Tag Archives: art

A Piece of the World, by Christina Baker Kline

A Piece of the WorldA Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, a wonderful work of well-researched historical fiction. I’m a sucker for anything set in Maine, and when you add in a fictionalized but realistic account of the backstory of one of my favorite works of American art, Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World, I’m a goner. The characters are fully developed and the alternately bleak and beautiful setting in mid-coast Maine is so vivid I can feel the fog on my face and the dried field grass prickling my feet. As is the case with all good historical fiction, I found myself learning about what life was like during a bygone era while being fully transported by the story. Be warned, however, this is not an uplifting book. Life was hard and disappointing, and you will suffer with Christina as you read it, but it will be worth it. ~Ms Dimmick

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Student Review: The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls (reviewed by Kitty M.)

The Glass CastleThe Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This non-fiction story recounts Jeannette Walls’ peculiar childhood. Like nomads, her family, consisting of her unconventional parents, Rex and Rose, and her siblings, regularly moved across the country looking for adventure and money. Her parents often neglected their roles as parents: her father could not keep a job and provide a reliable source of income, while her mother solely focused on art, instead of caring for her growing children. After years of recklessness, their family moves back to her father’s poor, welfare-funded hometown, where her life becomes more chaotic. Her father fell back into alcoholism and often stole from the family’s paychecks to fund his addiction. From a young age, Jeannette and her siblings learned to care for themselves and often resorted to distasteful tactics like stealing food. Despite the struggles of her dysfunctional childhood, Walls still portrayed her parents with respect and wrote of them with high regards. She often referred back to her father’s promise of building their family a glass castle, where they would be comfortable and content. She emphasized her father’s love for her to demonstrate that, although he had his faults, he was a great, loving father. Walls used the pain from her life to her advantage, as it created pathos to engage the reader. She is brutally honest about her dire conditions like using a bucket as a restroom, which creates pity. On the contrary, her happy ending of defying the odds and escaping from this oppressive town is uplifting and gives the audience a well-deserved happy ending. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and felt her candidness and life stories embedded into the story create a compelling book that just cannot be put down. I would recommend this book to everyone. ~ Student: Kitty M.

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The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

The GoldfinchThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I realize that I write this mediocre review at my peril. I have changed my rating from 3 to 4 to 3 stars within the past half hour. My gut says 3 stars, but my professional pride says 4. After all, how could I not fully appreciate a Pulitzer Prize winner? Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch is clearly a polarizing read, and of course my fear is that those who love it are the true literary intellectuals, and those who hate it are the Bourgeoisie. At three stars I’ve planted myself firmly in the middle, which is perhaps about right. Yes, I appreciate Tartt’s descriptive genius, her knack for conveying her narrator’s state of mind by using language to alter the reader’s own consciousness, and her homage to the power of art over humanity. I was truly sucked into the novel with horror as its young teen protagonist Theo loses his mother and ultimately the promise of a normal life when the pair are victims of a terrorist bombing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Theo starts out as such a sympathetic, vulnerable character. And now for the but. You knew there was one. A big but. But why did she have to take so very long, and use so very many words and lists (endless lists) to painstakingly describe every ruinous moment from that time until the disappointing conclusion some 700+ pages later? Why didn’t she allow an editor to save her from herself? Yes, she is the master of description, but she does the book a serious disservice by laboring over every minute, distracting detail, as though she kept thinking of a better turn of phrase, each more brilliant than the previous, but also completely superfluous to the plot. The other damning element in my mind was the lack of sympathetic characters. Theo’s path, though not fully of his own making and not necessarily surprising given his traumatic childhood, is just plain depressing. Long and depressing. The story has moments of suspense and intrigue, as well as truly insightful observations about art, life and humanity, but none of this was enough enough to outweigh its pervasive dreary, sluggishness. Mostly, I found this book a slog punctuated with flashes of startlingly beautiful prose. Can you tell how conflicted I still am about this book? ~ Ms Dimmick

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The Art of Secrets, by James Klise

The Art of SecretsThe Art of Secrets by James Klise

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Saba Khan is the daughter of immigrants, and a quiet, tennis-playing, scholarship student at fancy private school in Chicago. When her apartment burns down, in what looks like an intentionally set fire, it triggers an outpouring of support from the school community (and an unexpected boost to her popularity).

Or at least it starts off that way. When a donation to a charity auction for her family turns out to be an extremely valuable work of “outsider art” questions start popping up: just who set the fire? And does Saba’s family deserve all the money the art auction will bring in?

While this book does get you thinking about race, class, charity, and teenage drama, it’s not as heavy as it would seem to be. It’s actually quite funny, with a whodunit feel to it. Klise tells the story through a mix of journal entries, texts, newspaper articles, emails, interview transcripts and narratives, an unusual approach that keeps the story moving as the point of view switches between multiple characters.  Klise doesn’t quite give you the solution to the mystery, and leaves some questions unanswered, but that does give you something to think about afterward.  — Ms. Schoen

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Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of GrayBetween Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You know about Hitler’s heinous crimes, but did you know about Stalin’s? I bet you don’t, but if you have the emotional strength and courage, then you should allow fifteen-year-old Lina describe what happened to her and her Lithuanian family in 1941. Guilty of being an academic, and therefore a threat to the Soviet regime that has annexed the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, Lina’s beloved father disappears. He is removed to an unspecified prison camp designed to eliminate all intellectual and political threats to Stalin. On the heels of his disappearance, the Soviet secret police seize Lina, her brave and beautiful mother and her innocent ten-year old brother Jonas. Their harrowing journey begins crammed in cattle cars with thousands of other Baltic citizens sentenced to years of hard labor in remote Siberia. Lina’s artwork, inspired by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (you know, The Scream?), becomes her salvation. At great personal risk, Lina uses ashes and handkerchiefs to document the atrocities that she witnesses, in hopes of getting a message out to her father. The story is heartbreaking and beautiful. It is historical fiction at its best: painstakingly researched by the American daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, the historical events ring as true as the complex characters. Listen to author Ruta Sepetys describing her research below, but grab some tissues first.

For more information on the book and the history, visit the novel’s website: http://www.betweenshadesofgray.com/

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