Monthly Archives: September 2010

Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan

I finally found some time to read Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan. Now for the review!

From goodreads.com

Book Cover for Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan The lives of three teens—Claire, Jasper, and Peter—are altered forever on September 11, 2001. Claire, a high school junior, has to get to her younger brother in his classroom. Jasper, a college sophomore from Brooklyn, wakes to his parents’ frantic calls from Korea, wondering if he’s okay. Peter, a classmate of Claire’s, has to make his way back to school as everything happens around him.

Here are three teens whose intertwining lives are reshaped by this catastrophic event. As each gets to know the other, their moments become wound around each other’s in a way that leads to new understandings, new friendships, and new levels of awareness for the world around them and the people close by.

David Levithan has written a novel of loss and grief, but also one of hope and redemption as his characters slowly learn to move forward in their lives, despite being changed forever.

I finished this book and my first response was to tell everyone to read it. Levithan manages to tackle two complex topics–9/11 and teenage years–beautifully. I was moved by the characters and their struggles and often found myself tearing up while I was reading.

My husband was surprised to see me reading this book. He remarked that I often avoid TV shows and movies that talk about 9/11; this is very true. I find the coverage of the people who died that day so sad that I try to avoid it. This book does not focus on that aspect of the day. Instead it captures what it is like for those who lived. It deals with how they got by in those first few days after the tragedy. There is something in each character that makes them relatable. While you may have not reacted the same way they did, you can understand their feelings and thoughts. All of this combined to make an honest and true story.

Another thing that I liked about this story was that it focused on teens in New York City. In many ways, this tragedy affected those living in the city differently than the rest of the world. They saw things with their eyes in a way that could not be captured on film. They lived the tragedy in a way that I never will. Levithan captures all of this brilliantly and is able to convey these feelings in such a powerful way.

Review: I usually find myself subconsciously skimming through passages of books while reading. With this book, I made sure to read every single word. There is so much that can be found and learned in the 176 pages of this book. A highly recommended read!

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

This weekend I read my first book for Banned Books Month. Here is my review for Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

From Goodreads.com

Book cover of Coraline by Neil GaimanWhen Coraline explores her new home, she steps through a door and into another house just like her own – except that things aren’t quite as they seem. There’s another mother and another father in this house and they want Coraline to stay with them and be their little girl. Coraline must use all of her wits and every ounce of courage in order to save herself and return home… but will she escape and will life ever be the same again?

Elsewhere in this collection, a sinister jack-in-the-box haunts the lives of all the children who ever owned it, a stray cat does nightly battle to protect his adopted family, and a boy raised in a graveyard confronts the much more troubled world of the living. From the scary to the whimsical, the fantastical to the humorous, Coraline and Other Stories is a journey into the the dark, magical world of Neil Gaiman.

I first heard of Coraline when the movie was released I was excited to find out that the movie was based on the book by the same name. I never ended up seeing the movie, but the book made it to my to-read list. I have picked it up several times in the bookstore, but never ended up purchasing it. I was inspired to finally make the purchase when I found out it was a challenged book.

This story is geared towards a much younger audience–ages 8 and up–than the books I usually read. I was concerned this would make the story feel childish, but this was not the case. Gaiman created a suspenseful tale that I enjoyed very much. He depicted a rich world that I felt like I was traveling in. The quirkiness of the characters added to the story instead of serving as a distraction. Everything worked well together to create a book I didn’t want to put down.

This book has been challenged due to questions of its “age appropriateness.” It appears that parents have found the book “scary for younger children.” I know as a 20-something I found parts of this book to be on the scary side. I can see how someone twenty years younger than me would be scared by these passages. However, these bits of the book only added to the suspense. Any fear I experienced was for Coraline, and not for myself. Anything that was scary was written to advance the plot, and not for the sole purpose of scaring someone. The end result is a great tale that I would love to share with my child someday.

Review: I am glad that I finally found the time to read this story. It was a riveting book that I didn’t want to put down. A great book for children and those just young at heart. I can’t wait to read more of Gaiman’s work!

E-Readers

I love books. I also love having the newest technological toy. You’d think, then, that I’d also love an E-Reader. There are several good reasons why an E-Reader would be a smart purchase, which led me to the internet for research. All this research has done is convince me that an E-Reader may not be for me.

Sony PRS-900BC E-Reader

Sony PRS-900BC E-Reader

One of the reasons I have been interested in E-Readers is the price of e-Books. In many cases e-Books are cheaper than their paper counterparts. A comparison of my last six months of book purchases, however, showed the savings was not as much as I expected. My calculations showed that an E-Reader would have only saved me $14.48 in book purchases over six months. Some calculations showed that it would take 57 months for me to save enough with e-Book purchases to pay for the new $139 Kindle. While this is a savings, it isn’t large enough to justify the purchase.

Another thing people often rave about with E-Readers is the fact that they can be several books at once. If you are reading two traditional books at once, you must carry both around. This is a waste of precious purse space. Compare this to an E-Reader where forty e-Books take up the same space as one book. In this case an E-Reader is clearly beneficial. Personally, though, I would see little benefit from this ability. I read books so quickly that I am rarely reading more than one book at a time. With the exception of my doctor’s appointments, I do most of my reading at home. While this feature is helpful for many, it is not something that would persuade me to purchase an E-Reader.

Barnes & Noble Nook E-Reader

Barnes & Noble Nook E-Reader

It was pointed out to me that with an E-Reader, you can purchase books instantly. When Mockingjay was released, those with E-Readers could start reading promptly at 12:01 am while still in their PJ’s. This interest me due to my need to have things as quick as possible. If not for my Amazon Prime account–which sends me any book I order in two days or less for free–it might have been a selling point. While Prime can not deliver books to me at 12:01 am, it does guarantee I’ll have the book waiting for me on release day when I get home from work. This service is quick enough that I don’t find the instant delivery of an E-Reader to be a factor in the decision to switch from traditional books to electronic ones.

A final argument for an E-Reader deals with the paper that makes up traditional books. Pages of books are so easily torn or soiled. With an E-Reader you will never have to deal with a missing page or spill making a passage hard to read. Again, this really isn’t a deciding factor for me. As I read quickly, there is little time for damage to occur on my pages. A second factor is the large amount of paper necessary to make a traditional book. I alone probably have two or three trees in Harry Potter books. Do I feel like a bad person for killing all these trees I could be saving with e-Books? Honestly, no. Does that make me a bad person? Maybe. It does help to know that many of my books–like my two dozen Harry Potter books–were published by companies that practice Eco-Friendly Printing. Again, this just isn’t something that justifies an E-Reader purchase to me.

Amazon Kindle 2 E-Reader

Amazon Kindle 2 E-Reader

Until recently I just had little reason to want an E-Reader. That started to change when I was faced with two five-hour plane rides. While book portability was never a big concern previously, I started to see this issue in a different light. Currently my plan to read on the plane involves packing several books in my tiny carry-on. All of a sudden the ability to carry several books in one E-Reader is very appealing. Not only will I have to lug all of these books with me on the trip, but I have to bring them back home with me after I finish them. Carry-on bag space will be wasted transporting a book I will never again read.

There is also the issue of what happens when you finish a book three hours into a six-hour flight. Hopefully, I will have thought ahead and packed a second book. If not, I’m stuck browsing the SkyMall catalog for an hour or two. With an E-Reader–and the wifi connection on many airlines–this isn’t a problem. I can easily order up a new book and have it delivered instantly. What normally isn’t a feature I’m interested in becomes very appealing mid-flight.

While I am wishing for an E-Reader for my upcoming trip, I still think that this is a purchase I can justify for every day use. There is no arguing that it would be a great asset while traveling, but the benefits sharply decrease or disappear completely when I’m home. As I don’t travel often, I just can’t justify an E-Reader purchase. Perhaps I will check out a local library that is lending Kindles to patrons. That experience may help me see how much or little an E-Reader would impact my life. If that doesn’t work out, I may just steal my husband’s iPad for the plane ride. He loves the SkyMall magazine way more than I do so maybe he won’t notice.

Don’t Stop Believin’: The Unofficial Guide to Glee by Erin Balser, Suzanne Gardner

The next book I am going to review is Don’t Stop Believin’: The Unofficial Guide to Glee by Erin Balser and Suzanne Gardner. I won a free copy of this book through the goodreads.com giveaway program.

From goodreads.com

 Don't Stop Believin': The Unofficial Guide to Glee by Erin Balser, Suzanne Gardner The kids in McKinley’s high school’s glee club “New Directions” might not be the most popular in school. For every chart-topping song “New Directions” belts out at practice the glee kids are liable to get a slushie tossed in their face by a football player or harassed online by the creme-de-la-creme of the school, one of McKinley’s “Cheerio” cheerleaders. But fictional popularity aside, the television show Glee is unquestionably a runaway hit, and audiences can’t get enough of their story: from the songs to the students, and especially the wacky teachers.

Don’t Stop Believin’: The Unofficial Guide to Glee is for Glee fans who demand more once the curtain falls. From information about the stars, the music, the trivia, and the in-jokes, to analysis of each relationship and fashion choice, Don’t Stop Believin’: The Unofficial Guide to Glee is the go-to guide for all things Glee. The book is thorough enough to satiate even the most dedicated of fans, yet accessible enough that a casual viewer can enjoy it.

Based on the description of this book, I gathered that it would be pages of large glossy pictures with small amounts of text, which made me hesitant to spend ten dollars on the book. The fact that I could sign up to win this book for free, however, was very appealing. The goodreads giveaway allowed me to not have to spend money on what I felt would be a glorified fan magazine, yet still get some Glee gossip to tide me over until the new season premiered.

Upon getting my hands on a copy of the book I was excited to find out my impression was way off. The text-to-picture ratio made me realize my fears of the book being mostly fluff were unfounded. I enjoyed the colored pictures featured in the insert. I found the rest of the pictures were used thoughtfully throughout the book.

Overall the guide was arranged very well. It started off with a background of how Glee came to be. There was great insight into the people who had a hand in the creation of the show. This section was followed by in-depth discussion of a good deal of the main and supporting cast of season one. I was afraid that this information would all just be recycled interviews and quotes with little new information; this was not the case. Although I have read many stories and articles about the cast, I still found much of the information in this section to be new and filled with many interesting facts.

The second half of the book was dedicated to an in-depth discussion of each episode. Each recap featured fourteen categories that were used to discuss the episode. I found that many of these small sections worked well. The summaries were useful in reminding me about some of the details of the episodes without being too long. The “Behind the Music,” “Give My Regards to Broadway,” and “Center Stage” sections provided great information about the various song choices or Broadway references in each episode. I really enjoyed the great Sue Sylvester quotes that ended each recap, as these are often the highlight of an episode.

Two of the recap sections didn’t really work for me. As I had never previously watched Executive Producer Ryan Murphy’s TV show Popular, I had no use for the sections comparing that show and Glee. As a result I found myself skipping over these paragraphs. The “Low Note” section was also one I could have done without. This section felt too judgmental and critical of a show that should not be taken too seriously.

Review: I am not the type of person who would spend money on a unofficial guide to a TV series. The reasonable price of this book–$10 to $14 dollars depending on where you look–would help to change my mind. This book is full of new facts that even avid Glee fans will find interesting. Even the two small subsections I did not enjoy could not take away from my enjoyment of this book

Banned Books To Read

Banned Books IconEver since signing up for Banned Books Month, I have been trying to decided which books to read. While I decided fairly quickly to read four books to celebrate the cause–one a week–it has been harder for me to select which four to read. Thanks to links from Steph Su Reads, I’ve been able to find great resources to find banned & challenged books.

The first thing I noticed when browsing the lists is how many of these books I had already read. For example both Looking For Alaska by John Green and The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson have been banned or challenged. I was not surprised to find the Harry Potter series on the list of top 100 challenged books of the decade. The number of banned or challenged books I had previously read as required reading was unexpected. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous–which I read in middle school English–was listed. Also on the list was The Color Purple by Alice Walker, which I read in AP English my senior year of High School. After seeing so many books that I had read, I began to worry that I would have trouble finding new ones to enjoy.

Book Cover of Coraline by Neil Gaiman Eventually I began to find some possibilities that would make interesting blogs for Banned Books Month . I was excited when I noticed Coraline by Neil Gaiman was listed as challenged. This book has been sitting on my “to-read” list for months, waiting for me to purchase it. This challenge would be a great opportunity for me to finally read it.

Book Cover of Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan Boy Meets Boy The second book I added to my list is Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan. While I have read and enjoyed several of the books he has co-written–most recently Will Grayson, Will Grayson–I have yet to read any of his solo efforts. Reading this book for Banned Books month allows me to read a challenged book while checking out some more of his great work.

Book Cover of Twisted by Laurie Halse AndersonLaurie Halse Anderson is an author whose books I have frequently seen mentioned on banned or challenged book lists. Many of my friends have talked about how much they have enjoyed her books. I figured this would be a great chance to check out her work while also reading a banned book. I looked up several of her banned or challenged books on goodreads.com in an attempt to help choose which to read. I decided to add Twisted to my to-read list.

I was pretty successful at picking my first three books. Picking a fourth book has not been as easy. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is a possibility. Out of all the books I read during my time in school, I somehow missed this classic. I could read it now and cross it off my “to-read” list, while also reading a banned book. I Was a Teenage Fairy by Francesca Lia Block is another option. This book caught my eye several times as I read different banned/challenged book lists and inspired me to put it on my list. Another alternative is the ttyl Internet Girls Series by Lauren Myracle. The series caught my attention due to the fact it is among the top 10 challenged books of the past few years.

So while I am pretty solid on three of my choices, I’m still wavering on my fourth. I would love some suggestions of what banned books people think I should check out. I know you guys have some great banned book recommendations for me!

Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin

Even though I was eagerly anticipating this book’s release, it sat on my bookshelf for four months. I finally got some inspiration to pick it up this weekend. Although this is not a banned book, it does help me cross of another book on my Chick Lit Challenge list. Here is my review of Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin.

Heart Of The Matter book coverTessa Russo is the mother of two young children and the wife of a renowned pediatric surgeon. Despite her own mother’s warnings, Tessa has recently given up her career to focus on her family and the pursuit of domestic happiness. From the outside, she seems destined to live a charmed life.

Valerie Anderson is an attorney and single mother to six-year-old Charlie–a boy who has never known his father. After too many disappointments, she has given up on romance–and even to some degree, friendships–believing that it is always safer not to expect too much.

Although both women live in the same Boston suburb, the two have relatively little in common aside from a fierce love for their children. But one night, a tragic accident causes their lives to converge in ways no one could have imagined.

In alternating, pitch-perfect points of view, Emily Giffin creates a moving, luminous story of good people caught in untenable circumstances. Each being tested in ways they never thought possible. Each questioning everything they once believed. And each ultimately discovering what truly matters most.

Heart of the Matter was one of the Books of Summer that I was eagerly anticipating. In that post I talked about two reasons I loved Giffin’s work. The first is her skill at depicting interpersonal relationships. The second is the characters she creates. Both of these skills were well represented in her latest novel.

The main thing that stuck with me after I finished this book was the realness of it. I believe this feeling was a result of the characters Giffin created. Often I find characters to be either “too perfect” or “too flawed.” When this happens, I find it difficult to become interested in the plot due to the lack of reality in the characters. In this story each character is believable due to their good mix of strengths and flaws. Each character is balanced enough to make them feel like real people instead of plot points.

The credibility of the characters lead to a quality of realism to the story. At some points the story was so personal that I felt like I was snooping into a neighbor’s life. I felt guilty enough to want to put the book down; however, my curiosity got the better of me. While this book could have easily been predictable, I never wondered what came next. I think this was due to the fact I was riveted by what I was reading and didn’t want the experience to end.

Review: I was a bit reserved in my excitement about this book due to the fact I had not enjoyed Griffin’s last two releases as much as her first two. This book ended up being perhaps my favorite of her novels. Giffin again demonstrated her great storytelling ability, creating great characters whose experiences will stay with me.

I Read Banned Books

I Read Banned Books LogoI first became aware of Banned Books Week after reading about it on Leakynews.com. This week is a great way to raise awareness of the many banned or challenged books throughout the world. The more I have learned about this week, the more I realize that this is a cause that needs more attention.

Although the official week is September 25th – October 2nd, several bloggers are hoping to bring attention to this cause with a Banned Books Month. I think this is a great idea and hope to do my part to raise awareness. How? One idea is to read several banned books and write reviews for them. Another is to discuss some of the challenged books I have previously read and enjoyed. I hope that this effort will lead to some great blog posts and discussion on the topic.

ALA Banned Books Week posterI want to give a big “Thank You” to Steph of Steph Su Reads for giving me the idea to blog for Banned Books Month. She is organizing a bunch of bloggers for this effort. If you want more info feel free to check it out her post here.