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In a recent burst of enthusiasm for the written word, I read three YA books, two memoirs, and a self-help book (in the interest of full disclosure, it was also really a memoir – I think I’m addicted to the genre!).

One memoir had languished, half-read, and has been giving me the evil eye, from my night stand, for months. I started it before receiving the Wolcott Gibbs collection to review, and I never picked it back up.

The other memoir was delivered last week via USPS for a LibraryThing.com review.

And the YA novels? A friend loaned me her Nook, so that I could read them before we see the movie (hmmm, wonder what THEY could be?)

Without further ado….some reviews (in the order they were read):

Although I avoided the Twilight series as if my life depended on it, I allowed myself to fall headlong into the rabbit hole that is the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins.

Friends at work were raving about them and planning to see the first movie when it opens this week. I was interested in seeing the movie, but I know how I get, when I’m reading a series, and I really didn’t want to put my family through that (I started Harry Potter a few book releases in, and didn’t speak to anyone for several weeks).

BUT, a colleague loaned me a Nook loaded with all three books, and, fast forward one long weekend, and I was done. I loved them, couldn’t put them down, and am now poised to purchase Team Peeta swag (having started the series on Team Gale). I’m so embarrassed for myself.

Anyone feeling the same should definitely check out this post from Holley Maher!

The Last Resort: A Memoir of Mischief and Mayhem on a Family Farm in Africa by Douglas Rogers: It is a true testament to the skillful storytelling of Douglas Rogers, that this memoir is, in turns, heartbreaking and hilarious. Returning to post-colonial Zimbabwe, where his parents still live, Rogers reveals a land and its people during a time that is difficult to comprehend from the relative safety and comfort of the desk I sit at.

In 1993, Rogers’ parents opened Drifters, which quickly became a popular game farm and backpacking lodge in Mutare, Zimbabwe. When Rogers returns to visit, it is 2002 and the transition to post-colonial Zimbabwe has been factious and difficult. Inflation is soaring, food is scarce, land rights are being revoked, and “blood diamonds” are being harvested in the bush lands.

With tourism officially dead, Drifters has no renters for its cottages, and Rogers’ parents have re-purposed the property, in turn, as a nightclub, marijuana farm, and brothel — all while in danger of losing their land and their lives.

Rogers’ clear-eyed observations on the changes in the country of his birth make for an engaging and informative read.

Mirror Mirror: A Collection of Memoirs and Stories by Stephanie Hart; (review taken directly from my LibraryThing.com review)

As far a memoirs go, the author definitely seemed to be aiming for a more “literary” feel to the collection. For me, it felt , at times, as though she was trying too hard in that direction and not truly providing enough story to keep the reader’s interest.

As a collection, rather than one contiguous memoir, the same ground is mined over and over in separate stories. That her mother had a Jekyll vs. Hyde personality becomes a bit repetitive. The first appearance of this “monster” that is her mother is effectively shared – shocking the reader with her mother’s ability to be cruel. The next four vignettes that make the same point are not a powerful.

For me, the most interesting memoirs either introduce me to a new country, career, or culture, or they illustrate their author’s ability to rise above their circumstances. With the latter in mind, Hart shows that she may be getting there, but she’s not there yet. I would look forward to another offering from her that might show her to be more comfortable in her own skin.

A Simple Act of Gratitude by John Kralik: I bought this book for an easy, feel-good read, and I was truly satisfied in that regard.

Kralik, an attorney, is knee-deep in arguably the worst year of his life, when he has an epiphany, hiking alone on January 1, 2008. He feels certain that a “voice” has told him that he will not receive anything that he wants in life if he does not begin to appreciate that which he already has or has had.

As a result, he endeavors to compose 365 “thank you” notes before the year is over, and he does (or comes darn close, anyway). Cue bluebirds and fairytale ending, right? Um, yeah, pretty much, but in a not-at-all-nauseating chain of events. The nuts and bolts of what really happens is that Kralik learns to adjust his expectations of himself and others — and, in turn, appreciates more about his life.

At the end of 2007, he was embroiled in a vicious custody battle with his ex-wife that has been dragging on for two years. As Kralik begins to make an effort to notice (and pen thank-you notes regarding) the positive things that she does for their daughter, her position towards him softens appreciably, and they are able to resolve the custody issue.

Okay, BUT, when you get right down to it, there are a LOT of books out there with the premise of the author undertaking a yearlong effort to…cook like Julia Child, live without electricity, live on $15 a day, eat a Big Mac every day, grow everything they eat, give up sex (or conversely, have sex every day)….and so on.

That doesn’t mean this book isn’t a good one. It is. We could all use a little more gratitude in our lives, and Kralik’s story drives that point home, in a refreshingly un-preachy way.

AND, in the tradition of “if you like this, you’ll love…..”, I would also recommend How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else by Michael Gates Gill

Keep reading!!

 

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