Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

This book may be long, but it is an engaging, and therefore quick, read. Kathryn Stockett tells the fictional (but semi-autobiographical-ish) story of the intertwining lives of white families and the black women that work for them in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960’s. I was wowed most especially by the three first-person perspectives that this novel takes: first, Aibileen, an elderly domestic worker who gets attached to every one of the many white children she’s raised; Minny, a cranky maid who has more under her strong and sassy facade than anyone would imagine; and Skeeter, a college-educated white woman who can’t sit idly by while her friends mistreat their “help.” I really enjoyed this novel, and I would recommend it to anyone with a mind open to hearing someone else’s point of view. (Note – There are some adult situations/themes that might only be appropriate for older teens and adults).

For more information, including book discussion resources, the author’s biography, etc, visit the official website here.

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Book Review: The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

Image from Jim Trelease's Website

The Handbook begins with a rationale for the importance of reading aloud to children, and cites statistics and case studies that show the benefits it offers to literacy, family togetherness, child development, and more.  Then, Trelease walks the reader through some practical techniques as well as beginning reading suggestions for every age and interest.

Based on his experience as a father and grandfather, and his familiarity with many anecdotes from other parents, Trelease tells us (p. 4) that there are some major advantages derived from reading aloud to [your] child:

  • Associating reading with pleasure in the child’s brain
  • Establishing background knowledge (ie, what animals live on farms, what a bulldozer looks like, what a fiddle is).
  • Building vocabulary (Children’s picture books are meant to be read to a child not by a child because their vocabulary and structure are too sophisticated.)
  • Provide a positive reading role model (YOU!)

Although I’m only about halfway done reading The Handbook, I’ve skimmed the final sections that contain a plethora of reading recommendations of every sort.  I highly recommend The Read-Aloud Handbook to parents, teachers, librarians, and any other professional that works with children.

Here’s a link to the author Jim Trelease’s home page that contains book lists, lecture downloads, and excerpts/major points from every chapter of his book.

Chinese Cinderella – Book Review

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Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter

by Adeline Yen Mah

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The original Cinderella story dates back to China’s Tang dynasty (618-906) Ye Xian tale.  The heroine was an unwanted stepdaughter who escaped the clutches of her evil stepmother thanks to her own hard work and perseverance.

Like Ye Xian, Adeline (her Chinese given name is Jun-ling) received no tenderness or compassion from her family; both of “their stories may be perceived as talismans against despair” (p. 197).  This autobiography follows Adeline’s personal history beginning with her birth, through her years of emotional abuse in her family’s home, to her adolescent years living as the lone one of her boarding school classmates who receives neither letters nor visitors.  As a child, she didn’t look for pity, she sought only to live unnoticed by her classmates rather than reveal the sad realities of her home life.  Yen Mah intertwines some of her native China with this retelling of her life story: the significance of the Chinese pictorial written language, how children are given names in Westernized Chinese families, and the internal tension experienced by Adeline as a speaker of both English and Chinese.

Chinese Cinderella was written for young adult readers and uses straightforward language and storytelling techniques, albeit with a somewhat formal vocabulary.  The author’s reminiscences of her unhappy childhood awake sympathy in the reader; young readers are drawn to her story, sharing in her hope of a better life as she grows up.  I highly recommend Chinese Cinderella to pre-teens, teens, and adults alike, for Yen Mah’s inspiring personality that radiates from the pages.  Personally, I enjoyed reading Yen Mah’s story thoroughly and I could hardly put it down.  I’m looking forward to reading her full biography, Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter, found in adult libraries.

For more information about Adeline Yen Mah and her great work, visit her official web page here.  There, you can find links to her books, letters from fans, biography, and more.

References:

Yen Mah, A. (1999). Chinese cinderella: the true story of an unwanted daughter. New York: Dell Laurel-Leaf.

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Catholic Biography Review (via Our Lady and Sheen)

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Here’s an interesting faith-based review of a biography about a Catholic priest called A Priest Forever. According to the blog writer, it’s an exceptional story of a very devout man who died to young, but who was nonetheless dedicated to his eternal vocation.  As a Catholic library professional, I’ve found this book review to be a good example of the great writing on this blog – take a minute and give it a try.

I picked up “A Priest Forever: The Life of Father Eugene Hamilton” by Fr. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R.  This book is an inspirationational tale Father Eugene Hamilton who (not really a spoiler alert) was ordained a Priest for 3 hours before he died of a terminal illness.  This book highlights that the life of a priest is not about actions taken, but rather, about WHO the priest is.  Father Hamilton would never pray Mass, hear confession, baptise, w … Read More

via Our Lady and Sheen

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How an Audiobook Speaks Up for Itself

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Audiobook Week, graphic from http://www.devourerofbooks.com/As the Stacked book review blog has informed me, we’re in the midst of Audiobook Week.  Personally, I am a traditionalist when I read full-length works.  Although I [clearly] have become interested in reading blogs, articles, and forums online, I still prefer the paper-and-ink experience for novels, textbooks, etc.

I try to keep an open mind, though.  The first audiobook I “read” was The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring, starring the delightful voice of Rob Inglis.  Shortly thereafter, I received a gift of Good Omens on CD from a friend.  I’ve been “working” on this one for months.  I really enjoy the storyline and the narrator’s approach, too.

However, I still can’t seem to find harmony with the format itself.  I only listen to audiobooks in the car, on long trips.  [After all, if I have free time at home, I’d rather read a book in my hands.]  In the car, I tend to fumble with the multiple CDs, get mentally distracted, and often forget to play the audiobook at all on smaller trips.

I do, of course, believe that it is important for public libraries to stock audiobooks, as much as their budget will allow.  I know many people who prefer this format for many reasons: multitasking (something I am clearly unable to do – see above), listening simultaneously with a friend, and reading impairments such as dyslexia.  Additionally, my public library is fortunate enough to have a small collection of Playaways, pre-loaded MP3 devices with the most popular titles, in addition to the lengthy shelves of audiobooks on CD and cassette.

Thanks to Google Reader, I found an article on Stacked from 2009 that gave me a better understanding of how the strength of an audiobook operates on a different set of criteria than does a paper book.   According to Stacked:

Although listeners can have a preference for one of these, they can all be done well or all be done poorly. But what makes a good audio book and what makes a bad one? If you’re listening to one and aren’t sure, consider these:

  • Are the words pronounced correctly? Is the narrator using an authentic accent? One of the presenters mentioned a book set in Wisconsin where the narrator had a mid-Atlantic accent and it really killed the book for her as a Wisconsinite. The Dairy Queen, on the other hand, has an authentic Wisconsin accent.
  • Is the book complete with a clear, crisp sound? Is the volume consistent?
  • Do you hear juicy mouth sounds? Is the narrator’s voice hoarse?
  • Has the producer done a good job if material was dubbed not making it obvious? Is the text being repeated or omitted or cut too short? Are chapter breaks awkward or poorly timed?
  • Are names of the title, author, and narrator correct? One of the presenters said that there was one book where the reader mispronounced the name Nguyen and a student with that name was turned off entirely (for those of you unsure, that’s “win,” and the reader said “nah-guy-en”)
  • Does the reader mostly match the age and experience — at least in sound — to the main characters?
  • The readers connect to the text and are generally excited by the reading and discovery in the beauty of the story and the language.
  • Is music used effectively? Walden — the one by Thoreau — apparently has fantastic music interludes and was lauded for that reason.

Once I finish listening to Good Omens, I’ll be looking out for some recommended audiobooks at Stacked and Devourer of Books, two blogs that are providing a marathon of audiobook reviews and 101-information this week.  Be on the lookout for your next listen!

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Spiritual Armchair Journeys

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I’ve noticed that my bookshelf is full of spiritual journeys.  Although I have a lot of books about religion and spirituality, most of the ones I’ve read and count as my favorites are the stories of hearts being converted.  I love learning about a person’s journey of faith to new places in their soul that they didn’t even know existed.  Here are some of my favorites, in order of how much they moved me:

1. The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

Merton’s autobiography recalls his early childhood in Europe, as he copes with his fractured family and moves to Long Island.  As a young man at Columbia U., he was involved in the world of academia and literature.  Over time, he feels the pull to explore prayer, Christian theology, and the Catholic Church.  This autobiography was written relatively early in Merton’s life; after more life experience, he noted that he would have written it differently.  Still, I found it very interesting and captivating to read about his interior conversations with God.

2. Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis

The great C.S. Lewis was fascinated by the moments of pure joy that seemed to “stab” him when he least expected it.  This memoir recounts his experiences, beginning in childhood, that ushered in joy to his consciousness.  Just as with my own memory, the most nondescript occasions seem to be tenderly treasured years later.  Joy encounters Lewis, urging him to revisit places in his heart that left an impression years later, eventually offering him the chance to take a second look at faith and Christianity.

3. Gift & Mystery by Pope John Paul II

Fifty years after being ordained to the priesthood, Pope John Paul II invites readers into personal memories and meditations.  His spirituality and vocation developed both in tandem with and in spite of the horrors of the second world war.  Here, he explains how his attitudes changed and how he learned to approach life in new ways as an underground seminarian and as a  young priest under communism.  This memoir also includes many meditations and reflections that Pope employed in his own prayer life.

4. Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller

As a young modern American man, Don Miller juggled his education, family, friends, and faith.  His ups and downs of interest in his Christian faith are easy to relate to – who doesn’t have doubt and piety fighting somewhere in their heart?  Don Miller attempts to make his memoir more accessible by  approaching it in an “everyday” way.  He doesn’t kick off with religious and moral topics; rather, they serve as a response to the human struggles, aches, and shortcomings that he experiences.

5. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

I haven’t read this since high school, but I remember it  being an engrossing retelling of the story of the spiritual 180 of the man that became the Buddha.  It is a short work (quick to read!) and is a classic.

6. Travels by Michael Crichton

Another high school read.  The famous novelist explains why he decided not to pursue a physician’s career, after completing medical school.  Then, he shows the reader the patchwork quilt that was his spiritual journey: from pseudo-psychic retreats to Asian brothels, and from the business world to yoga.  Crichton’s technicolor experiences were definitely something different.

7. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I read this one very recently.   True, it’s more of a travel memoir than a spiritual one, but it had its fair share of catharsis.  We see the storyteller fall apart after a divorce, and gradually pick her self up again on a journey from Italy to India to Indonesia.  Much of it was enjoyable, but there were some parts that will keep me from rereading it.  This is a very popular book, and the movie version starring Julia Roberts will be coming out soon.

On my “to read” list:

Come Be My Light by Mother Teresa

Confessions by St. Augustine

Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross

Now it’s your turn!  What books about spiritual journeys can you recommend?  Please comment with your favorites or wanna-reads…thanks!

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Twilight: The Graphic Novel – Volume 1

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Twilight: The Graphic Novel – Volume 1

Art and Adaptation by Young Kim

Spoiler Warning – But why would you read the graphic novel before the canon?

Based on Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Under the auspices of Ms. Meyer, Young Kim has created a beautiful graphic novel that follows our favorite vampire-lover to halfway through the first Twilight novel.  This is the first ‘real’ graphic novel that I’ve read, so it’s a whole new medium for me to take in.  Ms. Kim tells the story fluidly, with illustrations and textual interjections that keep a smart pace.  She manages to keep the true spirit and tension of Twilight, while leaving aside minor details that aren’t vital to the telling of the story.

Judging by the graphic novel itself, Young Kim didn’t seem to draw (punny?) too much inspiration from the movie adaptation, except perhaps that the character Jessica resembles Anna Kendrick from the film series.  Kim’s drawings are really mesmerizing, and portray a more well-rounded Bella than in the films; her facial expressions make her seem like she actually has doubts and fears and is really human.  Drawings of Edward, although not in line with my taste in men, showed powerful contrast between his good and bad days (aka satisfied vs. hungry).  Billy, with  his hat shadowing his warning expression, was incredibly close to what I’d imagined while reading the original text.  Overall, the graphic novel was far less emo and Bella was far less angry than in the movie version; this was an advantage of this volume for me.

Bella and Edward

The story frames use an interesting combination of black and white drawings and edited photo backgrounds.  For instance, Bella is drawn in at the Phoenix airport, surrounded by a [photo of a] real terminal.But what really captivated me about this retelling was the use of color; Ms. Kim used technicolor only sparingly, and to heighten the meaning and delivery of important scenes.  Here are some examples:
1. When Bella dreams about Edward an a mysterious wolf facing off, she sees the wolf in an Earthy, bloody red.
2. Edward describes why twilight is his favorite part of every day, shimmers of topaz[!]-like orange and yellow break through the background sky to lend our cold hero some power in getting the reader to sympathize with his turmoil.
3. The meadow – Yes, the cliches remain, but the strong influx of greens and golds gives us a clue as to what sort of elated joy Bella and Edward felt, finally knowing that they were, for now, safe and happy in each other’s presence.

Although I thought some scenes were a bit brief or glossed-over, I had no problem with continuity because I’ve read the canon and am familiar with the storyline and characters.   So, I recommend this graphic novels to readers who are already well-versed in Twilight-ology.  Note: Even though I’ve listed this under “Children’s Books,” I do it with reservation; just as with the original, Twilight‘s themes, attitudes, and [eventually] content is best for mature/older teens or adults, in my opinion.  Personally, I enjoyed the graphic novel far better than the movie, and on par (granted, in a different way) with the original novel.  For a first graphic novel read, I’m impressed and I look forward to more!

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