Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

Published: 1994

Genre: historical fiction

Length: 436 pages

Setting: the Greek island of Cephallonia, from 1940 to about 1960

Interest: It’s the highest ranked of the BBC’s The Big Read books I hadn’t read (there were only two books in the top 30 I hadn’t read). I made it through the Time Top 100 books (although you’ll see quite a few posted in the future as I go back through some of my old reviews) and needed a new list. This one is British-literature heavy, but still provides some interesting books I might not have read otherwise.

Summary: Dr. Iannis and his daughter, Pelagia, live very happily on Caphallonia. Dr. Iannis tries his best to cure the ills of the villager, while writing a history of the island. Pelagia is in love with the local fisherman. Their lives change when the Italians invade Greece and Dr. Iannis is forced to billet the charming Captain Corelli. They try to make his life miserable, but he overcomes their attempts at hostility. Eventually, Corelli and Pelagia fall in love. Life is surprisingly good until the Germans turn on the Italians, killing most of the soldiers stationed in Greece. Corelli survives a firing squad due to the heroic actions of his friend Carlo. He’s healed by the doctor and smuggled back to Italy. Pelagia adapts a baby left on her doorstep and lives her life believing Corelli died in the war.

Final thoughts: Even though I had a hard time getting into this story (it was over 100 pages before I was truly interested and not just reading because someone said it was good), I really enjoyed it in the end. For one thing, the characters of Corelli, Iannis and Pelagia were so vibrant and I wanted everything to work out for them. The other charming aspect of the book was the strong sense of place in the small, Greek island. You really got the connection between all the members of the village living on the island.

I did feel a bit sorry for Pelagia. She was a pretty girl who was just thinking about getting married when the war hit. The general starvation during the war meant she lost her beauty, and then Corelli never came back, so she moved right into old maidhood. She never really got to live.

The overall style of writing in the book deserves a quick mention. Each chapter was told from a different point of view from the previous chapter. I like the chapters outside of the village the least, although they were important to set up the larger political situation in Greece and Italy. It wasn’t until Corelli was introduced that the story really piqued my interest.

Title comes from: Corelli really wanted to be a mandolin player and he originally became a soldier so he would have lots of time to practice. Too bad a war started and he actually had to fight.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 30/100 in my 100 Book Challenge, a D in my Author Alphabet Soup challenge, and a European country for my Global Reading Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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Talk by Abraham Verghese

nav_babelLast week, as an early birthday present from my mother-in-law, I attended a talk by Abraham Verghese, part of the Just Buffalo Literary Center’s Babel series. I enjoyed the talk quite a bit. The audience filled up most of the ground floor at Kleinhans in Buffalo, NY. No one came away disappointed, since Verghese is an amusing speaker who kept the audience’s attention with humor and stories from his life.

The night was broken into two parts. For the first half hour or so, Verghese spoke to us about his life, how he became a physician, the lessons he’s learned from that job, and how he became a writer as well as a physician. One of Verghese’s first jobs was in a small city in Tennessee in the 1980s, at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. From these patients, he learned how to empathize with a patient, and what to do when the medicine fails. He eventually became a writer because “medicine was too cold to address the humanity of suffering.”

The second half of the night consisted of Verghese answering questions from the audience and his interviewer. We learned some details on his writing craft. For instance, his overall writing style (he just starts writing and sees where the story takes him). Also, he has a day job he’s passionate about and out of that passion, he finds the ability to write. Luckily, Stanford (where he currently works) treats his writing as research.

He did provide a couple of details about Cutting for Stone. For one thing, the title refers to itinerant surgeons in the Middle Ages who could remove bladder stones with minimal damage to a patient (although they probably died of sepsis). He wanted the title to be slightly mysterious. He had chosen the title early on in the writing process, and eventually changed the Doctors’ names to Stone to match.

Finally, he closed with some hints about the next book he’s writing. It is not a sequel to Cutting for Stone. Instead, the book is set in South India and has a female spinal surgeon as the protagonist. Don’t hold your breath for its publication date, though. Since he’s privileged with such a good day job, Verghese plans to take his time to ensure the story is a good one before bringing it to publication.

Overall, it was an interesting night. I’d consider attending another author talk as part of the series. The 2014/2015 season was announced, but I don’t recognize any of the authors they chose. That doesn’t mean they aren’t big names, though, because the audience reacted with surprise and pleasure for each name that was announced.

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Weekly Wrap-Up: Starting Electricity

We started a new unit study this week on electricity. I’m still working out the details of what exactly we’re going to cover over the next couple of weeks. All I know is I want to end up with hydroelectricity so we can visit Niagara Falls as an endcap to the topic.

We started the week answering “what is electricity?” by reading The Magic School Bus And The Electric Field Trip by Joanna Cole. I’m sure I don’t have to explain what a Magic School Bus approach to a topic is. I will admit I like the books better than the show itself. The books seem to have more information in them, even if they’re hard to read out loud. I can never figure out where the speech bubbles fit in the story.

I brought a little history into the discussion with Who Really Discovered Electricity? by Amie Jane Leavitt. This book is a Fact Finders book that discusses Benjamin Franklin, Dr. William Gilbert, and Stephen Gray and their additions to the science of electricity.

Finally, I had Miss Adventure read Energy Island: How one community harnessed the wind and changed their world by Allan Drummond. This book details the efforts of a Danish island to become energy independent, with sidebars providing more details on energy and its sources and uses. It’s a picture book introduction to some of the problems associated with traditional sources of power and some of the renewable alternatives.

To play with electricity – safely – we’ve also been playing with our Snap Circuits set. We’ve had it for a while, but the kids really got into building some different circuits and testing out variations of the projects provided in the manual. If you’re thinking of buying a set (we definitely recommend it), go for the biggest one you can afford. You want as many pieces as possible.

And that’s what we’ve been doing this week!

weeklywrapup300If you’re interested in purchasing a book, you can click on the cover image or title to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Published: 1977

Genre: children’s chapter fiction

Length: 128 pages

Setting: rural Virginia, early 1970s

Interest: I had never read this classic, but I convinced Miss Adventure it should be her bedtime story.

Summary: Ten-year old Jesse has been practicing all summer to be the fastest runner in the boy’s recess races this school year. His hopes are dashed when Leslie, the new girl who moved into the old Perkins place nearby, beats everyone. Leslie tries to make friends with Jesse, mainly because they’re neighbors, but he repulses her at first. Eventually they become fast friends and hang together through the difficulties of fifth grade. They even invent an imaginary kingdom called Terabithia in the woods. Leslie drowns one day when the rope used to swing into Terbithia breaks and drops her into the creek.

Final thoughts: I can see why this is considered a children’s classic. I loved how the author put the reader in the life of a pretty poor kid who doesn’t really fit in, but manages to find an unconventional friend in Leslie. You can also see the importance of family in the relationship between Jesse and his younger sister, May Belle. It is heartbreaking when Leslie dies, especially since Jesse had such a perfect day in Washington. Miss Curiosity was mad the book ended without more details on Jesse and his sisters playing in Terabithia, but I loved the hope and promise implicit in the last line of the book. You could see how Jesse’s confidence had grown after his relationship with Leslie. At the beginning of their creation of Terabitia, Jesse never knows what to saw while they are in the Kingdom, but at the end of the book, he’s able to show May Belle the Kingdom.

I could tell this book was written in a previous era. For example, there were several times the father swore, which never shows up in kids books these days.

Title comes from: After Leslie dies when the rope swing into Terabithia breaks, Jesse builds a bridge so he and his sisters can safely visit the Kingdom.

Awards won: Newbery Medal in 1978

Reading challenges fulfilled: 29/100 in my 100 Book Challenge, and a P in my Author Alphabet Soup challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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The Search For the Red Dragon by James A. Owen

Published: 2008

Genre: YA portal fantasy

Length: 371 pages

Setting: Nine years after the events of Here, There Be Dragons, mostly in the Underneath of the Archipelago of Dreams.

Interest: It’s the second book in the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series

Summary: Charles, John, and Jack are summoned back to the Archipelago of Dream by Laura Glue. She was sent by her grandfather, Peter Pan,  to find Jamie Barrie, a previous Caretaker of the Imaginarium Geographica. It seems that all the children of the Archipelago, along with all the Dragonships. The Caretakers follow the instructions of the Imaginarium Geographica into the Underneath. After escaping from the Croatoans, the Caretakers make their way from island to island, looking for clue to the missing children or Dragonships. There’s evidence that the Tower of Time is crumbling and there are rogue portals from the time stream strewn about the world. The Dragonships and children appear out of one those rifts, lead by the King of Crickets, who is using the Pan pipes to command the children to lead a Crusade. The King is ultimately defeated, the pipes destroyed, and the children returned to where they were stolen from.

Final thoughts: Another excellent story, this one riffing on Odysseus and Peter Pan. Now, I’m hoping I can convince Miss Adventure to let me read her Peter Pan as a bedtime story. Like the first book, it is a story that rewards the well-read. It has all the elements of a good story – puzzles to be solved, children to be rescued, action, adventure, an unwilling hero. Everything comes out alright in the end (this is a kid’s book, after all), but there are a couple of surprising reveals at the end that inform the reader the conflict isn’t over. Be sure to read the Author’s Note at the end of the book to catch all of the allusions to other stories the author included in this book.

Title comes from: The Red Dragon was the first of the Dragonships, and it was lost hundreds of years ago. Some people claimed they saw the boat around the time the children went missing, so the hope was if they found the boat, they’d find the children.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 28/100 in my 100 Book Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Published: 2009


Length: 560 pages

Setting: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and NYC, 1950s-present

Interest: My mother-in-law lent me the book after her book club read it. I’m going to hear him speak tonight, so I thought I’d post my book review and then a recount of his talk.

Summary: We follow the life of the twins Marion and Shiva, with brief forays into the lives of their parents, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, and Thomas Stone. Stone was a surgeon at Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa, and Sister Mary Joseph Praise was his assistant. She died giving birth to conjoined twins and Stone flees the hospital in the aftermath. The twins are raised by Hema and Ghosh, two other surgeons at the hospital, along with Genet, daughter of the maid. All three kids are interested in medicine, although Genet gets pulled into the Eritrean push for independence. This leads to Marion needing to leave Ethiopia quickly. He ends p in Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in NYC, where he becomes a surgeon and runs into Thomas Stone. He also meets back up with Genet, who gives him hepatitis B. He nearly dies, but Shiva donates part of his liver, dying of complications after the surgery.

Final thoughts: An excellent book. I really enjoyed the setting. I haven’t read anything set in Ethiopia before, and the author did a great job of putting us there in the shoe-string hospital. By the end, I was completely invested in all the characters and wanted to know what would happen to each one.

Title comes from: The Hippocratic Oath says, “I will not cut for stone…I will leave this operation for practitioners.” Basically it means you shouldn’t do more than you are trained for. The title is also a play on the fact that the surgeons’ names were Stone.

Reading challenges fulfilled: None, since this is a review from a book read in a previous year.

 If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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Girls With Slingshots by Danielle Corsetto


GWS1823Published: Monday through Friday

Genre: adult realistic fiction

Setting: a city (I seem to think it’s in Canada, but I’m not too sure), present day

Interest: I saw the comic blurbed on The Devil’s Panties and was intrigued enough to check it out. After reading months of archives, and laughing on a good 50%, I added it to my regular reading list.

Summary: We follow the life of Hazel, a just-turned 30-year old who’s got big plans but not a whole lot of ambition to actually implement those plans. There’s a pretty big cast of characters in Hazel’s life, including her best friend, Jamie, who’s in a semi-platonic relationship with a woman, a series of boyfriends, several gay characters, a librarian who’s also a BSDM master, and McPedro, a talking cactus. We see all their lives unfold, with successes and failures that mirror real life.

Final thoughts: I enjoy this comic quite a bit. I love the variety of characters that almost make me wish I lived in a big city where there was a bit more diversity then what I find in my little town. It is definitely an adult comic, with adult situations common. Although there’s no sex shown, dildos are a common thread and there is LOTS of drinking. Hazel is the kind of person you want to know just to hear all her crazy stories, but I certainly wouldn’t want to live her life. Jamie is a great friend who stands by Hazel no matter what, and all the other crazy characters (and not so crazy people) just add to the joy of reading the comic. Check it out at

Title comes from: I don’t actually know

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