books I've read

Anne Hawn's books

Who Moved My Cheese?
If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans
Scientific Secrets for Self-Control
Just One Damned Thing After Another
The Vanishing
Exercises in Knitting
The Good Dream
The Very Best of Edgar Allan Poe
The Chosen
BT-Kids' Knits
Talking God
The Professor
The Christmas Files
The Finisher
Home Decor for 18-Inch Dolls: Create 10 Room Settings with Furniture and 15 Outfits with Accessories
Dracula and Other Stories
A New Song
All Quiet on the Western Front
File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents

Anne Hawn Smith's favorite books »

I'm reading 150 Books

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian DetectiveThe Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book and it increased my sense of the Victorian culture with regards to crime, the rise of a detective force and the role of the novel and novelist.

Ostensibly the book is about the murder of three year old Saville Kent who was found in an outhouse with his throat slit and the detective who first identified the guilty person. A number of readers, who have previously read about this crime were disappointed because there wasn’t a lot of new information in the book. I think this always happens when a new book is written about famous unsolved crimes like those of Jack the Ripper and Lizzie Borden. We ache to get that one piece of information that will be incontrovertible, and there is such disappointment when it isn’t there.

I found the real value in this book was the description of the detective, Jack Whicher, and the new role of the police detective. I have been reading books about this period lately including books by Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Poe. I also am a fan of Anne Perry’s Victorian mysteries. This book described how people felt about the new crime novels and as well as the emergence of a middle class with time to read them. Especially interesting was the role of the detective. People felt that prying into stranger’s business was a vile practice, but they also lived in a complex society where people no longer knew the people surrounding them well. In order for justice to be done, someone needed to find the criminal.

The book does drag in a few places and I thought the character development could have been a bit better, but I also realize that is a problem with books about real people. It is hard to make them seem real when there is little evidence available. I thought the author used the personal writings of some of the characters to let them speak for themselves and not put words into their mouths.

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

This is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the terrible wars in Africa. It is a story of a 12 year old boy living at the time of a civil war in Sierra Leone. At first Ishmael tells of village life and the kind of thing that normal boys do. He is aware of the war in Sierra Leone, but his village has not been involved at the beginning of the book. However, one day, when he and 4-5 other boys his age are out of the village it is taken over by rebels and most of the people are killed. None of the boys know what happened to his family. The boys hide out in the woods traveling from place to place trying to avoid both the rebels and the government soldiers. Eventually, they are caught by the army and given guns and drugs and turned into soldiers. The book does not go into great detail about all the atrocities the children commit, but the ones that are alluded to are horrifying. The use of drugs and the tactics that engender hatred of the enemy are terrible. One of the strongest things about this book is the ease with which children can be turned into terrorist. Ishmael Beah is able to give us enough of a glimpse into his pre-war life to realize that he is an intelligent and kind boy who was turned into a monster despite his intention to not become a soldier. Eventually, maelIsh makes his way out of Sierra Leone and into the hands of care workers who have set up camps to treat these boy soldiers and convince them that the things they did were not their fault. They have unbelievable patience and commitment to rehabilitate these children. The last part of the book is his reclamation and I was just in awe of the people who do this incredible work. One scene stays with me. The boys are in the reclamation center with other boys who fought on the opposite side, but finally out of danger. Despite the work of the staff, they end up in a fight and boys are killed. The terrible brain-washing that inflames their hatred is so difficult to eradicate that even when they are safe, it is hard to let go of. To all the things that happen, the staff continues to convey to the boys that it is not their fault. That is probably one of the strongest messages...the boys are not at fault. They have been turned into killing machines by adults and used for their own ends. Eventually, Ishmael is chosen to speak before the UN and tell the story of the child soldiers. He stays in New York and goes back to high school which is absolutely incredible when you realize what he has been through. This book is about Sierra Leone, but it is found all around the world. Children raised on hatred to this extent are unable to use the same kind of reasoning as adults and they kill blindly. Their childhood is being stolen from them and turned into something terrible.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Alas, Babylon

Alas, BabylonAlas, Babylon by Pat Frank
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book in the 8th grade when the threat of a hydrogen bomb was possible. There were a lot of similar books around, the best known was Hiroshima, but I also remember We Who Survived (the 5th Ice Age).

This book takes place in central Florida around Mt. Dora. It concerns a group of people who band together after a nuclear bomb. The protagonist, Randy, lives in a very large old southern home. His brother who is high up in the SAC warns Randy that war is coming and that he is sending his wife and children back to the family home for their safety. He also warns Randy that the Civil Defensive is woefully inadequate and that they need to prepare for a disaster no one wants to talk about.

Shortly after his brother's family arrives they see a large bright white light in the direction of Miami and then closer ones near all the big cities and military bases in Florida. As soon as they see the first bomb, Randy begins to prepare in earnest. I think one of the things that makes this book so real is the mistakes they make in the beginning. They treat the bomb as they would a hurricane and go to the grocery store to stock up on food. Unfortunately, they buy groceries as if the power was to be off only for several days...not permanently! Every day they find ways in which their future will be drastically different.

One of the most fascinating thing about this genre is that books of this type actually helped to change the political climate. As people began to explore these disaster scenarios it became apparent that no one could win in this kind of war. The authors' skill in creating a post war reality convinced most countries that war of this type would be a disaster for the whole world.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Brother's Journey

A Brother's JourneyA Brother's Journey by Richard B. Pelzer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the book that David Pelzer's brother, Richard, wrote about his ordeal after David left home. When David was there, Richard functioned as Mother's Nazi." He tattled about every little thing Richard did and often lied to get him in trouble. Several years younger, his mother groomed him from the time he could talk.

After David left, Richard became the outcast and as he became more and more abused, he felt terrible about the part he played in his brother's life. Eventually, he became "The boy," and finally, "It."

What I can't understand is why the Social Services didn't keep tabs on this mother after the terrible abuse David suffered. When he was taken from the home, it seemed ludicrous to not check on the other children. When the same teachers saw Richard begin to come to school in the same filthy old clothes, starving and with bruises all over just like David, why didn't anyone do anything? I realize it was a different climate in the 70's, but it seems bizarre to ignore what was going on.

As adults, these brothers have only met one or two times and there is some antagonism between them. It seems clear that Richard did suffer abuse, but there is some question as to how much. However, it seems to me that the mother spent the biggest portion of her days torturing David and I can't see that stopping after he was removed. She was filled with so much anger and it had to have a target.

Different people have tried to link her with a specific mental illness and seem to lean towards Borderline Personality Disorder. This book tells more about her relationship with her own mother and there seems to have been some abuse there. Whatever the pathology, she was never prosecuted and lived out the rest of her natural life.

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Monday, September 23, 2013

The Lost Boy: A Foster Child's Search for the Love of a Family

The Lost Boy: A Foster Child's Search for the Love of a FamilyThe Lost Boy: A Foster Child's Search for the Love of a Family by Dave Pelzer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a little easier to read than the first one, but just barely. David went through a number of foster homes, some meant to be temporary and others temporary because of his behavior. It is easy to forget that an abused child comes to a foster home with many behaviors, which, while they enabled him to survive in his original home, were inappropriate in a foster home. David learned to be very wary and to squelch his emotional needs. At home he learned to steal to get enough food to live and to desire to be loved and accepted by his abusing mother and his peers. When prodded by classmates, he shoplifted to show off. He went by his mother’s house which was strictly forbidden. He made contact with his brother and did other things which were inappropriate. Unbelievably, most of these children continue to believe that their abusive parents will somehow change and shower them with love. The picture of David waiting for his father to visit weekend after weekend was heartbreaking.

I worked for a number of years in juvenile corrections and I have seen that behavior on many occasions. Over and over we would tell the boys that they were very lucky to get into a school, foster home or treatment center, and that they had to behave in order to not go to a training school. Even though they were petrified of going to a state school, they so often could not take advantage of the placement found for them. They lacked the ability to follow a few necessary rules and ended up in a state school with far more rules. This is exactly what happened to David. The problem isn’t with correcting their behavior as much as filling up the holes in their hearts so that they become able to behave. The big question is can they fill up the need before the behavior is totally out of hand. In David’s case, he was able to accept the love his foster parents had for him and began to modify his behavior, but not until he had been moved from a number of homes.

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Child Called "It"

A Child Called A Child Called "It" by Dave Pelzer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've read this before, but I wanted to read it again before reading a later book. It was still hard to read it even knowing what Dave Pelzer has made of his life. It is almost unbelievable that an adult could treat a child like this and that others in the family, especially Dave's father, could allow it.

Dave's says that his mother was kind and loving during the first 5 years of his life, but suddenly she changed and targeted him for horrific abuse. She treated her other children well but starved Dave and made him work like a slave. Once she stabbed him and frequently locked him in a bathroom with a deadly combination of bleach and ammonia, or made him lay in a tub full of cold water for hours completely submerged except for his nose. David felt that she really wanted him to die, but he managed to survive by sheer will. Along with the daily torture, she starved him. In school he desperately stole from other student’s lunches, but at one point during the summer, he went 10 days without food.

I recently read Call Me Tuesday by Leigh Byrne and she also was the only one her mother abused. It is hard to understand how a mother could target only one of her children for her anger. To me, that indicates that there is a degree of control that makes the abuse seem even more heinous. I can understand how a parent who suffered abuse in childhood would have anger management problems and not have any parenting skills, but Dave’s mother's treatment of her other children demonstrates that she knew what was right.

While this is a hard book to read, it is also very inspiring. Somehow, through fierce determination, young Dave manages to survive. Eventually, his teachers and principal had enough evidence to go to the police and David was removed but the story of how he survived is a tribute to the human spirit.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Giant Problem (Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles, #2)

A Giant Problem (Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles, #2)A Giant Problem by Holly Black
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this second book of the series and you have to read the first book first for this one to make sense. That book left with a cliff hanger of the giants waking up. What do the kids do with about 30 giants all waking up at the same time? First, they have to get more help which they do from unexpected sources. Then they have to get rid of the giants. Through a convoluted effort and leaving behind a day of reckoning of major proportions, they attempt to do the impossible.

Middle graders will love this series.

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RapaciaRapacia by Dale E. Basye
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second book in the series and I can understand why kids like it so much. I was testing it as a Homeschool free reading book and I'm putting it on my list.

Milton has been returned to earth, but now he wants to go back to get his sister. In the meantime, his sister is doing just fine, in a manner of speaking. She uses skills as a con-artist, thief to work for her in Heck. The theme of this level of Heck is "greed." She is paired with the kind of girl she hated in school: rich, in-crowd, super consumer, haughty, and obnoxious spoiled brat. However, they are no match for her and neither is her nemesis principal, Bea "Elsa" Bubb.

The torment in this level of Heck is the enormous Mallvana, a shopper's paradise where everything is tantalizingly close, but always out of touch.

In the meantime, her brother, Milton, is having his share of problems. It seems like returning from Heck by chicken power has left his soul sort of fractured and subject to some alarming chicken-like moments.

Add to the mix an enormous metal rabbit called the Grabbit and a few new members of the Heck hierarchy, some wonderful puns and literary references and you can please most middle graders.

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Friday, September 13, 2013

A Thread Unbroken

A Thread UnbrokenA Thread Unbroken by Kay Bratt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an extremely interesting book. I knew there were problems in China with the tender imbalance in China, but I had no idea that people kidnap girls for marriage.

Chai and Josi, both 14, were kidnapped from their home and taken to a rural fishing village. Chai was intended as a bride for the bullying older son of the family and Josi, crippled from birth, was taken to insure that her best friend, Chai, would come with her.

Chai was a courageous and resilient young girl who was beloved, especially, by her father who never ceased to search for her. Unfortunately the police were not very diligent in searching for kidnapped girls and often were a part of the kidnapping rings. Chai's father, however, would not give up and he pestered to police constantly.

Life on the houseboat was dreadful and Chai and Josi were treated as little more than slaves. They were overworked and underfed, but Chai still remained spunky and was always looking for a way to escape. When their foster mother had a baby girl with a cleft palette, the father demands that the midwife come and take the baby and drown it. Chai learns that other baby girls have been born to the family and they also were disposed of. Chai finds away to get care for the baby in a local mission orphanage.

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A Body in the Backyard

A Body in the BackyardA Body in the Backyard by Elizabeth Spann Craig
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a cute, very light read. The sleuth is an ex-teacher who is pushing 90. She lives in a tiny town which has a lot of murders. Her son is the Chief of Police and lives across the road. This time murder lands right in her yard and ironically, the weapon is one of the many plaster gnomes she has there.

The victim turns out to be a disreputable cousin of the next door neighbor who is also her auxillary sleuth. She is not dismayed. How can her son expect her to not get involved when the murderer broke one her her gnomes in the commission of his or her crime? When another body is found a the very same spot, she has even more reason to get involved.

I didn't connect with the main character as well as in similar series,
but this is not the first book in the series and possibly there was more character development in the previous books.

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Harry Potter, #6)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Harry Potter, #6)Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am listening to this book for about the 6th time. I need a story which will carry me along without much effort and yet capture my interest and challenge me to see more than I saw the last time. There are confusing times in my life when this comfort read is exactly what I need and Rowling and Jim Dale, the narrator, always deliver.

In this book, Harry finds a potions book from a former student and when he follows the instruction, he produces extraordinary results. Hermione is deeply troubled by the book and insists that he turn it in. Who is the Half-Blood Prince?

It is hard to review this book without giving the plot away, so I will stick to the generalities. We learn a lot more about Tom Riddle and how he came to be Lord Voldemort. The reader begins to have a little sympathy for him...until he reveals his cold bloodedness at such a young age. It goes way beyond the mind of a schoolboy.

We get to see a lot more of the pensive and it begins to reveal the prequel to the stage that is set for Harry when he comes to Hogwarts. I think the pensive is an absolutely brilliant device. I would love to have one myself! Suddenly, Harry is there, seeing the people in the past as they were without being interpreted by flawed memories. I think the memories also reveal the depth of Rowling's talent. She has constructed these books as if she knew from the very beginning just where she was going every step of the way. Tiny bits of information in book 1, come back in book 6 and their importance is revealed. In fact, I think that is why I keep coming back to these books. I make connections that completely eluded me up to that point. I am in awe of the depth of her organization for what is ostensibly juvenile fiction.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Watership Down

Watership DownWatership Down by Richard Adams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this ages ago and loved it, so when it came up on Audible, I selected it. Like any good comfort read, it made me smile just to start it. I am at a different stage in my life, so I'm sure I'll see things that I didn't see before.

This book is great on many levels. By using animals, as in Animal Farm, human behavior becomes more clear. When Fiver senses that something terrible is going to happen in his old warren and tries to convince others that they need to leave, very few listen. I look at today's headlines about our national debt and I wonder how people can't see the danger...but no one wants to listen.

Hazel and some other rabbits heed his warning because he has been right so many times in the past and leave the old warren. Along the way they find a warren where everything is provided for the rabbits, but there is a terrible flaw in their system. There are subtle parallels today.

As the book goes on, the rabbits become more and more real and that is also part of the skill of Adams. Years ago, I taught this book in a medium level prison. At first the men weren't very happy reading about rabbits, but they had some faith in me and they went on with the book. At the end of it, many said it was the best book they ever read. Along the way, they were able to see parallels with the prison and society.

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Monday, September 02, 2013

Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go

Heck: Where the Bad Kids GoHeck: Where the Bad Kids Go by Dale E. Basye
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was reading this to see if I could use it for Homeschool free reading and I still am not sure if it will work. It is the story of a brother and sister who are killed in an accident at a mall. The sister is a particularly "bad" child who loves to do rotten things. She drags along her brother who is exactly the opposite. While shopping she puts some makeup in his bag and so he is technically guilty of stealing. After they die they slide into "Heck" where the bad kids go. In the case of Milton, there has obviously been a mistake. but Bea "Elza" Bubb does not want to admit it. What follows is a kid type adventure that relies on puns and other somewhat clever things.

"Heck" is "Limbo" where bad kids go until they are 18 years old. By that time, they will have improved because of the experience and be ready to enter into the Upper Place, or will have revealed their nature. think I will have to read another books in the series to see if it gets better. Some people have commented in the inconsistencies and I'd like to see if kids pick them up. There are some obvious flaws in the book, but that is a good teaching tool also. So, we shall see....

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Sunday, September 01, 2013

To the Grave (A Genealogical Crime Mystery #2)

To the Grave (A Genealogical Crime Mystery #2)To the Grave by Steve Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At first I thought this book was not going to be as good as the first. After all, it deals with a young girl in WWII England who finds herself pregnant by a soldier and disappears after giving up her baby for adoption. But then the bodies start to appear...not WWII bodies, but real, present day bodies who turn up dead right before Jefferson Tayte can interview them. Why is someone interested in such a commonplace occurrence?

It is probably a good thing that Steve Robinson put the scene in the Prologue. If there is any doubt that this book is not going to live up to the high adventure of his first book, that little scene dispels that nonsense.

The client, 66 year old Eliza Gray, has been sent a little red suitcase anonymously with a note saying that it was from her real mother. It came as a big surprise as Eliza did not know that she was adopted. She hires JT to go to England to find our who her real mother is and why, after all this time, someone has revealed this fact to her. JT, being at loose ends and missing his mentor, Marcus Brown, steels himself to fly again to England to engage in research which doesn't seem to be very interesting. However, he understands what Eliza is feeling because he has suffered from the same lack of knowledge about his own parents and he looks forward to supplying her with information that he has not been able to find for himself.

In short order, he is able to find the name of her mother, but there is no name listed for her father. Thus begins the quest. As with the first book, the action passes between present and past and the reader is able to fill in some of the gaps and the truth of some of JT's conclusions. We know that Mena did have a soldier sweetheart, but there are a number of things that just don't add up. Just about everyone JT needs to contact has recently died or has no information, making the picture even more murky and that is when the bodies start to pile up.

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