July 30, 2012

More Movie News

I have not read David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, but after seeing this amazing trailer, I think I need to!! What do you think?

July 29, 2012

Movie News

I loved this book. This film is going to be great!!

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Go here for more info from Word & Film.

July 28, 2012

Seating Arrangements

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead
2012 Alfred A. Knopf
Finished 6/27/12
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

“Maggie Shipstead is an outrageously gifted writer, and her assured first novel is by turns hilarious and deeply moving.” ~ Richard Russo

Publisher’s Blurb:

A romantic three-day wedding weekend on an idyllic New England island erupts in a summer blaze of adulterous longing and salacious misbehavior as the bride and groom find themselves presiding over a spectacle of marital failure, familial strife, and monumental loss of faith in the rituals of American life. Maggie Shipstead’s Seating Arrangements is a wondrous debut, a delectable social satire that is also an unforgettable meditation on the persistence of hope, the yearning for authentic connection, and the promise of enduring love.

With a three-day wedding weekend in Nashville, Tennessee, I thought this would be the perfect book to pack in my carry-on. And I was right, up to a point. Shipstead pulled me from the opening pages, but my enthusiasm waned at the halfway mark and it wound up taking me a full month to finish! However, I did discover a few passages to mark.

On summer homes:

Stepping around the flowers, he shut the coat closet and walked down the hall to the kitchen. As children, Winn’s daughters had run through the house upon first arrival each summer to remind themselves of all its singularities and unearth relics of their own brief pasts. They made joyful reunions with the canvas sofas, the insides of closets, the views from all the windows, the books on fish and plants and birds, the bowls of sea glass, the wooden whale sending up its flat wooden spout on the wall above Winn and Biddy’s bed, the flower bed where the sundial lay half concealed beneath black-eyed Susans, the splintery planks of the outdoor shower. The kitchen cupboards were thrown open so the cutting boards and bottles of olive oil might be greeted and the enormous black lobster pot marveled over. The hammock was swung in and the garage door heaved up to reveal, through cirrus whirls of dust, an upside-down canoe on sawhorses and the ancient Land Rover they kept on the island. The girls would converge on Winn and clamor at him until he unbolted and pulled the hatch to the widow’s walk so they could stand on top of the house and look out over the island.

On the Upper Crust:

The Van Meters were so charming at first. Daphne was sweet and serene. Livia was just a kid then and worshipped Dominique. Biddy was practical, brisk, kind. Winn wore bow ties and pocket squares and attacked all parts of his life with a certainty and precision that Dominique found reassuring. There were no weeds in the Van Meter garden, no unmatched socks in their laundry room. A tennis ball hung from a string in the garage to mark the exact location where the car must be parked. The milk was thrown out the day before it expired. Yet everything they did—playing tennis, cooking dinner, making friends, getting dressed—seemed effortless. Years had to pass before Dominique could see the strain they placed on themselves or, rather, what their grand goal was. They wanted to be aristocrats in a country that was not supposed to have an aristocracy, that was, in fact, founded partly as a protest against hereditary power. That was what Dominique could not understand: why devote so much energy to imitating a system that was supposed to be defunct? Any hereditary aristocracy was stupid, and Americans didn’t even have rules for theirs, not really. Lots of the kids Dominique knew at Deerfield came from families dedicated to perpetuating some moldy, half-understood code of conduct passed along by generations of impostors. But, she supposed, people who believed themselves to be well bred wouldn’t want to give up their invented castes because they might be left with nothing, no one to appreciate their special clubs, their family trees, their tricky manners, their threadbare wealth.

From a Barnes & Noble press release:

The novel begins with Winn Van Meter making his way to his beach house on an island off Cape Cod to join in the preparations for his oldest daughter’s wedding—she just happens to be seven months pregnant. So right there you know that this isn’t going to be your typical Upper Crust, WASP wedding. There are naughty bridesmaids, escaping lobsters and family matriarchs bent on maintaining control. Winn has been so intent on getting everything right—the right schools, the right clubs and even the right wife, that he can’t see that his perfect family is colliding with modern life.

Maybe I read this one too soon after The Art of Fielding. Winn and the entire cast of characters reminded me of the flawed and unlikeable characters of Harbach’s novel, both with their December lusting after May. Or, perhaps I’m not one for satire. Or a dull, pointless plot. Whatever the case, Seating Arrangements failed to impress me.

Final Thoughts: Fans of The Marriage Plot and The Art of Fielding may enjoy this novel. Unfortunately, it's not one that I can recommend.

July 24, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

Near Mt. Hood, Oregon

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July 23, 2012

So Far Away

2012 Little, Brown & Company
Finished 6/27/12
Rating: 3/5 (So-So)

Book Description:

Thirteen-year-old Natalie Gallagher is trying to escape: from her parents' ugly divorce, and from the vicious cyber-bullying of her former best friend. Adrift, confused, she is a girl trying to find her way in a world that seems to either neglect or despise her. Her salvation arrives in an unlikely form: Bridget O'Connell, an Irish maid working for a wealthy Boston family. The catch? Bridget lives only in the pages of a dusty old 1920s diary Natalie unearthed in her mother's basement. But the life she describes is as troubling - and mysterious - as the one Natalie is trying to navigate herself, almost a century later.

I am writing this down because this is my story. There were only ever two people who knew my secret, and both are gone before me.

Who was Bridget, and what became of her?

Natalie escapes into the diary, eager to unlock its secrets, and reluctantly accepts the help of library archivist Kathleen Lynch, a widow with her own painful secret: she's estranged from her only daughter. Kathleen sees in Natalie traces of the daughter she has lost, and in Bridget, another spirited young woman at risk.

What could an Irish immigrant domestic servant from the 1920s teach them both? As the troubles of a very modern world close in around them, and Natalie's torments at school escalate, the faded pages of Bridget's journal unite the lonely girl and the unhappy widow - and might even change their lives forever.

I loved Moore’s debut novel (The Arrivals), so I was more than thrilled to dive into So Far Away when it hit the shelves earlier this summer. The author does an exceptional job depicting the cruel and oftentimes frightening bullying of Natalie. And, I found the diary entries of the Irish maid compelling and addictively readable. However, (and it pains me to admit this) I did not love this book as much as The Arrivals. There were several loose ends and the pacing was a bit uneven. Had I not been so intrigued by Bridget’s tale, I may not have finished the novel. 

On the love of dogs:

“Hello, my lady,” she said again to Lucy now. She pushed her nose into Lucy’s fur and stroked her along the sides of her face. She thought that some people who observed this ritual would think that she was crazy, to love a dog so much. But there was such peace in loving an animal. At night, when Kathleen turned off her light to go to sleep and heard the little snorts coming from Lucy’s bed, the shiftings as she settled herself to sleep, and finally the deep, even breathing, she felt truly blessed and forgot about everything she had lost. This was love, for her, now. This was the love she had.

Final Thoughts: It’s been less than a month since I finished and I’m already having trouble remembering some of the details. But not to worry--this may all be a case of poor timing. I began reading So Far Away in late May, which has never been the best time to immerse myself in a book, so I’ll definitely give Moore’s next novel a read.

July 21, 2012

Defending Jacob

Defending Jacob by William Landy
2012 Blackstone Audio
Reader: Grover Gardner
Finished 6/25/12
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher’s Blurb:

Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.

Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob insists that he is innocent, and Andy believes him. Andy must. He’s his father. But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own—between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he’s tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive.

Award-winning author William Landay has written the consummate novel of an embattled family in crisis—a suspenseful, character-driven mystery that is also a spellbinding tale of guilt, betrayal, and the terrifying speed at which our lives can spin out of control.

Defending Jacob is an intense psychological thriller, peopled with believable characters and an energetic plot. I thoroughly enjoyed this Barnes & Noble Recommends selection. The pacing is even and taut and author kept me guessing all the way to the very end of the novel. I didn’t care much for Andy Barber, but then, I’m not sure I was supposed to. He was rather full of himself, coming across as a self-righteous, arrogant husband and father. It’s hard to say if my reaction to Andy is due to his perhaps all-too-accurate characterization or the manner in which audio book reader Grover Gardner depicted him while reading Andy’s dialogue. Grover Gardner is not one of my favorite readers. He doesn’t do a very good job distinguishing between characters and his female voice portrays women as silly or whiny. However, apart from the narrator, I found this mystery extremely compelling and was anxious to grab my Nano and listen to another chapter at every free moment.

On a father’s anguish:

…What was the motive? I don’t mean anger, greed, jealousy, that kind of motive, because there can’t be an ordinary motive in this case, there can’t, it just doesn’t make sense. Who could feel that kind of, of rage against Ben, against any little kid? It just doesn’t make sense. It just doesn’t make sense.” Rifkin put the four fingertips of his right hand on his forehead and worked the skin in slow circles. “What I mean is: what separates these people? Because I’ve felt those things, of course, those motives—angry, greedy, jealous—you’ve felt them, everybody’s felt them. But we’ve never killed anyone. You see? We never could kill anyone. But some people do, some people can. Why is that?”

On marriage:

A good marriage drags a long tail of memory behind it. A single word or gesture, a tone of voice can conjure up so many remembrances. Laurie and I had been flirting like this for thirty-odd years, since the day we met in college and we both went a little love-crazy. Things were different now, of course. At fifty-one, love was a quieter experience. We drifted through the days together. But we both remembered how it all started, and even now, in the middle of my middle age, when I think of that shining young girl, I still feel a little thrill of first love, still there, still burning like a pilot light.

Final Thoughts: Landy is a skilled storyteller, pulling the reader in from the opening pages. I look forward to delving into his backlist (Mission Flats, which won the Dagger Award as best debut crime novel in 2003 and The Strangler, which was nominated for the Strand Magazine Critics Award for best crime novel in 2007). Defending Jacob is a solid work of crime fiction and will appeal to fans of Dennis Lehane, Lee Child, Jodi Picoult and Harlan Coben. It would also make for an excellent book club choice. There’s certainly a lot to discuss—including the shocking twist at end!

July 18, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

Virginia Beach

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July 17, 2012

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share two “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (Make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers
Anna spent last evening rearranging her room. She's divided her shelves into "books with girls in them," "books in which bad stuff happens" (mostly fairy tales), and "books for every day" (Junie B. and Enid Blyton). I took a look at my bookshelves. I have "books with happy endings" and "books telling me how to be happy." (Paris In Love by Elosia James)

July 15, 2012

Movie News

Exciting movie news!! Reese Witherspoon has purchased the film rights for two of my favorite books this year. And, she reportedly plans to star as the lead in both films! I'm anxious to find out who will play Nick in Gone Girl. Word & Film likes both Jude Law and Matt Damon, but I'm thinking Bradley Cooper may be just perfect.

You can read more about Gone Girl at Word & Film here. You can also read about Wild at Word & Film here. My review for Gone Girl can be found here. Stay tuned for my review for Wild.

July 14, 2012

Life Is Good - June

It's important to recognize and remember the good things in life, so I've decided to make a point of jotting down my monthly blessings.

So what made me smile (or laugh) last month?

  • Window washers. Love my clean windows!
  • Frontline. More than 30 ticks removed from Annie-Dog (over one weekend!).
  • A touching Facebook post by my nephew:
    I've got gas in my tank, food on my plate and even a place to sleep. I should never complain about a damn thing again.
  • A beautiful bride and a beaming groom.
  • A mini-family reunion in Nashville, Tennessee.
  • Eardrums still intact (after flying with a terrible head cold)!
  • My first Trail Trek.
  • A new fountain for our deck.
  • Rain!
  • Ice-cold beer on a hot summer evening.
  • Beautiful colors in our garden. 
  • A monthly total of 66.47 miles ridden on my bike.

July 13, 2012

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake

New in paperback!

I would love to see this novel hit the bestseller list. Fifty Shades of Gray has had its day and now is the time to return to great literature. 

You can read my review here.

July 11, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

Tiger Lily



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July 10, 2012

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share two “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.

  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (Make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers

 I drive to the outskirts of Poitiers and spend a useful hour in Castorama, looking at wood stains and varnish for the wooden floorboards, before visiting the DIY store Leroy Merlin, where I am accused of shoplifting. This is because I did not declare my electric toothbrush charger (for which I was seeking an adaptor) on entering the store. Fortunately, the girl at reception remembers me revealing my charger on entry and asking for help, so I am eventually allowed to leave, but I am bristling with indignation at the idea that I would steal something of such low net worth. Still, it teaches me a valuable lesson: in France, the customer is always guilty until proven innocent. (Tout Sweet by Karen Wheeler)

July 9, 2012

Mailbox Monday

It feels as though it's been ages since I've participated in the Monday Mailbox meme. Looking back through my archives, I discover it's been well over two years! I certainly could've posted at least once a month, as I continue to get unsolicited ARCs, as well as those I snag at work. I'm in desperate need of another bookcase...

These books didn't all arrive this past week, but I'm fairly certain they weren't all here a month ago! At the rate I'm going (reading a measly four or five books a month), I'll never make a dent in the stacks in my office/guest room.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino

Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson

The Prophet by Michael Koryta

Midwinter Blood by Mons Kallentoft

Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane

and the most highly anticipated book in the stack...

Love Anthony by Lisa Genova!!!!

Any recommendations as to which I should start after I finish Love Anthony? I've read mixed reviews for both The Age of Miracles and Jasmine Nights, so I'll keep them in my stack for the time being. I plan to read Higashino's new mystery for Bellezza's Japanese Literature Challenge, despite the fact that I was not terribly impressed with The Devotion of Suspect X.

Mailbox Monday is the place for bloggers to share the books that arrived in their homes last week. For more Mailbox Monday posts, visit Jennifer of Mrs. Q: Book Addict.

Click on the titles for more information.

July 6, 2012

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

2010 Books on Tape
Reader: Author
Finished 6/14/12
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher’s Blurb:

The wondrous Aimee Bender conjures the lush and moving story of a girl whose magical gift is really a devastating curse.

On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents' attention, bites into her mother's homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother's emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother--her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother--tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.

The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden--her mother's life outside the home, her father's detachment, her brother's clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a luminous tale about the enormous difficulty of loving someone fully when you know too much about them. It is heartbreaking and funny, wise and sad, and confirms Aimee Bender's place as "a writer who makes you grateful for the very existence of language" (San Francisco Chronicle).


A couple of my co-workers read this coming-of-age novel when it first came out, so I decided to give it a try when I saw that the audio version was available through my library. I doubt I would have invested the two weeks I spent listening, had I tried the printed version instead. I have no objections to magical realism: I loved Bless Me, Ultima (Rudolfo Anaya); Chocolate (Joanne Harris); Like Water for Chocolate (Laura Esquival); and Garden Spells (Sarah Addison Allen). However, this novel was just plain weird! To explain why would reveal too many spoilers. Suffice it to say that the Edelstein family is one of the strangest and most dysfunctional families I’ve ever encountered in my reading. I never came to care about any of them or any of the supporting characters in the novel.

…oddly beautiful (Washington Post)

…gorgeously strange (People Magazine)

…bizarre sensitivity (The Atlantic)

…wonderfully strange (The Courier-Journal)

Taking her very personal brand of pessimistic magical realism to new heights (or depths), Bender's second novel....careens splendidly through an obstacle course of pathological, fantastical neuroses.....[Bender] emerges as more a spelunker of the human soul....plumbs an emotionally crippled family with power and authenticity....brimming with a zesty, beguiling talent. (Publishers Weekly)

Final Thoughts: Yep. This is one odd, strange, and bizarre work of magical realism. And for me, sadly, a major disappointment

July 4, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

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July 3, 2012

Paris in July 2012

Overly ambitious? Moi?

I missed this fun challenge last year (oops, I just discovered this is the third year!), but I have high hopes to read several of these books in the coming weeks. The bottom three are art books, which I've owned for many years. I'll just peruse those. I've tried a few recipes in the Julia and Jacques cookbook and have others marked to sample. Oh, and I may watch Amelie, Julie and Julia and French Kiss. I love these films and never grow tired of watching  them.

Thank you, Karen and Tamara for hosting such an exciting challenge!

Here are the official "rules":

There will be no rules or targets in terms of how much you need to do or complete in order to be a part of Paris in July - just blog about anything French and you can join in.

Some ideas for the month might include:

Reading a French book - fiction or non-fiction -

Watching a French movie -

Listening to French music -

Cooking French food -

Experiencing French art, architecture or travel (or remembering travel experiences) -

Or anything else French inspired you can think of...
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July 2, 2012

Little Princes

Nonfiction/Current Affairs
2011 Harper Audio
Audio: Read by Conor Grennan
Finished 6/13/12
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent!)

Publisher’s Blurb:

An astonishing testament to true courage, the transformative power of love, and the ability of one man to make a real difference.

In search of adventure, twenty-nine-year-old Conor Grennan embarked on a yearlong journey around the globe, beginning with a three-month stint volunteering at an orphanage in civil war-torn Nepal. But a shocking truth would forever change his life: these rambunctious, resilient children were not orphans at all but had been taken from their families by child traffickers who falsely promised to keep them safe from war before abandoning them in the teeming chaos of Kathmandu. For Conor, what started as a footloose ramble became a dangerous, dedicated mission to unite youngsters he had grown to love with the parents they had been stolen from—a breathtaking adventure, as Conor risked everything in the treacherous Nepalese mountains to bring the children home.

About the Author:

After volunteering at the Little Princes Children’s Home in the village of Godawari in 2004, Conor Grennan eventually returned to Nepal to launch Next Generation Nepal (NGN), a nonprofit organization dedicated to reconnecting trafficked children with their families. He resides in Connecticut with his wife and two children.

After a disappointing experience with Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea, I had no interest in reading about another supposedly selfless endeavor. But when I read Joy and Nancy’s glowing reviews, I couldn’t resist. Joy gave it a personal rating of 5/5 (absolutely outstanding) and said:

I felt so many emotions while listening to this book. The joy in "Conor-Brother's" success was the most inspiring, but the way in which Conor shares his story was delightful. He had a sense of humor that made me giggle often, and yet, he also had a very serious side that made me choke up with sadness when he described some of his experiences with the children and locals.

The audiobook version was absolutely awesome! I loved the accents and cadence of the reader, which just so happened to be the author himself. Well done. (Joy, of Thoughts of Joy)

And Nancy wrote:

I cannot say enough good things about Little Princes. The author's writing offers readers a rare combination of humility, charm, self-effacing humor and sincerity. His story is deeply moving and yet his writing style is absolutely lovely and light. You can't help but wish you knew him. In addition to being an adventure with the occasional dangerous hike or encounter with the wrong people and a story of the stunning difference one man can make, Little Princes is has a touch of romance as Grennan met a fellow volunteer and fell in love.

Geez, talk about a sap. I have tears in my eyes just thinking about this book! Little Princes is the best kind of memoir. I laughed; I cried. Highly recommended. Buying the book can even make you feel a little valiant because a portion of the proceeds will go to Conor Grennan's non-profit organization, Next Generation Nepal. (Nancy, of Bookfoolery and Babble)

Both Joy and Nancy (and several other bloggers whose reviews I’ve since come across) are spot on about this memoir. It’s one of the most honest and heartwarming books I’ve read in a long, long while. Although it’s been a couple of weeks since I finished, I can’t stop thinking about “Conor Brother” and Farid, Nishal, Krish, Anish, Hriteek, Rohan, Raju, Priya, Nuraj, Santosh, Dirgha, Navin, Amita and Leena.

Child trafficking is a very serious subject, and yet Grennan manages to imbue his memoir with hilarious anecdotes that had me laughing until I cried. I’m so glad I listened to the audio version of this book, so I could hear the author’s intonations and wonderful accents, as well as the pronunciation of the names of the children and locations. But listening to the audio once wasn't enough. This book touched me so deeply that I was compelled to buy a copy so I can have it to re-read sometime in the future. It was wonderful to be able to look at all the photographs, which, quite honestly, brought tears to my eyes. Conor’s narrative is so descriptive and heartfelt that I felt like I knew exactly who and what I was gazing at. The printed version also includes an update on the children of Little Princes, as well as a two-page map of Nepal.

I picked up my new copy of Little Princes (with its beautiful cover) and the book fell open to this passage:

“Jagrit, listen—I brought you back something better than an apple,” I told him.

He turned back toward me. “What did you bring me?” He was genuinely curious.

“Come inside. I’ll show you.”

There was no easy way to tell a boy who has grown up believing his entire family was dead that I had, just ten days earlier, met his father. There was no easy way to tell him that I had a photo of his father holding his own death certificate, that I had a letter from him for Jagrit. There was no easy way to tell him he had a mother and a brother and sister, that they were all still alive and had never forgotten about him. That they had spent the last nine years wondering where he was, if he was even still alive. So I just opened up a long series of photos. I showed him photos of the postman who first told me of their existence, photos of the long trek to Jaira. And then I showed him a photo of his father, the shepherd. The man in the picture was holding a photo of Jagrit that I had given him. From beginning to end, I told him the entire story of how his family had come back to life.

Jagrit had never cried in front of me before. At fourteen years old, I imagined he considered himself too old for it. But now he could not stop. He stared at his father’s face. Jagrit, choking with emotion, asked if his father had told me why he had given him up, why his mother had not fought to keep him. That began a long discussion of the children lost in Kathmandu, of how traffickers tricked parents into giving up their children. I told him the story as I knew it, and added everything that I had learned in Humla.

I pulled out my notebook, where I had taken detailed notes of my interaction not just with his father but with all the parents. The notebook was filled with the stories of shock, guilt, pain, and desperation. It was filled with mothers recounting the fear of living under rebel authority, of young teenagers with automatic weapons, of the moment they had learned their neighbor’s child had been abducted and forced into the rebel army. The decision taken nine years ago to send Jagrit away was made under circumstances that he would never fully comprehend. I hesitated a moment, then handed the notebook to Jagrit.

“Everything is in there. Anything you want to know.”

He took the notebook and opened it slowly, flipping through the pages but not reading them. Even for a boy as bright as Jagrit, it would take concentration to read in English. He didn’t seem to have the strength. He held it up.

“My father in here, sir? He asked. “You can show me the page?”

I took it back from him and turned the worn, smudged pages until I found the heading that read Jaira, Jagrit’s village. I read him a paragraph that I jotted down quickly during the interview, while Rinjin was asking the father the first questions about his son…

For an hour, Jagrit and I talked and went through the photos, starting with his father, then going through the whole trip so he could see more of his village and Humla. He never let go of the letter from his father.

“You can make me a copy of the photo from my father, sir?” For me to keep?” His voice was tight. He was choked up.

“Of course. I’ll bring it over tomorrow.”

“Thank you.” He looked down at the letter, not reading it, but just staring at it, as if it was some artifact that he didn’t quite believe he owned. Then he said, “Maybe I sit alone for a while, sir.”

For as long as I had known him, Jagrit had never wanted to be alone. But I would have wanted the exact same thing in that situation. I stood up.

“You’re not the only one, Brother” I told him before I left. “There are many children like you in Nepal. The only difference between you and them is that they still think they are alone in the world.”

I touched his head and walked out, gently closing the door behind me, leaving behind the sobs that grew fainter as I walked downstairs and out of the house.

And then I remembered this touching scene as Conor says goodbye to the children after spending three months at Little Princes:

“When you come back, Conor Brother?” asked Anish, a question that seemed to vacuum all other sound out of the room. They wanted to hear my reply.

I was expecting that. We had been strongly advised by the CERV staff to be vague and conservative in our answers to this inevitable question. Few volunteers ever returned to Nepal; it was too far away and required too much time. Volunteering in an orphanage was a one-off, an experience that you would never forget and never repeat. The staff at CERV had learned it was better not to give the children false hope that volunteers would return as it tended to deteriorate the trust given by the children to the next group of volunteers. The children were looked after by a constantly rotating set of parents, and they were becoming accustomed to it. The system was terribly flawed, but there were few alternatives.

“I’m not sure, Anish, but I’ll definitely try to get back!” I said, upbeat. This provoked no response from the boys.

“When, Brother?” Anish asked after an awkward silence.

“Well, definitely not for at least a year,” I told him. “Remember I told you guys that I’m going on that big trip? I showed you on the globe?”

“So after that, maybe, Brother?”

“Maybe!” I said. They had heard this before. Some of the boys looked away, others lay down in their beds. Anish alone remained sitting on the edge of his bed. He asked the question again in a different way, then again. He asked more specifically what I planned to do at the end of the year, and whether I needed to return home, and whether I liked Godawari. I finally cut him off. “I’m not really sure, Anish. But I’ll see you in the morning okay, boys?”

"Okay, Brother,” came the chorus. Anish lay down. I switched off the light.

In my room, I pulled my backpack out from under my bed, and took a pile of T-shirts off a shelf, laying them flat in my bag. And I broke down. The emotion caught me off guard. I hadn’t cried in years, and I was really sobbing. I was happy in Godawari. But there’s nothing here, I told myself through jerking breaths. You eat rice every day. You never go out. You never meet any women. You have not seen a movie or TV in months. You have to take care of eighteen children. You are constantly dirty and always cold.

I imagined my mom at the airport, saying good-bye to me each time I returned to Prague after spending Christmas in America. She would cry into my shoulder, sobbing like I was right now. I had always wondered where that sadness came from; leaving had never seemed like a big deal to me. And now here it was, that same desperate sadness, filling this very room.

If walking into the responsibility of caring for eighteen children was difficult, walking out on that responsibility was almost impossible. The children had become a constant presence, little spinning tops that splattered joy on everyone they bumped into. I would miss that, of course. But the deeper sadness, the deluge of emotion, came from admitting that I was walking out on them. The children, as always, will be fine, Sandra had said. She could have said the same thing to my mom at the airport. I knew she was right. But I could not leave this house unsure whether or not I would ever return. I just wasn’t going to do it. Despite myself, I had become a parent to these kids—not because I was qualified, but because I had shown up.

I went back into the big boys’ room. They were talking quietly in the dark.

“Conor Brother!” I recognized Anish’s hoarse whisper. Dark shapes popped up in bed and whispered my name.

“Boys—I’ll come back in one year, okay?” I whispered.

“Okay, Brother!”

“Good night, boys.”

“Good night, Conor Brother!”

I left Little Princes with a traditional Nepali leaving ceremony. Farid had come back from the hospital for a few hours to see me off with the other volunteers. The children, one by one, placed a red tikka on my forehead, gave me flowers, and bade me a safe journey. As each of the eighteen children approached, each asked if it was true that I was coming back next year. I confirmed it again and again. Some of the volunteers looked skeptical. Farid only smiled.

I meant it. I would be back for them.

There are dozen more passages that I’d like to quote, but they’re far too lengthy for one blog post, not to mention that I’m sure you’d like to read them for yourselves, in the context of the book.

Final Thoughts: This is one of the best books I’ve read in years. It will definitely hit my Top Ten for 2012 and is one I want to thrust into everyone’s hands and say, “Read this!!” Little Princes is a perfect choice for book clubs; it’s thought-provoking, inspirational and at times, hilarious. I wish I could meet those children (who are now almost eight years older!) and Conor Brother, who is truly a hero.

If you’d like more information about Next Generation Nepal (NGN), go here. Click here to view Conor’s website, which includes a reading guide and videos clips, as well as his personal blog.