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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Monday, December 31, 2012

A Man's Best Friend....or Boy....or Anybody!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid #4:  Dog Days by Jeff Kinney

Graphic Novel

Greg Heffley is addictive.  As soon as I finish one book, I want to immediately start the next one.  Every time he opens his mouth (or pen), I think "Yes!  That's exactly what I was thinking!"  (Which probably doesn't say much for my mature sense of humor.)

The 'dog days' of the title refers to the dog days of Greg's summer vacation.  Grey wants to spend his summer indoors by the TV but his mom has other plans.  Unfortunately, the family has no money so the annual summer family vacation turns into a 'staycation' at the local pool.

My favorite part is when Greg starts going to the country club with his best friend Rowly.  He orders dozens of drinks and food stuffs and charges it all to Rowley's dad...while complaining about the service.  So funny!  To pay off Rowley's dad, Rowley and Greg try and start a lawn service.  Greg isn't much for physical labor so the business doesn't last very long but has some hilarious consequences.  The best graphics are the portrayals of the hairy men when Greg has to walk through the YMCA shower room.  The funniest part is when the family accidentally leaves mom at a gas station.  Greg's brothers and the rest of the family are all back--and all still as strange.  In this family, Greg is the best of the bunch.

These books do not have to be read in order so jump in anywhere.  But, whatever you, jump all the way in with a big belly flop.  Greg is a hero to really get behind--he is so very fallible, so very human.  He says things I wish I could and does things I've thought about--but my good sense stopped me.  These books are really best for reluctant teen or adolescent readers, though, so don't let the comics make you think it's a little kids read.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Apocalyptic Fun

Rogue Wave by Boyd Morrison

Adult Fiction

I would have to classify this book as an apocalyptic weather novel--a fun genre if you're into the world ending through a cataclysmic and unlikely event.  In short, not very realistic but a very fun read.

When a meteorite smashes into the ocean, a mega-tsunami is formed, the largest ever seen or recorded; one that is too big to be believed.  And, that's the problem.  No one really believes it.  Kai Tanaka, director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, can scarcely believe it when he sees the evidence with his own eyes.  Surely, there must be a mistake.  So, based on the data, he has to make a decision.  a.) Alert the public, causing widespread panic and cost the taxpayers millions of dollars or, b.) Save himself potential humiliation by ignoring the data.  It's a big decision.  One that involves the safety of over a million people, including his own family.

What follows is a roller coaster thrill ride just waiting for a Hollywood director with a big budget.  Tanaka waits just a little too long to make the call and now he has to scramble to save his own life, and that of his family, from a tsunami that threatens to obliterate Hawaii.

I really liked this book.  It was full of action and adventure from the beginning to practically the last page and you never knew what was going to happen next.  While no one is going to nominate this book for a Pulitzer, it is an engaging and engrossing read.  There's nothing wrong with just reading a book for fun and this one is fun to the extreme.  While many parts are unbelievable, there is a healthy dose of realism and you know from page one that readers can stow their sensation of belief in the over head bin. 

I can't wait to check out his other books!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Voice in the Silence

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

Adult Fiction

This book revolves around a little discussed woman in the Bible, Dinah.  She was the sister to Joseph, the guy with the amazing coat, and almost a dozen other brothers. 

I've always struggled with many biblical stories as female voices are absent.  The Bible, for me as a woman, has always been a silent place, so discovering this book was a delight.  Finally, a voice, a story, behind the name!

This is a book about the power of women during this time, a time when women were viewed as little more than livestock.  Everything in this book revolves around the wives of Jacob, which is a much truer story than the ones traditionally told in Sunday school classes.  Dinah's story, her voice, is so strong.  It was amazing to get a glimpse into her world---and that's when you know a book has crossed over, has truly come alive--when the voice and the words and the world within in becomes real.  This character, Dinah, must have existed JUST AS the book said.  It was too real not to be true.

I loved the tradition of the Red Tent and wonder why we ever abandoned it!  Women who are menstruating shut themselves away in this red tent until their menses is over.  Honestly, that sounds heavenly to me.  Sometimes, I wonder what we lost when we burned our bras in protest.  Most of the book takes place in the tent as each of Jacob' wives shares her story with Dinah. 

I loved this book.  It so very clearly shows the importance of women in a patriarchal society, and strong women at that!  The four mother characters were so very interesting and I particularly loved Leah, who won her husband's love through the strength of her devotion.  This is a book to love for both Christians and non-Christians, for all who are in the Sisterhood.  Which means 'sorry guys, you probably won't like it.' 

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Tempest in a Tea Cup

Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way by Jon Krakauer


This Kindle short, or short expose, is a reaction to the phenomena caused by Greg Mortenson and his book, Three Cups of Tea:  One Man's Mission to Promote Peace.....One School at a Time.

In this selection, Krakauer highlights what he sees as a gross misuse of funds by the famed humanitarian Mortenson.  He more than hints that Mortenson isn't much of a humanitarian and is little more than a common swindler. 

The evidence fell a bit flat for me, though.  Krakauer's research just doesn't show that Mortenson is a monster of greed.  Bad at money management and full of himself, sure.  But evil?  Krakauer just couldn't make that case.  Clearly, Krakauer dislikes the guy and I do get slight feelings of mistrust but I just wasn't swayed.

In all, though, it was a fascinating look at the topic and certainly gives balance to Mortenson's various books, all of which I very much enjoyed.  Krakauer is always master of the writing game and while his style is very interesting and gripping, this book just isn't as dramatic as some of his others.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Grab a Case of Tissues

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Adult Fiction

This was the first time in my adult life that I was put in time-out....by my husband.  I decided to read this book on the way to a family vacation.  My children are asleep in the back and my husband is happily listening to his ipod.  About halfway through the book, I start crying.  The farther I read, the harder I cry.  At one point, I was sobbing so hard my husband actually took the book away from me.  He said he couldn't stand to see me that way.  He wouldn't give it back until our vacation was over.  Even then, I had to sneak and read it because I started sobbing again each time I picked it up.

Amir and Hassan are like brothers-growing up in the compound of Amir's wealthy father in Afghanistan.  Class distinctions start to divide them and Amir, as a child, is forced to make a very adult decision.  This decision will haunt him for the rest of his life.  While this is ultimately a story of redemption, the setting of Afghanistan during the start of the war made the fighting so much more real for me than any news coverage I've ever seen.

This book is filled with so much regret over a foolish, immature decision, a decision that changed so many lives.  Haven't we all been there?  Perhaps not in a situation as dire as this one, but we have all made life-altering choices that have affected others and that is the real beauty of this story.  Although the cultures couldn't be farther apart, there is something so universal about the themes of love and betrayal.  Haunting and powerful.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Better and Better

Kane Chronicles #2: The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan

Adolescent Mythology/Thriller

If it's possible, I liked this one better than the first.  That's the great thing about Riordan--you're never disappointed.  He just keeps getting better and better.

This second installment in the trilogy takes place not very long after the first book left off.  Sadie and Carter Kane are really struggling to adept to their new lives as....Egyptian magicians-in-training.  The brother/sister duo have sent off invitations for others like themselves and have started training them for the war that is brewing, with limited results.  In this book, the Kanes have to find the Book of Ra before the House of Life can defeat them.  Their biggest problem?  Trying to figure out who the enemy is!

This book had the same blend of humor and is just oozing mythology but is much faster paced than the first book, The Red Pyramid.  I think I like the settings and mythology better in this series than Riordan's other two series, Percy Jackson and The Heroes of Olympus.  Egyptian mythology is so unknown to me.  I love losing myself in these adventures!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Fun Horror

Wolf Storm by Dee Garretson

Adolescent Horror/Adventure

Stefan is about to make his first ever feature movie and become a big star-if he doesn't mess it all up with his clumsiness.  He keeps forgetting his lines; he makes his costar Raine furious; and, he accidentally almost kills one of the trained wolves, stopping the whole production.  When most of the adults leave to try and find help for the injured wolf, Stefan is left alone with his two teenage costars overnight. 

The story quickly goes from a drama/comedy of misadventure to thriller to horror to survival. The reader gets to experience one fast roller coaster ride when a local wolf population invades their area; the houses loses electricity and heat during a blizzard; the roads become impassable so no help can arrive; and, oh yeah, there's an avalanche that almost kills everyone!

Sure, the plot strains credulity......or this is one unlucky dude.  But, it was a lot of fun.  Sometimes, it's nice to throw reality out the window and just grab on to some fun.  I really liked this book and I think it will greatly appeal to reluctant readers, especially teen boys.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Best Book I've Read This Year

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Historical Fiction

This is, no question, the best book of the year for me.  That's quite an honor considering I have met my goal of reading 200 books (so far!).  This book has an unfortunate title (with Fifty Shades of Gray--these two aren't even distantly related literary cousins!).

Fifteen-year old Lina lives in Lithuania.  One day, Soviets invade her home, arrest her family and send her to a Siberian work camp.  The trip is tortuous and they all barely survive.  The conditions are brutal but Lina's stubborn persistent connection to art and her hope in love keeps her safe, and alive.

The writing style is haunting and lyrical and beautiful.  The narrator seems so detached from the writing and yet is through this detachment that one realizes the special kind of horror that is in the story.  I have read many Holocaust books but none quite like this.  It is unique for many reasons but the purpose of singling out a professor's family really hit home for me.  Getting rid of all the people who know better is the worst kind of evil--the destruction of knowledge.  This book should win all kinds of awards--nothing else this year even comes close!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Rare Game!

Wild Life by Cynthia DeFelice

Adolescent Survival

A hunting book!  Be still, my teaching heart!  This is literally only the second hunting book I've ever found written for young people.  How rare!  And, how very delightful that is was also well-written! 

This is my favorite type of genre (adventure/survival) and even if you don't like hunting, there's still plenty enough for you to sink your teeth into.  When both of Erik's parents are deployed to Iraq, he has little choice but to go and stay with his maternal grandparents, people he barely knows.  Naturally, this means he's going to miss his friends and school but missing his first grown-up hunting trip is almost more than he can bear.  Combine that with the pain of his parent's leaving and Erik is in true turmoil.  To make the situation worse, his grandparents are strange and don't know quite what to make of a young boy.  His grandfather, Big Darrell, almost seems to hate him.  When Erik finds and rescues a hunting dog from a porcupine attack, he's sure that he's found a friend at last, until Big Darrell says, "No dogs!".  Erik decides this is the last straw and heads out on his own.

This book hasn't stayed on my shelf since I put it out at school--that's the true sign of a good read!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Left Me Cold

Iced by Carol Higgins Clark

 Cozy Mystery

This is book #3 in this series and while I enjoyed the first two, this one just left me cold.  This is a cozy mystery so I knew not to expect hard-hitting crime, but still, there should be something that felt dangerous or thrilling.  There just wasn't.  This book was awkward and felt amateurish at times.  There were very cheesy jokes, cheesy dialogue and even a cheesy plot.  As a reader, you are aware the whole time that this is a book; none of it felt remotely real.

Reagain Reilley, a private investigator, is looking forward to some winter relaxation with her parents-down-to-earth funeral home director father, Luke, and mystery author mother, Nora.  Reagan's vacation time turns suddenly into a working vacation when some expensive paintings are stolen from a friend's residence and, of course, the Reilley's are right in the thick of it.

Normally, I would probably already be giving up on this series but I know it has to get better because I have read a later installment that was quite good.  Please don't disappoint me on the next one or we will have to part ways for good, Reagan Reilley.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Not As Good As I Wanted

Infinity Ring #1:  A Mutiny in Time by James Dashner

Adolescent Time Travel/Alternate History

I really wanted to love this book.  The premise is fascinating.  But, alas, I only liked it.  Kind of.

This first book in the series was written by James Dashner, author of Maze Runner.  While I know he is a popular writer, he is not really the best choice to write a short, thrilling work.  Personally, I find him a bit boring and dry. 

Best friend Dek and Sera stumble onto the secret of time travel in Dek's basement and travel back in time to fix the current mixed up history.  While the premise is interesting, it is also confusing. I suspect many young readers will have no idea about some historical allusions and much of it will just fall flat.  Or perhaps that was a problem with my own feeble brain rather than a plotting issue, although I suspect the latter.

This book is similar to the premise of the bestseller series 39 Clues.  Each book is to be written by a different author, a passing of the literary torch.  It was such great fun in 39 clues.  I loved seeing how the author's style changed the story and characters.  This book is also a multi-platform with the book having some kind of secret code for an online game.  But, it comes nowhere close to the magic of 39 Clues and I predict will fizzle in just a few books.  I don't know if I'll hang around for it or not. Overall, I felt kind of cheated of a good story and kind of like I was trapped in some type of weird marketing scheme.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Better and Better and Better.....

D is for Deadbeat by Sue Grafton

Adult Mystery

This is book 4 in the Kinsey Milhone Alphabet Mysteries and I am both glad and sad. Glad there is 22 more but sad there is only 22 more. 

Kinsey's new client doesn't last long.  He appears in the first chapter but he makes a big impression.  Somewhere along the lines of $25,000 worth!  Kinsey is supposed to deliver the money  to a young man but that proves pretty difficult because the young man doesn't want the money and a lot of other people do.

I liked this one the best so far.  The ending was an absolute stunner for me.  I never saw it coming!  (Doesn't that make for the best mysteries?)  I really like the character of Kinsey.  At first her demeanor was off putting--she's so emotionless and clinical and dry.  Of course, those are also the qualities that make for such  a good detective.  Needless to say, I'm in this for the long haul and can't wait to see what Kinsey comes up with next.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Unmatched By Lesser Books

Matched by Ally Condie

Adolescent Dystopia Fiction

This read, for me, was like falling in love slowly.  I only really liked the book for awhile and then it started to grow on me and then I was reading it feverishly, desperate to begin the next as soon as I finished this first installment.

This is a dystopian book like The Hunger Games but Cassia is no Katniss Everdeen.  Which isn't to say she is a lesser protagonist.  Cassia is satisfied with her life, never coloring outside the lines of what is expected of her by her family and by society.  What's not to be happy about?  She has a loving family, good friends and she has been 'matched' (as in government-sponsored betrothed) to her childhood BFF who adores her.  The feeling is mutual.


Until Cassia glimpses a different future.  When she witnesses a supposed computer glitch that 'matches' her with Ky, a boy she knows but who has always been an outsider, she is intrigued by the possibilities.  Her intrigue starts a small revolution, first in her own heart. This is why I like her a little better than Katniss.  Revolution is not thrust upon Cassia; she absorbs it and projects it all for love and justice.

This book just got better and better.  I felt like I was growing and becoming more aware with Cassia, rather than through her.  And, while you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, the covers of this series are pure delight for the eyes.  I cannot wait for the next one!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Another Good Show!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid #3:  The Last Straw by Jeff Kinney

Adolescent Graphic Novel

What's not to love with this series?  A funny and true version of middle school life told through the jaded view of a slacker, Greg Heffley.

Will Greg's father ever despair of changing his sons?  Apparently not!  This third book has the oldest male Heffley encouraging his middle son to toughen up and play team sports-or else!  Well, the else turns out to be military school.  Greg, of course, resists all attempts at change and stays his adorable, hilarious, selfish self.  One of the funniest parts of the book occurs at the very beginning when Greg makes his own New Year's resolution to be more helpful.  So, he gives his mom advice about her junk food habits and growing waistline.  Gotta love him!

These book are just so funny, even for me, an older woman.  I know they are targeted for middle school male reluctant readers but I love them, too!  I often have to fight over my own copies in my open classroom.  This is a really fast read and you can devour the entire book in about 90 minutes or so.  I can't wait to jump into the next one!