"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=========

Monday, August 31, 2009

Favorite First Lines of Good Books

You’ve heard the adage: don’t judge a book by its cover, but how about by its first line? I’m not sure if I am always that aware of the first lines in books. If I really like the book then I might go back and check out the first line so see if it was a grabber or not. Based on my own experience I’m guessing that selection of favorite first lines is often a fairly subjective decision based on the whole book. But perhaps learning about good first lines can entice a person to pick up and read a book. Listed below is a list of a few of my favorite first lines in books. My hope is that you have some favorite first lines that you can share with me. Join in the discussion. Name the book, author, and quote the first line.
First Line
Anderson, M.T.
"We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck."
Dickens, Charles
David Copperfield
"Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show."
Didion, Joan
The Year of Magical Thinking
Life changes fast. Life changes in an instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you knew it ends.
du Maurier, Daphne
"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again."
Eugenides, Jeffrey
"I was born twice: first as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petosky, Michigan, in August of 1974."
Follett, Ken
The Key to Rebecca
"The last camel collapsed at noon."
Gaiman, Neil
Anansai Boys
"It begins, as most things begin, with a song."
Lewis, C.S.
Voyage of the Dawn Treader
"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."
Peck, Richard
The Teacher's Funeral
"If a teacher has to die, August isn't a bad time of the year for it."
Roach, Mary
Stiff: Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
"The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of the time is spent lying on your back."
Tolstoy, Leo
Anna Karenina
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
Yee, Lisa
Millicent Min, Girl Genius
"I've been accused of being anal retentive, an over-achiever, and a compulsive perfectionist, like those are bad things."
P.S. By clicking on the picture at the top of this post you will be linked to a game called Famous First Lines.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Before I Die by Jenny Downham

I just finished a three hour crying session as I finished this book. As the title suggests it is all about living before dying. And about dying itself. Sixteen- year-old Tessa lives in England with her dad and brother as she creates a list of things that she wants to do before she dies. It is tender and sweet and angry and frustrating all at the same time, like it must feel to have a terminal diagnosis. (Here I go crying again.) I suppose the moral of the story is that, in the end, all that matters is love. Let us live our lives remembering that. I have a feeling that the essence of this book will stay with me for a long time.

It will be the rare, mature girl that I will recommend this book to. One who is tender and sensitive. One who can stand crying for hours on end, yet adores a good love story. Yes, a love story. One who can stand the thought of death because it is part of living.

YA Novel. Audio CD. 4 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Audio Books (Part One)

I enjoy listening to audio books. I always have a book playing in my car and another in reserve if I finish the first one mid-journey. Some books improve when read aloud by skilled vocal talent. Others don’t fare as well in direct proportion to the skills of the narrator. Here is a list of a few of my favorites:

1. Harry Potter Series narrated by Jim Dale. Dale has won multiple awards for his narrations of the Harry Potter series. Listening to him read is mesmerizing. He creates over 250 different voices that he uses for the plethora of JK Rowling’s characters. Pure magic! (Pun intended.)

2. To Kill a Mockingbird narrated by Roses Prichard. Ms. Prichard has Scout’s voice perfect. I’ve listened to this audio version repeatedly over the years and I never get tired of it. Look for this version at your local library, I couldn’t locate it on-line.

3. David McCullough is a most appealing author/narrator who reads his own historical works for audio books. I recommend listening to 1776 . You’ll learn history and be captivated at the same time. McCullough’s voice is instantly recognizable if you watched Ken Burns’ Civil War series on PBS.

4. Along that line, two other authors who read their own books and shouldn’t be missed are Bill Bryson (In a Sunburned Country; et al) and the recently deceased Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes; et al.) Both men add comedic timing to their readings and McCourt narrates in his Irish brogue. Beautiful.

5. Stargirl narrated by John Ritter (may he rest in peace) is a darling young adult novel about a girl who lives by her own rules and brings happiness and delight wherever she goes. The book is written from the point-of-view of a man who loved Stargirl when he was a boy. Ritter does a masterful job as narrator.

6. No Country for Old Men narrated by Tom Stechschulte. Part of Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, this book is set in West Texas in the 1980s. Stechschulte has a gravelly, old voice that is just right for the dialogue and the action of this book. But let me warn you, this book is as violent as the drug trade that drives the story line. Take a look at my review before you decide to read or listen to it.

7. The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig, centers around a one-room schoolhouse in early 20th century Montana. Narrated by Jonathan Hogan, this is the favorite audio book of those I’ve listened to this year. This book was not recorded on CD, but I was able to listen to an audio download from my public library.

8. The History of Love (Nicole Krauss) and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Jonathan Foer) are two books that benefit from audio format because both stories are written in several voices. Women in my book club who listened to these books liked both books, those who didn’t, by and large, were confused and didn’t care for them. I enjoyed both of these books very much and recommend them unreservedly in this format.

9. Fantasy or Science-Fiction books often are easier to digest in the audio format because they are usually full of strange, new words. Let the narrator pronounce them for you in the first book of the series and then you’ll be better equipped to read subsequent books yourself. Some of my favorite fantasy books-on-CD are: Eragon (The Inheritance Series); The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials Series); Goose Girl (The Bayern Series); Feed ; and Anansai Boys.

10. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, narrated by Carolyn McCormick should be in the above list of excellent fantasy/sci-fi books but I gave it its own line because I am so high on the book right now. It is such a good book it shouldn’t be missed in whatever format you prefer. My whole family listened to it at different times but all came to the same conclusion- great book! (YA Fiction; sequel due out in September.)

11. Alexander McCall Smith carefully selects the narrators for his different book series and all of them do a remarkable job reading with correct dialects and accents. Portuguese Irregular Verbs (Von Igelfeld series) is read with a German accent; 44 Scotland Street series and The Sunday Philosophy Club (Isabel Dalhousie series) are both set in Edinburgh and are narrated with lovely Scottish accents ; #1 Ladies Detective Agency series is set in Botswana. The Narrator, Lisette Lecat is from Botswana and brings a tone of authenticity to her readings.

12. Three hilarious YA titles that are especially good in the audio format especially for teen boys are: Fat Kid Rules the World by KL Going; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie; and Highest Tide by Jim Lynch. If you enjoy reading YA fiction like I do, don’t overlook the author John Green. I’ve listened to all of his books-on-CD and adored them. His books are not suitable for younger teens: Looking for Alaska; Abundance of Katherines; and Paper Towns.

13. Lastly, don’t be afraid to try one of those books that have been on “your reading list” forever. I enjoyed these three books in audio format, maybe you will, too: Brideshead Revisited (narrated by Jeremy Irons); My Antonia (narrated by Patrick Lawlor); and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (narrated by Kate Burton.)

Please post some other ideas of good books to listen to. Thanks. Enjoy listening!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

Recommended by Debbie Hipes at her conference this past spring, this book did not disappoint me. Marcelo has Asberger's Syndrome. He is high functioning and is "trained" to recognize aspects of people in the "real" world that he would miss without his training.His dad gets him a job at his law firm for the summer-working in the real world, where he makes friends and has to confront decisions that have moral and emotional consequences.

What I liked best about the book is how Marcelo talks about religion and music (his passions) and the insights gained by applying those thoughts to everyday situations. This book is definitely one of my Top Ten Books for the summer.

I have found lots of favorite quotes in this book. Here is one of them when Marcelo and a Rabbi are having a conversation about God and choices: "It is a messy business, this trying to figure out what His will is...But deep at the bottom of our conflicting desires and confusions there is a sense of what is right and what is wrong...What else can we do but trust that He is the source of what we feel and hope He is the end of what we want to do?" (pg 227)

Young Adult Lit. Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Face by Sherman Alexie

Face is a poetry book with footnotes. I loved Alexie's book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian which makes it onto my top ten list of books for teen boys so I knew what to expect. Or thought I did.

Alexie is an American Indian that grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation (The Rez) in Eastern Washington. His poetry allows the reader to understand a bit of his experiences growing up on the Rez with an alcoholic father and deep poverty. What I wasn't prepared for were all the sexual connotations and the use of foul language when other words would have sufficed. I thought the footnotes were, by and large, funny and illuminating. I did laugh out loud at places in the poetry. I know that boys will appreciate this poetry more than girls, but how to get it into their hands?

Adult to mature teen boys. My rating 3 1/2 stars.

Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver

#1 book in the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series, this fantasy/adventure story has it all. It has an exciting, interesting plot; well-developed characters; and is a thrilling page-turner. Jessica D. (GKHS teacher) recommends this series to her reluctant readers with good results. Now I will, too.

Middle school through high school readers; Audio CD; My rating: 4 1/2 stars.

Rebel Angels by Libba Bray

When I asked my daughters to name their favorite books they both said the Great and Terrible Beauty series. This book is the second book in this series and it really is very good. It is just as exciting, unique, and well-written as the first book in the series. I haven't read the third book (A Sweet Far Thing), yet, but I'm sure I will. Set in Victoria England this book is a story of magical lands, powers, and friendships. Just when I thought I'd figured out who the villain was, there was a twist in the story and I realized that I was wrong. It kept me guessing and interested throughout.

The books are all fairly long and the first book starts out in India seems bizarre at first. I haven't had much luck getting girls to pick up this series for this reason but I shall redouble my efforts now that I familiar with two of the books.

Young Adults. My rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Books and more books. What else?

Please answer the questions and let me know your answers in the comment section (or via e-mail, if you’d prefer.)
1. One Book That Changed Your Life – Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns. This book showed me that really good literature is out there and it changed how and what I read. It was the first book that I can identify as the book that got me into reading…and eventually my new profession as a librarian.
2. One Book That You've Read More Than Once --Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. At least once-a-year I have to have a Jane Austen fix. Pride and Prejudice is my current favorite but I often reread Persuasion.
3. One Book You Would Want on a Desert Island – Besides The Bible I’d like to have The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I love all of the books in the set and find so much in them to ponder and enjoy. By the way, please read them in the order that Lewis intended them to be read starting with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
4. One Book That Made You Laugh – In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson. I actually love all of his books that I’ve read. He is very funny, but not in an over-the-top sort of way. Another laugh-out-loud book is Winterdance by Gary Paulsen. My sides were splitting while reading sections of this book about Paulsen’s experiences running the Iditarod.
5. One Book That Made You Cry – The Off Season by Catherine Murdock. It is the sequel to the young adult book Dairy Queen about a girl living on a dairy farm in the Midwest whose boyfriend can’t accept her for who she is. I’m not sure why I wept so much while reading this book but it really touched a raw nerve.
6. One Book You Wish Had Been Written – How to Lose Weight and Keep it Off Without Dieting or Exercising or Even Trying. Ha!
7. One Book That You Wish Had Never Been Written – Any book that has been used to increase prejudice and terror on another population or has decreased the rights of its citizens. Hitler's Mien Kampf or Mao's Little Red Book come to mind.
8. One Book You're Currently Reading – As usual I am reading more than one book right now. They are: 1. Guernica by Dave Boling; 2. The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle; 3. Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork; and 4. You've GOT to Read This Book!: 55 People Tell the Story of the Book That Changed Their Life by Jack Canfield.
9. One Book You've Been Meaning to Read – Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Can you believe that I've never read this book?
10. Favorite book of all time- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This book is such a gem. I can get Scout’s voice inside my head and she speaks to me from all corners of my life.
OK. Now it is your turn. What are your answers to these ten questions about books?

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

The classic, everyone-must-read-book, about book burning. Ray Bradbury is my hero. This book is so-o-o important as I consider the effects of book censorship or book banning. I am especially moved by comments made by Bradbury in the Afterward and the Coda. Here is a poignant quote from the play that Bradbury wrote twenty years after 451 was published where each character comes out of the shadows and explains more about his/her character. This quote is from Fire Chief Beatty:
"The man who loved books, no the boy who was wild for them, insane for them, who climbed the stacks like a chimpanzee gone mad for them. I ate them like salad, books were my sandwich for lunch, my triffin and dinner and midnight munch. I tore out the pages, ate them like salt, doused with relish, gnawed on the bindings, turned the chapters with my tongue! Books by the dozen, the score and the billion...you name 'em, I ate 'em." (Pgs. 170-171)

Ever feel like that? Like you could just eat up a book it is so good?

Here is another favorite quote taken from the Afterward. When Bradbury was confronted with a publisher's request to print one of his short stories in an anthology but only if the 'offending' phrases were omitted, Bradbury said:
"The point is obvious. There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running around with lit matches. Every minority, be it...(long list here)...feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse..." (Pgs. 176-177)

I recommend that you reread or read this book for the first time. Remind yourself about how censorship hurts everyone.

5 out 5 stars.

I'm a huge Bill Bryson fan

I've known for a long time that I love Bill Bryson but I had this opinion reinforced twice this summer after listening to two more of Bryson's books-on-CD: William Shakespeare-The World As Stage and The Short History of Nearly Everything. Bryson narrates his own books and his sense of humor really shows up in this medium. Bryson makes history accessible and fascinating and funny or weird. In the Shakespeare book he takes all the millions of items on the Bard and sifts through them and picks out fascinating and essential information while cutting through "the crap". He also highlights lots of the misinformation about Shakespeare, and believe me there is a lot of misinformation about him out there. For example, did you know that the theory that Shakespeare wasn't the author of his all his plays and sonnets was started by a mentally ill woman from Ohio who was fascinated by Frances Bacon because he was her namesake? In the Short History of Nearly Everything Bryson essentially wraps up the history of science from the beginning of time until now. No small task but he does it in a very accessible was. I can highly recommend both of these books to anyone who wants to learn about about science or Shakespeare but doesn't want to get bogged down in a heavy, unreadable book.

Here are my grades for his books (those I have read):
Shakespeare: World As Stage- 5 out of 5 stars
A Short History of Nearly Everything- 5 stars (the CD version is abridged)
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir- 4 1/2 stars (It is about growing up during the 1960s. I can relate.)
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail- 5 stars (Hilarious.)
In a Sunburned Country- 5 stars (Touring Australia. It makes me want to go there also. Very funny.)
I'm a Stranger Here Myself: On Returning to America After 20 Years- 3 1/2 stars (Essays on America. Written in 1998 I think it is just a bit too dated now to be completely relevant today, though his sense of humor is intact.)