Breathe To Read

Breathe To Read

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Sidetrack Post - The Corgi Chronicles

Book: The Corgi Chronicles
Author: Laura Madsen
Pages: 134

This is my 31st read for the year.  I read it with my two, 12 year olds and we finished it up this evening.  I had gotten this book for my daughter, Finley, for Christmas because she loves Corgis.  She has a few Corgi stuffed animals, and dreams of having one of these dogs one day.  Why doesn't she have one now?  Becuase we have a very sweet 7 year old Goldendoodle that is plenty to manage right now, thank you very much.

This book is about a dog named Pippin (who actually happens to be the name of the Corgi the writer has) who is a special kind of dog.  He is a carrier of a fairy named Alianna.  Fairies ride Corgis because they are too small to ride horses.  Alianna comes to Pippin and tells him that a special Gem has been stolen and it is up to him, the elves and the fairies to figure out how to get it back.  They have to get the Gem because if it is destroyed, it will destroy all good magic on earth.

This is a very cute book.  It is okay writing, but the kids liked it.  I think most of us who are pet owners/animal lovers would love to spin a tale about them.  We always visualize them being superheroes in their own special way.  

If you have kids who are animal lovers, and love a world with fairies and elves, then check out this book.  I am sure they will enjoy it.

Stars: 4

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Read The World - Ada's Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay - Paraguay

Book: Ada's Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay
Author: Susan Hood
Pages: 40
Book takes place in the country: YES
Author is from the country: NO
I have visited: NO

This is my 30th read for the year.  I finished it on 2/27/2019

Yes, this is a children's book.  I did read it with my children last evening, and we all really enjoyed it.  I wanted it for my Paraquay book because I knew the story.  I have seen the story on TV, and found it amazing, so I knew it would be a nice add to my collection.  My kids were fascinated with it.  And then we watched the You Tube video about the story, and that wrapped it all up nicely for them.  It is truly inspriational.

If you want to see the video, please click HERE

This is the true story of a little girl who grew up in Cateura, Paraguay, in a landfill.  She always wanted to play the violin, but in this part of the world, a violin would cost more than a house.  One day, a music teacher named Favio Chavez came to the area.  He brought with him the few instruments he had.  Not enough to go around, he - and the folks in the landfill - went through the trash and found what they needed to make various instruments.  Thus, the Recycled Orchestra was born.  The children practiced for hours a day and now they travel the world as an orchestra inspiring everyone.  

It is truly amazing what they were able to create out of trash.  My parents are music teachers, and I grew up in a world surrounded by expensive instruments, concerts, and full orchestras.  When I saw this video for the first time, I was blown away by the sound that came out of the instruments that were made from trash in the landfill.  Even my kids, when they watched the children play were astounded.

A wonderful, inspiring tale, it is one for the shelf.  For sure.  It is beautifully illustrated and well written.  This is a story for all ages.

Stars: 4 1/2

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Read The World - Morocco - Secret Son

Book: Secret Son
Author: Laila Lalami
Pages: 320
Book takes place in the country: YES
Author is from the country: YES
I have visited: NO

This was my 29th read for 2019.  I finished it on 2/25/2019

I have toyed with the idea of visiting Morocco while we are living here in Europe.  I have had a few friends who have gone and loved it.  My parents are actually going on vacation there in March.  What stops me is my youngest daughter.  She is legally blind, and what I hear about Marakessh, espeically, is that it is very crowded.  And that people reach out and touch you as you walk through the market place.  While this would not bother me, it would startle her because she wouldn't see it coming.  I understand it is beautiful and a place that shouldn't be missed.  We shall see.

This is the story of Youssef who was raised by a single mother in the slums of Cassablanca.  When he is a teenager, he finds out the truth about his father.  His mother had always told him that his dad had died in a horrible accident when Youssef was a baby.  His mother finally tells him the truth, and he goes in search of his father.  His father, a weathy man, offers to give Youssef a leg up and help him live the life Youssef always wanted.  But when his father's wife finds out about Youssef, he is cut off and finds himself back in the slums and on the streets with his childhood friends.

Bitter feelings and a sense of hopelessness lead him into a situation he can see no way out of.  His mother tries to advise him and make him realize he should be proud of who he is no matter what, but in the end, it might be too late.

This book was fine.  I am seriously considering not keeping it as my Morocco book for my challenge because the ending was horrible.  It just.....stops.  The writing was so/so, and the story a mixed bag for me, but I was okay with it until the last chapter.  I keep going back to it SURE that my Kindle version had somehow cut off the true ending of the story.  I went onto Amazon and found that I was not alone - that this was truly how she decided to end the book.  It was not a good choice.

As much as I hate to ADD another book to my very long list of countries I am reading, I just don't think this is the book for me.  I think I will search for another book about Morocco.

Stars: 3

Monday, February 25, 2019

Read The World - Croatia - Girl At War

Book: Girl At War
Author: Sara Novic
Pages: 336
Book takes place in the country: YES
Author is from the country: NO
I have visited: NO

This is my 28th read for 2019.  AND - this is the 50th book I have reviewed for my Read The World Challenge.  

Croatia is on my short list of places to visit while we live in Switzerland.  Although, that short list is starting to get very, very long.  I feel like we have to take advantage of as many places as we can while we live within hopping distances to these countries.  I need to get busy planning.

One other mention I want to make about this book, that really has nothing to do with the book itself.  In reading about the author I found out that she is deaf.  She is an activist who writes about the challenges of being a deaf novelist.

This is the story of Ana.  Her life changed in 1991 when she was 10 years old and war broke out in Croatia.  She was living in Zagreb at the time, with her parents and little sister.  Her little sister was very sick, and due to the lack of health care, supplies, and food, Ana's parents make the hard decision to send her little sister to the United States to get well.  She is put with a foster family and Ana fears she may never see her again.

The book jumps forward to 2001 when Ana is now in the United States and a college student.  After the war broke out, and tragedy struck her family, she was sent to the United States to be adopted by the same family who had her sister.  She has tried to move on, but the things she saw and did after the war make it hard.  She makes the decision she must go back to Croatia to find closure.

So she returns.  She finds her closest friend and together they revisit the past and try to fill in the missing pieces that Ana has lived with for so long.  She visits the last places she remembers before she was swept away and it brings back the ghost she had been hiding for so long.

This was a pretty good book.  I listened to it as an audiobook, and I felt this one was much easier to follow than the last one I tried.  I liked the pace of the book, and I think it flowed well.  I do wish there would have been more said about the time the main character was a child soldier.  Another critique I would have is the overuse of "colorful" language.  Over describing things just for the sake it.  But on the whole - it was a good story, and another one of those books that reminds me, as an American, about how lucky I truly am.

I would say pick up this book.  Even though it is a work of fiction, it is based on the very real war in Croatia.

Stars: 4

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Read The World - Saudi Arabia - Daring To Drive: A Saudi Woman's Awakening

Book: Daring To Drive: A Saudi Woman's Awakening
Author: Manal Al-Sharif
Pages: 320
The book takes place in the country: YES
The author is from the country: YES
I have visited: NO

This is my 27th read for this year.  I finished it on 2/23/2019

I have only been to one Middle Eastern Country - the United Arab Emirates.  It is a beautiful part of the world, and right above Saudi Arabia.  Saudi Arabia is not anywhere on my list to visit.  And after reading this book, well, it remains that way.  This book makes me realize how very small our problems we Americans (and even the Swiss) have compared to other parts of the world.  Especially as a woman.  I have NEVER had to fear what Manal had to fear.  Never.

This is the story of the author and her want to change the rules for women drivers in her country.  The book begins with her being arrested for driving on open Saudi roads.  This is something, as a woman, she is forbidden to do.  There is actually no law that women cannot drive in Saudi Arabia.  But it is a custom, and in Saudi Arabia, customs are treated like laws.  She is arrested by the Saudi religious police, and thrown in jail without a trial.

The book goes back to her childhood, and she talks about her upbringing in Mecca.  She lived within walking distance to the Grand Mosque there - where all Muslims must visit at least once in their lives as a pilgrimage.  While the Mosque is revered, Mecca is where the very poor and destitute live.  She grew up in an apartment that didn't have running water, and they barely had enough food to eat.

Manal speaks about how she grew up where women and men were kept separate in all things.  Women could not drive themselves anywhere.  Women cannot rent an apartment without a man.  Women cannot go out without a male escort or guardian.  Women cannot attend funerals of loved ones.  Women cannot, cannot, cannot.  Manal bought into the retoric for a large part of her childhood because it is what she was taught, what she was fed, and what she new.  She became a devout Muslim and tried to follow the rules that were put in place for women.  

It wasn't until she went to college and realized she didn't want to study the "normal" women professions available to her, and studied computer science.  She got a job at the presigious Aramco company, but even there she faced restrictions.  She could not rent her own place.  She could not drive herself to and from work.  She could not dress the way she wanted at work without scutiny.  

She did some traveling and her eyes were opened.  She found that women in other countries could drive themselves where they needed to go, and that is what she wanted for herself.  While she lived for a short period in the United States, she obtained a drivers license, and was determined to get one when she returned home.

She organized Women2Drive movement on facebook, and it received attention on a global scale.  It caused a lot of problems for her at work - she started getting death threats, and scathing emails about what she was doing, but she was also getting support from women who wanted to be able to drive themselves.  While they were organizing a "Drive day" Manal decided she was going to drive herself somewhere, and that is what got her arrested.  She was thrown in a jail that was full of cockroaches, not enough food, and extremely crowded conditions, and it made her even more determined to continue to work to change things.

Today, she speaks all over the world about what she accomplished and the strides she has made for Saudi Arabia.  Sadly she had to move from Saudi due to the pressure she was receiving from the public.  She now lives in Dubai with her family.

This was an excellent book.  Eye opening at the very least.  Well told, and well written.  Manal did an excellent job of telling her life story and what eventually lead her to become an activist for women's rights in Saudi Arabia.  I cannot imagine having the deal with the rules she had to follow as a woman in her own country.  The lack of freedom she had just because she was female isn't something I have ever had to deal with.  I commend her on her bravery and her efforts.  And as of 2018, the King issued a decree lifting the world's only ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia.

Bravo Manal.

Stars: 5

Friday, February 22, 2019

Read The World - Honduras - The Lost City of the Monkey God

Book: The Lost City of the Monkey God
Author: Douglas Preston
Pages: 336
Book takes place in the country: YES
Author is from the country: NO
I have visited: NO

This is my 26th read for 2019.  I listened to this book.  I did better with this book, listening wise.  I decided that I would listen to books on the tram instead of read for "practice" and it went well.  Also helped me finish the book quicker.

This is the story of the author's journey in 2012 with a team of scientist into Honduras to find the lost White City otherwise known as the Lost City of the Monkey God.  The story is that it was a city where in the 1400s, people fled to hide from Spanish invaders.  The rumor is, that anyone who entered the city would fall ill and die.  Especially if you disturbed a particular flower that grew there. There was actually a journalist who went searching for the city in the 1940s, but committed suicide before he could reveal the location.

Now with proper technology to search the jungle, Preston and his team go in for a few weeks in search for the city and the artifacts.  They do happen across a huge cache of carved items and in doing so, endure the dangers of the Honduras jungle.

The last 1/3 of the book talks about the parasitic infection that half of the team came down with on their return from the expidition.  This leads to an explanation of how Christopher Columbus and his crew brought in European diseases to the area and killed off a large portion of Honduras' indigenous people who could not fend off things like small pox.

I enjoyed this book for the most part.  What they came across in the jungle was incredible and scary.  They are lucky that none of them were killed.  About 1/3 of the story is about the expidition itself, and the rest is about the history of the area and then the medical intervention that the team received when they returned.  While I found the medical part the most interesting (I am a nurse after all), I could see how this was a bit much.  It isn't what the story was supposed to be about, after all.  It should have been more about the actual hunt and discovery of the lost city than about the team dealing with a jungle illness.  BUT, I would not use this critique to discourage you from reading the book.  It is a very interesting historical recounting of the Hondurase lost city.

Stars: 4

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Read The World - Sierra Leone - A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

Book: A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
Author: Ishmael Beah
Pages: 229
Book takes place in the country: YES
Author is from the country: YES
I have visited: NO

This is my 25th book for the year.  I finished reading it on 2/21/2019.

Another book that takes place in an African Country.  So many incredible stories that come out of Africa.  So many unbelieveable ones at that.  Things that we in America would never even imagine happening to us in our lifetimes, let alone as a child.

This is the author's own story.  When he was about 11 years old, the world around him changed.  War began and he had to flee his home leaving his family behind.  Fearing that they are dead, he hides in the woods, stealing food and trying to stay alive.  He finds another group of children who are also on the run, and together, they try to survive.  

At the age of 12, he is picked up by rebel troops and trained to fight.  He is given an AK-47 and becomes hooked on hard drugs, and learns to kill.  For a year he is with the rebels and helps kill hundreds of people before he is finally rescued by the government army and put into a rehabilitation camp with other boys.  He has had such a hard year, the boy he was is all but gone.  What is left is a drug withdrawn, angry killer who has migraines and violent nightmares.

He rehabilitates, and the government releases him to an uncle.  The uncle's family welcomes him and gives him the love he needs to continue to heal.  Ishmael is then asked to go to the United States to talk about what it was like as a child soldier and he agrees.

When he returns to Sierra Leone, the government once again is overthrown and it becomes very unsafe once again.  His past is coming back to haunt him, and he knows he has to escape.  So he calls a woman he met in New York (who would become his adoptive mother) and asks if he can get to her, would she let him stay with her and she said yes.  So at the age of 16, he heads off to the United States to escape Sierra Leone once and for all.

I have mixed feelings about this book.  The first feeling is that this story is so unbelievable and hearrbreaking it is hard to fathom.  I cannot imagine a little boy the age of my son getting an automatic weapon and cocaine and being forced to kill people.  And then having to live with that for the rest of his life.  To hear a first hand account from someone who actually not only had to live through a terrible situation, but had to participate in it, is a lot of take in.

The book itself, though, had some short comings in my opinion.  While the information is there, the book isn't full of a lot of emotion and I didn't find it very well written.  It seemed disconnected.  The violence and discriptions of that violence are hard to read.  I am sure the writer felt it was necessary to describe, but it was cringe worthy.

The other thing I wish he would have done was talked more about his time in the United States.  The book ends with him basically getting on the plane to his new life in the US, but he never speaks of it and what it was like to adjust.  There is just a slight mention of it in the thank you section of the book where he says he went to Oberlin College.  After so much terrible, it would have been nice to hear about his "happy ending" (that that is what it truly was)

If you now know those things, but are still interested in hearing about the life of a child who was forced into war, then please read this one.  It is an eye opening book that I think a lot of people should read.

Stars: 3 1/2

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Read The World - Norway - Out Stealing Horses

Book: Out Stealing Horses
Author: Per Petterson
Pages: 274
The book takes place in the country: YES
The author is from the country:NO
I have been: NO

This is my 24th book for the year.  I finished it today!

I have Norway on my short list.  Just like just about every other country.  Norway is easily accessed to us here in Switzerland, so I am hoping we get to at least Oslo before we move back to the states.

This is the story of a man named Trond Sanders.  It is the year 1999 and he is 67 years old and has bought a cabin in Norway that he is going to fix up and spend the rest of his life in.  He has moved in late in the season, and is worried about getting the cabin ready before Norway winter really sets in.  As he gets things ready, he runs into a man that was part of his distance past, and it brings up a lot of memories of the last time he was at this lake.

The book travels back and forth between 1999 and 1948 when Trond was 15 years old and at this very lake for the summer.  It is just he and his dad.  His dad was there thinking he could make some money doing logging.  Trond meets a young boy his age named Jon who talks Trond into "Stealing" horses from neighboring farms.  The boys don't actually steal them, just ride them and return them, but the idea is thrilling to the young boys.  

A tragedy during that summer leaves two families torn apart, for very different reasons.  Trond learns things about his father he wished he never knew.  Jon has to live with what he has done.  

The book delves into relationships of fathers and son, best friends of youth, and how things can come full circle. There are some things from your past you cannot escape no matter how hard you try. 

The last line in the book was the best of all: "We decide for ourselves when it will hurt".  

It was an excellent novel.  It is beautifully written and I could picture the harsh Norway countryside as I read.  The story takes so many twists and turns, all revolving around the pain we feel for things that happen in our past and how we chose to deal with them and face them in the future.  I encourage you to read this short novel for yourself.  You will not be disappointed.

Stars: 4 1/2

Monday, February 18, 2019

Sidetrack Post - The Graveyard Book

Book: The Graveyard Book:
Author: Neil Gaiman
Pages: 368

While I am busy reading a book from Norway, I am going to blog about a book I just finished reading with my children.  I have two, 12 year olds - a boy and a girl - who still let me read to them each evening.  It is a sweet little tradition that I know I won't be able to hold onto for much longer, so while it last, I let them pick books that we can share together.

We sometimes read two at a time because they have varying tastes.  But this book held both of their interest, and I love Neil Gaiman, so it worked out beautifully.

This would be my 23rd book for the year 2019.  I am counting it because I read it too.

This is the story of Nobody (Bod) Owens.  When he was a baby, his whole family was killed.  Bod narrowly escaped and ended up toddling into a graveyard near by.   Now he is being raised by ghost and his guardian - Silas - is the only one besides Bod that can travel between the living and the dead.  So he is in charge of keeping Bod fed and clothes and protecting him from the killer that still seeks him out.

As Bod grows, even though he is human, he is able to do a few things like the dead.  He can make himself fade from view from the living.  He can see well in the dark.  He can slink between walls.  All powers he has only because of the protections of the graveyard.

As Bod gets older, he wants more and more to leave the graveyard.  He wants to go to school, to make friends, to have a life among the living.  But Silas warns how dangerous this could be.  The killer - Jack - is still out there looking for Bod.  In the end, Silas gives in, and lets Bod attend school.  But it quickly becomes a grave error when Bod refuses to lay down to a bully and he draws attention to himself.  He soons realizes that he cannot be among the living until Jack is caught.

Enter Scarlett.  When Bod was a little boy, Scarlett had visited the graveyard with her parents, but then moved away.  Now, at age 14, she is back, and Bod and she become friends.  Scarlett comes to the graveyard to visit, and meets a Mr. Frost who befriends her and her mother.  One thing leads to another, and Scarlett and Bod end up visiting Mr. Frost at his house and discover that this is the Jack that has been after Bod for so many years.

Will Bod and Scarlett escape?  Will Silas return in time to help save them?  You will have to read the book to find out!

We really liked the book.  Neil Gaiman is such a talendted writer and there are laugh out loud moments throughout.  I encourage you to read this middle grade novel either for yourself or with your children.

Stars: 4 1/2

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Read The World - Ecuador - Galapagos

Book: Galapagos
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Pages: 336
The book takes place in the country: YES
The author is from the country: YES
I have visited: NO

This is my 22nd read of the year.  I finished it on 2/16/2019.

And now I think I am finally caught up.  Now there will be space between my Read The World post.  Aren't you glad?  Don't worry - I will find other things to blog about while I am in the middle of reading my country books.

I have actually read only one other Kurt Vonnegut book - "Slaughterhouse Five" and I really liked it.  So, when one of his books appeared for Equador, I decided to give it a try.

The story opens with a narrator from a million years in the future.  He brings us back in time to the 1980s when a group of people are about the take a cruise.  What the passengers don't know is that it is about the be the apocolypse and they will be the last survivors of the human race and whom all future humans stem from.

The narrator had died tragically young actually building the boat for the cruise of the last of the human race.  When he meets the "tunnel of the afterlife", where his family coaxes him to join them, he is distracted by the people on the cruise.  He is warned that if he doesn't join the afterlife at that moment, he would be stuck to wander the earth for one million years before the tunnel will be open to him again.  He decides not to go into the light and thus is now one million years into the future waiting for the afterlife tunnel to open again.

While he waits, he tells the stories of the passengers of the fateful cruise, who are sailing from main land Ecuador to the Galapagos islands, that are the last surviving humans.  

These folks are a random selection of passengers that are marooned on an island called Santa Rosalia.  The rest of the world becomes infertile and eventually humanity dies out.  Only the people on the island are able to reproduce and continue the human race.  Over the next million years humans evolve into furry spieces that look like sea lions - who have flippers instead of hands, and can swim more than they can walk.

The book goes back and forth between the narrator talking about the future and him recounting the lives of the people on the ship and how they all came to be together.  It is a pretty good book.  Quirky and disorienting and confusing, and great all wrapped into one.  I liked it a lot more than I thought I would.

I encourage you to try the book.  Especially if you have read Vonnegut in the past.

Stars: 4

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Read The World - Malaysia - The Gift Of Rain

Book: The Gift of Rain
Author: Tan Twan Eng
Pages: 450
Book takes place in the country: YES
Author is from the country: YES
I have visited: NO

Okay - confession time.  I started to read this book yesterday, got 20 pages in and it started to sound very familiar.  I read a few more pages, and then became convinced.  I did a back search on my blog and yes, I had read it before.  I don't know how I missed it when I was doing a search for countries.  

I read this book in 2016.  So I am going to post my review from then.

This is the story of 16 year old Phillip Hutton.  He is half Chinese, half English and from a prominent family in Penang.  While his siblings and father are away on vacation, he chooses to stay home alone.  He gets to know Hayato Endo who is a Japanese diplomat.  Philip spends time showing Endo around and in return Endo teaches him Japanese and aikido.  When the Japanese invade Malaya, Phillip learns that Endo is a Japanese spy.  It is clear that Endo has taught Philip aikido to help save his life and possibly the life of his family.

This is a pretty good book.  I have to admit I had a hard time getting into it.  I don't think it was the book's fault, though.  I think it was when I was trying to read it, so I don't want to judge it too harshly.  I did like the characters.  Endo-san and Phillip develop almost a father/son relationship.  Since Phillip's mother had died when he was a baby, and she was his Chinese ancestor, he never felt as close to his father and half siblings.  This book does a good job mixing the three cultures together - Western, Chinese, and Japanese.

I have read a lot of WWII books/pre-WWII books, but this is the first one from Southeast Asia.  I recommend trying it out.

Stars: 4

Friday, February 15, 2019

Read The World - Czech Republic - The Unbearable Lightness Of Being

Book: The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Author: Milan Kundera
Pages: 320
Book takes place in the country: YES
Author is from the country: YES
I have visited: NO

This is my 21st read of this year.  I finished this book on February 14, 2019.

This is my first audiobook of the year.  I don't listen to too many audiobooks because I tend to get distracted while listening and start thinking of other things.  Then I continually feel like I need to rewind and it takes me a long time to finish it.

But this time, I had a paint by number that I had picked up.  They have always looked fun to me, so I got one of those and while I painted, I listened.  And then while I grocery shopped, I listened.  And while I packed lunches, I listened.  I think if I do it more often, I will get better at listening and not "wandering".

This is the story of Thomas and Tereza, Sabina and Franz during the Russion Invasion of the Czech Republic in the 1960s.  Tereza is in love with Thomas who is a incorrigible womanizer.  His mistress is Sabina, but Thomas is not her only lover.  Franz is also in love with Sabina, but married to someone else.

The main characters are Thomas and Tereza, and their lives together.  Even thought Tereza is midly aware of his womanizing, she stays with him until the end of their lives.  Thomas knows he doesn't deserve her, but he cannot help who he is.

The author describes the thoughts and feelings of all the characters, and works at getting to the core of understanding who they are.  All of thier misgivings, all of their fears and doubts, are brought to light in this novel.  The book delves into the difficulty that is life and the struggles that many people have on a daily basis when in relationships with others.

The author's one line says it all: "Being - of the human life - is unbearably light because it is lived in a straight line - there is no true interpretation, nothing to grab onto, as our lives are driven forward by chance and fortuity."

I don't know how I felt about this book.  Again - I think listening to it didn't do me any favors.  But again - my prudishness came into play here as well because there is a lot of infidelity in this book, a lot of talk about sex, and a lot of talk about the human body.  This is just a warning in case you feel that this is a book you might be interested in.  I know there was deeper meaning around these parts of the book, but just so you are aware.

Will this stay as my Czech book?   Maybe.  I need to think about it some more.

Stars: 3

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Read The World - Great Britian - Dracula

Book: Dracula
Author: Bram Stoker
Pages: 400
Book takes place in the country: YES
Author is from the country: NO (but he did live there for awhile)
I have visited: YES (twice)

This is my 20th read for 2019.  I finished it on 2/13/2019

I know not a soul pays attention to what I have reviewed and what I haven't, but I will say - this is my second review for Great Britian this year.  If you do remember, my first was Harry Potter.  That will remain my favorite series from Great Britian, HOWEVER - I didn't really want a series book for my shelf.  So I added another in its place.

ALSO - this was not my original 2nd choice for Great Britian.  I actually had Dracula on my list for Romania.  Because....Transylvania.  But then I started to read it and actually only about 50 pages of this book take place in Transylvania, and the rest take place in Great Britian.  So.....Great Britian it is!  

We actually got to see where Bram Stoker used to work in Dublin, Ireland this past fall when we visited.  (Dublin Castle) We got to look at the window he peered from when he first started to develop the novel as he worked as a clerk.  We also visited Trinity College where he went to school.

The story opens with Count Dracula in Transylvania.  Young Jonathan is visiting him there because the Count would like to buy a house in England.  While Jonathan is visiting, he witnesses strange behavior by the Count that he cannot explain.  And he realizes he is Dracula's prisoner because he cannot leave the castle.  He wonders the castle which seems largely empty, and he meets 3 women vampires called "the sisters" whom he realizes are vampires.  He starts to put together that Dracula is too.  He barely escapes with his life.

Dracula, meanwhile, is on a ship heading for England.  He has boxes full of soil that he must have in order to survive.  He wants to go to England to make more vampires.

While Jonathan is gone, his wife, Mina, is staying with a friend named Lucy.  Lucy falls ill, and Mina notices she has two small pin prick marks on her neck.  Concerned, Mina sends for Lucy's betrothed (Arthur) plus two other men who care deeply for Lucy named Dr. Seward and Quincey Morris to try and figure out what is wrong with her.  Lucy continues to grow weaker and weaker, and it becomes apparent to the reader the Dracula is somehow involved.

Enter Professor Abraham Van Helsing who is a good friend of Dr. Seward.  He immediately figures out what is wrong with Lucy, but by that time, it is too late.  Lucy dies and is buried by her distraught betrothed, Arthur. 

Once Lucy is buried, young children start to disappear from the area.  Van Helsing figures out it is Lucy who is luring the children to the graveyard so she can feed on them.  Van Helsing convinces Arthur that they will have to cut off Lucy's head and stab a wooden stake through her heart so that she is no longer a vampire and can truly rest.

Jonathan, Mina, Dr. Seward, Arthur, Quincey Morris, and Van Helsing all join forces to drive Dracula out of England and also to eventually kill him.  They research his powers and his weaknesses and develop a plan.  Dracula gets wind of that plan and soon bites Mina 3 times so that he can control her.  It changes her, but she never completely becomes a vampire.  Instead of her giving herself over completely to Dracula, she uses the connection to help the team find him and kill him.

This is a GREAT book.  I won't give away the ending, but I am sure most people know.  The writing was superb, and easy to follow, even though it was written over 120 years ago.  Just excellent.  I don't know how I have never read this classic novel, but I am so glad that I did.  I really did enjoy every word.  I definitely want to add other books by Stoker to my TBR list once this challenge is over.  

Stars: 5

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Read The World - Austria - Marrying Mozart

Book: Marrying Mozart
Author: Stephanie Cowell
Pages: 368
Book takes place in the country: YES
The author is from the country: NO
I have visited: YES

This was my 19th read of the year.  I finished it on 2/10/2019

I have visited Austria, but only a very small blip of it.  Living here in Switzerland, it is easy to cross into the country on the way to others.  Last summer we went to visit the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany and as part of the tour we took, we went into Austria and drove along the beautiful country side.  Visiting Salzburg and Vienna are on my short list to hit while we live over here.  My parents visited there last year, and - being two music teachers - loved it so much.  I would love to see where Mozart was born and raised.  I played the piano starting at the age of 4 and the French Horn starting at the age of 8, so I am very familiar with him and his works.  Paying homage to this great man's life is something I intend to do.

This is the story of the 4 Weber sisters who live in Mannaheim.  They are a musical family performing in small venues when Wolfgang Mozart enters their lives.  He falls for the second eldest daughter, Aloysia.  She is very beautiful and a talented singer and Mozart plans to marry her.  Unfortunately, his parents have other plans for him.  Mozart's talents have already begun to show themselves, and his parents want him to focus on becoming successful and put of marriage until he is 30 years old.

He continues to put off Aloysia as he returns to Austria to continue to write operas and music.  Aloysia then gets a job to sing in Vienna, and the whole family moves with her.  Aloysia gets tired of waiting for Mozart, though, and falls in love with another man.  Mozart is heartbroken, and delves into his work.   

Meanwhile the other sisters are left with their mother.  Their father has died and they are trying to care for a retched woman who never says a nice word to the girls.  Josepha finally runs away, Sophia joins a convent, and that leaves Constanze at home with her mother.  Mozart becomes a boarder at the girl's mother's house and soon finds himself falling for Constanze.

In the end, Constanze and Mozart wed.  We know that their married life is short because Mozart dies at the age of 35.  

The story does go back and forth between the girl's young lives, and Sophia as an elderly woman telling the story for an interview.   I really liked this book.  It was well written, and a light read, and I know that it has truth undertones.  The author is clear that is basically historical fiction.  Mozart was married to Constanze.  He was from Austria.  He did write fantastic music and operas.  This book touches very lightly on his life and focuses mostly on the lives of the four girls.  

I enjoyed it.  I encourage you to read it.  I find it amazing that Mozart - the brilliant musician - struggled so much to just survive almost his whole life.  It is truly amazing.

Stars: 4 1/2

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Read The World - Mexico - Like Water For Chocolate

Book: Like Water For Chocolate
Author: Laura Esquivel
Pages: 256
The book takes place in the country: YES
The author is from the country: YES
I have visited: YES

This was my 18th read for the year.  I finished is on 2/6/2019

I have actually been to Mexico a few times.  In the early 2000s, my husband and I lived in San Diego, California.  We would cross the border into Mexico into Tijuana a few times a year.  We loved going down there.  We could actually drive to the border, and take a bus for a small amount of money to cross over into Mexico.  The food was fantastic, and we loved to go shopping there - collecting small items for insanely low prices.  

That was back when things were simpler, of course.  IT was after 9/11, true, but we could still cross into Mexico with just our driver's license because we were living in California.  We would go back and forth so easily.  The hustle and bustle and loud music across the border was something I looked forward to doing all the time, and I am glad we got to experience it.

This story takes place on the De la Garza ranch.  Mama Elena gives birth to a little girl named Tita - right in the kitchen where Mama Elena was working.  Tita knows this is what lead to her love for cooking and creating delicious dishes. 

Tita grows up as the youngest daughter of Mama Elena, and the tradition in her family is that the youngest daughter never marries and always takes care of her mother.  But Tita is in love with a boy named Pedro.  And Pedro loves Tita.  Mama Elena refuses to let them be together, so Pedro marries Tita's eldest sister so that he can always be near her.

Over the course of their whole lives, Ttia and Pedro love each other.  Pedro stays married to Tita's oldest sister, has children with her, and even moves away for a time.  Tita falls for another man named John, but never comes to love him like she loved Pedro.

They spend their whole lives circling each other.  Through a tale of magical realism, and a tale that is chalked full of metaphors and figurative speech, Tita finally learns about love and passion.  Food is the central theme of this book and it helps express Tita's feelings and understanding of what is happening around her.

This was a very interesting book.  I really liked it, but it took me awhile to get into a rhythm with the style of writing.  It reminded me a bit of the writing in 100 Years of Solitude.  It took some concentration to find the deeper meaning in what Tita was trying to express.  Many of the characters die during the book unpredictably and in very bizarre ways.  Above all, this book will make you hungry - the meals she describes and cooks are mouth watering.  They all sound delicious.

If you are into magical realism type stories, and are okay with a bizaare tale, then this book is for you.  

Stars: 4

Monday, February 11, 2019

Read The World - Malawi - The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind

Book: The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind
Author: William Kamkwamba
Pages: 320
Book takes place in the country: YES
Author is from the country: YES
I have visited: NO

This is my 17th read for this year.  I finished it on 2/5/2019

There are so many countries in Africa, and there are many I have no heard of, or know where exactly they are located.  I am learning a lot about the world and the location of many countries just by doing this challenge.  That has been rewarding in itself.

This book was recommended to me a few times, AND there is a netflix movie coming out in March about this true story, so I am anxious to see it.

This is a true story about the author's life growing up in Malawi.  William faced many hardships growing up in a small, poor village in East Africa.  The biggest source of income in the area was farming maize.  Due to dry weather, and long droughts, there were many instances of hunger in the village.  One year it got so bad, and the government ignored the plight, that many people starved to death.  William and his family barely survived by eating one small meal a day.  There was no money and no food and very little hope.

During this time, William had started attending a poor secondary school.  He loved school, but it wasn't free.  His father could not afford to send him during the drought because all their money had to go to food.  So William sought the comfort of the local library and its small amount of science books.  There he discovered the power of windmills, and saw he could make a difference in his families fate by using the wind to generate power.

He built a small windmill at first and then a larger one to actually generate some electricity for his families small hut.  He was also able to use it to get running water - another thing that was sorely lacking.  As the crops started to grow, and the drought ended, things turned around for William's family and also for his village.

The town was told of his windmill, and soon word spread.  At first the towns people saw it as magic and witchcraft and were fearful.  But as the outside world started to arrive, they saw that it was a miracle and that science was going to change the lives of the people in the village.

Thus began a wirlwind life for William - traveling all over the world talking about what he had done and about life in his village.  He was able to improve the lives of everyone around him and overcame crippling poverty and adversity.

This was a really great book.  It is well told and well written.  He does go off on a little bit of a tangent about the making of his windmills, but otherwise, the story of his life is fascinating.  And it didn't take place a long time ago - William was born in 1987, and discovered around 2007.  He went on to finish high school and was even accepted and graduated from Dartmouth College.  He continues to tour today speaking of what he was able to do and encouraging others in small, poor areas of the world to do the same.

I encourage you to read the story.  I even got a little teary at the end because of how things turned out for him and his family.  Great read - check it out.

Stars: 4 1/2