Tag Archives: HarperCollins

Review: A Land More Kind Than Home

CashTitle:  A Land More Kind Than Home

Author:  Wiley Cash

Publisher:  William Morrow, HarperCollins, 2012


I took a deep breath while sitting in my apartment living room on the north end of Seattle. I could feel the thick humid air, smell the tobacco fields, and hear the cicadas singing in the summer heat. Never mind that it is autumn and I live in a breezy, sea-salty corner of the Pacific Northwest. Wiley Cash has transported me to the rural south, in his first novel, A Land More Kind Than Home.

With each chapter the readers hears from one of three voices – all characters who reside in a small town in North Carolina, each with their own version of the slow, soft southern drawl. Cash is a native of Western North Carolina, which strongly resonates in his work. The story Cash has woven  with these full southern characters is dark, and slightly haunting. Centered around faith in god and the possibility of miracles, this book aptly explores love, faith, and redemption in a way no other story which I have read has before. I recommend this beautifully written novel to all readers aged 13 and up.

Posted By JanineReads

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Guest Review by BetsyReads: The White Tiger

A Note From the Editor: We *love* our readers! In honor of Valentine’s day,  crosscountryreading honors its readers with our very first ever guest read! Please enjoy the following review by loyal reader, Betsyreads.

Guest Review by Betsyreads

Title:  The White Tiger

Author:  Aravind Adiga

Publisher:  Free Press, 2008

& HaperCollins India, 2008

Prize Winner: 40th  Man Booker Prize, 2008

Genre:  Fiction

 Am I not a part of all that is changing in this country?  Haven’t I succeeded in the struggle that every poor man here should be making – the struggle not to take the lashes your father took, not to end up in a mound of indistinguishable bodies that will rot in the black mud of Mother Ganga?  True, there was the matter of murder – which is a wrong thing to do, no question about it.  It has darkened my soul.  All the skin-whitening creams sold in the markets of India won’t clean my hands again (p. 473).

Munna, The White Tiger, Balram, and Ashok Sharma are identities of the same fictional man, and metaphors for the actual men of modern India.  Munna, which translates as “boy,” is the son of a tuberculosis-infected, half-starved, low caste rickshaw driver, and as such is expected to be content with a life of sweeping dirt and mice off of sweetshop floors.  The White Tiger is his adolescent nickname, assigned by the grandmother who knows Munna to be a rare and crafty child.  With the grandmother’s help, The White Tiger becomes Balram, a hired driver (of an actual automobile, not a rickshaw!) for a powerful, enigmatic landlord in the local area.

In the context of living and working as the landlord’s driver and general servant, Balram learns about the complexities of Indian society in the cities beyond his village, which he dubs “The Darkness.”  He shares with his intended reader, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, his revelations about the shifting realities of an ancient caste system, political corruption, marital traditions, family dynamics, and the key to business success in a rapidly changing India.  Favorable comparisons to Chinese society are offered almost as frequently as mocking references to American absurdities.  Overall, the perspective of the protagonist is intelligent and insightful, if at times crude and jarring.

Following a circular timeframe, the reader is cued at the beginning to follow Balram’s story to a foreshadowed act of incredible violence that changes, some might say frees, his life.  He very unapologetically becomes Ashok Sharma, boldly adopting part of his former master’s own name.  Using a metaphor of a rooster coop, in which animals corral themselves and are ultimately responsible for their own entrapment, Ashok Sharma admits how he was “looking for the key for years, but the door was always open.”  The cost of opening that door is given little consideration.

A Western reader would be foolish to miss the obvious parallels to the economic and political systems of the United States.  At least in India, the caste system is intentional – its existence is visible and its consequences acknowledged.  In the United States, one could argue, a more insidious caste system exists.  Where the caste system is invisibly enforced but outwardly denied, one must be even more of a White Tiger to change one’s status.

Betsyreads recommends this book for readers looking for a glimpse into the India that is kept carefully hidden from travel brochures.  Readers intrigued by intermingled discussions of philosophy, economics, history, and religion will be rewarded.  Aravind Adiga, in his first novel, allows the protagonist to ramble a bit – Hemingway fans may find themselves frustrated by the amount of sidetracked dialogue.  Overall, the journey is worth the meandering.  Due to persistent vulgarity, Betsyreads recommends this book for readers ages 16 and up.

Posted by: Guest, BetsyReads

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Review: Fly By Night

flybynight-316x480Title:  Fly By Night

Author:  Frances Hardinge

Publisher:  Macmillan Publishers, 2005 (UK)

HarperCollins, 2006 (US)

Genre:  Fantasy

Awards: Branford Boase Award (UK), School Library Journal’s Best Books of 2006 (US)

 

I was excited to find this book on display at my local library during the American Library Association’s “Banned Books Week” back in October. I picked it up, read half of it, lost interest, then recently checked it out again to give it another shot. I know what you’re thinking, “You lost interest in an award-winning Fantasy book which is about banned books?!” Unfortunately, the answer is yes.  Although Fly By Night is an adventure story filled with unique and quirky characters and a world that is unlike our own, overall, I found the book to be tedious.

The book is written in faux old English, at an unnamed time and place which mildly resembles jolly old England at the turn of the century. The writing has some amusing attributes – my favorite being that each chapter is lettered and titled, “A is for…”, “B is for…” and so on – but many of the chapter are simply too long and contain too many side stories which do not serve the plot whatsoever.

Mosca, our main character, is a Spunky young girl whose deceased father was once a great writer. Because of this Mosca has learned to read and write,  which in a world where written word is not only banned but feared, leads her to become intertwined in a full on war. Mosca meets a con man who is involved with several guilds which resemble social / religious / political groups. The guild leaders among the only characters who can read and write. They use the power of fear to manipulate the general public into following their guild – eventually this leads to a full on war. Mosca, who cannot seem to stay out of trouble becomes a key player in the outcome of the battle. The book ends with an uncertainty for where Mosca, her con man, and the general public will end up next.

Though this book has many great attributes of a riveting fantasy novel, the length, word choice, and never-ending subplots prevent me from recommending it to any of my friends. If wordiness and meandering plots is your thing, I’d find this book suitable for readers aged 10+.

 

Posted by: Janine Reads

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Review: The Berlin Boxing Club

Title: The Berlin Boxing ClubThe-Berlin-Boxing-Club

Publisher:  HarperTeen a division of  HarperCollins, 2011

Author:  Robert Sharenow

Genre:  Historical Fiction

I know what you’re thinking, “What?! You already posted on this book!” You are correct. After reading the character sketch and review that Fred Reads posted about The Berlin Boxing Club I was inspired to do something never before attempted here on crosscountryreading: take the recommendation and read the book myself!

Robert Sharenow has created a thought-provoking look at the rise of Nazi Germany in The Berlin Boxing Club, an inspiring story told through the eyes of a teenage boy named Karl. Karl, who is culturally but not religiously jewish, watched his world crumble around him. He finds solace in boxing. When all hell breaks loose in his world his family lost their home, he was kicked out of school, and the rise of Nazi Germany has left Germany dangerous for his family. Karl finds himself not a boy, but the man of his family. The slow character development of Karl and his little sister Hildy is subtle yet powerful and beautifully written.  I found myself so connected to Karl that when the sad and hopeful ending was closing in, I was left with tears in my eyes. If it were appropriate to applaud at the end of a book, I would have. Bravo Robert Sharenow.

Sharenow provides a different take on the oppression of Jews in Nazi Germany. It proved to be a work of masterful writing, has stolen my heart and my mind for weeks. This stunning look at  the rise of Nazi Germany is recommended for all readers 13+.

Posted by: Janine Reads

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Character Sketch: The Berlin Boxing Club – Karl

Character:  Karl

Book:  The Berlin Boxing Club

Publisher:  HarperTeen or HarperCollins

Author:  Robert Sharenow

Genre:  Historical Fiction

            Now, before we begin the actual sketch I would like to say something. This book is one of the best books I have ever read in my entire life. Period. Before, I would say it was the best historical fiction book or the best non-series book I’ve ever read. But only a couple of days after I read the book do I truly start to appreciate it. It is the most powerfully written book I’ve read, heard of, or seen. And it does look daunting when you see it. It’s almost four hundred pages long. But it flies by like a starving fruit bat after a towering mango, kiwi, and kumquat tree. Also known as the Maniwiquat tree. (I just made that up, but it does sound good, doesn’t it?) I could go on and on about how outlandishly awesome this book is, but you want to read the sketch, don’t you?

Karl is a vulnerable, timid teen that lives in Germany with his Mother, Father, and sister, Hildegard (aka Winzig or Hildy). He is a skilled cartoonist, as you will see as the book goes along. He goes to school with the Wolf Pack, a gang of bullies that torment Jews. This book takes place during WW2 when the Nazis are trying to eliminate all “mongrel” races, such as Jews, Negros, and Gypsies from the country. Karl is of Jewish heritage, but he doesn’t consider himself to be a Jew because he’s never practiced any religion. He is very vigilant not to get into fights and tries to subside from any possible violence, but it is only a matter of time before the Wolf Pack finds out.

One day when he is meandering down the hall, the imperious gang finds out and they beat him up until he does something absolutely repugnant. He pees himself (and gets a wholly inappropriate nickname as well). Then that same day at his father’s art gallery, he meets Max Schmeling, a legendary boxer. He is a friend of Karl’s father and takes Karl up as his private student. In the ring he learns how to counter and return punches with some skill, but most importantly, he makes friends and his furtive personality decreases. Then one day, doing his daily workout he is spotted by his long-time crush, Greta Hauser. Please don’t make me say what happens in detail, just let me say that he gets into a weird, slightly gross situation. Then new laws are passed and Karl is banished from his school and after a suspenseful night of eavesdropping, he finds out that they can no longer live in their apartment. He loses everything. Even his second life at the Berlin Boxing Club. He has to protect his family because they are Jews and one night fails miserably. Then he sets off for the promised land of America.

This is the inspirational story of a person who undergoes immense changes. One day he is weak, frail, and utterly hopeless, and the next day he is muscle-bound, strong, and the teen almost everyone wants to be. (Well, maybe not the next day, the book takes course over four years). He gets everything then loses even more. This book has everything in it, humanity, cruelty, love (*urgh*), courage, weakness, sadness, happiness, and desperation. However, this book has many disturbing things in it. Whether that is foreign swear words, religious discrimination, or media violence (it’s not gory, though), I would not recommend this to anyone under the age of 14. Not wholly because of reading level, even though it is at that level, because of, well, the things that I just listed. If you are not a teen, don’t be discouraged, it is a book for everyone 14 and older.

 

Posted by Fred Reads

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