Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Doll People (Ann M. Martin) – Review

The doll peopleThe Doll People by Ann M. Martin & Laura Goodwin
Illustrated by Brian Selznick
Age: 9+
Genre: Fiction
Source: Library
Publisher: Hyperion, 2000
ISBN 9780786803613 / 256 pages
Find this book at your local library 

Forty-five years ago, the Doll family lost their beloved Aunt Sarah from their humble dollhouse home. After finding her Aunt Sarah’s journal stashed in the library bookshelves, Annabelle Doll takes it upon herself to venture out of the house and look for her aunt. On one of her explorations, she meets a new set of dolls and befriend Tiffany. With a new friend and a new burst of courage, Annabelle and Tiffany venture into the world of the living humans to look for their missing relative.

There are number of elements in this book that make it fantastic.

1. Illustrations by Brian Selznick. The author and illustrator of The Invention of Hugo Cabret does a fantastic job bringing the doll families to life in this book. He pencil illustrations are amazing, depicting the smallest flecks of emotion in the doll’s faces.

2. Ann M. Martin. The author of the Babysitter’s Club teams up with author Laura Goodwin to write the first in a trilogy about the Doll family. This book is imaginative, funny and well paced. Annabelle’s family is from the Victorian era, made of porcelain and passed down from generation to generation. Tiffany’s family is new, plastic and perfect for the rough hands of a playful 5-year-old younger sister. The contrast between old and new, traditional v. modern is well examined through the friendship of Annabelle and Tiffany.

3. Living Dolls. Lives in Dollhouses. I LOVE, LOVE this genre in children’s fiction. This book is a perfect for fans of the following:

  • The Indian in the Cupboard series (Lynne Reid Banks)
  • The Castle in the Attic  (Elizabeth Winthrop)
  • Toy Story (the movies)
  • Time Windows (Kathryn Reiss)

The storyline is simple to follow, adventurous and the conversations feel true to the ages of the characters. Parents can enjoy this book and also use it as an opportunity to share stories from their childhood, or pass along toys from their childhood. 

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2011 Challenges & Events

I participated more in various reading challenges and events this year than in the previous years of this blog. I actually followed through on a majority of the challenges too! Yay me!

2011 Challenges and Events

Because of Winn-Dixie (Kate DiCamillo) – Review

Because of Winn-DixieBecause of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
Age: 9+
Genre: Fiction
Source: Library
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2000
ISBN: 0763616052 / 182 pages
Awards: Newberry Honor Book

Find this book at your local library 

India Opal Buloni just moved to Naomi, Florida with her father, the preacher. Friendless and listless, India’s summer in a new town is soon filled with new friends and experiences because of a stray-dog named Winn-Dixie.

This book is like a lighter version of To Kill A Mockingbird, but without the murder trial and mass racism. There is prejudice in Naomi, FL., but in a different form. Children and adults cast judgements about their neighbors without knowing their true stories. Take Otis from Gertrude’s Pets. A mild-mannered and shy fellow who had an unfortunate stint in jail. There is Gloria Dump, the woman children taunt as a “witch”.

India’s life is immediately changed when she finds and claims Winn-Dixie as her own at the Winn-Dixie grocery store. India goes through a summer of self-discovery and coming of age. She not only learns more about the sadness in her life (a mother who abandoned India and her father), but also learns to understand and empathize with the sadness in the lives of those around her.

The book is beautifully written, well paced and short. There are a lot of issues to absorb in only 182 pages. I consider this a light book, because DiCamillo does not delve deeply into the histories of the supporting characters. She only lightly touches upon their heartaches and accomplishments in ways that compliment Winn-Dixie’s arrival and purpose in India’s life.

The chapters are short, making this a great book for the bedtime storytime for older kids. I think this is a book that adults can enjoy as well. There are a lot of mature issues subtly interwoven throughout the novel that can be dissected and discussed; single parenting, prejudice, death, friendship, loyalty, etc.

The Giver (Lois Lowry) – Review

The giverThe Giver by Lois Lowry
Age: 9 & up
Genre: Dystopia, Fantasy
Source: Library
Publisher: Bantam Dell, 1993
ISBN: 0440219078 / 180 pages

Find this book at your local library 

Jonas lives a peaceful and orderly life in his community. Residents are assigned a spouse, they apply for children (one boy and one girl) and when they turn 12, they assigned the job that they will carry for the rest of their life in the community. All of these decisions are made by a committee of elders. During the much-anticipated ceremony of the 12s, all of the children turning 12 in the community are given their assigned future professions. Jonas receives an assignment that is rare and unique. He is chosen as The Receiver and his role will be to receive all the memories of pleasure and pain that are held by the Giver. Once Jonas realizes the truth that has been contained from the rest of the community, he faces some serious decisions about his future.

I never read this book as a child, and I really wish I hadn’t waited so long to pick up a copy. The Giver is a haunting tale set in an undisclosed time. As a book aimed at children, Lowry hit all the right notes of eerie, raising all sorts of questions about right & wrong in society. I think adults reading this book will be disappointed, expecting more depth. There were a few areas where Lowry could have expanded, namely with Jonas’ family and friends. They came across as vague and two-dimensional. Then again, maybe that was Lowry’s intent, to highlight the changes in Jonas before and after his time with The Giver.

Kids who enjoyed this book will probably go on to enjoy books like The Hunger Games, The Uglies, Brave New World, Farenheit 451, etc. The Giver also has two companion books: Gathering Blue & The Messenger.

A Year in the Merde (Stephen Clarke) – Review

A year in the merdeA Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Source: Library copy
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2004
ISBN: 1582345910 / 276 pages

Find this book at your local library 

Paul West is sent to work in France for a one year assignment, helping develop a series of British tea rooms & cafes throughout Paris. Along the way, he encounters more  than he expecting. He finds himself dealing an apathetic group at work, an untrustworthy boss, a sea of flirtatious yet unavailable women, piles of literal and figurative merde in general throughout the city and its residents.

Although fictional, this book could quite possible pass as an actual memoir. Paul is a wonderful narrator, taking us through his frustrations, his accomplishments and failures as he tries to get through a year in Paris. This is also one of the funniest books I’ve read regarding the subject of a foreigner trying to become a local.

I thought all of the characters were well-developed and well-balanced. From the cranky administrative staff, to the negligent severs at cafes, almost everything described in this book matched every memoir I’ve read set in France. As a bachelor, much of the book is focused on Paul’s sexual exploits (of which there are a many). The rest of the book is focused on Paul’s experiences at work dealing with a staff that could care less about the project. 

Although he’s witty, Paul isn’t really a likable character, no one is actually. He’s very self-centered at times and his primary goal seems to be getting laid. His sense of humor, though, is hilarious and his exploits (sexual and the mundane) are equally entertaining as his bumbling nature keeps getting the better of him. Granted, as a fictional account, much of this book did have some exaggerated elements purely for the sake of humor. A lot of the humor and characters reminded me of Peter Mayle’s experiences in A Year in Provance. A Year in the Merde is meant to be a ribald and sarcastic take on French culture (the food, the constant strikes & protests, the relaxed work habits, etc.) and one British man’s continual attempts to get through one year of paid employment.

5 Gifts for your favorite bibliophile (me!)

Some awesomely awesome gifts for your favorite bibliophile. As much as we all love receiving books, these novelties (pun!) are also welcomed.

1. Spineless Classics Book posters (UK) &

2. Poster Text (US)

Pride and Prejudice
3. Literary Clocks (DIY instructions)
Literary Clock

5. Bookmark Pads (Guilty Pleasure/Yes I’m Actually Reading This/You Are Here

Adverbs (Daniel Handler) – Review

AdverbsAdverbs by Daniel Handler
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Harper Perennial, 2006
ISBN: 9780060724429 / 272 pages

Find this book at your local library

This book is nearly impossible to summarize, but I’m going to try:

A bunch of people talk about love and birds, specifically magpies, and act like real selfish idiots trying to figure out what love really is.

Well…its not a perfect summary, but its the best that I can do. I was really disappointed with this collection by Daniel Handler. I love The Series of Unfortunate Events and The Basic Eight, but this book just seemed to lack the je ne se quoi  of the previous works. This is definitely not a cohesive novel. There is no intro, conflict, climax, resolution. Its more like a collection of vignettes with overlapping characters and themes.  Although I never grew attached or liked any of the characters so I didn’t recognize them when they popped up 3 stories down the line.

Quirks:

  • Handler doesn’t actually use many adverbs in the book except for the chapter titles & for one character towards the end.
  • 36 mentions of Magpies + 67 mentions of birds + 13 mentions of misc birds =  136 mentions of aviary creatures in 17 chapters. I should have kept a count of how many times love and the volcano beneath San Francisco were also mentioned because those were the four frequent concepts in all of the stories.

Handler’s writing is somewhat disjointed. It’s very “hip” and somewhat pretentious. I think I actually reacted to this book the same way I reacted to Franny and Zooey (which was not a good reaction). The writing felt smug, it didn’t feel forced, but it didn’t feel natural either. There was just something off about this novel. Its like there was a volcano underneath this novel causing a sense of urgency where there shouldn’t be one.

I did grow to enjoy the book towards the middle. Some of the chapters I really enjoyed were: Immediately, Frigidly, and Naturally. When I finished, I felt unsatisfied. I feel like this book deserves a re-read in the hopes that I may like it more not expecting a typical story progression.

The Reading Promise (Alice Ozma) – Review

The reading promise : my father and the books we sharedThe Reading Promise: My Dad and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir
Format: Audio-cd
Source: Library
6 discs
Find this book at your local library

What started as a span of 100 consecutive nights of reading soon became a streak that spanned almost 8 years. In this memoir, Alice Ozma recounts her memories of growing up with her father using their reading streak as a backdrop to the stories.

The title of this book is a LIE. A big fat LIE. I picked up this audio book with the impression that the stories would center around the books they read together. Their thoughts on the books, or how the books had an effect on their lives. Instead, all I got were touching, and nostalgic memories of growing up with a single father who tried his best to raise his highly precocious daughter.

As a father-daughter memoir, this book is top-notch. As a memoir about their reading streak…it strayed from its mark. I was hoping for more chapters like Ch.18, which centered around their reading of Dicey’s Song. Most of the stories centered around Alice’s youth. At times the stories felt very self-indulgent (ie the chapter in which she discusses changing her name from Kristen Alice Ozma Brozina to just Alice Ozma. I skipped the track about halfway through…)

Other times, the stories and the moments Alice and her father shared were touching; the day Alice’s mother moved out of the house, the day her sister went abroad to Germany for a year, the day she got a C in English class, her car accident, the last day of their streak. The reading streak did help the pair broach topics and get through life’s scenarios that would have otherwise been awkward for a single father of a teenage girl. The love and commitment the two put into the streak is admirable.

Ozma read the book, and her reading is really what kept me going. I might have put the book aside otherwise. Alice’s voice is youthful, and she and she paces the reading really well. I think her dad taught her well in that respect.

I think the entire concept of their reading streak is fantastic. As a bibliophile & as a children’s librarian. It’s incredibly important for parents to read with and to their children. It fosters a love of literature, creativity, reading comprehension and analytical thought. I would love to start a tradition like this with my kids. Although I never read with my parents, they did always make a point to take me to the library every week to feed my reading addiction, and they encouraged and supported my love of reading in other ways.

The Story of My Life (Helen Keller) – Review

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
Age: 12 & up
Genre: Autobiography
Source: my copy
Publisher: Watermill Classics, 1994 (originally 1902
ISBN: 0893753688 / 152 pages

Find this book at your local library  

Most people have first learned about Helen Keller when their elementary school teacher played The Miracle Worker one day in class. That was when I first learned about Helen Keller. Although, to be honest, I didn’t know much about her other than what was represented in the movie. I knew that although she was both deaf and blind, she learned how to use sign-language to communicate with people in her life.

Reading The Story of My Life was a very inspirational and eye-opening experience for me. Although its only a brief 152 pages, I really took my time with this book, trying to value and understand the struggles she went to educate herself. I was amazed to learn that in the course of her life, Helen Keller taught herself French, German and Latin. She even learned to use her vocal chords to speak and went to college at Radcliffe.

For all of her obstacles, to be so well accomplished is amazing and also shaming, I think, on today’s society. We have so much knowledge within a touch of a button, but who really strives to educate themselves anymore? How many people try to learn something new after the required four years of college. Often, when I would tell people that I get bored because of the free time I have due to working part-time, I hear a resounding chorus of “Find another job!” Granted, I already work 2 part-time jobs, so taking on a third just seems greedy. No one suggests learning just for the sake of learning. I’m bored because my friends all work during my off-days. I’m bored, because there is a missing stimuli in my life and I don’t have anyone with which to enjoy an intelligent conversation on those days.

This year, since coming back from Europe, I’ve really made an honest effort to learn French and I’m actually doing pretty OK (reading & writing at least. My accent en Francaise is just terrible). I can’t begin to tell you how many weird looks I get from all sorts of people when I tell them that I’m learning French for fun. The whole idea of “If it’s not for work, then what’s the point of learning” seems like the wrong motivation for education. If Helen Keller can learn to read and write in three languages, why shouldn’t I be able to accomplish something similar?

The Story of My Life is full of quotes and messages that I want to copy and paste onto every social media format that I’m a part of. They’ve all struck a chord with me, and I hope they would as well with others. One in particular really stayed with me:

I have learned many things I should never have known had I not tried the experiment. One of them is the precious science of patience, which teaches us that we should take our education as we take a walk in the country, leisurely, our minds hospitably open to impressions of every sort. Such knowledge floods the soul unseen with a soundless tidal wave of deepening thought.

This book is a great autobiography for kids doing reports, its great for adults who feel in a funk and need some motivation to accomplish a dream or goal that keeps getting postponed.

What 2012 holds in store for my bookshelf

Or 2012 – the year I actually read the books collecting dust on my bookshelf.

I found this challenge by Bookish Ardour titled Off the Shelf. The main premise is to read books purchased before 2012. Sounds easy enough. My good friend at HardlyWritten did that last year and finished all the pre-2011 books on his bookshelf. I attempted something similar in 2011, but most went unread and I ended up donating a good chunk of my TBR pile to the library because I decided that I would just never sit down and read those books. Some books you buy to read, some books you buy because you feel like you should own them. I did read almost all the books I bought in 2011 though, does that count???

Here is the info for the Off the Shelf Challenge. I’m not aiming for any particular level, although I certainly hope that I get farther than Tempted. I hope other will join this challenge with me.

The Deets

  • The Main Rule: Do not include books acquired during 2012, it defeats the purpose, read those books from before 2012 started!
  • Running Dates: 1st of January – 31st of December 2012
  • When Can I Sign Up: All the way up to the last two weeks of December!
  • Crossover Genres: Anything! The name of the game is to turn those unread books into read ones.
  • Mr Linky: To use the Mr Linky you’ll need to click on the graphic then enter your link. These will be updated and posted into this page every couple of weeks or so.
  • Further Details:Crossover challenges are fine, you can change levels at any time, this is eBook, short story, and graphic novel friendly, and you don’t need a blog to join in (read further for details)

    The How To

    1. Choose Your Level:These are listed further down and you can change levels at any time.
    2. Grab The Badge: Place it somewhere on your blog, profile, or in a signature where possible and link back (main page or this page, it’s up to you).
    3. Sign Up Post: Create a post on your blog, in a group, or on a forum (only if allowed) to let others see what you’re aiming for (a predefined list of books is optional).
    4. Link Up: Grab the direct URL to your sign up post, not your blog, click the Mr Linky graphic and enter your link!
    5. Blogless? Don’t worry, you can sign up with your social network profile (YouTube, Twitter, GoodReads, Shelfari included), just make sure you link to your review list, shelf, tweet, or category. If you don’t have any of those feel free to comment!

    Challenge Levels

    1. Tempted– Choose 5 books to read
    2. Trying – Choose 15 books to read
    3. Making A Dint – Choose 30 books to read
    4. On A Roll – Choose 50 books to read
    5. Flying Off – Choose 75 books to read
    6. Hoarder – Choose between 76-135 books to read
    7. Buried – Choose between 136-200 books to read