Thursday, May 29, 2008

Review Roundup

Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1955, 132 pgs.): What amazes me about this little collection of the author's musings on womanhood and relationships is how things have really not changed that much in over 50 years. I personally find great comfort when I find someone whose thoughts mirror my own, and obviously there are many others who feel the same way, as this book continues to be popular. My one complaint is that I felt that the comparisons between different stages of a woman's life and the various sea shells was too forced. I would have enjoyed the book more without this structure.

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (1601): Shakespeare for me is more of a game or puzzle than a traditional literary experience. For me trying to make sense of the words in a Shakespearian play fills that same need that drives others to do crossword puzzles or Sudoku. The plays that I have read recently I have read on Barnes and Noble's "No Fear Shakespeare," where they have the original text on one side, and a "translation" of sorts into modern language on the other side. I like to puzzle over the original and figure out what it means, and then check to see how close I am. Sometimes I'm right on target, and other times I have made up something completely off the wall. I read Twelfth Night because my daughter's third grade class is performing a version of this in June, and I wanted to be fully prepped for the experience! This one is a comedy filled with unrequited love, mistaken identities, and gender mix-ups. Orsino is in love with Olivia, Olivia is in love with Cesario (who is really Viola dressed up as a man), Viola is in love with Orsino, who thinks she is really a man, and ambitious Malvolio, Olivia's head servant, is tricked in to believing that Olivia is in love with him. Throw in a witty fool, a drunk uncle, and of course, Viola's twin brother who she presumes is dead, and you've got quite the soap opera. It was not one of my favorites, however (out of the mere 6 that I have read!). I'm guessing I will enjoy my daughter's performance better!

Shake Down the Stars by Frances Donnelly (1988, 642 pgs.): This out of print book was loaned to me by a friend who found it in a common room while she was in Alaska over ten years ago, and she fell in love with it and lent it to me to read. It follows the story of three very different young women who come from the same village in England, and how the war affects their lives. One girl I liked, one I wanted to shake her and tell her how stupid she was being, and the other I wanted to shoot. And yet I found myself attached to all of them, and I loved to see their imperfections along with their strengths. There are some interesting love scenes thrown in (to me they seemed like a man wrote them, and one of them made me laugh), and the characters don't exactly live a life of purity. There are some references to abortion, as well as one abortion scene that I personally found very disturbing, but I think that was the author's intention. The book was almost as much about feminism as it was about romance. But, to be honest, the romance was the part that I liked. I'm wondering if there is anyone else out there who has read this? I don't know how popular it was when it came out.

Bridesmaids Revisited by Dorothy Cannell (2001, 256 pgs.): I was excited "revisit" the Ellie Haskell mystery series, having loved Wuthering Heights and The Thin Woman, but I was disappointed in this one. Ellie receives a letter from the "bridesmaids," three friends of her grandmother, telling her that her grandmother has a message for her. The problem is, as you've probably guessed already, her grandmother has been dead for a while. As usual, this story involves uncovering family secrets, eccentric characters, and humorous allusions to Gothic mysteries. It just wasn't up to par with the other two I had read.

Femmes Fatal by Dorothy Cannell (1994, 304 pgs.): Another Ellie Haskell mystery (I was in the mood for fluffy reading!). This was like "Desperate Housewives meets The Carol Burnett Show." Ellie feels like her marriage is lacking in passion since she had twins, and so she joins Fully Female, a club that promises to help a woman "fulfill her physical, emotional, and sexual potential." (It sounds racy, but it isn't really.) After not too long, people start dying, and it's up to Ellie to find the culprit. I had a few laughs, and it was an entertaining diversion, but it wasn't as good as others in the series.

A Wind in the Door by Madeliene L'Engle (1973, 209 pgs.): This is a companion to A Wrinkle in Time (one of my favorites) that I have had on my bookshelf for a while, and I kind of wished I had just left it there. Reading this made me understand people who have a distaste for fantasy. It was just way too fantastical for me. Like a drug trip or something. I appreciated the themes she was trying to convey, but not the story she used to convey them.

Veil of Roses by Laura Fitzgerald (2006, 320 pgs.): If you're looking for a great feel-good chick flick in book form, this is it. Iranian Tamila has three months in America to find a husband or she has to return to her restricted life in Iran. One prospect for her is a man who is an obsessive germ freak who insists she have a full medical exam before he will marry her, and another is gay, just trying to make his mother happy. During this husband-choosing process, Tami meets Ike, the blue-eyed dreamboat who works at Starbucks. She also becomes friends with her fellow students in the English learning class, including an pregnant, abused, mail order wife from Russia, and a "colorful" (especially in her language) soldiers wife from Germany. Through the story, Tami seems to be finding her own voice that she has never had the freedom to express. I laughed, I cried, it moved me.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Books 2 and 3 of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies Series

Pretties (2005, 370 pgs.): Tally Youngblood has agreed to undergo the operation to become beautiful, with the intention of turning around and providing the "cure" for the brain lesions that are a part of the transformation into the carefree submission of the "pretties." But she finds it is not so easy to choose to give up her new life of parties and fun. Together with her new boyfriend Zane and her group of friends, Tally struggles to keep in touch with her true self to break free of the changes in her brain, and try to reconnect with the "Uglies" she bonded with in the first book.
With some irritating "pretty" language and lack of a riveting storyline, I found this book merely served as a bridge between Uglies (which I loved) and Specials (which I also loved, see next!)
Specials (2006, 372 pgs.): "Tally thought they were a rumor, but now she's one of them. A Special. A super-amped fighting machine, engineered to keep the uglies down and the pretties stupid." (From the back cover) In this one, the action picks up again, and Tally again strives to gain control over her own mind and learn to trust her own instincts, not the ones that have been wired into her brain. She recognizes the power of the need to belong to a group, and the evils of government restricting freedoms. The ending is not what I expected, and I like that.

Overall, I very much enjoyed the series. I love novels that look at society and pick out certain trends and then envision where those trends could lead us into the future. These books are quick to read, imaginative without being unbelievable, and filled with situations that make you reflect on the world around you.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Audiobook: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (2007, 2 hrs., 52 min.)

Those familiar with this book will probably wonder "Why the heck did they listen to a Caldecott winner?" Well, the answer is, I didn't know that it was, despite my son repeatedly telling me that he had heard the pictures were really cool. Once we checked out the book at the library, I realized just what we were missing out on. But we did listen to the whole thing, which was excellently narrated and has a strong enough story to stand on its own. I have asked Anna (9) and Jeremy (11) to write their thoughts on this unique novel:

The story is about an 11-year old orphan named Hugo Cabret that works on an invention called automaton. Hugo steals from a man that works at a toy booth to get stuff to build the automaton.On his way to get stuff, Hugo meets a girl who sort of helps him. I think this story is for boys and girls. I thought that it was a good book and it contains lots of detail.


If I had to give Hugo Cabret a rating from 1 to 5, I would give it a 4.5. It is a book with a good plot and it is suspenseful at times. My favorite part was the part where the Automaton was drawing the picture. At first it just looked like random scribbles, but then it revealed itself as...random scribbles! Actually, it was drawing a picture, but I can't tell you what is was of. That might ruin the story. Although, I might have already ruined the story by telling you it is a picture. Ah well. Anyway it was a good story that I think a lot of people will enjoy. (The book is better than the audio-cd because it has pictures.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Complete Book of Running for Women by Claire Kowalchik (1999, 432 pgs.)

I just had to check this book out from the library because the picture of the woman running on the cover reminded me so much of myself (NOT!) This book is exactly what the title suggests--complete. It covers how to start, what to eat, what to wear, how to find the right shoes, cross-training, racing, injury prevention, and motivation. It also discusses special concerns that women have and how they can affect performance. From the perspective of a beginning runner, I found it very informative, and I have followed several of the suggestions the author has to offer. The best thing I have done is to start getting up a half hour earlier and having a small snack and a big cup of water. Before that I was going at it with an empty stomach, and I have a hard time drinking water in the morning without food. This has make a very noticeable difference. I still can't run our entire 3 mile route (I have to blame that on the uphill parts), but I'm doing better than when I started, and it is very exhilarating when I go a little farther than I did the jog before. It is still very hard in general, but I keep remembering a comment by the author that the first year of running for her was tough, but after that it was very fun for her. So in about eight or nine months, I'll be a running addict, right?

Friday, May 9, 2008

Audio Book: The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by E. L. Konigsberg (2007, 5 hrs., 9 min.)

I think I have been avoiding writing a review of this book because I didn't really like it, and that makes me a little sad, having loved From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The View From Saturday by the same author. (Of course now I'm thinking my procrastination may be due to the long titles I would have to type out.)

Review a la Amazon:
From Audio File
Unlikely characters and moments in history are set to converge when Amedeo Kaplan moves to St. Malo, Florida. At school, he befriends William and, subsequently, Williams mother, as well as his neighbor, Mrs. Zender. As the boys assist Mrs. Zender with her upcoming move, they discover much about her past, the artist Modigliani, and the interconnection between them all. While he sets a definitive pace and an intimate tone, Edward Herrmann is an unobtrusive narrator. He lets Konigsburgs distinctive characters share their story. As Mrs. Zender, he is imperious; as art collector and godfather Peter Vanderwaal, flamboyant; as Amedeo, alternately confident and introspective. Listen attentively. A.R. © AudioFile 2008, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to the audio CD edition.

Despite being well-narrated, I just couldn't get into the story, and had a hard time imagining a child getting into it either. Much of the story is focused on the adult characters rather than the two boys, and the plot also introduces the topics of homosexuality and nude art. If you need a springboard to discuss these with your child, maybe this is the book for you, but if these subjects are not quite on your child's radar yet, either wait or pass this book by. The one thing I did like about it was the World War II art history, but that may be a bad sign for non-history fans that the history portions were the most exciting part.

Rating: 2.5/5

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern (1998, 262 pgs.)

I've been checking more things off of my project list than my reading list lately, which actually gives me time to do some reviews at a more leisurely pace. This book about organization is probably one of the reasons I haven't read too much--when I read about organizing, I just have to do it! I am a moderately organized person who gets excessively excited when I get to create order out of chaos! This book isn't so much about what knick-knacks to use, but gives you a process for finding out why some areas of your home or office are in disarray, as well as a step by step process for figuring out the best way to fix it, based on your own personality and any issues you may have. I actually learned a few things about myself psychologically that really affect all areas of my life.
My first task to tackle was to do something about what we have affectionately named "The Pile" on the kitchen counter--a stack of a variety of school papers, ads, coupons, etc. that sometimes gets to resemble the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Any time any one is looking for something, I say, "Look in The Pile." I know that I am not going to file everything right away, and some of these items I don't want to file because I like to have them on hand-like the ads for the week and forms that need to be filled out. So now they are in a tabbed file box and everything just goes directly in there rather than on The Pile, and things are easier to find. This solution may not work for everyone, which is Morgenstern's point--we all have our own natural habits and psychological needs that will influence our strategies to organize.
My next project is my nightstand. I would post a picture, but it would just be too embarrassing. It must be a sign that I'm getting older that I regularly have Tums, mentholatum, two inhalers, and cough drops always within arm's reach at night. I just need to find a way to arrange all of those items along with books, glasses, phone, alarm clock, etc. in a way that will keep it all from falling off every time I grab something! Wish me luck!

Rating: 4.5/5

Monday, May 5, 2008