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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Change of Heart

Change of Heart
by Jodi Picoult
audio book (12 cassettes: 15.25 hours)

This is my book club's pick this month. The waiting list for this book at the library was about 30 people long so I ended up getting the cassettes since no one had them on hold.

I'm sure that I'm going to offend some people with this review and I'm sorry about that, but I well and truly hated this book. I debated whether or not to be completely honest in my review, whether to tone down my hatred, but I decided against it. Maybe if this had been a book sent to me by the author I could have held my tongue a bit better, but I'm not sure ...

*** The Plot ***

Shay Bourne is convicted of the murder of 7 year old Elizabeth and her police officer step-father, Kurt. June, Elizabeth's mother and Kurt's wife, is pregnant with baby Clare at the time of the murder. Shay is sentenced to death by lethal injection. Eleven years later, Shay's appeals have all been denied and his execution date is set. He's moved to a new part of the prison and suddenly strange, almost miraculous, things start happening (think The Green Mile, sort of).

In the 11 years since the trial, one of the jurors has become a Catholic priest and Clare has been diagnosed with a heart condition that requires a transplant. Fr. Michael becomes Shay's spiritual advisor and begins to think Shay has some special connection to God. Shay decides that he'd rather be hung than die by lethal injection, that way he can donate his heart to Clare. Shay's new lawyer works with Fr. Michael to try to make this happen. The story ends with the resolution of all these varied plot lines.

*** The Narrators ***

As with (most? all?) Picoult's books, the story is told from various points of view.
  • Fr. Michael - the former-juror-turned-priest who is against the death penalty
  • Lucius - the convicted murder who has AIDS and who is in the cell next to Shay's
  • June - mother and wife to Shay's murder victims, and mother to Elizabeth
  • Maggie - the ACLU attorney working on Shay's case
  • Clare - the heart patient (she gets one section at the very end)

*** What I Didn't Like ***

This is a long list but there was so much wrong with this book that I simply can't condense it. Some of my bullet points may include spoilers but I will clearly note that at the start of each bullet.

My first points are about the writing style. These alone would have made me dislike the book but not more so than any other poorly written novel.
  • All the characters are flat - they have no personality, no voice. When the point of view changes, Picoult leads off by stating the character's name then continuing the story. If she didn't do that, you'd have no idea who is telling the story. Open up to a random page in Barbara Kingsolver's THE POISONWOOD BIBLE and you can tell exactly which character is speaking simply by reading a few sentences - and she has 5 different narrators! The only reason I was able to keep Picolt's characters straight was that each was narrated by a different person.

  • Shay's character is supposed to have trouble speaking. He's described as having difficulty stringing words together to form complete sentences. However the readers only know that because Picoult TELLS us; when Shay is speaking, he sounds pretty normal. The only thing that comes across is that he sometimes rambles on about random topics, but even that doesn't happen often. It's like the author is saying "Shay has trouble speaking - just take my word for it, even if you can't tell when he does actually speak."

  • Big Spoiler Alert! Don't read this bullet point if you don't want to know the ending. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    When Shay is being hung the witnesses can "conveniently" see through the curtain above the platform but they just as "conveniently" can't see through the curtain below the platform. This may be a small thing but it really bugged me. Wouldn't the curtains both be made of the same material? It's a blatant plot device and doesn't make any sense except that it allows the author to let the reader see what she wants seen. Oh, and the use of the circus tent to cover the gallows was a bit of over-the-top symbolism too.
Now for the rest of what I didn't like about this book. This is the part where I can tell you why I truly hated it.
  • Minor spoiler alert! This doesn't give away anything huge though.
    After hearing about Shay's "miracles" Fr. Michael starts questioning his own faith. He goes so far as to believe (consider believing?) that Shay is God or Jesus. SERIOUSLY?! They guy is a priest - he's spent years in seminary and more years working in his parish - and you're telling me that he changes his entire belief system just like that?! This was so far beyond believable for me that it tainted my opinion of the rest of the book.

  • Then there's Maggie, the overweight Jewish atheist ACLU lawyer with a rabbi for a father. I don't think it is possible for her to be any more stereotypical. And she just happens to meet a gorgeous doctor (with a British accent no less) who loves her for who she is. Did I mention that this love story totally does not fit with the rest of the book? [In case you don't know, ACLU is the American Civil Liberties Union.]

  • And on the topic of the ACLU, the first case we see Maggie win is on behalf of a punk high school kid who decides he doesn't want to say the Pledge of Allegiance just to irritate his teacher. I'm sorry, but I don't see any reason to admire that "victory". It's not like the kid had some religious belief that was being violated - he was just being a punk, and his defiance of his teacher was rewarded. That is supposed to be a GOOD thing? *blech*

  • The thing that bothered me the most about this book is the fact that no one was allowed to have a firm belief in anything. I know it is politically correct to say "I believe this way but whatever you believe is right for you" however I don't know many people who ACTUALLY believe that way. All the people in this book do though. Fr. Michael questions his faith and decides that there are many truths. Maggie is pretty convinced there is no God but she doesn't remain firm all the time. Her rabbi father doesn't seem to mind that his daughter is an atheist, nor does he think Fr. Michael is all wrong either. *gah* Can't we please have a character who believes something and actually STICKS TO IT?!

  • You know a book is bad when you get to the very end and you should out loud "Oh come on! You have GOT to be kidding me!" That is exactly what I did at the end of the last cassette.
*** What I Did Like ***

There were only two things that I liked about this book, and they were minor plot points.
  • Maggie is talking to the doctor (before they are dating) and he says "I'm Christian." She thinks this is an odd statement but she replies by laying out her own religious beliefs. His reply? "No, I mean my NAME is Christian." ~LOL~

  • June is often with Clare in the hospital and at one point Clare is having surgery. The scene where June is with Clare in the operating room and Clare is being put under anesthesia is VERY accurate. I've been there with kiddo many times* and Picoult really got it right. Other than the fact that I didn't have to wear a surgical mask every other part of that scene was a direct reflection of my experience with kiddo.
*** The Book Club Problem ***

My book club is getting this Saturday morning to discuss this book and I'm dreading it. That's really the reason that I wrote such a long post; I wanted to clarify my thoughts before our meeting.

I know I'm not the only one who didn't like it (one gal didn't finish it because it was so bad, and at least one other hated it) but there are two gals who mentioned that it was getting better with every chapter. WHAT?!?! I can sense a big clash in the making ...

UPDATE: So, the meeting wasn't that bad after all. You can read all about it at my book club's blog.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Have any of you read this? If you have and you liked it, please forgive me for ranting so much. And after you forgive me, post a comment and tell me what you liked about this book. I promise not to jump all over you - I really want to know!

And as always I'm happy to post links to your reviews right here.

* Kiddo has multiple severe food allergies and also a rare condition known as Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EE). Because of his EE he has to have endoscopies done every few months. I think he's done 4 or 5 now and there are more planned in the coming year.

Friday, February 27, 2009

1% Well Read Challenge '08 - Recap

It is COMPLETE!!! Due to poor planning on my part, I had to make several last minute changes to my reading list. I happily made a list of what to read when I signed up for this challenge but I failed to plan ahead and find time to actually read the books I chose, so I ended up substituting several short stories.

I was supposed to read 10 books from the "1,001 Books to Read Before You Die" list by Feb. 28th. In the end, I read seven books and three short stories from the list (the links take you to my reviews) but I DID complete the challenge.

  • Cannery Row - I was surprised at how much I really enjoyed this book. The writing is beautiful, and it is very short. Unfortunately it was removed from the 2008 revised 1,001 Books list.

  • King Solomon's Mines - For those who've seen The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, this is where Alan Quartermain comes from.

  • Dracula - Thought I'd hate it, but I LOVED it. And I'm not a horror fan either.

  • Midnight's Children - This one I did hate. I know some of you loved it, but I just don't get it.

  • Some Experiences of an Irish RM - Worth reading for me, but not worth talking about.

  • Phineas Finn - Quite good! A classic from a series that I may continue reading.

  • Delta of Venus - Not at ALL what I expected but very good in parts (and creepy in parts).

  • A Modest Proposal - Yes, I understand that it is satire; no, I still don't like it.

  • The Pit and the Pendulum - This story encompasses some of my worst fears. *shiver*

  • The Fall of the House of Usher - Creepy in a very good way.
On the whole I really enjoyed this challenge. It introduced me to books that I otherwise would not have picked up. Here are some "challenge stats":
  • Favorite: It's a tie between Dracula and Cannery Row - both were great reads!

  • Worst: Again a tie, this time between Midnight's Children and A Modest Proposal.

  • Do it next year?: Absolutely. There are some great books on this list and I'm looking forward to picking out ten more.
I'm still thinking that I need to get a copy of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die book ... I'd love to know the story behind the inclusion of each book on the list.

Whew, I barely finished this challenge before the deadline. Now it's time to sign up for the next one!

The Pit and the Pendulum

The Pit and the Pendulum
by Edgar Allan Poe
22 typed pages

Yet another of Poe's stories that I thought I'd read but definitely had not. Boy, is this one creepy. The narrator has been convicted by the Spanish Inquisition (of heresy we presume) and sentenced to death. He faints, then awakens in a pitch black prison. The rest of the story details the various form of psychological torture he is afflicted with while awaiting death.

I don't want to say any more than is absolutely necessary about this story because part of the terror you feel as a reader comes from not knowing what will happen to this poor guy next. Suffice it to say that I read it during the day at work because I was afraid it would invade my dreams if I read it by myself at home in the evening.

And ... this is my final review for the 1% Well Read Challenge - YEAH!

Friday Finds 02/27/09

Welcome to Friday Finds! Here's what I've added to my TBR list this week ...
  1. The Kingmaking, by Helen Hollick - Medieval Bookworm loved this new and more realistic take on the King Arthur legend, and I have to say that is sounds very good to me to.

  2. The Leviathan Chronicle, by Christof Laputka - according to, this contemporary fantasy novel is currently a serialized podcast and is "top notch podcast drama"
I've added a few books to kiddo's list too ...
  1. Baseball Saved Us, by Ken Mochizuki - this story takes place in the Japanese Internment camps of World War II - kiddo loves learning about anything WWII-related

  2. Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story, by Ken Mochizuki - if you've ever thought that the Japanese didn't do anything good during WWII you must go read Maw Books' review - this book it at the top of my list for kiddo right now

For more Friday Finds drop by Miz B's blog. Have a wonderful weekend all.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Delta of Venus

Delta of Venus: Erotica
by Anias Nin
320 pages

I picked this book from the list of 1,001 Book To Read Before You Die because I liked the title "Delta of Venus" - it sounded like something out of Greek mythology or the like. Imagine my surprise when the book arrived and I found out that the entire title was "Delta of Venus: Erotica" ...

Author Anias Nin (I'd never heard of her before) is famous for her published journals. She began writing them at age 11 and continued for 60 years. According to wikipedia Nin's journals "provide a deeply explorative insight into her personal life and relationships" over her very Bohemian lifetime.

The author's introduction to the book sheds light on the stories in this book. In the 1940s, Nin and a group of writer-friends were contacted by an anonymous client who offered to pay $1.00 per page for erotica. Nin and her friends took the job, but not without a sense of humor. The wrote wild stories, thinking that their employer would be put off and cancel his order. But the wilder and less realistic the stories, the more he seemed to enjoy them.

Since this is erotica and since I don't want you to know all THAT much about me, I won't tell you which stories appealed to me the most. (You're thanking me for that, I know.) I will tell you that the language is very creative when it comes to describing the "scenes" and that this book is very hot and steamy. Most of it was very appealing but other parts were very disturbing.

Disturbing how? Well, like I said, Nin and her friends wrote some really far-fetched stories simply to see how their client would take them. Those stories include pedophilia and sado-masochism - NOT pleasant to read about, let me tell you, and it often appeared out of no where (I didn't see it coming and I was unpleasantly surprised by it). The problem is, I didn't know at the start of the story how it would turn out in the end, or else I would have skipped those particular tales ...

Fair warning: If you don't enjoy reading details about "adventurous" sexual escapades then do not read this book. On the whole (minus the creepy parts) I quite enjoyed it. And reading it certainly added some spice to my marriage over the past month ...

Alpine Americas

Alpine Americas:
An Odyssey Along the Crest of Two Continents

by Don Mellor (author) and
Olaf Soot (photographer)

256 pages

What a beautiful book this is! It is a large book, 14" wide, with thick glossy pages and brilliantly colored photographs. It was a pure joy to view the majestic scenes showcased in it. Some of the photos are so amazing that I'd like to frame them to hang on my walls.

The book is split into sections detailing the major mountainous areas from the northern-most reaches of North America all the way down to the southern tip of South America. Each section focuses on the mountains in one area, their accessibility to climbers, their natural and human history, and their "personality" - what is it about them that makes them unique. I loved reading the essays, learning the history and uniqueness of places I will (likely) never go ... it was fascinating.

Although this book was put together by mountain climbers, you don't have to like climbing to appreciate this book. I am not only terrified of heights (not simply scared, TERRIFIED) but I also can't stand to be cold ... a climber of anything I will never be. However that didn't affect my enjoyment of this book in the least. It is not "about" climbing - it is "about" the mountains themselves.

One thing that I loved about the very last section was the challenge to the reader to take a world map and hang it upside down. Keep it that way until you get used to it, until you can see the major differences between the two hemispheres. I'm on the lookout for a good map to do this with - I want to hang it in my office and see the world differently for a while.

I only have one criticism of this book: I wish there was a map included that showed the mountain ranges across the American continents. It would have been helpful to me to see the ranges, to see the space between the ranges, and just have a better idea of where I was in the world. Other than that, there is nothing I would change about this fabulous book.

Learn more about the book and see some of the gorgeous photos at the book's website - you'll be glad you did.

PS. This large book has taken me forever to read simply because it is so big. The book is gorgeous and I really enjoyed it, but it is meant to be a coffee table book and not to be carted about with you.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Ark, the Reed, & the Fire Cloud (My Review)

The Ark, the Reed, & the Fire Cloud
by Jenny Cote
448 pages
(review by me)

Kiddo reviewed this book earlier today - click here to read his thoughts. Fair warning ... this review is long. But since it is a children's book I wanted to give you a bit more information so you can decide if this is a book you might want to give to a child in your life.

*** About the Book ***

This book is the first in a planned series called THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF MAX & LIZ. The story follows two main characters, a Scottie dog named Max and a small black cat named Liz. They are among the animals called by God to Noah's ark. Animals all around the world are being called; the first part of the story covers their journeys. The next big section covers the time the animals spend aboard the ark. The last portion shows what happens once they finally make landfall.

*** What I Liked ***
  • This book was lots of fun for kiddo. I mean, what child doesn't like a story told by animals? And because kiddo is very familiar with the story of Noah's ark, he really identified with what happened in the story.
  • It reinforces the concept of faith and the fact that we must continually rely on God and not on ourselves. It was a wonderful Christian story to read together, and there was nothing objectionable in the content. I'd be happy to read more books like this with kiddo.
  • The way the animals get to the ark and the way the ark "adapts" to their needs are both lots of fun. The author's note at the end clearly states that this stuff is not in the Bible but that something like it "could" have happened - we just don't know.
  • Many of the characters speak with accents. Since I read this aloud, I did my best to get the accents correct - kiddo loved it. (Of course, hubby walked in once when I was reading and he hasn't stopped teasing me about my very poor Scottish accent ... that was embarrassing to say the least.)
  • It is part of a series, so there will be more books with the characters kiddo loved that he can look forward to reading.
*** What I Didn't Like ***

Although I really liked this book for kiddo's sake, there are some things that bothered me as an adult reader.
  • The writing is ... ok. I'd like to point out that sometimes it is perfectly acceptable for a character to simply "say" something; they don't always have to "sigh expressively" or whatever. That got a bit irritating after a while. Another thing about the writing (and this is the same complaint many of us had with Stephenie Meyer's books) is the repetitive use of descriptions. I get that Liz is a petite black cat but do we have to repeat it every time we talk about Liz? Hmm, then again, kids like repetition so many it works for that.
  • The book is VERY adamant in promoting Christianity. My preference is for more subtlety but the bluntness was good for kiddo; there were no gray areas for him to be confused by, unless they were put there intentionally. I don't know how an older child would feel about this - would he feel he was being preached at? All I can say is that it bothered me but kiddo didn't mind it at all.
  • This next complaint is simply my opinion and reflects the fact that I don't really like reading books with animals as the characters: Dogs and cats don't have arms, and they can't hug each other. The same goes for lots of other creatures. Kids love that stuff but it drives me crazy. I know, it IS a children's book after all - like I said, this is simply my opinion.
*** Additional Thoughts ***

This part of my review includes some spoilers however if you plan to read this with your child I suggest that you do read this section. If you plan to read this on your own, you might like the surprises so feel free to skip to the next section.
  • There is some death in this book. The wise old goat dies of old age, the people on the earth (not in the ark) die in the flood, and the two main characters die temporarily (more on that later). Kiddo got teary eyed over the goat. The book is not all about death though - in fact, it is mostly light-hearted and fun. I just think that parents need to be aware of what their kids are reading so they can deal with any emotions their kids may experience. This book raises some very important issues - definitely a good way to start a conversation with a child.
  • The really cool snake that you meet on the ark turns out to be Satan. The snake's name is Charlie and he befriends one of the main characters. Kiddo and I really liked Charlie. It was only after we knew him for quite a while that I started to suspect who he really was. I clued kiddo in and he was NOT HAPPY - Charlie was one of his favorites. Charlie's actions get decidedly different later in the story so kiddo did eventually understand, but it led to a big discussion of how sometimes things are not what they seem to be. (As a side note, kiddo loved Charlie in part because of his name - Charlie was kiddo's favorite character on the show LOST ... and we all know what happened to THAT Charlie. Kiddo wasn't happy then either.)
*** In the End ***

Despite the flaws I pointed out I would definitely recommend this book. Kiddo LOVED it. He even wanted to email the author (which we did in kiddo's review). We will most certainly be purchasing the next book in the series once it becomes available.

If you'd like more info you can visit the book's website: For those of you in the Alpharetta, Georgia area, author Jenny Cote is available to visit school groups - what fun!

Mom & Son Book Club #10: The Ark, the Reed, and the Fire Cloud

The Ark, the Reed, & the Fire Cloud
by Jenny Cote
448 pages
(review by kiddo)

I received this book from the publisher and have really enjoyed reading it to kiddo. I'll let kiddo do his review first (with my comments in italics, as usual) and post mine later in the day(update: here's the link to mine). Kiddo's review comes with a spoiler warning though - he gives lots of things away in his answers.


1. Did you like this book? I liked it except for two parts. Why did you like it? Because it had lots of exciting parts and lots of "what's gonna happen next?! what's gonna happen next?!" - those kind of parts. Ah, suspense - its like a drug to us book addicts!

2. What was your favorite part? All of it except for two parts. Any thing specific? Oh yeah! When Max was fighting the snake and when the four animals got eternal life.

3. What was your least favorite part? When they had to leave Gillamon and when we found out that Charlie was bad.

4. What did you think of the illustrations? The pictures were ok. The frog singing was not so good but the one with Henriette is good. I'd like the pictures better if they had color. I was going to - if you say ok - I was going to color in some of the pictures. No kiddo, I'm sorry, you can't color in books. I'm such a mean mom, I know. Do you think the book needed more pictures or did you do ok with imagining things? I did ok imagining but most of the animals, since I didn't know what they looked like, it was hard to imagine them. Actually, I think kiddo did really well with this. Often when I was reading and I thought things might be a bit confusing, I'd tell him to close his eyes and imagine what was happening. I'd read one sentence at a time then ask it he could "see" it. Sometimes he could and other times he needed some additional explanations. But always, when he opened his eyes, I could see the excitement, the light that went off - he "saw" it happening in his head. It was so cool to watch!

5. Would you recommend this book to your friends? YES. As long as they read it quickly. Why? Because if they didn't read it quickly they might forget what happens or they might lose the book. Did we read it quickly? Kind of, except for parts. We started it then stopped then started another book then came back to it. Um, yeah, kiddo's sense of time is a bit off here. We started this book way back in October and we finally finished it earlier this week. But I will say that the story did not drag nor did we put it aside because we tired of it. It took so long simply because we read only 1 or 2 chapters every couple days. And we only picked up another book because kiddo got WIZARDOLOGY for his birthday and really wanted to read it. And for the record, kiddo didn't forget anything that happened in this book..

6. Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book? These are the animals I liked: Max, Gillamon, Kate, Al, Liz, Jaques, Georgio, and Don Pedro. And these are the people I liked Noah, Shem, Japeth (kind of) and Ham (kind of), and out of the girls, Noah's wife and Shem's wife. Japeth's wife and Ham's wife were ok. What did you think about the author adding to the story in the Bible? I liked that. Do you think it's ok to add to the Bible story when the Bible story doesn't give you the details? YES. In fact, I might add something to it. What would you add? Well, I'd like to have the story of Jesus when he died on the cross with Max and Liz and Kate and Al and Gillamon and God speaking would be in it as well.

Kiddo also wanted to send an email to the author, Jenny Cote. He thinks that since I get signed books from authors and that some authors comment on my blog, I can talk to any author I want whenever I want. I wish! But anyway, here's kiddo's message to Ms. Cote: The book was a very nice book. I would love to read it again and get the new book that you are writing, The Dreamer, The Schemer and The Robe. I'm happy to help you make more stories when you are ready.

I hope you'll come back later today for my review. There are lots of things I'd like to discuss about this book!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mom & Son Book Club #9: Wizardology

For his birthday in January, one of the gifts kiddo received from us was the book WIZARDOLOGY: A GUIDE TO WIZARDS OF THE WORLD, as told by Master Merlin. Although it took a while to read (because we only had a short time each day) kiddo really enjoyed this book. Below are my questions and his answers, along with my commentary in italics.

1. Did you like this book? Yes. It is a very good book. Good to learn how to become a wizard, which I've always wanted to do. Me too kiddo, me too.

2. What was your favorite part of the book? When they showed about the dragon. Why? Because dragons are very cool and I've seen one, it's called a Hungarian Horntail. Hmm, do you think we watch Harry Potter much at our house?

3. What was your least favorite part? I don't have a least favorite part. Except that they didn't tell us if Dumbledore was Merlin's friend. Ah, Harry Potter references again ...
4. What did you think of the illustrations? That would be a MAJOR WINNER. The dragon illustration was awesome.

5. Would you recommend this book to your friends? If they want to become wizards.

On the whole, this is a fine book for kids interested in magic. It talks a bit about the various magical traditions around the world (from India to China to Western Europe and many other places) and includes info on several magical creatures. There is a list of supplies required for all apprentice wizards too. But perhaps most importantly for kids there are repeated warnings that magic should only be used to help other people, not to harm anyone or get things for yourself. Kiddo has a wild imagination - as many other kids do - and I appreciate that even fantastical books like this remind him to reign in that imagination and to use it for good.

As a side note, this book sparked a discussion of the difference between an "epilogue" and an "appendix" in a book. I love when I can teach kiddo little things like that.

Book Review Carnival Reminder

Reminder: There are just a few days left to submit a review for the Book Review Carnival that I'm hosting here on March 1st!

Want your book review included? Here's what you do:
  • go to

  • scroll down to near the bottom (right above the ad) and click on SUBMIT AN ARTICLE

  • fill in the required fields and click SUBMIT

  • and that's all you need to do - the rest is up to me.
One request though ... please don't wait until the last minute to submit a review. I have to organize them all into a coherent post (and that takes some time!) so the sooner I have your links, the better.


Monday, February 23, 2009

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
by Sherman Alexie
242 pages

This book is the first collection of short stories by Native American author Sherman Alexie. The stories are mostly autobiographical* and focus on life on the Reservation. This book was the basis for the movie SMOKE SIGNALS which I loved. The movie clip below incorporates parts of at least three different stories found in this book:

*** My Thoughts ***

I've said before that I'm not a fan of short stories but after my wonderful experience reading INTERPRETER OF MALADIES, by Jhumpa Lahiri, I decided to give them another try. I also figured that there might be some similarity in the way Lahiri and Alexie each dealt with the ethnicity of the characters in their stories. I'm not sure if I could have been any more wrong!

Whereas Lahiri's writing is fluid and soft, Alexie's is sharp and choppy. While Lahiri's stories are linear and move in an ordered direction, Alexie's stories jump from one place/time to another and sometimes back again. There is also a strong sense of ... something ... mysticism, maybe? ... present in Alexie's work that is not found in Lahiri's. The two authors are so completely different that I can't even begin to compare them.

I'm very glad I read this book but I can't say that I really liked it or understood it. It hasn't turned me off from Alexie's work though - I'm still very interested to read THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART TIME INDIAN and several of his other books.

Oh, and I have no idea why the book has the title that it does. I read the story with that title and I just didn't get it. If you've read this, can you please explain it to me?

*** A Bit About This Edition ***

I read the 10 year anniversary edition of this book. It includes an introduction by the author as well as two additional stories. The introduction was quite necessary for me - without it, I may have quit reading early on. In it, Alexie talks about how he got his start as a published writer and which parts of the stories are "true". His personality really shines through in this introduction, much more so than in the stories that make up the rest of the book. It was the introduction that made me want to read more of his work.

The final story in the book was one of the two added to this edition, and it was by far my favorite. It is a much more traditional story in that is has a definite plot. For me, the characters in this story seemed much more real and much more relate-able than those in his other stories. It could be simply because I don't have a Native American background (although I really don't think that is it) but I found it hard to relate to most of the other stories.

One more thing about this particular edition is that it included a Discussion Guide at the end. Now I'm all about Discussion Guides. They can make you think about a book in a new way, notice something you didn't notice before. I always read the questions even if I'm not reading the book for book club. HOWEVER ... I'd like it if the questions got the facts of the book right. Maybe it was simply a proofreading thing or maybe this question-writer didn't actually read the stories, but there were two distinct mistakes in the questions that really bothered me. Have you ever had that experience before?

*** Your Thoughts ***

Has anyone else read this book? What about some of his other books? Am I right in thinking that his writing style is different now than it was in this first book?

*According to the introduction, Alexie at first denied that the stories were based on his own life but later retracted his denial.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Phineas Finn

Phineas Finn
by Anthony Trollope
776 pages
first published in 1869

I picked up this book having no idea what to expect, not really knowing what it was about, and ending my reading with a big smile on my face saying (out loud, no less) "Oh, how lovely!"

*** The Plot ***

It is the 1860s. Our hero, Phineas Finn, is an Irishman living in England studying to be a barrister (aka lawyer). He is very interested in political life and finds himself, through a series of interesting circumstances, elected to the House of Commons. Once there, he begins to socialize with the wealthy and powerful men and women of the day and his life changes drastically.

The novel follows his experiences in Parliament and in society for the next several years.

*** My Opinion ***

From the plot summary you may think this book is rather boring, but it really isn't! It is "old-fashioned" in language and tone, but it is fun and lovely as well. This book has it all - politics, romance, drama - all the things classic literature does so well. I loved it!

The book is written as if someone were telling you the story of Phineas Finn, but the narrator also has inside information from time to time. The narrator talks to the reader, interjecting opinions here and there, often refering to Phineas as "our hero". In other places the narrator speculates about the motives of other characters as if to clue the reader in or give some extra information. This made the book very easy to read, very "personable".

The character of Phineas is unique. He is a genuinely likable fellow but there is nothing outstanding about him. His greatest gift is his amiability, the ease with which people come to like him and wish the best for him. It is only the narrator who makes him into a "hero", I think, and only the narrator who makes us interested in him.

My only complaint is that sometimes there was too much information about the inner workings of parliament for my liking, but those were easy to skim through and they didn't detract from the story. Actually, they usually helped the story along, but they were still a bit boring to me.

*** Miscellany ***

~ This is the 8th book I've read for the 1% Well Read Challenge that ends on 2/28/09. I have one short story and half of a book to go, then I'll be finished the challenge.

~ As with most books written during this time period, racism is inherent in the social system. It is not blatant but it IS assumed. There was one use of the N word but that was the only direct reference to racism.

~ After I finished the book I did a bit of digging around and found the following:
  • This is the 4th of 6 books in the PALLISER NOVELS series. The books were originally serialized. Most characters in this book appear in earlier and later books as well. However, I read this book not knowing that is was part of a series and had no trouble understanding any of it. It could easily be a stand-alone novel.
  • After learning that, I looked up the following book, PHINEAS REDUX, on Amazon. In the review section they gave the entire plot away - I'm ticked!!! Part of the fun of reading this book was having no idea how things would turn out in the end. Now, even though I really wanted to read the next book, I likely won't.
  • The PALLISER NOVELS are alluded to in ANNA KARENINA.
  • The books were made into a TV series by the BBC in the 1970s.
~ Near the end of the book I found myself laughing out loud over the name of a lake in Ireland. The lake mentioned is Lough Derg, which would be pronounced Lock Durg by an American like me. Why is that funny you ask? The newest bad guy on kiddo's favorite cartoon, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, is voiced by George Takei (of STAR TREK fame) and his name is ... Lok Durd. ~LOL~

~ I decided to read this book for no other reason than the title. It was part of the list of books for the 1% Well Read Challenge and the name Phineas reminded me of Phileas Fogg from AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS. That's my whole reason right there.

*** Your Thoughts? ***

I've never seen another blogger's review of this book, have you? Have you read it? Heard of it? Let me know!

Friday Finds 02/20/09

Here are the books that made it on to my ever-growing-TBR list this week ...
  1. Drowning Ruth, by Christina Schwarz - I went back and forth on this book. On the one hand, it doesn't sound like my kind of book, but on the other hand, the story sounds VERY intriguing. Jill's review gives a great summary but the part that caught me was where the man comes home from the war to find his wife dead and his wife's sister raising their child and running their farm. Whoa, that's a shocker for sure.

  2. Mazallon Book of the Fallen (series), by Steven Erikson - there is this cool sci-fi/fantasy review linkage meme going on over here and I found this series through it. Neth Space's review (of the 8th of 10 books) got me very interested when he talked about the complexity of this series and the abundance of characters. I read more about the whole series over at, and I'm definitely going to pick this one up sometime.

In the category of books for other people, I have one entry this week:
  1. Sisters: Catholic Nuns and the Making of America, by John J. Fialka - I trust Bybee's reviews and she really enjoyed this book. I'd like to get it for my mom as a gift. She is Catholic and went to parochial school (where nuns were her teachers). Although she does have some horror stories to tell, for the most part she loved the nuns and she has great respect for them still today. I'm certain she'd love reading this book.

For more Friday Finds head over here. Have a great weekend all!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Do you cry in books or movies?

Do you cry when watching movies or reading books? What about during songs or certain commercials? Go vote in my poll – in the right sidebar – then come back here. Inquiring minds (mine) want to know!

*** Me ***

Ever since being pregnant with kiddo (back in 2001) I’ve been extra-emotional about some things. Tears well up in my eyes whenever certain songs come on, or when there is an especially touching commercial on (thanks to DVR I can fast forward through most commercials now though), or when I’m really involved in a movie or tv show. (It is the exact opposite in everyday life; I hardly ever cry even when faced with tragedy.)

However, I have never in my life been brought to tears by a book. Why? Well, I have a few theories. First, I think I read too quickly to be emotional. It’s hard to get worked up over something when you already moving on to the next part of the story. And second, emotion for me is much for sense-oriented; I need sounds or sights to bring on an emotional response.

*** Hubby ***

Being a typical guy in many ways, Hubby is not a crier. Usually he just rolls his eyes at the movies I’m sobbing over, or gives me a hug when I tear up over a special song. He can get emotional when it comes to kiddo though (and I love that about him).

He's also not a big reader but I do know for a fact that there is one book that made him cry: Lone Survivor, by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson. This book really hit him hard (I talked about that here). I’ve not read it myself, but both of us have recommended it to several of the men in our lives and they have all been impacted by it.

*** Kiddo ***

As for kiddo, he is a very “feeling” child. He gets his feelings hurt easily but he also cares deeply about other people’s feelings. It has been interesting seeing how he reacts to movies and books that have emotional parts. Last week he and I watched the 3rd Lord of the Rings movie, THE RETURN OF THE KING. [We could have an entire conversation about whether this is appropriate for a 7 year old child or not, but that’s for another day.] I’m assuming everyone knows what happens at the end of the movie, but if you don’t want to know, then skip the following paragraph.

Anyway … at the end of the movie when Gandalf was leaving to go on the Elvish ship, kiddo teared up. We talked about it and he said that he’d miss Gandalf and that he felt sorry for the hobbits. Then Frodo announces that he is leaving too, and kiddo cried even harder. Of course, the other three hobbits were crying at this point as well. After the movie ended, kiddo cuddled up in my lap and cried for a while. We talked some more and he said that he really did like the movie, but that he was sad that they’d never see each other again. So I told him that since there wasn’t another book in the series, he could make up whatever new story he wanted – the characters could all get together again in *his* story, if that is what he wanted. Needless to say, he really like that idea and he felt much better at that point.

The same thing happened in a book I’m reading to him. We’re in the middle of THE ARK, THE REED, AND THE FIRE CLOUD by Jenny Cote. There have been hints that one particular character is going to die, and sure enough it finally happened. I can always tell when kiddo is going to cry because he starts smiling really strangely – it’s his way of fighting back the tears. I assured him that it is ok to be sad, and that the characters in the book were sad as well. This time he was able to keep back all but a few tears and didn’t need too much extra cuddling.

It was amazing to me to watch kiddo, in both the movie and the book situations, to see how he reacted to the stories being told.

Strange gal that I am, I cried in the battle scenes in Lord of the Rings (I’m a sucker for heroism) and not at the end (kiddo thought that was pretty funny by the way).

*** And So ... ***

Now I want to know … am I an odd duck? What do most other people do? What do YOU do? Are you a movie crier, a book crier, a non-crier? Go vote, and feel free to expound in the comments.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lots of Awards

In January I received several awards from different bloggers. Yes, I realize that is it now mid-February, but give me a break, ok?

I’m going to try to pass these awards to blogs that I haven’t previously noted before, but I’m not guaranteeing zero duplicates.


The Premios Dardo Award … from Rebecca’s Reads

"This award 'acknowledges the values that every blogger shows in his or her effort to transmit cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values every day.'"

Since there weren't any specific rules for this award, I'm going to pass it on to four blogs who, in my opinion, write about things that are worth discussing.
  • Semicolon – she’s not afraid to post her opinions, even when they can be controversial
  • My Friend Amy – she gets people talking about anything and everything
  • Rebecca Reads - Yes, I know, she gave me the award. But she digs deeper in to books than most other bloggers and always has interesting points to make.
  • War Through the Generations – I love that this challenge blog is bringing focus to “the greatest generation” by doing more than just posting book reviews.


The Inspiration Award … from The Armenian Odar Reads

Here are the rules:

1. Please put the logo of the award (see on the left) on your blog if you can make it work with your format. 2. Link to the person from whom you received the award. 3. Nominate 7 or more blogs. 4. Put the links of those blogs on your blog. 5. Leave a message on their blogs to tell them.

Here are the blogs I find inspiring at the moment. There aren’t 7, but I’m taking that as a suggested number ...

  • Imagine Alyzabeth An – This couple has been blogging for years about their journey to adopt a daughter from China. Their dream was realized just a few months ago, and I’m so enjoying the posts about their life with their new daughter.
  • The Dream Year – This couple is traveling the US for a year – what fun!
  • Walking the Amazon – Yes, that is exactly what he’s doing.
  • Muse – Despite the naysayers, she’s having her first book self-published and I say “more power to you!” Personally, I can’t wait to read it.


Proximidade Award … from A Soldier’s Girl

"This blog invests and believes the PROXIMITY - nearness in space, time and relationships! These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes of self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers! Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award."

Is it just me or is that a rather strange write-up? Regardless, the sentiment is a good one: promote friendly blogs.

Again, I'm taking 8 as a suggested number ... so here are three blogs I feel are "friendly" in some way.

  • Subliminal Intervention - always has a kind word to say in her comments
  • Moxie Mama - her posts are all over the place as far as topics go and she's always willing to engage in conversation with her commenters
  • Weekly Geeks - what began as an activity on The Hidden Side of a Leaf turned into a massive community blog when Dewey passed away - it is all about community at WG

Whew! That was rather difficult to put together. I am very grateful to all the bloggers who gave me these awards. But I'm even more grateful to all of you, my regular readers, for making this blog such a fun place to be for me. And since there is one more award ...


The Lemonade Award … from My Friend Amy

There were no rules for this one, so I get to do what I want with it.

First I’ll say THANK YOU to Amy.

Then ...

I hereby award this to every single one of my regular readers, whether you are a subscriber, a follower, or simply a regular visitor. I appreciate each of you so very much!

It would mean the world to me if you would post a quick comment and let me know who you are (since I know that many of you don't regularly comment) so I can drop by your blog and check it out.

Thank you again!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What Kiddo's Been Reading

It has been a while since I've done a Mom & Son Book Club post, but that doesn't mean we're not reading at our house. Since today is Kid Pick's Day over at 5 Minutes for Books I figured I'd give you all an update on what we've been reading and how it is going.

Reading Together ...
  • We're still working on THE ARK, THE REED, AND THE FIRE CLOUD, by Jenny Cote. Kiddo is really enjoying this book and wants to read it often. However, at over 400 pages and 60-something chapters, and considering our reading rate of 1-2 chapters every day or so, you can see why this is taking a long time to get through.

  • We took a break from that book to read WIZARDOLOGY a few weeks ago. Now I just have to get kiddo to answer our book club questions and write up a post about it.

Reading On His Own ...

Kiddo is in 1st grade so he's been learning to read this year. Unfortunately he's struggling a bit. What I've figured out is that he is such a perfectionist that he doesn't want to risk failing. So when he looks at a new word, he'll sound it out in his head but rarely will he do it out loud, unless he is absolutely certain that he's got it right. If he isn't certain, he'll just stare at it and say "I don't know" and wait for help. When I encourage him to try, to just say the sounds of the letters, he is usually correct. But the problem is that he won't try.

Needless to say, this is very frustrating for me. I know that he needs to learn to read and that it would be very bad for him to fall behind at this point. I don't mind if he isn't at the head of the class, but I know that things will only get harder from here on out, and his reading skills have to improve in order for him to succeed.

I'm not too discouraged, as I know kiddo loves books (especially when I read to him). The plan is to get a tutor - starting next week - to work with him once a week. I'm hopeful that this will help him improve both his ability and his confidence level. And in the meantime I'm seeking out books that are interesting and also at his reading level, and encouraging him to read them to me.

Here are the two he really likes at the moment:
  • SHARK IN THE PARK, by Phil Roxbee Cox - sharks are kiddo's favorite creatures, and this story has lots of repetition that makes it fun to read

  • NOAH'S ARK, by Linda Hayward - This is an older book, part of the Step into Reading series. It is pretty long and kiddo has been doing really well with it recently.

Earlier this week kiddo spent time with his little cousins, two boys aged 2.5 and 7 months. He helped to put the older boy to bed and read him these two books while they curled up together in the little toddler bed. I know he felt good about his reading after that!
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