Thursday, November 27, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Thankful

So–just for today–how about sharing 7 things that you’re thankful for?

This can be about books, sure–authors you appreciate, books you love, an ode to your public library–but also, how about other things, too? Because in times like these, with bills piling up and disaster seemingly lurking around every corner, it’s more important than ever to stop and take stock of the things we’re grateful for. Family. Friends. Good health (I hope). Coffee and tea. Turkey. Sunshine. Wagging tails. Curling up with a good book.

1. fleece pajamas
2. Starbucks chai
3. sudacare shower soothers
4. fur elise
5. a picture of my baby neice dressed in fairy wings, big blue eyes
7. pumpkin candles

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

When Tally Youngblood turns 16, she will have a surgery that will make her beautiful and she will get to spend her young adulthood partying in a tower with other Pretties. She spends her time until then playing tricks with her Ugly friend Shay and crashing the Pretty parties. Shay doesn't want to have the surgery, which is unheard of. Instead, she runs away to go live with a group of Uglies who have decided to create their own society called the Smokies. When Tally turns 16, she is told that she is not going to have the surgery until she can find her friend Shay and find where the Smokies hidden location is. Etc.

I didn't really like it. I think if it would be a great book for a preteen, which is the age group it was written for. I did attempt to read the second book in the series (There are four total: Uglies, Pretties, Specials, Extras). But it still fell flat and the dialogue and character development and the author's writing style was bland. (The sentence in Pretties, "Maybe losing blood made you starving." finally made me cringe and close the book for good).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Newlyweds Florence and Edward clink their silverware and stare embarassingly at their congealed gravy dinner, thinking about what is to come that night. Florence is horrified at the thought and Edward can barely contain his excitement.

Edward, an old man at the end of the story, thinking back to this night:

"When he thought of her, it rather amazed him, that he had let that girl with her violin go... Love and patience - if only he had had them both at once - would surely have seen them both through. And then what unborn children might have had their chances, what young girl with a headband might have become his loved familiar? This is how the entire course of a life can be changed - by doing nothing."

How sad to think that the course of an entire lifetime can be derailed so easily. I think Ian McEwan is very wise.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

Edgar Sawtelle was born without the ability to use his vocal chords, so he communicates primarily through his own adapted version of sign language. He lives on a farm where his family raises their own breed of Sawtelle dogs and Edgar and his parents work tirelessly to train them. The dogs are prized miles around for their intelligence and loyalty. The book eventually turns into something of a mystery novel.

Edgar's dog, Almondine, has been with him since he was a baby. When Edgar was an infant (and he couldn't cry because of his loss of vocalization), Almondine was the only one that could hear the tiny rasping noises he made when crying. Almondine would nudge Edgar's mother and then she would know that he was hungry, or tired, or wet. Edgar calls Almondine his soulmate and they are together constantly.

Dogs play a very important part of the story and I was reminded of The Call of the Wild. I think the author may have been inspired somewhat by Jack London's story.

This is a beautifully written book. The author is a master story-teller. The characters are vivid and real and each character has a very distinct, believable personality.

I fell in love with Edgar. The poor kid has been through some disastrous things but he is still smart and determined and self-sacrificing all the way through. He deserves every good thing that the author could have put down on paper. That is why the book was so disappointing.

I can't say more without giving the ending away, just that it was a crash and burn ending and a book that held my greatest admiration for 500 pages just ended in disappointment. I know every story doesn't have to have a happy ending, but I don't understand what the point was of luring the reader into turning the pages one by one in quiet amazement, and then... that's it?? That's what happens?? Bummer.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Room With a View by E.M. Forster

The book opens with two women, Lucy and Charlotte, openly complaining about the hotel they are staying in because they were told they would have a room with a view and instead they were given a room that just faces into the courtyard. The other patrons can obviously hear their conversation, but politely go about their own business. Except for two men. George and his father do the logical thing and offer the women to trade rooms, since they have a room with a view but they can make do with any old room. Of course, everyone is stunned that these men are so improper and undignified as to offer such a thing and Charlotte promptly snubs them.

So you can see from the beginning that the book is largely about social conventions and the class system.

Lucy is the younger of the two women - Charlotte is her cousin, her chaperone on the trip, and kind of an old maid. During their stay in the hotel, Lucy keeps running into these two men that everyone else has ostracized. She gets to know George and they kiss. When Lucy returns back home, she gets caught up in an engagement to a man named Cecil who she doesn't have any feelings for, but she goes along with it because her family approves of the match.

Through a random twist of fate, George also ends up in England near Lucy's home and they meet again. Lucy decides she must tell George to leave her alone, but instead something else happens.

My favorite character in the book was George's father, Mr. Emerson. He always cuts to the chase and he tells Lucy exactly what she has been trying to ignore - that she has two choices. She can keep everyone in her family happy and make her own self miserable by doing what they tell her to do or she can admit that she loves George and can find a lifetime of happiness in marriage to him.

There was also some neat references in the book back to "rooms" and "views" and I think if you dig deeper you will find something meaningful. Many times a character is mentioned in the context of a room or some characters are talking about the view. I think there was some kind of comparison to liberal, forward-thinkers versus conservative thinkers. There are probably all kinds of layers and themes in this book that you can find. I think if I read it again in the future I will try to pay attention to these things and see what I can find. This book is actually a very mild book without much to recommend it at first, but if you linger over some of the themes I suspect you will find more than meets the eye.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Why Buy?

I’ve asked, in the past, about whether you more often buy your books, or get them from libraries. What I want to know today, is, WHY BUY?
Even if you are a die-hard fan of the public library system, I’m betting you have at least ONE permanent resident of your bookshelves in your house. I’m betting that no real book-lover can go through life without owning at least one book. So … why that one? What made you buy the books that you actually own, even though your usual preference is to borrow and return them?
If you usually buy your books, tell me why. Why buy instead of borrow? Why shell out your hard-earned dollars for something you could get for free?

This is a hard question to answer... I would rather argue the side of libraries over bookstores. But I do buy reference books that I am going to refer back to over and over. I also buy the classics... usually just the Penguin edition, but they are nice to own. And I love buying children's books because kids will read a book hundreds of times over.

But I go through books pretty fast so I'm lucky it's a free hobby, thanks to the library! I know people will say that they buy books to give back to the authors, but libraries also buy books. I have requested my library to buy several books that they didn't own, and so far they have purchased every book I've requested. When a new book becomes popular, like an Oprah endorsement or the Booker prize, they order at least 50 copies so there are plenty in circulation. And they work really hard to turn children into readers and those kids do grow up and eventually purchase books like any reader does.

If you are thinking about Christmas shopping and you have kids on your list, buy books!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

What an enchanting book - it almost seems like a new genre of fiction to me. The author's style is to weave two things - food and magic - together into one story. I read an interview where she said that this wasn't her intention - that she just wanted to write a fictional novel - but the apple tree started throwing apples at people and then it took on a story of its own. Good thing that apple tree decided to speak up. I'm not a huge fan of contemporary fiction - but this added just the right touch of something else, something new and different.

Claire Waverly comes from a long line of Waverly women who are each blessed with individual gifts. Claire spends her time in the garden gathering herbs that have all kinds of magical side effects - Honeysuckle allows you to see in the dark, Lemon Balm brings you back to your childhood, Angelica calms hyper children (I would love that one!) She has her own succesful catering business and a happy, quiet life until her younger sister shows up, needing a place to live. Of course, there's lots of romance and an interesting storyline and all that, but the best part is that this is a Southern Fictional story operating under a few new guidelines.

The apple tree in the story is a character in itself, causing all kinds of mischief behind people's backs. There's lots of tidbits to make a humdrum fictional story into something as delicious as one of those apples - men who are in love trailed by a hazy, violet light, an old women who walks around town giving people just what they need - a men's shirt, a ball of yarn, two quarters, a mango slicer. I loved that not only the Waverly's have a magical gift, but every family in the story has something that stands out about them.

I think she has done the same thing with The Sugar Queen, can't wait to read it!

Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron

On a bitterly cold below-zero night in Spencer, Iowa, a little orange kitten was dumped in a library book return slot. The librarians arrived that morning to find the kitten wedged between the books, the pads of his feet frostbitten and his heart barely beating.

They gave the kitten a grand name - Dewey Readmore Books - and a very important job - professional greeter and permanent tenant of the library.

Dewey made the library his home and snoozed on top of the warm copy machine, skirted ladders and ceiling lights, curled up in any willing patron's lap - or right on top of the open book or newspaper they happened to be reading!

All of the information about libraries and how they are run was almost as fascinating to me as Dewey's story. Books and cats - they just go together, don't they?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

This week's books

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

A 13-yr-old girl boards a ship alone to travel to her family in the Americas. She gets caught up in all the violence onboard between the sailors and the captain and she becomes a shipmate herself.

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

The author's style is to write a story around a painting. A young girl goes to work as a maid in the painter Vermeer's house and he ends up painting her, causing all kinds of disruptions and outrage in the household. I also enjoyed The Lady and the Unicorn by the same author.

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

A young adult book about a princess who is sent to marry a prince in a neighboring kingdom. Her lady-in-waiting and the guards who are escorting her try to kill her so the lady-in-waiting can pose as the new queen. The princess disguises herself as a goose girl and lives among the peasants until she can reveal her true identity.

The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg

A woman loses her husband to cancer and leaves behind her home in Chicago to start a new life. She buys a house on a whim, opens her own business, and reconnects with some old friends.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Giver by Lois Lowry

"If everything's the same, then there aren't any choices! I want to wake up in the morning and decide things! A blue tunic, or a red one?"

Jonas' world is orderly and safe. Every person's actions are carefully monitored and controlled to ensure the wellbeing of the community.

Jonas has been chosen by his community to be an apprentice to The Giver. As The Receiver, Jonas is to receive from this elderly man all the memories the world has ever contained.

When The Giver lays his hand on Jonas to transfer memories, Jonas is stunned. The apple his friend tosses to him is suddenly red. There used to be something that fluttered softly from the sky, it was cold and stinging, and it was called snow. There were once large, sorrowful animals that roamed the earth and they were called elephants. There was something else beyond comprehension that was called love.

After undergoing a year of these sessions, Jonas plots with The Giver to release all the memories back to all the people and then to flee the community. In the dark of night, Jonas sets off by bicycle into a world that he only knows through others' memories.

If you didn't read this in sixth grade (as my husband did), then you missed out (as I did) and you should read it now.

Pavilion of Women by Pearl S. Buck

The Wu family is a powerful, highly-respected family who possess a great deal of land. The ancient Wu family has built their fortune and esteem generation by generation. They live in a rambling house full of enough courts to house their sons and their sons' wives and children, cousins, distant relatives, cooks, and servants to wait on their every need.

Madame Wu, the head of the family, decides that after she reaches her 40th birthday, she has fulfilled her duties as a wife and mother and will retire to pursue her own interests. She remembers her father-in-law sharing the family's library with her and forbidding her to read certain books that were intended only for men. She decides that she would like to spend the remaining half of her life reading those books in the library. She finds a small wife for her husband and then moves into her own separate rooms.

Madame Wu finds a priest, a foreign man from Venice, to tutor her in a little bit of English and they also talk of philosophical things. Madame Wu is blown away by his way of looking at the world, a way of respecting the individual's right to follow his dreams. She introduces these concepts to her family, and slowly the family untangles itself from one another and each person begins to follow their own path. A few of them work together towards a vision of building schools and hospitals in their poor community, others just grow fat and lazy, and one of them is struck by tragedy.

It's been awhile since I read The Good Earth, but I think I enjoyed this book better. It's very easy to read, each character in the book is unique and vividly drawn, and the overall message is a good one.

This is my 100th book of the year (#100 completely by accident, but at least it was a book I thoroughly enjoyed)!