Friday, February 28, 2014

My Ramblings on The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout

The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout
Author Website

Soon to be a major motion picture directed by Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman is a devastating story of early pioneers in 1850s American West. It celebrates the ones we hear nothing of: the brave women whose hearts and minds were broken by a life of bitter hardship. A “homesman” must be found to escort a handful of them back East to a sanitarium. When none of the county’s men steps up, the job falls to Mary Bee Cuddy—ex-teacher, spinster, indomitable and resourceful. Brave as she is, Mary Bee knows she cannot succeed alone. The only companion she can find is the low-life claim jumper George Briggs. Thus begins a trek east, against the tide of colonization, against hardship, Indian attacks, ice storms, and loneliness—a timeless classic told in a series of tough, fast-paced adventures. (from

My Ramblings:
I grabbed this book at the airport on my way home from vacation. I liked the cover and I really liked the idea that this was going to be a movie coming out soon. I was also surprised when I saw the books that Swarthout had written, some have become great movies (like The Shootist) and I hadn't read any of his books.

This was a great book. I really enjoyed the characters and it was a story I hadn't really heard before. The book focuses on women who have come west with their husbands and families and for one reason or another have fallen onto hard times and gone insane. No longer able to take are of themselves or stay with their families they are shipped back east with a Homesman. In this case a woman, Mary Bee Cuddy, steps up and volunteers to bring the women east. She soon picks up a claim jumper named Briggs and essentially strong arms him into accompanying her.

What I liked about this book is that it covers a lot of ground without a lot extras, but the story keeps moving forward and stays interesting. In little vignettes we learn about all the trouble that can befall the people who settled the west. By looking at why the 4 women went crazy we see that the homesteaders dealt with weather, with wolves, with disease and with poverty. Out on the plains and prairie without neighbors and friends nearby, these women retreated into themselves. By meeting Cuddy and Briggs we see how a woman can survive alone (but only to an extent), how finding a husband was a necessity, how the war effected the men who served and those who stayed at home and how vigilante justice was commonplace. All of these things were woven into a story about a journey and how two people could cope with the seemingly impossible; transporting 4 insane women back east.

I really enjoyed this book and I'm really looking forward to the movie, which will star Tommy Lee Jones as Briggs and Hilary Swank as Cuddy. The rest of the cast is equally impressive with Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, James Spader, John Lithgow, Hailee Steinfeld and Meryl Streep rounding out the cast.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

My Ramblings on Returning to Shore by Corinne Demas

Returning to Shore 
By: Corinne Demas
Release Date: March 14th, 2014
Author Website

Her mother's third marriage is only hours old when all hope for Clare's fifteenth summer fades. Before she knows it, Clare is whisked away to some ancient cottage on a tiny marsh island on Cape Cod to spend the summer with her father - a man she hasn't seen since she was three. Clare's biological father barely talks, and when he does, he obsesses about endangered turtles. The first teenager Clare meets on the Cape confirms that her father is known as the town crazy person. But there's something undeniably magical about the marsh and the islanda connection to Clares past that runs deeper than memory. Even her father's beloved turtles hold unexpected surprises. As Clare's father begins to reveal more about himself and his own struggle, Clare's summer becomes less of an exile and more of a return home. (from goodreads)

My Ramblings:

I was very excited to get a chance to read and review this book. I read Everything I Was a while back and really enjoyed it, so I jumped at the chance to get my hands on this one as well. I had mixed thoughts on this one. I really, really loved it for approximately 99% of the story. The characters are great, the main character Clare is just the perfect mix of stubborn independence and wanting to still be a kid. I hearing her thoughts on her mom and new husband, as well as her first reactions to moving to a really tiny town in Cape Cod and her father, a man she hasn't seen in years.

I really liked some of the little turns that the story took. Since this book isn't out yet I hesitate to give anything away, but suffice it to say that everything Clare believe's about her father and why he left (and stayed away) is up for reconsideration. He's not the man Clare thought he was, and she finally as a chance to both get to know him and find a little bit of herself away from her mother.

Beyond being a coming of age story for Clare, we also get some local issues sprinkled in as we learn about the terrapins who nest on the beaches. Clare's father works tirelessly to save the terrapins and their habitat, which is being encroached on by the people who are building up the land attached to the beach. While living with her Father Clare is introduced to a whole different way of life, and finds herself caring about more then just herself.

And here's the 1% of the book that I didn't like. The ending was very abrupt. The writing was great and I was invested in Clare and her father and even in the terrapins, but then the story seemed to just end, and I'll admit I was disappointed. I wanted to know more. Did Clare end up staying with her father? Did Eleanor (the terrapin Clare saw and named) survive? Did her eggs hatch and make it back to the ocean? Did Clare find the inner strength to stand up to some of the rude kids in town? In essence, what happened next?? I found myself scrolling back and forth to make sure that I really was at the end of the book and that I didn't miss anything. I just wasn't ready to be done with this story yet. Which, on one hand isn't a horrible problem, you want readers to be attached and to want more. However, on the other hand, I don't like closing a book feeling disappointed.

Overall this book was great. I loved the story and the characters, but at the end of the day I wanted more resolution to the story lines. I'm kind of hoping that there is more to come about Clare and her father and their work with the terrapins! This was a lovely story about family and finding yourself, and I think many people will be able to see themselves in the pages of the book. So while I'm hoping for more, I am able to set this book down satisfied that Clare is okay and that she has many great adventures in front of her!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

My Ramblings on Copper Sun by Sharon Draper

Copper Sun by Sharon Draper
Release Date: June 19th,  2012
Author Website
Book Website

When pale strangers enter fifteen-year-old Amari's village, her entire tribe welcomes them; for in her remote part of Africa, visitors are always a cause for celebration. But these strangers are not here to celebrate. They are here to capture the strongest, healthiest villagers and to murder the rest. They are slave traders. And in the time it takes a gun to fire, Amari's life as she knows it is destroyed, along with her family and village.

Beaten, branded, and dragged onto a slave ship, Amari is forced to witness horrors worse than any nightmare and endure humiliations she had never thought possible--including being sold to a plantation owner in the Carolinas who gives her to his sixteen-year-old son, Clay, as his birthday present.

Now, survival and escape are all Amari dreams about. As she struggles to hold on to her memories in the face of backbreaking plantation work and daily degradation at the hands of Clay, she finds friendship in unexpected places. Polly, an outspoken indentured white girl, proves not to be as hateful as she'd first seemed upon Amari's arrival, and the plantation owner's wife, despite her trappings of luxury and demons of her own, is kind to Amari.

But these small comforts can't relieve Amari's feelings of hopelessness and despair. With strength and dignity, Amari first learns to survive, then yearns to escape to a most unlikely destination. When the opportunity to escape presents itself, Amari and Polly decide to work together to find the thing they both want most--freedom.

Decorated with vibrant characters--Teenie, the tiny slave woman who cooks much more than food, her son Tidbit and his dog Hushpuppy who become victims of vicious cruelty, the mysterious and kindly Mrs. Derby, and many others--the complicated inter-relationships of those who live together on the plantation are explored with sometimes shocking developments.

Grand and sweeping in scope, detailed and penetrating, Copper Sun's unflinching and unforgettable look at the African slave trade and slavery in America will have the impact on young readers that Alex Haley's Roots had on the previous generation.
   (from Sharon Draper's Website)

My Ramblings:

This is another one of those books that I've been circling around for years. Literally. I remember picking it up when the Borders book store shut down at the mall. I grabbed about 25 books that day because they were all closeouts, and I lack the ability to pass up a book on sale. And Sharon Draper is an author I know of, and whose books I've read, so I knew that this would be good. Difficult to read, since I know that Draper doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of the world, but good nonetheless. I can't really say why it took me so long to actually read, but I'm really glad I finally did.

The summary above does an excellent job at giving you all you need to know about what you are getting into when you read this book. But beyond all those things, this is a story about hope and survival and how you can find the will to live even in the most dire of circumstances. What I most appreciated is that Copper Sun looks at an issue that, while we all know about, can sometimes feel distant and clinical. We all know what happened, we've read about it in books and learned about it in school, but at some point it can almost become just another part of history we learn about. What Copper Sun does is take the things we know, and let us know how they felt. It puts the reader in Amari's shoes as she loses her entire village, as she loses her own identity and becomes someones property to use as they want. It shows us how it felt to to not only be a slave, but what it felt to be an indentured servant and how the cruelty of the time was not limited in it's reach and devastation. It also shows us that in the midst of all the bad stuff, there were pockets of hope and people who were willing to help. Copper Sun gives a really detailed account of the time and it's a book that everyone should read. Especially middle schoolers, who I think would really relate to Amari and Polly and would be able to see what life for them may have been like.

Draper has a really great website as well, that has amazing information about her research, why she wrote the book, as well as a study guide and general questions and answers. Her research for this book is great, and as a history nerd, I can say that I really appreciate her attention to detail and the fact that she brings to light things that you don't necessarily learn about anywhere else. I was really interested in the Fort that the girls head to when they make their escape, and will admit to loosing several hours falling into a research back hole as I went looking for more.

All in all this was a fabulous book that I would recommend to everyone!