Friday, April 30, 2010
Summary: In a single moment, everything changes. Seventeen-year- old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall riding along the snow-wet Oregon road with her family. Then, in a blink, she finds herself watching as her own damaged body is taken from the wreck... A sophisticated, layered, and heartachingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all make—and the ultimate choice Mia commands.
My Review: Seventeen-year-old Mia's life takes a drastic turn when her family strikes tragedy. Mia is forced to contemplate life and death as she travels back through memories of her past. Ultimately she must decide if life is worth living when so much love has been lost and when the future feels so uncertain.
As a reader you will travel with Mia as she rediscovers herself and learns her past choices which were so consuming months ago now amount to very little. Forman has done a marvelous job of recreating those moments in teen's life when everything feels so deeply significant - first love, graduation, college choices. One can not help but the recall the difficulties of life in general during this awkward stage between childhood and adulthood.
Music plays a vital role in the storyline of this book. Mia is a cellist dating a rocker and her father had his own band during his pre-teacher life. The section at the end of the book which explains the meaning of each song mentioned within adds uniqueness and dimension to the narrative. If I had realized it was there I would have been referring to it throughout my reading.
This is a novel that will tug at heartstrings. It is a tale of the importance of friendship and family. Ultimately it's about choices and the power generated from these these choices. Many times in life we find ourselves at a fork where we may choose either the easy road or the one less traveled. As tempting as the paved path is, the bumpy uphill road often offers a greater reward.
*Side Note- The movie rights to "If I Stay" have been purchased by Summit. Sound familiar? That's the same company that produced the Twilight movies. It's that teenage love thing both stories have going for them.
My Rating: 3.5 Stars
For the sensitive reader: There is a bit of language and a love scene that eludes to sex. Both would have escaped my mention if this were not a young adult book.
To Sum it Up: A story of love and loss and the magical music in-between.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Mary de Piaget is passionate about two things: training her father's horses and avoiding wedded bliss. But when she finds herself facing marriage to the most perfect knight in England, she fears more than her freedom, because only she can see the malice behind perfection. And then a chance encounter with a strangely dressed traveler kindles her hope for a different fate.
But to change Mary's life is to change Zachary's future--with disastrous results. Yet how can either of them face the alternative... (Summary from book - Image from )
My Review: My mother called me up the other day and told me about this book. Let me type that again -- My MOTHER told me to read a ROMANCE NOVEL. For those of you who know my mom I think you need to stop and recognize the magnitude of that recommendation. Now, before I get an angry phone call from her about how I made her sound like a trashy book reader, let me clarify. My mom is a fan of, among other things, clean romance novels (and by “clean” I mean if there’s sex, you don’t read about it). You can imagine that these are quite hard to come by. So, when I found myself in possession of a gift card I scooted myself over to the bookstore and sheepishly picked up a copy and set to reading.
Let’s all agree that romance novels, at least the ones with hot pink covers, rarely have any basis in reality and any hopes the reader might have for realistic relationships, meaningful characters, or an original plot need to be chucked out the door. Most of the time I’m okay with that since I usually read to relax and escape from whatever is bugging me that particular day. Till There Was You pretty much covered the spectrum of things that can’t happen – the most obvious being time travel. I knew it was coming, having been forewarned by my mother, so it wasn’t a complete shock and I was able to get over it pretty quickly and settle in to what was shaping up to be a pleasantly romantic novel. There was lots of chivalry, romantic tension, and a girl who, thankfully, had a mind of her own.
All was going along swimmingly until the last third of the book when something happened (I won’t say what) and the entire setting of the novel changed. This change, and the assortment of depth-less characters that came with it, completely threw me out of book. While their stories weren’t terribly important to the current non-plot, I felt like I had started over in a new book and I didn’t particularly like it. I never did get the chance to settle all the way back in before the book was over.
While this story is a technically a stand-alone novel, it did make frequent references to other characters who obviously had their own novels. I’ll confess that I found it a bit distracting not knowing exactly what had happened in these other stories (likely an intentional omission designed to get me to read all the other books) and I often felt like I was stuck on the outside of an inside joke. If you are interested in reading this series, you might want to read some of Kurland's other books (though I can’t attest to their content) and can find out the order to read them here.
My Rating: 3 Stars. If I were rating this solely against other novels that fall into the romance-novels-without-sex category, then it might rank higher. Unfortunately for Ms. Kurland, it's getting judged against Ella Minnow Pea, The Help, and House of Gentle Men.
Sum it up: If you are looking for a clean, purely romantic read, you will find it here. Just try not to get thrown out of the book.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Kaisa's Summary: Well, the book was about a hungry caterpillar who turned into a butterfly.
Why did you pick this book?
Because we're learning about caterpillars and butterflies at my school.
What do you like about this book?
I like it when the book has these flippy pages on it.
I like the drawings.
What do you like about the drawings?
He uses toilet paper* and sometimes paints over it.
Really, where did you learn that?
It’s an Eric Carle book! Well, Mrs Brennan told me about it.
What else do you like?
I like it because he eats some good things and some treats.
If you were a caterpillar which of those things would you eat?
Chocolate cake and maybe pickles and a lollipop and maybe a watermelon and sausage.
I like how the butterfly is painted and that is what I like about the book.
Is there anything you don’t like about the book?
Well, he actually, this is funny and I like it, he makes a mistake in the book. He wrote a “cocoon” instead of a chrysalises.
It's not a cocoon?
Yeah, it's not a cocoon. Moths make cocoons and butterflies make chrysalides or chrysalids or chrysalis.
That’s all I know.
Her Rating: 5 Stars
Sum it up: I really really like it!
*She means "tissue" paper.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
My Review: I had a very hard time with this book – so much, in fact in the interest of full disclosure I must say that I didn’t finish it. I hate not finishing a book, so to be a fair reviewer I gave this 236-page book until page 121 to redeem itself. It didn’t. This is my review of what I read. Take it for what you will.
Parham’s humor is so offbeat as to be off-putting. Most of his articles read like coked-out, overly ambitious MadLibs. Sort of along these lines : "Billy Bob's father’s grandsons half-brother’s mom went to the (insert imaginary location) and from her peripheral vision saw (insert famous figure with hunting rifle) who was standing on his/her head while protesting the (insert vague political reference and mention a ferret).” I wish I were kidding. The majority of his columns are so full of absurdity and tangents, they are sure to be nearly incoherent to the average reader.
There were a few parts of this book that, while I remain unimpressed, I found more tolerable than others. His article on big box stores was accurate, I think we can all agree on his comments about health insurance companies (Evil, Inc.), and “A Day in the Life” was an island of insightful commercial commentary in a sea of random mutterings.
Other than these sporadic moments of lucidity and insight, I didn’t enjoy this book (or the half of it that I read, anyway). Oh sure, there was sarcasm and indignation in spades and I cracked a smile or two, but I wasn’t nearly as entertained as I expected to be. Most of the time I just stared the page, forcing the words into my brain, perplexed as to why anyone would find these types of scatterbrained observations print-worthy.
Sidenote: To be fair to Mr. Parham, who has received awards for some of these articles and was kind enough to send me an autographed copy of this book, I’m going to send my copy off to Dan and see what he makes of it. I am just one kind of reader and Dan is probably my polar opposite. I’m fairly certain he would describe his sense of humor as “offbeat” and might offer a better, more positive, perspective on this particular book. His review (should he choose to write one) will be posted here as well.
My Rating: 1 Star
Sum it up: Not what I expected - and not in a good way.
Monday, April 26, 2010
When five young mothers–Frankie, Linda, Kath, Ally, and Brett–first meet in a neighborhood park in the late 1960s, their conversations center on marriage, raising children, and a shared love of books. Then one evening, as they gather to watch the Miss America Pageant, Linda admits that she aspires to write a novel herself, and the Wednesday Sisters Writing Society is born. The five women slowly, and often reluctantly, start filling journals, sliding pages into typewriters, and sharing their work. In the process, they explore the changing world around them: the Vietnam War, the race to the moon, and a women’s movement that challenges everything they believe about themselves. At the same time, the friends carry one another through more personal changes–ones brought about by infidelity, longing, illness, failure, and success. With one another’s support and encouragement, the Wednesday Sisters begin to embrace who they are and what they hope to become, welcoming readers to experience, along with them, the power of dreaming big.
Summary and Cover Photo from barnesandnoble.com
My Review: A group of housewives so happen to meet at a park and form a life long bond that begins with a book club and develops into a writers circle. This is the basic plot of "The Wednesday Sisters". Intertwined within this tale are the individual struggles each woman has with motherhood, marriage and the woman's movement taking place during the sixties.
If the above summary sounds familiar to you then you too have read "Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons" by Lorna Landvik. If this is the case do not bother opening this novel as the uncanny similarities between these two books is undeniably irritating. Whereas Landovik's characters were realistic and engaging, I found the Wednesday sisters to be stereotypical and a bit one dimensional.
I also found the writer's circle to be rather far-fetched. What are the chances that five women from one neighborhood aspire to be writers? Even more so, what are the chances that all of these women make it in one way or another in the industry? If that's doesn't have you shaking your head let me also mention that one of these women wears gloves throughout the entire book and the others do not catch a glimpse under these gloves for over a decade. How exactly do you parent small children and never have to remove your gloves through diaper changes, feedings and boo-boo mending?
I do understand why this book is enticing to book clubs. The array of female characters and their various choices offer lots of discussion material. Many readers have even found this read enjoyable. It just wasn't there for me and so I'm going to recommend skipping this one and reading the original.
My Rating: 2 Stars
To Sum it Up: A far-fetched disappointing tale about friendships and the bonds written words can create.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Summary: The day Stephanie Roberts met Jared Wakefield, she didn’t realize they had met before. Running from an abusive marriage and trying to safeguard her children, Stephanie turns to Jared for support—but he needs more from her than she might be capable of giving. With her abusive husband looming in her past, the difficulties they must overcome seem insurmountable.
Is it possible for love to conquer all? I’ll Know You By Heart is a timeless romance that explores the possibility that relationships span the entire realm of eternity—a story about abuse, hardship, and betrayal—ultimately a story about the healing power of everlasting true love. (Image and Summary from Valor Publishing)
My Review: I’ll Know You By Heart was given to me by Valor Publishing to review and found it very compelling. The topic, spousal abuse, is a sensitive subject that some might find difficult to read. I only say that because if I were living in an abusive relationship I wouldn’t want to read about someone else’s abuse. There were some places in the book where the descriptions of the abuse were very graphic—definitely not for young children or the sensitive reader. That being said, I will say, I found this book hard to put down. There was Saturday’s Warrior type feeling to it that made me want to keep reading. The two main characters had both been in different types of abusive relationships, both were suffering in their own private way, yet they were brought together in an unexpected way to help each other heal and learn to love again.
Children also suffer when one spouse is abusive to the other. Kimberly Job was very good at helping us, as readers, see and feel what they, the children, felt—loving both parents and not knowing what to do with the whole situation, feeling betrayed when someone you love beats up another person you also love, being without a father/mother when you need them the most and feeling betrayed by that same parent.
My heart felt like breaking for Stephanie many times throughout the book as she dealt with one blow after the other both physically and emotionally; yet she still kept going, working to keep her children safe and provided for. I would love to say I “enjoyed” this book, but to me enjoyment is equated with happy feelings. Instead I will say I’ll Know You By Heart was a very good book, one I would highly recommend. It gave me a glimpse at something I have never experienced before and made me very grateful for a very loving spouse.
My rating: 4 stars
Sum it up: A stirring book of heartbreak, devastation and renewal.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Summary: Son of Steve, Sean Conways' debut novella, sits somewhere between prose and poetry, has no characters except for Jesus and Elvis, and talks about pop culture and sex, creating a sense of suspension in time and space. It isn't surprising that Sean is a film-maker: the pages read like highly evocative scenes or snap shots that bring us back to something primal, beyond categories and labels. If we could bring literature back to its deepest roots, it would probably look a lot like Son of Steve.
There is no story, no characters, nor an ending. As a young filmmaker, Sean creates images, evokes scenes, drills a hole through our bored collective unconscious with a sense of timeless worlds, nameless individuals, and desacralized spaces where we can at last get to the heart of things. He IS the Son of Steve. (Summary from publisher - image from revengeink.com - review copy courtesy of publisher (DVD not included and not reviewed))
My Review: Let’s get one thing straight right off—you will hate this book. It is pretentious, disgusting, perverse, crass, disjointed, ugly, morally bankrupt, often unintelligible, and occasionally boring.
Now that we have that out of the way, there’s something to be said for a book that is pretentious, disgusting, perverse, crass, disjointed, ugly, morally bankrupt, often unintelligible, and occasionally boring. Son of Steve does, in fact, achieve that rare literary quality, a clear and honest view into the unhallowed depths of the author’s mind—and, I suspect, the minds of more of us than would care to admit it. If seeing things “as they are,” without whitewashing or rationalization, is a mark of insight and wisdom, then this book has more to offer than appears at first sight. In this view, the book’s major failing is that it doesn’t have the patience to let its material develop, or the restraint to sort the well-putrified wheat from the chaff of the author’s mental processes. In attempting to be honest, it often verges over into mere stream-of-consciousness reporting of minutiae.
To reiterate, none of this means that you won’t hate Son of Steve—but if you have the proper where-angels-fear-to-tread mentality, you may find it worth reading regardless.
Star Rating: 3 stars. Expect to be offended.
Sum it up: The demons of one man's mind, dried and pinned like bugs in a collection, but without any labels.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Everything changes the morning an e- mail arrives from Boston artist Joanna Richman. Her heartfelt note brings back all the poignant memories: the night their eyes met, the fiery passion of their short- lived affair, and the agonizing moment he was forced to leave Joanna forever.
Now, fifteen years later, the guilt and anger threaten to overwhelm him. Vowing to make things right, Brian arranges a book- signing tour that will take him back to Boston. He is eager to see Joanna again, but remains unsure where their reunion will lead. One thing is certain: the forces that tore their love asunder will stop at nothing to keep them apart.
Filled with tender romance and taut suspense, A Note from an Old Acquaintance is an unforgettable story about fate, honor, and the power of true love.
Summary from book, cover photo from goodreads.com
My Review: I quickly became engrossed in "A Note from an Old Acquaintance", a novel sent to me free for review. The story unfolds around three main characters. Brian is an aspiring writer with a strong personality, a big heart and a witty sarcastic sense of humor. Joanna is a spunky, confident artist with a captivating personality. Erik is the rich and deceptive businessman who is used to getting what he wants. Together these three form a fragile love triangle of sorts.
Opening with a tragedy this tale morphs into into a passionate love story. A mix of past and present, this novel is comprised of both heartache and pleasure. Though at times the story veers towards overly sappy and far-fetching it never ceases to remain enjoyable. Walker's writing hooks the reader with life-like characters and continues to reel them in throughout with a balanced bit of suspense.
Overall this is a novel about second choices and being true to yourself. The book relies heavily on the old cliche "money can't buy you love". There may not be much meat to this book but the storyline is strong and entertaining.
Rating: 4 Stars - I've already lent it out!
To Sum it up: An engaging romance composed of the tangled bonds of love.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Two hidden artifacts have been found. More preserves face destruction as the Society of the Evening Star relentlessly pursues new talismans. Desperate to stop them, Kendra discovers the location of the key to a vault housing one of the artifacts in Patton's Journal of Secrets. In order to retrieve the key, the Knights of the Dawn must enter a death trap--a dragon sanctuary called Wyrmroost. Will anyone who enters the sanctuary make it out alive? Or have Kendra and Seth finally gotten in too deep? (Summary from back of the book and image from ldsfiction.blogspot.com)
My Review: Shocking secret is right! I managed to wade through this 500+ page book fairly quickly, although it wasn't as much of a page turner as the previous three books. Now, don't judge the book completely by this. I've found I'm a character driven reader. If there isn't much character development, I have a hard time following happily. For example, I have a heck of a time getting into the Lord of the Rings series. This book was bordering on the line of only action and fantasy description to the point where I almost lost interest.
That is, until the end. The last 80 pages are packed with plot twists and character development, and the secrets are unveiled. Definitely made it worth the read!
A major issue in previous books will surface again in this one: betrayal. Bringing up the idea that you never can really know for sure who you can trust, especially when so much is at stake, is a rather sobering fact. As a concept, if young adults haven't been introduced to it before, it is a great time to start them thinking about it. At this age they learn--and hopefully not the hard way--to be wary of all the new people who come and go in their lives.
Rating: 4 Stars. I probably would have rated it higher if the best part wasn't only the last 80 pages.
Sum it up: A treacherous journey involving dragons in Seth and Kendra's attempt to save the world.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Summary: Charlie Asher is a pretty normal guy. A little hapless, somewhat neurotic, sort of a hypochondriac. He’s what’s known as a Beta Male: the kind of fellow who makes his way through life by being careful and constant—you know, the one who’s always there to pick up the pieces when the girl gets dumped by the bigger/taller/stronger Alpha Male.
But Charlie’s been lucky. He owns a building in the heart of San Fransisco, and runs a secondhand store with the help of a couple of loyal, if marginally insane, employees. He’s married to a bright and pretty woman who actually loves him for his normalcy. And she, Rachel, is about to have their first child.
Yes, Charlie’s doing okay for a Beta Male. That is, until the day his daughter, Sophie, is born. Just as Charlie—exhausted from the birth—turns to go home, he sees a strange man in mint-green golf wear at Rachel’s hospital bedside, a man who claims that no one should be able to see him. But see him Charlie does, and from here on out, things get really weird. . . .
People start dropping dead around him, giant ravens perch on his building, and it seems that everywhere he goes, a dark presence whispers to him from under the streets. Strange names start appearing on his nightstand notepad, and before he knows it, those people end up dead, too. Yup, it seems that Charlie Asher has been recruited for a new job, an unpleasant but utterly necessary job: Death. It’s a dirty job. But hey, somebody’s gotta do it. (Summary from book - image from harpercollins.com)
My Review: As a reader, I’m pretty jaded. Far too often, I’ve been disappointed when books that came highly recommended turned out to be the same tired plots, flat characters, and hack writing as a thousand other bestsellers destined for the recycle bin. So when A Dirty Job was recommended to me almost five years ago (thanks, Becca!), I mentally filed it under “Maybe if I get really bored,” despite my respect for the recommender’s taste. Now I am kicking myself for wasted time, and running out to get every other Christopher Moore book I can get my hands on.
It’s hard to pick out the best aspects of this book, because from the first paragraph to the Author’s Note at the end, the entire thing is handled with finesse and twisted wit. Christopher Moore has a gift for characterization, and where most novels have a hard time making even the protagonist real and three-dimensional, A Dirty Job overflows with believable, breathing human (and otherworldly) characters whose lives and personalities continue to develop and deepen throughout the story.
The plot itself is a circus sideshow of bizarre twists, razor-sharp transitions, and increasing tension, all delivered in a deadpan voice that can switch from the pathos of a loved one’s funeral with unaffected sincerity, to a scene involving a 14-inch tall undead crocodile-headed assassin in a black silk tuxedo, without missing a beat. Page by page, A Dirty Job builds a world that is equal parts macabre humor, over-the-top insanity, and real life, so convincing and darkly seductive that even after the book is done you want to remain there, in Mr. Moore’s beautiful freakshow.
My Rating: 5 stars. Rated R for language, sexuality, demonic sexuality, violence, demonic violence, mature themes, infantile themes, and incredibly warped humor.
Sum it up: Black comedy at its best. Don’t let the high recommendation fool you—this is one to read immediately.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
NurtureShock is a groundbreaking collaboration between award-winning science journalists Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. They argue that when it comes to children, we've mistaken good intentions for good ideas. With impeccable storytelling and razor-sharp analysis, they demonstrate that many of modern society's strategies for nurturing children are in fact backfiring--because key twists in the science have been overlooked.
Nothing like a parenting manual, the authors' work is an insightful exploration of themes and issues that transcend children's (and adults') lives.
Summary and cover image from goodreads.com
A few of the sections within this book were interesting, such as the Kindergarten section and the first entitled "The inverse power of praise". While other chapters such as those on lying and sibling disputes offered thought provoking insights into why current methods fail yet left the reader stranded by providing no suggested action. Interlaced throughout were those "well duh" moments found in every parenting book that generate rolling eyes.
With over 100 pages of acknowledgments, notes and references, no one can debate that this book wasn't well researched. The problem lies in how the research was presented. It feels like the authors had their view point and then dug until they found a pile of research to support these views. Once they amassed enough knowledgeable sources these sources were collaborated into a chapter that reads more like a thesis than a parenting book. In one word - dry.
In short if you are looking for a parenting book, this is not one I would recommend. However if you are interested in the research these authors have done and their point of view on child rearing, you can check out their columns featured on newsweek.com with easy access through nurtureshock.com Here you will get the nitty-gritty without having to wade through quite as much mush.
My Rating: 2 Stars
To Sum it Up: Mounds of research supporting these authors' opinions on parenting techniques compiled into a long, rather dull, book.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Find out what tens of thousands of grateful parents have already learned. Discover the positive prescription for curing sleepless nights and fussy babies--recommended by doctors across the country--in On Becoming Babywise. (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)
My Review: When I was in my third trimester with my first child, I had this book literally thrust into my hands by a young mother who said “TAKE IT. IT WORKS!” I had no idea how to care for an infant, beyond diaper changing and the useful skill of not-dropping-them, and was grateful for any ideas that might tell me what the heck I should do. I devoured it and, when the baby was born, began dutifully implementing the steps that were suggested. I was a “single” mom at the time, since my husband was away for school, and so my daughter sleeping through the night was paramount to my sanity. Things pretty much went exactly as the book said they would. My daughter was sleeping through the night in no time and I was thanking my lucky stars for this book and the woman who had gave it to me.
On Becoming Babywise credits its success on the establishment of a flexible feed/wake/sleep routine that is supposed to help newborns distinguish between day and night, eat a full meal without “snacking” all day, and learn to fall asleep without the aid of breast, binky, or bouncing around the living room like a sleep-deprived maniac. This book does not advocate rigid scheduling but suggests approximate feeding/napping times without making things mandatory and always advocates feeding a baby when they are hungry regardless of the clock.
I particularly liked the section on common problems that a parent might encounter with napping/feeding/etc. It was nice to be able to read about the “45 minute intruder” before it sneaked into my daughters nap. Other tips about limiting “sleep props” like binkies, or letting your child cry briefly are a little bit more difficult to implement, so this plan is not without its hazards. Whenever I read this book (and we’re going on four times now) I usually take what I want from it and leave the rest behind. I suggest you do the same.
For some reason, books on child-rearing tend to polarize the masses to either love or loathe. No one likes being told how to take care of their child and NO ONE likes being told they are doing it wrong. On Becoming Babywise is quite self-aggrandizing about its alleged 97% success rate and fails to at least give credit to those parents and children who might be doing just fine with other feeding styles. The authors assert that the Babywise method is only way to have a happy, healthy child and predicts that all other attempts at child rearing will result in a self-centered, whiny, spoiled little infant (and later, adult) with impulse control issues and an inability to cope without instant gratification. I think both examples are far-fetched. I know many parents who have never heard of Babywise (or have, but choose other parenting philosophies) and who have happy, content children.
In spite of it’s occasional arrogance and stereotyping – Babywise has worked for all three of my children. I have found it invaluable in establishing a flexible, but predictable routine within the first few months and it has saved my sanity (and sleep) like few other books have. My children are healthy and well-adjusted and I am able to predict their needs with respectable accuracy – making me a much more sane, more together mom. I'm sure that others have had success without Babywise. Bottom line, we all do what works for us. This worked for me.
Sidenote: There are quite a few other books in this "series" -- Babywise II, Childwise, etc. None of them are anywhere near as useful as this one. I don't recommend them in the slightest.My Rating: 5 Stars. I went lower at first because of all the horn-tooting that went on in this book, but decided to give it a 5 when I realized that having a baby that sleeps through the night is quite possibly the most important thing in the world (slight exaggeration).
Sum it up: If what you are doing isn't working (or you just have no clue what you are going to do when baby comes), then you might want to give this a try.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Twelve-year-old Joan is sure that she is going to be miserable in her new home. Then she meets a kindred spirit: Sarah, who prefers to be called "Fox" and who lives with her writer father in a rundown house in the middle of the woods.
Joan and Sarah--Newt and Fox--spend all their spare time outside, talking and fooling around, and soon start writing stories together. When they win first place in a student fiction contest, they're recruited for a prestigious summer writing class taught by a free spirit named Verla Volante.
This is a book about friendship, the power of story, and how coming of age means finding your own answers--rather than simply taking adults on faith. (Summary from back of the book and image from Biblio.com)
My Review: I shouldn't have gone into this book with any preconceptions, but alas, I did...again. The title made me think (as I rarely read the back of books for fear it won't lure me in) it was more upper level YA literature. It's not. It's definitely more middle school appropriate and I'd say if you had a voracious 5th grader, this book would also be appropriate for her.
That said, it has many good messages for girls of any age, as well as gives perspective on one of life's big trials for kids about this age: divorce. I'd definitely recommend it for my students. Fear is addressed on many levels: public speaking, having your writing read by others, watching your parents fight, seeing your siblings get in serious trouble, worrying that your stable life will come crashing down. It gives a feeling of freedom and courage to deal with problems many teens and tweens deal with across the nation.
As a middle school teacher I also love the writing influence. Learning to write is, in a way, learning to put yourself in someone elses shoes. Considering the teenage experience typically is to see things only from a personal standpoint, this book prods the reader to look outside herself at how others might be seeing things or feeling. It's valuable on many levels--encouraging writing and encouraging empathy.
It wasn't the best book I've read at the YA level, but it was definitely good. I can't say that it was a page turner, but I did want to keep reading and did want to finish. I think my rating is accurate.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Sum it up: A story of growth through writing and adolescence.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
A father offers his advice, opinions, and the many useful stories gleaned from his past experiences in order to help his beloved daughter not only survive, but thrive in the dangerous and unpredictable world of young adulthood.
From the pen of a former abused child, drug addict, womanizing frat boy, and suicidal depressive, comes forth the emotionally stirring account of a young man's battle with crippling inner demons and his eventual road to enlightenment. Peter Greyson calls upon his wisdom as both father and school teacher to gently lead teenage girls through a maze of truth, deception, and adolescent uncertainty. Greyson's literary style sparkles with a youthful enthusiasm that will capture your heart and provide boundless inspiration.
Dear Lilly is a survival guide that offers the brutally honest male perspective to young woment struggling for answers to life's deepest questions. Topics include:
- Boys lie
- What every guy wants from his girlfriend
- Tales from the drug world
- Everybody hurts
- High school exposed
My Review: This book was given to me for review. (Free books rock!) Brutally honest, as it states in the summary, is accurate. The first couple chapters left me feeling hollow inside, it was that sad and full of heartbreak. It seemed almost too much to believe that someone had lived through so many horrible experiences and come out practically no worse for wear. He really has lived through, what I hope to believe, more than the average adult life.
There are aspects that while reading I had arguments with the author inside my head. Some of those included the recommendations about dairy intake--especially for women who need lots of calcium and dairy consumption is the best source--and that it is so rare for a male to be able to control himself during his teen years sexually. Maybe he is right on the last one. I'm obviously not male and cannot make a statement either way. But it seemed not only to demean the male gender, but also to almost make an excuse for such base behavior. Be that as it may, I do believe that many of his statements stand for many males, especially during their teen years.
Aspects to the book that I liked: he really is brutally honest and fairly objective in his expectations for his own daughter. (I know. I practically contradict myself here, but in some ways this is great and in others it's too much.) I liked that he shared just how much it terrified him to know his daughter could date someone like he was as a teenager. (What could be more honest than that?) I liked that he supported healthy lifestyles and healthy eating--although, again, it seems he might be more extreme than I would push things. I liked how he ended the book on a good note. Those last chapters definitely make up for the downer first chapters. I almost didn't make it through the book because the first chapters were so depressing. He really did try to share all parts of his personality and threw in pieces of information on his wife as well.
One last note: he swears a lot, uses a lot of slang, and mentions all topics--NOTHING is off limits in his guidebook for a girl's life. I wouldn't hand this to my teenage child unless they are already familiar with a sailors vocabulary. As a teacher I realize this isn't something shocking for most families. As a parent with different standards, I feel it is important to share this tid bit.
Rating: 3 stars
Sum it up: A thorough look at all the mistakes one can make in life and counsel to avoid them.
Friday, April 16, 2010
Thursday, April 15, 2010
My Review: This book (published first in 1982 as The Magic Flutes) has sat, dusty and ignored, on the top of my piano since it’s re-release in April 2009. I’ve put off reading it time and again, since the last two that I’ve read (here and here) just couldn’t hold a candle to Countess Below Stairs. Now I’m kicking myself. Hard.
The Reluctant Heiress was every bit as much fun as Countess and succeeded in rekindling my interest in Ibbotson’s other books (Star of Kazan, here I come!). Please keep in mind - I’m post-partum. This isn’t a depressing memoir. I couldn’t handle that even remotely. It’s not a controversial political rant or a supercilious self-help book. Thank heavens! It’s fairly predictable YA romance, and as such fulfills its intended purpose of delivering a delightful afternoon of happily-ever-afters.
Heiress is a pleasantly enchanting story that contains a hodge podge of eccentric, but endearing characters. I won’t go into them all, there simply isn’t the time. Tessa is just the right combination of innocence and stubbornness, princess and stagehand. She’s not flighty, but she’s not a complete know-it-all either. Guy manages to exude confidence, kindness, and integrity without being – let’s face it—dull as a turnip. He’s a good guy that you’ll actually LOVE. As for the supporting characters, I’ll just say that most were distinctive and entertaining while others were remarkably easy to despise. Nerine is the devil. The absolute devil.
Along the way, Tessa gets chucked in a lake to save her own skin, a button becomes the most benevolent of gifts, and a well-played deception fools someone who very much deserves it. I probably would have read it in a day (and nearly did) if I hadn’t been so busy with a cute little newborn. It was all I could do to just read this during Cora’s naps when I should have been sleeping.
If you like these kind of books – you’ll love this one!
My Rating: 5 Stars
Sum it up: Just the kind of romantic, fluffy lit that fulfills the all the fanciful longings of my post-partum hormones.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
As historian Jack Lynch has discovered, every rule has a human history, and the characters who populate his narrative are as interesting for their obsession as for their erudition. . . . In a sense, they're all been failures: despite their combined efforts, our language is every bit as messy and irrational as it was three hundred years ago. But they and others have shaped and influenced the language we speak today.
Grammatical "rules" or "laws" are not like the law of gravity, or even laws against murder and theft--they're more like rules of etiquette, made by fallible people and subject to change. Charting the evolution of English with wit and intelligence, Jack Lynch provides a rich historical perspective that makes us appreciate anew the hard-won standards we now enjoy. (Summary from book - image from WalkerBooks.com - review copy from my good friend Emily. Thanks!)
My Review: There are some books that shouldn't be read; they're too dangerous, overwhelming the reader with forbidden secrets and leaving him or her mad, comatose, or worse. Luckily, such books are pretty rare, and usually hidden in mouldering libraries where they're not likely to be stumbled on by the unsuspecting. But there is another class of books, easily available but potentially as dangerous. For me, The Lexicographer's Dilemma was such a book.
Let me explain. When I'm not writing these reviews, I moonlight as a copyeditor--a professional grammar nazi and Custodian of the Purity of the English Language. Dangling participles, split infinitives, and more arcane shibboleths feed my family and pay for my ever-expanding shelves of books. I have a vested interest in keeping proper English esoteric, legalistic, and bound by the tyranny of long-dead grammarians.
But after reading this book, I find myself paralyzed every time I sit down with a manuscript. Where once I wielded my red pen like a sword in noble battle against literary Philistines, now I agonize over each "correction." That split infinitive--is it a mark of sin, or a time-honored and natural part of our speech? That common but nonstandard usage--might it be a natural evolution of the language, a fresh and logical development ?
In short, should I follow my pocketbook or my conscience? But I can't avoid the truth-- though the garrisons of ivory towers grumble their hoary rules, they are powerless to chain the language, which runs rampant, Dionysian, with flowers in its hair. My red pen is inked with the blood of the innocent. I lay it aside; go now, writers of English, and be free!
My Rating: 4 stars. Caution: The chapter on expletives is rated R for language (of course!), and the entire book is likely to highly offend anyone who was appalled by my use of a split infinitive in this sentence.
Sum it up: Engaging, well-researched, and above all, reasonable—I should not have read this book.* But you should!
*Though I'm glad I did.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
When they finally had to leave, they were sad, but not for long. They all knew they would be together next summer. (Summary from Powells.com and image from fantasticfiction.co.uk)
My Review: After only one reading I fell in love with this book. There's something nostalgic about road trips to visit distant relatives, sleeping on the floor crowded into a relatives home. You can almost feel the excitement of seeing brothers and sisters, cousins, friends. Rylant is so eloquent depicting the subtleties of spending time with family--noticing the difference in the air, the sounds, sights, mishaps. There is a feeling of fun and also calm while reading. If your family isn't like this one, you'll leave reading this book wishing it was. It has to be one of my all time favorite children's books.
Rating: 5 Stars.
Sum it up: A beautifully written story about family.
Monday, April 12, 2010
On the banks of the Mississippi, Tennyson Fontaine and her sister, Hattie, play endless games of hide-and-seek and make up fantastical stories about the latest adventures of their wild dog, Jos. But when their mother doesn't come home one day and their father sets off to search for her, the sisters find themselves whisked away to Aigredoux, once one of the grandest houses in Louisiana, now a vine-covered ruin.
Their caretaker, Aunt Henrietta, becomes convinced that she can use the girls to save the family's failing fortunes. But then Tennyson discovers the truth about Aigredoux, the secrets that have remained locked deep within its decaying walls.
Caught in a strange web of time and history, Tennyson comes up with a plan to bring Aigredoux's past to light. Will it bring her mother home and her family back together?
Lesley M. M. Blume weaves a heartbreakingly evocative story, steeped in Southern lore, about one girl's struggle to come to terms with her family's dark past.
My Review: Tennyson is an eleven-year-old girl growing up during the Depression era. She spends much of her day barefoot in the wood playing with her younger sister, Hattie. Tennyson's father does most of the child rearing. Her mother, who does not have a knack for motherhood, is a rather eccentric writer whom Tennyson adores. When her mothers neglects to return home one night, Tennyson's world drastically shifts. Her father goes in search of her and the girls are sent to live with their prim and proper aunt whom they have never met.
This story is rich in detail, especially so for a children's book. The characters seem to leap from the pages while the setting simultaneously pulls the reader in. There is an unmistakable Southern Gothic feel to this book which I adore. Alternating between reality and dreams, Tennyson weaves the tale of her ancestors past in with her own present.
Tennyson is a brilliant protagonist. She has this quiet strength to her character that demands respect. Yet it's not quite strong enough to entirely hide her pain. This is a story that will haunt it's reader long after the covers are closed. This short tale takes only a day to read but will remain with you a long time.
My Rating: 5 Stars
To Sum it up: An extraordinary mix of adventure and passion sure to please young and old alike.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
In this latest installment of the blockbuster series, time is running out as war between the Olympians and the evil Titan lord Kronos draws near. Even the safe haven of Camp Half-Blood grows more vulnerable by the minute as Kronos's army prepares to invade its once impenetrable borders. To stop the invasion, Percy and his demigod friends must set out on a quest through the Labyrinth--a sprawling underground world with stunning surprises at every turn. Full of humor and heart-pounding action, this latest book promises to be their most thrilling adventure yet. (Image from bookdweeb.files.wordpress and summary from back of the book.)
My Review: Things start getting complicated for Percy in book #4. It definitely stays PG, but he now has conflicting emotions regarding three different girls. I appreciated how Riordan was able to portray attachments without getting physical (ok, SPOILER: so Annabeth does kiss Percy once, but this is very benign especially considering the circumstances).
Of all the books this one is the most foreboding. You can feel the impending doom that seems to be encroaching upon all society. The Labyrinth is probably what starts this dread. Knowing that it was able to cripple the courage of Clarrise is enough for me to think it's a bad place to be forced into to save the world as you know it.
You learn many cool things that the previous three books have been building up to, such as Grover and his search for Pan. I didn't want to put this book down because I had to know what would happen, but it isn't my favorite of the four. I think that title goes to book #3. It just wasn't as funny, and considering how much suspense and action these books hold the humor balances out the dread. I'm looking forward to finishing the series with the 5th and final book.
Rating: 4 stars
Sum it up: In succession of reading, the most foreboding in the Percy Jackson series yet.
Also reviewed by Mindy.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Flavia thinks that her days of crime-solving in the bucolic English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacy are over—and then Rupert Porson has an unfortunate rendezvous with electricity. The beloved puppeteer has had his own strings sizzled, but who’d do such a thing and why? For Flavia, the questions are intriguing enough to make her put aside her chemistry experiments and schemes of vengeance against her insufferable big sisters. Astride Gladys, her trusty bicycle, Flavia sets out from the de Luces’ crumbling family mansion in search of Bishop’s Lacey’s deadliest secrets.Does the madwoman who lives in Gibbet Wood know more than she’s letting on? What of the vicar’s odd ministrations to the catatonic woman in the dovecote? Then there’s a German pilot obsessed with the Brontë sisters, a reproachful spinster aunt, and even a box of poisoned chocolates. Most troubling of all is Porson’s assistant, the charming but erratic Nialla. All clues point toward a suspicious death years earlier and a case the local constables can’t solve—without Flavia’s help. But in getting so close to who’s secretly pulling the strings of this dance of death, has our precocious heroine finally gotten in way over her head?
Summary from the book, cover photo from Amazon.com
My Review: Welcome back Flavia de Luce. With a puppeteer meeting a tragic end during the middle of a performance, our 11-year-old heroine is back to using her deductive reasoning skills as well as her love for chemistry to solve the case. The list of suspects is long and time is not on her side. How will she solve the case before the murderer strikes again and before the wrong suspect is arrested?
Beware this story will grab you from the opening page and will not loosen it's grip until the end. It is a joy to ride along with Flavia as she climbs aboard her trusted bicycle, Gladyis, in search of evidence. In the midst of it all she must deal with her wacky family, especially the relentless taunting from her older sisters.
While this novel definitely is strong enough to stand on it's own one gets a better feel for Flavia's character and the De Luce family dynamic if you read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie beforehand. This is the second in a series of 6 Flavia novels that have been contracted. I am eagerly awaiting the next, A Red Herring Without Mustard, due out early next year.
For more information on this series visit http://www.flaviadeluce.com/
My Rating: 4.25 Stars, I liked it almost as much as the first
To sum it up: A strong sequel to very enjoyable mystery series suitable for both teens and adults.
Friday, April 9, 2010
My Review: I have to admit that the first time I read this book I wasn't all that impressed. After many readings I started to see the sweet simplicity of how a child views the world. My daughter was taken with this book after only one reading. I'm not totally sure what grabbed her most. It could have been the simple pictures--black, white, gray are the only colors used which I believe help focus on the kitten and the moon. It could have been the simple way the kitten learns about her surroundings and how she applies her prior knowledge both correctly and incorrectly. It also could have been because it's a story of never giving up and trying again despite disappointment. I'm not totally sure. What I do know is it has a good message about perserverence and speaks to young children in a way that I don't always see books do upon first readings.
Rating: 4.5 stars--I didn't give it 5 stars because it didn't call to me initially.
Sum it up: A sweet, little story about a kitten learning about her world.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
The novel was included on a 2005 Time Magazine list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923. It has been frequently challenged in the United States for its liberal use of profanity and portrayal of sexuality and teenage angst. It also deals with complex issues of identity, belonging, connection, and alienation. (Image from Amazon.com - Summary taken from Wikipedia.com)
My Review: This was another book club assigned classic that I missed in high school. Written in the 1st person voice of a high school junior in the 1950s this book was among the first of the "stream of consciousness" narratives that are now so common.
I read the first few chapters of the Catcher in the Rye out loud as my family started out on a road trip. Because of the 1st person voice, and a juvenile one at that it was fun to read, despite my frequent need to substitute dang, heck and gosh.
The loose plot chronicles the downward spiral of a good-hearted troublemaker. It was full of outrageous events that remained believable. I read with trepidation, afraid the story would end with tragedy like so many 10th grade English reading books do. It didn't - although many moments are, by themselves, heartbreaking or tender.
Although Holden's inner dialogue tended to be repetitious it was written with such sincerity that it was endearing. Ultimately, the dialogue was familiar to my formerly 17-year old self. Although I have never hired, then rejected, a teenage prostitute, the rambling, doubt-filled, idealistic thoughts embodied the teen age years. Years where, even under the perfect circumstances, life and the pressure of choices weighs on each person.
A note on the controversial nature of this book. Um...I wasn't offended. This might be a commentary on me, or on society... or just on me. I only really noticed the language when I was reading it out loud and the teenage sexuality wasn't terrible shocking, frankly, it was nothing you wouldn't hear about on Oprah. Let me know if you disagree.
My rating: 4 stars - I'm going to vote with the English teachers and Time Magazine on this one.
Sum it up: Classic, timeless, smart, teenage angst.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Welcome to Weston Locher's Musings on Minutiae where the author offers up hilarious observations and insights on topics of great importance such as...
Living in an urban apartment complex - "...if I become an admitted pet owner, then I have to pay not only a several hundred dollar deposit to the apartment complex, but I'm pretty sure that they also reserve the right to harvest some of my bodily organs..."
Living with felines - "...as I'm walking anywhere in my apartment. They scamper in front of my legs, causing me to fall and face plant into whatever furniture is closest. They especially like to play this game when I'm carrying piping hot coffee."
Childhood Memories - "Our family was nearly torn apart on several occasions by arguments started when the refrigerator door was open for what my father deemed as 'too long.'"
Chock full of humorous essays and personal anecdotes, Musings on Minutiae will keep you laughing for as long as you have a pulse.
cover photo from http://musingsonminutiae.com and summary from the back of the book
My Review: I was thrilled to receive this book comprised of short, humorous tales free for review. Within this small publication, Locher finds humor in everything from childhood to work to relationships to apartment living and even his pets. It promises to keep the reader laughing.
Musings on Minutiae is composed of several types of comedy. There are those stories that are easy to relate to leaving the reader laughing out loud. While other tales are more the "you-had-to-have-been-there" variety which merely induce a smile. Sprinkled throughout are everyday accounts in which witty Weston is able to portray immense amounts of humor by skewing the angle. Life's most mundane moments would be delightfully entertaining with Weston Locher around.
This book is ideal when consumed in small doses. The three to five page chapters make this the perfect bathroom book. Just don't be surprised when you hear chuckling behind that closed door.
My Rating: 3.5 Stars
To Sum it up: A fun, easy read guaranteed to leave you with a smile.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Summary: Kenzie Williams has it all: wealth, friends, popularity, talent. But when her father declares bankruptcy, her whole New York City would turns upside down. Her parents’ solution, while they sort through their problems, is to send Kenzie to live out the summer with her relatives in Paris. . .Idaho!
Feeling like she’s been sentenced to three months in Hickville Prison, Kenzie arrives in Idaho feeling like a square peg with name-brand clothes, crammed into a round, horribly podunk hole.
Leaving everything she loves behind, Kenzie is forced to get up at the crack of dawn, do chores, and hang out with her cousin’s loser friends. She feels like she’s about to die . . .until she meets Adam White, the town outcast, who has been accused of killing his best friend and is being blamed for some trouble that’s been happening around town. Not only is Adam the best-looking guy she’s ever met, he’s also the most fascinating, and Kenzie is determined to get to know him better and discover his secret.
But, the longer she stays in Idaho, the more she realized, Adam isn’t the only one keeping secrets in Paris. (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)
My review: I received this book to review from Valor Publishing. My first impression was that I didn’t like the cover, it looked kind of boring. I guess that was the whole idea. When Kenzie first arrived in Paris, Idaho she couldn’t believe she was going to be spending the entire summer with a bunch of “hicks”---b-o-r-i-n-g. She learned, like I have learned many times, that “you can’t judge a book by its’ cover.” Summer in Paris was a good, clean, uncomplicated young adult book. It actually took me back (a long way back) to my high school days and some of the feelings I had then—trying to fit in and feel important without sacrificing what I knew was right. Topics such as split families (divorce, separation), financial problems, teen drinking and vandalism were all covered while still keeping the book fun and easy to read.
While Summer in Paris was not one of the most amazingly exciting books I have ever read, it was still a good book with a strong moral message where good triumphs over evil in the end.
My rating: 3.75 stars
Sum it up: You can make good come out of what looks like a bad situation.
Monday, April 5, 2010
Summary: When Percy Jackson gets an urgent distress call from his friend Grover, he immediately prepares for battle. He knows he will need his powerful demigod allies, Annabeth and Thalia, at his side, his trusty bronze sword Riptide, and...a ride from his mom.
The demigods rush to the rescue to find that Grover has made an important discovery: two powerful half-bloods whose parentage is unknown. But that's not all that awaits them. The titan lord Kronos has devised his most treacherous plot yet, and the young heroes have just fallen prey.
They're not the only ones in danger. An ancient monster has arisen — one rumored to be so powerful it could destroy Olympus — and Artemis, the only goddess who might know how to track it, is missing. Now Percy and his friends, along with the Hunters of Artemis, have only a week to find the kidnapped goddess and solve the mystery of the monster she was hunting.
Along the way, they must face their most dangerous challenge yet: the chilling prophecy of the titan's curse. (Summary from Powells.com and image from runjeanrun.wordpress.com)
My Review: This was a refreshing read. The characters are growing up, twists and turns abound, more Greek mythology is explored, and it's at the right reading level to capture the attention of adolescent readers. As a middle school teacher, I LOVE it!
I thoroughly love Riordan's humor. Maybe it's because I'm a middle school teacher and that says more about me than it does about the books, but he's seriously funny. My favorite part in this book was the Dam problems. He really ran with that one--the dam snack bar, the dam elevator, the dam parking lot. He manages to mix action/adventure with humor and history--a perfect combination to make a great story.
The second in this series left me needing a break, but this one had me craving more. I can't wait to get my hands on the next book in the series. My students say the last book is the best; I can't express just how happy I am to have a series that keeps me wanting more!
Rating: 4.25 Stars
Sum it up: The middle of what is looking to be a great climax of a story!