Thursday, August 21, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Libraries

Here's today's BTT question:

Whether you usually read off of your own book pile or from the library shelves NOW, chances are you started off with trips to the library. (There’s no way my parents could otherwise have kept up with my book habit when I was 10.) So … What is your earliest memory of a library? Who took you? Do you have you any funny/odd memories of the library?

I think I've written about my childhood library experiences before. My parents took me when I was in elementary school to the main library, but my fondest memory is of the Bookmobile that stopped at our school playground in the summer. I could go by myself and get a whole bagful of books. That was the best day of the week in the summer.

When I was a little older, I rode my bike to the library with friends. We'd load up our backpacks with books and stop at Thrifty's (a local drugstore) for 25 cent ice cream cones. The children's librarian knew all our names and saved books she thought we'd like.

Currently, my own daughter went to library story times from the time she was a toddler and the children's librarian knows her name as well. I've rediscovered the library with her and she participated in the library's summer reading program for the last three years.

What about you?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Olympics

Here's today's BTT question:

You, um, may have noticed that the Olympics are going on right now, so that’s the genesis of this week’s question, in two parts:


  • Do you or have you ever read books about the Olympics? About sports in general?
  • Fictional ones? Or non-fiction? Or both?

And, Second:

  • Do you consider yourself a sports fan?
  • Because, of course, if you’re a rabid fan and read about sports constantly, there’s a logic there; if you hate sports and never read anything sports-related, that, too … but you don’t have to love sports to enjoy a good sports story.
  • (Or a good sports movie, for that matter. Feel free to expand this into a discussion about “Friday Night Lights” or “The Natural” or whatever…)
I honestly can't remember any book I've read specifically about the Olympics. However, I have read a few sports related books - mostly ice skating with SurferGirl or hockey. One I'd highly recommend is by a former hockey player, now minor league hockey coach called So Your Son Wants to be in the NHL. It was a memoir of Bylsma's early years in hockey including times when he lived with coaches or teams away from his family. It is a very cautionary tale about the need for balance in a kid's life. I have recommended it to sports-crazed parents a number of times.

I've also read a number of books by Ken Dryden, a former goaltender for the Montreal Canadians. One of the best is The Game which is probably the best book about hockey ever written. Dryden is well-written and intelligent and highlights hockey in its golden age.

I'm sure there have been fictional books with sports-related themes but nothing comes to me as being a "sports" book or a great read.

As you can tell, I am a hockey fan. Probably not rabid but I do enjoy watching games, have been to a few NHL games, and had season tickets for a number of years to minor league hockey (like AAA baseball) before the team disbanded.

Good sports movie? Ask SurferGirl and she'd say "Ice Princess" from Disney. I think one of my favorite sports movies was Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner.

So now I'm curious ... what sports are you into?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

I picked up this one while I was on vacation and had finished Damage Control. I told myself I was taking a break from Picoult but the subject of this one intrigued me. I'm using it for the A to Z Challenge and the In the Pub Challenge.

This is the story of Shay Bourne who has been convicted of the murder of June Nealon's daughter and cop husband. Shay was given the death penalty by a juror which included the man, Father Michael, who is now Shay's spiritual advisor. The ACLU, and lawyer Maggie Bloom, becomes involved in the case when Shay announces that he wants to donate his heart to June Nealon's surviving daughter who is in need of a heart transplant. The story is further complicated by Father Michael's crisis of faith as he begins to believe that Shay is capable of performing miracles.

STRENGTHS OF CHANGE OF HEART: Father Michael is an interesting and complex character. As a college student, he was on the jury that sentenced Shay to death. He doesn't reveal this to Shay or Maggie until much later in the story. As Michael interacts more with Shay, he comes to doubt parts of his faith and searches for answers from outside the Catholic Church. This was the most interesting part of the story for me because Picoult created some fascinating questions about religion and how it has been organized to fit the needs of society.

Shay was also a complex character and, to Picoult's credit, she was able to make her readers like him. This was important because the reader needed to care whether Shay lived or died to fuel the death penalty debate that was the other focus of the book.

WEAKNESSES OF CHANGE OF HEART: I found the whole death penalty debate to be more academic than emotionally compelling. I found it hard to believe that Shay's heart was a perfect match for June's daughter and that any prison or judge in America would allow someone to die by hanging. I had some trouble with the mythology of miracles she created around this event. I also disliked the ending because it made me doubt everything I'd believed about Shay which made me feel cheated. It also made Father Michael's doubt seem to not matter.

Overall, I'd give this one 3 1/2 stars. It was thought provoking but had some structural flaws that I found it hard to overlook. What did you think?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Damage Control by J.A. Jance

This is the newest Joanna Brady mystery by J.A. Jance. I'm using it for the A to Z Challenge and the In the Pub Challenge. In this book, Joanna is a new mom recently married to Butch and still the Sheriff of Cochise County. Joanna's department is mired in three separate suspicious deaths which she juggles with her home and family commitments. Butch has written his first novel and is finishing his second.

STRENGTHS OF DAMAGE CONTROL: As part of a series, it is a comfortable read. The characters have not changed much in this story and act in predictable, familiar ways. The multiple plot lines are interesting. The daughters of the elderly couple who drove off a cliff are entertaining, and Jance creates a plausible murder mystery out of the deaths. I also liked that one of Joanna's detectives, Jaime, got to be more involved in this story. Butch continues to be an interesting character, though he was underused in this one.

WEAKNESSES OF DAMAGE CONTROL: One of its strengths is also a weakness. The series is to the point where something needs to change to stir up the characters. I like the fact that Jance previewed some upcoming changes in Joanna's department and home life which might add some tension to the next book. I also felt like Jance introduced a side plot where Joanna and Butch were being investigated for wrongdoing but never went anywhere with it. That might have given Butch more to do in the story.

Overall, I'd still give it four stars because it was a fun summer read. Let me know what you thought of it.

The Sum of Our Days by Isabel Allende

This is the newest book by my favorite author, Isabel Allende. I'm also counting this one for the In The Pub challenge. You can probably already tell that I am going to love this one, and, though I don't want to give my review away, you're probably right. This book is a non-fiction memoir that is a follow-up to Paula. which is one of my all time favorite books. In this one, Allende updates her dead daughter, Paula, on the events in her family since her death. Allende's family is a clan that consists of her children, their families, her husband's children, their families, friends, and an assortment of people that they have "picked up" along the way. Allende's definition of family, or clan, reminds me of a hanging in my own home which reads that "Friends are the family one finds along the way."

STRENGTHS OF THE SUM OF OUR DAYS: There are many! I love the way Allende describes her family and friends. She creates very vivid word pictures which is amazing because she writes in Spanish and is translated into English. I also loved hearing the stories behind a number of her novels, including her novel on Zorro and my second favorite, The Infinite Plan. In this book, Allende's memories take on the strength of a well-written novel with the way she is able to turn events into stories and plots. It was quite touching to read her reflections on her grandchildren, and her unabashed love and protection of them. That is why a health crisis for her granddaughter is so wrenching in the book, especially with its allusions to Paula's fate. Luckily, all is well in this book.

I also enjoyed the relationship between Allende and her second husband, Willie, because she portrays it in a realistic light. There are times when they disagree and fight which makes it feel like Allende is being emotionally honest with her readers. That's probably the chief strength of this book - Allende's unflinching ability to be honest about her life and the emotional components of it.

WEAKNESSES OF THE SUM OF OUR DAYS: I really want to say nothing - that it is a perfect book just as it is. However, I would have liked to know more about her husband, Willie. He seems to have an interesting viewpoint that wasn't always explored in the book because it was, obviously, told from her point of view.

Overall, I'd give this one five stars. It is probably one of my favorites of the year so far. It also came at a really good time for me because Allende talked about her reaction to Paula's death and the need to move beyond the pain which was a message I needed to hear. If you've read it, I'd love to know what you thought. If you haven't read it, do yourself a favor and add it to your TBR pile.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Literacy and Longing in L.A. by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack

My husband found this one for me at our local independent book store. I actually read it quite awhile back, but haven't gotten around to reviewing it. It is the story of Dora, an out of work journalist in Los Angeles who is recently divorced from a wealthy Hollywood producer. Dora is also a reader, which is why my husband recommended the book to me.

STRENGTHS OF LITERACY AND LONGING IN L.A.: Dora is a wonderfully funny character with a great cast of supporting characters. Dora does have some weird quirks like retreating to her bathtub with a pile of books for a few days when things get hard to handle or her inability to drive on the LA freeways. Both quirks lead to humorous events where Dora is faced with her new lover during her bath or having to drive the freeways to complete a story that might get her a job at the local newspaper. In both cases, Dora is rescued by her best friend, a female non-reading teamster. Dora frequents a local bookstore where she meets her new lover who is a bookseller and would-be playwright. Dora's conversations with him become somewhat stereotypical of snobbish literary discussions, however, the authors are able to turn this on its head with Dora's wry observations as she observes her own behavior. That's part of the fun of the story.

WEAKNESSES OF LITERACY AND LONGING IN L.A.: I didn't really like some of the strange plot twists. Dora's ex-husband reappears to help her in the story, and it doesn't really make sense with her character that she falls all over him. I also didn't really like the subplot with the dead sister of the new lover and Dora's involvement with his mother and niece. I understood that the authors were trying to bring Dora out of herself and into the real world, away from her world of books. I thought she lost some of her wry, observer's edge at this point in the story.

Overall, I'd give this one three stars. Dora is a great character and I enjoyed all the literary references throughout the story. It does have two authors and felt, at times, like it was written by committee. If you've read this one, I'd love to know about it.