Archive for February, 2009

Review of Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

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Watchmen

by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

DC Comics, 1986. 

Winner of the Hugo Award.

Starred review.

I finally read Watchmen this week, since I definitely have to take my teenage son to see the movie the day it comes out.  Watchmen is acclaimed by many as the greatest graphic novel of all time, and I can see why.  This book has layers upon layers upon layers of meaning.  You definitely only scratch the surface of all that’s going on the first time you read it.

Set in an alternate 1985, the story begins with the death of costumed hero The Comedian.  Rorschach, another masked hero, thinks there may be a plot against masked vigilantes.  Someone with great power must be behind it, because who else could have thrown The Comedian out a window?

My son is rereading the book in the Absolute Watchmen edition.  The pages and pictures are larger, so it’s easier to see the many important details all lurking in the pages before you even notice them.  As I was writing this, my son noticed another one — that Rorschach didn’t have the distinctive speech bubbles until he really “became” Rorschach.  (I hadn’t noticed that he even had distinctive speech bubbles.)  There are thousands of details planted like that.  This is a graphic novel where you would still notice new details on the twentieth reading that fit perfectly and provide clues to what’s really going on.

This book is a mystery, a social commentary, a science fiction adventure, an alternate history, and so much more.  Mind you, it is a dark story, with lots of sex and violence.  If you wouldn’t be comfortable watching an R rated movie, then you won’t want to read this book.

At first, I thought I just enjoyed it as a work of art.  There’s no question that the book is superbly executed, thought-provoking, and interesting.  However, on reflection, now that I’ve finished it, I find I really did care about the characters.  They grew on me.  I did like them, and they seem like real people, with real concerns and complexities.  For example, I found myself annoyed right along with Laurie when Jon starts talking about what’s going to happen in a few minutes.  Each character is distinctive, with their own hang-ups and desires, and the authors portray that skillfully, and make you care.

Definitely worth the hype.  I’m looking forward to seeing the movie.  And I’m sure I’ll come back to the book some day, and try to pick up a few hundred more details that I missed the first time.

Buy from Amazon.com

Review of You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons, by Mo Willems

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

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You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons

The World on One Cartoon a Day

by Mo Willems

with a foreword by Dave Barry

Hyperion Paperbacks, New York, 2006.  396 pages.

Back in 1990, when the brilliant cartoonist Mo Willems was young and fresh out of college and not ready to leap into the grown-up world of work, he was fortunate enough to take a trip around the world.

We are fortunate that he recorded his experiences in the form of one cartoon drawn each day of his journey.

He wrote a caption and date for each cartoon, and the modern author has filled in some details that inspired the drawing.

The result is a delightful and quirky window on the world, from the eyes of one of those scruffy backpackers.  I lived in Europe for ten years, so even though I was there after Mo Willems had already left, I felt like I had seen him!

On top of the interesting way of looking at the world, his gifts as a brilliant cartoonist were already showing.  He expresses the people of the world, and the experiences of travel with a few lines.  Yet the result is instantly recognizable.

Take an amusing armchair journey around the world with this book.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/rickshaw_when_it_monsoons.html

Review of Pale Male, by Janet Schulman

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

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Pale Male

Citizen Hawk of New York City

by Janet Schulman

illustrated by Meilo So

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2008.  36 pages.

Here’s a beautiful picture book true story of a red-tailed hawk that flew into New York City in 1991 and made his home on a building across from Central Park.

The building occupants weren’t too happy with a nest on their building, though the citizens of New York were thrilled.  The hawk’s pale coloring made him distinctive and easy to spot, so bird watchers avidly watched his efforts to settle in and start a family.

Lovely watercolors illustrate this gentle story of a wild creature learning to live alongside humans.  It also tells how important the efforts of humans were for him to be able to keep his home.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/pale_male.html

Review of The Wall, by Peter Sis

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

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The Wall

Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain

by Peter Sis

Frances Foster Books (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), New York, 2007.

2008 Robert F. Sibert Medal winner.

2008 Caldecott Honor Book.

In a picture book for children, Peter Sis here creatively captures what it was like to be an artist growing up in Czechoslovakia behind the Iron Curtain.

With his art, he expresses to the reader the feelings of the students who did not want to be repressed.

This book reminded me of Persepolis, another story of a student growing up under oppression, also told with art.  The Wall is simpler, and thus more suitable for children, intelligent children who will think about the images and read the fine print.

Hmm.  It’s also suitable for intelligent adults who will think about the images and read the fine print.

This book is a powerful testimonial against repression.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/wall.html

Review of Playing It By Heart, by Melody Beattie

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

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Playing It by Heart

Taking Care of Yourself No Matter What

by Melody Beattie

Hazelden, Center City, Minnesota, 1999.  262 pages.

Starred Review.

http://www.hazelden.org/

Melody Beattie is the author of the wonderful books Codependent No More, Beyond Codependency, and The Language of Letting Go.  In Playing It by Heart, she gets even more personal and tells her life story.

Her story is incredible — especially incredible that she survived it.  She has lived through addiction, time in prison, desperate poverty, hospitalization, failed marriages, the death of a son.  And throughout the telling of her story, she draws beautiful, life-affirming insights.

I especially love the way she sums things up toward the end of the book:

“Now there’s at least two ways I can look at all of this.  I can say look at everything I’ve had to go through.  Or I can stand back and say wow.  Look at everything I got to experience, feel, and see.  And as much as I’ve resisted and struggled each step of the way, maybe that’s why I am here: to go through all of this and see from my point of view exactly how all these things feel.”

After reading this book, I find myself praying blessings upon Melody Beattie — because of how powerfully she has blessed me.  If you want a reminder of how powerfully God can redeem desperate situations, I highly recommend this book.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/playing_it_by_heart.html

Review of Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek, by Deborah Hopkinson and John Hendrix

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

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Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek

A Tall, Thin Tale

(Introducing His Forgotten Frontier Friend)

by Deborah Hopkinson & John Hendrix

Schwarz & Wade Books, New York, 2008.  36 pages.

In honor of Abe Lincoln’s 200th birthday, here’s a children’s picture book telling a story of how Abe Lincoln almost died when he was only seven years old.

Yes, Abe and his friend Austin were crossing a creek.  Abe fell in, and his friend fished him out, saving his life and thus making a difference in the world for generations to come.

Deborah Hopkinson has a delightful, folksy way of telling the story, talking about what we know and what we don’t know.  The pictures of the green Kentucky valley where Abe lived and the mischievous boys add to the fun.

Here’s an endearing tale of friendship, suitable for young readers or listeners who might be tired of more straitlaced and serious stories of Abraham Lincoln.  He did a foolish thing crossing that creek, but his friend saved him.  Even Abraham Lincoln needed a friend.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/abe_lincoln_crosses_a_creek.html

Review of Controlling People, by Patricia Evans

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

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Controlling People

How to Recognize, Understand, and Deal with People Who Try to Control You

by Patricia Evans

Adams Media Corporation, Avon, Massachusetts, 2002.  300 pages.

Starred Review.

http://www.patriciaevans.com/

http://www.verbalabuse.com/

A friend recommended Patricia Evans’ first book, The Verbally Abusive Relationship, to me.  I found what I began so helpful, I checked out all of her books.  I seem to be finishing them in the opposite order in which they were written.  However, I am finding each book tremendously helpful.

Controlling People helps make sense of behavior that seems inexplicable.  I read most of this book at a time when my mind kept spinning, trying to understand how someone I loved could say some things that seemed completely outrageous.  The scenario described in this book enabled me to understand more clearly how this could be, and strengthened me to keep from the conclusion that I was somehow the crazy one to think this behavior unacceptable.

In the introduction, Patricia Evans says, “You are not alone in your desire to understand the problem of control.  Thousands of people have asked me, “Why would anyone act ‘like that’?”  They describe the way they’ve been treated, and they wonder what compels one to try to control others.  “Why don’t most people who try to control others see that they’re being oppressive?  Are they under a spell or what?” they ask.

“Many people have also asked why they can’t seem to stop attempting to control others, even when these destructive behaviors are driving their loved ones away.  They often say that something seems to “come over” them and things “go wrong.”  At times, they are so unaware of their behavior and its impact that they don’t realize that anything has gone wrong until it’s too late — a loved one has left or violence has erupted….

“This book is a quest to find answers to these questions.  It will take us on a journey of exploration through a maze of senseless behaviors woven into our world.  By the end of our journey we’ll be in a new place with a new perspective on the problem of control.  And the journey itself may very well be spell-breaking.”

She talks about how and why verbal abuse is based on pretending:

“If someone defines you, even in subtle ways, they are pretending to know the unknowable.  There is a quality of fantasy to their words and sometimes to their actions.  Even so, they are usually unaware of the fact that they are playing “let’s pretend.”  They fool themselves and sometimes others into thinking that what they are saying is true or that what they are doing is right.

“When people “make up” your reality — as if they were you — they are trying to control you, even when they don’t realize it.

“When people attempt to control you they begin by pretending.  When they define you they are acting in a senseless way.  They are pretending.  When people act as if you do not exist or are not a real person with a reality of your own … they are pretending.  In this subtle and often unconscious way, they are attempting to exert control over you — your space, time, resources, or even your life.

“We know that they are pretending because in actual fact, no one can tell you what you want, believe, should do, or why you have done what you have done.  No one can know your inner reality, your intentions, your motives, what you think, believe, feel, like, dislike, what you know, how you do what you do, or who you are.  If someone does pretend to know your inner reality:  “You’re trying to start a fight,” they have it backwards.  People can only know themselves.  It doesn’t work the other way around.

“Since you can only define yourself, your self-definition is yours.  It isn’t necessary that you prove it or explain it.  It is, after all, your own.  Self-definition is inherent in being a person.

“Despite the evidence, it is difficult for many people to realize that the person who defines them is not being rational.  They feel inclined to defend themselves as if the person defining them were rational.  But by trying to defend themselves against someone’s definitions, they are acknowledging those definitions as valid, that they make sense, when they are, in fact, complete nonsense.”

Patricia Evans goes on to explain how someone can fall into this trap of building up a Pretend Person whom they anchor in the body of their loved one.  When the real person acts differently than the way the Pretend Person is supposed to act, including not knowing or not agreeing with their own thoughts and feelings, then they naturally get very angry.

The sad thing is that these Controllers are trying to connect with someone, but end up with severe disconnection.

The author doesn’t leave it at that.  She does offer suggestions for how to become a Spellbreaker and break the spell that Controllers seem to be operating under.  Even if the Controller in your life does not change, she shows you ways to break out of the influence of the spell yourself.  At the very least, the understanding of the dynamics involved helps break the crazy-making aspects of being exposed to these irrational behaviors.

This is a valuable and helpful book.  If any of this sounds the slightest bit familiar, I highly recommend reading further.  Patricia Evans goes into great depth and great detail about this pervasive problem, even covering groups connected by hate.  Ultimately, her message is one of great hope.

“Instead of acting to keep Pretend Person “alive” by means of fear, intimidation, and dominance, former Controllers find that they can accept and give love freely.  Their strength flows from spirit full enough to nurture another, alive enough to act toward good, clear enough to understand, faithful enough to wait and see, fearless enough to reveal the truth, free enough to choose to learn, courageous enough to stand alone, connected enough to love the other.”

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/controlling_people.html

Review of Change Your Life Without Getting Out of Bed, by SARK

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

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Change Your Life Without Getting Out of Bed

The Ultimate Nap Book

by SARK

Fireside Books (Simon & Schuster), 1999.  96 pages.

http://www.planetsark.com/

I’ve recently discovered SARK’s delightful books.  They’re gift books, and they are works of art.  She hand writes them with colorful rainbows of ink, with the pictures and the words expressing the exuberance.

This particular book is especially fun.  I started to say that it’s in defense of naps, but I think it’s better to say that this book is in celebration of naps.  There’s nothing defensive about her attitude toward taking naps!  Instead, she explains how much wonderful good naps can bring into your life. 

She gives reasons to nap, permission to nap, pleasures and benefits of napping, nap tips, nap quotes, and even describes fantasy naps and gives ideas for micronaps for parents.  (I like this one:  “Pile ALL the pillows on top of Daddy, and see how long it takes you!”

I finished reading this book on a day when I was scheduled to work 12:30 to 9:00.  Usually, I try to get lots done on such mornings.  That day, I did not have a “productive” morning, but I did have a very lovely one!

“Our lives are full of choices.  You can choose to nap.” — SARK

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/ultimate_nap_book.html

Review of All Creatures Great and Small, by James Herriot

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

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All Creatures Great and Small

by James Herriot

St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 1998.  First published in 1972.  437 pages.

Starred review.

I doubt I need to say much about this classic story of James Herriot’s tales of starting out as a young veterinarian in the Yorkshire Dales.  I’m quite sure I first read it sometime when I was in elementary school.  They’re wholesome stories, and I enjoyed them as much then as I did delighting over them as an adult.

I thought I’d reread All Creatures Great and Small to give myself some good laughs in between other books.  Since the book is mostly episodic — with mainly separate, funny stories — it works well to read it in bits and pieces.

There are overarching threads, like the memorable characters of his employer Siegfried and his brother Tristan.  But mainly the book tells delightful, funny, and heartwarming tales of his work with animals and the farmers of the Dales.

This book is definitely the sort worth coming back to every few years to enjoy all over again.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/all_creatures_great_and_small.html

Review of In a Blue Room, by Jim Averbeck

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

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In a Blue Room

by Jim Averbeck

illustrated by Tricia Tusa

Harcourt, Orlando, 2008.  32 pages.

Here’s a sweet bedtime storybook.

In a blue room,

Alice bounces,

wide-awake past bedtime.

“Time for bed,” Mama says,

“and I’ve brought flowers for your room.”

“I can only sleep in a blue room,” says Alice.

“Blue is my favorite.

And those —

aren’t —

blue.”

“Ah. . . but smell,” Mama says.

Mama keeps bringing more lovely things that aren’t blue, but are wonderfully soothing.  Alice keeps protesting, but getting sleepier.

The lovely part is that, when the light goes out and night falls, sure enough, everything in the room is blue.

The story is told in lyrical, soothing language, just right for bedtime.  Good night!

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/in_a_blue_room.html