10 November 2010

The Help

The Help

I’m a pretty busy lady, but I definitely like to find those lazy days when I can just sit and read and forget about the world around me.  Sometimes, I come across a book that is so engrossing that I can’t help but become completely absorbed – so absorbed that I forget about my reality and feel like I live in the reality of the book.

The Help by Katherine Stockett was one of those books for me.  My book club chose to read this book, and I was surprised by the choice because the book is very new.  Normally we stick with book club kits from the public library (in case you didn’t know, public libraries = free books, and that fits well into my tight budget), but some of the girls in our group had heard such great things, we all decided to fork over the cash and read it.

What a wonderful story!  The Help is a book about exactly that – the hired help.  Written from three points of view, The Help takes a look at what it was like to be the hired help in Mississippi during the 60’s.  Skeeter is a twenty-something college graduate whose dream is to work as a journalist, but whose parents want nothing more for her than marriage to an acceptable young southern man.  As she spends more and more time at home, she realizes that she does not share the same views as her now-grown childhood friends – especially when it comes to the African-American women who serve in their homes.  And she realizes that these women – the hired help – do not have a voice at all.  So she hatches a plan to share their voice with the world.  Enter Aibileen and Minny.  Both women have served as the hired help for their entire adult lives – Aibileen has faithfully and lovingly served many families, and Minny’s mouth has gotten her fired from many jobs, but her amazing cooking skills have always helped her find another job.  Though Skeeter’s plan will put all the women at risk, all the women know that the stories they have to tell are absolutely worth it.
The Help is one of those books that really makes you think about the world around you.  Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own take on things, we fail to see that there are other points of view, other stories to be told, that are just as important as ours, and that can and do have a profound effect on us.  Some of the characters in the book didn’t have the ability to see the world through the eyes of the people who worked for them.  In a way, I felt sorry for them – it has to be difficult to live in a world where people don’t see things your way.  And though the book deals with race relations in the 60’s, I think this lesson still rings true – and it doesn’t have to apply just to race relations.  The Help encourages us to try walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.

11 October 2010

Skulduggery Pleasant

Skulduggery Pleasant
Derek Landy

One of my new favorite things about being a librarian is watching kids get excited about books - especially when they are recommending books to me.  This particular book (actually the series) was recommended to me by Di Herald.  When the second and third books of the series arrived in my library, one of my 8th graders absolutely wigged out.  When I admitted to her that I hadn't read the first book, she literally ran to the stacks, grabbed the book and forced me to check it out right then.  Every day after I checked it out, she came in before school and asked about my progress to see how far into the book I'd gotten and what I thought.

And guess what?  I LOVED it.  What a fun read!  The premise of the book is that the normal, humdrum life of a young girl (I think she's 12 or 13) is upended when she inherits a fortune from her eccentric author uncle.  She meets his close friend, Skulduggery Pleasant, and is drawn into a world of magic she never knew existed because she - like Skulduggery - believes that her uncle was murdered.

Once again, I realize how awesome YA fiction is!  This book moved so fast I had trouble putting it down at all.  And it's not all fluff and silly magic fantasy stuff - there are life lessons hidden in those lines.  Stephanie stuggles with trusting adults and fighting against their opinions that she's 'just a little kid'.  I will say that I was bothered by how quickly Stephanie disregarded her family, but at the same time, she's a teenager (barely a teenager), and we all know how difficult it is for teenagers to think about others.  I really enjoyed the idea of three names - your given name, the name you take and your true name.  By choosing a name (your taken name), you secured your given name and thus break any power that others might hold over you.- in a way, it's like a rite of passage.  What I don't think that young Stephanie (or any teenager for that matter) thought about was the fact that once she chose a name, she would remain a part of the magical world forever.  Sometimes we forget that our actions have lasting consequences - and if your life isn't exactly what you'd imagined it would be, it's easy to make a rash decision that will have long lasting consequences.

07 September 2010


Thomas E. Sniegoski

Can you imagine what it would be like to have Superman as a dad?  Pretty sweet right?  Not for Lucas - a high school drop out who has grown up in a trailer park with his mom knowing nothing of his deadbeat dad.  Turns out his dad is the Raptor - a studly superhero searching for someone to carry on his superhero legacy after he's gone.  But will being a superhero/billionaire negate eighteen years of neglect?  And would you want to go from leading a normal life to being a superhero just because of your genes?

Released last fall, Legacy is an excellent young adult novel about handling the cards fate deals out.  Sniegoski takes something that should be an awesome turn in your life - going from a trailer park to a mansion overnight - under the 'reality' light.  Lucas is a typical teenaged boy in many ways:  he's loyal to the mother who raised him, angry at the father who abandoned him but curious about his fathers dual life, and kind of stoked about the whole 'superhero' thing.  When Lucas finds out that evil takes all forms and must deal with his mother's brutal murder, he grows up quickly.  This is a lesson that many of our teens have to deal with much sooner than we'd like them to.

I'm one of the very lucky people on this planet who has parents who really are superheros - they've been married for almost 40 years and they still flirt (gag) with each other.  They dedicated their lives to making sure I had the best life I could have and I'm so thankful for them.  But for those who haven't been so blessed, this book is a great example of becoming all that you can be despite your parents mistakes.

26 August 2010

Mockingjay and what makes a book excellent

Suzanne Collins

Holy crap.  That's what I have to say about this book.  Holy.  Crap.  I knew it would suck me in just like the first two did, but I had no idea.  None.

I will give nothing away.  Zip.  Zilch. Nada. Nichts.  But what I will say is this:  Suzanne Collins is a masterful author.  Why?  Because she can keep you on your toes for 390 pages, wrap up loose ends and still leave you feeling unsettled.  But I suppose that's what a book about world war should do, regardless of which side is victorious.

Tomorrow, I will proudly wear my "District 12 Tribute" t-shirt that I purchased earlier this week and encourage all of my students to read this series (no offense to Stephanie Meyer, because I loved the Twilight Series, but this series?  So much better).  And I will say - simply for the benefit of those who know me well and know my rantings about how I felt that this series should end:  Suzanne Collins, thank you for the ending to this book.  It is perfect.  Before I read it I wanted only one thing (which I will not divulge at this time).  You presented an ending with the things that I wanted - needed so deeply - but didn't know it.  And, sleep soundly.  I was afraid if the book didn't end a certain way I'd have to hunt you down.  No worries about that now though.  In fact, I should probably bake you cookies or something.

And my humblest apologies to any author whose books I read in the next few months.  Don't know when I'll come down from the high of this book.

22 August 2010

Very LeFreak

Very LeFreak
Rachel Cohn

Well, it's finally happened.  I'm going to review a book I didn't like.  Really didn't like.  I didn't hate it, but I have a strong, soul-felt dislike for this book.  But we'll get to that in just a minute.

Very LeFreak is about a girl named Veronica - self nicknamed Very - who was raised by a nomadic mother who passed away before she graduated high school.  Now in her freshman year at Columbia, Very is quickly spiraling out of control, and is forced to go to 'technology detox' - no IPhone, computer or MP3 players allowed.  Similar to alcohol or drug detox, hopefully Very will be able to shed her layers of technological bull and find her true self.

It's possible - very possible in fact - that this book is much more compelling to younger people than it is to me.  However, I don't have cable (I rarely watch TV), I don't own an IPod or MP3 player, and I pretty much stick to calls and texting on my cell phone.  And I am one of those people who can go for an entire day (gasp) without my phone and be just fine.  While I think that the premise of the story is compelling - especially when I have students asking to use the bathroom pass just so they can text "I luv u" to their gf or bf - I found Very to be...uh...very selfish.  She has no regard for those around her, and yet everyone still wants to be her friend.  And I hated the ending.  Hated hated hated it.  I could see it coming from a mile away, hoped that it wouldn't actually happen - thought for a split second "ooh, it's not going to happen" and then whamo-blamo, it happened.  Not that I have anything against Very's choice, I just think it was too...predictable?  Trendy?  Predictably trendy?  And I really hated that her name was Very.  Where do we go with character names from there?  Kinda?  Mostly?  Extremely?

Anyway, I didn't like this book.  Sorry Ms. Cohn.  Like I said, it might be because I have very little in common with a person like Very, and if I met someone like her, I'd move away very quickly.  Now can you see why I hated that name?  Read those last few sentences aloud and it gets very confusing...VERY quickly.

In a Heartbeat

In a Heartbeat
Loretta Ellsworth

I know I love tons of books - in fact, most of the books I blog about are 'favorites', but this one really is top of the line.  It's so good, I've already ordered it for the library where I'm working - it's on my very first book order! (Exciting!!!!)

In a Heartbeat follows two girls:  Eagan and Amelia as their lives change forever.  Eagan is a sixteen year old figure skating phenom who dies in a tragic skating accident.  Amelia is the fourteen year old recipient of Eagan's heart.  The book follows Eagan as she makes sense of the afterlife, and follows Amelia as she deals with the guilt and joy associated with her new heart.  When Ameila starts to crave grape lollipops and wants to learn to skate, she feels inexplicably compelled to find her donor's family.  But the question remains, will Eagan's family want to meet her?  What was Eagan like?  And can Amelia help with the sorrow they feel at their sudden loss, or will her presence in their lives bring back difficult memories?

One of the things I loved about this book were its many great lines.  So many thought provoking ideas coming from teenagers - and they were things only a teenager could think of.  One of my favorites:  "But the fact remained that someone had to die for me to live...and every night at dinner, when my family prayed for a new heart for me, we were praying for that to happen."  Though the book is intended for middle to high school readers, it isn't fluffy.  It deals with big issues.  Amelia really struggles with her 'gift' and Eagan is forced to look back on her life and realize there is more to it than what she could see as a teenager - something we all tend to do as adults (hopefully) - you know, realizing that our parents aren't just 'being mean', seeing their struggles and understanding the sacrifice they made for us.    Unfortunately, Eagan didn't get the chance to make amends before she died, and that's a tough lesson that kids (and adults) need to learn or at least think about.  Hopefully, after reading this book, more people will consider becoming organ donors.  Though there is tragedy involved with it, it is an amazing gift that so many people benefit from.

For more information on organ donation, please visit http://organdonor.gov/

08 August 2010

Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen
Catherine Gilbert Murdock

I'm never sure if I read more than the average person, or less than a normal bibliophile, but I feel like I read a lot.  And even though I feel like I read all the time, there are still tons of books I'd like to read and just can't seem to find the time to read them.  So I do what any literature lover would do - I get audiobooks.  I would not recommend audiobooks most of the time - part of my love of reading is the act of getting comfortable and shutting out the world - an act I would not advise while driving.  But in this case, I would highly recommend at least listening to the first disc, or chapter of the audio book (read by Natalie Moore) if only to hear the awesome Wisconsin accent - an accent that I miss terribly since I've moved away from the Midwest.  It is one of the most friendly, unassuming accents in the United States (in my opinion).  Southern accents are all too common, and - to be perfectly honest - I'm always a little afraid that a compliment from someone with a southern accent is actually meant to be criticism.  New York accents make me think of the mafia, and california/surfer accents make me want to sunbathe.  But the Wisconsin/Michigan/Minnesota accents are my favorites.  Might have something to do with  my love of the movies New in Town and Fargo, but it also has to do with my wonderful memories of the amazing people I know from those regions.

Ok, enough about the accent on the audiobook.  The book itself is fantastic - with or without the accent.  It's the story of DJ, a girl whose life has always revolved around two things:  dairy cows and football.  Her older brothers are legendary football players, and she's always loved the game.  Her father runs - or used to run - a dairy farm, but was injured and now DJ and her younger brother do most of (all) the work around the farm.  An old family friend - and the coach of the rival high school Holly - asks DJ to help out his 'star' quarterback, Brian Nelson.  In return for the training help, Brian will help out around the farm doing odd jobs.  DJ reluctantly agrees and not only is a friendship born, but DJ realizes that she has a deep abiding love of football, and just to prove that she can, she decides to go out for the football team.  Dairy Queen is the first in the series of adventures DJ has learning how to actually talk to people, how to deal with life's stress and curveballs, and how to be a female football player.

What caught me about the book is how Murdock used DJ's train of thought and internal monologue to make the reader not only understand her naiveté, but empathize with her.  Thoughts like "You're probably laughing now too.  So what.  I know where your milk comes from, and your hamburgers." DJ is the perfect embodiment of a strong teenage girl - she doesn't care what people think, except when she does.  And in doing something no one else has ever done, DJ does some soul searching to figure out what matters and what doesn't.  She never claims to figure anything out, she just honestly reports what she experiences and how she feels about events and people and people's reactions to events.  She learns not to make assumptions, and learns how hard it is to break free of the assumptions you've made and the assumptions people have made about you.

The rest of the series - Off Season and Front and Center - are definitely on my reading list.  This time, I'll probably sit down with the actual book - now that I have DJ Schwenk's voice in my head to guide me.

02 August 2010

I Now Pronounce You Someone Else

I Now Pronounce You Someone Else

To say this is a great book is to do it an injustice.  I think all crazy-in-love teenage girls should read this book - especially if they're dating someone older.  A) Teenage girls shouldn't date men more than two years older than they are, and B) any teenage girl considering marriage before college, should be forced to read this book.

Ok, I understand that sometimes we find our soul-mate early on in life, and it's quite possible that I, as a 32-year-old single woman, might be a little judgmental of people who get married right out of college.  However, the story of Bronwen Oliver, aka Phoebe Lillywhite, is a great story/example of someone who is about to get married and become an "us" before she knows who she is.  She struggles with the idea of  "we" because she isn't sure she's fully developed her sense of "me" in the first place.  And Bronwen has a litany of life issues - many of which are made less painful when her fiance, Jared Sondervan, becomes an integral part of her life.  But one of the main questions of this book remains - can finding your soul mate fix your life problems, or do you have to fix your life problems in order to really enjoy a relationship with your soul mate?  I don't think that Erin McCahan attempts to answer this question, I think she simply wants to present a scenario where someone has to consider this idea.

I love how real Bronwen is.  I love the fact that she has created an alternate persona for herself - Phoebe Lillywhite - because she is nearly 100% certain that she does not actually belong to her family.  She's sure that her 'real' parents will show up any day and whisk her away.  Why? Because her mom really doesn't get her.  Every teenage girl feels like her parents don't get her, as I'm sure every mother feels like she doesn't get her teenage daughter.  And Bronwen really struggles with not only her relationship with her mother, but figuring out who she is and what she wants in general.  And the best part is, it's not completely cookie-cutter.  Throughout the book, Bronwen (and Jared) approach their life decisions an their relationship in a very mature manner*, and the best part is - even though they're being very mature about the decisions they make, life is still hard.  We all need to read books where life is rough for the 'perfect' people.  I think that sometimes we get this idea that if you do the right things and have the right friends and believe the right things, that life will be easy - I know I thought that when I was a teenager (and, I won't lie, I still think that sometimes now).  But regardless of what you look like or who your friends are or what you do with your Friday evenings, life is messy and icky and difficult.  And with books like this one - where someone who should have a perfect life doesn't - remind us that it's not always greener on the other side.
*Thank you, Erin McCahan, for keeping their relationship sex-free and sacred.  I think even though many teens ares sexually active, it's good to have an example of someone who isn't every once and awhile.

My only disappointment with the book was the ending.  I won't spoil anything, but I will say that I think in real life, it would have ended differently.

01 August 2010

Princess For Hire

 Based solely on the title, what teenage girl wouldn't want to read this book?  It's flippin' fantastic!  I wasn't terribly excited when I started it - though my dear friend and mentor Di Herald recommended it highly.  Though the book has been out since March in the US, I read the ARC, and LOVED it.  What a creative storyline!

The premise of the story is that Desi - an average, if not slightly dorky, teenage girl - lives a fairly boring life in Idaho.  One day she stumbles upon a job as a princess for hire.  A princess stand-in if you will.  When a princess wants a vacation from her life, she calls on a substitute princess.  Desi accepts the job just to bring a little glamor into her life.  Though the job is pretty awesome in theory, in practice Desi gets stuck in some amazingly awkward situations.  She also finds herself wanting to not just 'stand in' but to stand up for the princesses she works for - her gut tells her that these girls would like their lives to be different, but just can't find the strength to make changes.  When her actions become controversial, Desi finds herself caught in the middle of some pretty powerful magical people - one of which is her mentor and coach, the distant yet driven Meredith.

I loved that the author paired a very fantastic idea (substitute princess) with some very real life, down to earth problems that everyone - even princesses - have to deal with.  Things like overbearing siblings and arguments with parents.  Through Desi, the reader comes to realize that being a princess isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be. Desi realizes that life is complicated no matter where you live or what you have to live through, and she is such a realistic teenager that it's easy to identify with her (even though I haven't been a teenager for a very long time...).

I would highly recommend this book, and you'll probably find it in the GMMS Library collection very soon.  Thanks for the suggestion Di!

18 July 2010

Hot Finish - Erin McCarthy

Hot Finish
Erin McCarthy

So remember before how I admitted that I really really love reading young adult fiction?  Alright, I'll also admit that I really secretly LOVE reading trashy romance novels.  Like love it love it.  I don't admit it often for two reasons:  1) I think people might lose a bit of respect for my choice of books if they knew.  And even though if those people lost respect for me I wouldn't actually care, 2) if I don't admit it often, it feels like a dirty little secret.  And when you live a relatively Pollyanna life (like I do), it's fun to have a secret.

Alright, so now that my secret is out, here's a trashy novel you should totally read.  Apparently it is part of a series, and though I could tell there were little details I was missing, it works just fine as a stand alone novel.  And yes, I'll admit openly that I picked the book up based mostly on the cover* (hey, I had laundry to do that day and saw the washboard was inspired).  But after reading it in a whopping two evening stint, I have to say that it was pretty darn good.  Yes, it is predictable, but all cheesy Romance novels are predictable.  Here's the equation:  girl and guy either have history or meet and have chemistry.  Girl and guy don't want to end up nekked together, but they do.  Girl or guy tries to break it off but cannot, I repeat CANNOT seem to make it happen.  Girl and guy end up figuring out their differences (usually involving some nekkedness) and riding off into the proverbial sunset together.
*a special thank you to the woman who created this cover for the awesome elastic sneak-peek.  The elastic sneak peek is one of my favorite things ever.  Unless it is accompanied by a beer gut.  Then it is one of my least favorite things ever.  Question - is the elastic sneak-peek the man-equivalent of a whale tale?  Because if so, I might have to like it less.

Hot Finish isn't different from any other cheesy romance novel - it follows this equation nearly to the T (don't act like I just dished out the world's biggest spoiler alert either - you knew it was coming from the minute you checked out the abs on the cover.  Admit it!).  However, the dialog in the book is quite entertaining and the two main characters, Ryder and Suzanne Jefferson - a supposed-to-be divorced couple thrown together to endure the wedding from hell - are endearing and shockingly realistic.

But I won't pretend to be naive and say that I think the book is in any way realistic.  I will say that the nekked scenes?  Wowza.  This book is not kid friendly.  Sure might just be mommy friendly though....wink wink.

15 July 2010

Anything is possible when you're in the Library...

Great video tweeted (yes, I know I'm a tweeter now...oy vey) by Joyce Valenza (she has multiple homepages, but here's one and here's another, who is yet another woman I want to be like when I grow up (there are just so many now!)

I know that I usually stick to writing about books, but I need to take a second to be thankful for the amazing new community I find myself in.  In a short amount of time, I have gone from being a German teacher - essentially an 'island' teacher collaborating with myself - to being a teacher librarian.  And the teacher librarian world is an amazing world.  They are friendly, they are welcoming, they are funny, and that stereotypical librarian with the tight bun and the funky beaded glasses-string?  Nowhere to be seen.

I love my life.

05 July 2010

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
Kate DiCamillo

I know, I know, lots of postings about children's books.  I promise, by weeks end, there will be postings about adult books (I'm almost done with a great one...).  This book was recommended to me by my dear friend the Rybrarian (Ryan Whitenack.  He's a genius, and I'm not just saying that so he'll continue to help me out on my grad school work.  The man makes me belly laugh constantly).  Although we did not have the same reaction to the book, I did thoroughly enjoy the book.  For one, the illustrations are fantastic, and I plan to look for other books illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline.  Secondly, it is a great story about the trappings of vanity and the true meaning of love.

I will admit, I did not have a favorite doll growing up.  Yes, I had a few dolls that I really enjoyed, like Sally and my Ewok Wicket, but my heart always belonged to Woobie...my beloved baby blanket.  Truth be told, the original Woobie went to blankie heaven many many years ago.  And the day my mom told me we'd have to put Woobie down, I cried like I'd never cried before.  And in an act of unprecedented heroism, my older brother offered his Woobie in replacement.  I can honestly say that Woobie 2 has been my constant comfort for almost 30 years.  Yep, he still is the first thing I look for when I go to bed at night and the first thing I fold every morning when I wake up.

Reading the Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane makes me wonder what my Woobie thinks of me.  In the beginning of the book, Edward is far more concerned with himself than he is the undying love that Abeline gives him.  When he's lost at sea, his true adventures begin, and he learns that love is the most important thing.  Lucky for me, I've never lost Woobie at sea, but I have forgotten him in many a hotel room, and thus, he is now too old to travel.

I think one of the reasons I enjoyed this book is because, as an adult, we look at the things our children (or in my case, my nieces and nephews) cling to and wonder why on earth they get so attached.  But through this story, we realize that there is so much love in the world, and sometimes people, especially children, just don't have the outlets they need to give the love they have.  So they choose china rabbits, or even raggedy old blankets.  And it is through those seemingly inanimate objects that our children learn to love and care for something outside of themselves.

So I encourage all of you with children to read this book to them, because if nothing else, it will teach them that love is important, regardless of who you give it to.

Avi - Children's Author

Avi - An Author worth reading

This is not your typical posting for me, but because I had to do an author study for grad school, I thought I'd share with all of you what I'd learned.

Avi?  Is an awesome author.  For multiple reasons.

1) He has one name.  Like Madonna.  And Prince.  Instant cool.

2) He writes children's books/YA novels about good stuff - morals and doing what is right.

3) He is not limited to one genre.  He's written historical ficiton, children's books, thrillers, you name it.

4) One Newberry Medal and two Newberry Honors top his list of awards.  I'd print the whole list, but it's long.

5) And lastly, in a time where our teenagers and young people are swept up in vampire thrillers and the like, Avi's novels are interesting to kids (and adults) on a level that is familiar.  His characters go through things that everyone goes through, and he doesn't have to set his novels in fantastic, unrealistic situations (not that I think fantasy is bad, I like fantasy.  It's just nice to read something like Nothing but the Truth that strikes a chord with everyday students and teaches them about communication and honesty without supernatural forces).

The books that I loved the most are:

Nothing but the Truth (1991).  The story of how different perspectives on a single event can be completely misunderstood if communication isn't clear.  This book hit a little close to home for me as a teacher, but it also gave particular insight to those kids I can't ever get through to, as well as the reasoning behind some of the parental reactions I've recieved over the years.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (1990).  A thirteen-year-old girl must cross the Atlantic on a ship teetering on the brink of mutany.  A great story about doing the right thing and being the best person you can be, despite odds and social mandates.  Loved this book.

The End of the Beginning (2004).  A great story of adventure (on a very small scale) and friendship.  This book would be an excellent bedtime story to read to kids.  It's about a snail named Avon who is tired of reading about adventures and decides to set out on one, with his new-found best friend, Edward, giving him advice and company, what could possibly go wrong?  Full of funny word plays and life lessons.

22 June 2010

A Dog's Purpose - W. Bruce Cameron

First of all, I'd like to thank Di Herald and the kids who keep the Bistro Book Club in Grand Junction going throughout the summer.

For those of you who are not librarians or deeply involved in the world of books and publication, there are these AWESOME things called Advanced Reading Copies ( ARCs)  or Advanced Reading Editions (AREs).  Often times publishers will send out ARCs to booksellers, reviewers, etc.  That's how those great reviews like "Thrilling!" end up on the jackets.  Anyway, because our local book club is under the umbrella that allows students to vote on the Teen's Top Ten finalists, we get lots and lots of ARCs.  And it's because of all these ARCs that the treasure that is A Dog's Purpose ended up in my hands.

A Dog's Purpose is the story that follows one dog throughout his lives.  Yes, that's right, lives.  After his first life is cut short, he comes back again as another puppy.  And throughout the story, he tries very hard to figure out what his purpose is.  As he lives his various lives, he strives to be a 'good dog', and he also realizes that his purpose is much more complex than he thought.  The book is laugh-out-loud funny and a complete tear-jerker.  I will never look at a dog the same, and even today, when I was walking my cute doggies at the park, I couldn't help but wonder, "is that W. Bruce Cameron on to something?"

The themes in the book are seamlessly interwoven with the simple yet engaging and intriguing storyline.  I got so caught up in Bailey's thoughts and experiences I couldn't stop reading.  While reading the book, I'd stop every 45 minutes or so and just get down on the floor and play with my dogs.  I had no idea it would end the way it did (don't worry, no spoiler alert here), and I am so glad it did.

To say that I highly recommend this book is an understatement.  I adored this book and recommend it to anyone who has ever loved a dog.

It will be available for purchase on July 6th.  You can buy advanced copies, and on the website A Dog's Purpose, there is an opportunity to donate 10% of the cover price to animal charities all over the country.

And just because I can and they're cute:  here are my doggies ready for a hike:

21 June 2010

Artemis Fowl - Eoin Colfer

The only reason I chose to read this book is because the library where I am now employed had like 7 copies.  That must mean a book is good, right?
In this case, absolutely.

I really enjoyed this book and I can promise you, if it had been written when I was 13, I would have begged my parents for a pair of mirrored sunglasses and a bodyguard.

This is the story of Artemis Fowl, the son of an Irish crime lord who has disappeared.  Artemis is now in charge of the family at the young age of 12.  He is more than capable of the task of running a successful business, but his father's disappearance has left the Fowl family low on funds.  So Artemis devises a scheme to catch a leprechaun, or to be more politically correct, a LEPrecon officer.  This first book is about his capture of officer Holly Short and his bid for her ransom gold.

I enjoyed the fact that the author, Eoin (pronounced Owen), has an awesome and fresh take on something we all grew up knowing about - Leprechauns and their gold.  I also very much enjoyed the fact that the main character, Artemis, fluctuates between protagonist and antagonist throughout the entire story.  You want him to win, but he's supposed to be the bad guy.  In any case, this book is a great young adult (eh, more teen than anything) read.

So here's a little extra information about your blogger:  humor gets you everywhere with me.  Thus, two of my favorite authors are Jennifer Lancaster and Christopher Moore, both of whom understand that part of the joy of reading is a good laugh/snort/chortle out loud moment.  While creating this review, I visited Eoin Colfer's website and he made me laugh...hard.  So now I'm going to have to read all the Artemis Fowl books and probably add him to my favorite author list.  That, and he's Irish, so it's probably ok for me (a woman of legal age) to enjoy a pint of Magner's (my favorite ale) while reading his books.

Note:  if you are not 21 years or older, it is completely inappropriate for you to enjoy a pint of anything stronger than milk while reading this book.  You can, however, enjoy some lucky charms.  They're magically delicious!

Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude - Kevin O'Malley

Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude

I will say that I don't make it a habit of reading many children's books.  Mostly...because I don't have any kids.  Alright, alright, I'll admit that I think I have kids.  But they are four-legged, furry and don't care much for my reading voice.  However, for my masters program, I'm taking a class on chidren's literature (it's called Children's Literature.  Shocking, I know) and thus I've started reading lots of kids books.  And this book is the children's book to end all children's books.  I wish this book had been around when I was a kid.  It's fantastic.

 The premise of the book is that two kids - a boy and a girl - have to tell their favorite fairy tale as a library project.  The problem is they can't decide which story they want to tell, so they decide to write one together.  The girl wants to tell the story of a princess and her ponies and the evil giant that steals her ponies and the prince who saves the day.  The boy wants to tell the story of the awesome dude who rides up on his motorcycle and has some gnarly battles with the giant and ends up rich and awesome.  The two go back and forth and everything about the book changes depending on who is telling the story - as you can see from the cover.  When the girl tells the story, everything is very fairytale-esque.  When the boy tells the story its, well, dude-tastic.

Not only did the book keep me interested, my nephew was enthralled!  Last week, I read him The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, and for the rest of the day he'd chant "You can't catch me, I'm the Stinky Cheese Man!"  But when it came to reading other parts of the book, he was too busy jumping up and down and running around hoping to be caught by someone.  

However this book...wow.  He would not put it down.  He's 4, so he can't read yet, but by the end of the day I had read the book at least five times and he had re-told the story to me as many times.  He kept flipping to the different pages and telling me what was happening, and he'd also let me know who - the boy or the girl - was doing the narrating.

I'm hoping (hoping!) that this is the kind of excitement I have in store for me as a librarian.  I'm not sure, but I think watching a kid be excited about a book might just be one of the greatest things in life. I'm still young though, I'm sure I'll find other wonderful things.  For now, watching a little boy light up about a book is, as the German say vom Feinsten.

The Piano Tuner - Daniel Mason

The Piano Tuner
Daniel Mason

Once again, my book club has chosen a book that many of us will not finish and fewer of us will enjoy.  I know that I'm in the camp that finished the book, but the jury is still out as to whether I'll be on team "I enjoyed it" or not.  Admittedly, the book has an amazing premise:  A middle aged English piano tuner is summoned to Burma during the 1880's to tune a piano for an eccentric army commander.

I will say that his adventure is quite adventurous.  I did enjoy the descriptions of his travel.  It was interesting to watch as Edgar Drake tried his hardest to step out of his shy little world and experience the wonders of the Orient.  And when I consider the book from a literary stand point, I really appreciated his character.  Maybe the thing holding me back from jumping into camp "AwesomeBook" is the fact that I've read so much teen lit lately that my brain has rewired itself to only enjoy page turners that either include vampires, death matches or fairies.

And if I'm honest, in the end, Edgar really did step out of his little world and go all out for what he loved and believed in.  As for the ending?  I will say that it left me wanting more.  However, I think Edgar's entire existence left me wanting more, and that might be part of the conflict in this novel.  Edgar's passion sends him off on amazing adventures.  Is it better to follow your passion, or be safe and secure in life?

16 June 2010

Non-Book Blog: Awesome Copyright Video - A Fair(y) Use Tale

Alright, so I know that this is supposed to be a book blog. But...since I'm the queen of this here domain, I've decided to take a few liberties and add some other stuff.

Yep, that's right. As of right now, this blog will continue to be a meat & potatoes blog about books and my review of them. However, from time to time, I'm going to add a side dish of book/library related stuff. Like this Awesome video about copyright.

I don't know a ton about copyright and fair use, but I will admit that I'm learning so much so quickly in grad school. A fellow librarian here in Grand Junction was actually charged with (accused of? I don't know the proper terminology, but whatevs) copyright infringement a few years ago.  Because of that, we're all a bit more aware of copyright laws and making sure our kids live within them.  Ok...so some of us (read: I) try to be more aware, but most of the time I feel like I'm swimming up-river with lead in my pockets.  I do think this video explains copyright laws and fair use practices pretty well, and it's durn creative!

10 June 2010

House of Night Series - P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast

House of Night Series
P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast

Alright, I'll admit it.  I'm a teen lit freak.  One of the best parts of my new job as a middle school librarian is that I get to read all kinds of teen lit in the name of "professional research".  The truth is that I love teen lit!  Since these books are written for teenagers, the reading level is easy enough for me to fly through the book, but the interest level is high enough to keep me reading until both legs have fallen asleep under me and the dogs are begging to go outside.

Having said that...here are my thoughts on the House of Night books I've read so far:

I could not put this book down.  I think this book will have (and already has had) the same effect on teenage girls as the Twilight series.  Marked is the story of Zoey Redbird and her "adventures" of becoming a vampyre.  In Zoey's world, vampyres share the world with humans, and you don't become a vampyre by drinking vampyre blood or being bitten - you're marked.  Zoey is not a typical fledgling (vampyre in training) - and it's her special gifts plus her very cool Native American heritage that propel her to great things in the first book.  It's like Twilight meets Harry Potter (I guarantee I'm not the first person to make that comparison, so please don't give me any originality credit), and I loved both Twilight (there will be a life-sized Edward cutout in my library this fall...you wait, it's coming) and HP.  If I'm honest, though, I'd pick both Twilight and HP over Marked.  Why?  Because Marked, in my opinion, is a bit too racy for teens (especially middle school - which is the world I live in now).  If you take the time to boil down the lessons in the book, they actually are great for teens - doing the right thing, being yourself no matter what, choosing friends based on their positive traits not their popularity, etc.  However, it's kind of difficult to see these lessons clearly amidst the general teenager backstabbing and gossip and rampant fledgling sex-drive. Holy cow are these young vamps all freakin' boy- and girlcrazy!
So students - read wisely and remember:  kissing and any further physical contact should be saved for marriage.
Parents:  if these books are the books that get your kids interested in books, let them read.  Just remember to remind them that kissing makes babies.

This book was also a page turner - it was definitely more suspenseful than Marked.  However, I'm worried about that Zoey Redbird.  She has boys falling all over her, and she's only been a fledgling for like two months!  Don't they have vampyre health classes where they teach their fledglings to keep their hands to themselves?  I will not lie, I don't know any girl who had to juggle three boys at once during high school.  This could be because I was a complete dork in my teen years, but still.  The amount of hormones in this book is shocking.  The storyline is excellent, so I do suggest reading it.  If you enjoyed Marked, I doubt you'll be able to avoid reading Betrayed.  However, I can honestly say that I'm a little nervous to continue the series with Chosen

09 June 2010

Diary of a Wimpy Kid - Jeff Kinney

Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Jeff Kinney

If you are a wimp or a kid, you should read this book.  Greg Heffley is an average kid who has visions of grandeur.  His mom buys him a journal (which he REFUSES to call a diary - diaries are for girls) and encourages him to write down his feelings and thoughts.  The result is half graphic novel, half  fictional memoir of the trials of life in middle school.
I'll openly admit it, this is the first teen lit book I've ever read that made me laugh out loud.  Not only are the illustrations hysterical, Greg's honest voice is compelling to both teens and adults.  Teenagers will be able to completely identify with Greg, even laugh with him and adults will reminisce and think "I remember when...".

I can honestly say I understand teenage boys a little better now!

The Namesake - Jhumpa Lahiri

The Namesake
Jhumpa Lahiri

This book was a very interesting read for many reasons.  First - it's written by a Pulitzer Prize winning author.  After my experiences with The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, I am a little leery of Pulitzer Prize winners (call me a literary whimp...I like things to move fast and words to be a) in English and b) comprehensible).  But The Namesake was a great read.
 Though was slow at times, I think Jhumpa Lahiri did an excellent job of unraveling the difficulties that face immigrants and their children.  I don't know much about the Bengali culture, but I do know what it's like to live in a foreign culture and miss your home culture.  Though my travels are always voluntary, I could sympathize with Ashima's frustrations and sorrows - especially at the beginning of the book when she is attempting to replicate the snack she missed from home (I used to ply American soliders with homemade dinner so they would take me to the Commisary on the base so that I could buy Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and real ranch dressing) and the fears associated with medical care in a foreign country.
I don't know much about arranged marriages, but I think - and feel free to disagree with me - that part of Moushumi and Gogol's relationship woes came from their cultural background.  From what I do know about arranged marriages, the family is very involved, and when you're close with your family, they're more than likely to pick an excellent spouse.  The familial roles were clearly defined by tradition, so moving into a marriage and family life was not necessarily easy, but maybe more instinctual for Ashima and Ashoke.  But Gogol and Moushumi were not as close to their parents, and their tradition was completely upended in that they lived in America and had to mold two cultures into their own.  Therefore an arranged marriage would have been difficult (possibly disasterous).  On the other hand, their parents had no experience in dating and building relationships, and could not give them any advice/help.

In any case, I would recommend this book with the caveat that it can be slow at times, but Jhumpa Lahiri does a wonderful job of shedding a little light on what it's like to be an immigrant.

01 June 2010

If I am Missing or Dead - Janine Latus

If I am Missing or Dead
Janine Latus

This was one of those books I bought while on a book binge at Barnes and Noble. I see those tables that advertise books for under $5 and it's like crack cocaine (I learned today that these books are called 'remainders' from my library Guru, Di Herald). I'll buy anything sitting on the table! I won't lie, most of the time the books I buy from the cheap table aren't that great, but this one was pretty darn good.

It is Janine's memoir, and it is the story of her life and struggles with abusive relationships, and the story of the abusive relationship that ultimately took her sister Amy's life. What I truly enjoyed about the book is that Janine does not shy away from all sides of abuse, and I'm not sure if I can clearly explain how she did this. I never felt like Janine was painting a picture of herself as the victim, but she definitely suffered from verbal and physical abuse from her former spouse. She wrote in such a way as to cause the reader to think "why did she put up with that crap", maybe because she now sees that she shouldn't have. If you visit her page, you'll see that she is an advocate for victims of domestic abuse and has done quite a bit of work for this cause.

My life has been pretty awesome - I've had very few terrible events happen in my life. It's books like these that help me remember to be thankful for my blessings and remember to keep those who are in terrible situations in my prayers.

31 May 2010

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress
Rhoda Janzen

This book was a fun read. I believe that who we are is a compilation of the events in our lives and how we react to them and learn from them. This witty and touching memoir is a testament to the fact that life is what you make of it, and that true family is always with us and there for us.

The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty

The Memory of Running
Ron McLarty

This book was recommended to me by my dear friend Katy. I've learned over the years that if Katy recommends it, it will be a good read. This is the story of Smithy Ide - a young man who has drifted through life with, in my opinion, very little purpose. He grew up helping his parents take care of his schizophrenic sister, Bethany, and instead of going after the things he wanted, he just allowed life to happen to him. When his parents suddenly die in a car accident, he sets off on his old bicycle from Rhode Island to California, and unknowingly figures himself out along the way.

I liked the writing style - the chapters switch between present and past, giving the reader the feeling of experiencing current events and memories just as Smithy would. I wasn't a huge fan of the ending - it was a little scripted/obvious. But it was still a worthwhile read.