Sunday, December 4, 2011

Tiger, tiger!

I love when I stumble upon a theme! Over Thanksgiving I finished the book Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn and continued reading The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht. Both have an underlying subplot featuring a tiger. As a result of reading these two books, I now have a new found respect for this animal! Fearsome indeed! I would not want to cross paths with one of these cats! In Dark Road, a man gives the protagonist a gun to take with her on her walks through the countryside because a tiger has recently killed a woman. She tells him she's not sure she'll be able take kill a tiger with just a pistol but he tells her it's not for the tiger, it's for herself. Should she be attacked, death would be slow and agonizing. In The Tiger's Wife, a man who goes after a tiger running loose in the countryside after escaping from a zoo is half-eaten by the tiger. Only his lower half is dragged off into the woods.
So as I said, I've gained a new found a respect for the animal. One that I intend to appreciate from the safety of my family room couch!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Can't get enough utopia books!

Specials (Uglies, #3)Specials by Scott Westerfeld

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm a fan of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series. Specials is the last in a trilogy that features the main character Tally Youngblood. I love that his protagonist is a girl and yet the plot is exciting and action packed enough to keep boys interested. I have had just as many guys as girls check this series out of the library!
He touches on all the hot button topics of our day but from a futuristic perspective that makes you question what our society truly values--plastic surgery, the quest for beauty, our hunger for better, faster, smaller technology, wasting/saving natural resources, and, of course, utopia building. Yet all of this is written in a way that is accessible to young people (meaning, it ain't boring or preachy!).

View all my reviews

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ah, Summer!

Finally!! One thing I love in life is making lists at the start of something new. New year, new season, new stage of life, etc. I always make a list. I think the endless possibilities at the beginning of something new are half the fun! The summer reading list is no exception! What will make the list? How many books can I finish before school starts again? Should I include the one that's been on my list since junior year of high school? These are the "pressing" questions that I consider as I compile my list.

In high school, I used to make summer reading lists that were a couple of pages long (I can think of a couple of students who do this too!). I'd like to think I'm more realistic now, but I don't think I am. Oh, well. Like my list of New Year's resolutions, I may make goals too lofty to ever attain but at least I have something I'm shooting for!

So, here's the goal for this summer: 20 books by August 1st. And in no particular order, here is the list of books to read. I've tried to include a variety of teen reads, middle school reads, contemporary fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc. We'll see how it goes!

1. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand; nonfiction
2. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen; contemporary fiction
3. In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson; nonfiction
4. The Lifting Dress by Lauren Berry; collection of poetry by a YES teacher
5. Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy; classic
6. The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova; contemporary fiction
7. The Rower's Code by Marilyn Krichko; business book for school (required)
8. The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen; middle school read
9. The Specials by Scott Westerfeld; YA dystopia
10. Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier; historical fiction
11. The Scorch Trials by James Dashner; another YA dystopia, 2nd in trilogy
12. What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen; YA novel
13. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer; nonfiction, my husband highly recommends
14. The Blind Side by Michael Lewis; nonfiction sports book
15. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak; fictional Holocaust story
16. Scumble by Ingrid Law; middle school read
17. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray; funny YA novel
18. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett; loved Bel Canto!
19. Matilda by Roald Dahl; children's book I have never read
20. The House on Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne; children's book I've read but not yet with my children

And of course, I love to know what other people have put on their lists! Do tell!

Friday, May 20, 2011

An Invisible Kid, a Witch, and Tina Fey

What do these three have in common? Not much unless you count the fact that they are all the subject of my reading this past week. I finished reading Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements last weekend and Chime by Franny Billingsley on Monday. I'm sure a wiser person than I could come up with some kind of connection between the three but best I can come up with is that I've enjoyed each one.

Things Not Seen is about a teenage boy who wakes one morning to discover that he's invisible. Yes, you have to suspend disbelief (or is it suspend belief?)but the author takes pains to make it believable and, more importantly, to delve into what the ramifications of such an occurrence would be. This is a great "thinking" book for teens! It begs the, "What would you do?" question and I think teens can really see themselves in the main character Bobby. This is a great read! And I love how Clements' uses the sci-fi details to make the book believable and to reveal his character's struggles. In effect, the fiction serves as a backdrop for the issues all teens can relate to: feeling invisible, fear, helplessness, and alienation.

Chime deals with a different teen struggle-- learning to love oneself. The story is about a teenage girl named Briony who claims she is a witch and should be hanged for her crimes. She then goes back to tell us her story of how it all began. I had trouble locking in on the setting for this book when I first started reading it. I thought maybe it was the Salem witch trials but it turns out it is set outside London in a swamp (are there swamps in England?) in the early twentieth century. It has elements of fantasy, a slow-to-develop but believable romance, and language reminiscent of Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky. Briony is convinced that she is responsible for the terrible things that have happened to her family and that the only way to atone for her past evil deeds and prevent future accidents is through reminding herself that she is no good. I'm curious to know what teen girls make of this and I wonder if they see how destructive such negative self-speak is for Briony and consequently for themselves. Overall I found the book satisfying because there is reconciliation and redemption in the end.

I like to vary things up a bit by reading some adult fiction (no, not racy reads, just books that are not specifically geared towards kids). This week I'm reading Bossy Pants. Though this book is meant for adults I'm so glad she has an adolescent boy's sense of humor! Yes, Tina Fey is smart and witty but when it comes right down to it, she loves to talk about bodies and awkward, embarrassing moments. I've been laughing hard through every chapter!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Help

I'm always surprised when I hear an author speak. Does anyone ever feel that way, too? I guess I get so wrapped up in the way in which a writer writes that I think that he or she must talk, think, and act the way their characters do. Or I think that authors must be more than human to really get people. Well, anyway, once again I was struck by the prosaic reality that authors are just people when I attended an author reading/ book signing by Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help. I loved this book! I was sad when it ended because I had really come to love some of the characters! So I suppose it was inevitable that I would build up the author in my mind as some sort of otherworldly creature. Ms. Stockett was amazingly down to earth (she complimented me on my dress!!), funny in a wry sort of way, and very humble. She has written an amazing book about a subject that many of us find difficult to talk about, namely race relations, yet she said last night that she did not write this book to teach a lesson (she said she did not feel qualified do so) and she seemed amazed that people would actually want to read it let alone like it! I found it very interesting that she was inspired to write this story out of a need to comfort herself while struggling through the uncertainty of September 11th (she was living in New York when the Trade Center towers were struck). She said everyone had an instinctive need to call their loved ones but most were unable to do so because phone lines and Internet connections were disabled. One of the people Stockett wanted to talk to couldn't be reached even if communications were up and running because this person was no longer living. Demetrie had raised Stockett and her siblings and took care of the family's home until she died when Stockett was 16. The closeness that Stockett felt with this tiny black woman who grew up in the Depression-era South, got Stockett wondering what was it like to be black in Mississippi and work for a white family. This wondering led to her first book which turned out to be a bestseller!
Authors are just people. Obviously. But authors like Stockett have a super ability to wonder and ask and then sit with an idea until something wonderful is born. I can't wait to see what she will bring into the world next!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jane Eyre

This past weekend, a dear friend and I went to see the film adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Even though I had seen and enjoyed the preview for the film a while back, I was still anxious to see whether or not the film "got it right". This is a book that I adore (I've read it probably six or more times). And I feel that other films make the title character to be a mouse. Jane Eyre is no meek and mild character! What I love about her character is that she has a strong sense of who she is and she refuses to compromise her principles or to yield to others because of their status or sex.
The film did an excellent job of capturing her spirit and telling the tale with mood and mystery! I highly recommend it!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Better than Hunger Games?

So I had more than one male student come up to me and tell me that they loved this book called The Maze Runner so much more than The Hunger Games! In fact, these boys said that they read Hunger Games and then went on to its sequel but abandoned it in favor of this one. Well, if even one boy tells me (of his own volition!) about a book he's read and enjoyed, that's really something. But when a second boy and then third boy do the same, well, I just had to get my hands on a copy! And it turned out to be every bit as great as their praise! I can see why boys abandoned Catching Fire in favor of this one and its sequel, Scorch Trials. It's about an all-boys' society living by their own code and exploring the ever-changing maze outside their walled in "city" called The Glade. The catch is that none of them remembers their past--only their first names and that each wake up inside a huge metal box that opens out into the middle of The Glade. The story is told from the perspective of the newest member. I love this because the reader learns about this society bit by bit as the character pieces it all together. And did I mention there's a maze, a secret code, mysterious killer robot/blob creatures, oh, and violence? What's not to love?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A book for groundhog day

My dentist claims that Groundhog Day is one of his favorite holidays. Of course he also told me that getting my cavities filled would be, "great fun," so his judgment is clearly questionable. I certainly don't have much of an attachment to the day but perhaps I will now at least view it with more interest after the book I finished, appropriately enough, on Groundhog Day. The book is called Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. It is about a 17-year old girl on the day she died (you learn this in the first chapter so I'm not spoiling anything). The thing about it is that in the next chapter, she wakes up in her bed the same day as before and she continues to relive this same day for a week. You can see why I think this would be a perfect book for Groundhog Day!

I found the book very hard to put down! I was intrigued by the variety of plot twists and different outcomes that occurred as a result of this girl reliving her one day over and over again. In the beginning of the book, Samantha is a self-centered popular girl who's major aim in life seems to be to stay popular. I really didn't like her and I didn't particularly want to keep reading after the first chapter. It wasn't that I looked down on her so much as I just didn't feel that I cared what happened to her. However, all this changed as I continued to read. Once she realizes that she is reliving her last day over and over again, she begins to see herself, her friends, and life in a whole new way. I even found myself thinking about what things (people, circumstances, situations) I take for granted!

I would love to know what other people think of this book--particularly the ending!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Little Bee

This week I finished reading Little Bee by Chris Cleave. The story centers upon two women, a Nigerian refugee desperately seeking safe haven in Britain, and a posh 30-something English magazine editor. It's told in alternating chapters from the point of view of these women and flashes back to fill in their life stories. Although on the surface it would seem that these two women have nothing in common, they form a strong, believable bond through their mutual sufferings.
I loved this book for two reasons: one, the story of the Nigerian girl, Little Bee, was thrilling and eye-opening on its own, and, two, I found Cleave's writing of both women's voices very convincing and authentic. This is a must-read! I liked, too, how it made me think about the plight of immigrants in this country and around the world. I hope it causes more sensitivity in our society and in other western countries towards the immigrants' cause--but perhaps I'm a bit too optimistic!