Rainer Maria Rilke

"Live a while in these books, learn from them what seems to you worth learning, but above all love them. This love will be repaid you a thousand and a thousand times, and however your life may turn,-it will, I am certain of it, run through the fabric of your growth as one of the most important threads among all the threads of your experiences, disappointments, and joys."--Rainer Maia Rilke

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Reflections of a Reading Teacher

What Language Is (And What It Isn't and What It Could Be) by John McWhorter
To truly appreciate this book, you have to fall into one of these three categories:  ( 1)  you are a teacher (preferably of the English professorial persuasion);  ( 2) you are a linguist, either by hobby or trade; or (3)you are a fanatical fan of languages and the development and fallout thereof.
While I am indeed a casual linguist (2) and I enjoy a rousing history of words as the next gal (3), I will focus my review on the impact of this book on my teaching (of reading) and my teaching of the teaching of reading.  Because (does starting my sentence with ‘because’ make you cringe?  If so, this is definitely the book for you!) I do see an impact that this book and these viewpoints could have on the way we currently teach our young people to read, or more specifically, for the remediation of students who have trouble mastering the art of reading.
In training,  teachers are generally taught the we should have learn students learn to read by looking at the words and thinking about them and their connections to the words around them and other words similar to them (there’s a lot of thinking going on!).  This author is advocating that language really isn’t meant to be understood by looking but by listening.  Most of the students that I see do have trouble making that connection between what is written and what they hear. How could our teaching of reading change if we changed our practices to become more oral- and less sight-based?  No more lists of ‘sight’ words; no more memorization of prepositions; no more drilling of the endless lists of exceptions that makes even native speakers of English want to pull out their hair.
How much and what should our students be learning so they make the transition to better comprehension and a true understanding of how the words work and fit together to make sense?  McWhorter says, “The reason I have shown you things in such a wide and even weird variety of language (Archi? Keo?) is to get across how language looks to people who have fallen into the odd circumstance of studying it as a career.  It filters how we read what is being said about languages in the newspaper, how we hear what people say about languages in passing, and how we perceive languages themselves when we hear them spoken, including our own.”
We are all studying ‘English’ in school.  In our informational and technologically driven age, this book has created for me a set of questions about our current teaching of reading and language.  I wish I had more answers but, right now, the questions this book has raised for me seem terribly important and troubling.
Overall, I understand more clearly than ever than learning English and being able to write clearly and effectively is akin to an art, much like singing or composing.  I shall use it as an impetus on a new search for methods of teaching this thing called reading and thank the author for new ideas as yet undiscovered.
With all That Being Said (original title, much better than the settled on tongue twister), I enjoyed the book.  Just enjoyed it as a read, no small task with such heavy content.  McWhorter’s writing style is fluid and easy to follow for even a near novice of linguistics.  There is a wicked sense of humor that lies hidden throughout the pages like a camouflaged snake, ready to strike.  I found myself laughing out loud and then, when asked why I was laughing, couldn’t for the life of me explain because the audience did not fit into one of the three categories listed above.
I hope the author felt me chuckling.  It’s tragic when such witty puns fall flat.  Good read, John McWhorter!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

An Intergenerational Story for Young Teens

Wherever You Go by Heather Davis
(Young Adults)
book cover of 
Wherever You Go 
Heather Davis
What at first glance seems to be just another teen-age angst/first love surprises with a depth of plot and emotional intricacy.

Holly Mullen is a 17-year old still reeling from the death of her boyfriend,Rob,  nearly a year before.  Holly's life was never easy before, what with a largely absent mother, a completely absent father and the care of her 9-year old sister.  Holly plods along from day to day hoping her life will return to some semblance of normal. Plus, she just can't shake the sense that Rob is still near, haunting her memories. 

Enter Aldo, her Alzheimer-ailing grandfather.  Once again, Holly is left to be the primary caregiver.  Aldo is plunging deeper into the depths of dementia and Holly is picking up the pieces of her shattered grandfather's life as well as her own.  Soon, Aldo starts mentioning a boy named 'Roberto' and the reader discovers this is Holly'ys Rob.  Dead Rob.  Reluctant ghost Rob.  Rob doesn't like how Holly's has stagnated but is incenses when she starts talking to another boy, one who used to be his best friend.

Woven throughout the story is a true sense of loss on every level-whether abandonment, death, betrayal or disease.  Each character is flawed and aching with loneliness and you find yourself trying to give each advice.  The characters seem that real!  Told through the perspective of three different characters (Holly as 1st person, Jason as 3rd and Rob as a never before seen 2ND PERSON!), the plot becomes more involved with each page and you wonder how the characters can break out of their situation.

This is a real tearjerker at the end with a surprise I didn't expect just when I thought the story had given me it's all.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Two Moon Princess-Better Than the Cover Suggests

Two Moon Princess by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban
(Young Adult-Girls Only)

On first glance, this is just another coming of age story.  A young princess, Andrea, chafes at the limits of her sex and longs to become an archer, a warrior in her father's army. 

I was expecting the same old story as dozens I've read before in the genre, but by the second chapter, I saw something unique that kept me reading.  Andrea is from another planet, Xaren-Ra, which is connected to Earth via a time portal in an ancient and secret cave near the ocean.  Right away, there was something to hook me.  I enjoyed this alternate view of women's issues-the eternal struggle of feminity and power.  What made the story so much more intriguing was the thought that, if not for a very few important inventions, Earth could have turned out much different.  Imagine a present where women still live locked in castles, subject to the whim and whimsey of men. 

This book will make a great introduction for young girls who take these freedoms that women have today for granted.  It really brings home the past and present in a way that is fresh and new.  My only complaint is with some of the language and other sayings that too casually cross the past/present boundary.  Otherwise, a really interesting read!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

An Electrifying New Series

A Spark of Death (The First Professor Bradshaw Mystery) by Bernadette Pajer
(Adult Mystery)
What a great addition Professor Bradshaw is to the literary world!

I sometimes hesitate when reading historical mysteries because I find they are often too steeped in history to really have any thrill, but that isn't the case with this book.  A Spark of Death sparkles with excitement from the first chapter and doesn't let the reader go until the very last word.
Bradshaw is a young professor at a university in Seatlle when an electrifying murder happens on campus and he is accused of the crime!  In true Holmesian fashion, he doesn't allow one feather to ruffle but sets around finding the criminal in short order.  Bradshaw is so attentive that he lists everyone as a potential suspect (including himself since the victim was a man he loathed) and then sets about to prove each theory in a scientific fashion.

There are many qualities that made this a great read.  Bradshaw is an unusual detective and can't even be classified that way-yet!  (I'm hoping other mysteries will create a new detective here.)  I like that he doesn't know the ins and outs of police work or forensic science because we are solving the crime with him.  I found his personal life to be fascinating and his potential love interest was a very beautiful moment in the book.  The other mini mysteries going on around him added depth to the story in a way that many other mysteries just don't have.  The minor plot twists with other characters were just as interesting and I very much want to see what happens to all the characters next.  The discussion of electrical elements in the book was important and yet the author explained it in a way that made sense to me, a non-scientific thinking reader.

Overall, the experience was as exciting as the Tesla coils in the basement.  I can't wait for the next installment.  Welcome to the mystery world, Benjamin Bradshaw!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

If You Like CSI, You'll Like This Book

Pawn (Book one in the Patrick Bowers Files)
The Pawn(Adult Mystery)

The Pawn is a treat for all of us who love that CSI type show.  Mystery, suspense, and several surprises make this a good read.  However, the characterization of the main players pushes this into the great category for me.

Patrick Bowers is some kind of uber-forensic policeman who is struggling to get over the untimely death of his wife.  Left to pick up the pieces, he has thrown himself into a new case-catching a serial killer who is playing a game of chess with live people and there is no capture-only death.  Patrick is also struggling with how very badly he is failing his stepdaughter, a 17 year old girl he really didn't get the chance to bond with before his wife's death.

There are so many levels and plots and subplots going on that it really are rather hard to explain-South Africa, government intrigue, Jim Jones's lost son looking for revenge and some type of scary virus.  Steven James brings it all together in a way that is both relevant and interesting.  I have read hundreds of mysteries and I can honestly say there were a couple of plot twists I didn't expect.  Just when I thought I had it all figured out, a shock would make me turn the page and keep going, ignoring everything around me.

There are at 3 more in the series and I plan to download and read them as soon as I can.  Great first book!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Start of Long Relationship

Rogue (The Ike Schwarz Series) by Frederick Ramsay
Rogue by Frederick Ramsay(Adult Mystery)

"Rogue" by Frederick Ramsay is a delightful mystery addition to my long list of favorites!  While I wish I hadn't started so late into the series, it is a case of better late than never.

This 6th installment of the Ike Schwarz series centers around Ruth, Ike's fiancee.  At the beginning of the book, Ruth is the subject of an apparent murder attempt, a hit and run in Ike's car.  Ike pulls out all the stops to find the person responsible for the attempt while at the same time running for re-election of sheriff, stopping a hay theft ring, and staying strong for Ruth's recovery.

There are so many things to love about this book.  First, I would have to say that the two main characters, Charlie and Ike, are so delightful.  Funny and warm, with just the right mixture of gruffness and sarcasm.  Their sense of humor was my favorite part of the book.  I felt as if I were right there with them trading witty banter (although they are much wittier than me!).  The plot was another really enjoyable part of this book.  I have read hundreds of mysteries and it is often so difficult to find something new.  However, this book was relevant and cutting edge..  Perhaps because I am a teacher, I found the motive of 'murder because of textbook adoption' to be hilarious, disturbing and chilling all at the same time.

My only complaint would be with the last chapter.  Everything fit together just a little too neatly for my tastes.  Other than that, it is truly the best mystery I've read in a long time.

This may be my first visit with Ike, but it won't be my last.  I hope this is just the start to a very long relationship.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Sweet Treat

Murder Takes the Cake by Gayle Trent

What a sweet treat and a great first start for a new series! 
Daphne is a middle aged divorcee who decides to start a new cake decorating in the town where she grew up. Unfortunately, her very first customer is murdered by poison and the fingers soon start pointing to Daphne.  With the help of her sister, a childhood friend (who soon turns into an intriguing love interest) and some quaint hometown characters, she soon clears her name, catches the killer and gets her cake business up and running.
While I truly love cozy thrillers, this one had a bit more substance than most others I've read.  The main character has a bit of a shady past that I know will come to play in other books and the love interest holds quite a bit of promise.  The other characters in the book remind me a bit of Andy Griffith and Mayberry-funny and a little bit odd. 
The cake decorating lingo was a bit hard for me to understand since I don't decorate but I know enough about baking to get the gist.  If you don't know your way around the kitchen, you should probably skip this as long descriptions are in almost every chapter and Daphne dishes quite a bit about how baking soothes her soul.  This is a cozy mystery, so no violent murder, graphic violence and any suggestive language or actions.  Just a good, sweet murder mystery.  I look forward to reading the 2nd one in the series.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Well Deserving of the Newberry Honor

Savvy by Ingrid Law
(Young Adult)

I sometimes question when books have the Newberry Honor Award--many of those books are a bit boring or sappy.  Not this one.  Savvy fully deserves the award.

A sweet story of a young girl trying to find her way into adolescence.  When Mibs turns 13, she is anticipating getting her 'savvy', a magical power that is genetically passed down in her family.  Since her father is in a coma due to a tragic accident, Mibs is sure her savvy will be something to save her father.  Unfortunately, it isn't (which doesn't give away the ending--don't worry!)

What I really liked about this story was how very 'human' every one of the characters was, savvy or no savvy.  Surfing the dangerous waters of adolescence can be so very scary and this book showed all angles from friends to school to first love to family. 

What I especially loved was the ending--it was realistic.  I truly hate when a book wraps everything up in a neat little package.  This book didn't and it didn't detract from the strong and sweet message.  Rather, the realistic ending was bittersweet, which is all too much like my own life.  I shall definitely recommend this to friends and my students!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Too Hot NOT to Touch

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
(Adult only)
This has become one of my favorite series of all time.  In this 2nd installment, Lisbeth and Blomkvist tackle the sex trade industry.  While I loved the first one, this one was much better.  I felt I got to know both characters better and could better anticipate their actions and reactions.  There is one more left and I am in no hurry to get.  I'm dragging it out because I know there is only one more! This is one of those series that you hope never ends.

My only warning would be for the faint of heart.  This is sometimes almost like noir fiction--very dark and sexual.  No cozy thriller, here; only evil thoughts, violent murders and sadistic sex crimes.

The main character, Lisbeth, is truly one of the baddest I've ever seen!  I would put my money with her battling the Terminator, Blade, Rocky---you name it.  Even though it is difficult to connect with her, it is through her view of the world that you come to love her so much. 

The plot is one of those that just has you scratching your head the whole time--pure genius. 
I loved every word and plan to read them all again, just for the pleasure of reading Larson's work. 

Read them--you won't be sorry.