Wednesday, July 23, 2008


This is my latest finished Neil Gaiman book, although it was written before the last two I read. So, while it was amazing and delightful and a smashing good read and the best adult fairy tale I've come across, I found I could tell his writing has gotten more sophisticated in American Gods and Anansi Boys. Or maybe he just decided to take on a more sophisticated storyline, or something. What I mean is that the story this time was less unpredictable. But still, calling Neil Gaiman predictable is like calling Ernest Hemingway flowery, so yeah.

And I can't wait to see the movie. And it was wonderful.

Also of note, this one took less mental power to read. I didn't have to pay as much attention or draw as much on my outside knowledge as I did for the other two I'd read, if that makes sense. This is neither criticism or praise, just a straight-up fact that it's a fairly easy read.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Remember Me?

This is Sophie Kinsella'as latest book, so yes, Mom, it is incredibly self-absorbed and you probably wouldn't like it. I really couldn't stand her "Shopaholic" series because of that aspect, and the general stupidity of the character (why, why, WHY would you bankrupt yourself for 500 pairs of shoes? Argh!), but I liked Can You Keep a Secret and The Undomestic Goddess (her non-series books) okay. Like this book, they're just very light, completely easy reads. No crazy drama, no stirring of emotions, definitely would be qualified as "chick lit" even though I hate the idea of that category.

So. It's about a girl who has an accident and can't remember the last 3 years of her life, in which she's had huge changes in her life that she doesn't understand. But. It's anything but deep. And I think it took me...two hours? to read. It was fun but nothing particularly special--just what I was looking for after the difficulty I had sticking with Songs Without Words. Definitely recommended for those who want to read and be entertained without having to use much energy or brainpower to do it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Songs Without Words

A few years ago I read The Dive From Clausen's Pier, by Ann Packer, and wasn't really sure how I felt about it. I would've given it a mixed review if I was reviewing books back then. So when I saw that Ms. Packer had a new book out, I thought I'd pick it up and try again. First of all, I almost gave up on it. It just took SO LONG for me to become even REMOTELY interested in the characters and the storyline. The only reason I kept going was because my mom was reading it at the same time I was and said it did get interesting at some point.

For me, that point was when I realized how much I could connect the pattern of friendships in my life to the one depicted in the story. So, Ms. Packer gets points for some true insights into the way a friendship can work and change over time, and especially how often the responsibility for maintaining a friendship falls to just one of the friends. Also, it was valuable to me to see some of what might be going on on the other side of those kinds of situations.

Still, it was really hard for me to care about her characters. I just never felt like they were...alive enough, maybe. But again, I did end up liking it much more than I had expected. So, mixed reviews for Ms. Packer seems to be my general feeling. This had some value for me to read, especially at this point in my life, but the story itself seemed to me to be ultimately forgettable. So there you go.

Some true insights into the way a friendship can work and change over time. But it was really hard to connect with her characters, so ultimately forgettable.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Case for Make Believe

This book, by Susan Linn, is one of those that I think every parent, every educator, every person involved in the upbringing of children in our society, should read. Or at least this type of book: the kind that explains how some things really are good or bad for our children, and what we can do about. For example, the problems with consumer culture, and toys that we think are educational that actually stunt the imagination, and the loss of playtime that is crucial for mental, physical, emotional well-being.

So. Read it. But if you can't, here are what I consider the high points, taken mostly from pages 216-221 and edited slightly for blog-readability and to reflect my own emphasis:

Remember that:

--We buy our kids way too many toys.
--Toys linked to media programs can limit creative play rather than encourage it.
--When picking toys to encourage creative play, less is more. If it moves and speaks, it deprives children of opportunities to move and speak for it.
--Toys that can be used in lots of different ways and that promote open-ended play are great. But a block building kit that only builds one thing diminishes the creative value of playing with blocks.
--Babies don't really want or need electronic toys or TV characters. All the world's a toy to a baby.They'll fall in love with whatever creature is familiar to them, and generic creatures don't show up on candy wrappers--they aren't designed to sell you other products.
--You can find ways to take a shower and cook dinner and take car trips without using TV as a crutch, and then your children won't have to use TV as a crutch to be entertained.

--Build unstructured time into your children's lives so they can learn how to generate their own creative play.
--Give them chances to play on their own.
--If you allow children regular access to screen media, set limits on time and have scheduled screen-free time.
--Be conscious about your choices and remember that while TV, computer games, and web sites can be entertaining, most don't promote creative play (even if they say they do!).
--Invest, from infancy, in toys promoting open-ended play. Great suggestions at Honor your child's interest, but ideas include: blocks, toy doctor's kits, firefighter's hats, puzzles, and puppets.


Thursday, July 10, 2008


This book is the first in a relatively new Young Adult Fiction series by Stephenie Meyer. From what I've seen and heard, it is wildly popular--the new "it" book. And although I enjoyed it, I have to's not that great.

First of all, the story is about a high schooler named Bella who gets involved with a group of young vampires. I have to admit, I'm completely tired of the whole vampire theme, so I was afraid that would put me off, but surprisingly, the author's take on it was fairly engaging. But then Bella is supposed to be falling in love with this one guy, and I don't think I ever got an inkling of why she was in love with him except that he's beautiful and has a magnetic personality. In other words, her loooove has no basis in reality. Ah, teenagers.

My other major criticism has to do with the plot structure. The book starts out with a suspenseful teaser, a piece foreshadowing the lcimax of the book. But then you spend an enormous amount of time NOT getting to the point, and the entire thread of the story involving the climax is only introduced in the last 100 pages or so (out of almost 500). So that part felt rushed and very Deus Ex Machina.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading it and you can bet your buttons I'll be reading the rest of the series. It was just so easy to read and easy to follow and easy to predict, at least so far. And it wasn't boring or tedious. And since I've been seriously ADD about my reading lately, that's saying a lot.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Cobra Event

The Hot Zone is a book by Richard Preston about an Ebola threat in the U.S. as well as some other history of the disease, etc. It's a wonderfully thrilling public health book that I happen to own, so when I saw this book, also by Richard Preston, I thought I'd check it out. But it's fiction, so I only got halfway through it before deciding that the author got too graphic and out-there for my tastes. It's a fascinating story but I couldn't handle the autopsies, the grim deaths, etc. anymore. Just too much.

That being said, Mr. Preston is a good writer and I would strongly recommend any of his nonfiction, because I think it's all fascinating and he writes in a very exciting way. But don't read this foray into fiction if you can't stand the gross-out factor. Also, a lot of people die, so be prepared for that. I know when I'm not prepared, it's even worse to discover that little fact. Cheers!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Anansi Boys

Another Neil Gaiman book that I just loved. Stupendous, sublime, smashing, and all things wonderful. If you're going to read this one, you might want to start with American Gods since the two are loosely connected. But you don't have to. It stands quite beautifully on its own.

Also, if you've never heard of Anansi, you might check him out before you read it. Also not necessary but might enhance your experience a bit.

Wow. I can't wait to get my hands on another of Mr. Gaiman's works.

Oh, and word to the wise: one of the unusual and beautiful things about this book is that, unlike most popular modern fiction, every character is understood to be black by default, and you are therefore informed only if they are something else, such as white. A refreshing change from the norm and a meaningful social statement to boot. Amazing.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


I read A Map of the World and The Book of Ruth, both by Jane Hamilton, several years ago, and was wonderfully impressed by her writing abilities. My mother recently read her When Madeline Was Young and enthusiastically recommended it to me. So when I was at the library and saw this book among her works, I decided to try it, figuring it would be good.

Boy, was I wrong. I don't know if this book is really good or not, but it is slow as molasses. It's about a high-school-aged boy who accidentally discovers his mother's affair, and about what is happening to the heart of his family at this point in their lives, but I just couldn't get into it. I wasn't connected to any of the characters and I didn't really care what would happen to them and I didn't really feel like anything really could happen to them or that the novel was actually going anywhere. I can appreciate the way that she crafts the boy's point of view, and I think it's especially clever how she lets him alternate between calling his mother many different names, since he's not sure how to view her and who she really is, but I just Did Not Like This Book.

So sad, really. I guess I'll have to steel myself to try When Madeline Was Young and just assume it must be better. And I can't imagine that it won't be, since I feel this one was pretty bad for me. At least at this point in my life. Boy, I really have a tough time saying a book is bad...but I also really think in this case it's half the book and half me, so I don't want to blame it for not suiting my tastes. Eh.

How to Talk so Kids Can Learn

This book is by Adele Ferber and Elaine Mazlish, famous for their book How To Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk. It is in the same vein, a parenting-advice-type book, just meant for both parents and teachers. I think it's great but I didn't really feel it was too different from HTTSKWL if you're the parent. That being said, I would LOVE to see teachers read and implement the book's ideas about how important it is to respect a child's feelings so he or she is emotionally ready to learn new information and such. Highly recommended, but again, sort of superfluous to their most famous book if you're the parent.