Friday, April 30, 2010

Do You Know What Time It Is?

IT'S TIME TO HOP! You know what to do! Go over to Crazy-for-Books, post your book blog link, and check out all the bloggers going nuts for book! Here's a few blogs I've found in the past couple weeks that I am enjoying: Emily's Reading Room, Read It, See It and The Ninja Librarian.

If your new, thanks for stopping by and check out my book giveaway for The House on Mango Street. There are not many entries so sign up to win!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Old Man's War by John Scalzi

I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army. - Scalzi 9
These are the opening words to Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, a science-fiction novel wherein humans compete with extra terrestrials for inhabitable planets. If you like action and adventure you’ll get it here since colonizing the universe incurs a lot of conflict. The colonizing officials find it expedient to recruit earth’s elderly, with life experience to draw from and nothing left to lose, and transform them into battle-ready soldiers. These recruits have no idea what they’re in for, literally, as earth is under an information quarantine. John Perry is one such recruit and this novel tells his native-earthling-turned-super-space-soldier story.

Scalzi has an abundant sense of sarcasm which is injected into John’s Perry’s first-person narration that I found amusing. The humor kept an otherwise serious colonial commentary feeling lighthearted and fun to read. The characters were great, especially some of the minor ones. There’s sort of a love story here but it’s secondary to the main plot. Speaking of which, it took awhile before the main conflict is revealed but it wasn’t a drawback for me. I was so engrossed in Perry’s transformation and his training that I didn’t get bored wondering what it was all pushing towards. I saw the end “twist” coming but it was still a great ending and was not disappointing for having figured how things would end. Scalzi’s descriptions of planets, aliens and technology were sufficient and enjoyable for me. If things get real technical I tend to get lost and bored. This was not the case with Old Man’s War. Overall, this was a fast and fun read. If you’ve never visited Scalzi’s blog check it out here: If you’re not into science-fiction you’ll find he posts on a lot of topics, book-ish and more.
Publisher: Tor, 2005     Pages: 320     Source: IC Public Library
Rating: 3.5 Stars           Recommended Age: 17 and up for language and sexuality

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

When I picked up this book I thought I knew what I was in for. But apparently I was ignorant of the largest involuntary migration in the U.S. – that of Mexican workers, many legal citizens, who were forced to move to Mexico during the Great Depression. Esperanza’s story is set during this turbulent time. The daughter of a wealthy Mexican rancher, Esperanza has everything she could ever desire. But in one night her life changes and she and her mother migrate to California to work on a farm labor camp. While the Great Depression rages, Esperanza adjusts to the difficulties of her new life.

I enjoyed Esperanza’s story, based off Ryan’s grandmother’s life. The writing is interspersed with Spanish making this a very cultural text. I think this is an excellent book for kids to learn about the difficulties of emigrating families, the richness of Mexican culture as well as the history surrounding the Great Depression. I find this story particularly relevant today as we come out of our economic slump. With so many unemployed, sympathy for non-citizen workers definitely fades. Esperanza’s story reminds us that everyone deserves humane treatment and that stereotyping has never helped our country in the past. That’s what I got out of this text, anyways! I will tuck away this title in my memory bank for my future kid someday.
Publisher: Scholastic, 2000      Pages: 262          Source: IC Public Library
Rating: 4 Stars                             Recommended Age: 10 and up

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games was a nice treat. I’ve been drifting awhile in the sci-fi/fantasy genre and, finally, I’ve found what I’m looking for. This is a dystopian plot set in a post-U.S.A. North America that is broken into twelve districts. It’s a clever set-up and serves as a nice backdrop for the lives of those forced to play the hunger games – a Coliseum-like event set in the 21st century. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen is in the unfortunate position of a “tribute” or a player of the Hunger Games. She must search and destroy the other players before they seek and destroy her.

This book has some great action and adventure while teenagers fight for survival in the expansive arena. Weapons are used. People die in not so good ways. But all in the name of entertainment. Or, is it that simple? No, no! Just as the emperors of Rome used the Coliseum, the games are meant to inspire a fearful loyalty as much as they are meant to entertain. As the protagonist so clearly sees, the Capitol city uses the games to say “Look at how we can make you destroy yourselves so, don’t question our rule.” But not everybody feels negatively about the games. Many are avid fans who support certain tributes and bet on them. Katniss is deeply conflicted between her instinct for self-defense and her aversion to killing another person. Although there is violence I find the text illustrates how not simple being a part of violence is. Every victory in the games comes with physical and emotional baggage which is not easily gotten over. There’s a lot to draw out of this book and the violence is just one aspect of The Hunger Games. The Capitol stands as a symbol for decadent living – the ultimate fashion, food and power center. But their luxuries come at a price. Perhaps more than the strict laws imposed upon the district people, the ultimate flaw is that the citizens of the Capitol have become blind to their greed and inhumanity. I could go on but I’ll get to the gist of it…

At first, the prose was not drawing me in. On page one the first-person present-tense narration turned me off and I thought “Oh, no. Not present tense and first person.” Not my favorite POV. However, the prose gradually improved until I really enjoyed Katniss’ narration. I felt inside her head, hearing a twig snap when she did, feeling panic when she did. I even teared up a couple times. By the middle of the book I was hooked and had to know how the games would end. It seems all great sagas tend to draw out the begining a bit. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, Catching Fire. Besides the semi-slow draw, this was a great book. If you haven’t read it yet, hop on the wagon.
Publisher: Scholastic, 2008     Recommended Age: 12 and up
Rating: 4.5 Stars                        Pages: 374   Source: IC Public Library
P.S. The Coliseum picture is one I took when I was in Rome last summer. It was strange to stand in a place where people died. Can you imagine watching such a "game"?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Hop to It, Book Bloggers!

It's Friday and time to find new book blogging friends! Crazy-for-Books hosts this weekely Blog Hop where you can list your book blog and, in return, visit a few. If you don't blog check out the list because it's a great resource for finding new book blogs.

If you're hopping by, check out my book giveaway! Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, April 19, 2010

American On Purpose by Craig Ferguson

American On Purpose is an uplifting and fun read. This is not to say it is an entirely funny read. There is plenty of humor interspersed, as would be expected of the host of The Late Late Show, but this memoir is a reflection on the harrowing journey Ferguson took through drugs, alcohol and failed relationships before landing a successful show-biz career in the land of the free and home of the brave.

Growing up in Scotland, Ferguson felt an affinity for the United States as a young child, and after a visit to NYC he swore he would return to pursue a career in Hollywood. It was a long time before his dream was realized. There are a lot of dark moments as Ferguson hits several lows but eventually the light dawns, he reaches out for help and begins a slow but successful climb to sobriety and success. Eventually, Ferguson decides that the U.S. of A. is a people he identifies with and has a Constitution he believes in. He truly is a patriot who thought carefully before becoming a U.S. citizen.

Ferguson is a captivating writer who is able to recount events in his life without boring his reader to death. And surprisingly he handles the darker moments of acid trips and wild brawls in such a way that made me neither disgusted nor overly sympathetic. He maintains an endearing honesty throughout and an uplifting message of hope for anyone who has ever experienced or known someone who is consumed by an addiction. I strongly suggest viewing a few of his shows before reading because a) Ferguson is hilarious and b) it was so much fun to hear his Scottish accent in my head while I read. I enjoyed this book. It’s nice to know some people truly love this country. I am reminded of a professor of mine from Uganda who received his citizenship while I was taking his class. We were all so excited for him and he was thrilled. Encountering stories such as these remind me how precious our freedoms are and that the U.S. is still the land of opportunity!
Publisher: Harper, 2009          Source: Purchased at a Local Bookstore
Rating: 4 Stars                          Recommended Age: 16+ (for language and drug use descriptions)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

I am sad to say I am putting this book aside. At page 227, over half way through the book, Shiver just isn’t holding my attention. I’ve been trying really hard to get into it (I’ve heard so many good things) but it feels like a chore to read and it’s due back at the library soon.

If you’ve been thinking about reading this I’d say go ahead. Don’t let me stop you because there are some positive aspects to this book. Stiefvater is a great writer. There are some beautiful passages with creative metaphors. I liked how the chapters switched between Sam and Grace’s point of view. The dialog isn’t cheesy although I felt it sounded pretty grown up for teenagers. The story-line is fairly original for the age-old werewolf story. The main thrust of the novel is its romantic relationship and this is where it fell flat for me. The relationship between Sam and Grace didn’t engage me. The romance felt rushed without a gradual build-up. They were just instantly in love and glued together. I guess I like more suspense. And the whole hiding-my-boyfriend-in-my-bedroom was sort of lame to me. Also, there wasn’t enough mystery. At once we know what Sam is (so no suspense there) and the danger lurking within the pack didn’t draw me in either. If you’re a fan of paranormal romance I suspect you will like Shiver. Maybe I’ll pick this back up in the future but for now, I’m moving on.
Publisher: Scholastic, 2009          Pages: 392          Source: IC Public Library
Rating: none since I didn’t finish it

Friday, April 16, 2010

Hoppin' Book Bloggers! It's Friday!

It's Friday and time for another Book Blogger Hop hosted by Crazy-for-Books! The point is to connect with other bloggers who you may not know exist. It's alot of fun so get hopping!

If you're new to my blog, thanks for stopping by! Check out my book giveaway while you're here and happy Friday!

Book Giveaway: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

I am holding my very first book giveaway to celebrate several things. First, May 5th marks my one-month-no-soda-pop goal! It's been really hard but good for me. Second, it's Cinco de Mayo and why not celebrate! Lastly, my reader base has really grown and I am grateful for those who share their interest in books with me!

Giveaway Details:
One Book: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (click for summary)
First Vintage Contemporaries Ed., April 1991 Pages: 110
This is a well loved copy with highlighting and writing inside but the binding and cover are in good shape.
Begins: 04/16/2010
Ends: 05/05/2010 at 11:59 pm central – I will post the winner’s name on 05/06/09 and email that person. The winner must respond via email by 5/8/2009 or I will select another winner. The winner will be chosen randomly.
Open to U.S. Residents Only, sorry!

How to enter:
1) You must be a follower of my blog!
2) Leave a comment under this post with your first name and a description of what your name means. In the chapter “My Name,” Esperanza tells us all the different things her name means. It’s one of my favorite chapters! So, let’s share our names' histories. Try this site to look up your name.
3) Leave your email address so I can contact the winner! I won’t be using your email for any other purpose.

My name, Michelle, means “like God” or “close to God.” That’s a lot to live up to! I was named after my mom’s cousin. My nickname is Chelle (pronounced shell). And just for the record, I do not like the Beatles’ song, “Michelle, ma belle.” Ok, good luck!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

I loved this book! It was one of those stories I felt invested in the characters and enjoyed the whole reading experience. Before I get too carried away, here’s a short description.

Twelve-year-old Miranda encounters shifting friendships, a sudden punch, a strange homeless man and mysterious notes that hint at knowledge of the future. These and other seemingly random events converge in a brilliantly constructed plot. – from:

So, what was so great about his book? The voice, Miranda’s voice, was incredibly authentic. She was cute, spunky and genuinely concerned about those around her. Yet she was sometimes selfish and gave her mom a bit of lip. She isn’t perfect but she sure is loveable. Stead captures the concerns of a 12-year-old perfectly. Miranda often asks: Why does my best friend avoid me? Why do the girls at school give me dirty looks? She becomes aware of her family’s lack of money. Her first crush develops. And in addition to these normal bumps to growing up, Miranda receives mysterious and rather alarming notes. These notes drive the plot as Miranda tries to puzzle them together. I enjoyed how the book is written as Miranda’s reply to the messenger and how the text begins addressing someone we don’t know. This is a touching story of growing up, learning how to be a good friend and opening oneself up to possibilities. I don’t want to give too much away as there is quite a bit of mystery. The plot kept me guessing and I wasn’t sure of the messenger’s identity until he/she is revealed.

This text references A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (my review) throughout the book so, if you haven’t read Wrinkle you may want to do so first or at least read a synopsis of it before reading Stead’s book. Miranda finds comfort and role models in her favorite book and is alarmed when others try to pick it apart. She says, “The truth is that I hate to think about other people reading my book. It’s like watching someone go through the box of private stuff that I keep under my bed” (Stead 49). That’s often how I feel when a book is discussed in class and characters that I adore are scrutinized. It’s funny how adults will become defensive and argue their favorite character’s integrity! I can see this being a teacher’s great challenge when discussing books with kids and trying to get them to see a different perspective. Have you ever felt so strongly about a fictional character? When You Reach Me was a perfect story and a must read. I’m sure it will be a well-loved book for years to come.
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books of Random House, 2009
Rating: 5 Stars            Source: IC Public Library           Pages: 200    Recommended Age: 10 +

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

An enduring classic, A Wrinkle in Time is a great book to get kids excited about math and physics. With unusual and endearing characters this novel also encourages strong family bonds, especially between siblings. It is science fiction that will appeal to several age groups since there is something for everyone in this tale. There is the classic good against evil plot that tries Meg, the heroin, her brother Charles and friend Calvin. This book was all over the place in terms of subjects – time travel, space travel, aliens, absent parent, strange witches who may be good or may be bad, school challenges – but they are woven together seamlessly. I was surprised (in a good way) by the Christian undertone and am sure many religious adults will appreciate the allegory as much as kids will appreciate the action and adventure. There were several references to Shakespeare (The Tempest) and other philosophers as well as Biblical quotes. So, in addition to mathematics, this text also encourages kids to explore the liberal arts. This book still gets young readers excited and has quite a following – impressive for such an “old” book. The themes of family and friendship will always be important to people and I think these elements make this book time-less. This was a really different read for me and made me stretch my imagination. But it was an enjoyable story in the end.
Publisher: Laurel-Leaf of Dell, 1962     Recommended Age: 10 and up
Rating: 3 Stars                                            Pages: 190

Monday, April 12, 2010

Reading Spot

Today I filled my husband's Camelbak with ice water and books then took off for destinations unknown on my bike. After a 22 minute ride I stretched and sat under these lovely magnolia trees and finished a great book - When You Reach Me (review coming soon). I had the park all to myself. It was great. Ahhh. Don't you just love spring?
Things I Saw: A "squinny" or ground squirrel, robins, people with dogs/strollers/children/lawnmowers, an awesome orange VW "Super Beetle," fluffy cat eating grass, two soldiers walking and lots of sunshine.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Graceling by Kristen Cashore

Fantasy or science fiction? In many ways, Graceling is classic fantasy. Cashore creates a new world, The Seven Kingdoms, and provides a map to help you keep your bearings. I never felt lost and the imaginary world isn’t very different from North America, but I enjoyed The Seven Kingdoms anyways. It’s a time before electricity with lots of dark tunnels and sword fighting. There are no wizards or elves but gracelings, individuals born with enhanced abilities, easily identified by their eyes. The ability aspect reminds me of X-men which is considered science fiction. But there’s nothing else particularly scientific about this story. I think it’s safe to say Graceling is fantasy that will appeal to fans of science fiction.

Cashore’s writing style was easy, fluid and fun to read. I would call this “light” reading but it wasn’t exactly childish either. It’s a nice medium between adult and children’s prose. The story is pretty captivating, starting in medias res, with a lot of action, secret councils and life-saving missions. I liked Katsa, the sixteen-year-old girl who struggles with the nature of her grace (aka ability) to kill. The violence she commits weighs her down and she wrestles with controlling her grace and not letting her grace control her. She’s a strong individual with an independent spirit which leads her to be rather stubborn at times. I liked that she wasn’t perfect and that she makes some mistakes. This book made me think about how I use my abilities. Some people are smart, good at making friends, financially successful, etc. but do we use our abilities to serve ourselves or those around us? In her youth, Katsa is manipulated but as she matures she learns that only she decides what her grace will be used for. There are some twists, dark secrets and, of course, a quest to set things right!

Causes for concern: These are reasons why my age rec. is so high. There are some mentions about menstruation. Katsa and her boyfriend have sex on several occasions (there isn’t much detail but there is an oh-so-convenient birth-control herb). Katsa is adamant that she will not marry and is willing for her bf to be unhappy so that she can be fulfilled. There is a lot of violence and descriptions of Katsa killing people. Just some things for parents to know and to talk about with young readers.

I enjoyed the story overall and am interested in reading the sequel, Fire. Check out the author’s blog:
Publisher: Graphia, Houghton Mifflin, 2008     Recommended Age: 16 and up
Rating: 3 Stars                                                         Source: IC Public Library            Pages: 471

Readathon Stats

Totals are in for my participation in the Dewey Readathon.
Books Read: finished one, started and finished the second, began a third
Hours Read: 8.5
Pages Read: 499
Average Pages/Minute: 0.98
Favorite Book: When You Reach Me
Would I do this again: Yes!

Not my best reading times ever but I did have fun! I think reading A Wrinkle In Time slowed me down. I wasn't into it that much but wanted to read it since When You Reach Me references it alot. Next time, I won't choose books based on others since I got bored but felt like I couldn't pick up another book. Tips for the future!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Readathon Update

Confession time. I fell asleep for almost an hour between two and three. But since then I've been going strong. I finished A Wrinkle in Time (very different but I liked it) and plan to get some dinner and read for another hour or two. Then I'm off to see How to Train Your Dragon on the big screen. I didn't get as much read as I would have liked but overall I think I did pretty well. P.S. While I've been louging on the couch reading my husband bought and assembled a new grill. =)

Dewey Readathon in Full Swing

I've nearly finished my first book, Graceling. I have 30 pages left but am hungry for the pizza my husband put in the oven. I've been reading for over 4 hours and am not even close to being tired. Next up is A Wrinkle in Time. It's so nice outside I think I'll read on the deck and take in some rays. My kitty,  Max, is a great reading buddy. She burrowed into my blanket this morning and napped next to me while I read. I hope everyone else is having fun getting their read on!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Alexie Wins PEN/Faulkner Award

One of my favorite authors, Sherman Alexie, won the 2010 PEN/Faulkner award for War Dances (click for my review). The award honors American writers and encourages excellence in American literature.

Dewey Readathon Starts Tomorrow!

Ok, I've decided to do this. The readathon begins at 7 am central time and I'm going to wake at this obscene hour to read for as long as I can. I'm actually excited. I have so many library books hanging I need to do this as much as I want to do this. Are you doing the readathon? Maybe we can support each other.

The Game Plan: Wake at 7, eat cereal and read blogs. Comence reading in earnest by 7:30. I'm going to try and read without a break until noon. Then I'll eat and post about what I'm reading. I'll look forward to reading everyone's posts about how their readathon is going! Resume reading in the afternoon (2ish) and stick with it until 6. I'll post again and let you know how it's going. After dinner, if my eyes are still able to focus, I may continue this crazy endeavor. That's the plan, anyways, and always subject to change with mood and weather. =)

The Supplies: Stack of Books, Tea (Tender Leaf and Lipton green), leftover pot roast and...a SNACK, I need a snack! What should I make for tomorrow? Rice krispies? Hmmm. Any ideas?

The Books: Graceling, A Wrinkle in Time, When You Reach Me, Stargirl, American on Purpose, Shiver and O Pioneers. That's 5 YA, one bio and one classic. Ok, wish me luck!

Book Blogger Hop

It's Friday and time to hop around the blogosphere in search of great book bloggers! Hosted by Crazy for Books, you can post your URL and check out the sites of others reviewing and talking about books. Get hopping! One of the sites I've found through the hop is Brimfull Bookshelves and I'm enjoying the variety she reads. Check her out, too!

Monday, April 5, 2010

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

All the Pretty Horses is a beautifully written story set at the beginning of the end of two ages – the decline of the cowboy and the end of youth. It is 1949 and John Grady Cole is sixteen, ready to become a man and to put his love of horses to work. To do so, he and his seventeen-year-old friend, Lacey Rawlins, saddle-up and leave their Texas homes behind them in search of ranch work in Mexico. Of course, things aren’t always as simple as we think they should be. It isn’t for these boys either.

Reading the description, I thought this novel was as a bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story, in which the protagonist goes through a tough time to learn valuable lessons which enable him to become an adult. Such stories often include a romantic relationship which helps to achieve this end. But while reading, I felt John Grady was already an adult. This kid knows his mind and how to handle himself. He is already equipped with a trade (braking horses) and is darn good at it. I’m thinking of Dickens’ Great Expectations, often considered a bildungsroman. Pip goes through much to grow up and I don’t think the pattern is the same for John Grady. John is perhaps reckless but not immature. He falls in love but is not a hopeless romantic like Pip. Having finished reading, I will concede this as a coming-of-age story because John undergoes a shift in the way he understands the world. He acquires a more “grown up” perspective. He always tries to do what he thinks is right but still struggles with his conscience. Finally, John recognizes that not everything in life can be explained and rationalized, that all events in life can’t be nicely wrapped up as we would like. More than the physical events that John experiences, it is this mental growth that signals adulthood. For me, watching how John processed his actions was as motivating to turn pages as reading for the plot.

I am a huge fan of McCarthy’s unconventional writing style. I’m amazed at his command of language and find his writing beautiful and inspiring. This is a text to take your time with, to enjoy the language and visualize what is being described. The descriptions are out of this world if you will allow yourself to sink into the text and not worry about finishing and finding out what happens. This is an “enjoy the journey” book and is not about getting to the end but appreciating the steps that lead to it. I realized on page one that I would have to slow down. I’m glad I did. Here’s an example of a description:

Shrouded in the black thunderheads the distant lightning glowed mutely like welding seen through foundry smoke. As if repairs were under way at some flawed place in the iron dark of the world. (McCarthy 67)

Wow, I just love that. I had to read it four times, once out loud to my husband, and we gushed about it (much like I’m doing now). It just so happens to be storming outside right now, too, and that’s just how the lightning is. On another note, I enjoyed the Spanish mingled throughout the text and was surprised at how much I remembered from class. But if you don’t know Spanish don’t worry as the text is 98% English.

Every time I opened this novel, I felt completely transported to the West. It was like I was hanging in the clouds watching John Grady ride his horse. I think that’s why I enjoyed this book so much. This is book one of the “Border Trilogy” but All the Pretty Horses stands well on its own. If I didn’t know there were more books I would have thought it was a standalone novel. Book two will be in my reading list for the future.
Publisher: Vintage, 1993     Source: IC Public Library
Rating: 4 Stars                       Pages: 301

Friday, April 2, 2010

Book Blogger Hop

Check out Crazy-for-Books' weekly Book Book Blogger Hop where you can find several bloggers dedicated to blogging about books! Put your blog's name on the list to connect with bloggers and other readers. Get hopping!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry

The Willoughbys uses a lot of dark humor. The four children wish their parents would die so they can be orphans like ones in books. And their parents find their kids annoying and plot to get rid of them. In the end, Mr. and Mrs. meet their demise on vacation. I found much of the humor harmless and think most kids would enjoy it. However, I disliked the way the oldest sibling, Tim, acted like a tyrant and belittled Jane by telling her she wouldn’t ever do anything important because she’s a girl. It’s all meant to be funny, and clearly everyone has flaws in this story. But I felt Tim just wasn’t funny or cute. He begins to mend his ways in the later half but his attitude towards women is never directly addressed. For this reason, Tim’s character never sat right with me. I appreciated the “big words” throughout the story. And the glossary is there for kids to learn what words like “surreptitious” and “obsequious” mean. There are several references to classics about orphans and nannies. I think I’ll have to read some of them. A cute story but The Willoughbys was a bit of a letdown.
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 2008     Recommended Age: 8 and up
Rating: 2.5 Stars                                        Pages: 157, 174 with Glossary and Bibliography