Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Library Loot - July 27

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Marg and Claire to encourage bloggers to share what they’ve checked out from the library.

Why do I keep bringing home new "loot" when my reading isn't keeping pace?! (I guess I can dream, can't I?)

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
(Recommended to me by Sue, the audio version of this Newbery Honor book was my commute companion in June, but since - for the foreseeable future - I'm no longer commuting, I had to get the book version so I can finish it. Because it's a popular read, it took me until now to make it to the top of the "hold" queue.)

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency - The Complete First Season
Based on the Novels by Alexander McCall Smith
(My cousin was raving about this HBO series, and since I've enjoyed many of the books - I'm still working on reading the series - I thought I'd give it a try.)

Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism's Work is Done by Susan Douglas
(I loved Douglas' Where the Girls Are and am eager to read her new book as part of the Women Unbound reading challenge.)

Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher
(Ever since I read Becky's review, I've had this one on my to-read list. Since it was just sitting on a display shelf at the library, I couldn't resist picking it up.)

Raw Edges by Phyllis Barber
(I heard about Phyllis Barber's new memoir just last week. Several years ago, I worked with her on a project, and I have also enjoyed hearing her speak, so I am eager to read this book.)

The Last Ember by Daniel Levin
(One of the current Salt Lake County Reader's Choice nominees.)

Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter by Lisa Patton
(Another current Salt Lake County Reader's Choice nominee.)

A Quiet Belief in Angels by R. J. Ellory
(Yet another current Salt Lake County Reader's Choice nominee.)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

Published in 2009. 217 pages.

I really enjoyed this young adult novel by Utah author Sara Zarr. This was the first of Zarr's work that I've read, but it certainly won't be the last.

The title of the book works as a metaphor in several different ways. I loved how the various meanings were unfolded as the story progressed. I also love the cover!

Here are some favorite passages, which specifically address the main character's crisis of faith:

A couple of weeks ago at church I passed by a Sunday school room where Jody was helping the kids with a craft project, sitting in one of the tiny preschooler chairs, her braids hanging dangerously close to the glue and glitter used to decorate pictures of Jonah in the belly of the whale. I stopped and watched, not because of Jody, but remembering my preschool self and how my mom would hang my Sunday school craft projects on the fridge. And what was on the fridge kind of summed up my faith. It was my parents', really, only belonging to me by default and habit. [page 49]

I wish I understood what happened between then and now. I wish there was a way to put your finger on the map of life and trace backwards, to figure out exactly when things had changed so much ... [page 69]

In my sock drawer I find a mini cross-stitched potpourri pillow I made for 4-H a long time ago. It's pink and green, my old favorite colors, and in neat block print reads: FAITH, HOPE, CHARITY.

I hold it to my nose and close my eyes. Wanting to smell lilac, wanting to smell freesia. None of the good scent is left; it just smells old. I open my eyes and toss it in the trash can, wishing that there was something to have faith in, hope for, or be charitable about. [page 165]

I lie on the bed while I wait for Dad, my mind drifting everywhere, until it lands on a prayer. I'm surprised, and resist it at first, but it keeps coming back. It's not words, so much, just my mind going blank and thoughts reaching up up up, me wishing I could climb through the ceiling and over the stars until I can find God, really see God, and know once and for all that everything I've believed my whole life is true, and real. Or, not even everything. Not even half. Just the part about someone or something bigger than us who doesn't lose track. I want to believe the stories, that there really is someone who would search the whole mountainside just to find that one lost thing that he loves, and bring it home. [page 199]

Natasha's (Maw Books) review is here. Tricia's (Library Queue) review is here

Update on October 28: Last week it was announced that Once Was Lost was the winner of the 2009 Utah Book Award for young adult literature. Congratulations to Sara Zarr!


Friday, July 16, 2010

The 13th Hour by Richard Doetsch

Published in 2009. 338 pages.

Despite a couple lapses in the plot details, I thoroughly enjoyed this unique time-travel thriller! The book starts with Chapter 12, as the protagonist is given the opportunity to go back through time - one hour at a time - to prevent the murder of his wife. By the 13th hour - Chapter 13 - it will be too late! A quick read, I had a hard time putting the book down and, thankfully, had the time to finish it over just two days.

As a time travel geek, I had a hard time passing up this current Salt Lake County Library Reader's Choice nominee. The paradoxes of time travel fascinate me, the "what if"s and the "cause-and-effect"s:

He knew that every action he took had repercussions, no matter the nobleness of the intention. ... As each moment was modified it would ripple through time, having hundreds, even thousands of effects. If Nick made the wrong move, the wrong decision, it would reverberate through the future ... Who was to say that fate was even reversible? Was Julia destined to die this day no matter what? [page 289]

Another passage I quite liked (somewhat related to my recent thoughts about mindfulness):
Dreyfus turned away from Nick. He reached into his pocket, fumbled around, jingling this change for something, and then turned back.

He held out his tow hands, one clinched in a fist, the other, palm up, with a quarter resting in its center.

"Look at my hands," Dreyfus said. "Choose one but only one."

Nick looked at the quarter, then at Dreyfus's closed hand, and quickly touched it.

"That is what nine out of ten people do. They choose the mystery. Why?" he asked rhetorically. "For a host of reason. To learn what is there, always thinking the unknown is more valuable than the known.

"How many people live in the moment? A few? How many people live for tomorrow at the sacrifice of today?" Dreyfus opened his fist to reveal it to be empty. " ... When tomorrow is never a guarantee." [page 167]


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Library Loot - July 15

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg
to encourage bloggers to share what they’ve checked out from the library.

I will be on vacation next week, so I hope to make some progress on my "loot" - both what I still have from the past few weeks and also these new ones:

The Golden Spiral by Lisa Mangum
(This is the sequel to The Hourglass Door.
My inner teenage geek is excited to read it!)

The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst
(This new release is by the author of Lost and Found,
one of my favorite reads of 2009.)

I Am Scout by Charles J. Shields
(I'm reading this YA adaptation of Shields biography of Harper Lee in honor of the 50th anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird.)

Shoot to Thrill by P.J. Tracy
(After four years, the Monkeewrench gang is back - and I'm thrilled!)

Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin
(I enjoyed Giffin's Something Borrowed last year and am thinking that this new "chick lit" novel would be good vacation reading.)

The Heart Is Not a Size by Beth Kephart
(I've been hearing all sorts of good things about Beth Kephart's work, and because Florinda liked this one so much, I just had to pick it up when I saw it on the library shelf.)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

My Top Ten Biographies/Memoirs

Suey at It's All About Books posted a list of her favorite biographies/memoirs today and invited her readers to do the same. Here's mine (in no particular order):

  1. Michael J. Fox's Lucky Man

  2. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom

  3. Alice Sebold's Lucky

  4. Wake Up, I'm Fat! by Camryn Manheim

  5. Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston

  6. Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

  7. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

  8. Marilyn by Gloria Steinem

  9. Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle

  10. Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng

Friday, July 09, 2010

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Published in 2009. 314 pages.

The historical fiction novel Shanghai Girls tells the story of sisters Pearl and May. They flee Shanghai in 1937 as it is being invaded by the Japanese and settle in Los Angeles into marriages arranged to settle their father's gambling debts.

This is the third of Lisa See's novels that I have read. The first, which I read many years ago, was Flower Net. (Apparently, it was the first in a series - but I didn't know that until today.) The second was Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, which I read with my book club last year. I still haven't read See's family history On Gold Mountain, although it's been highly recommended to me.

As I did with Snow Flower, I learned some things about history in reading Shanghai Girls, most notably the existence of Angel Island, about which I'd like to learn more.

Angel Island has been designed like Alcatraz, the island we passed on our way here. That too is an escape-proof prison. Those foolish or daring enough to swim for freedom are usually found days later washed up on a shore far from here. The difference between us and the inmates on the neighboring island is that we've done nothing wrong. Except that we have in the eyes of the lo fan. [page 109]

I can't help but think of the current political rhetoric on immigration when I read these words:
Naturally, there are the predictable comments about Joy being a girl, but most people are delighted to see a baby - any baby. That's when I realize that the majority of the guests are men, with very few wives and almost no children. What we experienced on Angel Island begins to make sense. The American government does everything possible to keep out Chinese men. It makes it even harder for Chinese women to enter the country. And in a lot of states it's against the law for Chinese to marry Caucasians. All this ends in the desired result for the United States: with few Chinese women on American soil, sons and daughters can't be born, saving the country from having accept undesirable citizens of Chinese descent. [page 131]
I'd like to think that Americans are better at human rights than we were in 1937 - and than we were in 1942 - but I'm afraid that we are not.

On a more positive note, I love this exchange between Pearl and her husband Sam:
"I've been smeared with mud that I'll never be able to wipe clean," I tentatively begin, hoping that what Mama said about the Ox is true: that he won't abandon you in times of trouble, that he'll stick by you faithfully, and that he is charitable and good. Don't I have to believe her now? Still, the emotions that play across his face - anger, disgust, and pity - don't make it easy for me as I tell my story.

When I'm done, he says, "You went through all that and still Joy came out perfectly. She must have a precious future." He puts a finger to my lips to keep me from saying anything more. "I would rather be married to broken jade than flawless clay. And my father used to say that anyone can add an extra flower to brocade, but how many women will fetch the coal in winter? He was talking about my mother, who was a good and loyal woman, just as you are."

We hear the others enter the apartment, but neither of us moves. Sam leans close and whispers in my ear. "On the bench in Yu Yuan Garden, I said I liked you and I asked if you liked me. You only nodded. In an arranged marriage this is more than we can hope for. I never expected happiness, but shouldn't we try to look for it?" [page 171]

While Sam is an Ox, Pearl is a Dragon, strong and stubborn, and May is a Sheep, adorable and placid. Like Pearl, I am a Dragon, and I found myself identifying with Pearl throughout the novel.

Pearl's daughter is a Tiger. Because she is born at Angel Island, Pearl and May get the task of naming her. "Naming is important, but it doesn't belong to women. Now that we have the opportunity to name a child - a girl at that - we find it's a lot harder than it seems" [page 121]. Jade - "because it conveys strength and beauty" - is suggested by a fellow detainee. Another likes the flower names - Orchid, Lily, Iris. A third insists on Mei Gwok, which means Beautiful Country and is the official Cantonese name for the United States. Finally May says, "Only one name is right for this baby. She should be called Joy. We're in America now. Let's not burden her with the past" [page 122].

In the end, Shanghai Girls is the story of two women - and women's stories, like the process of naming, are important. (I posted some thoughts on that topic on the Book Buddies blog.) I really enjoyed the story of Pearl and May, and I'd love to read more about Joy's story, if Lisa See would provide me with that opportunity.


Library Loot - July 8

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg
to encourage bloggers to share what they’ve checked out from the library.

I haven't yet read the two books I checked out last week,
but I picked up two new ones anyway:

Blue Plate Special
by Michelle D. Kwasney
(I started this a while back but abandoned it because of some group reading commitments. I'm eager to finish it.)

What If the Earth Had Two Moons?
by Neil F. Comins

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Published in 1948. 343 pages.

First sentence: I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.

Last sentence: I love you, I love you, I love you.

Description from the back cover: I Capture the Castle tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Here she strives, over six turbulent months, to hone her writing skills. She fills three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries. Her journals candidly chronicle the great changes that take place within the castle's walls, and her own first descent into love. By the time she pens her final entry, she has "captured the castle" - and the heart of the reader - in one of literature's most enchanting entertainments.

What I thought: This was June's pick for the "book lunch girls." I didn't have it finished by the time we met for lunch at The Cheesecake Factory, but I finished it last week. I really liked the first part of this coming-of-age novel, written by the same woman who wrote The Hundred and One Dalmatians. I liked the last part of the book as well. (I quoted a bit of the ending over on my "regular" blog.) I got bogged down in the middle, though, getting a somewhat frantic, even slapstick feeling when I'd try to read a bit before falling asleep at night. I will admit that my work situation, which was somewhat frantic with long, long days, may have contributed to that, and if I'd had the time and energy to read more of the book at a sitting, I may have enjoyed it more. Overall, I did like it, especially the eccentric characters.

Other information: In 2004 Melissa (Book Nut) listed I Capture the Castle as one of her ten most favorite fiction books. Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-a-holic gave it a 5/5. There is a 2003 movie version of the book.


By the Numbers
Midway 2010

Total books read year-to-date: 34. (This is well below the pace required to meet my goal of 104 books for the year. It's below my pace for the past few years, as well. But since I finished a five-year work commitment on June 30, I have high hopes for the second half of 2010 ... and beyond!)

Fiction: 32.
Non-fiction: 2. (Both were biography-memoir.)

Historical fiction: 9.

Published in 2010: 5.
Published prior to 1990: 5.

Young adult: 16.
Juvenile: 6.

Read with the fifth grade book group: 7.
Read with the "book lunch girls": 5.
Read with my book club: 4.
Read with the Book Buddies: 2.

5-star rating: 3.
(Those were Slob, A Northern Light, and Harriet the Spy.)
4-star rating: 17.
3-star rating: 12.
2-star rating: 2.

What are your reading numbers for 2010 so far?

Monday, July 05, 2010

I Can't Keep My Own Secrets:
Six-Word Memoirs
by Teens Famous and Obscure

Edited by SMITH Magazine.
Published in 2009. 184 pages.

From the preface: This is a book with over 600 authors (all aged thirteen to nineteen) and 600 characters (all real, as far as we know) and 600 stories (which can be read in any order). What every story has in common is that each was written about the author's own life, and that each is the exact same length: six words.

Why I read this book: This was one of the 2009 Cybils nominees in Non-Fiction. I saw it at my local library one afternoon, so I decided to read it while I was waiting for my son. Then I recommended it to my teenage daughter. Today I read it again.

Some of my favorite memoirs, silly as well as profound:

I live bigger than your labels.
- Samantha N.

Finally learned "weird" is a compliment.
- Teagan E.

Because the chicken was a nonconformist.
- Dillon W.

The exits were entrances in disguise.
- Shannon B.

I always spell my name backwards.
- Hannah F.


Saturday, July 03, 2010

Library Loot - July 1

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg
to encourage bloggers to share what they’ve checked out from the library.

On my first day of official unemployment,
I took the kids to the library.
We picked up some prizes for the summer reading program, I paid off all the fines we've been accruing, and I checked out two books for my reading enjoyment:

Laurie Halse Anderson's Prom

The 13th Hour by Richard Doetsch
(one of the current Reader's Choice picks)

Friday, July 02, 2010

City of Thieves by David Benioff

Published in 2008.
Audiobook read by Ron Perlman.

I enjoyed this unique story set in Russia during the infamous siege of Leningrad - providing me with another view of World War II, about which I've been reading quite a bit this year.

Author David Benioff gives us two incredible characters in Lev and Kolya, young men who meet for the first time in a jail cell, imprisoned on dubious charges. Given a reprieve from their impending executions if they can locate a dozen eggs for the colonel's daughter's wedding cake, they head out on an incredible adventure.

I laughed. I cried. I don't think I'll ever forget Kolya and Lev.

The novel contains some crude and uncomfortable language and situations, but given that it is the story of two young men in war time, I didn't find it gratuitous or offensive.

City of Thieves was a Salt Lake County Reader's Choice pick for July through October 2009, with a blog post here. The book's webpage is here. Britt (Confessions of a Book Habitué) reviewed it here.