Monthly Archives: December 2011

Eight Keys (Suzanne LaFleur) – Review

Eight keysEight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur
Age: Tween (9 and up)
Genre: Realistic Fiction, school drama
Source: Library
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books, 2011
ISBN: 9780385740302
216 pages

Find this book at your local library  

Elise’s mother died when Elise was born during a complicated pregnancy. Elise’s father died shortly afterwards after a fight with cancer. Up until her 12th birthday, Elise had received a letter each year on her birthday that her father had written before his death.  When entering into 6th grade, Elise hits a rough patch.  She’s constantly behind in school, her locker partner is mean to her everyday, and Elise’s relationship with her best friend from childhood is on thin ice. Throughout the course of the first term of school, Elise stumbles upon eight keys left for her by her deceased father. Each key unlocks rooms and family histories that she had nearly forgotten.

The whole letters-from-beyond really seems to be a theme in books. There was PS I Love You by Cecila Ahern that may have started the whole thing. I know 13 Letters follows the same concept. This book though, is a little different.

The story is really sweet and I think girls entering the dreaded tween years will really relate to Elise. I like how delicately Lafleur touches on the bullying issue in the book. It’s very subtle, but also says a lot about the culture clashes in schools that most adults just don’t see. Every morning, Amanda smashes Elise’s lunch under a pile of textbooks. Amanda calls Elise names, and even once smashed the locker door on Elise’s fingers. Trying to cope with the large amount of school work, and Amanda’s bullying is a lot for Elise to handle. She takes out her frustration on her friendship with Franklin, putting a strain on their friendship for the first 3 months of the school year.

The messages and the rooms in the attic left by Elise’s dad are very sweet concepts. I won’t disclose the contents, but each room was just the thing Elise needed to help her figure out who is she, and what she wants to be. Each inspirational message left behind from her dad related to one of Elise’s problems in school, and helped guide her towards the right, although sometimes wrong, way of handling the situations.

I liked the supporting characters in the book as well. Although Franklin just seemed really young for his character. He acted more like a little kid constantly craving sweets that his mother won’t allow. Caroline is a great character too, very much a role model and support system that Elise needed to get through school.

I also really like that Elise isn’t the shy bookworm getting picked on at school. That seems too easy sometimes. Elise doesn’t read for fun, isn’t good at school, and just doesn’t know what to do with herself. She’s at a cross-roads for the majority of the book in terms of her interests and hobbies. I think it makes her much more approachable to reluctant readers.

The Mother-Daughter Book Club (Heather Vogel Frederick) – Review

The Mother-Daughter Book ClubThe Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick
Age: tween (9-12)
Genre: Fiction / realistic drama
Source: Library
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2007
ISBN 9780689864124 / 245 pages

Find this book at your local library

Four girls with seemingly nothing in common are drafted to join a mother-daughter book club in their small community in Concord, Mass. Spanning the course of a year, the girls read Little Women because the author was born and raised in their hometown. Along the way, the girls forge new friendships, rekindle old, forgotten friendships, and learn to live a little more bravely each day.

Each chapter is told through the perspective of one of the four girls: Emma (the librarian’s overweight daughter), Jess (Emma’s best friend, shy, but musically talented), Megan (formerly best friends with Emma, left to join the popular girls at school) and Cassidy (the tomboy daughter of a formerly famous supermodel).

Although many of the experiences the girls face are realistic, in regards to bullying, crushes, and body image issues, etc. I did find it sort of unrealistic that one mothers is a former world-famous supermodel, while the other is now a famous celebrity on a soap opera, Heartbeats. It felt like there were too many big personalities for such a small town. 

I also thought the end was really sugary-sweet with the happy endings. Cavity inducing sugary-sweet. To be fair, only the last couple chapters of the book were that sweet. The girls, their experiences, and the parental interactions all felt very realistic, and approachable.

The writing style reminded me a lot of the Babysitter’s Club and Ann M. Martin’s creation of a small town in New England. There are currently four books in the Mother-Daughter Book Club series, each book focusing on a different classic. The sequel to this one has the girls reading Anne of Green Gables.

I think this book is a great vehicle for steering young readers towards the classics. In this book, each of the four girls could see themselves as one of the March girls, and would implement the personalities of the March sisters into their everyday lives. Jo was the biggest source of inspiration for all the girls. 

I can see a lot of potential for a book like this. This can be read alongside the classics it discusses and parents can start their own mother-daughter book clubs or reading clubs.

Death by Cashmere (Sally Goldenbaum) – Review

Death by cashmere : a seaside knitters mysteryDeath by Cashmere (A Seaside Knitters Mystery) by Sally Goldenbaum
Age: Adult
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Obsidian, 2008
ISBN: 9780451224712
297 pages
Source – Library
Find this book at your local library  

Izzy, a young woman who owns the knitting shop in the New England coastal town of Sea Harbor is shaken by the death of Angie, the young woman renting the upstairs apartment. Izzy and her close friends, the knitting circle, put their heads together to figure out who killed Angie and why.  They get more than they bargained for as the story progresses.

As far cosy/themed mysteries go, this one was pretty decent. I love Goldenbaum’s descriptions of the town, I could almost smell the ocean air. Also, the author’s love for knitting and needles crafts is evident as it was weaved throughout the novel. 

The story itself was interesting. Somewhere in the middle it just stalled,  like when the battery of your car dies and you can’t start the car. Scenes, descriptions and the people felt repetitive and the purple prose was a little on the heavy side. There wasn’t much character development, and most of the characters fell into the typical character stereotypes: The dashing young man; the dashing young man with anger management issues; the feisty older women; the feisty young women; the conservative ball-busting women climbing to the top of the political ladder; and the town cuckoo.

There were plenty of plot twists, and all my predictions of who the murderer was were wrong. All the clues were there in the book to piece it together though. It was a little awkward in how the sleuthing worked in this book. There wasn’t a single designated character who tried to solve the mystery. I think that helped create more of a “who did it” atmosphere, especially towards the end.

This book isn’t as formulaic as the typical cosy mysteries, and I might eventually read the other books in the Seaside Knitters Mysteries. If anything, it did make me wish I had my own weekly knitting group, and all the paragraphs on yarn did finally get me to start knitting again this winter.

In Search of Mockingbird (Loretta Ellsworth) – Review

In search of MockingbirdIn Search of Mockingbird by Loretta Ellsworth
Age: 11 – 14
Genre: Fiction / Coming of Age
Publisher: Henry Holt, 2007
ISBN 9780805072365
181 pages
Find this book at your local library 
 
 

On the eve of her 16th birthday, Erin has to deal with some serious changes in her life. Although her mother died when she was just two, Erin’s dad is finally ready to settle down and marry his girlfriend of three years. Despite Erin’s frustration with this news, she receives from her dad a worn copy of her mother’s diary. With only a lightly packed backpack, her mother’s diary and well-worn and loved copy of To Kill A Mockingbird, Erin sets off from Minnesota to Monroeville, Alabama with the hopes of meeting the reclusive author of the book that so strongly connects Erin to her mother, Harper Lee.

As a book for tweens/early teens, I really enjoyed this book. I think the cover will probably scare off potential readers, but hopefully they’ll be able to get past that. Erin does not fit in with her family. She has two athletic older brothers and her dad is dating a volleyball coach. All Erin wants to do is cuddle up somewhere cozy to read and write stories.

With a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird as her only link to her deceased mother, Erin is determined to meet Harper Lee, no matter what it takes. Along the way, Erin meets a series of characters that help her turn the long bus ride into  more of an internal and emotional journey.

Despite the neatly wrapped up ending, I think this is a great book for kids, as well as fans of To Kill A Mockingbird. There are many references made to the book and its characters. Erin is often comparing herself to Scout and trying to decide how Scout would handle a situation. I think teachers could push this title as a great supplemental read when reading Harper Lee’s classic.

The book is short, only a light 181 pages, so it doesn’t require much committment. Its set in the 80s, and Ellsworth did a great job of keeping the historical references accurate. The book focuses a lot on loss and forgiveness, with fellow passengers sharing their stories and experiences with Erin. Most of the book takes place on the bus from Minnesota to Alabama. Ellsworth did a fantastic job of describing the dull, depressing atmosphere of bus depots as well as the exhaustion from travelling for 12+ hours.

Reading this book really just made me want to reread To Kill A Mockingbird. I haven’t read that book in well over a dozen years, and I think I saw the movie farther back than I read the book. It is a story I always think about though. Atticus Finch is the personification of honesty, integrity and dignity in my mind.

Why We Buy (Paco Underhill) – Review

Why we buy : the science of shoppingWhy We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill
Read by Rick Adamson
Age: Adult
Genre: Nonfiction / Consumerism
Format: Audio CD
7 discs, 8 hours & 35 minutes
Random House, 2000

Find this book at your local library

Why We Buy is an in-depth look at consumerism in retail stores in the United States. CEO Paco Underhill takes us through various incidents, and experiences of hundreds of hours of field research in: shopping malls, bookstores, department stores, etc, to answer the simple question of how to make shopping easier for the consumer.

I really felt jipped by this book. Rick Adamson did a wonderful job narrating the book, bringing in a very upbeat and energetic tone of voice. Although it was informative, albeit somewhat outdated, I felt that this book should really have been called “How to Sell.” I didn’t really find out why we buy, just how retailers make it easier for us to buy. In my mind, those are two different concepts.

The book was written in 2000, and it was sort of eerie listening to Underhill prophesize the future of certain industries. He was correct in that self-check machines would soon appear everywhere, but he was wrong about a number of things. Namely how the Internet would play a role in consumerism. I think the entire section on Internet can be skipped. There is a 2008 revised edition of Why We By that focuses on the influence of the Internet, and I think that would be a more appropriate read.

I was also somewhat put-off that the shopper was always a “she” and that “she” would veer towards certain products. Health & fitness, cooking and parenting books are all “female” topics. It felt sexist to me, and that was discouraging as a female listener. I don’t want to be typecast just because I’m female, and its somewhat disturbing that major retailers would view genders in that way.

Perhaps the creepiest element of the book is right in the beginning when Underhill discusses the “trackers” he employees to gauge a shop’s accessibility and levels of accommodation towards its customers. It’s like a stalker 101 guide. The trackers will pick one shopper and follow them around the store, taking careful notes of what they look at, how long they look at an object, if they touch the object, how many times they touch and object, etc.

Despite all the flaws, I still found myself inspecting all the shops I walked into while listening to this book. It does raise awareness that retailers do go out of their way to sell certain goods and that the placement of each and every object in a store is carefully considered. Not much of the information was new or shocking, but I am curious as to what new strategies Underhill has uncovered and written about in the 2008 updated version of Why We Buy.

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November Recap

November has been a busy month for me. Lots of random selections too I might add. 10 books completed in total. I’ve been busy reading a slew of children’s books for my blog @ Librarians Crossing (shameless plug, I know). Sometimes a person just needs a good picture book as a reminder for why reading is fun.

At least this month I am not behind or ahead on my reviews. What I’ve read is basically what you’ve seen, minus 1 title. Go me!

Books read and reviewed

 Adult

The most beautiful woman in town & other stories The kitchen counter cooking school : how a few simple lessons transformed nine culinary novices into fearless home cooks Aftertaste : a novel in five courses

The final solution : a story of detection Nine Stories All you need to be impossibly French : a witty investigation into the lives, lusts, and little secrets of French women

Falling together

  1. The Most Beautiful Woman in Town by Charles Bukowski
  2. Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn
  3. Aftertaste by Meredith Mileti
  4. The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
  5. Nine Stories by JD Salinger
  6. All You Need to be Impossibly French by Helena Frith Powell
  7. Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos

Audio Books

Fragile things : short fictions and wonders

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

Kids

The apothecary

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy 

Finished in November but not reviewed

Why we buy : the science of shopping

Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill