Thursday, December 18, 2008

Victorian Reading Challenge

Another one I just can't resist signing up for. All the details for this challenge can be found at the Victorian Challenge Blog
There are a few levels of this challenge to choose from and I am picking A Drink at Whitechapel, which means I am signing up to read 3 books.
My Book choices are:
-Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
-Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
-Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Brooklyn Bridge

Title: Brooklyn Bridge
Author: Karen Hesse
Genre: Juvenile Fiction
Pages: 229
Date Finished: 16 November
My Rating: 3 Stars

I've been sitting on this book for awhile for many reasons, one of them being that I could not figure out what I wanted to say about it.
Joseph Mitchom is a 14 year old living in Brooklyn in 1903. The son of Russian immigrants his life changes, for what he considers the worse, when his parents invent the teddy bear, close their popular candy shop and turn their apartment into a bear making factory. All Joseph really wants is to go to Coney Island but his parent's are too busy making bears to take him. The main story of Joseph and his family is contrasted with the stories of children who are living under the Brooklyn Bridge and a mysterious ghost who haunts them.
In the authors note found in the back of the book Karen Hesse wrote "Brooklyn Bridge is one writer's musing on what it might have been like in the early twentieth century to sometimes have too little, sometimes too much, and sometimes, to have it just right. "
The kids under the bridge obviously have too little and were juxtaposed against Joseph's story, showing that he really did not have it all that bad, despite all the changes he'd been experiencing.
Hesse has written a really great story with lots of layers, feeling and amazing attention to details of the period. I feel like I should have loved this book or at least really liked it but I just never got into it. The story of the kids under the bridge and the eventual connection to Joseph and his family just did not connect with me. The story lines I enjoyed the most were actually about Joseph's aunts and I would have loved to read more about them.
I think maybe I'll try and read this again sometime down the road and see how I feel about it then.

America 1908

Title: America 1908
Author: Jim Rasenberger
Genre: Historical Non-fiction
Date Finished: 13 November 2008
My Rating: 4 Stars

One of my favorite time periods to study and read about is the turn of the 20th century through World War I. There was just so much going on and changing during this time period and I find it all very interesting. So when I saw the title of this book it naturally jumped out at me. A whole book about the year 1908? What exactly happened in 1908 to constitute a whole book being written about it? Quite a lot, it turns out.
Rasenberger chronicles the year from the first New Year's Eve ball drop in Times Square to the Great White Fleet, the New York to Paris automobile race (what a farce!), to anarchists in New York and both Cook and Peary reaching the North Pole and each making claims of being the first one there. The Wright brothers (love those boys!) made great strides with the airplane but the first person also died in an airplane wreck in 1908. President Roosevelt served his last term as president and backed Taft as the republican candidate. There was a huge (and sickening) race riot in Springfield, Illinois that would lead to the founding of the NAACP. There was also some crazy baseball played in 1908 and Henry Ford introduced the Model T, which would open the world of automobiles to the masses.
So, yeah, I guess enough happened to warrant an entire book being written. However, on the same note, I think someone could sit down and read the newspaper archives from the New York Times, just as Rasenberger did, for any year and probably come up with enough material to write a book. A lot happened and it was an interesting year to read about but I don't think it was a pivotal as Rasenberger would have the reader believe.
Rasenberger relied heavily on newspapers for his research and it often felt like I was reading newspaper accounts of the events. I also wish Rasenberger would have realized that America is much bigger than New York City. It would have been nice to get some more perspective from people living elsewhere in the country. Maybe a better title would have been New York 1908 because while the events do not all happen in New York there is a very heavy New York slant to the book.
A good, well paced book none the less. It managed to keep me occupied while I sat in a hospital waiting room for several hours. I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about history.

One of the stories in the book that I thought was really interesting was the New York to Paris automobile race. It showed that people did not really understand the nature of the world around them or the capabilities of this relatively new invention. I thought the whole race was pretty farcical myself. The route had to be changed a number of times because the automobiles were unable to go where they had planned and they had to have horses pull the automobiles on a number of occasions. The winning team won on a technicality, not even being the first to cross the finish line. Then I found this website and video that paints the race as this incredible awe-inspiring event. They are apparently planning on recreating the race. That should be interesting.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

In an Instant

Title: In an Instant: A Family's Journey of Love and Healing
Author: Lee and Bob Woodruff
Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Date Finished: 6 November 2008
My Rating: 4 Stars

After receiving several positive recommendations from friends about this book, I decided to pick up a copy at the library. In 2006 we were living in an apartment without any TV reception, so I had never heard about or seen any of the news coverage about what had happened to Bob Woodruff in Iraq. While reading I realized this had apparently been a big story that I knew nothing about at all.
In January 2006, shortly after being named co-anchor of ABC's World News Tonight, Bob Woodruff was embedded with a military unit in Iraq when an IED went off near the tank he was riding in. Woodruff suffered a traumatic brain injury and nearly died. In an Instant, tells the story not only of Woodruff's injury and recovery but also chronicles his early career, marriage and family.
I liked the movement in time and perspective, moving in time from Lee and Bob in the hospital after the explosion to the past, parts of the story being told by Bob and others by his wife, Lee. I especially enjoyed reading about their experiences in China during the Tiananmen Square incident. I have vague memories of my family watching news stories about it at the time it occurred and reading the Woodruff's experiences prompted me to learn and read more about what had happened there.
It was interesting to read about the strides the military has made in treating traumatic brain injuries and all that our military doctors and nurses are able to do now that they were unable to do previously. While, there is still a lot that can and should be done for those suffering from these injuries, there have been some major advances in recent years. It is sad that they have had to make these advances out of necessity due to the number of soldiers who are receiving head injuries in Iraq and other areas. I found it somewhat ironic that if Woodruff had suffered the same injuries in the States he probably would not have survived but out in the Iraqi desert, miles from any hospital, the odds were in his favor.
I really did enjoy reading this account and found Lee Woodruff's story even more interesting than her husbands at times. I suppose that is because I can try and imagine myself in a similar role as a wife and mother and wonder how I would react. It was fascinating to read about how Lee dealt and coped with her husband's injuries.
In an Instant was a really interesting read.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dewey's Books Challenge

This is a special challenge that I knew I wanted to sign up for no matter how many other challenges I've already committed to.
The book blogging community was recently saddened by the death of one the most prolific, most creative, most friendly, and just all around one of the best book bloggers, Dewey from The Hidden Side of a Leaf.
This challenge has been set up to honor and remember Dewey by reading books that she reviewed on her blog. I am committing to read 5 books from Dewey's archives. I have not had a chance to pursue all her archives yet and decide which books I want to read but I will list them here once I do.
Details about the challenge can be found here.

Books Read for the Challenge:
1. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
2. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Numbers Challenge

The challenge is to read 5 books whose titles have a number in them from Jan 1, 2009 to August 1, 2009. This includes written numbers like 'one' and numbers like 10th or first.

Books read for this challenge:
-One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes
-The Five Bells and Bladebone by Martha Grimes
-84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Haff
-The Two Mrs. Abbotts by D.E. Stevenson
-Two People by AA Milne

Sign up at the Numbers Challenge Blog

Art History Reading Challenge

Do you love art? Do you love reading about art? Join The Art History Reading Challenge and challenge yourself to read at least 6 books about art in 2009. These can be either fiction or nonfiction, and can span every genre from historical fiction to graphic novel.

The books I am thinking I'll read:
The Forger's Spell by Edward Dolnick
Keeping the World Away by Margaret Forster
Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland
Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland
Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman
Lust for Life by Irving Stone

Books Read:
-Posters for the People: Art of the WPA by Ennis Carter

War Through the Generations:WWII

I looked over my TBR list and found 20 books dealing with WWII. I am going to list the 6 closest to the top of the list but I could end up using some other books for the challenge.

The Irregulars by Jennet Conant
The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman
Brothers in Battle by William "Wild Bill" Guarnere and Edward "Babe" Heffron
We Band of Angels by Elizabeth M. Norman
To See You Again by Betty Schimmel
Fiet's Vase by Alison Leslie Gold

Visit the War Through the Generations Reading Challenge Blog to get to scoop on how this challenge will work.

Books read for the Challenge:
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes
Saplings by Noel Streatfield
The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman
The Magic of Ordinary Days by Ann Howard Creel
The Journal of Helene Berr by Helene Berr

American Civil War Reading Challenge

This one really appealed to me as soon as I read about it but I wasn't sure if I could squeeze 12 books onto my reading list that are genre specific. I'm going to go ahead and sign up and we'll see how it goes.
Rules and sign ups can be found at Marney's Reading Challenges Blog.

Books will go here as I read them:
1. Lincoln: A Photobiography
2. Behind Rebel Lines by Seymour Reit
3. Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Read-Aloud Handbook

Title: The Read-Aloud Handbook, 6th edition
Author: Jim Trelease
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 340
Date Finished: 3 November 2008
My Rating: 5 Stars

I really liked this book because it re-enforced many of my thoughts and feelings on reading to kids and early childhood education. Namely,
-Read to your children!! And let them see you reading for pleasure. My kids are read to multiple times a day and they see me spend a lot of time reading on my own. They both love books and can often be found sitting on the floor surrounded by books.-Have a print friendly home.
My kids love books because they have been surrounded by them since birth. When I say surrounded I mean it. There are books everywhere in our house. On the tables, under the tables, on the couches, under the couches, on beds, under beds, on the bookshelves and scattered all over the floor in front of the bookshelves. There are books everywhere!-The best preschool is reading to your kids. Every morning my 3 year old and I do preschool at home. There is a shelf of "school" books that he picks from and we read until he says he is done. No drilling, no exercises, just reading. Sometimes I will put together a little activity but most mornings it is just reading.
Trelease cited some great studies that show drilling and pushing kids to read too early is not helpful in the long run. By 3rd grade they are on the same level as kids who did not start learning to read until kindergarten. And often the ones who are drilled and pushed too early come to have negative feelings towards reading and school.
My son is showing signs of early reading and while I encourage him, I do not push him. He is setting the pace.
One noteworthy fact is that the nation with the best readers does not begin to formally teach reading until age 7.-There is way to much focus on standardized testing in the United States. (Don't even get me started on that topic!)
-Kids can listen to and comprehend much more than they can read. I am reading chapter books to my 3 year old. Trelease includes a great read-aloud treasury with titles and recommended age groups in the second half of the book.-Read-alouds and sustained silent reading go hand in hand. Once a child does start to read they need to read silently on their own.
I was sitting in my reading chair with a book recently when my son climbed up with one of his books and sat quietly turning pages while I read. Setting an early foundation, I hope.-Don't stop reading to your kids when they start to read. I plan to continue reading aloud with my kids for many, many years to come.

The book also contained many tips and suggestions for reluctant or struggling readers.
The book was a little repetitive at times but otherwise, an excellent book that I highly recommend every parent read.
The best thing you can do for your kids? Read to them.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Book Stacks

Currently Reading
The Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick. I've been reading this for weeks but only because I let other books sneak in and steal my attention away from this one. It is actually very good and I should finish it this weekend.

Reading Next
: I've got 4 books that I have to finish this month for challenges. Thankfully they are all fairly short so it should not be too difficult even with all the holiday festivities.
To finish up the YA Reading Challenge:
What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart.

For the Decades Challenge:
Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell

I am looking forward to starting 2009 with The Irregulars, a book about Roald Dahl as a British Spy during WWII and One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes.
So much to read...

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Trouble Begins at 8

Title: The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the the Wild, Wild West
Author: Sid Fleischman
Genre: Juvenile Non-Fiction, Biography
Date Finished: 30 October 2008
My Rating: 3

I was browsing the new non-fiction titles in the children's section at the library, looking for any books about penguins or dinosaurs that might interest my 3 year old when this book caught my attention. The book itself, the size, cover, photographs and illustrations were appealing and I was curious to read a biography about Mark Twain that was written for children.
Writing a biography about Mark Twain can't be an easy task, especially one aimed at young children. Twain did not exactly leave a lot of reliable material about his early years behind. And then, how do you capture the humor and wit of Mark Twain in such a way to make it appealing to your audience?
I thought Fleischman crafted a fun and witty look at Twain's life including the events that shaped his early works of non-fiction, er, fiction, or wait, are they fiction or non-fiction? Roughing It and The Innocents Abroad. Fleischman's style often seemed to channel Twains style of witty and tongue-in-cheek humor, which only seemed befitting and the best way to make a biography about Mark Twain appealing to a young audience.
The numerous illustrations and photographs throughout were a little poorly placed but added a great deal to the text.

We'll stick with the books about penguins and dinosaurs for my son for now and come back to this one when he is a few years older. :-)

Friday Finds

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County
After reading Trish's Review of this book I had to add it to my list.

Impossible by Nancy Werlin

Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Red Leather Diary

Title: The Red Leather Diary
Author: Lily Koppel
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography
Pages: 321
Date Finished:26 October 2008
My Rating: 1

The premise of this book is so promising. Lily Koppel finds an old diary of Florence Wolfson's from the early 1930s in a dumpster, reads it, tracks down Florence and then writes about it. How intriguing, right? Unfortunately, this book was very poorly executed. The story was very disjointed, moving back and forth in time so much, even within a single paragraph that I had no idea what was going on or how old Florence was half the time. On one hand this book was very descriptive but on the other it was very boring.
I also just could not get myself to care about spoiled and self-indulgent Florence or her exploits with both men and women. I had to push myself to finish this one.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Mr. Darcy's Diary

Title: Mr. Darcy's Diary
Author: Amanda Grange
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 329
Date Finished: 19 Oct 2008
My Rating: 3 Stars

In Mr. Darcy's Diary Amanda Grange has attempted to give us the events of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy's point of view through diary entries. In so doing Grange has created a quick and mildly entertaining read.
I did not feel that Grange really added much to Mr. Darcy that we did not already know from Pride and Prejudice. I think the best Darcy is the one Jane Austen herself gave us and Grange lifted large chunks of Austen's novel and inserted them into this retelling.
I often found Darcy's character to be a bit flat and tedious. His feelings for Elizabeth kept somersaulting back and forth. One page he is determined he would no longer think of Elizabeth and then the next page was all about Elizabeth, followed by another passage where Darcy would state that he was glad he was no longer thinking about Elizabeth. I suppose the author was doing this in order to show just how infatuated by Elizabeth he was, even if he was not admitting it to himself. The frequent repeating of this sequence just got tedious.
The other tedious bit was the over use of the word satirical, especially towards the end of the novel. Nobody could say anything to Darcy without him receiving a satirical look from Elizabeth. I was ready to hurl the book every time I read the word.
I did really enjoy Grange's treatment of some of the more minor Pride and Prejudice characters, particularly Georgiana Darcy and Anne De Bourgh, in fact the treatment of Anne De Bourgh was probably my favorite part of the book.
Overall, the book was enjoyable but after reading books like these I just want to re-read, once again, Austen's original work.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Title: Savvy
Author: Ingrid Law
Genre: Juvenile
Pages: 342
Date Finished:18 Oct 2008
My Rating: 5 Stars

This book pretty much enchanted me from start to finish.
"Settling directly between Nebraska and Kansas in a little place all our own, just off Highway 81, we were well beyond hollering distance from the nearest neighbor, which was the best place to be for a family like ours.
"Monday through Wednesday, we called our thin stretch of land Kanaska. Thursday through Saturday, we called it Nebransas. On Sundays, since that was the Lord's Day, we called it nothing all, out of respect for His creating our world without the lines already drawn on its face like all my grandpa's wrinkles."

Savvy is the story of Mibs Beaumont, who on the eve of her 13th birthday is waiting to discover what her savvy will be. Her Grandfather can move the earth, one of her brothers can create storms and the other creates electricity, while her mother does everything perfect (she even makes perfect mistakes.) After Mibs' father ends up in the intensive care unit following a car accident, Mibs wakes up on her birthday convinced that she has discovered her savvy and that it will wake up her father.
In order to get to her father in the hospital Mibs stows away on the pink bus of a bible deliveryman and is joined by a whole cast of fun and original characters including her brothers, Fish and Samson and the pastor's kids. The group winds up taking an unexpected and unforgettable adventure across Kansas and Nebraska.
I loved Mibs. I loved how determined yet unsure of herself she was. I loved her brother Fish and the way he looked out for his sister. All the characters in this book were just so wacky yet so lovable.
I thought this book was just utterly imaginative, unique and fun with lots of adventure and laughs thrown in as well. Law's writing just makes this book roll along at an engaging clip and kept me reading in the wee hours of the night.
I adored Savvy, want to read it again and highly recommend this book for preteen girls (or anyone who likes a really fun read).

November Reading Review

I am so behind on reviews right now. I have not even finished October's reviews yet and it is December. I am going to put lots of effort into getting caught up this month so I can get all my 2008 books done before 2009 comes rolling in.

Books read
in November: 7
Total pages read in November: 1759
Yearly book count: 79

Juvenile Fiction:
Brooklyn Bridge by Karen Hesse

YA Fiction:
Paper Towns by John Green
Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

Adult Fiction:
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

Adult Non-Fiction:
The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease
In an Instant by Lee and Bob Woodruff
America 1908 by Jim Rasenberger

Books Abandoned:
Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson
My curiosity about this book got the best of me. It was not poorly written so much as the story just did not pull me in. I think L.M. Montgomery told us everything we need to know about Anne before she came to Green Gables.

Ongoing Reads:
I started reading Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens this month. I would like to finish it by the end of the year but I know that won't happen. I am only about 100 pages into this 900+ page book. I might even set it aside and start back up again after the busy holiday season is over.

November Challenge Update
A Daring Book Challenge
9 books between 6/15/08 and 6/15/09: 0/9
Ongoing Challenge (to read the whole list): 28

A to Z Reading Challenge: 39/52
Not going to make it with this one. It was fun but I took the attitude of if it fits I'll use it and did not go out of my way to find books or authors that start with certain letters.

Decades Challenge 2008: 6/8
I still plan on finishing this one and have two books picked out to read this month.

Young Adult Reading Challenge: 10/12
Also finishing this one up this month.

Fall into Reading: 19/22
Only 3 more books to read in order to meet my goal of 22 books.

2009 Challenges: I've signed up for 10 challenges for 2009. I have my reading lists all made up and if I can actually stick to my lists I should be able to finish all 10 challenges and even make a dent in some of the perpetual challenges I've signed up for. Of course, sticking to my planned list is something I have a very difficult time doing.