The Kitchen Boy

The Kitchen Boy by: Robert Alexander

Challenges: The Eponymous Challenge

Published: 2003

# of pages: 229

Quote: "Given our common age we were able to see things others could not, however, and as such the route around the dining room table became a troika track, the large potted palm in the drawing room became an oasis in the Sahara, and later the dogs, Jimmy and Joy, chasing and barking after us, were transformed into rabid wolves. Truth be told, we occupied ourselves for hours with a talent I have long since lost." -Misha p. 124

This is a fascinating version of the events of the last Tsar's final days before his death in 1918. Although I knew the basics about this historical event, this book was an easy way to learn so much more. Alexander includes many real documents and closely follows true events through his fictionalized account of this period of history, so it really is a learning experience as well as a story.

The story is told by Misha, an old man living in America who witnessed the final days of the last Tsar and the Tsar's family. He is recording his account of what really happened, especially on the fateful night of July 16-17, 1918. The reader experiences shock and surprise as they journey with Misha and his granddaughter, Kate, on the re-discovery of the truth.

I've been inspired to do my own research on the deaths of the last Tsar and his family. I want to see how Alexander's account lines up with what is known of the truth and see how likely his version of the story is. Alexander has a webpage, that I'm planning on visiting one of these days to begin. I recommend this book to everyone, especially if you enjoy history or are already studying this event for a class or on your own.

The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle by: Jeannette Walls

Published: 2005

# of pages: 288

Quote: There are way too many to pick from!!

Walls did an excellent job writing a memoir that flows and feels like a story. Walls' description of her life from age 3 through her adult years was just as action packed and gripping as a novel and is perfect for fans of memoirs and fiction alike.

A friend of my mom's said she read this book with her jaw gaping open in amazement the entire time. I reacted the same way, especially during the first half of the memoir. Unfortunately, I found the second half more believeable, although it is still amazing that Walls lived in such terrible conditions and has created such a well-written account of her experiences.

This is a story of success, of perseverance, of love, and encouragement. Walls is an ultimate role model, especially for other people who have grown up in similar environments. I was struck by her common sense and cheered for her as she made bold decisions to change her life. I also admired how close she was to her older sister and younger brother. The love between the 3 of them was beautiful and if there was only one good thing about the circumstances they survived, it was that they were brought closer together through everything.

I 100% recommend this memoir to everyone. It is entertaining, heartbreaking, encouraging, and an eye opener to how some people live, even in modern America. It is also a lesson that although stereotypes may try to condemn a person to a life of hardship, there's always a chance of breaking free and building a successful way of life.

Rises The Night

Rises the Night by: Colleen Gleason

Series: The Gardella Vampire Chronicles (Book 2)

This book was pretty bad, so I wouldn't recommend it and don't want to waste too much time talking about it.

My main reason for disliking it was that the series went from being an original romance/adventure in the first book (The Rest Falls Away) to being a typical trashy romance. Victoria's character was disgusting and shallow. How convenient that she is only attracted to handsome men. She has no self control and throws herself at Sebastian the first time she sees him and every other time after that. It was so predictable.

On a positive note, the vampires make it a little more interesting and I still enjoyed the character of Max. Also, Gleason does a surprising plot twist at the end, just like her first book in The Gardella Vampire Chronicles, which was an improvement because it was the only surprise in the whole book.

Cat's Eye

Cat's Eye by: Margaret Atwood

Challenges: My Year of Reading Dangerously

Published: 1988

# of pages: 462

Quote: "Inside her half-open cloak there's a glimpse of red. It's her heart, I think. It must be her heart, on the outside of her body, glowing like neon, like a coal." -Elaine p.209

This is March's book for My Year of Reading Dangerously, but even though I didn't even start it until April, I still wanted to read it because I've read The Handmaid's Tale by Atwood and enjoyed it, so I wanted to see what Cat's Eye would be about.

I wasn't disappointed. Although this novel is dark and somewhat depressing, in a similar way to The Handmaid's Tale, it is also filled with truth and provides more of an understanding to situations that many women all over the world experience. There were times when this Elaine's story hit close to home and other times I was glad I didn't go through everything she went through in her childhood. Through it all, I appreciated Atwood's ability to write a story that explains the feelings of so many little girls and what they go through as they struggle to fit in at school and in their peer groups.

Elaine spent the first 8 years of her life traveling with her entomologist father, her outdoorsy and adventurous mother, and her genius and very boyish brother. As a result, she has learned to be a tomboy, concerned more with playing make believe games of war and catching bugs to look at under a microscope than with playing dolls and dress up. Suddenly her parents move to Toronto and buy a permanent home. Elaine finds herself in the midst of other girls her age, girls that she knows nothing about.

The story is told from Elaine's point of view after she is grown up, with 2 grown daughters and a successful career as a painter. Her return to Toronto has her reflecting on her life, from childhood to being a young mother who finally leaves Toronto to make her own life in Vancouver. This would be a great book club book. There's a lot of symbolism such as the blue cat's eye marble, the bridge, and Elaine's paintings and painting techniques. It's also interesting to see how Elaine's past has affected her present life as a painter. In the end, the question is whether Elaine can accept her past and be content with her life.

I was impressed that although this book is about women, it really isn't a feminist book. I liked Elaine because she was so much of a tomboy and didn't even enjoy being around girls. Elaine is perceived as a feminist painter, but she doesn't understand why people think this about her because women are the ones she can't get along with and doesn't understand. Her paintings are just paintings in her own eyes, but other women see symbols and rally around her. At the end of the book, I think Elaine finds that she has to accept herself as a woman.

I recommend this book to others who enjoy Atwood's novels or who are looking for an in depth book. It doesn't even require you to pull apart the writing and decide what the symbols mean, that is just something that can be done if you want to put the time into it. The novel will provoke natural thought, which is always a bonus in my opinion.

Travelin' Thursday: Central Park

Part of the Manhattan skyline from Central Park
March 2008

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