Friday, January 25, 2008

Nothing but the Truth (and a Few White Lies)
by Justina Chen Headley

Published in 2006. 241 pages.

First sentence: While every other freshman is at the Spring Fling tonight, I have a date with an old lady whose thumb is feeling up my belly button.

Last sentence: And that is the whole yin-yang truth about me, the one and only Patricia Yi-Phen Ho.

Brief summary of the plot (from Headley's website): Hapa (Half Asian and half white) Patty Ho has never felt completely at home in her skin. Life at House Ho is tough enough between her ultra-strict Taiwanese mom (epic-length lectures and all) and her Harvard-bound big brother. But things get worse when a Chinese fortune teller channels Patty's future via her bellybutton ... and divines a white guy on her horizon. Her mom then freaks out and ships her off to math camp at Stanford. Yes, math camp. Just as Patty writes off her summer of woe, life starts glimmering with all kinds of probabilities.

Why I read this book: I was looking for Asian or Asian-American authors for the Expanding Horizons Challenge when I stumbled upon Justina Chen Headley. Nothing but the Truth, which won the 2007 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature, was her debut novel. It appealed to me greatly, and I decided that it would be a perfect for both Expanding Horizons and the Young Adult Challenge.

Connecting with this book: One of the reasons this book first appealed to me is that I am the (white) mother of two Hapa daughters (and a Hapa son) whom I want to feel comfortable with - even celebratory about - their "halfness." I think I fell in love with Patty Ho when I read this on Headley's website:

Why did you write Nothing but the Truth (and a Few White Lies)?
A couple of years ago, I took my kids to the Children’s Museum. A group of teens hung-twung-wung’ed us (you know, mocked us with pseudo-Chinese). That night, my character, Patty Ho, started giving a soliloquy about what it feels like not to fit in either at home with her ultra-strict Taiwanese mom or at her high school. Her observations were so wry, I started to laugh, which probably accounts for why the other runners on my path veered out of my way (or not).

I also felt connected with this book because of the math camp aspect - since I am a bit of a math geek myself, as well as the daughter of a (female) math geek, the sister of a (female) math geek, and the mother of a (female) math geek. Finally, despite my "wholeness" as a Caucasian, I can relate well (as I suspect many people can) to feelings of not quite fitting in, of being "other." This is a great read for anyone who relates to that!

For more information: Justine Chen Headley's fun website is here. There is information there about her second young adult novel Girl Overboard, which is definitely on my to-read list. You might also want to check out the great review of Nothing but the Truth that Jen Robinson, who chose it as one of her favorite books of 2007, wrote (it's here).


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker

Published in 2006. 136 pages.
Pictures by Marla Frazee.

First sentence: I have had not so good of a week.

Basic premise of the book: Clementine is an "after-eight"-year-old third grader with red hair. She lives in an apartment building with her parents - her father manages the building, and her mother is an artist - and with her little brother - whom she calls things like Spinach and Radish, on the basis that if she has to live with a fruit name, then he can have a vegetable name. Her best friend Margaret also lives in the building. Clementine is often told to "pay attention" but believes that she is the only one who is paying attention - for example, she's the only one who was paying attention out the window during the Pledge of Allegiance and saw the lunchroom lady kissing the janitor. Clementine likes to say, "Okay, fine." As it says on the book jacket, "Sara Pennypacker and Marla Frazee have created a quirky, hilarious, and altogether unforgettable character in Clementine."

Why I read this book: Clementine was this month's pick for the mother-daughter book club, hosted by our local library, that Sugar Plum and I have been attending.

What I thought of this book: An absolute delight! I truly laughed out loud, and my heart was warmed.

To whom would I recommend this book: I've already recommended it to my sister for her six-year-old twin girls. I'm hoping that Sugar Bear will also read it. I think most children ages six to eleven would enjoy it, and that moms - like me - would enjoy it too. One additional book in the series has already been published - The Talented Clementine - with Clementine's Letter due out this year.


Friday, January 18, 2008

"T" is for Trespass by Sue Grafton

Published in 2007. 387 pages.
Twentieth novel in the Alphabet Series (Starring Kinsey Millhone).

I have been a fan of Kinsey Millhone for quite a long time, and I was eager to read "T" is for Trespass. This latest entry in the series did not disappoint!

Kinsey fans know that the books end with a note from the private investigator. I don't think I will giving anything away by quoting the final paragraph as my summary of the novel:

I don't want to think about predators. I know they exist, but I prefer to focus on the best in human nature: compassion, generosity, a willingness to come to the aid of those in need. The sentiment may seem absurd, given our daily ration of news stories detailing thievery, assault, rape, murder, and other treacheries. To the cynics among us, I must sound like an idiot, but I do hold to the good, working wherever possible to separate the wicked from that which profits them. There will always be someone poised to take advantage of the vulnerable: the very young, the very old, and the innocent of any age. Though I know this from long experience, I refuse to feel discouraged. In my own unassuming way, I know I can make a difference. You can as well.
              Respectfully submitted,
              Kinsey Millhone

Find out more about "T" is for Trespass on the author's website here.


The Giver by Lois Lowry

Published in 1993.
Awarded the Newbery Medal in 1994.
Audio book performed by Ron Rifkin.

This was actually a re-read for me - of a book that immediately became an all-time favorite when I read it several years ago on the recommendation of a friend. I planned to re-read The Giver this month for the Yahoo! Book Awards Group, as well as to refresh my memory of it before reading Gathering Blue, the second book in what Lowry's website calls simply "The Trilogy." (I have also heard the set of three books, which also includes Messenger, referred to as "companion books.")

Because I was looking for a book to listen to during my commute and because I have several times in the past gotten a new perspective and enhanced enjoyment from hearing a book after my initial read, I picked up the Book on CD version of The Giver when I was at the library last week. I found the book to be just as tremendous the second time through - and Ron Rifkin's performance was delightful.

The Giver is the kind of book that makes you think - and which continues to stimulate thought on a re-read. The themes of choice, freedom, and diversity are powerfully explored in the novel. I think my emotional reaction was even more profound on hearing the story of Jonas, the young protagonist of the book, than when I read it. The Giver will continue to be an all-time favorite of mine!

Sadly, The Giver is on the ALA's list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Challenged Books of 1990-2000. Read more about the challenges faced by the book here.


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Reading Full Circle

Back on November 11, I posted about Joy's Reading Full Circle Challenge. I'd intended to put together my list and update that post - but it's been so long now, that I decided I ought to make an entirely new post.

By way of review: The purpose of this challenge is to have fun with words and see how your books are linked together. To play, use the common words from six or more book titles to connect each title with the following title. The last title in the list needs to share a word with the first title making it a full circle.

Making the list was the fun part of the challenge - and the challenging part too! And, yes, I got a little bit out of control. So here are my three lists, with notations of the challenge(s) for which I'm reading each book:

    A Short Guide to a Happy Life

    Happy Birthday or Whatever: Track Suits, Kim Chee, and Other Family Disasters
    (Young Adult and 888)

    Life and Times of Michael K
    (Man Booker)

    Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog
    (Book Awards)

    The Goose Girl
    (Cardathon, Young Adult, and Celebrate the Author)

    Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her
    (Themed Reading, Cardathon, and 888)

    Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History
    (Back to History and Every Month is a Holiday)

    A Short History of Nearly Everything
    (Leftover from "Something About Me")
    John Lennon: All I Want Is the Truth
    (Printz Award, Young Adult, In Their Shoes, and 888)

    I Killed Adolf Hitler
    (Graphic Novels)

    Hitler's Daughter

    Life on the Refrigerator Door: Notes Between a Mother and Daughter
    (Every Month is a Holiday)

    Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation
    (Back to History)

    Lost and Found
    (justforthehelluvit [although if i've now put the book on this list, maybe it no longer qualifies!]; regardless, the book comes highly recommended by Florinda)

    The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America
    (Back to History)

    Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies)
    (Young Adult and Expanding Horizons)
    The Book Thief
    (Themed Reading, Printz Award, Young Adult, and 888)

    The Gathering
    (Man Booker)

    Gathering Blue
    (Young Adult and 888)

    Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant
    (In Their Shoes, 888, and What's in a Name?)

    A Beautiful Mind
    (Leftover from Book to Movie)

    Morality for Beautiful Girls
    (Addition to Series)

    The Other Boleyn Girl

    The Other Side of the Sun
    (Celebrate the Author)

    A Thousand Splendid Suns
    (Expanding Horizons)

    Book of a Thousand Days
    (Young Adult and 888)

Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff

Published in 2002. 166 pages.
2003 Newbery Honor Book.

First sentence: This picture has a dollop of peanut butter on one edge, a smear of grape jelly on the other, and an X across the whole thing.

Plot summary: Hollis Woods is a twelve-year-old girl who, abandoned as a baby, has spent her life running away from foster homes. Two recent placements find special spots in the pictures she draws - and in her heart - and Hollis will never be the same.

From the book jacket: Patricia Reilly Giff captures the yearning for a place to belong in this warm-hearted story, which stresses the importance of artistic vision, creativity, and above all, family.

Why I read this book: Pictures of Hollis Woods was the January pick for Book Buddies. My daughter Sugar Plum had already read it; in fact, it was the pick for our mother-daughter book club a couple of years ago. For some reason, I didn't have a chance to read it then, so I jumped at the opportunity to read it now. Additionally, it is perfect for my "Oh, To Be Young Again" category for the 888 Challenge. Of course, I'm also counting it for the Winter Reading Challenge.

What I thought: Pictures of Hollis Woods is a sweet and tender story, creatively told. I highly recommend it for older children as well as for adults!


Friday, January 11, 2008

Specials by Scott Westerfeld

Published in 2006. 372 pages.

Specials is the third book in the young adult science fiction Uglies trilogy. The storyline nicely completed the saga of Tally Youngblood, but I found the telling to be a bit uneven. Some of it was fast-moving and exciting, and, like with the other books, I thought the social commentary - which included not only society's obsession with appearance but also the concept of choice and the idiocy of war - was superb. But other parts seemed too much of the "same old thing," and I thought maybe the series was continuing on too long. The ending was great, however, and I've heard good things about the fourth book - Extras - so I'm eager to read more.

Before I read Uglies, Pretties, and Specials, Scott Westerfeld was an "unread author" for me. With Extras, that'll be four of the six books required for the Unread Authors Challenge. I am going to also count Specials for the Winter Reading Challenge, the Young Adult Challenge and my "Oh, To Be Young Again!" category of the 888.


Chunky Isn't Always Bad

Think Pink Dana saw a void in the reading challenge world so she's filling it with the Chunkster Challenge 2008. Running from January 7 through December 20, the challenge requires at least four books of at least 450 pages in length. (By the way, I've shamelessly borrowed Dana's post title for my own post. I find her sense of humor delightful!)

Here are my four selections:

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (560 pages)

  • Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer (reportedly about 600 pages, although it's also reportedly not yet completed - so I may have to make a substitution, as I will if its release comes too late)

  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1276 pages)

  • Possession by B. S. Byatt (576 pages)

Three of these four are already on other challenge lists, and The Count of Monte Cristo is a book that one my reading friends has been encouraging me to read for a while - mostly recently again last night! - so I might as well give it a try!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Man Booker Challenge

One of the new things I learned this past year from my participation in the fun, adventurous world of book challenges is that there are many book awards that I'd never heard of before. One of those is the Man Booker Prize. "Now in its 40th year, the prize aims to reward the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland." Dewey is hosting a Man Booker Challenge for 2008, and since I've already got several prize winners on my to-read list, I might as well join in the fun and get "credit" for reading them. (A list of the prize winners since 1969 can be found here.)

My Probable List
  • The Gathering by Anne Enright (2007)

  • Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner (1984)

  • The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (2006)

  • Life and Times of Michael K by J. M. Coetzee (1983)

  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2002)

  • Possession by A. S. Byatt (1990)

I Don't Usually Read Graphic Novels

When Graphic Novels Challenge host Dewey first announced this challenge for 2008, she said, "I really hope that some people who don’t usually read graphic novels will consider joining." Since that statement certainly fits me, I decided I ought to take on the challenge!

The requirement is to pick six graphic novels and read them during 2008. There is a challenge blog here. My preliminary picks are as follows:

  • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
    This one was the 2007 Printz Award Winner - so I can count it "double".

  • Book Club: An Unshelved Collection
    by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum
    I found this comic strip collection on the graphic novels section of my local library and thought it looked perfect for me!

  • Cardcaptor Sakura 1 by Clamp
    My daughters (17yo and almost 12yo) are big fans of Sakura so I thought I ought to check her out.

  • I Killed Adolf Hitler by Jason
    I saw this one on Dewey's blog - and since I love time-travel stories, I decided to add it to the list. (In the same post, Dewey also listed Fox Bunny Funny by Andy Hartzell, which also intrigues me.)

  • Fashion Kitty Versus the Fashion Queen
    by Charise Mericle Harper
    The only graphic novel I have ever read before is Fashion Kitty, so I ought to read this sequel, right?

  • Wonder Woman: Love and Murder by Jodi Picoult
    When I discovered that my favorite new-to-me author of 2007 had written a graphic novel - about Wonder Woman, no less! - I had to include it on this list.

Christmas Jars by Jason F. Wright

Published in 2005. 122 pages.

My December reading goals were woefully over-enthusiastic, and just today I finally read Christmas Jars, which was sent to me by the publisher for review. I sincerely wish I'd gotten to it sooner.

This short novel is a touching reminder of the joy of family and the spirit of Christmas. Curled up under a blanket my mother recently made for me, I had tears rolling down my face as I finished the book. It was well worth the read - even (or maybe especially) a week past the Christmas hoopla, since the message of loving our fellow beings is not one just for Christmas.

The story suggests a great Christmas tradition, but it really is one that starts right after Christmas. So if you're looking for a way to make Christmas more meaningful this coming December, take a look at Christmas Jars now. You can also check out the book website and the author's blog.


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Reading the Newbery Award Winners

Back in May, I signed up to participate in Nattie's Newbery Challenge. Sadly, Nattie is no longer with us, but Heather is keeping her memory and her love of books alive at The Nattie Challenge. (By the way, Heather just posted an "easy peasy" challenge for January. Check it out!)

Because I over-committed myself with challenges that ended on December 31, the Newbery Challenge is one I did not complete. I do have some Newbery winners on my list for the Book Awards Reading Challenge, though, and I've joined the Newbery Project to read all of them.

"Something About Me" in Review

The "Something About Me" Challenge, hosted by Lisa of Breaking the Fourth Wall, was an absolutely fabulous experience. From conception to completion, Lisa did an amazing job - and I am looking forward to the encore later this year. By way of review:

The Books "About Me"

All of a Kind Family
Gift from the Sea
Just Ella
Winter Wheat

The Books I Read

Evening Class
Harvesting the Heart
The Historian
Oh My Goth
So Many Books, So Little Time
The Thirteenth Tale
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
The View from Saturday

There are so many other books involved in this challenge that I wish I'd had time for! I added many to my to-read list, and it'll be fun to return to the challenge blog and remind myself about the book lovers who chose them as being "something about me."

Reading the Author Wrap-Up

The host of the Reading the Author Challenge, verbivore, has some questions to wrap up the challenge that she'd like the participants to answer. So here we go!

Why this particular challenge? Well, besides being generally challenge-addicted, I really enjoy "getting into" an author. I've done it multiple times in the past, and I'd done a similar challenge earlier in the year when I created my Summer Reading Challenge list - choosing five novels by Jodi Picoult.

Which author and why? I decided to carry on with my Jodi Picoult experience, since I'd read seven of her fourteen (to date) novels and want to read them all. An American writer, Picoult, who is currently 41, lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children. (By the way, I found site with a pronunciation guide for "Picoult" here.)

Which books did you read? Specifically for this challenge, I read the following:

(Links are to my reviews.) I've read a total of ten Picoult novels over the past year.

Which would you recommend for someone trying this author for the first time? My first Picoult novel was My Sister's Keeper, and I think it remains my favorite. Therefore, that's the one I'd recommend. (The book club of my church women's group is reading My Sister's Keeper for January. I don't think many of the women have read Picoult before, so it'll be fun to get their reaction.)

How would you characterize this writer or the books? In Picoult's own words:
I hate being pigeonholed. I have always been called a women's author, but I have loads of male fans, and I think you can legitimately label my novels as legal thrillers, mysteries, romances, or plain old fiction. I think you can consider my books literary, because they make you think, or commercial, because they are a compelling read. Marketing departments like to label authors with just one tag, so that they know how to promote a book, but I think the best books straddle genres and attract a variety of readers. I'd like to think this is one reason my books appeal to people - because I give them something different every time.

Does that answer the question? If I have to pin it down to a few words, I might use a phrase from the back cover of Keeping Faith: "controversial and compelling." In my review of The Pact, I included a quote from Picoult about the idea of using fiction to examine moral and ethical questions - and that is what she does.

A big thanks to verbivore for a fun challenge!

Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult

Published in 1999. 422 pages.

I was determined to finish a tenth Jodi Picoult novel in 2007 - to reach a total of 77 books for the year and to complete the Reading the Author Challenge. (Challenge host verbivore actually already gave me credit for finishing the challenge, since I'd read nine Jodi Picoult novels this year - but since I had read only two of those since the official start of the challenge, I really wanted to finish the challenge "fair and square.") I was even willing to cheat just a little, and if I finished Keeping Faith last night after midnight but before I went to bed, I was going to count it for 2007. But, alas, I was too sleepy - and I ended up reading the last forty or so pages this morning after I woke up. I am going to consider that I completed the Reading the Author Challenge - and my wrap-up post will be here - but since my policy has been to record books in the month I finish them, Keeping Faith will be my first book of 2008!

I had planned to read Picture Perfect for this last challenge spot - but since a friend had lent me Keeping Faith, I decided I ought to read it first, so I can get it returned. From the description on the back of the book, I wasn't sure how well I was going to like this one. This is an excerpt from the description:

In the aftermath of a sudden divorce, Mariah struggles with depression and [her daughter] Faith begins to confide in an imaginary friend. At first, Mariah dismissed these exchanges as a child's imagination. But when Faith starts reciting passages from the Bible, develops stigmata, and begins to perform miraculous healings, Mariah wonders if her daughter - a girl with no religious background - might actually be seeing God.

I guess I worried - as a believing person - that the religious aspects of the story might not be approached with respect. I should have realized that I did not have been concerned, since in all of Picoult's books that I have read to date, she has handled well a variety of sensitive and difficult issues.

I ended up enjoying Keeping Faith very much. I particularly liked that in Faith's vision of God, God is female. I'm not quite sure about the ending; in some ways it was anticlimatic. But I do think that Keeping Faith makes the top half of my Picoult novel rankings.