Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Color Purple - link to your review

If you participated in the read-a-long of THE COLOR PURPLE, please visit Linus's Blanket to check out Nicole's review and to link to your own.  Thanks for reading with us!

Read Your Own Books Read-A-Thon

My bloggy buddy and former BEA roommate Monica from The Bibliophilic Book Blog is hosting a read-a-thon with a twist - you have to read YOUR OWN BOOKS.  No review copies, no library books ... just those books you have actually purchased yourself that you've left to languish on your shelves.  Here's a bit of what Monica wrote on her blog:

I have the urge to have my very own read-a-thon! But not just any read-a-thon a 'READ YOU OWN BOOK READ-A-TON. I am going to do this for my last weekend as a free women before I have to go back to are going to start it from 9am Friday August 13th and go until 9am Monday the 16th of August. I am so excited, I will have giveaways (of course) and I we can all sit and read together over the weekend! There will be prizes for most books read and best compfy reading place picture, and some more as  think of them! 

I can't commit to much reading myself that weekend but I will commit to read only books that I've purchased for those few days.  And I'm donating some prizes as well - yay!

If you'd like to participate, hop on over to Monica's blog and let her know.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Beyond Smart

by Linda Morgan
150 pages

*** About the Book ***
Beyond Smart: Boosting Your Child's Social, Emotional, and Academic Potential
According to the pitch I received from the author, “[t]his book gives parents practical and realistic tools to help them maximize all aspects of their child's education experience, from academics to social and emotional learning, beginning from birth.”

*** Why I Read It ***

Kiddo isn’t a big fan of school and he is a somewhat reluctant reader (although he’s improved greatly this summer!) so I’m always looking for ideas on how to give him the best school experience possible. That’s what I hoped to get from this book and that’s why I agreed to review it.

*** My Thoughts ***

I have to be honest here and say that I did not completely finish this book. I am clearly not the target audience for this book and I found myself skimming many of the chapters. The ones that I found very helpful were the final sections, and by then I was a bit frustrated with the book and ready to be done with it.

First let’s talk about the good things. In chapters titled Advocating for Your Child, Math, Science, and More, and Learning to Love Writing and Public Speaking, the author shares a variety of tips and suggestions for giving your child the best school experience possible. For me, this was the best, most useful, part of the book. I’ll be able to use many of these with Kiddo and I can see that I’ll have to reread these chapters in the future when I need ideas.

I also really appreciated the recommended reading list for children in the back of the book. It is always good to have suggestions on books that might capture Kiddo’s attention and there are a few good ones on that list.

That said, I had some issues with other parts of the book.

As I mentioned before, I don’t feel that I was the target audience for the book. It felt to me like the book was meant for new parents or for those who are really struggling with some basic parenting challenges. The author’s goal is “to provide an easily accessible source of information for parents” that includes the latest advances in neuroscience and educational studies. This may be true, but most of the information included in the book seems like simple common sense to me.

The structure of the book really works to drive home the message of each chapter so that the reader simply can’t miss the main points. Within each chapter the major points are reiterated in three different formats: paragraph form, expert interviews, and bullet points. I felt like I could read just the bullet points for each chapter and understand what I needed to know. If you were using this book as a reference guide then this would be very helpful but for me it was much too repetitious to read straight through. It might be very helpful to struggling parents though.

In addition to the structure of the book, I also had issues with some of the content. To keep it short, I’ll talk about just two points.

In the chapter Emotional Readiness Counts the author discusses the need for “unconditional care” of a child by a parent:
That care must be unconditional. We need to love kids for who they are not what they do. They should know they still mean the world to us even when they mess up or fall short. […] That basic principle helps to explain why punishements (like “time out,” which is experienced as a form of love withdrawl) and rewards (including verbal rewards – “Good job!”) prove to be so counterproductive. These are techniques of conditional parenting, not unconditional.
My issue with this is two-fold. First, I don’t see how putting a child in time out demonstrates conditional care. Disciplining a child, teaching him to be respectful of people and things, in my mind clearly demonstrates unconditional care for that child. But regardless of the philosophy behind the author’s statement (and I think that there are many valid parenting styles), what would be helpful here – especially since this book is meant as a reference guide – is a follow-up statement explaining specifically how parents should show unconditional care when the need for discipline arises. Unfortunately that advice is not found anywhere in this chapter or in any of the chapters I read in full. Also, in a later chapter (Advocating For Your Child) parents are instructed to praise their children when they do well with their homework, yet here verbal rewards are called “counterproductive” … this left me a bit confused.

Another issue I had was in the chapter Solving School Dilemmas. If the child is having problems with school work the author suggests the following:
… [C]ome up with solutions – as many as you can. This might mean making sure homework comes home and goes back to class […]. It might be buying a second set of textbooks, because your child keeps leaving hers at her desk., or simply having your child moved to a different location.
In my mind, part of being a parent is encouraging and supporting your child in whatever way you can. Another part of being a parent is allowing your child to make mistakes and to suffer the consequences of those mistakes in the hope that he will learn something from them. I don’t understand how buying a new set of school books to keep at home will help your child learn to be responsible. Yes, he may do better in school because he’s getting his homework done, but as a parent you’ve just spent $50+ on books (that the school already gave you for free!) and shown your child that you will bail him out of whatever he gets into. Your child has not learned to be responsible, nor has he learned to bring his books home. For me, success in school does not automatically override other important life lessons.

In summary ...

As I read I kept thinking that this is the kind of book you give to a teen mom to help her be a better parent.  There is some excellent info in here (and some not-so-excellent info as well) but it was simply too repetitious for me. 

*** Your Thoughts ***

This review is MUCH wordier that I usually go for but I had a lot to say about this book.  If you've made it this far, please share your thoughts on this book and other parenting books in the comments.  Which book do you go to for help? Which book did you find completely frustrating or contradictory to your parenting style?  Or simply share a parenting tip that has worked wonders for you!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Blizzard: The Storm That Changed America

by Jim Murphy
audiobook: 2.5 hours
narrated by Taylor Mali

Blizzard!: The Storm That Changed America*** About the Book ***

This is a very brief middle grade book about the devastating March 1888 blizzard that brought the Northeastern United States to a standstill. It also details the many changes that came to society as a result of this particular storm.

*** Why I Listened To It ***

It was available for immediate download from my library and I’m always interested in non-fiction like this.

*** My Thoughts ***

I highly recommend this little book. It packed a ton of info into a very short time space and was fascinating to listen to.

Although it was huge and powerful, this blizzard wasn’t the biggest or most damaging in American history; rather, it was the location and timing that made it vitally important. Two storms came together to hit the urban Northeast right when cities were really beginning to grow. It brought the modern world to a standstill and cost many lives. Employees braved the freezing wind and blowing snow to get to work for fear of losing their jobs, only to find that their employers hadn’t opened the buildings. City government didn’t know how to deal with the sheer amount of snow the fall, nor did they feel it was their responsibility.

I was fascinated by the final section of the book that listed all the changes made to American life because of this blizzard. Here’s a brief list of some of the changes: establishment of the US Weather Service, creation of snow emergency plans in cities, placement of live wires underground rather than overhead, establishment of anti-litter laws and trash disposal standards, implementation of the Subway in New York City, and much more. Having experienced the enormous snowfall of this past winter on the East Coast, I am extremely grateful for many of these changes.

*** Your Thoughts ***

This book mentioned another storm, called the Children’s Blizzard, and I know there’s a book about that – I’m going to check it out sometime soon.

Have you read either this book or the Children’s Blizzard book? What did you think of them?

What natural occurrence affects your area (high tides, hurricanes, snow, tornadoes, etc.)? Do you know what happened in history that led to your city/town’s response plan for these emergencies? Do you know if there’s a book about it?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Color Purple

by Alice Walker
304 pages

*** About the Book ***
The Color Purple (Anniversary)

I can't think of a way to summarize this so I'm pulling one from Barnes and Noble: Beautifully imagined and deeply compassionate, this is the story of two sisters—one a missionary in Africa and the other a child wife living in the South—who sustain their loyalty to and trust in each other across time, distance, and silence. This classic novel of American literature is rich with passion, pain, inspiration, and an indomitable love of life.

*** Why I Read It ***

I’ve always loved the movie version but I never gave much thought to the book. Then last year I read GONE WITH THE WIND and realized how much more was in the book compared to the movie and I knew I’d have to read THE COLOR PURPLE at some point. When I mentioned that I planned to read it this summer, Nicole from Linus’s Blanket offered to co-host a read-a-long with me.

*** My Thoughts ***

I LOVED THIS BOOK! It is beautifully written, emotionally moving, and a joy to read despite the often depressing content.  It is a book that I see myself rereading at some point, in part because it was so good and in part because I'm sure I'll get more out of it each time.

Since I posted discussion questions for the read-a-long I’m just going to use some of them to structure the rest of my review. NOTE: Because this is part of a read-a-long there WILL be spoilers so consider yourself warned.

How do you feel in general about epistolary novels (books told through letters)? Did this format influence your enjoyment of this book in any way? Do you think the story would have had the same impact if it were not told solely through letters?
I usually like epistolary novels and this was no exception. The reader is only treated to the information being shared in the letter which sometimes means that important details or background info is left out. In this book though, Celie is talking to God and to her absent sister and her manner of speaking/writing is quite different than a regular letter to a friend would be. If the book had used a different format to tell the story I don’t think I would have felt Celie’s aloneness so strongly.

Why do you think Celie’s husband hid Nettie’s letters rather than destroying them? Does this choice say anything about who he is as a person?
Having seen the movie, I’ve always felt this was an odd decision – why not simply destroy the letters? But in the book we learn much more about Albert’s life prior to his marriage to Celie and I think his actions regarding the letters are indicative of the man he used to be.

Are there any parts of the book that moved you? Which ones stand out in your mind? Why?
This book made me cry in two places. The first time was when Adam chose to scar his face to prove his love to Tashi – oh what a touching scene that was! And then when Nettie and Celie’s children come walking up the road and Celie realizes who they are … well, I couldn’t stop my tears if I’d wanted to.

How does the book compare to the movie? Was the movie a good adaptation? Did the parts that were left out make a big difference or was the movie a success without them?
I can’t remember the details of the movie compared to the book at this point but I want to rewatch it soon so I can see what is different and what is the same.

In the comment section of my discussion question post Nicole made a comment that really stuck with me. In part she said: I loved the way all of the relationships evolved over time. Most of these characters were literally not able to run away from their circumstances and they had to come to know each other in a different ways in order to change and to start to find peace with themselves. I hadn’t really thought about it but it is very true that Celie had nowhere else to go. Yes, she could have left, but I think that would have severed her dreams of being reunited with Nettie at some point. Celie and Albert and the other characters were for the most part stuck together for better or worse. Some were able to get away but they always came back. Through this close proximity to each other, Celie and Albert were eventually able to come to an understanding and to live in relative ease together.

In short, this is an amazing book and I'm so glad that I read it. 

*** Your Thoughts ***

Whether you participated in the read-a-long or not I’d love to hear your thoughts on this book and/or movie.

And remember, Nicole will recap the read-a-long in just a few days on her blog – I hope to see many reviews posted there as well!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Things They Carried

written by Tim O'Brien
audiobook: 7.25 hours
narrated by Tom Stechschulte

*** About the Book *** 

The Things They CarriedThis book is part novel, part memoir, part short story collection in which the narrator (or is it the author?) shares about his experiences in Vietnam.

*** Why I Listened To It ***

This book is on so many “must read” lists yet I’d never even heard of it until recently. I’m reading it for the War Through the Generations: Vietnam challenge, the 1% Well Read challenge, and it will also count for the Audiobook challenge.

In addition, Sophisticated Dorkiness is hosting a read-a-long of the book this month and I’m participating in that as well.

*** My Thoughts ***

Hmm … well … what ARE my thoughts on this book? I can’t seem to pin them down. In a way I hated it. In another way I really appreciated what the author was doing. At times I wanted to cover my ears and not hear the rest of the story. At other times I wanted to smack a character for his stupidity or carelessness or whatever. Parts of it seemed very true while other parts didn’t fit my idea of reality.

The book begins with descriptions of the items the soldiers carried – weapons, food, supplies, etc. – and the actual weight of each item. Then the narrator added the intangibles – guilt, fear, memories – to the list. This was a powerful chapter and really brought me into the story.

And then … well, is it strange that the stories of dead comrades and enemy soldiers did very little to me (even though they were very sad) yet the story of out-and-out cruelty to an animal broke my heart? I guess I assume that there will be death in a war and I resign myself to that necessity but I can’t resign myself to the need for cruelty, even though it helped the soldiers become calloused enough to take a human life.

One issue I had came after I finished the book. When I was perusing the read-a-long discussion questions I noticed this one: “The narrator of The Things They Carried goes by the same name as the author, but the title page notes that this is a “work of fiction.” How did this launch your reading of the book?” Say WHAT?! The audio version of the book did NOT include this information. While I was listening I assumed it was a somewhat embellished version of the author’s own experiences. To find out that I was wrong has really soured me on this book.

At the same time, there is one chapter that deals with the idea of truth in a story. The narrator makes the point that sometimes the real truth of a situation isn’t in the factual details but rather in the story that you create about it. This chapter (it’s the one where he repeatedly describes the body of the VietCong soldier he just killed) really resonated with me. I found the repetition very powerful. And yet, despite agreeing with his thoughts about truth, I find myself angry that I can’t tell which parts of the book are “fact” and which are “stories of truth” …

Part of the issue for me with books like this is that I hope to find something of my dad’s Vietnam experience in there but I always come away disappointed. My dad enlisted in the Army by choice – he wasn’t drafted. He was proud to serve, just as his father had. He didn’t come out of the war with PTSD (at least, not from anything he or my mom ever said) or having nightmares or harboring lots of regrets (although I’m sure he has some). He was a Green Beret* and he spent most of his time living in the villages with the local people and a few other soldiers. My husband once asked him about what he’d done in Vietnam. His response was along these lines: Yes, I killed some people. But I don’t have any trouble sleeping at night. If I told them not to move and they moved, then I felt no guilt about it. So far I have yet to come across a book that reflects my dad’s experience in any way, and that is disappointing to me.

*Reading the part of the book about the “Greenies” was almost creepy for me, knowing that my dad was one of them …

*** Your Thoughts ***

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? What are your thoughts on “facts” versus “truth”? 

Also, can you recommend a Vietnam-era book that might reflect my dad’s experiences?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Both Ways is the Only Want I Want It

by Maile Meloy
256 pages (paperback)
read via the Kindle app on my phone

Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It*** About the Book ***

In this collection of short stories connected only by their Midwestern setting, Meloy looks at the lives of various people whose desires and feelings seem to conflict with themselves.

*** Why I Read It ***

This was my book club’s pick for August. I’d never heard of the book prior to it being nominated.

*** My Thoughts ***

First a bit of a rant …I had a heck of a time trying to get a copy of this book! The library’s wait list was atrocious (I ended up getting the book a week after my book club meeting) and the bookstores were out of the hardback in anticipation of the paperback coming out. Finally someone suggested that I buy the eBook – duh! Why didn’t I think of that?! So just days before our meeting I downloaded the Kindle App for my phone and purchased my very first (not-free) eBook. YAY!

Some of the stories in this book really struck me. In one story, possibly my favorite in the book, a father confronts the girlfriend of the man who murdered his only daughter. The father is looking for answers but ends up learning things he really didn’t want to know. I read this around the time that I watched the episode of Deadliest Catch where Captain Phil dies. These two stories, one true, one that reads like truth, both dealing with an unexpected death albeit in very different ways, will forever be linked for me.

There were other stories that I really didn’t connect with, stories that really bothered me. These usually had to do with parents making poor decisions that would eventually affect their children.

I enjoyed this book but not nearly as much as the only other short story collection I’ve read in recent years, Jhumpa Lahiri’s INTERPRETER OF MALADIES. Still, I’m glad I read it – it gave me some stories that I’ll continue to think about for a very long time.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Have you heard of this book before? If you are a fan of short stories, does this book appeal to you?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Crazy for the Storm

by Norman Ollestad
304 pages

Ollestad's Crazy for the Storm Large Print (Crazy for the Storm LP: A Memoir of Survival by Norman Ollestad (Paperback - June 2, 2009) - Large Print)*** About the Book ***

You can read my summary or you can check out this excellent video from Nightline that includes photos and video of Norm as a child before and after the crash.

By age 11 Norm was an accomplished skier, surfer, ice hockey and football player. Most of his activities were directed by his father who drove him mercilessly to experience everything and push himself beyond what he thought he could bear. Most of the time Norm just wanted to be a kid and he resented his father for all the pressure he put on him.

Just after Norm won his first skiing trophy in 1979, disaster struck. The small plane carrying Norm, his father, his father's girlfriend, and the pilot crashed into the side of an mountain. Norm woke up on a steep, icy slope thousands of feet above the nearest sign of civilization. Drawing on all the skills and strength his father instilled in him, he spend the next nine hours scrambling down the treacherous slopes ... all alone.

This is a true story.

*** Why I Read It ***

I first heard about this book in the Reading Group Guides newsletter last summer. Then I won a copy from At Home With Books. I've had it on my shelf for quite a while and decided that I had to read it this year for the 2010 TBR Challenge and the Non-Fiction Five Challenge.

*** My Thoughts ***

In alternating chapters Norm tells the story of the crash and his survival as well as the story of his unorthodox childhood.  Each part of the story was fascinating but the alternating chapters got bothersome after a while; it seemed that just when I was getting into a particular story, all of a sudden I was thrust back into the other story.

As for Norm's childhood and survival experiences themselves, they are utterly fascinating.  It is clear that his father loved him very much but his parenting style was rather "unique" to say the least.  It doesn't seem that he was pushing his son so hard in order to get something out of it for himself as a father, but rather that he wanted to give Norm the chance to experience life to the fullest whether Norm wanted to or not. Still, reading about it was painful at times.  Then to see how Norm survived the crash ... well, let's just say that I doubt I could have done it!

I love survival stories like this, especially those about people surviving the cold, so I expected to love this book.  I can't say that it lived up to my expectations but I did enjoy it.

*** Your Thoughts ***

The only review I know of it from At Home With Books - did I miss yours?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Northanger Abbey

by Jane Austen
audiobook: 7.5 hours
narrated by Nadia May

*** About the Book ***

Since I'm still trying to get caught up on my stack of unreviewed books, I'm cheating and copying this summary from my library's website:

Northanger Abbey (Unabr)Jane Austen’s first major novel, a parody of the popular literature of the time, is an ironic tale of the romantic folly of men and women in pursuit of love, marriage, and money. The humorous adventures of young Catherine as she encounters "the difficulties and dangers of a six weeks' residence in Bath" lead to some of Austen's most brilliant social satire. There is Catherine’s hilarious liaison with a paragon of bad manners and boastfulness; her disastrous friendship with an unforgettably crass coquette; and a whirl of cotillion dances with their timeless mortifications. A visit to ancient Northanger Abbey, the ancestral home of the novel’s handsome hero, excites the irrepressible Catherine’s hopes of romance amid gothic horrors. But what awaits her there is a drama of a different kind, in this most youthfully exuberant and broadly comic of Jane Austen’s works.

*** My Thoughts ***

Although I'd seen the movie version before, this was my first experience with the book.  I was surprised to find much more "conversation" between Austen and her readers than in her other books.  She wrote this story as if she were telling it to a friend, occasionally making comments directly to the reader.  I really enjoyed that!

The love story isn't quite as developed in this book as in her other novels.  Though I enjoyed the characters and the setting, I didn't love it as much as her other books and I didn't get swept away by the restrained passion of the main characters as I did in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.  That said, I do love Mr. Tilney.  His sense of humor was superb and I really enjoyed getting to know him.  He's definitely the type of guy I would have been attracted to.

I was surprised to see how little time was actually spent at Northanger Abbey!  You'd think that with the book using that as the title, there would be more focus on it.  Not that it really mattered, it just surprised me.

Nadia May did a wonderful job as narrator again.  I highly recommend her versions of Austen's books - she has the perfect voice for them.

It was a pleasure to listen to this book and I had a lot of fun with it. 

*** Your Thoughts ***

Which Austen novel is your favorite? Which Austen man is your favorite? My favorite book is still PRIDE AND PREJUDICE - I love the humor and the miscommunication and the characters and everything else.  As for the men, I'll always love Darcy in the book but I don't know that I'd have been able to overlook his arrogance and actually fall in love with him in real life.  Mr. Tilney is a strong contender at this point but I still have one or two other Austen books to read ...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Eyes of Willie McGee

by Alex Heard
416 pages

*** About the Book ***

The Eyes of Willie McGee: A Tragedy of Race, Sex, and Secrets in the Jim Crow SouthMississippi, 1945: Willamette Hawkins, a white woman, accuses Willie McGee, a black man, of breaking into her home and raping her. The public is enraged and demands the death penalty for McGee. McGee, traumatized by his treatment in jail, doesn’t speak a word at his first trial. During the course of the next 10 years, the case is appealed again and again. Eventually McGee tells his lawyers that he and Hawkins had a long-term affair and that when he tried to end it, she accused him of rape. Hawkins denies this and sues the newspaper for slander for reporting it.  In the end, nothing can stop the courts from sending McGee to the electric chair. But the story doesn’t end there.

Fifty years later the legacy of McGee’s trial continues to impact the next generation. Hawkins’s daughters stand by their mother’s claim of rape and seek to re-establish her reputation as an honorable woman. McGee’s children and grandchildren remain furious at the courts and the government for their treatment of McGee and for supporting a woman who claimed to be his wife but actually was not.

This is a true story.

*** Why I Read It ***

I’ve wanted to read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for quite some time and this book was described as being similar in content. Plus it was a true story – bonus! Thanks to Regal Literary for sending me a copy.

*** My Thoughts ***

This book is fascinating. It examines the racial politics of the pre-civil rights era American South and the anti-communist craze of the early Cold War era and shows how these forces came together to deprive Willie McGee of a fair trial. The author doesn’t try to prove whether McGee is guilty or not; too much time has passed and there are too many conflicting stories. Rather he details the political and social forces that led the trial to turn out the way it did.

The parts of the story that were most interesting to me were those involving the legacy of the case. The author tracked down the children and grandchildren of McGee and Hawkins and showed how the trial continues to impact the present generation. The families’ differing reactions to the facts he uncovers and to the trial in general really made me think.

I started reading this book on the train to BEA at the end of May and I just finished it during my vacation at the end of June. Reading non-fiction takes more concentration for me than does reading fiction, so there were several times when I had to put the book aside for a few days. Every time I picked it back up I was excited to get back into the story though. It is not particularly long but it is very detailed and I really enjoyed learning about this time and place.

*** Your Thoughts ***

I haven’t seen any other reviews of this book yet – did I miss yours? Let me know and I’ll add it here
Does this book sound like one you’d enjoy? If you’ve read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, do you see any similarities between the two books?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mom & Son Book Club #17: Misty of Chincoteague

by Marguerite Henry
audiobook: 3.25 hours

Misty of Chincoteague*** About the Book ***

Siblings Paul and Maureen live on Chincoteague Island with their grandparents.  This year Paul is finally old enough to join the men on their annual round-up of the wild ponies on neighboring Assateague Island.  Paul get amazingly lucky and captures the mysterious Phantom, a mare who has evaded the round-up for several years in a row, and her new foal, Misty.  Paul and Maureen have saved money for months to be able to purchase a pony on Pony Penning Day and now they want to buy both Phantom and Misty.  Will they be able to come up with the money in time?  If they do, can they ever hope to tame Phantom?  And what about little Misty? 

*** Why We Listened To It ***

This is a classic of childrens literature and holds a special place in my reading memory.  Chincoteague is just a few hours from where I've lived all my life, and I visited there for the Pony Penning Day Carnival once as a child. 

With a 7 hour drive coming up, I raided the library for audiobooks that Kiddo might enjoy.  I checked out about 10 books and let him pick from that stack.  Surprisingly he chose MISTY as one of his top picks.  He's not a big fan of horses but I think the fact that this takes place near where we live is what interested him.  I honestly expected him to avoid this one like the plague, so I was thrilled when he seemed excited to listen to it.

*** Our Thoughts ***

I loved revisiting this book, but it was shorter and simpler than I remembered.  Unfortunately the cassettes were really in bad shape so the last part of the book was hard to hear, but that was my only complaint.  Kiddo listened to this in utter silence for several hours so I know he enjoyed it.  Here's his review, in his own words ...

1. Did you like this book? Yes, it was fun.

2. What was your favorite part? I didn't have a favorite part - I liked the whole thing.

3. What was your least favorite part? None, I didn't have a least favorite part.

4. Since this was an audiobook the only illustration was on the cover.  What did you think of the cover? I thought it was cool. I liked the cover because it had Misty and Phantom on it. [Mom's note: The audiobook cover was different than the one pictured above, but I couldn't find an image that matched what we had.]

 5. Would you recommend this book to your friends? No because kids that I know don't like horses or ponies.  Do you like horses? Just the male horses. Like the Pied Piper? Yes. Why? Because they run the her. Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book?  I liked listening to it in the car.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Did you read this book as a child (or an adult)? Which of your childhood favorites have you shared with your own children?  What were there reactions to your old favorites?

This review is part of Kids' Picks, hosted by 5 Minutes for Books.  Check out what other kids are reading today!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Unsigned Hype

by Booker T. Mattison
207 pages

*** About the Book ***

Fifteen-year-old musician Tory and lives in a somewhat rough neighborhood in New York with his widowed mother and two older brothers.  He's classically trained on piano but all he wants to do is create hip hop music.  His dream becomes a reality when his music is featured on a nationally syndicated radio program and Tory is propelled into stardom.  But all that glitters is not gold, and Tory quickly realizes that many of the new people in his life are into a pretty bad scene.  Meanwhile his mother is forcing him to meet once a week for "lessons" with an old friend of his father's, Mr. Lord, in the hopes that she can keep her son out of trouble.  These lessons aren't completely bad though, as they let Tory get closer to Mr. Lord's daughter Precious, the girl he's decided will be his future wife (she just doesn't know it yet).

*** Why I Read It ***

This is not a book that I'd normally be drawn to so when it was pitched to me I immediately planned to turn it down.  But since I really enjoy book trailers I decided to watch this one before making a decision.  Once I saw the trailer I realized that I wanted to give the book a shot so I agreed to review it.

Learn more about the book and the author at Booker T. Mattison's website.

*** My Thoughts ***

This book was way outside of my comfort zone: it's YA, it's about hip hop music, it has an urban setting, and it's written using lots of slang terms.  Yet in spite of all that, once I got into the book I really enjoyed most of it.

Tory seemed very real to me, and the other main characters in the book did as well.  The reactions of his family and friends to his success were just what I'd expect (as an adult) but of course not always what Tory expected.  His experiences and his decisions were completely understandable and I enjoyed reading along to find out what was going to happen next.

What I didn't realize when I picked up that book is that it is written from a Christian worldview.  As a Christian, I appreciate the direction the book goes in, especially since I didn't see it coming.  That said, once I got the drift, I quickly got bored with that part of the story since it seemed predictable to me.  I don't think that non-Christian teen readers would have the same experience that I did though, and Mattison clearly had that audience in mind when he was writing. 

For the most part I enjoyed the book but felt that I wasn't exactly the intended audience. 

*** Your Thoughts ***

I haven't seen any other reviews of this book in the blogosphere - did I miss yours?

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Few Vacation Pics ...

My summer has been crazy busy so far.  Here's a quick photographic overview of my family's trip to California, where we visited from June 25 - July 10 ...

Meeting Wendy from Literary Feline (left) and her husband, and Amy from My Friend Amy
 (right) We had a great lunch and a fabulous chat, despite the World Cup cheering section just behind Wendy ...

Hubby, me, and Kiddo at the aquarium at Legoland

Kiddo pointing out the sights during our audio tour of the aircraft carrier USS Midway in San Diego Bay

lunch in Seaport Village, San Diego - yes, this is what I get from them every day ...

Kiddo chillin' by the pool in my sunglasses

margaritas and Mexican-style shrimp cocktail, courtesy of my wonderful husband

hubby and his aunt, who always lets us stay with her when we visit (We love you Aunt Donna!)

me and gap-toothed Kiddo having a blast at Disneyland

learning to draw Goofy and Chip at the Animation Studio

Kiddo took on all the biggest rides this year - he laughed through Tower of Terror while I screamed and even went on California Screamin, a roller coaster that goes upside down - he's my little adrenaline junkie

I don't think Kiddo was meant to be the king ...

we thoroughly enjoyed the new World of Color show - and that roller coaster? That's the one Kiddo went on earlier in the day ...

Mickey Mouse in his Steamboat Willie costume and Kiddo in his Jack Skellington Mickey ears

our final afternoon in Old Town Temecula

We had a wonderful time! I'm missing that fabulous weather now that I'm back in the heat and humidity of the East Coast.  Can't wait to go back again!

Next week I'm hoping to do a post about Kiddo's amazing experience at Victory Junction Camp in North Carolina, and maybe some of the hilarious videos of his Michael Jackson impersonations that he regaled us with in California ...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

"The Color Purple" Read-a-long: Discussion Questions

The Color Purple (Anniversary)Welcome to the discussion portion of THE COLOR PURPLE read-a-long. Feel free to participate or not, whatever you prefer.

If you’d like to join in the discussion, choose a few questions that interest you and answer them in a post on your blog or in the comment section. If you post on your blog, be sure to leave a link in the comments so we can check out your responses. (You may want to subscribe to the comments so you can keep up with the discussion.)

Do you have a question you’d like to ask the group? Post it in the comments and I’ll add it to the top of the list.

As a reminder, Nicole will recap the read-a-long at the end of the month and you’ll be invited to link to your review of the book then.

  • Submit them in the comments and I’ll add them here.

  • What was your perception of this book coming into thee read-a-long? Had you read it before? Seen the movie? Always meant to read/watch it? Did your initial perception influence your read-a-long experience?
  • For new readers: Was the book what you expected it to be? What DID you expect?
  • For rereaders: Did your opinion on the book change after reading it again? In what way?
  • How do you feel in general about epistolary novels (books told through letters)? Did this format influence your enjoyment of this book in any way? Do you think the story would have had the same impact if it were not told solely through letters? What other epistolary novels have you read? Did they work for you or did the format detract from the book?
  • Do Celie’s letters to God and her letters to Nettie have a different feel to them or do they seem the same? What do you think of Celie’s habit of ending her letters to Nettie with “Amen”?
  • Why do you think Celie’s husband hid Nettie’s letters rather than destroying them? Does this choice say anything about who he is as a person?
  • Are there any parts of the book that moved you? Which ones stand out in your mind? Why?
  • Are there any parts of the book that haunt you? Which parts? Why?
  • What is the significance of the title? Why do you think the author chose to use that title? What is so special about the color purple?
  • Is the story believable to you? Why or why not? Does believability matter to you in a “real-life” type book?

ABOUT THE MOVIE (for those who have seen it)
  • How does the book compare to the movie? Was the movie a good adaptation? Did the parts that were left out make a big difference or was the movie a success without them?
  • Did the actors fit the images you had of them from the book? If you watched the movie before reading the book, did the actors match the descriptions given by the author?

QUESTIONS FROM THE PUBLISHER, found at Reading Group Choices and LitLovers
  • In Celie’s first letter to God, she asks for a sign to let her know what is happening to her. Discuss the way confusion and deception become powerful tools for those characters who want to take advantage of Celie. Unravel the layers of lies that are told to her throughout the novel, perhaps making lists that compare the fiction she is expected to believe with the truth about her world. These can be concrete (Celie’s impression that Pa is too poor to provide properly for her, and the later realization that he had more resources than he ever lets on) or abstract (the assertion that Celie is unintelligent, though she demonstrates constant intelligence in planning for her safety and that of her sister). […] When in [your] life has the truth set [you] free?
  • What is the effect of not knowing Albert’s last name? In early novels, it was not uncommon for authors to use a blank in place of a character’s name, to create the illusion that the character was someone the reader might know—someone whose identity had to be kept secret. What does it mean that Celie must call her husband Mr. ____? When does she at last begin calling him by his first name?
  • Why does Albert tell Harpo to begin beating his wife, Sofia? Why is it so important to Harpo that his wife have no will of her own? Is his relationship with Squeak (Mary Agnes) fulfilling? What do these scenes tell us about the nature of abusive cycles? Is cruelty something that is taught—something that is unnatural? In your opinion, what does it take for someone (male or female) to deserve true respect?
  • Just as Celie grew up being told she was inferior, Shug Avery was always told she was evil. What are your impressions of Shug, from the photo Celie sees early on, to the end of the novel, when Celie and Albert have united in their devotion to Shug? What does Shug teach Celie about being loved, and about finding one’s true self? What price does Sofia pay for being her true self?
  • What does it take for Celie to finally reach her boiling point and reject oppression?
  • What is Celie’s opinion of Grady and his haze of addiction?
  • Why is it difficult for Shug to commit to the people who love her? In what ways does Shug bring both pleasure and heartache to them?
  • Nettie’s life with Corrine and Samuel gives her the first semblance of a healthy family life she has ever known, but Corrine’s jealousy taints this. Only the memory of that crucial early scene, when Celie lays eyes on her daughter at the store, absolves Nettie just before Corrine dies. The Color Purple brims with these intricate turns of plot. List the seemingly minor scenes that turn out to be pivotal in the lives of the characters.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Little Brother

Another quick review as I slowly get caught up ...

by Cory Doctorow 
416 pages (paperback edition)
ebook edition read on my phone

Little BrotherWhen I got my new Droid phone in May I immediately realized that I could read books on it - woohoo!  The first thing I downloaded was this book and once I started reading I realized that with all the technology in there, it was the perfect book to read on an eReader.

High school student Marcus is out with his buddies when the world goes crazy.  A terrorist group bombs the Bay Bridge in San Fransisco and homeland-security-types immediately begin arresting people left and right.  Marcus and his pals feel that the security forces are quickly becoming worse than the terrorists with all the insane controls they put on the city so they decide to (clandestinely) fight back using all the technological savvy they have at their disposal.

I LOVED the first half of this book and recommend it to several friends.  But then I got to the middle and I felt like Doctorow went off on too much of a political rant.  The end was a bit better, but not nearly as good as the beginning.  I did enjoy reading it but it could have been much, much better in my opinion.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Wind in the Willows

I'm back from vacation and am trying to get caught up on the books I read and listened to before I left and during the trip. Here's my review of the book I listened to on the coast to coast plane ride ...

by Kenneth Grahame
first published in 1908
narrated by Mary Woods
audiobook: 5.25 hours

Part of our California vacation included a trip to Disneyland where you can experience Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, an attraction based on this book. Although I was somewhat familiar with this story I don't think I'd actually read it before, so when Kiddo wanted to know about the ride I knew I'd have to check out the book and get the whole story.

This book tells the story of the critters who live on the edge of the river, including Mole, Badger, Ratty, and the infamous Toad.  Most of their adventures are of the quiet sort - picnics on the river, walks in the woods, visiting neighbors - except when Toad is involved; then things get wild and crazy.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (Disney Gold Classic Collection)After I listened to the story I retold it to Kiddo one afternoon before heading to Disneyland.  He really enjoyed it and it definitely made the ride more fun for him once we got there.  Plus we were able to get the Disney movie version of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and watch that while we in our hotel, so that was an added bonus!

As for me, I can't say that I particularly enjoyed this book though I am glad that I listened to it.  It was alright, some parts were entertaining, but on the whole I didn't particularly enjoy it.  It seems like sacrilege to say that since this book is a classic of childrens literature, but I really don't get the appeal.  What am I missing here?
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