Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket ****

Ah yes. I've read the second book in A Series of Unfortunate Events. It is most unfortunate.
Same characters from the first book (I have a funny feeling that Count Olaf will be appearing quite regularly), just with the addition of a dottie uncle who collects bizarre snakes.
These books really frustrate the hell out of me, mostly because you just want the kids to run off & stop waiting for the dense adults in their lives to figure out the obvious. And obviously, Count Olaf is the bad guy.
Speaking of Olaf, they made a movie based on the first 3 books, I believe. And I know Jim Carrey plays Count Olaf. Now, for no apparent reason, Jim Carrey freaks me out. Maybe it's his shiny, shiny eyes. But whatever the cause & without having seen the movie, I think he'd make a good Count Olaf.
I recommend this book to all the good people of the world who are feeling a little down. This ought to send you right over the edge.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen *****

Excellent excellent! Carl Hiaasen just does the best job ever of writing a book for kids that is smart, funny, & has a conscious. I can see why this book won awards, & it wins an award from me too: 5 stars!
Roy has just moved from Montana to Florida, & misses his past life a lot. But thanks to a mysterious kid & his sister he not only starts to fit in at school, but he also starts to love & appreciate his new home state.
I've never been to the Everglades, in fact the one trip I made to Florida as a teen was to see my sister graduate from Navy basic training in Orlando & then to go to Disney World (side note: I didn't like Disney World. Sorry.). It was hot & miserable, & the only nature we saw was the 10 minute trip to the ocean to stand on a crowded beach & walk in the waves. So whenever I think of Florida, that's the image that comes to my mind.
Carl Hiaasen has made me want to go back to Florida, only this time to see it's natural beauty. That's so much more a part of who I am, & I'm lucky that my husband & son are the same way. Give us a secluded wilderness over a theme park any day! Gators & mosquitoes I knew were down there, but burrowing owls?!? I never never would have equated Florida with burrowing owls. Wonderful!
Thanks for the great trip, Carl! I'm gonna be checking out your books for adults soon!

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket ****

My God, this is a depressing book. The author wasn't kidding when he warns not to read it if you like happy endings. Of course it's funny & very clever too, but it put me in a crappy mood from the get go!
I grabbed this book at my son's school library because I wanted to read something at a higher vocabulary level--this one is 6th grade. I didn't know that most of the higher vocab words are defined in a rather humorous manner by the author. I can see this being a great series for kids who love words, since they'll learn new ones without quite realizing it. The writing is excellent!
If you don't already know, this miserable book is about the 3 Baudelaire children: Violet, Klaus, & Sunny. From the very beginning their whole world goes to crap when they find out their house has burnt down, their parents are dead, & they have to go live with a freak of a relative called Count Olaf. It goes downhill from there.
I'm not sure if I'll continue with the rest of the books (there are 13 in all!), but I do recommend them for the goth-in-training crowd & other morose youngsters.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Deep and Dark and Dangerous by Mary Downing Hahn ***

Well, when I break my reading fast I really break it! Just finished this little number--it's one of the Mark Twain Award nominees this year. It's the only one I've read so far, & it was pretty good.
It's the kind of spooky ghost story I would have really loved when I was in the 4th grade. It starts with a 13 year old girl, Ali, finding a picture of her mother & aunt from back in the summer of '77. The third girl in the picture has been ripped off, so that only her shoulder & some of her hair is vi sable. Turning it over, she finds that her name has been ripped off too--all that is left is a "T". She soon finds herself spending the summer at Gull Cottage in Maine with her aunt Dulcie & 4 year old cousin Emma. This is where the mysterious picture was taken 30 years before, & soon Ali is finding out that what happened all those years ago is still haunting not only her aunt & mother, but Gull Cottage as well.
Over all it was a fast, easy read that kept my interest. As I'm prone to do I found some nit-picky things that irked me, like the author describing the 2 cousins playing Candy Land with dice. Since when do you play Candy Land with dice?
Letting that go, I can see why the girls were reading this book like crazy at my son's school. My biggest beef with it is the lack of male characters--there is only the very minor character of Ali's dad, & that's it. It explains why I didn't see as many boys checking this book out as girls. I like balance in my reading, & I wish one of the major characters had been male. But I can also see why the author stuck with girls--it does lend some continuity to the stories of the past & present.
My only other beef is the level of maturity attributed to the 4 year old, Emma. At times she acts like a 4 year old, & at other times like a child much older. I had to go back at one point to the beginning of the book where it tells her age because I got so confused.
Otherwise, this was a good read, especially for kids. It didn't have much for adults other than the relationship between the 2 sisters, which sucked at times, & you don't have to tell me about that since I have a sister too! I highly recommend it for the 4th-6th grade girl in your life, if you have one!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden *****

Yes, I've finally read another book. Not sure why I had the dry spell, but I'm glad it's over.
This is one of those books that haunts you for quite awhile, in fact parts of it may haunt me forever. It's amazing to me how images that form in your mind when reading can be the hardest to get out of it--things that you never saw, but feel like you did.
I heard of this book on a blog I follow, Half Soled Boots (Shan is very good at concisely describing the books she reads on there, so if you get a chance please check it out. And if you like knitting, she's the gal for you!). It sounded interesting, & since my library didn't have it & I've been wanting to try out the inter library loan function online, it worked for me.
Xavier & Elijah are two young Canadian Indian young men who join the army so they can go fight in WWI. They're both excellent shots, & so become sharp shooters. The story is about them, & about Xavier's aunt back home, Niska, who still lives in the wild as their ancestors did.
The scenes that haunt me are those of the WWI battlefields. I've seen a few movies showing the hell that went on over in Europe during the Great War, but as I said above, the images my own mind conjured up from reading the descriptions of the atrocities committed in the name of war will always be there.
I think that's the sign of a great author--not whether I like the plot or not, but whether I'm stuck with the images they somehow gave me in my head. I've read quite a few books that I honestly didn't like, but which were able to snake their way into my subconscious & now lie there waiting for some small thing to hatch them out again.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

And now for a brief message from the emergency broadcast system...

I haven't been reading anything lately, but mostly because I haven't been able to help at my son's school library lately. I should be there on Thursday this week, so I'm hoping to find a new series of books to read. The "Dear America" books seem very interesting, but I'm kinda in the mood for some good ol' fashioned fiction. If there's anyone out there reading this that has any suggestions, I'd be happy to take them!
On another note, I hope I don't ever offend anyone with my book reviews. This blog can be a great place for me to vent my under-appreciation of certain literature, but I also worry about being overly negative. Plus, it's so damn easy to judge someone else's work. I've made some half-hearted attempts to write myself, so I fully understand how difficult it truly is. I also understand how much of yourself gets wrapped up in what you write.
That said, I hope to have a new review on here soon. I'm going nuts without anything to read--the back of the cereal box is getting really old!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie by Kristiana Gregory ***

I'm yet again reviewing a book for kids, but this is again because I've been working at my son's school library once a week & it's hard for me to not start perusing the titles in my spare time.

This book is part of the Dear America series, which seems to basically be fictional diaries of different young women thru the history of our country. This one is based in 1847 & is subtitled The Oregon Trail Diary of Hattie Campbell.

It's a very quick read & does a good job of describing the difficulties of the people who attempted the trek west back in the day. I'm sure the author used as sources some of the real diaries that exist from back then & blended them into the story she came up with. I think it's especially good since it also touches on things that any 13 year old girl would be thinking about: boys, dresses, worries about younger siblings, being tired of said siblings, etc.

Overall, a good book about a very interesting topic.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd ****

This book is part of the growing genre that have people with Asperger's as the hero of the story. Ted (love that name!) is the boy at the heart of the book. He & his sister Kat try to solve the mystery of what happened to their cousin, Salim, when he didn't come down off the London Eye.

The book is written for kids, but as all good books are, everyone will enjoy it. It is a true mystery & I couldn't figure out the ending at all before I got to it.

While getting my picture of the book's cover for my blog, I happened to read Ms. Dowd's brief biography. I was very dismayed to see that she died of breast cancer not long after this book was published in 2007. Cancer sucks--that's all I can say.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult **

I'd never read a Jodi Picoult novel before, so when I saw this one in a pile of books my mom was getting rid of I took it home. The basic premise is the anatomy of a high school shooting, from the morning it happens, then jumping back in time & then forward from that day. The idea seems good, everyone wonders what goes through the mind of a teen who decides they can't take it any more & will kill their school mates. But I felt there were many flaws in this book. Some were just me being nit-picky, like finding four really obvious editing problems ("he" instead of "she", referring to something that wasn't possible in the time line given, etc etc), but some others were just things left unsaid. I wanted to know a little more about some of the characters, & I really wanted to sympathize with the shooter but had a hard time doing so. I guess I just wasn't that into the subject, maybe, but I kept wanting the teens to get over the popularity thing & get on with their lives.

I was disappointed in the book in general--it seemed like the kind of book that an author rushes to finish because of commitments to the publishing house. I still would like to read some of her other books, though, because I fear this one didn't do her justice.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling *****

This has been quite a journey for me. A coworker of mine pointed out that it's not the journey most people who've been reading Harry Potter for 10 years had--they had 2 years between books, where as I had maybe one day at times! But I have to say I think fate had it's hand in this. From the time I started this series until now, it has been for me intimately tied to my father. From the time that it became apparent that he was slowly descending into death, to now, 3 days after his remains were laid to rest, this has been for me an escape. Not just an escape, though, but very much something I needed.

As I read these books, I told myself over & over, "When I'm done I'll be better. I'll be back to normal & able to function. When I'm done this will be over, & my dad will be laid to rest & that will be it." In a way, this has been true. I do feel better. I do think I will be able to function again. Dad is laid to rest.

"That will be it", though? I think that's just dumb optimism! Let's face it, when you lose someone that has been a large part of your life there's never a point where you simply stop thinking about them. They're always there, just like Dumbledore in his picture frame.

This book was about life & death, as all good books are. If I were to wax philosophical, I'd say that Joseph Campbell would have been proud of ol' J.K. She totally captured the hero character that has been a part of humanity for all of our existence. The Harry Potter books have their flaws, but they deliver exactly what we need--hope for ourselves, for our future, for being human. Every story we tell ends up with that question we want answered--are our lives worth anything?

As I'm sure many people were, I'm drawn to the character of Snape. I've been fascinated with who he was supposed to be from the very first book. I had my theories. I felt very disappointed in the 6th book, I didn't want to be wrong. After reading Chapter 33 in this book, though, I had to read it again. And again. And then I knew.

The real hero, after all, is Snape. And oddly enough, it always was. Because, as Joseph Campbell would tell us all, a real hero is flawed.


Click here for a great blog post my husband wrote about my dad.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Harry Potter's 5 & 6 by J.K. Rowling ****

I've had to double up on my reviews since I'm neglecting my posting duties. I really don't have much to write about either book, other than I can't wait to get the last book tomorrow. I can also say I'll be glad when I'm done with the series--I've not only neglected posting, but I've neglected doing much of anything else. And since cleaning is always on the bottom of my get it.
My dad's memorial service was this past Saturday. We inter his remains this coming Saturday. So I have to say this too--Harry Potter has helped me through some tough times. Hokey, I know, but these books have really helped me keep my mind off some of the harder thoughts. So thanks, J.K.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling *****

Yes, I've given this 5 stars. It's hard to believe that J.K. Rowling could write not just 3 good books, but 4 in a series, so I'm giving it to her on that. Also, on her great ability to have the seriousness of the stories equal the growing maturity of the characters in the books. It's been amazing how she totally understands what is important to 14 year olds in this book! Plus, the story gets darker, as it needed to. This series has been just the thing I needed right now to keep me from getting too down.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Broken Shore by Peter Temple ****

I found this book on NPR as one that has gone "under the radar" but was a good read. I have to agree with them.
The main character is Joe Cashin, a big city detective who has been posted to his backwater home town after a particularly vicious run in with a crime boss. He lost his young partner in the event & feels massive guilt for it.
As the story unfolds, you learn not only about the crime that occurs in Port Monro & throws Joe back into action, but about Joe's family. I wasn't really aware of the racial dynamic in Austrailia between the white & aboriginal peoples. Needless to say, there is a lot of racism going on & there is a lot of similarity to the US in that regards.
Joe had an aunt that was aboriginal (I have no idea what the acceptable term would be for the native peoples of Austrailia other than aboriginal--mostly unacceptable terms were used in the book!) & grew up with his cousins, so has a much different outlook than most of his fellow white cops.
The plot got a little predictable for me towards the end, though the scope of it was very surprising. I'm not the biggest fan of crime novels or I would have given this 5 stars. But anyone who likes to read good writing would enjoy this book immensely.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling ****

Another good one. I like this one more than the second one, though now I'm starting to get them all mixed up in my head!
Not much more I can say other than that.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Austenland by Shannon Hale ***

I had to read this, since it's Shannon Hale's only adult book to date. And now I can see why she doesn't write adult fiction. It's not that the book is bad in any way, it is just a very light read. Her books for teens actually seem to have a little more substance to them. The premise is that a 32 year old single gal gets a non-refundable trip to Pembrook Park, a resort in Jolly Old that claims to give you the full experience of being in a Jane Austen book. Like I said, it's a cute read & great for when you're not wanting to get into anything dark or morbid. If you go in with low expectations, you won't be disappointed. I had higher ones based on her teen books, but hey, you can't get everything in life.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling ****

Yep, this one was good too. Though I doubt there are many people out there who haven't read it yet. I know, I'm 10 years late getting to this one!
Snakes--boy do we humans have an obsession with them! My son loves the scaly devils, though he doesn't want to necessarily touch one or anything. But man does he enjoy the snake house at the zoo!
I guess I feel sorry for the whole serpent world for how we portray them in books. At least Harry Potter can speak to them, & thereby give them some voice. I know the late Croc Hunter enjoyed hanging out with them too, but he was definitely a little different, to put it nicely.
Well, this has been an exceedingly lame post. It's probably because I've been simply reading lately to divert my mind from the fact my dad passed away this past Wednesday. Though I'm not in the state of despair I was in for the past 3 days, I'm still not quite myself yet. I've been wondering if I ever will be. As ol' W.B. Yeats said, "..peace comes dropping slow...".

Friday, August 7, 2009

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher *****

I'm going to keep this short--this is a good book. Read it. It is funny. I liked it. Carrie Fisher is crazy. She has lots of problems. But she has a great sense of humor. So what the hell. Don't we all?

Friday, July 31, 2009

Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling ****

If someone had told me 10 years ago that I wouldn't start reading the Harry Potter series until 2009, & that I'd start doing so to divert myself from my father's loosing battle with cancer, I wouldn't have believed them. But that's what's going on, & it's working very well in the diversion category.
I don't know yet about the other books in the series, but I can say that J.K. Rowling tapped into something we all want--a unique, wonderful world where we truly "belong". Isn't that what we all want? A place where we are accepted as we are, & where our natural talents are celebrated, as opposed to ridiculed? It's pretty universal.
I know when I was little I used to imagine that I was an alien from another planet that was dropped off here by accident when I was born. That would explain my lack of fitting in, & why even though I tried really hard to please my family, it was never enough. I think we've all felt that way from time to time in our lives. Wouldn't it be neat if we could all just go off to Hogwarts for 9 months & "find ourselves"?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Pictures at an Exhibition by Sara Houghteling ***

The premise of this book is great: a Jewish art dealer in Paris before the Nazi's march in, flees the city in advance of the invasion, returns to Paris after it's liberation to find that not only is his gallery & home destroyed, all of his art work is gone. The story follows his son, Max, as he tries to find their art in order to finally gain approval from his father. I like that the subject of disability does arise (where doesn't it arise, once you're aware of it?), but overall it just didn't click with me. Like I said, the idea is compelling. But the characters just don't come across as memorable. There is a lot of fact wrapped up in this novel, which makes me want to read one of the author's sources, The Rape of Europa . All in all, it wasn't a bad book. I just didn't find it to be the kind of book that I will think about later.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale ***

Yep, I've reverted back to reading pre-teen books again. Well, I was at the library & didn't have a book picked out ahead of time & had a brain fart as to the name of any author I wanted to read, so I ended up with this. I've read three other books by Shannon Hale & if I had a teen-aged daughter I'd highly recommend them for her.
It's a cute book about wanting more in life, then realizing you already have everything you'd ever need.
This book isn't in the series about the imaginary kingdom of Bayern (which, ironically, is the name of Bavaria in German), but it's very similar.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

American Family of the 1920s by Tom Tierney *****

I know, I know...long time no post. So much for my lovely vow to write on here twice a week. Twice a month is probably a more realistic goal!

One reason I haven't written is that I haven't read anything lately. I've started a few books, but just haven't been able to get into them right now. I guess I'm going thru one of my dry spells again.

But that doesn't mean I haven't looked at any books. The book for today is part of a series I absolutely love--The American Family paper doll books by Tom Tierney. Not many people know that I love fashion. I am not a fashion plate by any means--most would categorize me as fashion-compromised. But I truly love looking at what people wore in the past. I think it helps books become more real to me if I know what the people were wearing, & this book series is great for that. I already own the following American Family series books: Pilgrims, Colonial, Early Republic, Pioneer, Civil War, 1890's, & 1900-1920.
This particular book was harder to come by because for some reason it's out of print. Nevertheless I was able to get it, & it's a gem. I can't help but make up stories in my head about the family members, since Tierney likes to make the families related thru the years.
I tried cutting out the dolls with one of my first books, but found it not to be a good idea. They're too detailed & once they're cut out they're easy to lose.
I highly recommend these books for anyone interested in the clothing of a particular period in American history!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business by Dolly Parton ***

Yep, I read Dolly Parton's autobiography. I guess there has been some debate recently if women can be funny, & on the side of women definitely being funny was this book. Yes, it is a hoot in parts. Her hilarious descriptions of life in the mountains & the fact she doesn't take her self very seriously are great to read. Plus, her one-liners are the best.
She seems like the sort of person that gets along with everyone. She's very spiritual also, though not religious. There's a lot to find in common with her, & I like where she writes upfront that anyone who's reading this book to be like her shouldn't do that--be like yourself.
Here's why I'm only giving this 3 stars though--I guess I just get tired of reading stories about famous people. Pretty damn lame, eh? Like an un-famous person is going to get a deal to write about their massively exciting life. I guess what I mean is that it seems to be that famous people are rather selfish & self centered. I think this is by necessity, because you have to constantly strive for your goals & not let other people get in your way if you're going to become famous. You can't bow out of opportunities of you want to become famous either.
I suppose I'm a tiny bit jealous, to be honest. I live a compromised life, like 95% of the people on the planet. I know a self-help guru would say I'm choosing that, but like I said, so are 95% of my fellow humans, so I don't feel very alone. We all go out & buy the self-help books, write down lists of our dreams & goals, make all the moves to make it come true, then realize we don't have the money/time/energy/support/motivation to do it. And we come off feeling like shit.
Now, Dolly acknowledges her fans & seems like a genuine, sweet loving woman. But at the end of the book she talks about all her plastic surgeries, her refusal to be seen by anybody without wearing a massive amount of makeup, a wig, & 5 inch heels, & her talk about starting a cosmetic line the help all those "homely" women out there.
No thanks, Dolly. I'd rather just roll out of bed & let the world see me for who I am. How horrible!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Summer Solstice

Well, things have been kinda weird around here. There are three reasons for that: summertime, cancer, & careers.

In the summertime heading, it's hot & Puppy is out of school. Now he's still in ESY (extended school year), but that's only half days Monday thru Thursday. So he's thrown out of sync. Plus we just can't live as regimented a life as they have at school, & he thrives on routine. Therefore, his behavior is careening around from one extreme to another, & the house is taking a pounding. He's ripped several things off the walls & hurt plants outside for no reason. He's in limbo land, & right about the time he gets in the swing of summer, school will start again. Sigh....

Also under the heading of summertime is that fact it's hotter than hell around this godforsaken patch of land. The humidity is thru the roof & you only have to walk outside for 5 minutes to be covered in sweat. God help you if you actually move around out there in that soupy mess, cause you'll be begging for mercy soon after.

Now, on to cancer. My dad has it, it's metastasized, & he's getting chemo. He's tolerating it well, but he's still very weak & has lost a lot of weight & muscle mass. We won't know if the chemo is working until late August/early September when they do another CT scan. So until then it feels like everyone is in a holding pattern.

I don't really want to go into my relationship with my father on here, but suffice it to say it's had some rocky patches. Those were quite awhile ago, & I certainly don't dwell on them anymore. But when mortality rears its ugly head it funny what you start to think about. All the issues, all the worries seem to bubble to the surface again. That's been difficult to deal with lately.

Now, on to career. I'm slowly going back to school. That is hard for me to officially say, since I've tried doing that before & it just didn't work out. I'm hoping that this time it will really happen & I can make a career change, but it's going to take several years for me to get to that point & I'm worried I won't make it. Hence, I'm scared to actually tell anyone about it.

So there you have it! It looks like it may be an interesting summer, but I'm remaining hopeful on all 3 counts. That said, I've decided to try to update this & my other blog twice a week--we shall see. If I actually do that, I'm sure I'll be writing about my 3 issues again. Wish me luck!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon ****

I don't know much about comic books since I haven't read one in about 30 years. I used to go through piles of them at my grandma's house in St. John when I was a kid--I'm guessing they were ones my older cousins had discarded. A lot of them were Disney ones, about Donald Duck, his nephews, & his Uncle Scrooge McDuck. There was one great one of Macbeth--yeah, Shakespeare. I'll always have the image in my mind of Lady Macbeth scrubbing her hand & saying, "Out out, damn spot!" that was imprinted there from that comic book.
More recently, the closest I've gotten to comics is reading Maus by Art Spiegelman. It's Spiegelman's attempt to wrap his mind around the experiences of his father & mother, who lived through the Holocaust but lost their only child (at the time) to it. He portrays Jews at mice, Germans as cats, Poles as pigs, & Americans as dogs. It is an amazing book, & he wrote a sequel also. The imagery is stark & graphic, the subject difficult but necessary.
Kavalier & Clay was obviously influenced by Maus, but it was mostly influenced by Jack Kirby, who the author acknowledges at the end of the book. It's about the hey-day of comic books, right before & during WWII. Two cousins, Josef Kavalier & Sammy Clay, collaborate on a new superhero--the Escapist. It proves to be monstrously successful, but both cousins have demons they are trying to escape from themselves.
For Joe, it's Nazi Europe. He is desperate to get his family to America, but fate is making it very difficult to do so.
For Sammy, it's himself. Society doesn't make it acceptable to by gay in the 1940's, & Sammy doesn't want to be on display.
This is a great book. I highly recommend it. The only reason I didn't give it 5 stars is because of the ending. It's not a disappointing ending, it's just kinda abrupt. But it is good. Very good.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin ****

My sister loaned me this book, she’s in a book club that reads non-fiction books from & about different cultures. Basically, it has to do with a man who tried to climb K2 & failed, but in the process found his true calling—building schools for the people of the Karakoram Mountains of northern Pakistan. I have to say that this is a very inspirational story, where one person actually did make a difference. Greg Mortenson now heads an organization called the Central Asia Institute that’s responsible for building 55 schools in Pakistan & Afghanistan.
Musing on how important education is to those who don’t get to have it, it makes me think about how much me take for granted in our country. The US has a lot of problems, that’s true. But they’re the kind of problems born out of plenty. We’re fat, depressed, & stressed, all because we get to have too much. When seeing how other people live, in countries where food is scarce, let alone education, it makes me feel like our country needs to do more. And when I say do more, I don’t mean exporting & imposing our way of life onto others. I mean just giving them a fair chance, like all of us have.
Dog & I got to see President Obama about a month ago when he came to town to give his first 100 days speech. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I’ll never forget. I particularly liked his take on giving aide to other countries. He pointed out how little of our budget is spent on foreign aid—it’s a pittance. By reaching out a hand to help other countries make their own dreams come true, we do good for others. When we retroactively wage war against people who don’t even know who we are, & who we certainly haven’t taken the time to know, all it does in set the human race back. I hope we’re getting back on the right track. I know I feel much better about the direction of our country now than I did a year ago.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Rules by Cynthia Lord ****

Alrighty, after this one I'm almost caught up with blogging about what I've read lately! I'll just need to write about a book I've almost totally forgotten about, then I'm clear!

Rules is another very good book by a first time author. It's about tween Catherine, who happens to have a younger brother with autism. There's a new girl moving in next door that she's sure she'll be best friends with, but the book is very good partly because what is expected just doesn't happen. Like real life. She's met a boy her age at the therapy center her brother goes to, who happens to communicate with a communication book (pictures that he points at). By making him a few new pictures to help him express his teen aged angst, they get closer. Meanwhile, the stress & embarrassment (both real & imagined) of having a younger brother with autism is portrayed very vividly--I never realized how extremely frustrating that must be for siblings. And her frustration with her parents' necessary neglect of her in favor of her brother is heartbreaking.

Great book!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Small White Scar by K.A. Nuzum ****

This is another book for ages 10 & up that was nominated for the Mark Twain book award. I picked this one because it & 2 other books (see Finest Kind) all had to do with kids with developmental disabilities of one kind or another. It's fascinating that 3 books are written with DD heavily imbuing the story this year for kids--maybe it's a sign of the times.
Basically the story is about twin brothers Will & Denny. 15 year old Will is determined to leave behind his father's ranch in 1940 & make his way being a rodeo rider & ranch hand. The problem is that he's chief caretaker for his brother Denny, who happens to have Down's Syndrome. Their mother died when they were about 7, & their father has placed the burden of looking after Denny squarely on Will's shoulders. Will is tired of being treated like a child by his father, & tired of being tied to the ranch by Denny. He decides to run away to the rodeo in La Junta, the biggest one around, & seek his own fortune.
It's funny how I underestimate how well a first time writer can write. Finest Kind was the 5th or 6th book by that author, but it just didn't ring true. In contrast, K.A. Nuzum writes a remarkable book by dealing with the feelings that overwhelm the sibling of a child with DD. Torn between caring & irritation, you can feel the frustration in Will. Other issues regarding how DD were dealt with back when the story takes place are eye opening & very important also.
A very good book, well written & beautifully peopled.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro *****

I have to say that I'm a little back logged. I've got a couple other books to review, but I just finished this one today & I have to write about it.

First off, I think it's the saddest, most heart-wrenching book I've ever read. I almost cried at the end, and though that might not sound like much, I was in the break room at work eating lunch at the time with a crusty old man. So I really really didn't want to cry in front of him, & I managed to keep tears from falling. But my eyes got pretty damn misty.

The book is about a boarding school in England. That's all I can really say, other than it's about the relationships among the students. Very vague, I know. But if I said anything else it would give away too much. From the second line in the book you'll be scratching your head, wondering what the heck the narrator is talking about. At first I thought, "It's those Brits. They use strange words for things." But oh, it's not that. Not at all.

Please read it. I can't say you won't be upset at the end, but it's necessary. Things need to be thought about.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Finest Kind by Lea Wait **

I came upon this book when I saw the Mark Twain Award nominees on my son's school's website. All the books had brief synapses & a was surprised that 3 of the nominees were about siblings of children with developmental disabilities. Since Lea Wait was the only one of the three authors who'd written before, I chose that book first.
I was very disappointed with the woodenness of the writing, but I had to remind myself that this book was written for 8-12 year olds & maybe that's why she kept the language so simple. But I have to say that overall, it was disappointing.
The story is about a young boy named Jake who travels to rural Maine with his family in 1838. Jake grew up in Boston in a privileged home, but the fall of the stock market brought about financial ruin. His family sold their fancy house & have moved to Maine in search of a job for his father.
Jake's brother Frankie has what would be called cerebral palsy now. He has frequent seizures & at age 6 is not able to communicate or move independently. The family is ashamed of Frankie's condition & try to hide his existence from their few neighbors. When Jake's dad gets work at a mill in another town, the family suddenly realizes that they will have to fend for themselves without the father's help, since he can only come home on weekends. And that means Jake will have to do most of the work, since his mother must stay home & take care of his brother.
Bottom line, it was hard to have much sympathy for the characters. I think it's a great history book for kids, which may be it's primary goal, even though I question some of the sugar-coating. From the stand point of an accurate portrayal of developmental disabilities, it was fair. It wasn't very historically accurate in the town's acceptance of Frankie, but maybe I'm being too harsh.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Place of Birth

I haven't been able to read Precious Bane or any other book right now due to my class & also being on overload right now.

I don't know if anyone else out there ever gets to book burn out, but I've been in it for about a week now. I can't read anything. This happens to me about 4 times a year, & then it goes away as mysteriously as it came.

So until I get out of it, I thought I'd try something new.

I thought of some of the questions we have to answer all the time, like when we go to a new doctor for the first time, filling out a job application, things like that.

And then I thought I'd answer it in a way that they didn't intend to hear--completely.

So my first question is the title of this entry.

And the answer is:

The place I work.

Oddly enough, I work at the same hospital in St. Louis, MO where I was born. It sounds pretty cool, until you realize that St. John's is literally a baby factory. They had a billboard up a couple years ago on I-270 listing the thousands of babies born there that year. I guess that was supposed to make you want to have your baby there, but I would think it turned off about as many people as it turned on. I mean, everyone wants to think that their baby & their experience is utterly unique & incomparable to someone else's. The thought that 15 minutes after they swab down the delivery room they're going to have some other poor, screaming wretch in there doing the same thing you just did doesn't fit in with the *magic* that is your own birthing experience.

But all that aside, it is kind of neat to walk the hallways there & think about traveling back in time to when I was born. I'd like to sidle up to my parents & tell them that their newborn baby girl was going to be working at that very hospital in 27 years. Of course, they'd assume I was going to at least be a doctor there, if not director of the whole shebang. But there are great benefits to being a lowly pharmacy tech. Like learning all the secret passageways & staircases that seem to abound in every nook & cranny. For example, I was overjoyed (really!) to have found a new way to get out of the building the other day. Out the back door, up a poorly marked stairwell for 2 floors, take the door on the left & presto! you're in the courtyard by the fountain! I didn't even know a door was there! I felt like Marco Polo walking into the Forbidden City (except, was he forbidden there?). It was like a re birthing process--OK OK, that's going too far.

But it is interesting to see that no matter how far I think I've come, I'm still at the same place I started.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer ***

HA! Yeah, well, I...

Nevermind, I won't try to justify reading the next book. All I'm going to say is that it's better than the second book. And I'm sure I'll end up reading the 4th book, since I've sworn never to do so. So just wait awhile, it'll be up here soon.

Meanwhile I'm going to re-read a book from a couple years ago, Precious Bane. I've tried looking on here to see if I've reviewed it, but it doesn't seem to be here. So what the hay! It's become one of my all-time favorites, up there with Katherine by Anya Seton. It's the kind of book that, for some reason, I hold so close & personal that I don't want others to read it. I guess I get scared that someone else would make fun of it & blemish the smooth, round, wholeness of this beautiful story. It's a deeply personal journey, I find, to read Precious Bane. I hope some other people out there read it & it touches them too.

Friday, February 20, 2009

New Moon by Stephanie Meyer ***

Yes, I did it. I read the next book in the "Twilight" series. I'll say this for it--I'm not as gung-ho to read the next book in the series now. I got tired of the whole werewolf thing, & Edward annoyed the hell out of me.
But that doesn't mean I won't be reading the next book. I'm not a monument to fine literature. And for all I know, Stephanie Meyer will be worshipped a la Jane Austin in 200 years.
I guess we'll just have to wait & see!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Brief Intermission...

I've been taking a psychology class (long story short, I'm trying to figure out what I'm doing career-wise before I turn 40. Time is running out!), so I haven't been reading as much as I'd like to be right now. I'm being one of those older, ultra-prepared students that reads all the text assignments before class discussion & studies diligently. I don't know how long I can sustain that since I'm lazy & easily diverted by nature, so I may have a new book on here very soon if I can't keep acting like a grownup.
Til then, I hope everyone has fun reading!

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch *****

I was first aware of Randy Pausch when Katie Couric announced his death on the evening news on July 25, 2008. I guess by that time the youtube film of his last lecture had made him famous, but I wasn't in tune to that as much as others & so had never heard of him. After seeing the news story, Dog went online & listened to his lecture. He told me it was great & I needed to watch it, but there's a lot I need to do that I don't get around to & that was one of them.

Then a few weeks later, the interview he did with Diane Sawyer aired & we watched it together. There were excerpts from his lecture included, but I still wasn't convinced. I guess I just get tired of having people held up as the ideal, either in the way they live their lives or how they die, & feeling like a very selfish, sub-human creature afterwards because I get upset about not getting what I want. I feel sometimes that's the set up the media gives us so we'll buy more stuff & try to become perfect.

But this Christmas, a friend of mine from work that I don't get to see very much anymore gave me the book. First Dog read it, then Dick read it. Then I finally gave in.

Here's the thing that's great--never does he make out that he's got the answers to all life's problems. The book is for his kids. It's all the things he wants them to know, that he wasn't going to be able to tell them himself. It's not for anyone else. We can read it, of course, but he didn't write it for us. And that's the beauty of the whole thing.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer ***

I know, I know. I've jumped on the teenage-girl bandwagon & read the book that all females under 18 have read about 5 times & seen the movie about 6 times & talk about with their friends on a constant basis. And it's pretty good.

If you haven't heard of this series of teenage vampire books yet, you may need to look around you & see if your home is indeed under a large slab of granite. Geared toward teenage girls & all they crave, Twilight is one of those books you don't want to like, but you do. As a 38 year old woman who's been married for almost 15 years, some of the sappy romantic lines made me roll my eyes, but the tension between the 2 main characters is great. Edward is a vampire, & Bella isn't. So she's always running the risk of him getting a wild hair up his ass & eating her. Yep, it's a little different.

Reading this book was like time travel for me, not because my high school years were anything like what the characters experience (HA! Not only did I not date any vampires while in high school, I didn't date any humans either!), but because of reading vampire books. Interview with the Vampire was out in paperback, & my best friend loaned me hers after she finished it. Soon we were both on to The Vampire Lestat & then Queen of the Damned. That's as far as I got in the series, though my friend read every last one. But I so much remember talking with her about every little detail of those books, all those years ago: who should play Lestat if they made a movie? how could they actually get a child to play Claudia? was Lestat really so bad?

Those were the days!

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson *****

Every once in a while you come across a book out of nowhere--you don't know why you picked it up, but there it is in your hand & you're going to give it a chance. Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon was like that for me--I just found it laying on a shelf at the library & grabbed it. It was great, not just because it was well written, but because it was mine--I found it all by myself.

I can't claim that with this book, but I wish I could. I found it here, the same place I found the previous book. From the get go, this book is crazy. Get this--a porn star/producer wrecks his car while high on cocaine & booze & suffers horrible 3rd degree (maybe 4th degree) burns to his body, one burn being so bad he has to get a penisectomy (yep, it's what you think it is!). While in the burn unit at the local hospital, a beautiful female psych patient come into his room & tells him that they were lovers in 14th century Germany. Thinking her crazy, the narrator (who I just realized is never named) is not sure what to make of her, but after her repeated visits he starts to warm to her. She's the only visitor he gets, outside of his PT & a staff psychiatrist, & she seems to care for him deeply. On her visits she tells him stories, either about her own life & how they met or about other star-crossed lovers. Despite himself, the narrator is pulled into her life & a bond is formed.

You've got to admit, the premise sure grabs you. But what's wonderful is that it doesn't disappoint after the initial shock. It's a wonderful first novel, & I can tell it's a first novel for Andrew Davidson because it seems to be full of all the stories he's been pondering over the years as he got up the nerve to write. I hope he can continue on the road he's begun, because I for one would love to read more from him.