Friday, February 29, 2008

100+ Reading Challenge

I surrender! I am joining this challenge hosted by J. Kaye! I'll keep my list at the bottom (above the "1001 Books to Read Before You Die" list that will probably haunt me until I die!)

Friday Fill-ins

1. I'm looking forward to not driving the kids to school next week. (They're off-track.)
2. I don't handle crooked tablecloths very well.
3. Homemade chex mix is something I could eat every day.
4. Warmth and sunlight annoy me in their more severe states.
5. Ireland, here I come! (I wish)
6. I don't have any tattoo(s).
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to watching Monk on DVD (we're on Season 3, Disc 2), tomorrow my plans include taking Amy to Build-a-Bear for her birthday and Sunday, I want to have a nice dinner!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Castle Corona by Sharon Creech (2007, 5 hrs.)

"Once there was a Castle, high on a hill,
and a King who longed for a nap
and a Queen who yearned for solitude
and a Prince who loved poetry
and a Princess who loved herself
and a Spare Prince who loved his sword
and a Hermit who was wise.

And there was a Village, down in the valley,
and a Peasant Girl who dreamed of flying
and a Peasant Boy who dreamed of horses
and a Master who dreamed of turnips
and an Old Woman who kept secrets."

Well, those verses pretty much cover this story, but of course I can ramble on a little more. This was a fable-like fairytale that was not wowish (surprisingly this is actually a word--no spell check underline), but homey. The story contrasts the lives of the inhabitants of the castle with two peasant children, Pia and Enzio, and how their lives come together due to a mysterious pouch that the children find and a couple of wise hermits. It is gently humorous at times and sprinkled with morals. I would suggest experiencing the actual book rather than listening to it as I did--after looking at the book at Amazon, I realized that there are beautiful illustrations that would make the story more enriching, and give it that medieval feel that all fairy tales deserve.

I must admit that I often view children's books mostly as tools to teach children values, and so that is often what I base my judgment on, more so than an exciting story. (Of course a good story helps put the lessons taught in an appealing package!) The Castle Corona touches on empathy, responsibility, and the power of imagination. It is one that I would read aloud to my children, with the beautiful illustrations to show.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Reporting Iraq Edited by Mike Hoyt and John Palattella (2007, 187 pgs.)

From various vantage points and angles, several journalists share their experiences in covering the war in Iraq. The invasion and the toppling of the statue of Saddam, witnessing the seeds of the insurgency, revelations of abuse at Abu Ghraib, challenges in being "embedded" with the troops, time spent with Iraqi families and translators, and accusations of neglecting to report any thing positive are all discussed in these interviews with 44 journalists. Here are a few examples:

Photographer Ghaith Abdul-Ahad of The Guardian:

"Up until this moment (an attack on Haifa street in which about 20 civilians are killed), I was separated from the scenes of car bombs by my lens: it was something else, it was not reality because I see it through this viewfinder, and all you care about is the light, where it's coming in, the composition, the light. So you are separated. But the smell, the smell is always there. But that day, when you are part of the scene, when you are hiding, all these kids behind this building, . . . and you are trying to make yourself flat, and you wish that your height is only two inches so you can go flat to the curb. It was that day when this glass wall that was separating me from the scenes of car bombs shattered."

Andrew Lee Butters, freelance writer:

"I could feel things change in February of 2004, although I was slow to pick up on it somewhat . . . In some ways you feel like a frog, the proverbial frog in boiling water. The changes are so gradual you don't notice it until suddenly things get really bad."

Anne Garrels of NPR:

"I still have nightmares, truth be told; post-traumatic, whatever you wanna call it. It doesn't come in direct ways, it comes in weird ways. After I got home, some kids were celebrating down at the lake just a few hundred yards from here, and they set off fireworks and I found myself curled up, just sobbing."

Yousif Mohamed Basil, translator for Time, on the pressure for journalists to report more "good news":

"As an Iraqi, living inside Iraq, I cannot hear good news, and even if there is good news, you cannot hear it with the noises of explosions and the noises of terrorists and the noises of American military operations. It's very difficult to hear a lot of things. It's very difficult to proactice a lot of rights. It's very difficult to practice freedom. It's very difficult to do a lot of things. So, there's no good news about Iraq. There's no good news at all."

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad - I think this sums up what many of the journalists felt:

"So this debate accusing the media of not conveying the good news is such a --I mean do those people know what we are digging through when we go to Iraq? The effort we put into writing a story, any simple story is enormous. And none of us, I don't know any journalist who accepts taking such a risk just to manipulate the truth or write bad news because you have this hidden agenda. . . And then when there is good news in Iraq, we do write about these things, such as the elections . . . the elections were good news. .. at least for two days."

I often avoid current events; I tend to worry about things I have very little control over, but if it's been put in a book form, I can swallow it a little better for whatever irrational reason. As much as I'd like to hide out in a cave, war has a way of invading any hiding places, and this book gave an enlightening perspective from those who lived right in the midst of it.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool (1993, 416 pgs.)

This was a wonderful book that made me even more excited to read a few more British novels I have planned for this year, watch my beloved Brit Lit Chick Flicks more closely, and gave me an excuse to read Pride and Prejudice yet again. It is jam-packed with information about life in 19th century England, and I found myself exclaiming numerous "Oh's" and" Ah's" and "What a bunch of weirdos these Brits were. The first fifty pages or so of the book cover basic information like money, measurement, holidays, titles, how to address your betters, etc., and has examples from various 19th century works. It goes on to discuss the very specific social customs and etiquette of the times (in a carriage, a gentleman takes the seat facing backwards; a lady does not wear pearls or diamonds in the morning; girls call their parents mama and papa, while boys say mother and father). The rules of card games are explained, the system of calling cards, transportation, mail, clothing, food, servants--the list goes on and on. The last part of the book is a glossary of terms unique to the time period. I borrowed this book from a friend, but I think if I see it for a good price I will buy it, to have on hand for decoding Dickens!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Friday Fill-ins

This is a cute idea that I'm going to try to do every Friday. Here's the link if anyone else wants to join in.

1. Seeing new stuff is the best thing about traveling.
2. I love a good warm bed when I'm cold.
3. I often use two tissues at once when I'm blowing my nose (it's a waste, I know, but I can't stand the idea of the snot touching my hands, and then I still wash my hands.)
4. I'm reading Reporting Iraq right now; I am very interested by it.
5. Politics is something I dislike talking about.
6. When I visited Utah I most looked forward to seeing National Parks.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to my 13-year-old daughter's first piano lesson for four years, tomorrow my plans include helping out at D.I. (like Salvation Army) and house projects and Sunday, I want to go to church and then come home and read!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Four-Word Review:Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (1985, 1 hr.)

Such a short story requires a short review--here it is in four (or kind of five) words:
Mail Order Sealed w/ Love

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron (2006, 3 hrs.)

In light of the controversy surrounding this Newbery pick of 2007, I'd like to add this subtitle: "The Curious Incident of the Dog with the Scrotum Bite." A story about a girl named Lucky living in the desert of California, and how she deals with growing up, losing her mother, knowing her father does not want her, and worrying that her guardian is going to leave her and move to Paris, gets overshadowed by the reference on page one of a dog's scrotum bitten by a rattlesnake. I have to admit, the first page caught me off guard, but more so because of the story surrounding the tragic (though insignificant) snake bite. I completely agree with Kristen McLean of Pixie Stix Kids Pix:

"I can’t help but notice with amusement that no one has objected to another passage in the first chapter of the book that involves a man “who had drunk half a gallon of rum listening to Johnny Cash all morning in his parked ‘62 Cadillac, then fallen out of the car when he saw a rattlesnake on the passenger seat…” Apparently rum, drunkenness, and poor taste in automobiles have nothing on scrotums when it comes to getting people in a moral outrage. (I can’t criticize the Johnny Cash. I love Johnny Cash.)"

I did wonder exactly what audience she was trying to reach. As a self-proclaimed quirkophile, I thought I would enjoy the quirkiness of the characters, but I found myself switching from the audio book to the radio a lot and waiting anxiously for the story to end. In a possible defense of the book, when I listen to books in the car, it is very fragmented. I have four kids who go to three different schools, and I do daycare a few times a week for kids who go to yet another school. So the story gets broken up into about six or seven five-minute segments throughout the day. I can't help but wonder if I would have appreciated it more if I had sat down and read it all at once. As far as children, I have no idea if it would hold their attention at all. My 11-year-old son, who only heard bits and pieces, just described it as "weird," but I think that was after hearing about how Lucky puts mineral oil on her eyebrows to make them "glisten."
Overall, I just wasn't that impressed, and although I'm not quite in agreement with the author: “The word is just so delicious. The sound of the word to Lucky is so evocative. It’s one of those words that’s so interesting because of the sound of the word,” the scrotum and the controversy were the only exciting aspects of this children's novel.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Book Buddies: In Lucia's Eyes by Arthur Japin (2005, 231 pgs.)

I was a little reluctant to read this choice for Book Buddies this month, it being about the life of a courtesan in eighteenth-century Amsterdam. By the world's standards, I would be considered a prude, and I was ready to close the book in the instance of anything explicit or pornographic, but the author does a pretty good job of giving the reader a look into the realm of prostitution of the time (and of Lucia's other experiences) without being too indulgent about the details. But these thoughts of mine are a bit misleading--the story is not so much about her life as a courtesan, but about the repercussions of her adolescent relationship with Giacomo, who she falls in love with and becomes engaged to be married. While he is away for a time, she contracts smallpox, and her face is horribly disfigured. She knows that Giacomo will not be able to fulfill his ambitions with a scarred woman at his side, and she leaves her home without him knowing the real reason why she has left him. The story is about who each of them becomes as they live life without one another--Giacomo emerges as none other than Casanova-the legendary womanizer, while Lucia travels, educates herself, has struggles, and ends up as a successful courtesan. They meet again much later in life, but because she wears a veil to cover her face, he has no idea who she is. The main theme of the books surrounds a conflict between emotion and reason--deep stuff that I think went over my head. The discussion is still ongoing at Book Buddies, so wiser participants may be able to give me more insight. The novel was based on Japin's research from the memoirs of Casanova, and his mention of his first love, Lucia, who abandoned him and turned up later as a prostitute in an Amsterdam brothel.
This novel didn't wow me, but it didn't bore me, either. I liked his sensitive, contemplative writing, and I actually like it when things are a bit over my head. I would like to read his first novel, The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi, the story of two Ashanti princes, Kwami Poku and Kwasi Boachi, who were taken from today's Ghana and given as gifts to the Dutch king Willem II in 1837.
By the way, isn't this a perfect day to review this book about the "greatest lover of all time?"

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Few Reviews

I've been a little busy lately (yesterday I was only able to read about 5 pages of a book--I'm having withdrawal symptoms!), so I 'll briefly review the books I have managed to read/listen to:

The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum(1980, 535 pgs.) - Intense and very entertaining to read. The only similarities between the book and the movie are the name and the idea of a man who gets amnesia. I love them both, but the book is (of course) better than the movie. I hadn't realized that it was written in 1980, so the technology is much different. I had a hard time putting it down, except at the end, when I had to take a break between chapters to take a few breaths.

The Wide Window
by Lemony Snicket (2000, 3 hrs.)
- Book 3 of the Series of Unfortunate Events. The Baudelaires end up with Aunt Josephine, who has many irrational fears, and reminds me a bit too much of myself! I don't have the right vocabulary to describe Lemony Snicket's writing style, but I love it. As a reader, I like being addressed, and I love his definitions (or connotations) of words and idioms. The author narrated this audio book, which was highly unpleasant for me. The second one was narrated by Tim Curry, which was great, so I don't know what possessed him to read for this one (and the fourth, which I will read the old-fashioned way!) I'm excited to move past Book 3 and into new material that wasn't covered in the movie.

The Good Mood Diet by Susan Kleiner (2007, 231 pgs.) - Sometimes I think I can never lose weight because then I wouldn't have a reason to read diet books! I have always been fascinated by food and how it affects you body, starting when I was about ten and read a book called Eat to Win. Unfortunately, I have not always eaten to win. I like the premise of this one, the focus is more on feeling good and fighting depression, and then weight loss usually follows. Not surprisingly, the foods that put you in a good mood are all of the latest foods spotlighted for good health: salmon, whole grains, veggies, etc. The author encourages eating enough food (yesterday I felt like I was eating all day long as I followed her plan!) and eating food in the right combinations--always having protein and fat with each meal and snack. To me that's kind of a pain and takes a lot of thought, but I'm trying it out. I like that she tells you to eat one whole egg everyday and end the day with hot cocoa (made with skim milk, unsweetened cocoa powder, and Splenda). Today is just the second day I'm trying it (and I am absolutely stuffed from breakfast). If I am actually successful at losing weight, maybe I'll do a follow-up review, but no one should hold their breath!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusack (2007, 550 pgs.) - This may seem blasphemous to the many fans of this book to not put this one on a pedestal and give it its own post! Despite its being buried in a multi-review post, it is a novel that sets itself apart with its originality and brilliance. Narrated by Death, who is almost reluctantly compassionate, it tells the story of Leisel Meminger, a German girl living with foster parents during the upheaval of World War II. Through the events of her life and her collection of stolen books, Death conveys the power of words, whether they are used for good or evil. Each time she steals a book, it's almost as if she is just taking back what it rightfully hers but has been taken away by the Nazis and Hitler. I felt like it was a very honest portrayal of what individual feelings and attitudes would have been at the time--no one is idealized and it is not overly sentimental, and yet it is emotionally powerful. Here's one of my favorite excerpts:

"On June 23, 1942, there was a group of French Jews in a German prison, on Polish soil. The first person I took was close to the door, his mind racing, then reduced to pacing, then slowing down, slowing down . . .
Please believe me when I tell you that I picked up each soul that day as if it were newly born. I even kissed a few weary, poisoned cheeks. I listened to their last gasping cries. Their vanishing words. I watched their love visions and freed them from their fear. . .
They were French, they were Jews, and they were you."

I should note that I started listening to the audiobook, which was excellently narrated, but in looking through the book, I realized that this is one you have to read, because there are a lot of visual elements to the story that enrich the experience. Although I have to admit, that without listening, I would not have know how to pronounce all of the German cuss words!

Well, it's back to life for me! I have been very lucky to have had so much time to read this past month or so, but I should have realized that was only temporary. I also have put on about five pounds, despite my reading of a couple of health books that would have me go in the other direction. In the past I have stepped up and down on my step while reading to get in some extra exercise--I'll have to try doing that again. I've considered giving myself a reading limit, maybe just 1-2 hours a day or a certain number of pages. But I would probably be just as successful with that as I am with limiting my food intake!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Audiobook: Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (2004; 4 hours, 29 min.)

From the back of the audio-case:

kira-kira (kee' ra kee' ra): glittering; shining

Glittering. That's how Katie Takeshima's sister, Lynn, makes everything seem. The sky is kira-kira because its color is deep but see-through at the same time. The sea is kira-kira for the same reason. And so are people's eyes. When Katie and her family move from a Japanese community in Iowa to the Deep South of Georgia, it's Lynn who explains to her why people stop them on the street to stare. And it's Lynn who, with her special way of viewing the world, teaches Katie to look beyond tomorrow. But when Lynn becomes desperately ill, and the whole family begins to fall apart, it is up to Katie to find a way to remind them all that there is always something glittering, kira-kira, in the future.

Luminous in its persistence of love and hope, Kira-Kira is Cynthia Kadohata's stunning debut in middle-grade fiction. Kira-Kira won the 2005 Newbery Medal for most distinguished American children's book.

I listened to this one in the car bit by bit during my various chauffeur duties. I liked the story, which is geared towards readers beyond sixth grade, I would say, but the reader sounded like she was reading to preschoolers, which bothered me. As far as the story, I liked that my kids could hear the struggles of this family and hopefully be grateful for the blessings they enjoy. Katie's parents work in a chicken factory many long hours, under undesirable conditions, to provide the necessities for their children. It's a tough life for them, especially dealing with Lynn's illness, and even though they live through some tragedy, Katie still comes through it all appreciating the simple beauties of life. It's not a page-turner (or whatever you would call it when it's an audiobook), but it definitely has it's merits, and where else are you going to hear Japanese-American characters speaking with a Southern twang?

Messenger by Lois Lowry (2004, 192 pgs.)

This is another simple but powerful novel from Lois Lowry that answers some questions that arise in The Giver and Gathering Blue, only to be replaced by new questions and things to think about. We find out where Jonas ends up after escaping his community, and what Matty's new village, that celebrates people's "handicaps", is all about. Matty, being the only one who can safely travel through the treacherous forest, serves as the village's "messenger", and hopes to have that name bestowed on him when the traditional time comes. The community begins to deteriorate, however, and selfishness spreads, causing the members to want to close its borders to any newcomers, despite their needs. Matty goes to get Kira, his guardian's daughter, from another community(the harsh world of Gathering Blue), before it's too late and the borders are closed to her. Their trip through the forest is perilous, and Kira, Matty and Leader (Jonas) must all use their gifts to save themselves and the community.
I love the way Lowry makes her readers reflect on society, and think about the direction current trends may be taking. Also powerful are the common themes throughout all three of the companion novels: acceptance, honesty, compassion, the power of nature and art, and the necessity of choices, and probably a few more that I've missed.