readers have had this experience: at more than one point, I literally had to put the book down because I couldn't process any more, but I picked it up again within minutes because I needed to know what was going to happen to Alice. I read it in just a few hours, but it's a book I won't be forgetting or letting go of anytime soon.

Highly recommended to all. I gave this book a five-star rating, but I don't know that anyone could say they enjoyed it. It's gritty, and it's harsh, but Ms. Scott should be very, very proud of the work she has accomplished with this book.

Buy this book on Amazon

Rating: 5 stars
Pages: 170
Publisher, ISBN: Simon Pulse, 9781416960591
shootingstarr7 reviews

Review: Hitler and Mars Bars by Dianne Ascroft

As a small child, Erich and his brother Hans live at the Goldschmidthaus in Germany while their mother works at a nearby train station during World War II. Following the war, the children from Goldschmidthaus are taken to Ireland as a part of Operation Shamrock, a Red Cross initiative that removed children from post-war Germany and fostered them with Irish families. Upon their arrival in Ireland, Erich and Hans are separated and sent to different foster families. The first family for each child does not work out, and the two find themselves reunited when they are fostered by the Elliotts, who they call Daddy Davy and Aunt Elsie. The two spend several happy years there. However, they are forced to leave when the Elliotts are no longer able to care for them. They remain together for a time, but the situation is less than ideal. They are once again separated- Hans will go to live with his friend Bobby, and Erich returns to the Elliotts. Once again, though, it is not meant to last, and Erich is sent away again to try to make his way in a world that does not seem to want him.

I think I've mentioned before in talking about this book that I had no knowledge of Operation Shamrock. United States history classes tend to gloss over the international relief and humanitarian efforts in the post-war period. As it states on the back cover, Hitler and Mars Bars by Dianne Ascroft does not attempt to tell the whole story of Operation Shamrock. But for me, it was a refreshing look at something about which I had no prior knowledge. But Operation Shamrock is only the background. At it's heart, this is Erich's story. You can really feel his confusion about why his mother doesn't come for him, and his desperate desire to feel loved. Throughout the story, Erich struggles to make friends with other boys, and has quite a bit of jealousy where his brother is concerned. This is due in large part to that need to feel loved, I think. Boys tease, and he has a hard time dealing with that. Girls and adults are more compassionate, and he needs to feel that compassion.

Throughout the book, I kept hoping it would lead to a happy ending. I didn't get the happy ending I was exactly looking for, but I did like the way the book ended- with hope. Even though Erich didn't get exactly what he was looking for and what he wanted, he began to realize that there were ways to get some of the things he wanted and needed.

One thing I particularly appreciated was the way in which Erich's voice came across. I've read books told from the point of view of a child before- and the child would always come across as whiny, annoying, and bratty. Erich did not come across this way to me. Erich maintained a child's voice, but it enhanced the story rather than detracted from it.

I very much hope Ms. Ascroft will continue to write, and I look forward to reading more by her in the future. I definitely recommend this to anyone interested in historical fiction or in Irish fiction.

Coming Friday: A guest post by author Dianne Ascroft! Please be sure to stop by to hear what she has to say!

Buy this book on Amazon!

Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 338
Publisher, ISBN: Trafford Publishing, 1425145914
PP2 Lost in Pages

Tuesday Thingers: Multiples

Today's question: Work multiples. Do you own multiple copies of any books? Which ones? Why? Can you share your list?

You can find the link under Statistics, from either your home page or profile.

I have seven books that have multiples:
1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
2. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
3. Emma by Jane Austen
4. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
5. Atonement by Ian McEwan
6. As You Like It by William Shakespeare
7. The Accidental by Ali Smith

I bought most of my Austen's several years ago, and have been in the process of upgrading from my cheap Penguin copies to Norton Critical Editions. Atonement is my favorite (non-Austen) novel, and I replaced my used paperback with a lovely hardcover that didn't have all the Used Saves! stickers from the university bookstore all over the place. Regarding the Shakespeare- I really have no idea how that happened. As far as The Accidental is concerned- one is an audio book, one is a paperback. I got the audio for $7.99 at Barnes & Noble, but kept getting sidetracked even though I was enjoying the story. So I bought the paperback to keep me on track.

And I actually own(ed) four different copies of Pride and Prejudice. I shipped my Penguin one off to a Moocher, but I have a Norton Critical edition, a hardcover with Jennifer Ehle on the dust jacket from an old boyfriend, and a gorgeous illustrated hardcover that came with a protective box that I got for $2 off the sale shelf at the library I used to work at. It's not a rare edition or anything like that, but it's from the 1970s, and it's in fantastic shape.

What books do you have duplicates of?
Book in Sand

Sunday Salon: Upcoming Author Visit by Dianne Ascroft

The Sunday Happy Sunday, fellow Saloners! This post is going to be pretty brief; I've got a ton of stuff I need to do today. But I wanted to stop in for a minute.

I think I've mentioned before that I've been reading Hitler and Mars Bars by Dianne Ascroft. She is in the middle of a two month book tour, and I am proud to be hosting her for a guest post this coming Friday, November 7. Additionally, I will be posting my review of Hitler and Mars Bars on Wednesday, November 5. Be sure to come by and check it out!

Real life has gotten in the way of my usual posts as well as my reading lately. On Friday, I posted a list of what to expect here on Reading and Ruminations during the month of November. I'm really hoping to have a productive November here. Real life has been in the way this past month, but things should be much better this month.

Hope you're all having a fantastic day!