Monday, April 28, 2008

Weekly Geeks No. 1

Hosted by Dewey of The Hidden Side of the Leaf.

Task for Week One: Discover New Blogs.

Visiting participants' blogs I've never visiting before:

  • Ann Darton at Table Talk
    (Ann's got a very pretty blog, made on a Mac.)

  • janiejane at So many book reviews...
    (janiejane loved Life As We Knew It and is hoping to participate in Becky's online book discussion in May. I picked the book up at the library and am hoping to participate too.)

  • Ravenous Reader at Bookstack
    (it appears that ravenous reader likes to post without using capital letters, just like i sometimes do!)

  • Ashleigh at Random Field Notes
    (Ashleigh, who is currently living in the UK, has a "definition" of herself in the sidebar that I loved and a fun post about Peeps. She does also blog about books.)

  • The Literate Kitten
    (The subtitle of LK's blog is "A splendiforous smorgasbordial smattering of ideas to promote literature, literacy and all things literary." How can you not love that?!)

  • Mrs S at 50 Book Challenge
    (Mrs S seems to be a busy book blogger with lots of things going on. She's also a fan of Jodi Picoult, like me.)

  • Katherine at A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore
    (Katherine has an interesting quote in her sidebar from Steve Jobs about the new Amazon Kindle product: “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore.” Well, we're showing him he's wrong, aren't we?!)

  • Kristi at Passion for the Page
    (Kristi's blog has a red roses theme - my favorite flower! I'd actually visited Kristi once before - via a link in the Spring Reading Thing - but it'll be fun to make Kristi one of my regular reads.)

Well, that's eight new book blogs for me to visit, find recommendations from, and compare notes with. Woohoo!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

342,752 Ways to Herd Cats
(or tl;dr)

I've been diligently avoiding any new challenges.
Until now.

Host: Renay (aka bottle_of_shine)

Time Frame: May 1 - November 30

Basic Premise: List ten beloved books. Then choose at least three books from other participants' lists to read. Write reviews of the books read.

Links: Bloggers' Reading Lists and Master Reading List (alphabetical - with 416 entries as of this moment) and Renay's Explanation (with all the details)

~ten of alisonwonderland's all-time favorite books~
  • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
    (I reviewed this young adult graphic novel here.)

  • Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian
    (Bohajalian is a favorite author of mine. His website is here.)

  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
    (I reviewed this young adult novel here.)

  • The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
    (This life-changing account of two Dutch sisters during World War II was first published in the 1970s. I first read it four or five years ago and couldn't believe I'd never read it before.)

  • A Live Coal in the Sea by Madeleine L'Engle
    (I loved L'Engle's children's books when I was young, and when I stumbled upon this novel for adults on a bookstore discount table, it immediately became an all-time favorite. I love its exploration of what God's grace is and what God expects of us.)

  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman
    (Right after we saw the film, some friends and I walked to a bookstore to buy the book. Both the film and the book are favorites of mine!)

  • Replay by Ken Grimwood
    (I reviewed this time travel novel here.)

  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
    (I wrote a little about why I love this novel here.)

  • Small Change: The Secret Life of Penny Burford
    by J. Belinda Yandell
    (I mentioned this short but meaningful novel here. This just might be my all-time very most favorite book ever.)

  • Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
    (I told a little about this young adult novel when I picked it for the "Something About Me" Challenge last year - here - and I reviewed the sequel here.)

That I love this video is one of the reasons why I just have to join this challenge!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Weekly Geeks

I was just over at SomeReads and discovered that the creative, talented Dewey is at it again: Weekly Geeks is her latest idea, and I just have to participate! You should go check it out too (if you haven't signed up already)!

Someone Like Summer by M. E. Kerr

Published in 2007. 263 pages.

Several months ago, not knowing anything about either the book or the author except what I read on the jacket flaps, I picked up Someone Like Summer from the Young Adult section of my local library. My 17-year-old daughter read it and told me she thought I'd like it too. Following my read of Speak, I wanted another good YA novel, so I decided to give this one a try. Unfortunately, despite my desire to love it, I just didn't.

First sentence: The first time I saw Esteban, he was kicking a soccer ball down a field behind the Accabonac School.

Last sentence: He said, "Yes. Family."

Basic plot summary: An upper-middle-class white girl from Long Island and an immigrant worker from Colombia fall in love despite objections from both their families and their community.

Why I just didn't love this book: Among the reasons I just couldn't fall in love with this book - despite what I thought was a premise with great potential - are the following:

  • Except for several references to President Bush and the Iraq War, and also a reference to Hurricane Katrina, I felt like I was more in the 1950s (√† la West Side Story) than in 2005. What could have been a highly topical current political issue fell flat for me.

  • The storyline was mostly bland. While there were a few interesting secondary characters, I wasn't drawn into their lives, and Annabel and Esteban didn't really have the chemistry that I'd like to feel in a good "Romeo and Juliet" story. Their story wasn't particularly compelling.

  • Annabel's voice didn't seem nearly as "real" to me as, say, Melinda's in Speak. It just didn't resonate the same way.


Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

Published in 2008. 447 pages.

Change of Heart is Jodi Picoult's fifteenth novel. Of the fifteen, I've read eleven to date, and Picoult has become one of my favorite authors. Here is the book trailer:

Change of Heart has all the things I love about Picoult's work: thought-provoking topics, alternating points of view, and the use of symbolism. Coincidentally, the Picoult novel I read most recently before this one was Keeping Faith, which also dealt with religion, and one of the primary characters from Keeping Faith is featured in Change of Heart.

Picoult has written an interesting "story behind the story" for her website. That same webpage also has book club discussion questions and references for more information about both the death penalty and the Gnostic Gospels.

There are several interesting epigraphs for sections of the book. And, given my name, I just have to share the epigraph for the whole book:
Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said. One can't believe impossible things."
"I dare say you haven't had as much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age I did it for half an hour a day. Why sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
      - Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass

Here is a favorite quote from the book:
Finding God's grace wasn't like locating missing keys or the forgotten name of a 1940s pinup girl - it was more of a feeling: the sun breaking through an overcast morning, the softest bed sinking under your weight. And, of course, you couldn't find God's grace unless you admitted you were lost.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Originally published in 1966.
Co-winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1966.
Audio book performed by Jeff Woodman.

Although I remember friends reading Flowers for Algernon in high school, for some reason, I never did. But earlier this year, I decided to put it on my What's in a Name? challenge list. Because I recently had to make a three-hour-plus drive to do some training, I decided to get the book on tape from the library so I'd have something to listen to while I drove. I ended up listening to the other six hours a little at a time while commuting, traveling to my dentist (about 30 miles from my home), and driving the "mom taxi" to pick up my kids.

If you are not familiar with the premise of the book, the plot is basically that a 32-year-old retarded man named Charlie Gordon undergoes a surgical experiment to increase his IQ, as it has for the lab mouse, Algernon. Charlie keeps a journal of progress reports to record the changes this experiment creates in my mind and in his life.

I'm very glad I've now "read" this book. I think it's an important one, and I would recommend that everyone read it. It made me incredibly sad, however. This was both because of the treatment Charlie receives from his family when he was a young boy and from his co-workers now that he is an adult and because of the difficulties his new-found intelligence brings and the ultimate outcome of the experiment. A review at summarizes my response well: "Flowers for Algernon is a timeless tear-jerker with a terrific emotional impact."

Flowers for Algernon is on the American Library Association's list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000. The most frequent reason for the challenges relates to Charlie's sexuality. For a thoughtful review of the book by a mom who recommended it to her twelve-year-old daughter despite the "distasteful sexual scenes" (in the words of some censors), click here; even the title of the review is terrific: "Flowers for Algernon, Stinkweeds for the Censors!"


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Published in 1999. 198 pages.
2000 Printz Honor Book.

First sentence: It is my first morning of high school.

Last sentence: "Let me tell you about it."

Basic storyline: A traumatic event near the end of the summer has a devastating effect on Melinda's freshman year in high school.

Why I read this book: I put this book on my to-read list last year when I found out about Laurie Halse Anderson's work at The Hidden Side of a Leaf. (Here is Dewey's 2006 review of Speak.) I even picked the book up at the library, but other things took priority and I didn't get to it before I had to return it. As I was compiling 2008 challenge lists, I put Speak on my lists for the Cardathon, the Printz Award Challenge, Every Month is a Holiday, and the Young Adult Challenge. I was determined to read Speak at some point this year! Luckily for me, the host of my IRL book club choose Speak for our April group meeting - and the rest is history.

Why I loved this book: There are several reasons why I really loved this book. First, Melinda's voice is the perfect mix of sarcastic wit and honest pain. She is just so "real." Second, the subtle symbolism and literary references were so great. My favorite was a poster of Maya Angelou on the door of Melinda's secret hide-away; like Melinda, Angelou suffered a trauma as a child and stopped speaking for a time. Third, Anderson's writing is just so powerful. Here is a passage that my IRL book group host particularly liked:

Our frog lies on her back. Waiting for a prince to come and princessify her with a smooch? I stand over her with my knife. Ms. Keen's voice fades to a mosquito whine. My throat closes off. It is hard to breather. I put out my hand to steady myself against the table. David pins her froggy hands to the dissection tray. He spreads her froggy legs and pins her froggy feet. I have to slice open her belly. She doesn't say a word. She is already dead. A scream starts in my gut - I can feel the cut, smell the dirt, leaves in my hair.

Finally, I loved this book because it deals with a serious, important issue with such humor.

A note about censorship: Because of its controversial subject matter, Speak has been challenged in a number of schools. The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) reports that "according to Anderson, in almost all the challenges she has heard about, the book remained in the curriculum." Read more about the challenges Speak faces and about Anderson's efforts to fight censorship at The Banned Books Project. (One of the posts there about Speak is mine.)


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Writing Challenge

  • Pick up the nearest book. (I’m sure you must have one nearby.)

  • Turn to page 123.

  • What is the first sentence on the page?

  • The last sentence on the page?

  • Now . . . connect them together.

I'm currently reading the young adult novel Someone Like Summer by M.E. Kerr. The first complete sentence on page 123 is "Antolin finally looked up, paused to regard us for a moment, then shouted a question in Spanish." The last complete sentence is "He took my hand and winked at me." So what can I do with that?
Antolin finally looked up, paused to regard us for a moment, then shouted a question in Spanish. If I had paid more attention in Spanish class, I might have understood what he was saying. As it was, I could only stand and return his gaze. If I looked at him long enough, would he realize that I didn't understand? Or would he simply wait for a reply? After a new minutes, I timidly murmured, "No habla Espanol." Antolin smiled. "Actually, neither do I," he said. He took my hand and winked at me.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Published in 2008. 372 pages.

People of the Book was March's selection for Book Buddies. I was not familiar with either the book or the author before this, but I am very glad that I participated!

The novel, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March, is an imagined history of the Hebrew codex known as the Sarajevo Haggadah. A story about Aussie book conservator Hanna Heath is interspersed with five stories about the Hebrew manuscript itself, moving backward through time from World War II to 1480.

Other than some mild disappointment by the ending of the book, I enjoyed this novel greatly. To me the message both of People of the Book and the Sarajevo Haggadah is summarized well by Ozren, one of the book's characters:

You know I am not a religious man. But Hanna, I have spent many nights, lying awake here in this room, thinking that the haggadah came to Sarajevo for a reason. It was here to test us, to see if there were people who could see that what united us was more than what divided us. That to be a human being matters more than to be a Jew or a Muslim, Catholic or Orthodox. [p. 361]

You can see my responses to some of the Book Buddies discussion questions about People of the Book (and some of our other reads too) here. But be forewarned: there are spoilers there, as the discussion is based on the premise that the participants have already read the book.