Friday, February 29, 2008

Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Published in 2007. 274 pages.

Love, Stargirl, the sequel to Stargirl, was released last summer. I was eagerly anticipating the opportunity to read it, but when the chance first came, I hesitated. I think that because I love Stargirl so much - it's an all-time favorite of mine, one of the few books I've read more than once - I was afraid I'd be disappointed with this sequel. So I put it off.

Just before Christmas, my mom took my kids and me to the bookstore to pick out a few gifts - she has given books as Christmas presents for as long as I can remember - and I saw Love, Stargirl on the shelf. Mom bought it for me. I was excited to have it - but still put off reading it for a while.

The birthday of author Jerry Spinelli is February 1. I'd included Spinelli on my possibles list for the Celebrate the Author Challenge, so I decided that to "celebrate" Spinelli I would read Love, Stargirl during February. And I did.

The entire novel is basically a letter from Stargirl to Leo, whom she left back in Arizona at the end of Stargirl.

Dear Leo,
I love beginnings. If I were in charge of calendars, every day would be January 1.
And what better way to celebrate this New Year's Day than to begin writing a letter to my once (and future?) boyfriend.

Not quite as powerful as the original, Love, Stargirl nevertheless reminds us of the importance of being oneself and of the difference one person can make in the world. As the book jacket states, "Over the course of a year, Stargirl comes to find hope in new places: mockingbirds, donut angels, moon flowers, and the Winter Solstice - that turning-point day when dark tips to light." I find hope in those things too!

You can find out how to start a "Stargirl Society" here! I wanna join!


Fashion Kitty versus the Fashion Queen
by Charise Mericle Harper

Published in 2007. 96 pages.

Back in October, my daughter and I read Fashion Kitty for our mother-daughter book club. It was my first experience with graphic novels, and I found Fashion Kitty to be a delightful character and the novel to contain a number of meaningful messages that I hoped would continue in the sequel.

This second in what I hope will be a long-lived series did not disappoint me. Bullying and consequences. Individuality and family. The color pink and correct spelling. All this and more in the adventures of Fashion Kitty!


Thursday, February 28, 2008


Who is your favorite female lead character? And why? (And yes, of course, you can name more than one ... I always have trouble narrowing down these things to one name, why should I force you to?)

The first name that popped into my head was Stephanie Plum of Janet Evanovich's comedic mysteries. Stephanie is just a lot of fun! She gets into all kinds of trouble as a not-completely-competent bounty hunter, and she's got two hot guys that help her pick up the pieces. (For the record, I'm a Ranger Babe, not a Morelli Cupcake.)

Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl is one of my all-time favorite books, and the eccentric, compassionate, nonconformist girl named Stargirl is my hero! (I just read the sequel Love, Stargirl - my review is forthcoming - which reminded me how much I love this character.)

Another teenage girl I love is Jamie Sullivan from Nicholas Sparks' A Walk to Remember. Portrayed by Mandy Moore in the film version, Jamie is the type of girl I want my daughters to be, someone who knows who she is and knows what she wants and who makes the world the better place for having been in it.

Who are your favorite female protaganists?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

My Favorite Genre

For many years my favorite genre has been the suspense thriller. Interestingly, with the creation of my book blog and my participation in a multitude of reading challenges, I've actually been reading less of this genre. That's not necessarily a bad thing - but it did entice me to join J. Kaye's Suspense & Thriller Reading Challenge so that I'll "have" to read some more of my favorite genre!

The simple rules of this challenge:

  • Read six (6) different sub-genres of thrillers in 2008.

  • Read six (6) different sub-genres of thrillers in 2009.
By the end of this challenge, I will have read 12 different sub-genres of thrillers. (J. Kaye has outlined an impressive list of thriller sub-genres on the challenge blog.)

There is also a Yahoo! Group for the challenge for those so inclined. (I am!)

I need to do a little research on the sub-genres before I come up with my list of twelve books, so I will add them to my sidebar as I identify them. I'm also sure that I will be changing the list as time passes, especially because this challenge lasts for so long. I do know that I will be counting An Absolute Gentleman - which I finished yesterday - as my first book for this challenge, in the psychological thriller sub-genre.

An Absolute Gentleman by R. M. Kinder

Published in 2007. 288 pages.

First sentence: Some time ago, two reporters visited me, and I was as open with them as I could humanly be.

Brief description (from the back cover): A spine-chilling first novel loosely based on the author's real-life relationship with a convicted murderer, An Absolute Gentleman delves, with subtlety and tremendous psychological insight, into a serial killer's mind.

Why I read this book: A publicist for An Absolute Gentleman contacted me at the end of December about reading the book and reviewing here on my blog. I admitted to her that I was way behind on my reviews but that the book looked like a compelling read and if she were willing to send it to me, I'd get to it as soon as I could. Joy's rave review prompted me to get to it sooner than later - so here I am!

What I thought of this book: For some reason, it hadn't occurred to me that this book would be written from the perspective of the serial killer - but it is, and his voice is at once both ordinary, even charming, and completely creepy. I found myself liking Arthur Blume, small-town college writing teacher and struggling author, even hearing in his words the voices of acquaintances of my own. And yet he was not just "an absolute gentleman" but also an absolute monster, who could make a decision to kill someone in the same way most of us would decide what to eat for breakfast or which shoes to wear. An Absolute Gentleman is well worth the read, and I'm hoping that short story writer R. M. Kinder is at work on another novel. Jonathan Kellerman, one of my favorite writers of psychological thrillers, is quoted on the back cover of An Absolute Gentleman as saying, "Beautifully written and all the more chilling for that." Well said!

To share in the joy of a good book: I would love to pass my now somewhat used copy of An Absolute Gentleman to another interested reader. Leave a comment if you'd be interested, and I will randomly pick one lucky reader from those who comment by Friday, February 29.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

February is Library Lovers' Month

Library Lovers' Month is a month-long celebration of school, public, and private libraries of all types, recognizing the value of libraries to our communities.

I am lucky to live in a county with a great public library system - and my family enjoys the many benefits of having a branch near our home. For the Every Month is a Holiday reading challenge, I celebrated Library Lovers' Month by choosing a book from the library. That book was The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. Because it is a long book, I also checked on the Book on CD so that I could continue "reading" during my commuting time. A big thank you to the Salt Lake County Library Services and all the terrific librarians and staff people who provide me with wonderful experiences with books!

There are lots of ways to love your library. Go ahead and show your library some love!

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

Published in 2001. 664 pages.

First sentence: I could hear a roll of muffled drums.

Brief plot summary: Told from the viewpoint of little-known Mary Boleyn (the "other" girl of the title), this is the story of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII.

Why I read this book:
A friend recommended this book to me some time ago, but I hadn't gotten to it yet. In December, I decided to put it on my 2008 TBR Challenge list, and then when Emily picked it as our IRL book club read for February, I had to read it now.

What I thought: When I was a child, historical fiction was a favorite genre of mine. I haven't read a lot of it in recent years, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I only had a cursory knowledge of Tudor England before reading The Other Boleyn Girl, but I'm eager now to learn more. Philippa Gregory appears to research her topics well, even if some people have taken exception to her conclusions. She certainly writes a compelling story. As she has stated,

I am very pleased when I can tell a slightly different story from the conventional one, especially if it makes readers see the more usual story in a different light. I like to give people a sense of a different sort of past. I like to challenge the conventional views.

Favorite aspects of the story: I loved the feminist attitudes that Gregory gives to Mary. For example, at one point, Mary laments,
"If women could only have more," I said longingly. "If we could have more in our own right. Being a woman at court is like forever watching a pastry cook at work in the kitchen. All those good things, and you can have nothing." [p. 304.]

I also loved the relationship between Mary and William Stafford.
The words froze on my pen, I could not say that I regretted loving William, for every day I loved him more. In a world where women were bought and sold as horses I had found a man I loved; and married for love. I would never suggest that this was a mistake. [p. 518]

Something I didn't need: The seduction of King Henry by both Mary and Anne is quite graphically described. A friend of my 12-year-old daughter has read this book, but I told Sugar Plum that there is no way that I would allow her to read it. (I did tell my 17-year-old that she could read it, if she wants.)

Continuing the experience: My IRL book club is going to see the film version of The Other Boleyn Girl when it opens at the end of the month. In March I'm going to read The Lady in the Tower by Jean Plaidy for my church women's group book club, which will give me another perspective on Anne Boleyn. And I suspect that before too long I'll be looking at the other books in Gregory's Boleyn series, perhaps starting with The Boleyn Inheritance.

How well I multi-tasked with this read: In addition to being the second of my 2008 TBR Challenge books, this book fulfilled requirements for the Unread Author Challenge, the 888 Challenge (in my "IRL Book Club Picks" category), the Back to History Challenge, Every Month is a Holiday (for Library Lover's Month), the Reading Full Circle Challenge, the Chunkster Challenge, the Winter Reading Challenge, and the A~Z Reading Challenge. Phew!


Friday, February 08, 2008

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Published in 2006. 233 pages.
2007 Printz Award Winner.

With its themes of race, identity, and self-acceptance, this graphic novel (only the second I've ever read) was a great follow-up read to Nothing but the Truth (and a Few White Lies). Three separate stories that come together in the end, this is a quick read. I started it on Tuesday while sitting in the high school parking lot waiting for my daughter and finished it last night while eating an egg roll and a fortune cookie. The more I think about the book, the more I like it. Author Gene Luen Yang's discussion of the origins of the book (here) brought me nearly to tears. I think this is a book that everyone ought to read!


Feeling the Love

A big thank you to booklogged at A Reader's Journal
for passing the Mwah! award along to me!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou

Originally published in 1969. 281 pages.

To celebrate Martin Luther King Day for the Every Month is a Holiday Challenge, I chose to read this first volume of the autobiographical series of poet, educator, dancer, actress, civil rights activist Maya Angelou. This book also qualifies for the Back to History Challenge, the In Their Shoes Challenge, and my "Banned Books" and "In Their Shoes" categories of the 888 Challenge.

I was mesmerized by Angelou's lyrical presentation of the high and low points of the first eighteen years of her life. Poignant and meaningful, each chapter recounts part of the life experiences that made Angelou the adult she became. These experiences include being raped at age eight by her mother's boyfriend, learning to love books through the encouragement of an adult friend, being subjected to numerous acts of racism, and working as the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco.

First sentence: "What you looking at me for?"

Two favorite passages:

[Bailey, Maya's brother, in recounting the discovery of a black man's corpse and the pleasure a white man took in seeing it:] "The colored men backed off and I did too, but the white man stood there, looking down, and grinned. Uncle Willie, why do they hate us so much?"

Uncle Willie muttered, "They don't really hate us. They don't know us. How can they hate us? They mostly scared."

Oh, Black known and unknown poets, how often have your auctioned pains sustained us? Who will compute the lonely nights made less lonely by your songs, or the empty pots made less tragic by your tales?

If we were a people much given to revealing secrets, we might raise monuments and sacrifice to the memories of our poets, but slavery cured us of that weakness. It may be enough, however, to have it said that we survive in exact relationship to the dedication of our poets (include preachers, musicians and blues singers).

Bans or challenges faced by the book: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is third on the list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000. According to this site:
Since 1983 schools throughout the United States have tried to ban I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings even though it is celebrated for its elegant prose. Parents, schools, and related organizations have argued that the book encourages deviant behavior because of its references to lesbianism, premarital sex, cohabitation, pornography, and violence. The book's profanity has also caused its removal from school curriculum and library shelves. The Alabama State Textbook Committee accused it of encouraging "bitterness and hatred toward white people." Some schools have removed the book from their classes and libraries; however, many have decided to retain the book. Today the book is still among the most challenged books in American schools.


Saturday, February 02, 2008

Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry

Originally published in 1940.
Awarded the Newbery Medal in 1941.
Audio book performed by Lou Diamond Phillips.

I am not a huge fan of stories that focus on man-nature conflict (particularly when "man" is not used in the generic sense). Although I read many Newbery winners as a child, this is one I never read, and I assume that the focus of the story was a big part of that omission. I was never one to shy away from "boy" books - nor was my mother (who was my chief reading advisor) one to discourage such reading - so the fact that the main character of Call It Courage is a Polynesian boy named Mafatu is not sufficient reason for me not to have read it.

Despite my goal (via participation in The Newbery Project) to read all of the books that have received the Newbery Medal, I didn't expect that Call It Courage would be one I would be reading soon. But having finished (and thoroughly enjoyed) Ron Rifkin's performance of The Giver, I was looking for a new audio book to listen to during my commute. When I discovered that Lou Diamond Phillips performs Call It Courage, I decided to check it out of the library.

I found the writing to be poetic, and my enjoyment was enhanced by hearing it with the accompanying sound effects. The book certainly contains man-nature conflict, but the greater conflict is man-himself (and I am using that generically) - and I think that's something to which we can all relate. In this case, Mafatu faces his fears, particularly his fear of the sea that took his mother's life, and learns that he contains the "Stout Heart" that is the meaning of his name.

Considering that this book was published in 1940, long before kids were familiar with Survivor or even the Discovery Channel, I think Call It Courage was admirable in providing American children with some exposure to a distant culture.

While Call It Courage isn't one of my all-time favorite Newbery books, I am glad to have listened to the audio book version of it. (Lou Diamond Phillips can read me a bedtime story anytime!)


Friday, February 01, 2008

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Published in 2005. 314 pages.
2006 Newbery Honor Book.

First sentence: Miri woke to the sleepy bleating of a goat.

Last sentence: From the cracks in the rocks all around, the miri flowers were already blooming.

Why I read this book: I've been meaning to read a Shannon Hale book for quite some time. My daughters are both fans, and because Shannon is a Utahn, I feel a sense of connection to her as well. When my church women's group book club discussed Princess Academy as a possibility for February's meeting, I highly encouraged that idea. We often choose books that I have already read - which is okay with me - but it's more fun when I get to read along, and having a deadline always helps my motivation in getting to something on my to-read list.

A brief description of this book (adapted from the ALA's description on the 2006 Newbery Medal and Honor Books page): Miri and the other young women of her rocky highland village are forced to leave their close-knit community to attend the "Princess Academy" when the palace priests divine that the prince must choose a bride from the territory where the girls live. Like the miri flower, which sprouts from the cracks in the linder rock, Miri proves herself to be strong, resilient, and courageous. The book is a fresh approach to the traditional princess story with unexpected plot twists and great emotional resonance.

My thoughts about this book: I love princess stories! Or maybe I ought to say that I love princess stories that are other than the "happily ever after" drivel I detest, ones that celebrate the strength, uniqueness, and often contrariness of the girls involved. Princess Academy met all my expectations. Miri is my hero!

A couple of favorite passages:

    Britta, one of the girls attending the academy:
    "The only thing I wish is that whoever does become the princess is happy, I mean really, really happy. Otherwise, what would it matter, right?" [pages 108-109]

    From a discussion between Miri and Britta:
    Miri slumped onto a boulder. "What should I say? That I like him so much it hurts?"
    "Maybe you should tell him."
    "But what if I do and he looks at me like I'm salt fish rotten in the barrel, and then I can never be his friend again?" [pages 169-170]

How this book helps me with my challenge goals for the year: This is my ninth book of 2008 and my fourth for the Young Adult Challenge. This one also qualifies for 888 (in my "Oh, To Be Young Again" category), the TBR Challenge (because it's been on my to-read list for more than six months), Celebrate the Author (more on that below), the Cardathon (my thoughts in that regard are here), and the Unread Author Challenge (since this was my first Shannon Hale book) - as well as the Winter Reading Challenge and the A~Z Reading Challenge. Don't you love cross-listing?!

Celebrating the author:

Author Shannon Hale, who has published five novels for young adults and one adult fiction book to date, was born on January 26, 1974, in Salt Lake City, Utah. She and her husband Dean Hale and their two young children currently reside in South Jordan, Utah. You can find out more about her - including bios as written by her husband and by her son - here. Her website also includes the following princess tips - which I think give some insight into who Shannon Hale is.
    I received a call from the UK branch of my book publisher, asking me to come to the UK to promote Princess Academy. Very cool. Part of the conversation went something like this:

      UK publicist: "We thought we might do a princess party and send out the invitations as though inviting the guests to attend the princess academy. But would you feel comfortable wearing a tiara to the party?"

      Me: "Would I feel comfortable wearing a tiara to the party? When wouldn't I feel comfortable wearing a tiara?"

    She also wondered if I could write some tips on becoming a princess, based on the story in the book. They made postcards with these tips on them, which some of you may have seen:

    How to Be a Princess

    Learn to walk with a boot on your head
    Put on your favorite dress
    Read books after everyone else has gone to bed
    Memorize all the rules
    Break the rules
    Save your friends from uncertain danger
    And, most importantly, just be a girl

Happy Belated Birthday, Shannon!