Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

Besides all of the other books I read, I am also usually slowly working my way through a Harry Potter book and a Lord of the Rings book. I don't read them for long periods of time, I just pick them up every once in awhile and read a chapter or so.

So just noting this re-read.

If you haven't read The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I encourage you to! The movies are excellent, but really...they are just a glimpse of the richness and depth of the books.

I'll tell you a secret: sometimes when I'm reading The Lord of the Rings, I read it out loud to myself. Or to my cats if they are around and awake. The language is that beautiful. Even my cats close their eyes and nod and purr approvingly.

I'll tell you another secret: there was a period of time when I included a chapter of The Lord of the Rings along with my daily spiritual ritual/readings as well. It just touches my heart and speaks to me, so I thought it was important to read it every day.

And those are all of my secrets. Ok, well, I have a few more, but I'll post those another day.

A Year and Six Seconds: A Love Story by Isabel Gillies

A memoir about moving on and rebuilding a life after divorce.

Isabel moves from Ohio to New York with her two toddler boys after her husband leaves her for another woman. She writes about the struggles of single motherhood and living with her parents again. Within a year or so, she's engaged to another man.

Fairly readable, but also seemed implausible. She tries to make sense of what happened to her, and it seems like all it took was a 90-minute therapy session to move on. She seemed pretty desperate to have a normal family life again and to have a father for her boys, so I was unconvinced that she had really come to terms with her divorce and her part in the demise of the marriage. Just seemed like she wanted to get married again. She writes that she was ready....but just left me wondering about how real that really was.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker

Truly is a giant baby who grows into a giant woman due to an untreated pituitary gland problem. On the other hand, her sister, Serena Jane, is beautiful and petite. After their father's death (Truly's mom died after childbirth), Truly is sent to live with a farm family while Serena Jane lives a life of luxury in town.

A novel about a small-town, full of mystery, magic, murder, and rumors.

This book was slightly above average for me. I liked all of the twists and turns.

However, the novel is written from Truly's perspective, and I didn't feel like I really came to know her all that well. I didn't understand how she was able to deal with all of the taunting and teasing directed at her, or how she came to be the person she was. She remained a pretty flat character for the entire book. Good story, not as good development of the main character.

Friday, October 21, 2011

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson

This is the newest book by the author who wrote Devil in the White City. This time, he covers Berlin during 1933/1934. He follows William E. Dodd who is America's ambassador at the time. Dodd moved his wife and his family (he had two grown children - one daughter, one son) over to Berlin. The daughter was quite the flirt, having scandalous affairs with many men, including the first chief of the Gestapo.

Dodd suspected that Hitler was up to no good, and warned United States officials about him. But the US, still believing that isolationism was the best foreign policy stance to take, paid no heed to his warnings. Dodd definitely made some very accurate predictions about the dangers of Hitler and how Europe was going to be affected, and he was pretty much dismissed by his colleagues.

This book is substantial (about 400 pages), in-depth, and well-researched. It's intense and fascinating, filled with information about Berlin and Hitler's early days of power that I had never read about before. I read it in a few days which was not such a good idea. I found my brain too absorbed in Hitler's Germany which was not a good place for me to be for hours and hours at a time. I figured out that I had to take frequent breaks and even had to take a break from the book for a day.

Catwings by Ursula K. Le Guin

This is a very, very short kids' chapter book about four cat siblings who have furry wings! Cats that can fly!

Short and sweet. Check it out if you like kids' books and cats.

Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home - A Memoir by Caitlin Shetterly

In 2008, Caitlin and her new husband set out from Maine to Los Angeles, California with big dreams of finding work and success. They are both artists - she's a writer/actress and he's a photographer. They drove across the country with their dog and aging cat in tow and settled in southern California. Then, they found out that they were expecting a baby. They were also hit hard, like many others, by the recession. Without work, their money running out, and with a brand-new baby, they end up moving back home.

I liked Caitlin, her husband, and their pets. (The baby isn't described so much, so I didn't really feel any sort of affinity for him.) I admired their courage to pursue their dreams and their commitment to each other and their family.

This book was thoughtfully written. It seemed like a brave book to write - to write about dashed dreams, disappointment, and loss. It's well-done, humble, and very readable.

Caution: One section of this book had me in tears, but I also have a big soft spot for animals.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma

When Alice was in the fourth grade, she made a deal with her librarian father that they would read out loud for one hundred nights straight. They accomplished this, and then decided to continue "the Streak." They ended up reading each night together for minimum of ten minutes until the night that her father dropped her off at college.

Each chapter starts with a quote from a book that they read together, and then offers some story about Ozma's growing up years.

I'm a big fan of literacy. I'm a fan of parents reading to their children. It gives kids a good head start on learning how to read, and is just good overall academically. Plus, what kid doesn't want to snuggle up to their parents and hear a good story and look at pictures?

My sister is a reading teacher (and she's the one who taught me to read!), so I hear all about the problems that kids have when they aren't read to at home and aren't familiar with how books and words work and sound.

My mom read to me before bedtime until I was in junior high, and I can still name all of the chapter books she read to me. And look at me now! I have a book blog! =D

Anyway, I liked the book's spirit and its message. However, the execution was lacking. Ozma includes a lot of dialogue between her and her dad which didn't seem true-to-life. Or maybe they are just very smart and clever conversationalists who always have witty comments to make. So those conversations seemed fake to me. Also, each chapter jumped to a new topic, so there wasn't so much cohesion to the entire narrative besides the fact that her dad was reading to her every night. Each chapter beginning was disorienting (especially since they usually start with dialogue) and it would take me a little bit to figure out what she was talking about.

Ozma seems like a really sweet, generous, and thoughtful person, and I think she has more books in her. With some maturing and experience, I think her next books will be better. I applaud her father and her for promoting reading and taking it so seriously.

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard

Bard was an American journalist who fell in love with a Frenchman, and she ends up moving to Paris. She writes about her relationship (she ends up marrying the guy) and her transition to living and cooking in France (which she has plenty of time to do because she doesn't have a work visa).

This book was well-written. I enjoyed her observations on the cultural differences between Americans and the French.

A couple of distractions: at times, the author came across as whiny, spoiled, and falsely modest. Also, the recipes seemed unnecessary (all food memoirs don't need recipes!) and I don't think I would actually cook any of the recipes (but I also dismiss a recipe if the ingredient list is too long) although I would eat the food if someone else cooked it for me.

A light, mildly annoying at times, read. Probably good for an airplane ride.

By the way, I heard about this book on Notorious MLE's blog. You can read her review of the book here.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids by Madeline Levine

The author of this book is a psychologist who works with teens from affluent families. She noticed that although her clients had tons of resources and opportunities, they still felt empty, depressed, and anxious.

She argues that teens who are over-scheduled, accomplished, and never have to deal with any kind of problem-solving (because their parents swoop in and take care of everything) are actually stunted in their development as people. They don't have the time, support, or even the chance to figure out who they are and to develop their inner lives.

I don't think this book is just for wealthy parents. I think it can apply to any parent. There's lots of good parenting information (like a breakdown of ages and developmental stages and what kids need from their parents during each stage). The author also encourages parents to continue growing themselves into independent, strong, and content people...and have a that their own "success" and identity isn't dependent on the outcomes of their children.

Recommended for any parent, future parent, teacher, or anyone who might be interested in reading about how our very techie and consumerist culture may actually be making us more unhappy and disconnected from ourselves and others.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern



This book had it all - magic, competition, love, whimsy. It was beautiful, clever, and enchanting. Plus, it has to be the most creative and original book I've read in years.

It's about a circus that is held only at night, appearing and disappearing at cities around the world. Within the circus, there are two rival magicians pitted against each other in a contest that neither of them really understands but have trained for their entire lives.

I have not read a book so thoroughly satisfying from beginning to end in a really long time.

I read and re-read lines and sections just to delight in the language. I could not put this book down! As I was nearing the end, I was afraid that the ending would disappoint, but it did not. 

If I haven't said enough about how much I loved this book, here's one more thing. You all know that I hardly ever buy books because I check them out from the library. Well, I'm gonna buy a copy of this book for my own personal library. Plus about five more copies for Christmas presents. I predict that this book is gonna be big, and remember that you read that here on El Estante para Libros. =D

The Lightning Thief: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1 by Rick Riordan

My niece, Sailor, recommended this book to me. It's the first in a series, and I guess it's pretty popular because I was on the waiting list at the library for weeks before it was available to check out.

Percy Jackson is a twelve-year-old boy who was just kicked out of a private boarding school for troubled youth. But something strange is going on and Percy starts having encounters with mythological gods and creatures that he has only read about in textbooks. Who is Percy and what is going on?? Once he figures some of that out, he also learns that he is being accused of stealing Zeus' lightning bolt and that he has ten days to rectify the situation. Percy and his friends jump into action.

I had a difficult time reading and enjoying this book because I kept comparing it to Harry Potter. If I had never read Harry Potter, I think I would have found this story to be original and fun. However, there were too many similarities to Harry Potter (being a "half-blood", the mystery of who your parents are and what happened to them, boarding school, magic, the two sidekicks - one female, one male) that it made me think that this was a wannabe Harry Potter story, lacking in originality.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

Remember how I wrote that I regularly hear about good books from the three Emilys that read this blog? Well, this book was recommended by one of those Emilys, but she hasn't read the book. Her parents and sister recommended it to her, and she then recommended it to me, but she has yet to read it herself.

So I guess I also take recommendations from your mothers, fathers, and siblings even if you haven't read the book. Keep sending those book recommendations (and those of your parents)! I love hearing about what others are reading and enjoying.

This non-fiction book tells the story of two men - Daniel Burnham, the architect of Chicago's 1893 World's Fair, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer also in Chicago who preyed on young women. Reading about the fair and everything that went into the planning and building of the grounds (and Ferris wheel) of the World's Fair was very interesting albeit stressful because of all of the deadlines and rushing. Reading about Holmes' meticulous planning, premeditated murders, and disposal of bodies was disturbing. I kept asking myself, "This really happened?"

Fascinating, kinda gross, but definitely a book that captured my attention.