"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Perhaps I loved this story because of the geographical references the Puget Sound region. Perhaps I enjoyed it because I shared the experience with my daughter listening to the book-on-CD together as we made a college-visitation trip. Whichever reason, I found it very delightful. Narrated by the dog, Enzo, who thinks that he is human, this book has a decidedly unique feel to it; refreshing. "...a dog who speaks, the thrill of competitive racing, a heart-tugging storyline, and best of all, the fact that it is a meditation on humility and hope in the face of despair." (From the back cover) Be sure to have a box of tissues on hand as you read it and your heart will sing over the ending.

A favorite quote: "I know this much about racing in the rain. I know it is about balance. It is about anticipation and patience...racing in the rain is about the mind. It is owning one's own body..." p. 314

Adult to Older teen; Rating 5 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachal Cohn and David Levithan

This book has been on my list to read for a while now. I really wanted to like it more than I did. Rachal Cohn and David Levithan alternate writing chapters in Nick and Norah's voices. I liked that and felt that it was successful to authenticate the difference in the voices and point-of-view. I also thought that premise of the story was fresh and interesting. "Will you be my girlfriend for 5 minutes?" What a fun idea. Unfortunately the book was so full of profanity that it made me cringe. The characters were into the punk rock scene so the language may have fit the characters but I didn't think so much was necessary.

I will continue to recommend this book to my teen readers but now I will make sure that these readers are mature.

I did find some fun quotes that I liked. Here is my favorite: "I shouldn't want the song to end. I always think of each night as a song. Or each moment as a song. But now I'm seeing we don't live in a single song. We move from song to song, from lyric to lyric, from chord to chord. There is no ending here. It is an infinite playlist." p. 174

YA Literature; Mature teens; My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tamar: A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal by Mal Peet

Two years ago a student told me that I should read this book because it is so good. I believed her and put it on my list of "must-read-books". Unfortunately I took my sweet time about getting to it. She was right, this marvelous book is very good and I feel like I should have highlighted it more often for other readers if I'd gotten to it sooner. Oh well, now it will get lots of recommendations from me.

Set in occupied Holland during WWII it deals with the lives of several people involved in the Dutch Resistance. It also jumps ahead fifty years and carries the thread of the story forward by two generations. The title tells us what to expect in the story: spying, passion, and betrayal. All of it exciting and well-written. I found the book and the information that I learned about the war in Holland to be fascinating.

On a "small world" note, the day that I finished reading the book I met a man living in Tacoma who just got out of the Dutch Army. I told him about Tamar and what I learned about the Dutch Resistance. He replied that the Dutch were just as likely to be in the resistance as they were to be collaborators with the Nazis. He also explained that people working in the resistance didn't get along or coordinate their efforts. For example, two different groups might show up to blow up the same bridge and be angry that the other group got there first.

This could possibly be my favorite read for the whole summer.

YA Lit; My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

This book is about the Vietnam war from one man's perspective. I highly recommend this book-not only to boys or people interested in the psychological effects of war, but to anyone who wants to read an excellently written book. WOW. I can feel the horror and futility of war and I now understand why war experiences stay with a person long after (forever?) the war ends. In addition, the author stresses the cathartic aspect that writing and telling one's story has on healing. I am completely high on this book and will recommend to students and adults alike.

Here's a quote from the book: "Telling stories seemed a natural, inevitable process, like clearing one's throat. Partly catharsis, partly communication, it was a way of grabbing people by the shirt and explaining exactly what happened to me, how I allowed myself to be dragged into a wrong war...it occurred to me that the act of writing had led me through a swirl of memories that might otherwise have ended in paralysis or worse. By telling stories you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself...you pin down some truths..." (157-158)

Adult to Older teen (there is quite a bit of profanity); My rating is 5 out of 5.

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus

My book group picked this book thinking it was non-fiction. The novel is based on a real event- in the 1870s a Cherokee chief asked President Grant for 1000 white women to marry his braves under the belief that children conceived under this arrangement would belong to the woman's clan and thus the Cherokee Nation would be saved. No such arrangement was made. In fact, the whole idea was ridiculed and dismissed. Fergus wrote a fictional story from this point forward and made it as if this did happen and white women were sent to marry Cherokee braves. May Dodd was one of these women and she journals about her experiences.

The premise was good for this book-the execution was bad. Fergus' characters were all stereotypes. The Irish were red-headed drinkers; the French did not bathe often enough; a Southern gal was a racist, etc. May Dodd was a late-twentieth century gal not a woman of the 1800s. The one redeeming factor about the book is that it was sympathetic to the Indian's plight and seemed fairly authentic in it's representation of their lifestyle for that time period.

Adult to late teen; My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Blue Bloods by Melissa De La Cruz

Twilight fans should gear up for another exciting vampire series. I actually read this book so that I could make recommendations for my library readers. Many feel lost after completing the Twilight series but still crave fanciful stories of vampires and magical powers. This book, and the other two books in the series, seem like the logical next step. This book is set in NYC and bluebloods are not only vampires, they are also the members of high society in town.

Though it would seem that this book is just another vampire knock-off, it is actually very well written and extremely inventive. It also incorporates actual historical events and puts a new twist on them. For example, what really happened to the pilgrims of Roanoke Island?

Though these books are not R-rated, I would say that they are better suited for the high school aged reader than the middle-school aged kids. Look for the sequels: Masquerade and Revelations.

YA Lit; Audio CD; My rating: 4 stars.

No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row by Susan Kuklin

A fast read. I purchased this book with funds set aside for reluctant readers. It has very disturbing themes: murder, incarceration, and what it is like to be on Death Row as a juvenile. It also outlines the lives of boys before they were arrested and sentenced. Without saying it, the author makes the point that the boys were all well on their way to a life behind bars before they committed the crime that landed them there. Kuklin interviews several boys and a defense attorney that works with them and uses direct quotes from them. I found myself wanting to correct grammar. Ugh, how critical is that of me?

I hope that I can find ways to get this book into the hands of students who might benefit from it, though I honestly don't think that I will find many readers for it. It is a very disturbing and uncomfortable topic. I think that readers of this book would benefit from reading it in a small group and discussing it as they make their way through it.

YA Non-fiction; My rating: 3

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

My husband and I listened to this book-on-CD as we traveled via car one week-end. When we got home we still had several CDs left to finish the book. We fought over who got to finish it up first. My husband won, which was a first for us. He usually is much less passionate about books than I am.

This book, which is described on the cover as having "masculine prose", is a very dark, psychological drama, full of murder and gore. Yet it is masterfully written. I kept joking that it was written with "muscular prose" because only men could enjoy so much violence. We watched the movie after finishing the book. The movie captured the psychological, maniacal aspects and wove the title, "No Country for Old Men", nicely into the drama. We were glad that we had read the book first or we wouldn't have "got" all the drama behind the violence.

I am constantly on the lookout for good books for boys and this is definitely one, though I'd say that if a teen picked up this book he would need to be a fairly strong reader.

Adult to strong teen, male readers; Audio CD; My rating: 4 stars.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow has to be one of my favorite reads of all 2009. Set in the near future I got the creepy feeling that everything in this book could possibly happen, or has actually happened already. It is like an updated 1984 where Big Brother watches over us and knows everything, except the surveillance is done by technology that we currently have and seems to be ripped from newspaper headlines.

The story is set in San Francisco, the site of the next horrific terrorist attack where a bunch of techno-savvy kids get tangled up in Homeland Security's efforts at securing the city.

The story takes modern-day concerns about loss of rights in the name of "national security", recent revelations of torture techniques actually used by Americans, and it addresses Internet safety and privacy concerns. Interestingly, an actual news event in San Francisco this past month highlights how close to the truth this book comes. (See AP story here)

This is a powerful and thought-provoking tale that shouldn't be missed by adults and young adults alike. Everyone in my family read and enjoyed it and we continue to talk about the ramifications of technology on our security and privacy today.

YA Fiction; Audio CD; My rating: 4.5/5

Friday, July 24, 2009

Summer Reading List

Here I am with my very first blog intending to write about one of my favorite subjects: books. Friends know that I keep an annotated log of all the books that I read in a little blank book. I frequently look back on my list to remind myself what I thought of a book at the time I finished reading it or to check the date I read it. This blog is my attempt to join the 21st Century and to faithfully share my musings with you.

As a high school librarian I spend a good deal of time during the summer reading books that have piled up on my list of "must-reads" during the school year. This first list, which I will update as I complete other books, is merely a list of books that I have read this summer. They are not necessarily my favorites, though I do like several of the books very much. By the end of the summer I will create a Top Ten list of books I have read to share with my students. Look for that on a later post. I am always on the hunt for good books for teens but that doesn't mean that all the books I read are YA lit. I am a very eclectic reader, as you will see from my list below. I also love to listen to books-on-CD, in fact that is my favorite way to "read" a book.

A little star* next to the listed book means I will be writing a review of the book. My reviews will always be short and I will never give away much of the plot of the ending of the book.I hate reading lengthy reviews, since I have to read so many of them myself. Let me know if you want me to write reviews for any of the other books. I have opinions on all of them.

I hope you enjoy reading my blog and I invite you to join in the conversation with me about books, reading, life.

Here goes...my first list:
Mrs. Bennett's summer reading list:

Little Brother
by Cory Doctorow 

*2. Careful Use of Compliments by Alexander McCall Smith
No Country for Old Men
by Cormac McCarthy *
Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife
by Mary Roach
Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise
by Ruth Reichel
No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row
by Susan Kuklin *
Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey Through Autism
by Dawn Prince-Hughes
Blue Bloods
by Melissa De La Cruz *
The Red Pony
by John Steinbeck
One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd
by Jim Fergus *
Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR's Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors
by James Hornfischer
The Things They Carried
by Tim O'Brien *
Tamar: A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal
by Mal Peet *
Dope Sick
by Walter Dean Myers
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist
by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan *
The Art of Racing in the Rain
by Garth Stein *
Rebel Angels
by Libba Bray *
18. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury *
19. Serena by Ron Rash
20. Shakespeare: The World as Stage (Eminent Lives) by Bill Bryson*
21. Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver*
22. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson*
23. Face by Sherman Alexie*
24. Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork*
25. Impossible by Nancy Werlin
26. The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle
27. Guernica by Dave Boling
28. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery*
29. Before I Die by Jenny Downham*
30. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
31. The Killer's Cousin by Nancy Werlin

*=Reviews to follow