Monday, February 21, 2011

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Published in 1996.
Audiobook performed by Jeff Woodman.
1997 Newbery Honor Book.

On the recommendation of my friend Sue, I listened to this young adult fantasy novel on CD. I enjoyed the whole book - the character Gen (short for Eugenides) is fabulous, the world in which he lives is interesting, the mythology of that world is intriguing - but it was the ending that totally blew me away. I'm definitely reading (or listening to) to the next book in the series, The Queen of Attolia.

Karen of Typing With My Toes said, "From the very beginning, Gen’s voice was what drew me in." Her full review is here.

Tricia of Library Queue said, "The ending made me want to read it all over again." Her full review is here.

Corinne of The Book Nest called The Thief "a gem." Her full review is here.

Megan Whalen Turner's website is here.


The Strange Case of Origami Yoda
by Tom Angleberger

Published in 2010. 144 pages.
2010 Cybils Award Winner.

Summary of the book from goodreads:

In this funny, uncannily wise portrait of the dynamics of a sixth-grade class and of the greatness that sometimes comes in unlikely packages, Dwight, a loser, talks to his classmates via an origami finger puppet of Yoda. If that weren’t strange enough, the puppet is uncannily wise and prescient. Origami Yoda predicts the date of a pop quiz, guesses who stole the classroom Shakespeare bust, and saves a classmate from popularity-crushing embarrassment with some well-timed advice. Dwight’s classmate Tommy wonders how Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so clueless. With contributions from his puzzled classmates, he assembles the case file that forms this novel.

My eleven-year-old son adores this book! After numerous encounters around the house with Origami Yoda (in various sizes and colors) - and because the book was a 2010 Cybils Award Finalist - I finally decided that I needed to read the book myself.

I thought it was a lot of fun. I highly recommend it to middle grade students, especially those that are fans of Star Wars and/or origami. (The book includes instructions for making an origami yoda.) Enjoy it you will!

Jennifer at 5 Minutes for Books called the book "a realistic age-appropriate look at 6th graders that won’t make a parent cringe." Read her full review here.

According to the Origami Yoda website, a sequel is forthcoming: Darth Paper Strikes Back. My son will be so excited to hear that news!


Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Five Love Languages
by Gary Chapman

Subtitled How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. First published in 1992. Audiobook read by the author.

I was already familiar with Gary Chapman's five love languages before I listened to this audiobook. I'd attended a few workshops on the subject, and I'd listened to The Five Love Languages of Children on CD. But I decided to read this one because my church women's group planned to discuss it at their February meeting. As it turned out, I attended an award ceremony with my daughter that night and missed the discussion - but I'm still glad I read the book.

The book itself is highly readable, with examples and anecdotes illustrating each of Chapman's theories. In some cases he shows how he developed the theories, and he also offers concrete suggestions for those who want to apply his teachings to their lives.

Here are a few of my responses to the concepts Chapman presents:

  • Similar to my belief that thinking about happiness makes me happier, I am convinced that thinking about love makes me more loving.

  • I am also convinced that love is spoken in more than one language. I identify strongly with the idea that my personal love language is "words of affirmation" - which is immeasurably more meaningful to me than the love language of "receiving gifts." I would assert that any one who is seeking to be more loving or caring - to his spouse, to her children, to his friends, even to her employees - can benefit from learning a "second" language (and a third, fourth, and fifth) - simply because the more ways one can express love, the more likely one is to effectively communicate those feelings.

  • In considering that premise, I was reminded of a Luann comic strip I once read on a terrific sex education pamphlet, one that was advocating abstinence for teens. In the comic strip, Luann is advised by T.J. that if she wants to say no to sexual activity (part of the "physical touch" language), then she needs to develop more creative ways of expressing her feelings for her boyfriend. In other words, she needs to know how to speak more than one love language.

  • On the other hand, I am not comfortable with the idea that I (or anyone) has one (or maybe two love languages) and that I will feel loved if my husband speaks to me primarily in that language. For example, though I do believe that "receiving gifts" is the love language that I enjoy least, I know that I would be saddened, maybe even angry, if my husband neglected to purchase and wrap some gifts for me at Christmas time and simply told me that he loved me, complimented me on my Christmas attire, and praised my cooking and decorating efforts. In other words, I believe that there is a time and place for each of the love languages - and therein lies my concern with Chapman's theory. One must be willing to express love multilingually, rather than putting a simple label on the object of one's love and limiting expressions of love to that language.

  • My brilliant and hilarious friend Karen expressed this problem well in her review on goodreads of The Five Love Languages of Children: "I'm Karen, a girl with lots of personality quirks, one of which is that I dislike pop psychology books that tell me I and everyone else fits into one of their created, fictitious descriptions. ... My issue is not with this book specifically, but with the idea in general. All this labeling, categorizing, pigeonholing, and simplifying people into tidy little groups. I know we all have similarities, but if you really want to love someone, get to know them. It takes time and effort, but that would be a better use of your time than reading this book."

  • Nonetheless, I recommend The Five Love Languages. It's a good start to learning to better love those in our circles. After all, thinking about love makes one more loving!


Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Witch Doctor's Wife
by Tamar Myers

Published in 2009. 307 pages.

Set in the Belgian Congo in 1958 and based on the author's own experiences, The Witch Doctor's Wife was the January pick for my long-time book club. I enjoyed this exploration of African history - which I know almost nothing about - and its look at the concept of greed, set in a well-woven mystery. The book read a bit more slowly than I expected, but I ended up thinking about it well past the moment I turned the last page.


Marcelo in the Real World
by Francisco X. Stork

Published in 2009.
Audiobook read by Lincoln Hoppe.

Marcelo in the Real World came onto my radar screen over a year ago. I'm so glad it finally made it to the top of my extremely long to-read list!

I was awed by this young adult coming-of-age novel. Marcelo is an incredible character. A seventeen-year-old with an autism-like condition and a "special interest" in religion, Marcelo is coerced by his father into taking a summer job in the mail room of his father's law firm to experience "the real world." There Marcelo learns a lot - but mostly about suffering, injustice, and what he can do about it. The novel contains a profound exploration of theology. It also prompted me to contemplate what "normal" and "real" mean. The book's cover is gorgeous, beautifully depicting the vastness of the world in which we each must find our way, hopefully with the help of a caring friend.

I listened to the book on CD and found Lincoln Hoppe to be a terrific reader. Books on Tape recommends the book "for listeners ages 14 to 18." While I am fond of young adult novels in general, I think this one is more than complex and insightful enough for any thinking adult. I do think that the book is more appropriate for older teens (at least fourteen) than for younger ones - both because of some forthright discussion of sexuality and also because of the maturity needed to understand the significance.

Tricia of Library Queue said, "This book is amazing in a quiet and thoughtful way." Read her full review here.

Becky of Becky's Book Reviews called Marcelo "a man with heart and soul, with substance." Read her full review here.

Francisco X. Stork's blog is here.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

First published as a serial in 1854-1855. Penguin Classics edition published in 1995, with introduction and notes by Patricia Ingham. 451 pages.

It took me more than a month to read this December pick of the "book lunch girls." But I'm proud to say that I stuck with it to the end, despite my general struggle with Victorian literature. There's just something about the writing of that period that makes for slow reading for me! I did enjoy the character of Margaret Hale very much, and I liked the storyline too. I'm thinking that I just might love seeing this in its movie format!

My past record with Victorian novels isn't good. I started but never finished Jane Eyre (although I'd previously seen the musical, so I knew the storyline when I meet with my book club to discuss it). I started but never finished Emma (although I did watch the Gwyneth Paltrow film before my book club meeting). (I guess Jane Austen is technically pre-Victorian, but it's the same thing in my mind.) My first exposure to the Victorian period was as a high school freshman, when I struggled through Great Expectations in Mrs. Hainsworth's class. My long-term book club is reading A Tale of Two Cities for March's meeting, so I guess I'll be giving Victorian lit another try. I hope for another success!

For other responses to North and South, check out the following:


Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield

Subtitled Life and Loss, One Song at a Time.
Published in 2007.
Audiobook read by the author.

In the 1990s, a shy music geek named Rob Sheffield met a hell-raising Appalachian punk-rock girl named Renée, who was way too cool for him but fell in love with him anyway. They had nothing in common except that they both loved music. Music brought them together and kept them together. And it was music that would help Rob through a sudden, unfathomable loss.

In Love is a Mix Tape, Rob, now a writer for Rolling Stone, uses the songs on fifteen mix tapes to tell the story of his brief time with Renée. From Elvis to Missy Elliott, the Rolling Stones to Yo La Tengo, the songs on these tapes make up the soundtrack to their lives. This is Rob's tribute to music, to the decade that shaped him, but most of all to one unforgettable woman.

By turns heart-warming, heart-breaking, and laugh-out-loud funny, this memoir on audiobook provided me with several enjoyable commutes. I'm not familiar with a lot of the music that sets the background for each chapter, but that was okay. The emotions came through anyway - and I can totally relate to those.

I look forward to reading Sheffield's new book Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut. I suspect that I'm more familiar with 80s music than I am with the music of the 90s.

If you were to make a mix tape, what would you put on it?