Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween and October Reading Wrap Up

I was thinking about Halloween, and how much fun it was to go trick or treating when I was a kid. Back then the neighbors handed out the big full-size candy bars (no such thing as mini bars when I was a kid). I think I always had a costume we put together ourselves (recalling hobo and witch as frequent choices). Back then, either our parents were naive or there wasn't as many crazy people around in the early 60's, as there are now because we went out by ourselves trick or treating, returning when our bags were full to our satisfaction.  Even when my children were little, early and mid 80's, it seemed pretty safe where were lived. We did not worry too much, but also the school had started having a Halloween party which was fun for the kids.  My two kids had a few homemade costumes, but they had plenty of the store bought plastic ones as well, since I wasn't too creative. How did my daughter become so talented? LOL

Last year we did not have ANY trick or treaters, but this year we bought a few bags of our favorite mini-bars just in case :)  How about you? What is Halloween like where you live, do your kids still go trick or treating?

 Bye Bye October!

How was your month for books.  Mine was better than September, but only because, I squeezed in (7) childrens books, which I really enjoyed. I plan to read a few of these each month as I really liked doing so.
I was really happy with the quality of my reads this month. Here's the list:

  1. Interrupting Chicken; David Ezra Stein - 5/5
  2. House at Riverton; Kate Morton - 4/5
  3. The Healer; Carol Cassella - 4/5
  4. Santa Fe Edge; Stuart Woods - 2/5 (audio)
  5. Moonlight Mile; Dennis LeHane - 3.5/5
  6. Llama, Llama Misses Mama; Anna Dewdney - 5/5
  7. The Halloween Kid; Rhode Motijo - 3.5/5
  8. Comet's Nine Lives; Jan Brett - 5/5
  9. Blue Nude; Elizabeth Rosner - 5/5
  10. Molly's Pilgrim; Barbara Cohen - 5/5
  11. Zoo Story; Thomas French - 4 /5
  12. The Poisonwood Bible; Barbara Kingsolver - 4.5/5 (audio and print)
  13. Monsters Eat Whiny Children; Bruce Eric Kaplan
  14. Freedom; Jonathan Franzen - 4/5 (audio)
  15. Fancy Nancy: Halloween...or Bust; Jane O'Connor and Glasser - 4.5/5

My favorite adult level reads were: Blue Nude and The Poisonwood Bible, and Favorite childrens books were Llama, Llama Misses Mama, Interrupting Chicken and Molly's Pilgrim.

Reading Challenge Progress

How are you doing with the reading challenges you signed up for?  

I completed the RIP V challenge that Carl hosted by reading (4) books, and with (2) months left in 2010,  I've completed (9) challenges..(see my left side bar), and have (2) challenges left to complete. One is the Gothic Novel Challenge , and I only need to read (1) more for this one. However, I'm pretty sure I will fail miserably at my own challenge (covering face in embarrassment) ......Books To Read Before I Die. You see, I'm not ready to kick the bucket, so that's why I haven't worked very hard on this challenge :) I've read 8/20 and I'm working on #9 right now.

Wishing you a special day where ever you are.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

138 - Fancy Nancy: Halloween..... or Bust; Jane O'Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser

Fancy Nancy: Halloween.... or Bust is the perfect October read for your little Fancy Girl. Nancy shows you that Halloween is ALL about dressing up. Nancy knows how to make everything even more fancy, with special touches, and special FANCY words that give the ordinary a new meaning. Here are just a few of the new words Fancy Nancy introduces the young readers to:
  • Unique - one of a kind
  • bonbons -fancy candy
  • disastrous - very bad
Nancy's Halloween Party included games such as, pin the tail on the monster, but before the party is over Nancy experiences something "disastrous"  herself -- it has to do with her costume. Fortunately, the readers lucky enough to read this book, can help Nancy make a new costume with the lovely stickers that come with this book.

I've read and reviewed several Fancy Nancy books and have enjoyed them all, and this one is no exception. I'm not quite sure, but for some reason, this Halloween story seemed to have fewer "fancy" words, than the other books, but I could be wrong.  A fun read for a fun Holiday! Little Girls will love it.

RATING - 4.5/5 stars
Library Book

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

137 - Freedom; Jonathan Franzen

The audio version of FREEDOM, narrated by David LeDoux is terrific. His voice had a way of immediately drawing you into the world of The Berglund family: Patty, Walter, Jessica and Joey. The Berglunds are part of the baby-boomer generation, and the first third of the book is narrated by Patty as the third person autobiographer (her therapist thought this would be good for her).

Patty and Walter met in college where Patty was a basketball star. Her career ended when she injured her knee. She wanted to marry, have two children and be a stay at home mother. Her life goal was to do a better job raising her children than her mother had done. Patty has had a long time attraction to her husband's college roommate Richard Katz, a former rock star. In addition, Patty has what seems like an unhealthy obsession with her son Joey. Although, early on, Joey's actions disappoint Patty and Walter, beginning in high school when he sleeps with the trashy neighbor's daughter, and then later moves in with the family. However, this will not be the only incident that causes stress in the lives of the Berglunds. Patty's depression is an issue throughout most of the novel.

Walter is very low key, and at least initially puts his needs aside, taking a job in the corporate world, to ensure that his wife and family are provided for. A lawyer and environmentalist, Walter too struggles with life issues, and a case of the "Is this all there is syndrome". An executive for a Nature Conservatory, he sees his home life crumbling around him, but doesn't seem to know what to do to make things better. Walter's issues with son Joey, are not all that different from some of the issues both Walter, and Patty experienced with their own parents.

Without sharing too much of the plot, FREEDOM is a multi-layered story, about personal FREEDOM: the "freedom" and consequences of ones personal life choices, whether it be: relationships, careers, child rearing, or life choices in general. The lives of the Berglund's seemed very realistic. The family was not always likable, but flaws and all they could be most any of our neighbors. I thought it was very interesting to see how although both Patty and Walter shunned the parenting style of their own mother and father, in the end their own lives, and issues were very similar, reinforcing the fact that we cannot always escape our past.

The audio book was great, but one complaint I had was that it seemed longer than necessary at times. The writing was terrific though, and at times, laugh-out-loud funny as well. If you enjoyed The Corrections (2001) by Franzen, then I think you will enjoy this novel as well. Both novels take place at least partially in the mid-west, and the Lambert's and their three children (Corrections), and the Berglund's, (Freedom), certainly have some similar dysfunction issues at the heart of each story. RECOMMENDED

RATING - 4/5 Stars - Audio Book

Wordless Wednesday

(not my cats, not my toilet, but couldn't resist)

Monday, October 25, 2010

136 - Monsters Eat Whiny Children; Bruce Eric Kaplan

"Once there were two perfectly delightful children who were going through a TERRIBLE phase, which is to say they whined ALL day and night."
Henry and Eve were warned by their father that monsters eat whiny children, but they didn't believe it, so they continued to whine. So along comes a monster who stole them away to his lair on the bad side of town. 

What happens next is that the monsters all have different ideas about the best meal to make out of Henry and Eve.......a whiny-child salad for dinner? other monster neighbors had other ideas.......whiny - child burgers, cake, Indian food? The monsters finally agree on simple whiny-child cucumber sandwiches on fluffy white bread.
However, before the monsters get a chance to enjoy their agreed upon whiny-child meal, the children find a way to escape, finding their way back home and hopefully learning a valuable lesson. 

A cute cautionary tale with great cartoon style drawings in mostly black and white, peppered with pastels.  The book is written and illustrated by the author who draws cartoons for the New Yorker magazine, and has also written for the television shows Seinfeld and Six Feet Under. The book is intended for ages preschool - grade 3, however,  like Hansel and Gretal, Little Red Riding Hood, and other children's books with a villain in the picture, the story needs to be explained in a way that younger children are not frightened by this tale. RECOMMENDED
4/5 stars - Library Book

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Saturday Stuff

Who would have thought a little furniture moving with the hub last Saturday would have put me out of commission for (4) days?  That's what happened to me this week, and I have never had a weak back previously. Honestly, this was the worst pain (yep worst than childbirth) and the muscle relaxers from the doctor just seemed to make me loopy. I am better today and what really helped I think was the heating pad which I used continuously for several days.  Lesson Learned - use better body mechanics in the future.

Did anyone get to enjoy the glorious fall moon this week?  I did and the cats did as well...seriously they spent significant time at the windows each evening.

We are having company from PA this weekend so I won't be on the computer much after this.  Hope they don't expect a clean house as my back is not up to lots of cleaning.  Hopefully, my apple crisp will make up for a little dust.

I started listening to Freedom, Jonathan Franzen yesterday - it's pretty good, and the reader is EXCELLENT.  I also started Strangers at the Feast; Jennifer Vanderbes and it hooked me immediately.  On a more depressing note, I am about (30) books behinds of my 2009  reading stats for this time last year. (Working has definitely affected my reading).

Have a great weekend everyone and hope you have some fun things planned.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

135 -The Poisonwood Bible; Barbara Kingsolver

The Poisonwood Bible is one of those books that I have wanted to read for a long time. I finally had the opportunity to listen to the audio version and was very pleased.

For those of you who are not familiar with this novel, The Poisonwood Bible is the story of fanatical Baptist missionary, Nathan Price, who moves his wife Orleanna, and their 4 daughters to  the Belgian Congo from Bethlehem, Georgia in 1959. The Reverend Price was hoping to bring Christianity to the people in the village of Kilanga, at a time when the people of that village were struggling to survive and to remain free from Belgium.  

The family arrives in the Congo without a clue as to what they were in for. The bring seeds to plant, but the soil is so poor, seeds will not grow. There is no plumbing or electricity and disease is prevalent everywhere it seems. The Reverend tries to get the people to come to the river to be baptised, but no one is interested in finding God by bathing in waters where crocodiles live. While the goal of Nathan Price was to transform the the lives of the Congolese people by bringing God into their lives, what really happens is that the lives of this family is transformed bit by bit, by what life was really like for them in the Congo.

The story is told in alternating voices of Oleanna and his daughters, and covers a period of about 30 years. The story hooks the reader immediately as each of the characters share realistic views of what they were experiencing along the way. Nathan Price is the only major character who does not have a voice in this novel, and yet in some ways I felt I got to know him the best through the eyes of his wife and daughters. He was an extremely arrogant and unlikeable man who put his entire family at risk. He was degrading to women, and I can't think of one positive thing to say about him. I think the fact he had no voice made this story all the more poignant.

The Poisonwood Bible is a story you really need to read for yourself. It's touching, compelling and insightful. The author did an amazing job depicting the political climate at that time. It's a story about religious beliefs, a story of the disintegration of a family, and a story about forgiveness. It is a story that makes you think, and a story that makes you question the actions our government sometimes takes, which really is not always in the best interest of the people.  I truly had sympathy for this family, especially as the years pass and each of the girls tries to find their place in  the world.  I loved the first half of this book, but felt that the second half  got a little bogged down at times. Despite this, I highly recommend this book.

Rating 4.5/5 
Personal copy and Library audio book

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

134 - Zoo Story; Thomas French

Thomas French, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for the St. Petersburg Times has written an eye opening book about zoos, well at least one zoo in particular. In Zoo Story,  French focuses his attention on the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida.  Not only does the author reveal what life is like for the animals in captivity, but he also focuses of the politic and, power plays involved in zoo operations, which were not always in the best interest of the animals. The former CEO, Lex Salisbury, AKA El Diablo Blanco (White Devil), was forced to resign in 2008. This particular zoo in Tampa,  was shut down in the 1980s due to horrific conditions. It was reopened and transformed years later, but one must ask the question -- at what cost to both the animals and the staff?

The story begins with (11) elephants from a herd in Swaziland, South Africa being air lifted in a Boeing 747. Traveling from South Africa to Tampa, Florida, the new home for the majority of this group, at a cost of $12,000 per elephant. Tranquillized and traveling in cages on this long journey alone stirred up much controversy from animal rights advocates, debating the merits of living in one's natural habitat, despite overpopulation, versus the new contained environment created at the zoo. Elephants from the herd are often slaughtered to contain overpopulation, and  because of a shortage of food.

This book was very informative, and the six year's of research conducted by the author shows. I liked the fact that he told it as he saw it, and it is clear that he did not sugar coat anything.  The book held my attention throughout, however, I felt the story was too focused on zoo operations and management for my taste. I did not realize this would be the case when I began the book. I was hoping to learn a lot more about the lives of the animals in captivity there, than I did.  Despite this, the book is solid, and would probably appeal to most people with a genuine interest in animal welfare. RECOMMENDED
Rating - 4/5 stars - Library Book

133 - Molly's Pilgrim; Barbara Cohen

In Molly's Pilgrim, Molly is a third grade girl who doesn't feel very thankful as Thanksgiving approaches. Molly came to America from Russia after the Cossacks burned a synagogue in Goraduck. The family, fearing for its safety, came to America to seek a more peaceful life.

In school here, Molly looked a bit different and dressed different. Some of the cruel children at her new school in the US made fun of the way she dressed and the way she spoke. School made Molly sad, and she feared that she would never fit in.

One day near Thanksgiving the teacher assigns the class a project about Pilgrims, and soon the entire class learns a valuable lesson -- all kinds of Pilgrims make Thanksgiving a reason to give thanks.

Molly's Pilgrim is a touching story based on an actual incident experienced by a relative of the author. It's a wonderful story, best enjoyed by second and third graders that teaches children about difference and a lesson in tolerance as well. The black and white illustrations in the hardcover edition are by David Mark Duffy, and they are excellent. The book was originally published in 1998. Recommended

5/5 stars - Library book

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mailbox Monday - October 18, 2010

Mailbox Monday for October is being hosted by Avis @ She Reads and Reads. Here's an opportunity to share what books arrived in your mailbox last week.  Here's what came my way (all unsolicted):

 (Thanks goes to Harper Collins & Europa Editions)
The last (2) sound like pretty good holiday mysteries.

Hope that you had a great week in books.

Friday, October 15, 2010

132 - Blue Nude; Elizabeth Rosner

Did you ever read a book that was so good, that you read it twice, back to back? Such was the case for me with  Blue Nude, by Elizabeth Rosner. A short novel, just 200 pages, but a fantastic book that completely wowed me.

The story is about two artists -- initially strangers whose lives, past and present intersect after a chance meeting.  Danzig is a 58 year old German-born painter. He was born days after WWII to a cold and abusive father and a submissive mother. Danzig and his sister Margot were witness to the cruelties of their father, who although never fully revealed, appeared to play a significant role in the elimination of the Jews during the war.  To cope with the ways of his demanding father, at an early age, Danzig found comfort in painting and art. 
 "Still, his father always found ways of tormenting him, made sure he was given jobs to do before he was allowed to eat his meal or play or read a book. He was inspected for cleanliness in the mornings before going to school, and he was sent to bed without food if he ever left a job half finished--or worse, if he had said he had done something when actually he hadn't"........................."He was on his own, and his father was the enemy, and it was all very clear and without alteration."
 After tragedy strikes, and only unhappy memories remain, Danzig leaves Germany for America. He moves to San Francisco to pursue a career in art. He works as an art professor at the Art Institute in San Francisco.

Merav, is a young, Israeli born woman who makes a living as a nude model.  When she finds work posing for Danzig's art class, she is careful not to speak fearing that Danzig will pick up on her accent, as she has with his.  Merav, too, has had her share of tragedy, and years later the nightmares still haunt her. There is an unspoken interest by the two that keeps them connected. She feels at peace while posing for Danzig's class. For Danzig, in Merav he finds his creativeness returning after 5+ years. He asks her to pose for him privately in his studio. Merav is totally in her comfort zone when posing for art students........
"She felt like a swallow, dipping and soaring at twilight. She felt her body touched without being touched".
"Sometimes Merav thinks that modeling is one of the ways her physical life resembles that of her childhood on the kibbutz."
With out giving too much of the story away, I'll just say that I was completely taken by this story. The writing is beautiful, the characters so well fleshed out; I felt deeply for both of them.  A redemptive story about the power of the human spirit as each individual tries to cope with the demons of their past. Blue Nude, is a story you will not easily forget.

Originally published in hardcover by Ballantine in May 2006 and reissued in 2010 in paperback by Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster). I can't believe that this wonderful book has not received more accolades. Do yourself a favor and read this book, you will be glad you did.

Rating - 5/5 Stars - Complimentary Copy

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

131 - Comet's Nine Lives; Jan Brett

Comet's Nine Lives is a preschool book that is absolutely adorable, but it deals with a cat who gets himself into a variety of predicaments and uses up (8) of his (9) lives.  I can see where some parents might be cautious about reading or explaining such a book to young children, and a few reviews indicated the subject matter was not appropriate for young children. In my opinion is, the story is just fine. It just takes a little explaining, as you would do if you were to read Hansel and Gretal or Little Red Riding Hood to a young child. 

Comet is a cat who was born 30 miles out to sea on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. He never really had a home of his own, and wandered here and there.  He lost his first life when he ate some foxglove flowers that made him sick. His second life was lost in a book store --who would have thought they were dangerous? However, while resting on a stack of books, he took a tumble and all the books landed on his head.  He even lost one of his lives by taking a tumble into a strawberry milkshake --what a way to go!  Fortunately, as you can tell while reading along, Comet does find the perfect place to settle down in the end.

My Opinion -- I loved this book. It is such a cute story, and the beautiful, colorful illustrations of Nantucket Island are just awesome. The book is both written and illustrated by Jan Brett.  It is really a sweet story about a cat's adventures. It will have you and your little one anxiously turning the pages to see what kind of mischief Comet gets himself into next.

Highly Recommended - 5/5 stars - Library Book