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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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Young Adult Poetry

Poetry Speaks Who I am With CD:  Poems of Discovery, Inspiration, Independence and Everything Else by Elise Paschen and Dominique Raccah
Poetry books have to be read differently than the way other things are read.  First, you can't just plunge through the whole thing, going from page to page until it's finished.  Rather, poems should be read singly, and slowly.  Like sipping fine wine rather than guzzling a water bottle.  You have to let a poem sit for a day or so and thing about it and come back to it.  Also, some poems are just better read aloud, either by you or someone else.  A poem sounds completely different hovering in the air rather than just floating inside your skull.

Fortunately, this book has both those things covered.  This book is a compilation of poems by some of the greatest poets ever, both living and dead.  I has some old favorites like Robert Frost and Langdon Hugher and newer poets I've never heard of but enjoyed nonetheless.  The topics range the full gamut of emotions and circumstances.  It is targeted as a book for young adults but there is really enough meat in here for the savviest adult.  What makes this book so much more enjoyable was the CD that came with it.  There are several of the authors reading their own work.  It was amazing to me how much different the poems sounded when the authors read it than when I heard it in my head.

If you're not a poetry lover or never really found a book you could really sink your teeth into, I suggest giving this one a try.  While not every poem will resonate with you, you are sure to find at least one you love.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Young Adult Fantasy at the Core of the Earth

Skipping Stones at the Center of the Earth by Andy Hueller
(Young Adult Fantasy)

How many of us remember those days when we were smaller and reveled in the moments when we first learned to skip a rock?  For me, it was my grandmother and I still remember every quiet, reverent moment.  I hope that all of you had a moment like that in your childhood-one so special that it remains with you years later.  I hope that all of you had a person like that in your childhood-one who saw past the outside ugliness and awkwardness to the potential inside.
Calvin Cobble is one such boy who has both that moment and that person.  Good thing, too, because little else goes his way.  Calvin Comet Cobble (I want his name!) lives at an orphanage deep inside the earth.  (What a powerful statement on throw-away kids like those who languish in orphanages!)  Calvin is subjected to tyrannous treatment by bullies, teachers and principals and decides one day to run into the darkness because that has to be better than the light.  The darkness is the ‘other side’ of the island where they keep prisoners. (What a powerful statement on throw-away adults!)  Once in the darkness Calvin meets a mysterious man who helps him to unravel his own life mystery.

While the plot is difficult to explain without giving too much away, it isn’t a difficult read. Reading the book felt just like those skipping stones of my youth—quiet and powerful and filled with meaning.   It is one of those books that has an adventure just waiting for the reader on the next page and, like the stone that is skipped, the reader jumps to the next page, not sure of the how’s or what’s but following the author confidently along.
The author’s writing style is beautiful; there just aren’t other words for it.  Reading the story was peaceful and quiet and true.  There are so many moments in the book that just took my breath away, moments where I put down the book and said, “So true.  I’m glad someone else noticed this.”  Truths about curiosity…”The talented educator understands that when Curiosity visits a classroom, magic happens.”  Truth about stones…and life….”But you can’t control the water.  You cannot…what you can control is the stone you throw.” 

This won’t be a book for every child but, if you own one of those unique kids who love an adventure, a story, a fantasy, a mystery, then this is a sure bet.  Adventure, wonder, mystery—a story for any author or reader to be proud of spending time with.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Gastro-Romance to Delight All Your Sense

Amore and Amaretti:  A Tale of Love and Food in Italy by Victoria Cosford
(Adult Travel and Food Memoir)

Love, food, wine.  If that encapsulates you, then read on!  Amore and Amaretti :  A Tale of Love and Food in Italy is the gastro-memoir of Victoria Cosford.  Cosford is an individual lucky enough to be able to write of a life spent loving Italian men, loving Italian food and loving Italian wine-not necessarily in that order.

This book is a full-on assault of the senses-gastro and otherwise.  From the very beginning, the long and rambling descriptions of Italian villages and villagers had me itching to buy a ticket, sell everything I owned and begin the wine life.  The author’s love affair with food is the one that stands out the most strongly; so much so that I would label this book a romance.  The culinary descriptions had me salivating in a deeply uncomfortable and erotic way.  Often I would set the book down, race to the kitchen and try a new recipe.  And they did not disappoint.  The spaghetti alla Puttanesca was just one of many delicious and easy recipes to make. 
This memoir is unlike others I’ve read.  The author makes no apologies for such a gluttonous existence.  She occasionally laments her weakness for food and men, but don’t we all?  Traveling the countryside, sensually sampling all the best that Italy has to offer is a life well-lived, I say.  Viva la Wine!  There really isn’t a plot of any kind, just observations of life in all its winding ways. That takes the pressure off as a reader.  With this book, just relax and enjoy.  If I had to summarize, it is about the author’s yo-yo relationship with some Italian men who share her love of the food they create.  A gastro-romance, if you will.

The book’s theme?  Mangia che ti passa.  Eat and you will feel better.  For those of us concerned about the waistline, read the book instead.  It will make you feel better-richer, luxurious and saving up for that plane ticket.  Italy, here I come!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Love of Money

The Doings of Raffles Haw by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Raffles Haw is the new guy in town and the whole population is atwitter with gossip.  When his home is overtaken by workmen and strange boxes are seen coming and going, it only adds to the intrigue.  Robert and Laura are his nearest neighbors and are soon delighted to meet this eccentric new addition to the small English town.

When the brother and sister pair find out how filthy rich Haw is they swear to remain untouched by his wealth.  That much money, though?  What would you do?

This is an interesting short read (free on Kindle) about the the love of money and how that love can corrupt a soul.  Those words ring true still today (this book would make an awesome reality TV show!).  The is a story very much like something Jules Verne would write with some interesting tidbits about inventions and chemistry in the pursuit of gold and power.  If you like Doyle and Victorian literature, it's a fun read.

Even though you know how it's all going to end.  That much money?  What would you do?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

For Mathletes Only

Napier's Bones by  Derryl Murphy

I was skeptical about reading this book.  The blurb about it advertised math as some sort of positive thing, a math mystery.  I am the complete opposite of math-illogical, unreasonable and I have serious trouble with anything involving numbers.  I often confuse phone numbers, birth days and I am one of a handful of women who occasionally forget their own anniversary (the 3rd or the 4th). 
But, I love mysteries so I forged ahead.

I should have listened to my first instinct.
The initial part of the book involves a young man named Dom who can control numbers as it they are some sort of magic surrounding him, surrounding all of us.  And, I love the concept!  How unique.  But, I just couldn’t see it.  I couldn’t visualize these patterns and numbers the author kept referring to. 

Dom is on the hunt for a mystical historical object (which is not clearly described until the latter part of the book) and he is being hunted by some sort of mystical creature that wants said object.  Along the way, Dom is aided by a spirit of some great math renown and a girl who has an untamed math magical potential.  They are later helped by giant creatures of the earth, ancient beings created by numbers.
If that description has your head reeling, don’t even attempt to read this book.  If you were doing advanced algebraic problems in your head waiting for me to get to the point, buy the book now!

While I did struggle with some of the concepts in the book, I was very intrigued by the idea of John Napier and Napier ’s bones and the adventure of capturing such a piece of mystical history.  It did have me running to the computer to do some research.  That part of the book, the last half, was an adventure I enjoyed very much.  If I were a math-lete, this book would have held some magic for me.  Overall, though, it made me want to skip entire paragraphs just to get to the action.
In short, know thyself.  If you have a math brain (weirdo!), then this is probably just the book for you.  If you have a literary brain, the mystery and fantasy probably won’t be enough to make this a wholly satisfying read.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Raiders of the Lost Ark for a New Generation

Guardians of the Hidden Scepter by Frank L. Cole
(Teen Adventure)

It's so hard to find a good, old-fashioned adventure story anymore.  Most of those stories now rely on techno gadgets, explosions or visits from alien spacecrafts.  But, this book reminded me of those Indiana Jones movies or that book, King Solomon's Mines.  Just good fun, a good mystery and an adventure you can really sink your teeth into.

Amber is an archeology student who loves research, has 3 great friends and dotes on her college professor.  When that professor goes missing, it is up to Amber and her firends to find the professor and solve the mystery of the hidden scepter before its power can be unleashed on the world.  If they manage to succeed, it will be the archeological find of Biblical proportions.

Seriously, doesn't that just sound exciting?

Well, it is!  It rings with mystery and intrigue from the first page.  Plus, it's my favorite kind of mystery-a biblical mystery. Amber has to use the clues left by the professor to track down Noah's lost ark before the bad guys get their first.   I especially liked the uniqueness of the story.  I could definitely see a series here and would be eager to follow along for more stories like this one.

This is a great story for teens or adults who love excitement, chases, research, history and humor.  It's a book for boys or girls, bookworms or kids who love to be outside.  Realy, it's a book everyone can enjoy.  Good, clean fun with an old-fashioned feel.  Indiana Jones would be proud.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Series So Nice, I Read It Twice

Fatal February by Barbara Levenson
(Adult Crime Thriller)

A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed Justice in June by this author and enjoyed that book so much I was anxious to read the first one in the series.  Fatal February is the debut novel of Mary Magruder Katz, a wise-cracking legal eagle whose life is turned upside down in the carwash.  (I'm not just talking about a fender bender here!)

Mary's life is going great:  a lawyer in a prestigious law firm, engaged to the partner at the firm with a huge rock--career and professional life just humming along.  Then her car is rear-ended by some hot-tempered hottie at the car wash and within the week, Mary has lost her job, her fiance, her ring and been brought up on ethics charges!

That's not even the crime itself in this novel!  Along with all that, she has to set up her own law practice and defend a woman accused of murdering her husband in what looks to be an air-tight case.

Her life leaves me exhausted just trying to describe it, much less live it myself.  And I loved every minute of it!  I loved the absolute abandon of Mary Magruder Katz who often jumps first and then thinks through things later.  It makes her moves and the plot so much juicier and really keeps the reader on the edge of the seat.  You really never know what's going to happen next. 

Another thing to love:  Carlos.  He is an amazing character and one of those who is so real he just jumps off the page.  I am going to delude myself into believing that he is real.  What's not to love?  Hot Latin temper, great sense of humor, protective, he cooks (!!), and he is head over heels for Mary.

One last thing to love:  the author's sense of ease in writing the book.  Since I have absolutely no criminal background (either as a jailbird or police), I often get bogged down in books that are too heavy on the procedural stuff.  It seems as if when some lawyers or criminal investigators turn to writing, they forget that most of their reading public don't know all the jargon and inner workings and don't bother to explain it.  Levenson isn't like that.  She explains each step of the criminal and legal proceedings in a way that is easy to understand and enjoy.

Currently, there are only two Mary Magruder Katz books on the marker but I hear number 3 is on it's way.  I can't wait!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Great New Book of Revisionist History

Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491 by Charles Mann
(History buffs)
I loved this book! While I have read many books on this particular subject before, there were so many new ideas and new revelational research facts in it that I was amazed and fascinated from beginning to end. 

While many of us already knew that Columbus didn't 'discover' anything (Columbus Day-what an ironic historical joke), many of the other concepts in the book were brand new to me and is really reshaping my ideas of our American past. 

For example, I did know that Native and Central Americans did have plentiful populations but I never imagined such complex societies existed for hundreds of years.  I pictured, or was taught, of small bands of Indians wandering the plains and forests.  However, this book makes very clear that these populations were larger than many European countries!  I can only imagine what treasures were lost to disease and the murder of these cultures.

Another new idea is the Great Plains.  Like most others, I just assumed that it was always that way.  Yet, Charles Mann makes very clear that Native Americans created this landscape through careful management of both plants and animals and fire.

The 'mystery of the maize' was probably most intriguing.  Two quotes.."No wild ancestor of maize has ever been found".. Instead, it was created through "bold acts of biological manipulation".

Just a few tidbits to whet your whistle for more!  If you like revisionist history, this is a great read!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Not a Typical Paulsen

Mudshark by Gary Paulsen

Gary Paulsen is one of my favorite authors and so the expectation was high for this book.  It isn't often that I can say I am disappointed in one of his books, but this one is not a typical Paulsen.  Most of Paulsen's books fall into three categories:  survival/adventure; true story survival/ adventure and humor.  I have read and enjoyed dozens of Paulsen's book in each of these categories.  With over 200 books to his name, it would be hard to keep up the Newberry pace of 'Hatchet'. 

'Mudshark would fall into the humor category.  It is the story of a young boy, nicknamed Mudshark, who has an uncanny ability to remember minute details.  He uses this skill to help his fellow school members solve a mystery involving a parrot, missing blackboard erasers and a missing gerbil.

This book would probably best be enjoyed by elementary boys but I would  not steer them to this book first.  Again, not a typical Paulsen.  If yo've never read Paulsen before, start with another jewel and save this one for a rainy day (at only 80+ pages, maybe a brief shower)!