44 posts categorized "Books" Feed

Book Meme

Kelly over at Big A little a borrowed this book meme, and requested that the kidlitosphere respond. Here are my answers:

1. One book that changed your life?

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand.

2. One book you have read more than once?

I re-read Pride and Prejudice every couple of years. But I've re-read many, many children's books from my childhood, most recently The Four-Story Mistake, by Elizabeth Enright.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

I'll have to go with Pride and Prejudice here, too.

4. One book that made you laugh?

So many choices... Most recently, Happy Kid! Also RULES by Cynthia Lord.

5. One book that made you cry?

Most recently, Yellow Star, by Jennifer Roy. I also always cry at the end of Anne of Green Gables.

6. One book you wish had been written?

I can't really think of anything here. But I do wish that Harry Potter 7 would be published soon.

7. One book you wish had never been written?

Kiss the Girls, by James Patterson. It's a serial killer/predator novel set at Duke, where I did my undergrad degree. While I couldn't help finishing it (because it was compelling), it made my skin crawl. I did really like Patterson's Maximum Ride, however, so I'm not holding it against him.

8. One book you are currently reading?

Happy Kid! by Gail Gauthier. I'm also about to read Wizards at War by Diane Duane.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud.

10. Now tag 5 people.

Oh, I think that everyone has been virtually tagged by Kelly already. But if you do decide to play, drop a note in the comments.

UPDATE: This meme has really taken off among the kidlitosphere. You can find a pretty comprehensive list of posts at Big A little a. A couple that I ran across that I didn't see on Kelly's list can be found at:

The Tenth Circle: Jodi Picoult

Last week I read Jodi Picoult's The Tenth Circle. Technically, The Tenth Circle is an adult book, but I can easily see it working as a crossover novel for young adults. It features Picoult's trademark shifts in viewpoint, with two of the viewpoints those of high school kids. Tenth Circle is a fascinating and disturbing novel. It's about hidden pasts (a theme Picoult returns to repeatedly), a family in crisis, and the sometimes fine line that divides acceptable behavior and violence.

The Tenth Circle is the story of 14-year-old Trixie Stone, who has recently had her heart broken by an older, more popular boy named Jason Underhill. It's also the story of Trixie's father, Daniel, who appears to be a mild-mannered comic book artist, but who hides secrets about a much more violent past, and Trixie's mother, Laura, who has a more current secret. When a self-destructive Trixie and a self-entitled Jason collide at a party, one rash act changes all of the characters lives forever.

The Tenth Circle features comic book panels between chapters, "drawn by" Daniel Stone. The comics tell a parallel and overlapping story to that of the text. There's also a secret message hidden in the comic book panels - a little game that Jodi Picoult plays with her readers. It's an unusual addition to an adult novel, but works quite well. I like that she's having fun with her books.

However, I had trouble deciding whether I liked The Tenth Circle or not. I read it in a single day, and found that it moved quickly, and kept my interest. I thought that it was well-written, with Picoult's usual deft handling of viewpoint shifts. But the story itself was difficult to pin down, the literary equivalent of quicksand, with the truth constantly eroding away underfoot. This is also something that Picoult is good at, and usually I like it, but not quite so much in this case.

Maybe the he said / she said story hit a bit close to home, after reading for weeks about the Duke lacrosse scandal. Maybe, as with the main character in Scott Westerfeld's Specials (which I reviewed recently), I just couldn't decide how much to empathize with Trixie, because she kept shifting on me. Maybe I just don't like reading about infidelity, rainbow parties, and teens cutting themselves.

That said, I do think that The Tenth Circle tells an important story. It gives parents a hint of the self-destructive behavior that teen girls can exhibit (very frightening stuff!). Perhaps more importantly, the book gives a window into what the aftermath of date rape is like, for both victim and accused. It's hard to read sometimes, but could certainly provide some talking points between parents and teens, as well as food for thought for anyone else.

You can visit Jodi Picoult's website here. She also blogs on Amazon. I loved another recent Jodi Picoult novel, My Sister's Keeper, and also enjoyed Vanishing Acts.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

48 Hour Book Challenge from MotherReader

MotherReader has issued a challenge for kid lit readers and reviewers everywhere. She asks how many books you could read and review in a 48-hour period, over the weekend of June 16th. Visit her original post for the details and to sign up.

I'm definitely in. I've noticed that my book reading has declined a bit, since I started blogging, because I spend time blogging that I would have previously spent reading. I've also noticed that the best reviews that I write are the ones that I write as soon as I finish the book, without letting a few days go by. So, this is a good excuse to read a lot of books, and review them all right away. Happily for me, Mheir is on call that weekend, so I should have plenty of time for reading, too.

Could be a tough week for Kelly to do her round-up of kid lit reviews. But I'm sure she's up for that challenge.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Book Swapping

I read a short article in this month's Pages Magazine about an online system where members trade books among themselves. It's called Paperbackswap.com. There's no cost to join, but when you join you have to list 9 books that you're willing to swap. In return, you get three credits that you can use to acquire books that others have listed. After the first 9 books, other books that you swap are on a one-to-one basis.

The sender pays the cost of sending each book along using media mail (average cost is $1.59), and that's the only cost incurred. It's cheaper than buying a used book most places, and you get to clear books that you don't want from your own shelves. I haven't tried it (I usually just donate my books to the library, or send them to friends), but I think that it's a neat idea.

News Stories Hit Close to Home

Three current news stories, all with some book-related tie-in, strike particularly close to home for me.

First, there was the Duke lacrosse scandal. I did my undergraduate degree at Duke. I had a wonderful experience there, and maintain a strong loyalty towards the school. I have been reluctantly following the current story. I was intrigued to read recently (in this Examiner article, for example) of parallels between the current incident and the 2004 Tom Wolfe novel I Am Charlotte Simmons. I doubt that Mr. Wolfe is clairvoyant, but he did write about the lacrosse culture at his fictional Gothic university, which many have thought to resemble Duke. Wolfe's daughter also attended Duke, heightening the speculation. However, at the recent NC Festival of the Book, Wolfe stated publicly that "Charlotte Simmons" was NOT based on Duke. According to Wikipedia, Wolfe actually did research for the novel by talking with students at Stanford University (where I have another connection - Mheir did his surgical residency there), as well as several other schools.

There's an interesting discussion of the Charlotte Simmons connection on the TrueTalk Blog. I tend to agree with Tom Guarriello that "Duke's lacrosse culture reaped what it sowed." That is, if you put athletes up on pedestals and tell them that they can have anything that they want, it's not earth-shakingly surprising when what they want goes too far. Sad and horrifying, but not surprising.

(On a happier note, the 2006 NC Festival of the Book was recently held at Duke, and in surrounding areas. There's a detailed story about it by James Bailey in The Independent Weekly. I'm sorry that I wasn't able to attend.)

The other two recent incidents have to do with my hometown. I grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, home of the first battle in the Revolutionary War. "The shot heard round the world" was fired in Lexington (you can check out the Wikipedia entry about it here). Lexington recently celebrated the annual Patriot's Day holiday, which I remember fondly from my childhood. I rarely got up for the battle re-enactment at dawn, but I loved the Pancake Breakfast, and the parade.

Sadly, Lexington has been in the news lately because of the King & King controversy, in which parents are suing the school district because a teacher at Estabrook School read the book (about two princes who fall in love) to second graders. I have been impressed with the Superintendent of Schools, Paul Ash, for standing up for the teacher in question. You can find a current Boston Globe story here.

The other Lexington-related story, and this is a tiny bit of a stretch, concerns the recent plagiarism of Raytheon CEO William Swanson. The story is Lexington-related because, until recently, the Raytheon corporate headquarters was located in Lexington (it has since been moved to the adjacent town of Waltham). Apparently Mr. Swanson distributed a booklet to hundreds of thousands of people called "Swanson's Unwritten Rules of Management", consisting of a series of 33 aphorisms. It turns out that at least 16 of the 33 aphorisms were copied from a 1944 book written by California engineering professor W. J. King. Swanson has acknowledged that the King's work was "not properly credited." You can read the Boston Globe story about the incident here. According to the May 3rd Boston Herald, "Raytheon Co.’s overseers today froze Chief Executive William Swanson’s salary and cut his stock perks to register the board of directors’ “deep concern” over his cribbing material from other sources for his own management booklet."

Does it seem like plagiarism is everywhere these days? I will say that on the blog sites that I visit, people seem to be painstakingly careful to reference (complete with links) anything that they write that comes from somewhere else. Guess the corporate world just isn't up to the same standards as the blogosphere. Sigh!

At least I haven't heard of any book-related scandals associated with The University of Texas at Austin, or The University of Massachusetts at Amherst, my other two alma maters.

Bookstore Treasure

I have a friend visiting me this week. We are mostly watching college basketball on TV, but we've also had two highly successful bookstore excursions. I thought that I would share my successes with you.

At M is for Mystery, an amazing mystery bookstore in San Mateo, CA I bought five books, three of them signed. Mostly these are adult mysteries, with one young adult novel thrown in for good measure.

  • RHYS BOWEN: Oh Danny Boy (Molly Murphy Mysteries). Signed! This is the fifth book in the Molly Murphy series, set in New York City in the summer of 1902. I'm partial to the sub-genre of historicals in which the main female character is ahead of her time in terms of independence. Molly works as a private investigator, is unmarried and without family, and generally takes care of herself (though she does have a police detective love interest to get her out of scrapes, too - this is also common to the genre).
  • HENNING MANKELL: Before the Frost. This is the first Kurt and Linda Wallander novel. I've read nearly all of the Kurt Wallander series (I missed one of the early ones, and will go back for it eventually). This is the first book of a spin-off series, featuring both Kurt and his daughter. These are marvelous police procedurals, set in Sweden (and written originally in Swedish). They are a bit dark and brooding, but the characters are complex and real, and the mysteries engaging. I like to take these books on trips because I know that I'll like them, and they are quite dense, so I can make one last cross-country. If you decide to read them, you should start with the first Kurt Wallander book, Faceless Killers. The standalone The Return of the Dancing Master is also compelling.
  • ELIZABETH IRONSIDE: Death in the Garden. Signed! Elizabeth Ironside is the pseudonym of Lady Catherine Manning, wife of the British Ambassador to the U.S. This is a British novel in which an overworked young attorney starts looking through her great-aunt's papers from sixty years earlier, and unravels a mystery concerning the murder of her aunt's husband. I've seen great reviews of this book, and look forward to reading it.
  • SCOTT WESTERFELD: Uglies. This is the first of a young adult series about a futuristic world in which people undergo plastic surgery, to become extremely beautiful, and anyone normal looking is considered ugly. I've been interested to check out the series, and will certainly let you know what I think once I have a chance to read the book. You can visit Scott Westerfeld's blog here.
  • And one that I can't name, because it's a surprise for my Mom.

At BookBuyers (used books) in Mountain View, CA I scored a set of the first six books (out of seven) in Jane Langton's Hall Family Chronicles. I wrote about this series back at the end of January, and have been meaning to go back and read them ever since. So I was quite pleased, while browsing in the used bookstore, to come across a nice paperback set, in good condition, of the first six books. I scooped them right up! Here is the list:

  1. The Diamond in the Window
  2. The Swing in the Summerhouse
  3. The Astonishing Stereoscope
  4. The Fledgling
  5. The Fragile Flag
  6. The Time Bike

All in all, a successful few days, bookwise. I have another trip coming up next week, so I should be able to get some good reading done then. Have a great weekend! -- Jen

"The Writer Speaks" Series: Franz Wisner

The Santa Clara City Library, in Santa Clara, California presents, as part of their "The Writer Speaks" series, Honeymoon with My Brother : A Memoir, a memoir by Franz Wisner. The talk will be held this Wednesday, February 22nd, at 7:00 p.m. in the library's Redwood Room. Here is the text from the library's flier about this talk: "Jilted by his fiancee a few days before the wedding, Franz took his brother Kurt on his honeymoon instead. Enjoying the vagabond life, they decided to quit their jobs and sell their homes. Hear about the brothers' adventures and the interesting characters they met during their two years traveling around the world. The Wisners appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show in September and December 2005. Please call the library Reference Desk at (408) 615-2900 to sign up for this free author event."

Recommendation: ... Libby Died by Jack Simon, Age 5

I just wrote about Mocking Birdies, by Annette Simon. I also read an older book, published in 2000, written by Annette's son Jack, age 5 (and illustrated by Annette). The rather lengthy title of the book is This Book Is for All Kids, but Especially My Sister Libby. Libby Died.. The book chronicles Jack's comments and questions to his mother after the death of his younger sister from a rare disorder. Despite the sad topic, the book is surprisingly upbeat and filled with humor, though it brought tears to my eyes, too.

Even more so than in Mocking Birdies, the fonts and colors and illustrations make the book really stand out. Some words are in a huge font, like shouting, while others whisper from a tiny font at the bottom of the page. Clever touches abound, like the question mark that has a picture of the Earth for the period beneath it (on a page with oversized text asking "In heaven, are you as big as you were on Earth?").

Jack's questions and observations range from the mundane ("And when you die, you don't even have food"), to the humorous, to the profound ("And when you die, you're set free"). Overall, the book is uplifting and positive. The Amazon reviews are all highly enthusiastic, too.

I think that this book could help any child to understand and deal with loss. Though the book is focused on the loss of a sibling, I think that it speaks to anyonewho has lost a parent or grandparent or other loved one. And I think that the simplicity and faith of Jack's responses will help adults, too. Which is a pretty remarkable achievement for a 5-year-old.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Some Recent Reads: Fun Kid's Books for Adults

I had a pretty good week of children's book reading last week. Here is a quick re-cap:

SUZANNE COLLINS: Gregor The Overlander (Underland Chronicles, Book 1) and Gregor The Overlander And The Prophecy Of Bane (Underland Chronicles). These were recommended to me by Kellye, a visitor to my website. They are about two kids who visit an underground world deep beneath New York City. This world is populated by violet-eyed humans, and giant, talking insects and rodents (cockroaches, bats, rats, and spiders).

To tell you the truth, I had heard about these books before, and the idea of reading about giant insects didn't inspire me. But I have to tell you that these are great books. They're about a mis-matched team of characters of different races going on a quest (shades of the Lord of the Rings, but in a much shorter, easier to digest story). They have to learn to get along, despite vast differences in mind-set and habits, and they face peril and adventure.

The two main characters, the Overlanders (who travel to the Underland) are 11-year-old Gregor and his 2-year-old sister Boots. Personally, I think that the books are worth reading for the character of Boots alone. Everything is an adventure for her, she greets each new person and experience with open arms, and she ends up being sort of a natural ambassador between humans, bats, and insects. She's like the personification of what Jason Kotecki is striving toward with his book Escape Adulthood (which I wrote about on Friday) - all of the good things about a childlike spirit.

The Underland Chronicles are quick, easy reads, with fairly wide spacing of the text. I can see why Kellye recommended them for kids having a bit of trouble moving up to longer books. However, they pack in a surprising amount of adventure, bravery, and betrayal, not to mention character development and the overcoming of prejudices. I recommend them highly.

PETER ABRAHMS: Down the Rabbit Hole : An Echo Falls Mystery (Echo Falls). I listened to this book on MP3 from Audible.com. It's about Ingrid, a curious 13-year-old girl who gets mixed up in the murder investigation of a quirky woman from her small town. The author mostly writes adult mysteries, but has four children, and it seems clear that they've given him perspective into what is and isn't cool in middle school.

What I like about this book is that it's a classic mystery, with a murder and clues and the main character figuring out who the killer is. This book was nominated for the Edgar Award for Young Adults (the book awards for mysteries), and I hope that it wins. I've seen lots of mysteries for younger kids, but not as many straightforward mysteries for the middle school set. This one includes a love interest for Ingrid, complicated by the fact that the boy's father is the police chief. There are also interesting dynamics going on with Ingrid's family in the book. Most of these are left unresolved, which gives me hope that other books in this series will be forthcoming. Overall, this is a great pick for older kids who love mysteries, without any fantasy elements.

MEG CABOT: The Princess Diaries (The Princess Diaries, Vol. 1). Darkest Hour (The Mediator, Book 4). What can I say? I love Meg Cabot's books. I think that she has a tremendous knack for getting inside the head of her characters, so that you feel like you know them. She also makes her characters regular people, even as she puts them in implausible situations (for example, in All-American Girl, the main characters, a teenaged girl, happens to save the President's life, and then starts dating his son). I read The Princess Diaries because I wanted to see how different it was from the movie. It is fairly different (set in New York instead of San Francisco, with a much meaner grandmother than Julie Andrews portrayed), but still fun. Darkest Hour is part of the Mediator series, about a girl who sees dead people, and has to help them resolve their issues, so that they can cross over to the other side (much like the TV series Ghost Whisperer, but with a teen-aged protagonist). Both books satisfied my Meg Cabot fix for the week, though I realize that they wouldn't be the right fare for everyone.

What have you been reading lately? Drop me a line if you'd like to chat. You can also see the lists of all of the books that I've read recently, and want to read, on my book list website. Happy Reading -- Jen

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Jane Langton's Hall Family Chronicles

My friend Alex emailed me yesterday, and she reminded me about Jane Langton's children's books. These were books that I loved as a kid, and had for some reason forgotten to add to my lists as an adult. The books are set in Concord, MA (near where I grew up), and they offer a nice mix of ordinary children solving mysteries, and mysterious and magical events.

The first book in the series, the Diamond in the Window, is the one that I remember best. It's about two children who discover a mysterious bedroom hidden away in their house, with the two empty beds of their aunt and uncle, who disappeared many years before as children. The modern-day children have to solve the mystery of what happened to the long-ago children, and bring them back if they can, by unraveling a series of clues. I know that I re-read this book in college and found that it held up well.

The family's adventures continue through a series of other books. I intend to go back to re-read them now (though I have to admit that there are a lot of other books on my list, too). Here's the complete list, in order:

  1. The Diamond in the Window
  2. The Swing in the Summerhouse
  3. The Astonishing Stereoscope
  4. The Fledgling
  5. The Fragile Flag
  6. The Time Bike
  7. The Mysterious Circus

The last two are much newer than the others, and I haven't read them at all. These books are targeted towards the 9 to 12 age range, but they do offer plenty of food for adult thought, too (references to transcendentalism, for example). Jane Langton also writes a well-regarded mystery series for adults, the Homer Kelly series, also set in Concord. If you have time to check these books out, I hope that you'll let me know what you think! -- Jen

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© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. 

My Personal Classic Books

The book The Little Guide to your Well-Read Life by Steve Leveen (see my article about this book) includes the concept of developing your own personal list of classics. As I see it, you own classics are the books that you expect to re-read at regular intervals for the rest of your life. This list will be unique for every individual. Here is a first pass at my list (as of January 21, 2006):

Adult Books:

  • JANE AUSTEN: Pride and Prejudice. My absolute favorite of the traditional classics. I find new humor in it every time I read it (I've also listened on MP3).
  • CHARLOTTE BRONTE: Jane Eyre. I read this book when I was really too young for it, but bonded with it nevertheless.
  • GEORGETTE HEYER: Frederica and The Grand Sophy, among others. These books are Regency romances written by a master of the genre. They are also wonderful comfort books, in which you can count on things ending happily ever after, once the requisite trials have been overcome. They also have a lot of humor, once you accustom yourself to the brand of humor, similar to Jane Austen.
  • STEPHEN KING: The Stand : Expanded Edition: For the First Time Complete and Uncut. I realize that this isn't what most people would consider a classic, but I love it, and I get the urge to re-read it every 3 or 4 years.
  • CAROL O'CONNELL: Mallory's Oracle (Kathleen Mallory Novels). The first book in the Mallory series. I don't normally re-read mysteries, and so they don't make it onto my classics list. The characterization in this series is so amazing, however, and the plots so complex, that I can read them over and over again. My favorite in the series is Stone Angel
  • AYN RAND: Atlas Shrugged. This book changed the way I look at the world.
  • D. E. STEVENSON: Listening Valley and Celia's House, among others. These are my comfort books, reminding me that stories can have happy endings. They are all set in England and Scotland before, during and after WWII, and are gentle family stories, and romances that end with marriage and children.

Children's Books:

I hope that this list inspires you to think about what comprises your classics list. If you feel like sharing, I would love to hear about it. Happy Reading! -- Jen

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© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Leave Me Alone I'm Reading: More About Mysteries

Earlier this month I wrote a short article as I was starting to read Maureen Corrigan's Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading : Finding and Losing Myself in Books. Ms. Corrigan is a book critic for NPR's Fresh Air, and is a lifelong "obsessive reader". I finished the book on my way home to San Jose from Boston (the one bright spot of a long and delay-filled trip). Some chapters resonated more with me than others, but overall I enjoyed the book a lot, and found it very well-written. Here are a few specific thoughts.

My favorite chapter of the book is Chapter 2, in which Ms. Corrigan describes her discovery of the hard-boiled detective novel. When she started reading detective novels, she was particularly pleased to see women emerge as brave and resourceful and taking action. She also liked reading detective novels because they were about work, with capable and self-directed people who solve actual problems. She writes: "Hard-boiled detective fiction, more than almost every other kind of novel that's followed Robinson Crusoe in the Anglo-American tradition, attempts to return us to Defoe's enclosed circle of normalcy where our greatest pleasure, as readers, arises out of watching a pro at work" (emphasis mine).

I'm not sure that I would go back and read Robinson Crusoe again, but I do think that there's is something to this notion of enjoying mysteries because they are about a pro at work, doing something important. My favorite mysteries are about private investigators and police detectives, both of whom certainly qualify as pros. I've never much warmed to the hapless variant of mysteries, in which amateurs stumble upon a solution. Perhaps this is why.

One other concept that I liked out of Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading is the idea that "you find the books you need when you need them -- even if they're not the books you start out thinking you need." I have certainly found this to be true, although I think that it stems partially from the fact that if you are really looking to find something, you can find it in many places. For instance, I got a lot recently out of reading Never Eat Alone : And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time, and I think that everyone should read it. But I also think that I read it at a time when I was especially receptive to what it had to say (see my review of Never Eat Alone). But perhaps that's exactly Ms. Corrigan's point. In her case, finding the right books at the right time led her to "a career in which I could make a living talking about all kinds of books to a wide range of people." In my own case, the books that I'm reading right now are leading me to refine my own mission, to make the world a better place by helping children to grow up with the opportunity to love books. Happy Reading -- Jen

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© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.