Thursday, December 27, 2012

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

I'm betting the title was chosen partly because of the popularity of the series with a similar title.  However, Between Shades of Gray is a young adult fiction book based on the "relocation" of tens of thousands of Lithuanians, Estonians, Latvians and Finns when the Soviets took over those countries in 1941.

Lina tells the story beginning with this line: They took me in my nightgown.

The Soviets gave Lina, her mother Elena, and her brother Jonas twenty minutes to pack whatever they wanted to carry in a suitcase.  The family was herded into cattle cars with hundreds of other townspeople where they spent six weeks on their way to Siberia. 

Once there, they were told to sign documents that declared them to be criminals with a sentence of 25 years at labor in the beet and potato fields.  They were given only a little bread to eat.  Many died of scurvy and other diseases caused by living in noxious conditions.

As Elena wouldn't sign the documents, she, Lina, and Jonas were sent clear across Asia to the northern end of the Lena River above the Arctic Circle. 

This family lived through the horrors of Stalin's dictatorship.  The story seems to have a better - although not completely happy - ending.  Lina's story is eventually found buried in a jar in 1954.  She was never able to speak about it openly due to the Soviet strictures. 

While not a comfortable story, it is based on what really happened to the Baltic Coast countries during World War II.  It was a different kind of Holocaust occurring at the same time as the Nazi destruction of the Jewish people.

Kathi Linz

Monday, December 10, 2012

I Got a D in Salami

Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver have written a series of books for children with Hank Zipzer as the main character.  Hank has a learning difficulty which isn't named in the story, but sounds quite a bit like dyslexia.

I actually listened to the book on CD which is read by Henry Winkler himself.  He reads it like an actor rather than like a regular reader.  The result is quite comical. 

Hank is not especially good in school even though he studies as best he can.  In spite of his honest effort to do well, he ends up being laughed at and in trouble all the time. 

Hank's mother runs a deli.  She experiments with healthy foods, and has created soy salami. 

When Hank gets 3 D's on his report card and a letter from his teacher saying she wants to meet with his parents, between Hank and his friends, the report card ends up in the salami mixture which is going to be presented to a big buyer the next morning.  Hank and his friends come up with a plan to thwart the meeting so no one will become sick from eating report card salami.  Of course, nothing goes according to their plan, and the whole thing ends up a huge disaster which includes an Irish wolfhound and a dachshund named Cheerio.

In spite of the destruction of the meeting and penthouse suite, this turns out to be a turning point for Hank, because he ends up getting tested for his learning difference.  He will be allowed to learn in different ways so he isn't penalized for something he can't help.

If you want to have a good laugh, pick up this audio book.  Hearing it read by Henry Winkler absolutely enhances the story.  In my opinion ( a past teacher of two decades), I'd have to guess that Henry Winkler is writing from his own experience. 

Kathi Linz

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business" by Dick Van Dyke

I don't normally read biographies (if I ever have!), but being a fan of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and looking for a new audiobook, I recently listened to My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke.  I enjoyed the audiobook version because it was narrated by Dick Van Dyke himself.  Being both the author and the narrator, he could read the book with whatever feeling he wanted.  With that and his recognizable voice, listening to his autobiography was like listening to him just sitting down and talking about his life.  The book itself described Dick Van Dyke's life from before he was in show business up until he wrote the book, which was about 2010 or 2011.  In that time span, you get to hear funny anecdotes from his personal and professional lives.  Entertainment buffs will appreciate the name-dropping, ranging from personal stories about Stan Laurel and Buster Keaton to mentions of Carl Reiner, Debbie Reynolds, Ben Stiller, and more.  In short, I enjoyed the book as narrated by the author and may be tempted to add some more biographies to my reading wish list!