Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Sunday Salon: October in Review

Books Read in October
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian: (Sherman Alexie) I haven't reviewed this one yet but it was fantastic.
The Girl Who Stopped Swimming: (Joshilyn Jackson) I have about 2 chapters left in this one, and I stayed up way too late last night reading it!
Arctic Homestead: (Norma Cobb) The journey of a homesteading family in Alaska.
Breath, Eyes, Memory: (Edwidge Dandicat) Three generations of Haitian women battle tradition and painful memories.
Like Water for Chocolate: (Laura Esquival) Food, romance, magical realism—a fun book of the power of love and food.

Favorite Book of the Month
I think it's going to be Sherman Alexie's autiobiographical, young adult novel. Absolutely loved it.

Books Read to the Kids
The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis

Up Next
When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Movies From Books Watched
The Last Song (don't judge me! I watched it with my teen-aged daughter, and I got a little weepy!)

Books Added to My Ever-Growing TBR List
Barefoot in Baghdad by Manal M. Omar (reviewed at Bookworm's Dinner)
Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (Reviewed at S. Krishna's Books)
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok (Reviewed at Books and Movies)
Same Kind of Different As Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore (recommended by a friend while waiting in a funeral line and by Stray Thoughts)
A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay
Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (recommended at Musings)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Book Review: Arctic Homestead

I've had Arctic Homestead on my TBR list for years and finally got it through Paperback Swap several months ago. This is Norma Cobb's true story of homesteading in Alaska with her husband and five kids in the 1970s.

I'll admit to a fascination—not quite an obsession—with books about homesteading in Alaska. I'm not sure why; I truly don't think I have a hidden desire to survive in the wilderness, although taking a six-month sabbatical would be awesome. I loved Mrs. Mike and Into the Wild. I wasn't crazy about Jean Aspen's Arctic Son, and Cobb's Arctic Homestead was more reminiscent of Aspen's narrative. But Norma Cobb is (for the most part) a more cheerful narrator, whereas Aspen was annoying and whiny.

That said, I also found Cobb to be a completely unreliable narrator, mostly because of the stories of the family's relationships with other homesteaders or casual visitors. She is utterly paranoid and quick to point out other's faults. Norma and Lester were always right in whatever actions they took, and the "others" were always wrong, crazy, and/or sissies. Somehow that just didn't ring true to me.

Still, if you are reading this for the spirit of adventure and a longing for wilderness, it's an entertaining read. This would be a great book to curl up with on a long winter's night.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Sunday Salon: YA Search

I'm searching again for the perfect books to read for my next literature circle for middle schoolers. The theme this time around is roughly "overcoming adversity." I know, that's a ridiculously gigantic theme. Initially we were looking at specifically at books which tell the story of a character overcoming a battle with illness. However, we are having a hard time finding books like this suitable for middle schoolers, so we've broadened our search to various kinds of struggles—racial, cultural, disasters, etc.

We'll use a total of three books. We are definitely going to do Peg Kehret's Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio. This is an awesome book that my kids have read over and over again.

We have some others up for consideration:
Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
by Laurence Yep
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
Mockingbird by Katherine Erskine
Nation by Terry Pratchett
Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Parks
The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis

My co-teacher and I will be reading through this list, hoping to find just the perfect books for our 6th-8th grade class. But I'm always searching for more ideas. Do you have a book that comes to mind that might fit this rather broad category? I'd love your suggestions!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Book Review: Breath, Eyes, Memory

"I come from a place where breath, eyes and memory are one, a place from which you carry your past like the hair on your head. Where women return to their children as butterflies or as tears in the eyes of the statues that their daughters pray to."

We've all had Haiti on our minds and in our hearts in this past year. Breath, Eyes, Memory takes us through the hordes of hurting Haitians to one small family: Sophie Caco, her aunt, her mother, and her grandmother. Sophie has been raised by her aunt and has no recollection of her mother, who went to the U.S. for work when Sophie was a toddler. Out of the blue for Sophie, her mother requests that she come live with her in New York, and Sophie has no choice but to go. She has no idea how dangerous living in Haiti is; she only knows that it is her home.

While the Haitian scenes in the novel are warm and colorful, the New York chapters are harsh and cold. Life is not good for Sophie in New York, and her relationship with her mother is confusing and strained. Sophie's mother begins revealing horrifying secrets, and ultimately causes Sophie to teeter on the edge between survival and utter dysfunction.

Edwidge Danticat is a lovely writer. With few words, she paints a vivid portrait of life in Haiti, both in its simplicity (ginger tea) and in its terror (rebel soldiers). This isn't an easy novel to read emotionally. The struggle of the Haitian people and of individuals trapped in a cycle of fearful tradition is not light reading, and some of the scenes are graphic, violent, and painful.

If you are looking for a happily-ever-after beach read, don't get this one. Otherwise, grab a copy and be prepared to be uncomfortable—but enriched.

Other Reviews of Breath, Eyes, Memory
Jenny's Books
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Things Mean A Lot

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Book Review: Like Water for Chocolate

I missed this book by Laura Esquivel when it was all the rage some 15 years ago or so. The subtitle nearly says it all: "A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies." What a fun book.

Set in Mexico at the turn of the century, Like Water for Chocolate focuses on Tita, the youngest daughter of a traditional Mexican family. As the youngest daughter, she is expected to forsake love in order to stay at home and care for her aging mother. The dictator-mother insists that the love of Tita's life, Pedro, marry her sister Rosaura instead. Pedro agrees only because it means he'll be able to stay close to Tita.

The rest of the book involves lots and lots of cooking, which produces all kinds of interesting scenarios. Tita is a somewhat magical cook, and her food brings out the best and worst in the people around her.

Again, this is a fun book—one to read when you need something light but well-written. The element of magical realism is somewhat reminiscent of Isabel Allende's House of the Spirits, although Allende's book is on a completely different level. I look forward to seeing the movie, which I have on my Netflix queue.

Other Reviews of Like Water for Chocolate
Picky Girl
Nose in a Book
Dog-Eared Books
Linden's Pensieve
Jandy's Reading Room
Rebecca Reads
Bibliofreak Blog
Boston Bibliophile

Monday, October 4, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I am determined to get through more books this month than I did in September. That was pitiful! I started reading Confederates in the Attic, which has been on my TBR list for seven years (yes, really). It was very interesting but I could tell after the first couple of chapters that it would be slow reading, so I moved to Like Water for Chocolate, which has also been on my reading list for years.

I'm glad I switched, at least for now. Confederates in the Attic chronicles author Tony Howitz's journey across the south as he documents the continuing obsession with the Civil War. It's fascinating, but I wasn't quite in the mood for it. I do intend to return to this one soon.

I'm pretty sure most people have read or seen Like Water for Chocolate, but I must have been having babies then. I am loving the wonderful tale of Tita and her crazy Mexican family, and the movie is now on my Netflix queue.

That's what I'm reading on this chilly Monday.

Linked up with other Monday reads at Book Journey

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Sunday Salon: September in Review

It's been a slow reading month here in SmallWorld. I can hardly believe I've read just two books, but apparently, this is the extent of my September reading!

Books Read and Reviewed

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
The Devil Amongst Lawyers by Sharyn McCrumb

Favorite Book of the Month
Well, that's easy. The McCrumb book was terrible. The Miller book was fantastic.

Books Read to the Kids
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Currently Reading
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura EsquivelConfederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz
The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis

To Be Read in October
Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
The Land Remembers

Movies from Books Watched
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Books Added to My Ever-Growing TBR List
Gentle Rain by Deborah Smith (reviewed by Leah at Good Reads)
The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes by Diane Chamberlain (Reviewed by S. Krishna)
Far to Go by Alison Pick (Reviewed by Kristina at The Book Keeper)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Book Review: Blue Like Jazz

I've had Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz on my TBR list for a couple of years now, since my friend's daughter had to read it in high school and absolutely loved it. Subtitled "Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality," this is Miller's journey toward reconciling the distant, institutional God with the relevant, working, loving God.

Miller is a fantastic writer. The chapters are anecdotes in his journey that touch on significant components of Christianity, such as: Worship—The Mystical Wonder; Church—How I Go Without Getting Angry; Confession—Coming Out of the Closet; Community—Living with Freaks; Love—How to Really Love Other People; Jesus—The Lines on His Face.

I turned down the corners on a lot of pages. (I wanted to underline things, but I find it distracting when people do this and then I read the book after them, so I didn't because I know that Dr. H. will read this book soon.) Miller rambles a lot sometimes, but in his rambling, he has all kinds of simple but profound statements, like this one: "Too much of our time is spent trying to chart God on a grid, and too little is spent allowing our hearts to feel awe. By reducing Christian spirituality to formula, we deprive our hears of wonder."

And others that are just funny, like this: "Some of my friends have left their churches and gone Greek Orthodox. I think that sounds cool. Unless you are Greek. then it sounds like that is where you are supposed to go, as though you are a conformist.… If I were Greek, I would go to a Baptist church. Everybody there would think I was exotic and cool."

This isn't a deeply theological text. Miller is just trying to figure things out, to try to understand problems with the brand of Christianity that he'd been raised in:
"I had been raised to believe there were monsters under the bed, but I had peeked, in a moment of bravery, and found a wonderful world, a good world. … We were raised to believe this. If people were bad, we treated them as though they were either evil or charity: If they were bad and rich, they were evil. If they were bad and poor, they were charity. Christianity was always right; we were always looking down on everybody else."
He works though this in much of the book, and ultimately comes to realize the need to differentiate what is human tradition and failings and what is God's word.

This is a great read for anyone who struggles with the tension between what Christians claim vs. how we act. Again, this is not a theological text with passages of scripture referenced and footnotes; it's really one man's journey toward God.

Other, Much Longer Reviews of Blue Like Jazz
Mommy on Fire
Michael Krahn
Faith Based Blog
Convergence Review
Broken Masterpieces
Internet Monk