Friday, January 31, 2014


         Hi, this is Alysa. I know I haven't written anything in more than a year which I am very sorry and sad about. Life is busy and all I really do is homework. I hope that writing on the blog becomes once again, a frequent weekly (or at least once every few weeks) thing for me.
         In Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell uniquely weaves the tale of a young girl learning, like most, who she is and how exactly she fits into the world. Through reading this book, I was able to get an insightful new view on the world of fan fiction and developed a large amount of respect for striving fanfic writers who are pouring their heart and soul into pieces of work that mean more than anyone could ever imagine them to.
         Cath is a twin. In her relationship with her twin Wren, they have always been a team, they have always done everything together, they have always been each other's support system. As the first few days of college begin, Cath receives the startling realization that perhaps Wren no longer views them as a team and the concept of, you don't get one you get both. The outward view that Wren is the pretty one, the social one, and Cath is the quiet one, the shy one who has a slightly odd obsession with the Simon Snow book series becomes more than a misguided idea to Cath. Even Wren is treating Cath's love and devotion for writing fanfic about Simon Snow on her widely popular blog as joke and childish. Cath is used to other people seeing her fanfic as different but not Wren. Simon Snow was there for Cath and Wren when they needed it most- after their mother dramatically left their father (on The September 11th) never to be seen or heard from again.
         Cath must juggle the strange new life college has in store for her while trying to keep up with her fanfic writing, help her father who has been mentally unstable since her mother disappeared, deal with her mother suddenly wanting to contact her, experience these blooming (crazy and amazing) feelings she has for her roommates (possible) boyfriend, and most importantly: find out who she is without the protective blanket of Simon Snow.

         I highly recommend this book. I found it to be very well written and also observed the impressive character development that occurred within every person. I am currently reading Rowell's other book, Eleanor and Park because I cannot get enough of her writing.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

I so appreciate authors who are willing to go into the dark brutality humans experience and unearth something salvageable. I did not read Code Name Verity, the Printz Award winner by the same author, but Rose Under Fire takes readers to the Holocaust in brutal, life-altering ways and yet resilience, surviving remains viable, possible. Somehow.

Rose Under Fire is a fabulous read, clocking in over 350 pages without a word written in waste. The story spellbinding, the characters well developed, the underlying tension familiar: this book engulfed me. Tom Newkirk writes in his book, The Art of Slow Reading, about how authors trust us readers to bring all of ourselves to the books we read. They trust us. That was a really stark and powerful note for me. As I read Rose Under Fire, I thought about Newkirk's message, about how Wein wants me (the reader) to bring all of myself into her story. Honestly that is not easy: the main character Rose is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbruck, the well-known concentration camp. There she discovers what and how to live through atrocities unknown to many.  While Wein created the main character, she did not make up the atrocities. The humans used for experiments, the gas chamber stories, the standing at attention for days, the extreme lack of food/water/warm clothes....the list feels endless. But to trust me to enter such grim vile ways of existing, to allow me to walk with Rose as she finds others who secretly send her messages, who notes in her unique and quietly powerful ways that life remains worth living, that there isn't a question about getting out. 

Readers find on the opening pages of the book the 74 names of the women whose bodies were literally experimented on at Ravensbruck. The other 350+ pages tell a story that I found heartbreaking, disturbing, and confusingly survivable, truthful, familiar, and utterly tragic. How is it that humans can make it through such grim moments? How do people survive what appears to be unsurvivable? Wein takes us there...and beyond. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Brotherhood by A.B.Westrick

Historical fiction seems to be finding me lately. This first novel by Westrick brings a rich history to the page: the KKK, post- Civil War reconstruction, all within a changing and at times hiding humanity.

The protagonist is a typical younger brother, particularly to such a bully as his older brother. Jeremiah shows up at all the wrong times, forcing his younger brother Shad to do things he might not usually do. It is however the ugly ways with which he misuses power that is so unsettling. Not surprising, just unsettling. The mother figure is a loss, still maneuvering her own grief over the loss of her husband and the boys’ father. Ah, another reason why Jeremiah is such an absolute loss perhaps? The grandfather puzzled me, leaving me wondering where his real allegiance lay. The neighbors nearby are ramrod straight and trouble to boot, although there are some folks more interested in humanity rather than separation. But still what surprised me was Shad: what was he going to do about his own trouble, the trouble with….

Nope. No spoiler alert here. Worth a trip to the library or bookstore for Brotherhood. Happy reading!!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

I have failed you, readers! Accept my apology for holding out on offering up one of my favorite books of the year. I thought I had already written about The Round House, figuring it was hanging out in my book stacks for my partner to read. Ha, how wrong I was!!

I love Louise Edrich's work. She is a brilliant writer for me, and I knew when I got my hands on this book I was in for a treat. But I had no idea how powerful and engulfing this story would be for me. Some of you know that I am well immersed in my own healing work from being sexually assaulted as a child. Some of you know that I am researching with  a handful of survivor/educators, exploring how their teaching practices connect with their experiences of healing from sexual assault. Some of you have inferred from some of the kinds of books I blog about that I search for books that identify healing processes from a variety of trauma experiences. What a gift then to experience how The Round House touched on each of those arenas with such depth. But alas, I must remember: Louise Edrich wrote this book. Brilliant, she is simply brilliant.

A young teen's mother comes home smelling like gas and looking like a ghost. At the hospital, the boy and his father learn that the third member of their family has been brutally raped. She refuses to talk about it, retreating to her bedroom and into her own inner lost world of silence. Utterly tossed off course by what has happened, the father and son use their own curiosity and expertise to search for and try to identify the attacker. Edrich exposes the emotions and healing of the family, the boy and his father far more than the mother, and the way that she tells their story held me quiet and carefully engaged. I lived into how the boy felt about what happened, about his own despair that he can't share with the mother. Readers view this story directly through the boy's eyes, and it is from there that we come to see this story as both a coming-of-age piece as well as an adult novel, heartbreaking and filled with life and survival and death all tied together.

Yea, this terrific read won the National Book Award....and I can see why. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Have you seen this on the shelves? Has it been calling to you? Have you felt this draw to the book, this kinship with a story you haven't entered but are intrigued by the storyline? Yep, I was that way once....but not now.

This story based on the actual orphan trains that ran from New York to  from 1854 to 1929 (seriously new info to me!!). The author stumbled into some insider information on a family vacation and created this totally plausible and engaging story that twists back and forth between 2011 and the '30's, '40's, and '50's in the U.S. The two main characters, Vivian and Molly, find their lives intertwined in unique, surprising, and life-changing ways. Molly is a rebellious teenager, having lived in a number of foster homes where it sounds like she got the short of the stick and grew more frustrated and frustrating through each experience. Vivian is decades older and holds her own story of orphanages, loss, and wicked living experiences. Time brings them closer and closer together and they surprise each other with their collective interest and engagement in friendship and kinship.

A lovely read.