Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Every year Graham picks me out a book for my Christmas stocking. He usually picks a winner, and this year it was too.
This story is about a family, but it is told by their dog. Sound like it's going to be cheesy? I have to admit it doesn't sound like my kind of book. But Garth Stein has an effortless writing style that I liked from the beginning. Even sweet Enzo the loyal dog was believable and not talking-dog goofy.
Denny is the main character and he has raised Enzo since he was a puppy. Denny gets married, has a baby daughter, and struggles to advance his race car driving career while being a responsible husband and father. The characters are all endearing. Well, except the awful in-laws.
Sprinkled in between the story chapters are short metaphoric references to racing. I know nothing about racing, but it all makes sense in the book. Refernces like "Racing is about discipline and intelligence, not about who has the heavier foot. The one who drives smart will always win in the end." Good stuff, huh?
This story is sad, but I promise the ending is happy, all things considered. The title is great. Denny's specialty as a driver is his ability to race well in the rain. Denny faces a lot of adversity and sadness in this story, but he stays in control and wins. I feel like that theme carries the story well.
"The true hero is flawed. The true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles--preferable of his own making--in order to triumph." I usually like my heroes to be very, very good, but I think this is a good point. Maybe we want heroes to be more like us.
"Denny and I worked at slowing the breathing of our hearts so we wouldn't feel so much pain." Isn't that well said, and so sad?
I enjoyed the Seattle references. Especially when they go to Denny Creek that I hiked with my kids this summer. I also liked the references of the rain, and the beauty. If you grew up here like me, you'll like them too.
I saw a question posed as to whether having the family pet narrate this book added anything to the story. I've been thinking about it. I liked the point of view, and I definitely think it allowed for a unique perspective. I think the coolest aspect was that as a reader, you feel helpless like the dog. You see what is happening, sometimes with more insight than the characters, but you can't do anything to help. You can't warn anyone, you can't speak as a witness, but you still feel the anxiety. SO I do like the chosen perspective, and I look forward to reading more of Garth Stein.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Made By Hand by Mark Frauenfelder

This is a book about Mark Frauenfelder's attempts to make things by hand. He refers to this at DIY, but includes everything from home repairs to raising chickens to building musical instruments just for fun.

At the beginning he tells about moving his small family to a tropical island in an attempt to live a more authentic life. I absolutely loved this set up and his explanation of making coconut milk (which I saw beautifully demonstrated at the Polynesian Culture Center this fall), and how it changed his life. He writes, "I promised myself I'd come up with a "coconut-day" equivalent in Los Angeles-something that would allow me to slow down, use my hands, and become more engaged with the world around me in a meaningful way." I like to make things, but I also see the value of when it's better just to purchase something at Target. So I was really intrigued by his philosophy.
"The purpose of DIY is learning to take back control of your life from outside parties." The way he used DIY as a noun kind of bugged me, but he really is approaching it as a way of life, so it makes sense. He kind of uses DIY as an attitude and approach to problem solving. I found the part where he was building an instrument and went "scurrying" around his house looking for things he had lying around that might work very relatable. There's another part where he doesn't want to have to go back to Home Depot to get the right parts, and looks around his yard for something he can use to make shift. I love moments like that when I can use stuff I have to make something new. I love it.
Now when he starts explaining all the reasons to keep chickens, I could feel myself getting sucked in. Like it was all so reasonable and responsible. I know a few families that raise chickens. But when he says, "Now that we have chickens in our life, we don't want to go back to living without them," it is not as relatable to me.
Later Mark quotes a cartoonist explaining that some tasks require that we only use half our brain, and so the other half is free to wander. He talks about how people may garden or knit to reach a kind of "unusual state of consciousness. Some people might be able to achieve it by meditating, but using your hands seems to do the trick too." This made me think of those moms who knit during their kids' baseball games, but there is absolutely truth to it in my life. I like to have a project to work on with my hands while I watch TV. I used to think out college papers while I mopped the bakery at BYU, so I really think there is something to having something to do with your hands while you are thinking about something else.
Because of his job, Mark meets all different types of people that make things by hand for all different reasons. I thought these introductions were really interesting. I especially liked his mention of Anil Dash who encourages people to use cast-off technology. Not to throw things away just because a faster or better model exists. This makes perfect sense to me, and while I do buy new things, I refuse to just upgrade just because I can. Don't you see that kind of wastefulness all the time?
Some of his ideas and attempts make sense to me, and some don't. But one of the families he meets with was particularly disturbing to me. They embrace the philosophy of "Unschooling," the philosophy of not sending your kids to school, and not homeschooling them either. It's the idea that kids are learning before they go to school, and you just keep that up. Living and learning together. The founders believe fundamentally that school is a wrong idea, and that learning shouldn't take place in a contrived space. So I kind of get those ideas, it reminded me of Whole Language. But here's where they lose me BIG TIME. The family says that their son didn't learn to read until he was 10 1/2, and only then because he was playing Super Mario 64 all the time and wanted to know what the characters were saying when their dialogue appeared on the screen. When he wanted his parents to read the words, they told him he needed to figure it out on his own, so he did. Seriously? Two things here. One, I might buy into unschooling if your child was spending their day working on the farm, building your home, or even walking through museums. But I think you are doing a grave disservice to your kids if you let them play video games all day. Believe me, mine would do just that if I let them, and sometimes I do. The author of the book mentioned that his kids might watch TV or sit in front of the computer all day if he didn't send them to school. The parents said it would happen, but then your kids would get bored and move onto something new. And Two, I couldn't help but think of all the good reading your kids would miss out on if they didn't choose to learn to read until they were 10 1/2. I think of all the things outside of books that my kids love to read. Signs, maps, instruction booklets, newspaper, advertisements. On a road trip this spring my 5 year old daughter was ecstatic when she spotted "Entering ....." signs when we crossed the border into new states. All of my kids love to read maps when we are travelling or just navigating through the zoo or Disneyland. And of course books. Think of all the fun books you would probably never read if you didn't learn to read until you were 10 1/2.
Overall I enjoyed this book. I didn't change my life, or even convince me to make changes in my life. But it did reconfirm things that I already believe. Like, there is value in making something yourself: both in the process and the end result. And we should be thoughtful in our purchasing, and not throw things away just because we can afford a new one. And educating our children goes far beyond sending them to school. I like to read books that make me think.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

Actually it has a subtitle, A True-Life Novel.

I read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls just before I started this blog, so I didn't do a review of it, but I thought it was a really good book. That was a while ago, and I had forgotten how much I like her writing style. Walls writes in a straight forward honest way that I love.

The Glass Castle was a memoir of Jeannette Walls' life growing up with parents who often chose to be homeless. Half Broke Horses is a memoir of her mom's mom, Lily Casey Smith. She acknowledges in the back that she calls the book a novel because she had to use her imagination to fill in details, and changed somethings to protect other's privacy. But the stories are real, and they are good.

Lily grows on you. She was a good woman who was humble, honest and worked hard. She made her way through trials without feeling sorry for herself. There are decisions that she makes that seem hard, but you can see how she ultimately trying to do what was best. I love that Walls wrote this book in the first person. It feels like you are listening to your grandma tell you the stories of her life.

As a teacher in one room school houses in rural areas, there are several mentions of beating and punishing kids. I hate that kind of stuff. It isn't a focus, and I know that given the time period it's realistic. But I thought I'd give you a heads up. In that same vein, there is a heartbreaking scene where Rosemary defies Lily and sneaks out to swim with boys. Lily loses control in her anger, but you feel for her as you read, "I was also plain furious with Rosemary. I'd slept next to that girl every night to protect her. I thought that I had taught her to be smarter than this." There is heartache and sadness, but also so much love. The characters are trying to do what is best.
I loved when Lily met Big Jim. I loved their marriage and how they approached problems together. There are so many great moments between them in this story.

I also loved how Lily broke horses, worked hard on her ranch, but embraced progress. She loved to drive fast in cars, learned how to fly airplanes, and loved indoor plumbing. When they had some savings, she and her husband invested in new "chompers." She wasn't vain, but she wanted to have nice teeth. I loved that. She went to a premier of Gone with the Wind, and made herself a gown out of her red velvet curtains! There's also a magical night where she hooks up electric Christmas lights to their car battery for her kids. (They didn't have electricity at the ranch.) Another example of how she wasn't afraid of modernization even though they lived without most conveniences.

Here are some quotes from the book that were my favorites:

"There was nothing finer than the feeling that came rushing trough you when it clicked and you suddenly understood something that had puzzled you. It made you think it just might be possible to get a handle on this old world after all."

"Working in those little desert towns during the war years--teaching illiterate ragamuffins how to read--I had felt needed in a way that I never had in Chicago. That was how I wanted to feel again."

"Sometimes after I finished a particularly good book, I had the urge to get the library card, find out who else had read the book, and track them down to talk about it."

"We found a beautiful site at the top of a rise overlooking a shallow forested valley--so beautiful that I knew in God's eyes it must be sacred--"

"When people kill themselves, they think they're ending the pain, but all they're doing is passing it on to those they leave behind."

These next two are quotes from Jim to Lily about Rosemary when she decides to marry Rex.
(If you read The Glass Castle, you can imagine why her mother was wary of Rex.....)

"She might not have turned out like you planned, but that don't mean she turned out wrong."

and, "Our daughter's found something she likes, this painting, and someone she wants to be with, this Rex fellow, so she's way ahead of a lot of folks."

I am planning to re-read The Glass Castle with this new perspective on Jeannette's family history. I remember Lily being in it, but I don't remember much about her.

I recommend this book!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Greetings from Somewhere Else by Monica McInerney

Why the crazy spacing issues blogger? I've re-done my paragraphs over and over.

This is another "Staff Pick" from my library. I'm guessing it might be the same staff person that picked Table Manners.

Lainey is the main character, and she has to leave her friends, family, and career in Australia to run a bed and breakfast in her native Ireland for one year.

This was an OK book. Again, I would watch it as a movie on TV. But the writing is only so, so. Especially the dialogue. For example, Lainey is thinking about a character in one of the Celtic legends and I quote, "Poor Grainne, Lainey thought. And she thought she had relationship problems." UGH, so trite.

I did find it interesting that families migrate from Ireland to Australia and vice versa. I had no idea and wouldn't have expected that this is fairly common.

What I liked best in this book is the personal growth of the protagonist, Lainey. Not in the gradual ways, like how she learned to be more domestic or recognized her romantic feelings. But she actually has this painful moment when a close friend criticises her during a dramatic scene. AND she takes it to heart, asks more people about their honest feelings, then she tries hard to improve that element of her personality. Even though I found the early development of Lainey kind of painful, full of stereotypes and unrealistic reactions, I liked the idea of someone consciously trying to improve their personality. I hope we can change what seems innately part of us.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Summer We Read Gatsby by Danielle Ganek

I really liked this book. It takes place in about 4 weeks during the summer of 2008. The two main characters are half-sisters that have never lived together, but have spent a few summers together at their aunt's house. When she dies, she leaves the house to the two women, with the stipulation that they live there a month together.

It's about family, love, summertime, reading, and figuring out what you want. I think. I enjoyed it, but I wish it had been filled out a bit more. Even though some parts were slow moving, I felt that other times the character development jumped a bit. I did like the ladies relationship with each other, and I liked both of the romances.

I am inspired to re-read The Great Gatsby, because it is relevant to the story and is referenced through out.

I do recommend this book. I really liked the characters, the story was pretty good, but overall it wouldn't make any of my most favorite lists. I think it is written for adults, and there are a few f-words, but other than that it is tastefully written, and modern without being racy. I did keep imagining the ladies as being younger than they were. I felt like the author had to give the characters grown-up careers and mention them to remind us of their ages. I think early 30's.

What I did like were some very valuable points made by individual characters. So maybe Cassie's internal thoughts were the strong point.

Here are some quotes to prove my point:

"She delivered her opinions as though she'd received some divine wisdom that told her she was right, despite any evidence or logic to the contrary."

***"Later I would look back at this moment as the beginning of what I would come to think of as a sort of awakening in me, the first in a series of shifts that led me to want to write a different story for myself."

"Missing her--that physical ache in the heart that made it feel as if it could sometimes break in two--dredged up the feelings of loss over my mother from which I'd thought I'd recovered."

"We stayed up until the sun rose, talking about everything and nothing. Not since university days had I spent this kind of late night time with women, and I'd forgotten how much fun it was."

Re-reading the sections these quotes come from has reminded me how much I liked reading this story. Maybe I'm over analyzing it. I can't remember where I got the recommendation for this, anyone? Anyone read it?

***I LOVE this quote.

PS. I think this would make a great movie!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Table Manners by Mia King

***Post Edit***I originally posted this under the title of a different book by the author! Sorry!

So as I was looking for a cover image, I realized that there is actually a "prequel" to this book. It's the second book featuring the main characters. I picked this up from the Staff Picks section of my library, and had no idea.

I liked it. I think if we're looking at good, better, best, I'd rank it good. You know how there are some movies you would watch on TV, but not pay money in a theater, or even seek it out to rent? That's how I felt about this book.

It's a nice story about a nice woman named Diedre whose life seems really great, then lots of things start falling apart around her. I like how she deals with her roadbumps. I like the characters enough. I was a little annoyed with the whole idea that her boyfriend was part of this socially elite family, and that Diedre's life was being watched by gossip columnists. It just seemed a little goofy.

Each chapter has a short quote about etiquette, and I think that's what the title is referring too. But I didn't think they were anything too special.

Overall its a nice book, I enjoyed reading it, but I wouldn't go out and buy a copy for a friend.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Mysterious Benedict Society

It's been awhile since I blogged a book!

My son read this book a while back and really liked it. I vaguely remember him explaining the plot to me, but only vaguely. He checked it out to re-read from his middle school library, and I borrowed it when he finished. Because of that, I can tell you that it is labelled as AR level 5.6 and 18 points. So if your kids need to keep track of that kind of thing. I would guess it would be interesting for 4-7th graders. I hope to convince my 4th grader to read it. It is 485 pages, so it took a chunk of time to get through.

All that being said, I liked this book. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Quirky,brainy kid characters. I love them, don't you?

2. A story with enough twists and turns that it wasn't all together predictable. Including one moment when I genuinely felt exactly like the characters.

3. Good, if not unoriginal, messages about believing in yourself, working together, resisting the dark side.

4. A happy ending. Did I give it away?

A few good quotes to give you a feel for it:

"Although most people care about the truth, they can nonetheless--under certain circumstances, and given proper persuasion--be diverted from it. Some, however, possess an unusually powerful love of truth, and you children are among the few."

"What if he created a fear, a fear everyone would hold in common, a fear the entire public would share?.....Then his next step would be to soothe that fear with just the right message."
(He, of course, being the bad guy.)

"He'd never expected doing the right thing to be so hard. But it was."

And of course being religious, I loved the parallels. Toward the end, at the moment when Reynie just doesn't think he can resist the evil, he thinks of Mr. Benedict. He doesn't think he can go on, so he sends a message, and knows if it is heard and returned he can do it. And he does. The whole moment is so great.

I enjoyed the characters, the story and the writing style. I'd love to hear what you think!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Enna Burning

It's been awhile since I reviewed a book, sorry. At least this review is chronological. Enna Burning is the next book after Goose Girl. I liked it just as much.

Keeping in mind that this is a fairy tale and written for young adults, I think it accomplishes its goals. I like the characters. Even more than the first book, the protagonist is flawed. Enna is a good person, and her motivations are also good, but she has to combat urges and desires that lead her astray. I think that's an important and realistic theme.

Isi is a supportive character in this book, while Enna takes over as the story's main focus. I was drawn in and wanted to keep reading to see what choices she would make and how they would affect those around her.

There's a cool quote, "what she had seen when she loved him had faded and in its place...." I think it sums up exactly what you want to be able to do when you have moved on to a new interest. Being able to see someone more objectively, and not be taken in by them.

I recommend this book. But read Goose Girl first.
And one warning. This is more violent than the first. After all there is a war, and the main characters are soldiers in the war.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

I have heard about this book for years and have several friends who are fans of the Bayern series. I finally picked up a copy. (Actually I was trying to give Shannon Hale a chance to redeem herself in my eyes after the Actor and the Housewife disaster.)

I enjoyed reading this story. Its re-telling of a Grimm's fairytale, which I knew nothing about. Maybe that's why the book felt so dreamy and magical. Of the Shannon Hale books I've read, I think her writing style worked the best in this book.

I liked the character of Ani. I especially liked the decisions she makes once she gets to Bayern. I think she is a strong female protagonist for upper elementary/middle school readers.

I do think the story started too slow. I think the build up of her feelings about her life, being a princess, and her relationship with her mother could have been conveyed more briefly. I was also confused when Ani's special power of talking with animals, especially birds, kind of transformed into the power to talk to and use the wind. It seemed weird to me.

Overall I think this is a nice middle grades book. I'm interested in reading the other stories in the series.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The River Why by David James Duncan

How about a couple of mini-posts since my summer is fading fast? Lists are so much easier than real writing. I've read a few books in between my beaching, hiking, laying arounding.

I re-read The River Why in July. I really like this book, but it had been YEARS since I read it last. Like, maybe before having kids. It is long, and, at the risk of using terms I don't fully understand, I would say this in an EPIC novel. But I didn't even think of stopping reading, it's that good.

Things I really like about this book:

1. Bill Bob. Gus's younger brother has all these amazing terms and ideas. The segment where he explains to Gus about Garden Angels might be one of my favorite passages ever. The dreefrees, all of it. I love smart kid characters.

2. Personal growth. Like any sucessful epic novel (in my definition), Gus learns through his life experiences and comes to some important conclusions. It also has the feel of philosophy books, some of which Gus reads. You know like, Candide, Tao, Bhagavad Gita, those kind.

3. The dialouge between characters in this book is great. I think Duncan creates very entertaining, eccentric characters, and makes them believable. Crazy, but believeable. This, of course, leads to very entertaining conversations between them.

4. When Gus meets Eddy. I love the moments where he tries to talk to her but can't. And then the night they sat by the fire and tell each other everything. Doesn't every great relationship have one of those nights toward the beginning? It make me sentimental to think of it. Plus, I love a little romance in a big novel, and their's is magical.

5. It's toward the beginning, but I really like his references to Jesus leading his disciples to catch the 153 fish. I enjoyed his speculation about why there is a specific number, you know, who counted the fish.
Some new things I found out: This version was a 20th anniversary and had a cool afterward by David James Duncan. He talked about getting inspired to write this book, and getting it published, and other stuff. I found if very interesting, of course I like his writing style. His parents were conservative and religious, and he wasn't. He was facing the Vietnam draft, which reminded me of The Brothers K. Anyway, he talks about getting the idea to boil down all the conflict with in a family to one issue, fishing. And that's what he did with this family. I thought that was a cool idea. I'm always fascinated with how people translate their life experiences into works of fiction.
He also talks about novels creating an atmosphere where readers discover their inner wisdom. And I'm sorry Mr. Duncan, but I already returned the book, so I can't use a direct quote. Which would explain it much better.
Also, some people have made a movie of this book. I'm so curious to see when it might come out. They bought the rites 20 years ago, so there's some controversy, and lawsuits involved. But my research online shows that it was shown at some film festivals this year, so I'm assuming they need more money to actually release it. I'll cross my fingers.
One day I took this book to the gym to read on the stationary bike. I ran into a friend who asked me what it was about. And I said, "Well, fishing." Then I tried to explain a bit more.
So, in summary, Gus graduates from high school, takes out a one year lease on a cabin, then proceeds to follow his well-crafted plan to fish as many waking minutes as possible. It doesn't provide him with the fulfillment he expected, so then he figures out what really makes life meaningful, and so on. Oh, and his dad is a famous fly-fisherman, English and educated. His mom is a bait fisherwoman, and kind of a hill-billy. His family is awesome.
Anyone else read this? Like or Dislike?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

ScreamFree Parenting

So I've seen this title around, and kind of dismissed it. But I read a comment on another blog, that made me curious. I liked it.

I would say that it is more philosophy than practical "how-to's", although the author does include examples and stories.

Initially I was a little put off by his writing style. He comes off a little pompous, and seemed like he was trying to hard to convince you that his "ScreamFree" patented principle was unique and contrary to all that you've ever heard before. But its not. That being said, his ideas are still good. They are common sense. I think you can summarize his whole philosophy to the idea of keeping yourself calm and incontrol at all times. And I think we all want to do that, and know that that is how we should parent.

The author uses several catch phrases that he repeats. One that I thought was good was “In order to be in charge you have to bring yourself under control.” And that is the best part of this book. It doesn’t give you any illusions about your own powers, but instead focuses on what you can realistically do to have great results in your family.

Another thing I really liked is "if you are experiencing a pattern of behavior with your children, you are some how contributing." And ALL patterns can be changed. If one person changes what they are doing, the pattern has to change. This makes sense to me, and doesn’t require blaming the whole problem on the child or the parent.

Another piece of wisdom is that “no one is always ever anything.” Don’t you hate when someone labels you or assumes you are going to react a certain way, when you know you won’t? He explains, just because a child acts a certain way in a situation 10 times doesn’t mean he will do the same the 11th time. Labels limit our children’s freedom to evolve and develop. I loved that, for me and my kids. I love the belief that we can always change and improve ourselves and our behavior.

A few more nuggets of wisdom:

Insanity is “Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.”

“Asking any child, from toddler to teenager, to account for his motivation at the time of his mistake is a fruitless exercise. He simply doesn’t know most of the time. And your need to know is much more about you than it is about him.”

He paraphrases four levels of love as defined by a French monk: 1)I love me for my benefit. 2) I love you for my benefit. 3)I love you for your benefit. 4) I love me for your benefit. More than parenting, this really got me thinking about friendship and service, and what my motivations are.

The same chapter was titled, “Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First.” I liked it. “The less we take intentional retreats for ourselves, the more we will find ourselves unintentionally finding ways to escape.”

Sometimes the examples that Runkel uses don’t seem to correlate well with the point he is trying to make. Other times he takes too long to explain or get to the point. Overall, I liked reading this book. It did make me think about several different aspects of parenting, and relationships in general. I recommend it because even if you don’t buy into his ideas, I think it will inspire you to evaluate yourself and your thoughts on parenting!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

My mom loaned me this book and reminded me of what happened in Sarajevo in the early 90s. I kind of remember "Benefits for Bosnia" during my freshman year of college, and I feel guilty I didn't know more of the plight of this city. As the story takes place, Sarajevo is surrounded by snipers, "the men in the hills," who target civilians sending shells and bullets at random into the city. The water supply, electricity, everything has been cut off from these people. Their lives are in constant danger.

I really liked this book. It focuses on 3 characters who are living in Sarajevo during the seige that lasted about 3 years. It is fiction, but I'm sure paints a very realistic picture of how the war affected everyone's daily lives. It is so sad. The chapters alternate between a father carring empty plastic bottles tied to a rope across town to get water for his family, a man heading to the bakery where he works so he can eat a meal, and a young woman who is a defensive counter sniper.

The story is inspired by true events. Twenty-two people in line for bread were killed, and an acclaimed cellist witnessed it all. He then chose to play his cello, Albinoni's Adagio in G minor, for 22 days, in public, in their honor.

The Cellist is introduced in the first chapter, but then is only mentioned by the others. He is used as a catalyst for self-reflection and reasoning in the other characters lives. They are not heros, but they are trying to find meaning and purpose in the horrific situation they find themselves.

I liked the writing style of this Steven Galloway. I liked how it realistically shows the tragedies of war, without being gratuitous or gory. The characters are interesting and likeable.

Here are some quotes:

"But he could not refuse her. No person he would want to be would do that."
"Even if every building is rebuilt so it's exactly as it was before, he doesn't know how he could sit in a comfortable chair and drink a coffee with a friend and not think about this war and all that went with it. But maybe, he thinks, he would like to try. He know he doesn't want to give up the possibility."

In recalling his son's birth:
"Afterward he had an overwhelming feeling of benevolence, not just for his son, but for the world around him, wishing it were everything it wasn't, wondering what he could do to make things better."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

the summer i turned pretty by Jenny Han

I enjoyed this sweet Young Adult Summer Romance. I would have really liked it when I was 14.

It is a story of a girl who spends every summer at a beach house with her mom, brother, her mom's best friend and her two sons. Who, of course, are handsome, funny, and cool. The story is sweet, as all the teenagers are dealing with different emotions of growing up. There's divorce, first kisses, cancer.

Belly is the girl, of course she has an embarrassing nickname. Most of this book is cliche, and would make a sweet teen movie. One thing that I really liked about Belly's character is that she bravely faces situations. There are a handful of times where she sees something, or hears someone talking about something, and I think she's going to hide and pretend she didn't. But she doesn't, she confronts them head on. I liked that about her.

There is a vulgar insult hurled from one of the minor characters in the story, and some mention of "getting to second or third base." But it doesn't explain what that is. Just so you have a heads up if you want to recommend it to a younger reader.

It was a nice story, and mainly made me nostalgic for the summers I spent reading books like this!

Monday, June 14, 2010

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

Often I forget where I first hear of a book, or who recommended it. I usually just put holds on them online right away, and then by the time they come in I don't remember. But I'm pretty sure I first heard of this book from Kacy, whose blog is awesome. So of course I trusted her opinion. And, phew, this was a worthwhile read for me.
First complaint, the title. I understand it needs to be catchy, but I think the subtitle, New Thinking About Children, is more representative of what you'll find as you read. And there are lots of new ideas in here. Some are kind of obvious, but others are more surprising. Overall I found it very intriguing.
Sometimes it is hard for me to get through non-fiction books. Especially ones that deal with a lot of statistics and results. I really am interested in those things, but I'm skeptical. Like I have to think if those could actually prove something else, and if I really believe the results really show what the author is telling me they show. I felt that way especially when I read Blink, but this is a way better book.
So here are somethings I thought were cool:

When you praise children, make sure to emphasize their effort, which is something they can control. Like if your child does well on a math test, don't say "you are so smart at Math." Because then, if and when they do poorly, they will think it's out of their control, they just aren't smart enough. And even worse, they won't try hard things because failing will mean they aren't smart. But if they understand they did well because they studied and worked hard, then if and when they do poorly, they will think they just need to work harder and study more. Doesn't that make perfect sense? These studies were very cool to read.

I thought the info on why kids lie ( to avoid punishment and to make their parents happy) were interesting too. And especially the part about tattling, because isn't tattling the worst? But their studies show that kids actually only tattle once for every 14 times there is an offense. So maybe give them a break, they were trying not to.

Third grade is when public school curriculum gets much harder because kids are asked to reason through math problems instead of just memorizing, and read for comprehension and not just to learn how to.

The need to do intelligence testing at an older age (at least the end of 2nd grade), and to retest students was very interesting. When you test really young, like kindergarten, you are mostly testing social skills and good parenting. Well, that's over simplifying, but it's too hard to explain briefly.

The chapter that follows gifted education is about sibling fighting. Both of these are real concerns and interests of mine, so by this point in the book, I was totally hooked.

I especially like the idea that if siblings fight, but also spend lots of time playing together and enjoying each other, they will probably stay friends as adults. Phew! It's much better to be best friends/worst enemies, than to take no interest in each other. The latter kind of siblings probably won't be friends as adults.

I also like the explanations about teenagers risk taking. My favorite part was that when teenagers argue with their parents, it usually means they are telling the truth, and they think there's a chance they might be able to get you to change your mind. So if they argue with you it's more respectful than if they lied to avoid any conflict. Like they lie and then just do what they want. It's more intersting than I'm making it sound.

I have read the concept before that you should listen to your kids, and maybe be flexible to change your mind about something, or to compromise. This reinforces their ablity to stand up for their ideas and to present their case. But of course you should never give in just to get them to shut up! I really believe this, and with my obnoxious children, I usually have to remind them that if they want to suggest something or make a deal with me they need to talk to me politely and I would be glad to consider it. At least when I feel like being a good mom.
And then on another note, "being disciplined is more important that being smart...being both is not just a little better, it is EXPONENTIALLY better." I think that makes perfect sense. Being smart is nice, but you have to have self-control and work hard to actually accomplish anything. I think, and so does Po Bronson.

There is a great study of a new preschool/kindergarten curriculum called Tools of the Mind. I am totally going to have my kids set goals for what they want to accomplish each week this summer. Maybe have them write up play plans too. You have to read the book to understand what I'm talking about.

And lastly, the speech studies with the 9 month olds were so cool. Turns out it doesn't matter how much you talk to your babies, but how quickly you respond to their efforts to talk. Kind of made me wish I had an infant to try it out on.

Sometimes I had a hard time really getting the common thread of each of the chapters. They were all cool, and seemed like pretty fresh and new ideas, but not always inter-related. The Conclusion chapter finally helped me understand the authors' thoughts on what all these had in common.
Have you read it? What parts did you find interesting. I'm sure I've left out some really important parts!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale is one of those books that I have seen around and heard bits and pieces about for awhile. I mainly like to read books that people LOVE, because I'm picky. So I finally picked up a copy after hearing people use the L word.

This story is dark. That's my over all impression. It has interesting characters, good mysteries, and a story within a story within a story really. There is modern (1980's maybe?) woman who is an expert on old books, and she is approached by a dying famous, successful writer who wants to finally divulge her life story. The truth this time. Margaret has her own secret past that has shaped her life, and she decides to take on this writing assignment.

I was a bit disappointed in the Margaret story. I felt like the author kept coming back to it and giving us a few details then immersing us in Vida Winter's story. The back and forthing was kind of weird for me. I'm not sure if the book would have been any better without giving us so much of Margaret's, but I think I would have preferred it. It felt kind of like extra stuff to me.

Just as with The Book Thief, I am in awe of Setterfield's ability to come up with such a crazy, complicated story. I definitely give her credit that the story is in the style of the Bronte sisters. Remember how I read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall a little while back? It's been years since I read Jane Eyre, which is consequently mentioned throughout The Thirteenth Tale, but I know it well enough to categorize this in the same genre. That being said, it's not my favorite type of book.

And since I'm starting with the negative first, the most disturbing part of this book to me (and there are quite a few to choose from) is the idea of an evil child. Adeline is so awful. Most of the book I kept the hope that she grows out of it in the end (you'll see why as you read) but sadly, that isn't the case. Maybe it's just too close to home for me with my 4 stinkers, but it was upsetting. If you've read it, you understand that she wasn't given a fair chance from the beginning, so maybe I can pass it off as one of those terrible results of horrific circumstances.

Now, after all that, I did like this book! I recommend it! Specifically if you like Emily and Charlotte's work. But just know I warned you of the DARKNESS.

At the beginning, Margaret is asked in a letter by Vida Winter to write her biography, and Margaret has no interest. She doesn't think of herself as a contemporary writer, and has no interest in Ms. Winter's wildly popular fiction. UNTIL she starts to read her books. Then she is hooked, and I love the description of how she devours them. "these days when i read all day and half the night, when I slept under a counterpane strewn with books, when my sleep was black and dreamless and passed in a flash and I woke to read again--the lost joys of reading returned to me." Nicely said.

Here's another example of Setterfield's good writing:

"the water logged sky that pressed down claustrophobically on the land, on the road, on the car."

"Weightless, I wandered all night long in Miss Winter's story....peering at the mysteries beyond its bounds."

I loved Miss Winter's description of the characters in her future books appearing to her as a large group, then disappearing one at a time as she wrote each of their stories. Her explanation for why she was finally telling her life story, was that her sister was the only one left in these visits.

I also liked Margaret's description of reading books in a row, "You leave the previous book with ideas and themes--characters even--caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you."

I'd love to hear why you did or didn't like this book. I can think of many reasons for both. Plus I have more thoughts about the ending, but I don't want to spoil anything.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This is a great book. I've taken awhile to write up this review because there is just so much to talk about. It was recommended highly to my by many friends, and now I recommend it to the rest of you!
It is told from a very unique perspective, Death. During the first part, the style was kind of bugging me, but after I got in about 50 pages or so, I was really hooked. I also hated the violence, especially when it was directed at poor Liesel.

The Book Thief takes place during World War II, so of course it is filled with sadness. And like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, it shows the horrors of war no matter which side you are on. It was very interesting to read about the less obvious ways the character's lives were affected by war, ways you don't usually think of. Thankfully, like Man's Search for Meaning, or Life is Beautiful, it shows the triumph of the human spirit, and the power of kindness. SO that is good!

I loved Liesel and her relationships with Papa, Rudy and Max. The characters are great in this story. Very original and well developed. While you feel terribly for all of them, none of them are pitiful. They have these small victories that make them heroes. For example, one day after finding a coin and buying one piece of candy to share (they count their sucks), the book says, "The day had been a great one, and Nazi Germany was a wondrous place." And you actually feel that way.

I love books that focus on the power of books. Liesel is at least 10 before she really learns to read, and then it becomes central to her life. I always love that. She underlines the words she doesn't know then paints them on the walls of the basement to practice. So great.

I enjoyed Death's narration more than I thought I would at first. He often foreshadows by saying, "the next time I saw him..." or talks to the reader directly about the significance of a moment, like "he put his arm around her, best-buddy style, and they walked on....You can love Rudy for that, if you like." And again, that's exactly how you are feeling.

One of my favorite parts in the book is when Liesel is reading aloud in a crowded bomb shelter and, "A voice played the notes inside her. This, it said, is your accordion." Her Papa was an accordion player, and it had brought comfort to many people through out the story. This was such a magical moment when she realizes the gift she has to share and bring comfort to others.
I really liked this book. I've mentioned it tons of times, but I enjoy how novels written for a young adult audience can touch on difficult topics, but still protect you from horrific details or imagery. This book made me cry, and did find its way into my dreams, but I wasn't haunted by nightmares.

What did you love about it?

Friday, May 7, 2010

The May Queen edited by Andrea N. Richesin

subtitle: Women on Life, Love, Work, and Pulling it all Together in Your 30'sAttention: This is in no way a self-help or motivational book (COLBY!)
What this book is, is an interesting collection of essays by women about their 30's. Many of them center on moments of enlightenment or change. Many are about motherhood and marriage. But the editor did a fabulous job of getting a variety of writers. She explains that there was "no single image of womanhood that we are striving for." The subject, writing style, life style,
each is refreshingly different. And I think because of that I felt like I was gaining all sorts of different insight and ideas. And you know what? It was motivational for me. I didn't feel unaccomplished, or like I've put my life on hold for the last 11 years since I started my career as a mother, not at all. But it did get my mind going. I love that all these women have lived different lives, but the point is we all have something to say.

I kind of felt like I was reading a literary magazine. The stories are all short and worked great when I only had a few minutes to read here and there. I'm kind of sad that I've run out of them!

Three more things I liked:

1) Each chapter started with a quote. I'm a fan of that.
2) Most of the essays had digressions and ramblings. I'm also a fan of those.
3) At the back of the book is a photo and short bio of each of the women. I flipped back to see the women over and over. I loved that part.

Here are a few quotes from the various authors:

"I could tell her that, in a way, the pressure's off, and that there's a new set of challenges ahead." Jennifer Weiner

"They are friends who have stuck around since I was five and friends who I was smart enough to spot when I was older." Sara Woster

"Thank G-- all those men were just not that into me. They did me a bigger favor than I could have ever known." Veronica Chambers

"I was able to muster the courage to take a step toward my deepest dream while still staying light enough on my feet to follow the path when it took a most unexpected turn." Tanya Shaffer

"No matter what the journey you chose, if you hang on, it will ultimately lead you to discovering your true nature." Samina Ali

"I ran through a roster of all the men I knew. And I realized there wasn't one whose face I wanted to see staring back at me for the rest of my life--except my husband's." Heather Chaplin

"I cried through the mask as John held his dangling body up for me to behold...And from then on, everything up to that point in my life was utterly insignificant." Erin Cressida Wilson

"Twenty years of writing was only practice to do that thing that everyone I went to school with did right away..." Erin Cressida Wilson

"For me, at least, going to the margins was something I had to do as a younger feminist, but to stay there would just be admitting I couldn't handle the rest of the world." Jennifer Baumgardner

I loved this last quote because I think it rings true of any extreme views, including religion. What good is it to set yourself apart if you can't participate in the world? I was thinking of working together for good, sharing opinons, evening influencing people. You can't do that if you ostracize yourself.

A few of my favorite essays:

Wide Awake by Marisa de los Santos (the reason I found this book)
She explains the feeling of getting up early with your toddler to keep him from waking up the baby, then goes into how she arrived at the decision to have kids. As with everything she writes, it's her words and phrases that get me everytime.

A Hungry Balance by Julianna Baggott
She writes about balancing, or not balancing, being a mother and a writer. How she knew she must have a family and write, if she gave up one she would resent the other. I loved how she didn't tell people she was a writer, but instead told them she was a stay-at-home mom, knowing the sterotype that would occur. I loved this essay.

I'm the One by Erin Ergenbright
She writes about bad relationships, and one particular break-up. She writes about coming out of it and finding herself.

A Random Sampling Age Thirty to Forty by Ayun Halliday
This was creatively done in lists. Lists of things that she did or didn't do in different decades of her life, goals she had, things that didn't happen to her, things that affected her. I enjoyed reading these.

To All the Men I've Loved Before by Amanda Eyre Ward
She writes a series of letters addressed to the men she has loved, like old boyfriends dating back to childhood. They are funny, interesting, and seemed honest. I loved this idea, and think it would be fun to write up my own.

This collection might be one of those things you can only like if you relate to the time of life. I really liked reading them, and reflecting on them. I recently turned 35, and have been reflecting on that quite a bit myself.

I'd love to hear which ones you liked if you pick this up!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland

I loved this guide. It had a ton of tips that applied to me, and tons that did not.

My 10-year-old read it as much as I did. I found it very helpful both before and during our Disney vacation.

I checked it out from my library and kept it until it was determined "lost" and I was "charged," but I live in a nice library district and they don't really charge you as long as you return it.

And consider this mini-review an explanation for my blogging absense. Fun family trip, fun out of town guests, not much reading time.

But the children's book blocking my library card was found last night. My husband, my hero. Now I'm back in business.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Oops, missed my Wednesday goal.
For those of you who haven't read Hunger Games yet, I'm going to try and review this carefully.

So, I had to start Catching Fire the day after I finished Hunger Games because it is so intriguing. But, I have to say that the beginning seemed a bit slow for me. Of course I was going on very little sleep, but I just couldn't get into it for a bit. THEN I did not care for the big surprise, and got a little annoyed with the whole thing.

While I'm at it, another thing that annoyed me was Katniss's self-doubt. I just kept thinking, come on, you have to know you're amazing. You know? But sometimes I think that comes with age and that I need to remember that she's just a teenager. Oh and also, I was so annoyed that it took them SOOO long to ask Haymitch how he won his season. It seemed like something they would have asked in the first book. But, they finally do. And it is important, like you knew it would be.

Now that I have my criticism off my chest, I would recommend this book. But only if you liked the first one. Duh. I did like it. I think the characters are very interesting. The plot is strong, and it is cool to see how the events from the first book have affected the second book. Did it seem weird to anyone else that Peeta's mom is never mentioned? I think the way the media handles the events in the story is very telling. I think it is good social commentary.

For some reason I couldn't help but think of the Twilight series when I read this book. Like Gale vs. Peeta. Katniss having self-esteem things. Doing forbidden things, but they seem morally right. Maybe when you are old, all young adult books seem to evolve around related themes.

So, those of you who've read it, how do you think it compares? I did like it, I did. But as I sit down to write this, it's the negatives that are coming to mind.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos

So this is the follow up novel to Love Walked In. You should read that one first. And if you really like it, read this one. I loved the first one, and I loved this one.

Belong to Me begins a few years after Love Walked In ends. I don't want to divulge too many details because I want you to read the first one! But this one continues Cornelia's narrative, and adds two new ones. One is a woman who is Cornelia's new neighbor, the other a young man whose path will cross her's. I missed Clare, but she does play an important role in the story too.

I like these characters. Even the seemingly un-likable Piper is so well developed that you are rooting for her in the end. And she's not un-likable anymore.

I have to say I'm a huge Marisa de los Santos fan right now. I can't wait to see what she'll write next.

Here are some quotes that I liked:
"The fact that I was thus diverted from my self-righteous indignation didn't mean I wasn't still indignant. And the fact that my indignation was self-righteous didn't mean it wasn't also righte
ous. Right?"

"So the rest of the day Dev walked around with the sentence 'What Dev said yesterday made me think of this poem' stretched over him, like a rainbow only he could see." (And his whole experience at his new school make me want to teach highschool, and be that kind of cool teacher--in my dreams.)

There is this perfect paragraph that I have to share even though it is so long.....

"As she performed these tasks, Piper had a sense that they were more than tasks, that they were the edge of something large that would unfold, pushing its way into the future. As Piper tidied Emma's ponytails, wiped peanut butter off Peter's chin, assembled potatoes and wedges of onion around the chicken, she understood that she would go on to fill days and weeks with helping, would wake up mornings feeling the day's emptiness, how it stood waiting to be filled with duties the way you'd fill a jar with coins." (It makes me want to cry having just re-read it because a) I've felt exactly that way, and because b) it is written so beautifully.)

There is a great excerpt from a letter written to Cornelia by her sister that says while men operate on the "fight-or-flight" response in a new environment, women cope with stress through "tend-and-befriend" behavior. I love it.

"Whenever Dev remembered that night, and he'd remember it for a very long time, what never stopped amazing him was how normal it felt. Not everyday, no-big-deal normal. More like extragalactic, superradiant, night-in-a-million normal. " I think this is a good description of how you feel after spending time with a new friend or group of people that you just know are going to be important to you for a long time, but that feel completely natural to be around.

And just like the comments Teo makes in the first novel about mental illness, he has some great insight on to suicide on page 276. "Maybe she wasn't even really thinking about death, but just about ending how bad she felt right at that particular moment." (Spoiler--she didn't die, and she's not a character from Love Walked In. Just in case you are worrying.)

I'm so happy to have read this book. Don't you love the title and the cover art? They work perfectly for me.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

So many trusted friends recommended this series to me, that I knew it would be worth it. Even my husband, who knows me best, thought I would like this book that centers on a cruel game where teenagers fight to the death. I was nervous. I'm glad I finally dove in. I think that because the book seemed so far removed from real life, I didn't really register the deaths. It wasn't as horrific as I would feel if it was closer to something I could relate too. Make sense?

I did read this book almost non-stop until I finished it. It's not difficult to read. At my last book club a friend of mine mentioned the term "plot-driven." I think The Hunger Games is a great example of a plot-driven book. I didn't feel compelled to read because I was loving the story, so much as I was dying to know what would happen next. The story is captivating.

I thought of a few different books as I was reading this. The first was City of Ember. The whole post apacolyptic genre and bright teenagers that are going to save the day theme was similiar. I also thought of Lord of the Flies. It's been ages since I've read it, but the Careers' mentality seemed similar.

So I really like The Hunger Games, but I didn't love it. I think the story is good, if not a little bit predictable.

Here are some quotes I liked:

"I stand there unmoving while they take part in the boldest form of dissent they can manage. Silence. Which says we do not agree. We do not condone. All of this is wrong."

"The saltiness reminds me of my tears."

"When I fully awaken, I'm momentarily comforted. I try to hold onto the peaceful feeling of the dream, but it quickly slips away, leaving me sadder and lonlier than ever." Such a bittersweet side effect of dreams. This has happens to me a lot.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo

I recently discovered that there was a novel by Kate DiCamillo that I hadn't read yet, so I did, and I liked it. The Tiger Rising feels more like a short story to me. Obviously it's longer, but that's just the feel. I read a quote about DiCamillo when I was researching the order of her novels (I'll get to that in a minute,) that said she was "opting for the economy of poetry over elaborate prose." I agree.

The Tiger Rising is Kate DiCamillo's second novel. Because of Winn-Dixie was her first. Which I also didn't know. I think it remains my favorite. I read The Journey of Edward Tulane, and The Tale of Despereaux back to back awhile ago, and while I liked them, they were dark and tragic. The Tiger Rising is too. Rob is the 12-year-old main character, and is treated horribly by many characters. He has recently lost his mother and his father is distant and harsh. He discovers a tiger in a cage in the forest, a new friend at school, and gets great advice from a woman who works as a maid at the hotel he lives in. I especially liked his imagining and dreaming.

I have been trying to think of the target audience for this book. I love that DiCamillo's books all seem to have a magic element. Part fairy tale, part morality tale, and full of symbolism and metaphors. They seem like children's books, upper elementary I'd guess, but have such meaningful themes and layers of meaning that I think kids of that age would miss a lot of what I think is great. With this book in particular I could see high school students studying it and looking for meanings within the different symbols.

The writing is so nice. Here are a couple excerpts that I like and I think represent the book.

"He imagined himself as a suitcase that was too full.....He made all his feelings go inside the suitcase; he stuffed them in tight and then sat on the suitcase and locked it shut....Sometimes it was hard to keep the suitcase shut."

"And the whole way home, while his brain doubted what he had seen, his heart beat out the truth to him. Ti-ger. Ti-ger. Ti-ger."

"That sounded right. If God was going to talk though somebody, it made sense to Rob that he would pick Willie May."

"That was another truth he had known without knowing it, the same as he had known that Sistine's father was not coming back. He must, he realized, know somewhere, deep inside him, more things than he had ever dreamed of."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle

I read about this book in last month's Costco Connection. I'm glad I did.

This is a story about a family that lives on and owns a horse ranch in the desert. The desert is in Colorado, which I never knew had a desert. It is told by a 12-year-old girl. Their situation is sad, even desperate sometimes. But good things happen too, and the ending isn't the happiest, but it is hopeful.

I liked the writing style, and I appreciate that there are no angels in the book. Every character has flaws. I even struggled with Alice (the 12-year-old), who, although I felt sorry for her, wasn't always super likeable. I do think that is nice, making your characters realistic. I liked the characters she created, and I appreciate that she stayed away from common stereotypes.

I'm not the kind of person who keeps her emotions and feelings bottled up. I don't have a dad that did that, so I was frusterated by the interactions between these two. Sometimes I just wanted to scream, "give her a hug and tell her you love her," or "just tell him your clothes are too small," you know, stuff like that.

Here are some quotes to give you a feel for it:

"Tomorrow, in the honest truth of daylight, our own private swimming pool would be only what it was: a rusty bucket made for watering livestock."
"(I) wondered how I could have believed I was protecting anyone from anything. The world was what it was. There were no secrets. There were only things that went unsaid."
"The places we come from don't leave us as easily as we leave them."

I really liked how the weather was a reflection of the events in the story. For so many months they are enduring a heat wave and drought, then the moment something amazing happens for Alice, the rains come. At the end the snow comes at the onset of their grieving.

I liked reading this book, it's an unintimidating 300 or so pages, but does have obscenities. The story is creative and the characters original. It gave me a glimpse into a life much different and much more difficult than mine.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos

I loved this book. The first chapter was a little too filled with explanations, disclaimers, and asides, but get through that and the writing was superb. The author is an award winning poet, and this was her first novel, so maybe she had trouble reigning it in. Just as a heads up, she also uses the f-word. It's interesting to me that when she does, it seems to be clustered with other ones, then go hundreds of pages with out any obsenities. Just so you know when you come to them, that they aren't going to appear on every page.

I couldn't put this book down. Do I say that too much? But it was exactly what I was in the mood for. I guess celebrating my anniversary, and then Valentine's put me in the mood for a book about LOVE. This book covers so many different kinds and stages of love.

The story is told in alternating chapters. The first character is Cornelia. I loved her. I'm not an expert in cinema, so many of her references were lost on me. That being said I really liked her point of view, and clever remarks. But the whole thing isn't too clever if you're getting worried it will be one of those over-wordy, over-scripted stories.

I also loved Clare, the 11-year-old co-protagonist. Her chapters are equally well-written, and while she is brave and smart, she is written as an 11-year-old. There were several moments when she didn't understand what was going on, and the conversation she has with Teo walking down the street at the end is exactly what I think a girl her age would try to do.

This book was perfect for me. It is definetly an adult book (there is S-E-X), but the adolescent insight and coming of age aspects were exactly what I like to read. And did I mention how much I love this author's writing style?

Thanks to Betsy and Amy for reviewing this on GoodReads!

Some quotes:

"She put her faith in the crunch of bread, in the saltiness of butter on her tongue; she took their goldenness into her body and, afterward, felt that her soul had been restored."

"In my experience, people love what they love. They just do." This is in explanation about why it's useless to argue about which Shakespeare is best.

"Clare understood suddenly. She's the main character in her story, just like I'm the main character in mine."

"There are people whose deaths make you ache with sadness. And then there are people whose deaths prevent the sun from rising, deaths that turn the walls black in every room you walk through, deaths that send storm clouds and a wail swirling through your head so that you can't hear music and you can't recognize your furniture or your own face in the mirror."

"There are facts and then there is knowledge that has nothing to do with fact."

"I think things out by talking." ME TOO!

"I've always been on the side of love."

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Candy Shop War by, Brandon Mull

Edit: I had a complaint that I didn't explain enough about this book. So, this book is about four 10-year-old kids who make friends with the owner of a new candy shop in town. She provides them with magic candy in return for strange favors. See how they are flying on the cover?

This book was scary for me! I'm not exactly sure what the target audience is. I'd guess 10-14. It's definetly only PG-ish, but I have to admit after reading late at night, it was hard for me to fall asleep! But the scariness came from the magicians, so if you're more of a realist, you will laugh at me, and not be scared.

I was super impressed with this author's creativity. I haven't read the Fablehaven series, but now I'm going to! Several times while reading I couldn't help but wonder how he came up with these ideas. The candy and all the effects were crazy!

I was a bit worried at the beginning when Mrs. White had them keeping secrets. That always makes me nervous, but then of course, the lesson was learned. This is an adventurous story, with lots of twists and suspense. I liked it. I'm glad I read it, and I can see why my 10-year-old enjoyed it so much.
I recommend it for a quick, exciting read. It is very different from the books I've read lately, and that was good.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I'm guessing many of you have read this. I can't remember where I first heard it mentioned, but then I kept hearing it mentioned, and always in the context that someone really liked it.

I did too! I recommend this to everyone.

It is well-written. From the beginning I was drawn into the lives of each character. The characters are well-developed. I couldn't put this down, that's how interesting it was.

I've said this a bunch of times already when talking about the book, and my sisters said it to me before. There are times in this book where you brace yourself for something really horrible to happen, but it doesn't. I think Ms. Stockett wisely chose what she included in this book so that it is easier to read. Of course, I did not live in the 1960's in the south, so I can't judge it for it's accuracy.
I read this fast, and I've already passed it on so I don't have a list of quotes. My notes don't make sense with out the book. But really, I was too busy reading to jot as much down as usual.
I'd love to hear if and why you liked this book!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Parents We Mean To Be by Richard Weissbourd

Subtitle: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children's Moral and Emotional Development

It has been a few years since I've read any kind of parenting book. I used to read them a lot. But I think this book is a little more philosophical than practical. Dr. Weissbourd isn't trying to tell you how to be a parent, how to have obedient children, or even happy children. He is attempting to pin point "the role of parents and other adults in cutivating key moral qualities in children and adolescents."

I really liked this book. I agree with the majority of what Dr. Weissbourd is suggesting. I liked that I didn't feel guilty because I am trying to do many of the things he suggests. (Not neccesarrily succeeding....)

Right off I liked his comparison of shame vs. guilt. I liked how he says we should teach our children to be concerned about others' happiness as well as their own. And especially that we should teach our children that being moral doesn't just lead to happiness, it can be difficult and lonely. I liked when he said that parents feel ashamed because they see their childrens' flaws as directly resulting from their parenting flaws. I'm not the only one right?

Here are some direct quotes to give you more of a feel for this book:

"Children need...a stable enough self-image that their self-evaluations are more important than others' evaluations of them at any given moment."

"When it comes to ridding ourselves of painful flaws, and mood improvement, our faith in the plasticity of personality appears to be endless."

I have to paraphrase this one a little, he talks about when students trangress, the "reflex of teachers and other administrators is to simply tighten or create more rules and step up punishments" rather than using these moments as "opportunities to engage students in understanding why the transgression occurred, how it impacted others, and why certain moral standards exist."

I liked his emphasis that sports are not a metaphor for life, and that sports are not a test of whether children have certain qualities. But he does acknowledge that, "It can help children morally to be asked to sacrifice, to endure some pain, for a communal goal."

When he talks about young adults being disillusioned about their ability to positively affect the world he suggests that we should be "routinely providing children with stories that can help them imagine a life built on their convictions."

As a devoutly religious mother, I feel like many of Dr. Weissbourds ideas positively reinforced many ideals and goals my husband and I have with our family. He did, however, give me a lot to think about.

Although there were some parts that seemed only to apply to very affluent families and communities, I liked reading this book. It has a refreshingly different perspective and approach. I highly recommend it!!
I loved what he said about teacher conferences. He shares an experience with one of his son's teachers, and then says how as parents what we really want is for our kids' teachers to really know them and like them. Yes!! Me too.