"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, November 24, 2010

Evermore by Alyson Noel

Since a horrible accident claimed the lives of her family, sixteen-year-old Ever can see auras, hear people’s thoughts, and know a person’s life story by touch.   Going out of her way to shield herself from human contact to suppress her abilities has branded her as a freak at her new high school—but everything changes when she meets Damen Auguste . . .

Ever sees Damen and feels an instant recognition.  He is gorgeous, exotic and wealthy, and he holds many secrets.  Damen is able to make things appear and disappear, he always seems to know what she’s thinking—and he’s the only one who can silence the noise and the random energy in her head.  She doesn’t know who he really is—or what he is.  Damen equal parts light and darkness, and he belongs to an enchanted new world where no one ever dies.-Macmillan Books Website

I feel very ambivalent about Evermore.  As I read it I found myself thinking it wasn't very well written and I kept asking myself, "Why is Ever so angry and how can she possibly have any friends at all with that anger?"  But it was also very clear to me why this book appeals to teens:  the characters are struggling to make their way in the world and the story is full of tension, suspense, and drama--- key ingredients in books that teens like.  The other thing that kept me going was the fact that I met the author, Alyson Noel, this Fall and she said that she was a very unhappy, angry teenager and she hated school.  Perhaps Ever's feelings toward school and authority in general came out of Ms. Noel's own experiences.

Whatever my thoughts on this book, both boy and girl readers seem to like it and often request the next books in the series.  In fact, it was a boy who dropped by my desk on Monday to see if the 5th book in the series was in yet.  I have to remind myself that I am a grown woman and what I look for in books doesn't necessarily match what kids want.  Evermore gets kids reading and the sequels keep them reading.  Good enough for me.

P.S.-I will be out-of-town for a few days and don't think I will have access to a computer.  But I will be reading so I should have some new books to review when I get back.  Happy Thanksgiving.  I'm thankful for my new blogging friends.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Snowflake: Winter's Secret Beauty by Kenneth Libbrecht

It is snowing today which is a rare occurrence in the Pacific Northwest.  In honor of the white stuff I thought I would highlight a book I read last year called The Snowflake: Winter's Secret Beauty by Kenneth Libbrecht, with photography by Patricia Rasmussen.

The book is a nonfiction book all about snow and the various types of snowflakes.  I read the book with rapt attention while the author explained the techniques they used to capture the flakes in order to photograph them and the descriptions of the different types of snowflakes.  The best part of the book was the photographs.  They are amazing.  Take a look at the photos of snowflakes on the NewScientist webpage and you will get a taste for the types of photos that fill this book.

Now it is time to run so I can beat the freezing temperatures home!  Happy sledding!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the BARBIE by Tanya Lee Stone

The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie is part biography—both of the doll and of her inventor, Ruth Handler—and part exploration of the cultural phenomenon that is Barbie. Filled with personal anecdotes, memories, and opinions from people of all ages, and featuring original color and black and white photographs, this book is for anyone who understands that we’re all living in a Barbie world.-From the Tanya Lee Stone website
I admit it, I love Barbie. My older sister, Kathy, and I had some of the earliest Barbies.  In fact, I think that Kathy's Barbie was a first edition Barbie.  I'll have to ask her to make sure.  Mine was the Barbie with the bob hair style, which was apparently so stylish in the early 1960s thanks to Jacqueline Kennedy. Over the years my friends and I played with our Barbie (singular) whenever we had a chance.  My best friend Kay had a Midge doll which I totally loved and coveted. We sewed outfits for them.  I still have a few of these homemade gems in my Barbie suitcase where all my treasured dolls still reside. Every year for Christmas I'd want one more Barbie companion, so I amassed a few other dolls (see photo below): Alan (friend to Ken), Skipper, Francie, Ricky (Skipper's boyfriend), Skipper's best friend (I've forgotten her name), and one more Barbie with the new head of the day and hair pieces to change her hair style. When I outgrew playing with my dolls I displayed them in my room for several more years before I put them away in my case and saved them from sure destruction by my little sister. When my daughters were old enough to be interested in Barbie, I would only let them play with my dolls on special occasions and only with the promise that they would not mix them up with their own dolls.  They still have to ask to see my collection.  With this devoted love of Barbie in mind, is it any wonder that I not only ordered Tanya Lee Stone's new book, The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie, but read it immediately after it arrived?

The book begins with the creation of the Mattel company, and some biographical information about its founder, Ruth Handler.  It then goes into the material on how Barbie has influenced materialism, body-image, multiculturalism, nudity, and even art.  A clever aspect of the book is how Stone interspersed quotes from average and famous people as they reflected on Barbie's influence on their own lives. It also had many photos, both color and black./white, to show us the evolution of the doll. The funniest chapter included descriptions of the things people did to Barbie after they outgrew playing with their dolls.  Many people found ways to torture her, including the person who took the Marie Antoinette Barbie and cut off her head, even adding ketchup as fake blood (p. 88).

Margaux Lange, an artist who makes wearable art with a Barbie theme:
...admits that she spent a childhood obsessed with Barbie and her miniature world. Her pursuit helped her explore a 'love-hate relationship: fond childhood memories balanced against adult discomfort with the doll as a problematic role model' (p. 99).
Lange's quote really gets to the crux of the book.  Adults are uncomfortable with Barbie, as if she is a real person, and children view her as a toy; a doll with which they want to play.  Since I'm a Barbie fan I was a bit taken aback by all the Barbie-bashing in the book. But as the author, who admits to not liking Barbie as a child, said about herself and Barbie:
...that how ever many people there were out in the world who knew me, there would be that many different perspectives of who I am. We all impose our own ideas and perceptions on the world, and Barbie may just be the ultimate scapegoat (p.109).
Whether you love Barbie or hate her, this book is a gem.  Plus, at only 109 pages, it is an easy, fast read.  I recommend that you take a look at the book. And, while you are thinking about it, let me know some of your Barbie memories.  I'd love to hear from you.

My personal Barbie collection. The Barbie in pink skirt/blouse is my original doll.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I'm thankful for Fridays and blog hops!

Book Blogger Hop
Today's Blog Hop question is:
"Since Thanksgiving is coming up next week, let's use this week's Hop to share what we are most thankful for and what our holiday traditions are!"

I am thankful... 
  1. that my Dad is recovering from his open heart surgery and seems to be on the road to restored health.
  2. for my husband of 28 years.  He is truly my best friend.
  3. that I live in an area with fabulous libraries that provide so many resources to its citizens, especially during this bad economic time for so many people. I love reading books I don't have to pay for.
  4. for a warm home and a good job.
  5. for my daughters and my many friends.
  6. that I can sleep in tomorrow! 
A few highlights/traditions for Thanksgiving week:
  1. College-aged daughter to come home on Tuesday.
  2. Hubby and I will shop for food bargains to pop into the freezer since we won't be cooking at home this year.
  3. Church service Wednesday night.  Thankfulness to God for His bounty in our lives.
  4. Travel to Oregon to join my parents and sister and her family for Thanksgiving dinner.
  5. Overeat.
  6. Friday.  Get up early for store bargains then go to the Oregon v Arizona football game at Autzen Stadium in Eugene.  Go Ducks!
What are you thankful for and what will you be doing this Thanksgiving holiday?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

I am completely obsessed with the story behind the book Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann right now. On August 7, 1974 Philippe Petit, a French acrobat, tightrope walked between the nearly complete Twin Towers 110 stories above New York City. His remarkable stunt gained him quite a bit of notoriety at the time---he was sentenced to community service by performing his tight-wire act in Central Park in lieu of other punishments---but until September 11, 2001 he had slipped into obscurity. Since 9-11 Petit has published a book about the event, To Reach the Clouds, and was the subject of a documentary film, Man on Wire, by British documentary director James Marsh. He also was immortalized in the wonderful Caldecott Medal Children's book, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. In this book Petit's story is actually secondary to the collection of short stories that all come together around his famous walk.

Mari Malcolm for Amazon.com summed up the book this way:
This extraordinary, real-life feat by French funambulist Philippe Petit becomes the touchstone for stories that briefly submerge you in ten varied and intense lives--a street priest, heroin-addicted hookers, mothers mourning sons lost in war, young artists, a Park Avenue judge. All their lives are ordinary and unforgettable, overlapping at the edges, occasionally converging. And when they coalesce in the final pages, the moment hums with such grace that its memory might tighten your throat weeks later.
Not all the short stories were as good as the others, nor did I like all the characters as much as the others but the street priest, Corrigan, had such a compelling life story that I kept turning the pages in hopes of more information about him. The book won the 2009 National Book Award for good reason.  There were so many moments of sheer genius in the writing that I added over twenty tags to my copy of book so that I can remember them when I meet with my book group this week.

For example here are a few good quotes.  This first quote is about Corrigan:
He was the origin of things and now I had a meaning for my brother--he was a crack of light under the door, and yet the door was shut to him. Only bits and pieces of him would leak out and he would end up barricaded behind that which he penetrated. p. 67
This quote is made by one of the mothers whose sons all died fighting in Vietnam:
"--And what do you know about helicopters, lady?"
--And I tell him that I know a hell of a lot about 'copters, actually.
And she does. Marcia knows a hell of a hell of a hell of a lot about helicopters, her hell of helicopters. p. 96
About Philippe Petit's motivation to walk between the towers:
He had, it seemed, scoped out the building for six years and finally not just walked, but danced, across, even lay down on the cable. He said that if he saw oranges he wanted to juggle them, if he saw skyscrapers he wanted to walk between them. I wondered what he might do if he walked into the diner and found the scattered pieces of me, lying around, too many of them to juggle. p. 130-131
Jonathan Mahler's review of Let the Great World Spin in the New York Times Sunday Book Review is so good I want you to read it because there is no way I can even begin to elaborate about the book the way he does.  He makes one point about the book which was a little distracting for those of us who were actually alive in 1974.  McCann doesn't even try to be completely accurate about some of the historical and cultural events of the day. For example he talks about buying video cameras and computer hacking both of which weren't in use/possible in 1974.  He could have made the book more accurate, but didn't. Fortunately these inconsistencies don't detract from the wonderful prose and the compelling stories.

As you can tell from this review, I highly recommend this book.  I even think that strong teen readers would enjoy it and I will get a copy for my library. My very most favorite part of the book, however, is that it caused me to be curious, to go out and find out more information than I knew before.  That is great fiction, my friends!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

Talk about a weird picture: me sitting in the waiting room of the hospital while my dad was having open heart surgery, reading this huge book about wars and planetary conflict, being so transported that I actually had to lift my head occasionally  to remind myself why I was actually there.  Admittedly, Monsters of Men is not your typical hospital reading material.

Here is quick little teaser from Goodreads:
'War', says the Mayor. 'At last'. Three armies march on New Prentisstown, each one intent on destroying the others. Todd and Viola are caught in the middle, with no chance of escape. As the battles commence, how can they hope to stop the fighting? How can there ever be peace when they're so hopelessly outnumbered? And if war makes monsters of men, what terrible choices await? But then a third voice breaks into the battle, one bent on revenge - the electrifying finale to the award-winning "Chaos Walking" trilogy, "Monsters of Men" is a heart-stopping novel about power, survival, and the devastating realities of war.

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness is the aptly named third book in the Chaos Walking series.  I devoured its predecessors, The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and Answer this past summer and eagerly awaited the publication of this book. With teaser summaries like the one above who wouldn't be eager to read the book? Then I had to wait in line behind a student who was also anxious to get her hands on the third book of the trilogy before I got a crack at it. When I finally took it home I was shocked at how hard I found it to read.  I could only make myself read 25 pages or so a sitting.  At that pace the 600+ page tome was going to take me nearly a month to read. I'm not sure what it was about the book that I found to be such a bug-a-boo.  Perhaps it was the introduction of another narrator.  In the past two books there were two narrators, Todd and Viola, now Spackle 1077, or the Return, narrates a few chapters and it is very hard to understand what he means since he speaks figuratively. As the book progressed his meaning did become clearer as did all the seemingly disparate pieces of information from the series. In fact, the ending of the book is just about as perfect as can be.  Another problem with my slow reading may not have had anything to do with this book but with other books that were vying for my attention.  It used to be that I would have two or three books going at a time with no issues, but lately I've found that the multi-tasking approach to reading to be distracting.  At any rate,  I had a good 5 hours of sit time in the hospital and few hours here and there while Dad napped so I was able to devote my attention in one direction and the reward was profound.

Patrick Ness is an absolute master.  His books are so imaginative, thought-provoking, original, and creative that I want all of my students who are Fantasy and Sci-Fi fans to read them.  Heck, I want all of my friends to read them.  If you  are interested in them I recommend that you read all three in as close of proximity as possible to each other, that might have solved the momentum problem I had with the last book.  And don't get me wrong, just because I read the first half of the book slowly, I was still enjoying it.

One reviewer said after completing the whole series that he was only sorry that he didn't have these books to read anew.  I couldn't agree more though I know I will be savoring them for a long time to come.

Monday, November 8, 2010

What I'm reading...and want to read

What I’m reading now:

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness- the third book in the Chaos Walking Trilogy.  I like the series a lot but I'm finding it hard to hit my stride with this book.  I am on pages 350 of 600 and I still have a hard time reading any more than 25 pages per sitting.

What I’m listening to now on audiobooks:

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann---the National Book Award Winner for 2009 and for good reason.  Parts of this book are so well written it is like reading eating chocolate or skinny dipping in champagne. Yum.  And the audiobook is read by a cast of actors, my favorite so far is the voice actor from Ireland.  Love it.

What I recently finished reading: 
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood---a fabulous and frightening dystopian novel written by an absolute writing master.  See my review for more on this book.

What I will be Reading Next:
Chasing Fireflies: a novel of discovery by Charles Martin---I'm in two book clubs and this book is for one of those clubs.  Everyone who has finished it says they like it.  I've got a week.  Better get to it.
What I Wish I Had Time to Read:

The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper---my whole family has read this book and talks about it all the time.  I'm on page 200 of 330 so you'd think I could try to finish it sooner than later, but other reading always gets in the way.

 I will be out of town for a few days so I won't have a chance to post this on the usual WWW Wednesday post.  Thought I'd post early since I am stuck without a book to review.

What are you reading right now?  What have you recently completed?  Wish you had time to read?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The mountain is out today.....and it is Friday!

The mountain has been out for the past three days here in the Puget Sound.  If you live in the shadow of the mountain (Mt. Rainier) you know what I mean when I say this. Kim Derting, a local author of the wonderful YA novel, The Body Finder, told me that she referred to the mountain being out in her book and her publisher asked her to explain what she meant before publication.  I guess it is a local idiom.  Often Mt. Rainier is obscured by clouds for weeks on end and then on a clear day, there it is again.  It is a gift to receive the mountain's beauty every time.  I have a wonderful view of the mountain from my library and I've been blessed this week.

The photo of Mt. Rainier was taken from just outside my library last year.  But you get the idea of what a wonderful view I have when the mountain is out.

Since this photo is so tiny I thought I'd share a photo that I found that is very close to what I see while I'm driving home on Sunrise Blvd.  Honestly, it is this big and domineering.
Pretty spectacular, huh?  See why those of us in the Puget Sound Region of Western Washington are quite smitten and love it when the mountain is out? 

(While I am writing this blog I have on the Evening News in the background and the meteorologist is forecasting rain.  Bummer, the mountain will be hidden tomorrow!)

Hi Friday Blogger Hoppers from Crazy for Books!  Yes, I do notice when people un-follow my blog but I am not that in tune with my list of followers to ever know who has actually left.  Once I posted a rather controversial blog about books I'd never be caught reading and the first person that looked at my diary stopped following me.  I was hurt for minute and then decided it was better that they didn't follow my blog if they were offended by something I said.  I don't know how to un-follow (tee-hee) so once I follow a blog, I am a follower for life!

Witness   by Denise Levertov
Sometimes the mountain
is hidden from me in veils
of cloud, sometimes
I am hidden from the mountain
in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue
when I forget or refuse to go
down to the shore or a few yards
up the road, on a clear day,
to reconfirm
that witnessing presence.
                                           -Levertov, Denise. Selected Poems. New York:New Directions, 2002.

Happy Friday!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ten Books that Made Me Cry

The meme of the day over at The Broke and the Bookish is 
What are the Top Ten Books that Made Me Cry?

This was both an easy and a hard list to complete.  Easy because I cry often when I read books so I had no trouble coming up with my list.  Hard because I cry so often when I read that it was hard to remember which books from previous years made me especially cry and why.  For this reason, my list is rather fresh and has lots of YA books in it.  It doesn't represent my top ten cry-worthy books, it just represents the ones I have read most recently that made me cry. Injustice and death seem to be the issues that really get the tears flowing for me.

1.  The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (YA, c. 2010, read 2010)- When Lennie's sister dies, she is left alone in the world with her grief which is so palpable.  I cried throughout.
2.  Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick (YA, c. 2010, read 2010)-Amber Appleton lives with her mother on a school bus and has no food or money  but she refuses to give in to despair until her mother is killed.  Very poignant with brief moments worthy of tears.
3.  The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien (c. 1990, read 2009)-Tim O'Brien writes a fiction book about experiences in the Vietnam War. Some of the scenes are horrifying, others funny.  I cried the most at my husband's reaction to this book and the cathartic effect it had for him.
4.  The Summer of My German Soldier (YA, c. 1973, read 2010)-About a lonely Jewish girl living in Arkansas during the early 1940s.  I wept for all the injustices in this book.  In fact, I was weeping and reading it at a dealership while my car was being fixed...very embarrassing.  I warn you, this is a several-hanky book.
5.  Deadline by Chris Crutcher (YA, c. 2007, read 2010)-the main character, Ben, only has a year to live.  The reader knows it.  Ben knows it.  No one else does.  Intermittent crying throughout.
6.  The Off Season by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (YA, c. 2007, read 2008)-When D.J.'s boyfriend, Brian, treats her unjustly some raw nerve in me snapped and I wept and wept.  I can still recall the feeling today two years after reading it. This is the second book of the Dairy Queen trilogy.
7.  Blankets by Craig Thompson (c. 2003, read 2009)-This graphic novel relates the story of an awkward teen who always feels like a misfit.  I cried a little as I felt for him and for all misfits here at the high school.
8.  A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseni (c. 2007, read 2008)- War, death, injustice to women, you name it, I cried about it while I read this book.
9.  Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes (YA, c. 2009, read 2010)-Karl's dad is dead and his mother is drinking all the time.  Karl tries to hold everything together in life with his family and his friends.  At one point a teacher finally figures out what is going on and his kindness still brings tears to my eyes as I recall the story.
10. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (c. 2002, read 2002)- This is really the only book on my list that I read a long time ago.  I won't spoil the story for you but suffice it to say that I cried for the first 72 pages solid. I think it related to the fact that I had young teenage daughters at the time.

What are some other good cry-worthy books on your list?