March in Review

I know I will say this every month, but wow March went by fast. Doesn’t it feel like it was just New Year’s Eve? How are we already a quarter of the way through the year?

March had it’s ups and downs in terms of blogging and life. I only read two books this month, and listened to three. Unfortunately, I was pretty distracted due to work related issues which made it difficult to read as much as I would have liked. However, I did write more blog entries than I have in previous months which is a trend I hope to continue.  Here are the books I read/listened to:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Little Bee were my favorites for the month, both being really good reads. I did give up on a book this month, which is rare, although I might go back to it. The book is Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin. It’s non fiction and really interesting, but fiction just kept calling me and putting this book on hold. Maybe I will finish it in April. We shall see.

One of the most interesting literary things done with month was here Lionel Shriver speak. It definitely inspired me to look into hearing more authors speak.

I looking forward to lots of good reading in April. I have spring break coming up next week so hopefully I will have lots of quality reading time. Right now I am reading Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn and next up is Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann. In the audio book world I am going to start with City of Thieves by David Benioff then possibly on to The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood.

How was your March?

Little Bee

Book: Little Bee

Author: Chris Cleave

Short Summary:
“Little Bee”, a girl from Nigeria, is freed from a detention center in England. She a makes her way to the home of Sarah and Andrew, a couple Little Bee had encountered on a beach during a tragic day in Nigeria a few years before. As their friendship grows, the reader hears the voice of both Little Bee and Sarah in alternating chapters. We learn much about the lives of the Nigerian teen and English woman and how their lives become intertwined.

My Thoughts:
This was without a doubt the best narration I have heard of an audio book. I don’t think I would have liked the book nearly as much had I just read it instead of listened to it. The narrator did the voice of both the Nigerian teenager, Little Bee, and the English woman, Sarah, so brilliantly. The voices were so distinct and helped to add life to the story. The subtle humor in the book also really shined through the narrator’s voice. If you are going to read this book, I highly recommend the audio version.

This book pulled me in right away. I think a lot of it had to do with the narration, but the writing itself was very well done as well. I quickly fell in love with both the characters of Little Bee and Sarah, but I think the star of the book was Batman, AKA Charlie, Sarah’s son. Again, I’m not sure if it was due to the narration of his voice or how his character was written, but I wanted to take him out of the book and claim him as my own.

A big theme of this book was good and evil, right and wrong. Charlie, a four-year old who was always dressed in his batman costume, saw the world in terms of goodies and baddies. Through Sarah and Little Bee, along with Sarah’s husband Andrew and lover Lawrence, we see that there is quite a grey area. I felt this was well demonstrated throughout.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book. I think it would make a great book club choice, with many topics of discussion. There is friendship, murder, suicide, immigration, war, and a glitzy magazine all wrapped up into this one little gem.

My Rating: 4.25/5 stars

So Much For That

Book: So Much For That

Author: Lionel Shriver

Short Summary:
Shep Knacker was ready to leave it all behind; the company he sold years ago yet still works for, the worries and annoyances of everyday life, and even his wife Glynis, if she chose not to follow him to the remote island of Pemba. Shep had been saving for his getaway he affectionately called “The Afterlife” for years. However, everything changed when Glynis announced that she had an aggressive form of cancer. The book follows the marriage of Shep and Glynis as she “battles” cancer and he pays for it literally and figuratively yet never leaves her side. It also takes us into the lives of the Knackers’ closest friends, Jackson and Carol, who have health problems of their own to deal with. This book takes a deep look not only into these characters’ lives, but how the American health care system has played a major part in them.

My Thoughts:
While I thought this book was good, it just didn’t do it for me the way the other Shriver books I’ve read have. I can’t actually pin point what was lacking in this book either. I don’t think it was the characters. Shriver has a way of writing characters that just pop off the page and come to life. Each character had qualities that were highly irritating, yet I found myself feeling sympathy and some kind of connection with each one of them.

It might have been the story itself. Being about sickness, this book obviously didn’t have a very happy theme, although there was still some humor weaved in. At times there were a few too many statistics and information about the health care system thrown in via one of Jackson’s crazy rants. For the most part this was done well, but once in a while it felt a little bit unrealistic.

The health care system in the US is obviously a big concern for everyone who lives here and has been in the news non stop. I, for one, am anxious to see what changes the new bill will truly bring about, and I’m hoping it’s some positive ones. This book definitely showed the hardships of being sick in this country and how much it can cost, again both literally and figuratively. The one question asked on the flap of this book was “How much is one life worth?” This book does take the time to help the reader evaluate this question.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, but didn’t love it. It was very well written and the topic was very relevant if you are living in the US. If you aren’t, I can see how you may become uninterested, as some other bloggers not living here have mentioned. If you are new to Shriver’s work, I would recommend The Post-Birthday World and We Need To Talk About Kevin before I would recommend this one.

My Rating: 3.75/5 stars

New vs. Used Books

As I opened my homepage today, msn.com, there was an article entitled “10 Things to Never Buy New”. And guess what number one was? You got it…books!

There reasoning for not buying new books was that they rarely get read more than once and you can find them for a fraction of the price at a used bookstore, garage sale, or online.

I must admit, buying books is like a drug to me. I don’t like to shop. Shopping for clothes is a little bit like torture. Shoes, jewlery, and bags just don’t do it for me. But a new book…ahhh. It’s like heaven.

I don’t read nearly as much as some of the book bloggers out there, but since I started blogging my reading has increased significantly. I have started to buy books at used bookstores more often, but it’s just not quite the same as the high I get from the brand new book. The book that I am the first person who gets to break open the spine of. The book whose wonders I am first to discover. Yes, I love new books.

I don’t take advantage of this wonderful thing called The Library. I get all my audio books online from the library, but never the books I’m reading. I pay taxes and should take advantage of this free service, but alas, I don’t.

One thing I do with my new books is lend them out. People where I work call me their book dealer. I always have something new to pass along or recommend. I love introducing people to a new book and being able to discuss it with them. I used to be picky about lending out my books, but I’ve gotten over it. If only I charged for lending these books out, I would be raking in the dough. (Hmmmm…idea on the horizon?)

So, how about you? What do you think of buying new vs. used books? Do you use your library or borrow books from friends? Do you lend out your books or are you protective of them? I’d love to hear your book buying habits.

Here is the article from MSN http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/FindDealsOnline/10thingsYouShouldntBuyNew.aspx

Not My Daughter

Book: Not My Daughter

Author: Barbara Delinsky

Short Summary:
Susan Tate was a single mother at 17. Shunned from her family, she moved out to Maine to start a life for herself and her daughter, Lily. 17 years later, when Lily announces that she is pregnant, Susan, now the principal of the local high school, is stunned. It is soon revealed that two of Lily’s best friends, Mary Kate and Jess, are pregnant as well. The girls, all good students and role models in the school, entered into a pregnancy pact. They had the idea it would be a good idea to go through pregnancy and raise their children together. Being in a position of authority and someone the people of the town view as a role model, Susan’s character and position as a mother is being scrutinized. Throughout the story, Susan struggles to be a good mother, accept Lily’s pregnancy, and deal with a town that is turning their backs on her.

My Thoughts:
I listened to the audio version of this book, and it made for a light, easy listen on the way to work. The plot was very easy to follow and the writing at times seemed simplistic, yet enjoyable.

I really liked the character of Susan. She was a strong woman, good educator, and caring mother put into a very difficult position. She had the tough job of defending her daughter, her actions as a mother, and maintain her position as high school principal, all while trying to keep her sanity. I admired her struggle and how she handled herself throughout it.

Lily, however, annoyed the hell out of me. Her friends, Mary Kate and Jess did as well. I was interested in learning what would drive teenage girls into something like a pregnancy pact, but I’m not sure the story answered this question. These girls were just plain foolish about being mothers, which I found inconsistent with their characters who were all good students and never had any trouble in school. Sometimes listening to their reasons for wanting to be teenage moms just made me cringe and wonder if I was that naive as a teenager.

The one big question asked throughout the story was “What makes a good mother?” This is not an easy question and there is no easy answer. Susan loved her daughter, taught her well, and cared for her. Still Lily wound up pregnant, just as Susan had been at 17. Does her daughter getting pregnant make her a bad mother? Should she have watched Lily every second or trusted that she raised her to make intelligent choices? Is someone whose own daughter gets pregnant capable of running a high school full of impressionable teens? These are all questions to ponder while reading this story.

I would recommend this book. It may not be the best piece of literature ever written, but it certainly raised important questions and ones that could lead to long, in-depth discussions.

My Rating: 3.75/5 stars

And The Winner Is…

Thanks to everyone who entered for a chance to win my personal copy of Cutting For Stone.

The winner, chosen by Random.org, is#2….Amused by Books!

Congrats and Enjoy!

I will be doing more giveaways soon!!!

Julie

Grad School Books Worth Reading

It’s been a little bit of a slow week in terms of reading. I’m not sure how wide the news coverage is nation wide, but here in Illinois, teacher jobs are being cut left and right due to lack of government funding. Unfortunately, I’ve been affected by this and have had a hard time focusing on reading or audio books because there is so much else on my mind.

Since I’ve been distracted from reading, I thought I would take an entry to revisit some books I’ve read in the past. I had to read plenty for grad school, mostly boring articles and text books. I did, however, have a few opportunities to read some excellent books that I never would have read had they not been assigned to me. I got my masters in Special Education, but these books are worth the read for anyone interested in reading about culture, literacy, overcoming hardship, and forming relationships.  Here are mini reviews of a few of them:

Push by Sapphire

Way before all the hype came along for the movie Precious (which I have not seen), my untraditional grad school teacher assigned us this book for my critical literacy class. This was a class about giving a voice to those who usually don’t have one. Push is that kind of book. It is about a girl named Precious who has been sexually abused by both her parents and has one baby by her father and another on the way. With a little help she gets into a program and meets a teacher who teaches her not only how to read and write, but how to express and empower herself by doing so. Although hard to stomach at time, it was also inspirational and showed the true power of an education.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Ann Fadiman

I can’t actually remember which class I read this one for, but the book and the discussions my class had on it have stuck with me. Lia Lee, a Hmong child living in California, is diagnosed with severe epilepsy. Hmongs living in America are refugees from Laos. I have actually never heard of this group of people until I did my student teaching in Madison, WI where there is a large Hmong population and there were a few Hmong students in my class. In the book, Lia’s family clash with the doctors trying to care for Lia in terms of cultural ideas and what is best for her. The book alternates, every other chapter being about Lia’s situation and the others about Hmong culture in general. This book was truly an educational experience for me, helped me to learn about a different culture, and how damaging a clash in cultures, even ones with a common goal, can be.

One Child by Torey Hayden

This book was haunting, especially since it is a true story. Just like Push, it was hard to read at times, but turned out to be worth the read. Sheila was a child that nobody wanted. She was abandoned by her parents and committed an act of violence that many would think unforgivable. Sheila was placed in a class of special education students with teacher Torey Hayden. Very slowly she opened up to Torey and came out of her shell. This did not happen overnight and it was certainly not an easy transition. Torey’s patience for this child is beyond commendable. She took on a child that nobody in the world would go near, and got her to open her heart and slowly start to move beyond her horrific past. Torey saw something in Sheila that nobody else took the time to see, and it turned out that Sheila was full of potential.

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

I’ve mentioned this in my blog before, right after the earthquake in Haiti took place. In this book Tracy Kidder follows Paul Farmer, a doctor who has devoted his life to bringing assistance and medicine to poor nations. He travels to places such as Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia. In these places, Farmer meets the people and helps to change their practices and views of medicine. Partners in Health is the organization that Farmer has helped to found, and it has been a huge fundraiser in this time of great need for Haiti. This book was assigned to me for a research class and was meant to show  how qualitative and quantitative methods of research were used in the book, but I won’t bore you with more of that. Basically, it was just a good book, so read it!

So there you have it. I would definitely be lying if I told you I enjoyed grad school, but at least I got to read a few good books.

In other news, I love the NCAA tournament and am running the pool at my school for the fourth year in a row. The Wisconsin Badgers have one their first game and hopefully will go all the way. (Maybe wishful thinking, but not impossible!)

Go Badgers!

Bucky Badger!