Monthly Archives: June 2012

Genres in Children’s Literature – iTunes U

Australia’s La Trobe University has a wonderful cache of podcasts of one of their children’s lit classes: Genres in Children’s Literature, taught by professor David Beagley. I’ll be discussing each lesson in my children’s blog, but I thought I would mention this course for anyone who works with kids, has kids, or wants to write books for kids. I’ve only gotten through the first two lectures right now, each lecture is about an hour-long. They are incredibly insightful, and Beagley brings up a lot of good points that I hadn’t considered when reading/reviewing children’s or teen’s literature. He uses different books, studies and reports in his lecture, bringing to light interesting statistics. The series covers children’s literature from picture books to novels, and the genres are very broad in scope covering pretty much every type of book from anime to mystery to fantasy.

Now if only I could find a course like this on Genres in YA Literature…

A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosney – Review

A secret keptA Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosney
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Source: Library
Publisher: St. Martin’s, 2009
ISBN: 9780312593315, 303 pages
Find this book at your local library

It all began with Antoine Rey wanting to take his sister on a seaside vacation for her 40th Birthday. Having decided to take her back to their childhood vacation site brings back a swarm of memories both Antoine and Melanie had blocked after their mother’s death in 1974. One of these memories causes Melanie to drive off the road causing a major accident. Following the accident, Melanie and Antoine try to piece together the last few months of their mother’s death. Antoine faces the harsh reality of his divorce and tries to bridge the gap between himself and his family.

Set in both the countryside of France and in Paris, the author’s descriptions of the cities were beautifully depicted. I’m not sure if I’d peg this book as a fiction or a mystery. Although Antoine and his sister try to resolve the mystery of the sudden surge of childhood memories about their mother, I found this book to be more of an interesting family drama, but only in regards to Antoine, his ex-wife Astrid and their children. I found the whole storyline with his mother to be somehow lacking. There was a quote from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca at the start of the novel, which lead me to think this might be gothic mystery of sorts. Well, it wasn’t. Early in the book, chapters were interspersed with love letters, written by Clarisse, Antoine’s mother. By the end of the novel, I still couldn’t figure out the significance of the letters, and I found that they just took away from Antoine’s family drama.

His wife left him for somebody younger, his kids are sullen teenagers who don’t respect him. Watching Antoine piece his life together and finally step away from his past was an interesting and well-developed aspect of the book. de Rosney did a good job of maintaining a running theme of loss of innocence, mysterious & secret deaths,  and dysfunctional families. I liked Antoine as the protagonist. He is flawed, but he overcomes his flaws in a very natural and human way. The big mystery regarding his mother’s death is never fully explained, and I like that too. It’s not neatly wrapped up in a bow, ready to go.

I didn’t find the mystery suspenseful at all, and the big reveal about his mother fell short for me. It didn’t really match all the anticipation built up around it. I still found the book to be both engrossing and a very quick read. The pages just flew by. The characters were all fascinating with layered back-stories that the author just barely hints to.

“There are two things you don’t throw out in France – bread and books”

I came across this timely article by the New York Times regarding bookstores in France and bookstores in the US and England.  Yet another reason why France never ceases to amaze me.

The French, as usual, insist on being different. As independent bookstores crash and burn in the United States and Britain, the book market in France is doing just fine. France boasts 2,500 bookstores, and for every neighborhood bookstore that closes, another seems to open. From 2003 to 2011 book sales in France increased by 6.5 percent.

Full article - http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/21/books/french-bookstores-are-still-prospering.html

Live Chat w Vanessa Diffenbaugh on Goodreads

The language of flowers : a novelEarly this year, I read and very much enjoyed Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s debut novel The Language of Flowers.

This morning, I received an e-mail alert that Goodreads is hosting  a live video chat with Vanessa Diffenbaugh at 5 pm ET/2pm PT on Tuesday, June 26th to discuss her novel The Language of Flowers.

Sadly, I have to work and won’t be able to attend the live chat, but I hope I can watch the archive. I hope some of you will have the time to pop-in for the interview though. Someone should ask what her next book is about and when we can get our hands on it. =)

To RSVP to the chat and receive a reminder email the day before the chat, click here and RSVP “Yes.”

To watch the chat or ask a question, click here.

Anything Considered by Peter Mayle – Review

Anything consideredAnything Considered by Peter Mayle
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Source: My copy
Publisher: Knopf, 1996
ISBN: 0679441239 / 303 pages

Find this book at your local library

Luciano Bennett, known primarily as Bennett, is bored and unemployed in the small Provencal town of Saint-Martin. After placing an ad in the local newspaper, he comes across a very wealthy and dubious fellow named Mr. Poe. Mr. Poe propositions Bennett to pretend to be him and live in Monaco for 6 months. Sounds easy enough, right? It is unless you factor in a stolen case worth millions of dollars, a love affair, the mafia and police-force all bundled together into the deal.

I thought this book was incredibly improbably and ridiculous. All of the characters were very cliché and expected. None of them were particularly likeable, the plot was predictable and it was filled with so many clichés, my head was swimming. Despite all of that, I kind of enjoyed this book. It’s like a campy parody of James Bond novels/movies. I think it was would make for a great movie. The locations themselves sell the book. Monaco, Provence, Ibiza, need I say more?

Bennett and the love interest Anna make for an interesting pair, what with her being armed with years of experience from the army and Bennett armed with a highly stylized sense of humor and sarcasm. They put so many innocent lives in danger through their actions, although I have to say that this book is not graphic, violently or sexually in any way. It’s very vanilla in those regards. It’s mostly a very dramatic what-if scenario with lots of funny one-liners.

Peter Mayle is also the author of the incredibly funny memoir of his life in Provence, A Year in Provence. I absolutely loved his memoir, so if you’re not sure about reading his work, start with the memoir!

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton – Book Review

Ethan FromeEthan Frome by Edith Wharton
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Source: My copy
Publisher: Scribner Library, 1911
181 pages
 
Find this book at your local library

Ethan Frome is a rather sad and depressing tale set in the small and fictional New England town of Starkfield. The novella beings with the narrator’s first introduction to Ethan Frome, a lonely and reserved old man in town. After Ethan chauffeurs the narrator to and from various engagements, the author learns about Ethan’s history, and more prominently, his doomed love story.

This book is by leaps and bounds different from Age of Innocence. Its much shorter for one thing, (181 pages!), and the story isn’t bogged down with elaborate descriptions of social mores, norms and etiquette. This story felt much more raw and truthful.

That doesn’t mean that Wharton did not impress with her use of language and description. She was able to shed a favorable light on one of the most disliked characters, Ethan’s wife Zenobia. Even Ethan, the purported protagonist came across as idle and impotent in his actions to save the fate of his wife’s cousin and house-help Mattie.Each character was flawed in their own unique way. The ending sort of threw me for a loop. I didn’t see it coming, and it was rather depressing in how it all played out for Zenobia, Ethan and Mattie.

I think if I had read this first, I might have been more open to Age of Innocence. Finishing Ethan Frome left me wanting more. More cultural analysis, more historical context of an era long-gone, and more of Wharton’s story-telling.

Nom de Plume by Carmela Ciuraru – Book Review

Nom de plume : a (secret) history of pseudonymsNom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms by Carmela Ciuraru
Age: Adult
Genre: Non-fiction / Mini-Biographies
Source: Publisher
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2012
ISBN: 9780061735271 /331 pages
Find this book at your local library

In Nom De Plume, Carmela Ciuraru provides snapshot biographies of sixteen of the world’s most famous authors who have written under a pseudonym. Each chapter is devoted to an individual author, discussing his/her childhood, writing career, and death. The author does a fantastic job of focusing on why and how the writer chose their pseudonym. Whether it was for a fresh start, to avoid sexist publishers, or to find a different muse for each new work.

I want to be a biographer reader, I really do. I just don’t have the attention span for most biographies, as they focus on a ridiculous amount of energy on the trivial and mundane aspects of the subject. What I like about Ciuraru’s book is that she provides biographies on some of my favorite authors, but summarizes the details in a way that leaves me feeling sated. I don’t want or need to know more, and it’s certainly not less than what I need to understand the author at hand.

Ciuraru’s writing style is very easy-going and chatty. I liked how she approached each subject and didn’t hold back on their accomplishments and disappointments. By the end of the book, I probably added 10 titles to my “to be read” list from the new authors she introduced me to. The biggest chunks of each chapter are devoted to the author’s choice of pseudonym, and public reaction to the author’s works. I found out a lot of details about the lives and personalities of Mark Twain, the Bronte sisters and Lewis Carroll that were completely new to me.

I’d split my knowledge of the selected authors into three categories:

  1. Know the name and read at least one of their books
  2. Know the name, have not read their books
  3. Don’t know the name, hence never read their books.

I found a large portion of the authors discussed to be French or from France, or French influenced in one way or another. I’m not complaining about that aspect, it fits my reading taste just fine. I just found it odd that there wasn’t more variety of authors from different regions. In its  entirety, the authors were all European or American.

One complaint I have, and this is more editorial than content, is that there was no consistency in the 2 font styles used for the chapter headings. The two fonts represent the author’s real name and their pseudonym. There was no consistency with which font stood for which name. It wasn’t confusing, just annoying. It’s such a small detail to overlook in the final editing process of the book.

I think this book is great for English majors in college. Ciuraru provides interesting insight not only into the author’s lives but also their works and the contextual relevance, shock-factor and social issues that accompanied the author in their heyday.

Libraries + French Markets + London = Literacy Love Sunday

The North West London Blues is a beautiful essay by author Zadie Smith in defense of, although more like an ode to, libraries and library preservation. It’s quite disheartening that libraries are on the endangered species list of educational and cultural outlets and are being disregarded and tossed aside due to budget cuts. It’s sad that libraries are forced to prove their relevance in the form of numbers and stats. Libraries are about free and open education and information resources, about books, stories, imagination and creativity. When did all that disappear and turn into number crunching? Why did it happen?

I include an excerpt from the essay regarding libraries, but please make sure to read the entire essay which you can find on the New York Review of Books here.

What kind of a problem is a library? It’s clear that for many people it is not a problem at all, only a kind of obsolescence. At the extreme pole of this view is the technocrat’s total faith: with every book in the world online, what need could there be for the physical reality? This kind of argument thinks of the library as a function rather than a plurality of individual spaces. But each library is a different kind of problem and “the Internet” is no more a solution for all of them than it is their universal death knell. Each morning I struggle to find a seat in the packed university library in which I write this, despite the fact every single student in here could be at home in front of their macbook browsing Google Books. And Kilburn Library—also run by Brent Council but situated, despite its name, in affluent Queen’s Park—is not only thriving but closed for refurbishment. Kensal Rise is being closed not because it is unpopular but because it is unprofitable, this despite the fact that the friends of Kensal Rise library are willing to run their library themselves (if All Souls College, Oxford, which owns the library, will let them.) Meanwhile it is hard not to conclude that Willesden Green is being mutilated not least because the members of the council see the opportunity for a sweet real estate deal.

All libraries have a different character and setting. Some are primarily for children or primarily for students, or the general public, primarily full of books or microfilms or digitized material or with a café in the basement or a market out front. Libraries are not failing “because they are libraries.” Neglected libraries get neglected, and this cycle, in time, provides the excuse to close them. Well-run libraries are filled with people because what a good library offers cannot be easily found elsewhere: an indoor public space in which you do not have to buy anything in order to stay.

A library is one of those social goods that matter to people of many different political attitudes. All that the friends of Kensal Rise and Willesden Library and similar services throughout the country are saying is: these places are important to us. We get that money is tight, we understand that there is a hierarchy of needs, and that the French Market or a Mark Twain plaque are not hospital beds and classroom size. But they are still a significant part of our social reality, the only thing left on the high street that doesn’t want either your soul or your wallet.

Free Resources for Elementary Teachers by Colleen Kessler (Review)

Free resources for elementary teachers : the ultimate guide to getting free stuff for teachersFree Resources for Elementary Teachers by Colleen Kessler
Age: Adult
Genre: Non-Fiction / Education
Source: Publisher via LibraryThing
Publisher: Prufrock Press, 2012
ISBN: 9781593638634 / 242 pages
 
Find this book at your local library
 

Colleen Kessler’s collection online websites and resources is a gem for teachers, parents, librarians and parents engaging in home-schooling.

The book is divided into ten chapters and each chapter is filled with links to free resources online. The topics range from literacy, math and sciences to teacher and homeschooling blogs. The chapters include a “Frugal Fun” area including games, activities and ideas at the end of each chapter.

Its pretty bare-bones. There is really very little commentary minus a couple of pages at the beginning of each chapter. Each link is accompanied with a little summary blurb as well as the link address. There are no images or screen-shots of the websites. I would have appreciated an index in the back, but otherwise, this book is very, very thorough. Plus its fun going through each and every website, (because that’s the type of nerd that I am) to see what each website looks like and what kind of information and resources it provides for the students and adults using it. A few of the links are listed in multiple chapters (BrainPop for example), which I felt kind of took up space that could have gone to another useful resource, and fluffed out the book more than necessary. Overall, its a great resource for the home, classroom and library.

 

Le retour de Paris en juillet

Paris in July is coming back this year! Not that it ever left my blog, but now I’ll have no guilt in posting for an entire month about Paris. =p

Is anyone else going to join? Read a book set in France, watch a movie set in France or in French. Go to a French restaurant (Left Bank is pretty yummy), scarf down macarons like its your last day on Earth. Those are my plans at least.

How will you celebrate Paris in July? Sign-up here