Monday, July 23, 2007

Moving Day (not what you think!)

I guess I've decided to go with wordpress. My new site is the following:

Hope to see you there!

testing wordpress

I'm testing out wordpress and have disabled comments here for now. I'll let you know if this becomes permanent:

Friday, July 20, 2007

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

by Neil Gaiman

1999, 248 pp.

Rating: 4/5

I was excited to read this after absolutely loving Coraline earlier this year. I also wanted to read it before the movie comes out in August. I did like the book quite a bit, but I didn't love it, and I wanted to love it. I'm not sure what happened--maybe I just expected too much.

Tristan lives in a village where there is a hole in the wall. It's guarded by the villagers because it leads into a fairy land. No one is allowed through. Once every 9 years, however, there is a festival where the fairy people and villagers do mingle.

Tristan is in love with the prettiest girl in the village, and wants to prove his love for her by getting her a star that they both see fall in the night sky. However, it has fallen in fairy land. His adventures in trying to obtain the star are magical, to say the least. We meet some very interesting characters from fairy land as well. Does he get the star and/or the girl? Read the book or see the movie to find out. Caution: Parents should read the book first as it's not for children. I wouldn't recommend it for under 16. These sections were few and far between, though.

Claire Danes plays one of the leads in the movie, and I knew this going into the book. She was TOTALLY right for this part. I could just imagine her saying her lines from the book.

I'll probably see the movie in the first night or two. Can't wait!

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

The Higher Power of Lucky
by Susan Patron

2006, 134 pp.

Newbery Medal

Rating: 4

This book created a little controversy when it won the Newbery Medal because it contains the word 'scrotum' in relation to a snake bite on a dog. I'm almost conservative as they come, and I don't see what the big deal is. I really liked this book and found it to be very charming.

Lucky is a girl whose mother has died and who lives with a Frenchwoman. They live in the desert of California in a very small (population 43) community. Also in her life besides her French guardian Brigitte are Miles, a cute little boy whose favorite book is Are You My Mother?, and Lincoln, a boy her age who is obsessed with knot tying.

These relationships and the longings of this little girl form the heart of the novel. I really cared about these characters and found myself rooting for all of them.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The White Stag by Kate Seredy

The White Stag
by Kate Seredy

1937, 94 pp.
Newbery Medal

Rating: 4

This Newbery winner tells the legend of how the Huns and Magyars migrated westward into Hungary. Descended from Nimrod (yes, the one from the Bible), Attila and his ancestors follow a white stag that shows them the way. If you like myths and legends as I do, you will appreciate this book.

My only caution is that Christian parents should read this first to see if it appropriate for their family. Although I love folklore, legends, and mythology, I was a little uncomfortable with the setting up of Nimrod as a hero. Usually I treat mythology solely as fiction with entertainment value. In this case, however, because this book does use passages and references in the Bible, I am a little more cautious.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Messenger by Lois Lowry

by Lois Lowry

2004, 167 pp.

Rating: 4

It's very hard to describe Messenger without giving away parts of The Giver and Gathering Blue. This is the third book in that trilogy. So I'm not going to say anything about the book, other than I enjoyed it very much but consider it to be the weakest of the three. It was nice to have a sequel that wrapped up (somewhat) the other two titles.

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

Gathering Blue
by Lois Lowry

2000, 215 pp.

Rating: 4.5

This book is the second in the trilogy which also includes The Giver and Messenger. I read The Giver, a Newbery book, earlier this year and absolutely loved it. This book doesn't really continue where The Giver left off, but Messenger takes place after both stories and with characters from each.

Kira is a girl who has just lost her mother to sickness. She is very distraught as it has been her mother who has protected her from the community. Kira has a bad leg, and everyone in the village with any kind of defect or deformity must leave the protected area and contend with "the beasts" outside of it.

As she goes back to her small house, the women around her make it known that they want her property as a place for their own children and animals. A legal proceeding takes place which decides the matter. Will she have to leave the community and contend with "the beasts", or will an exception be made?

Recommended highly, but make sure you read The Giver before you read Messenger.

Friday, July 6, 2007

The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli

The Door in the Wall
by Marguerite de Angeli

(1949, 121 pp.)

Newbery Medal

Rating: 4

My favorite passage sums up this book nicely:

"Fret not, my son. None of us is perfect. It is better to have crooked legs than a crooked spirit. We can only do the best we can with what we have. That, after all, is the measure of success: what we do with what we have."

Robin is a boy whose father expects him to be a knight. When his father goes off to war, Robin is left alone and falls ill. His legs are slightly crippled afterward. Some monks come to his aid and he learns to "do the best with what he has." Recommended.

The Sea by John Banville

The Sea
by John Banville

2005, 195 pp.

2005 Booker Prize

Rating: 2

This was not my cup of tea. I don't need an exciting plot to enjoy a book. I don't mind older men looking back on their lives. In a similar vein, I loved Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, although I hated Roth's Everyman. This was closer to Everyman.

Max is a widower that is overly sensitive to smells who is grieving (I guess?) over his wife. He calls her the "c" word and admits he really didn't know her because he preferred not to know her.

Not one character in the book was likable. I guess I was lucky this was short.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Wild Swans by Jung Chang

Wild Swans:
Three Daughters of China
by Jung Chang

1992, 508 pp.

Rating: 4.5

1994 British Book of the Year

This is a long, fascinating book that I'm really glad I finished. I got this after reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, which I absolutely loved. I didn't know it was non-fiction until it came in the mail. I saw that it was a banned book, so I used it for the Banned Book Challenge as well as the Chunkster Challenge.

The book tells the life stories of Jung and her mother and grandmother. Along the way I learned quite a bit about China under Mao as well. I love history when it is presented this way. I've always felt that history was more about how people's lives were affected by their rulers than just names, dates, and events that occurred.

The book is told chronologically. The first story is about how Jung's grandmother had no choice in being a concubine to a Chinese general. The "marriage" was arranged so that her grandmother's father would have more privileges of his own. Jung's mother was born from this union.

Next, we learn of her mother's life growing up under Japanese occupation in Manchuria, and then after the Japanese surrender, the fight between the Kuomintang and the Communists for power in China. Jung's parents become Communist officials who very much believe in the Communist ideals. Their "faith" is eventually shattered by Mao's thirst for power and his "Cultural Revolution."

Although her parents were still receiving their salaries from the government, they were also being detained or being made to go to denunciation meetings where they were yelled at and/or beaten. The Red Guard and the Rebels were encouraged to rise up against the old Communist officials and take control. Even young children were encouraged to beat up their teachers. School days consisted of reading Mao's works, punishing anyone who was a "class enemy", and tearing up the grass and flowers in the courtyards as they were too "decadent."

As Jung grows up, she is at first enamored with Mao, but is eventually disillusioned with what has happened to her family and to herself. She is a bright young woman who is required several times to be "reeducated" by the peasants or factory workers. After Mao dies, eventually China changes for the better. She is able to go to the West and study, but she never permanently returns to China.

I highly recommend this book if you are interested in history in general or Chinese culture. It is also a "wake-up" call to us softies in the West. Books like these really make me appreciate American freedom!

The Bone People by Keri Hulme

The Bone People
by Keri Hulme

1984 , 445 pp.

Rating: 4

1985 Booker Prize

I didn't think I was going to like this book at first, and I didn't love it, but it definitely kept me reading and I did care about the characters.

Kerewin is an artist who lives in a Tower by the sea. She likes living by herself and even likes the isolation. She is estranged from her family.

Joe is a factory worker with an adopted son who is always getting into trouble. Joe has a bit of a drinking problem and doesn't keep good tabs on his son. The boy ends up at Kerewin's place, and the three end up becoming friends, if not a quasi family unit. Secrets, lies, and violence lie beneath the surface, though, and threaten to tear them all apart.

The story takes place in New Zealand with Joe and Kerewin being part Maori. Some of the myths, culture, and history of the Maori are also part of the book.

This is a different kind of book that is written in almost a "stream of consciousness" style. I thought this was a bit distracting at first, but then I got used to it and even enjoyed it. I also don't like it when authors use the present tense rather than the past tense. This aspect bothered me for about 3/4 of the book, but then I didn't notice it anymore.

For instance (p. 34) "She picks up the curious pendant one last time, to fondle and admire before she goes downstairs," rather than "She picked up the curious pendant one last time and fondled and admired it before she went downstairs." I guess it's a preference issue.

If you've already read this book and would like to talk about it further, we are discussing it right now at BookAwards.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

by Neil Gaiman

2006, 163 pp.

Rating: 4.5

I listened to this on CD with my kids. It was narrated by the author, and I must say he did a fantastic job. I will definitely be reading more by Gaiman. I hope to read Stardust before the movie comes out.

Coraline is an only child who lives in an apartment with her work-at-home parents. She's a bit bored and is always looking for something to do. One day she unlocks a door that has a brick wall behind it--only the brick wall isn't there anymore. She goes through the door and finds what looks like an exact replica of her apartment--including her parents. I will stop here because I don't want to spoil the plot. Let's just say I highly recommend it! Thanks to those in the Once Upon a Time Challenge who recommended it as well.