Archive for June, 2009

Review of Perfect You, by Elizabeth Scott

Friday, June 19th, 2009

perfect_youPerfect You
by Elizabeth Scott

Simon Pulse, New York, 2008. 282 pages.

After reading The Breakup Bible one night, I read Perfect You the next night. (And, yes, both absorbed me enough that I read them well into the night.) Both are among Fairfax County Public Library’s Summer Reading Program selections. Both involve teen relationships, and both were oddly applicable and comforting to someone going through a midlife divorce.

In The Breakup Bible, a teen deals with the loss of her boyfriend and doesn’t handle it terribly well. In Perfect You, a teen deals with the loss of her long-time best friend, and also has a hard time coping.

In both, the main character had to learn to stop obsessing about the past and focus instead on good things happening without the once-loved one there. In both, they had to learn to actually live their lives now. To choose to be happy.

Meanwhile, I love the absolutely horrendous parents that Elizabeth Scott puts into her novels. If you ever thought your parents were embarrassing, listen to the opening of Perfect You:

“Vitamins had ruined my life.

“Not that there was much left to ruin, but still.

“I know blaming vitamins for my horrible life sounds strange. After all, vitamins are supposed to keep people healthy. Also, they’re inanimate objects. But thanks to them I was stuck in the Jackson Center Mall watching my father run around in a bee costume.

“I sank into the chair by our cash register as Dad walked up to two women. They looked around when he started talking, searching for a way out. They wouldn’t find one. In our section of the mall, there wasn’t much around, which was how we could afford our booth.

“I watched the women smile and step away, an almost dance I’d seen plenty over the few days I’d worked here. After they left, Dad came over to me, grinning, and said, ‘Kate, I think I made a sale! Those two women I talked to said they’d tell their husbands about the reformulated B Buzz! tablets. Isn’t that great? Now I think I’ll fly — get it? — down to the department store and see if I can give samples to people as they walk out.'”

Kate’s Sophomore year is going badly. She lost her best friend, who suddenly changed from a fat girl to one of the popular crowd. Her Dad quit his job to sell vitamins. And she finds herself attracted to a guy with a bad reputation whom she doesn’t even like. Or does she?

Perfect You is a fun and entertaining read, with a surprising amount of wisdom. I’d been missing my husband of twenty years, who was once my best friend, and reading about someone else coping with a lost best friend was surprisingly therapeutic.

As Kate says,

“But things change. Stuff happens. And you know what? Life goes on. In fact, that’s what life is. Who’d have thought Grandma would be right about anything, much less something so important?”

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Review of The Breakup Bible, by Melissa Kantor

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

The Breakup Bible
by Melissa Kantor

Hyperion Paperbacks, New York, 2007. 265 pages.

High school Junior Jennifer Lewis’s almost-too-good-to-be-true boyfriend suddenly decided to “just be friends.” She is not handling it well.

When her well-meaning grandma gives her a book of advice called The Breakup Bible, Jennifer is ready to throw it in the trash. She continues on, obsessed with Max, analyzing his every word to her, wondering if he’s thinking about getting back together.

Then she finds out the identity of the real reason he broke up with her, and her devastation is complete.

This time, Nana comes over and reads the book aloud:

“‘”So he’s with someone else,”‘ she read. ‘”Yeah, it hurts. Yeah, you miss him. But you know what? You’re not going to miss him for long. Because if you follow my simple steps, you can go from heartache to happiness before you can say, I’m over you!“‘

“Nana was looking up at me, a triumphant expression on her face. ‘See?’ she said. ‘You’re not the only one.’

“‘Nana, you don’t understand,’ I said. ‘That book –‘ I pointed at it. ‘Books like that don’t help.’ Had Nana not observed the obese hordes with their terrible hair and bad jeans crowding the self-help aisles at Barnes & Noble, reading books like Who Moved My Destiny? and You’re Not Weird, You’re Special!

“‘Just how do you know that, Miss Smartypants?’ She pointed at me. ‘You won’t even give it a chance.’ Then her features softened, and she smiled. ‘Give it a chance, darling. For me, for Nana.'”

Jennifer does give it a chance, for her grandma’s sake. It doesn’t, perhaps, go quite like the book’s author intended, but Jennifer does, little by little, make progress in getting over Max.

I’m a little embarrassed by how comforted I was by reading about a teenager getting over a breakup and how oddly similar the principles of recovery are for someone getting over a midlife divorce.

In both cases, it’s helpful to remind yourself that there are some good things about not having him in your life, and to focus on interests you can get excited about for YOU.

It’s also highly therapeutic to read about someone else handling it badly! It’s easy to see in Jennifer’s case where her faithful love is misplaced, but anyone who’s ever been there will feel plenty of compassion. And I never noticed before just how funny a breakup can be.

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Review of Patricia von Pleasantsquirrel, by James Proimos

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Patricia von Pleasantsquirrel
by James Proimos

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2009. 48 pages.

“Once there was a princess who had not yet found her princessdom.”

So begins the story of a little girl named Patricia von Pleasantsquirrel. The story might seem predictable: A little girl does not feel she is treated royally enough by her family, goes off to an imaginary land to be a princess, but winds up deciding that princess duties are not for her, and she would rather be home. However, this book is filled with delightful, quirky, and unexpected details that make the story not predictable at all.

I love the reason Patricia sets off to find her princessdom. She reads Where the Wild Things Are and thinks:

“If a silly boy with no social graces could be made king with no effort at all, then imagine how easy it would be for me to find my princessdom.”

Indeed, she takes off and flies far, far away and is quickly made princess of the Land of the Hippos, where she is granted the royal privileges her heart desires, and learns the lessons you might expect in rather unexpected ways.

This is a lovely and silly book for anyone who’s ever had a hankering to be a princess, or even a prince.

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Review of I Need Your Love — Is That True? by Byron Katie

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

I Need Your Love — Is That True?
How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation and Start Finding Them Instead,

by Byron Katie
written with Michael Katz

Harmony Books, New York, 2005. 254 pages.
Starred Review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #5 Other Nonfiction

“Everyone agrees that love is wonderful, except when it’s terrible. People spend their whole lives tantalized by love — seeking it, trying to hold on to it, or trying to get over it. Not far behind love, as major preoccupations, come approval and appreciation. From childhood on, most people spend much of their energy in a relentless pursuit of these things, trying out different methods to be noticed, to please, to impress, and to win other people’s love, thinking that’s just the way life is. This effort can become so constant and unquestioned that we barely notice it anymore.

“This book takes a close look at what works and what doesn’t in the quest for love and approval. It will help you find a way to be happier in love and more effective in all your relationships without being manipulative or deceptive in any way. What you learn here will bring fulfillment to all kinds of relationships, including romantic love, dating, marriage, raising children, work, and friendship.”

One thing I like about Byron Katie’s books is that she does not tell you what to think. Instead, she has you examine your own thoughts and ask yourself:

Is it true?

Can you absolutely know that it’s true?

How do you react when you believe that thought?

Who would you be without that thought?

When it comes to needing people, she says,

“How do you know when you don’t need people? When they’re not in your life. How do you know when you do need them? When they are in your life. You can’t control the comings and goings of the people you care for. What you can do is have a good life whether they come or go. You can invite them, and they come or not, and whatever the result is, that’s what you need. Reality is the proof of it.”

Katie believes that whatever happens is good. As a Christian, I believe that God works all things together for good in my life. So maybe I’m coming from a different reason, but the result is the same: If something has happened, I know that God can bring good into my life through that.

Stressful thoughts so often involve believing that something that happened to me should not have happened, for example: “My husband should not have left me.” “My son should be more respectful.” “He is not treating me fairly.” “She is interfering in my life.”

Katie talks about “noticing and counting the beautiful reasons unexpected things happen for us.” If you look for the ways life events benefit you, you will be a much happier person. (“Who will I be without that stressful thought?”)

“Many people’s lives are constantly punctuated with little fits or tantrums in which they express their rejection of what’s happening….

“The more you stick to the belief that you’re in control, the more of these moments there are in your life. Some people reach a point where they’re fighting reality at every step along the way. That’s how they react to the thought ‘I’m calling the shots’ when no one seems to be listening. It’s a war zone in their minds.

“The alternative is to expect reality not to follow your plan. You realize that you have no ideas what’s going to happen next. That way, you’re pleasantly surprised when things seem to be going your way, and you’re pleasantly surprised when they don’t. In the second case, you may not have seen what the new possibilities are yet, but life quickly reveals them, and the old plans don’t stop you from moving ahead, from flowing efficiently into the life beyond your schemes and expectations.”

This book focuses on love, approval, and relationships. Katie asks some excellent questions over the course of the book:

“How do you react when you believe the thought that you can find love and approval by making yourself more likable?”

“When you say ‘Thank you,’ are you handing someone a token, or are you expressing real gratitude?”

“What would it be like to live your truth without excusing, defending, explaining, or justifying your thoughts or actions to others?”

“Who would you be without the thought that you need to seek approval?”

“Who would you be without the thought that your happiness depends on someone else?”

“If you love me, you’ll do what I want — Is it true?”

I like her commentary on that last question:

“Horses grazing in a field unthinkingly stand head to tail, flicking the flies from each other’s faces. At night, they sleep standing up, resting their heads on each other’s shoulders. This is what peaceful reciprocation looks like. But ‘civilized’ people have learned how to use reciprocation to torture each other. All it takes is the belief that if I do something for you, you owe me something in return. If I give you my love, you’d better give me yours, or something of equal value.

“What happens if you don’t reciprocate? I take back my love and approval, and I give you resentment instead. The rules of each relationship dictate all the things you have to do or not do to avoid resentment. These rules aren’t written down or even spoken. You find out what they are by breaking them. When you see that I’m angry, you know that you’ve broken a rule. You did something you shouldn’t have, you came home too late or too early, you forgot to do or say something. Perhaps you should ask what you did wrong, but watch out: One of the rules may be that you’re supposed to know without asking.

“And of course, you find out about your rules for my behavior using the same method. How do you know when I broke a rule? When you get angry at me.

In any case, if you do your best to figure out all the rules and obey them, do you get my love? No. You get to tiptoe around me, so that you can minimize my anger and continue the relationship. Love seems to have disappeared. Where did it go? You can find out by questioning the thought, ‘If you love me, you’ll do what I want.'”

Reading Byron Katie’s books help me to grow in contentment, gratitude, peace and joy. They help me let go of thoughts that keep me from those things. It’s very easy to see the good in that!

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Review of The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

Monday, June 15th, 2009

The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins

Scholastic Press, New York, 2008. 374 pages.
Starred Review.

When this book first came out, I wasn’t interested. I don’t like reality shows, and I don’t like reading about violence. This book is about reality shows taken to the extreme in a future society where two young people from each district participate in the annual Hunger Games, with only one survivor at the end.

However, the book kept getting rave reviews. When it won School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books, I decided I definitely should read it, and the commentators convinced me it would be worth my time. The final straw, which made me decide to read it right away, was when bloggers began bragging about getting advance readers’ copies of the sequel, Catching Fire. It felt funny to not even want the sequel because I’d never read the first book. So I finally remedied that situation.

The book definitely captured my interest and concern, and kept me reading far into the night. Suzanne Collins does a good job making you care about Katniss, who at the beginning of the book spends time hunting illegally outside the fence, in order to provide for her family.

We’re quickly presented with a world where life is hard and life isn’t fair. When Katniss’s young sister’s name is called to be the district’s tribute to the Hunger Games, we have no trouble believing that Katniss would volunteer to go in her place. We know that Katniss has survival skills to cope, and understand her unwillingness to trust Peeta, the other representative from District 12. After all, even in the very best result, only one of them can survive.

The games are brutal, but the author finds ways for Katniss to show compassion and humanity, as well as courage and resourcefulness. The games are more of a survival contest than a gladiator combat, as the contestants are in an enormous arena with a landscape prepared with challenges. They must find food and water, and evade natural predators as well as each other.

This book is exciting and compelling. Now I find myself as eager as everyone else to get my hands on a copy of the sequel.

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Review of Not Becoming My Mother, by Ruth Reichl

Friday, June 12th, 2009

Not Becoming My Mother
And Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way

by Ruth Reichl

The Penguin Press, New York, 2009. p. 112

Not Becoming My Mother is a quick read that will leave you with a meditative smile.

Ruth Reichl explores her memories of her mother along with a collection of letters she left behind. She muses that her mother wanted Ruth’s life to be very different from her own, which indeed it was.

In Ruth’s mother’s day, marriage and a career were mutually exclusive. She made choices based on what her own mother wanted. She worked hard to make sure that her daughter would not follow that pattern.

This little book gets the reader thinking, along with Ruth, about life choices and mother-daughter patterns.

The title by no means reflects disrespect for her mother. On the contrary, she says,

“In her own oblique way Mom passed on all the knowledge she had gleaned, giving me the tools I needed not to become her. Believing that work, beauty, marriage and motherhood were the forces that had shaped her destiny, she tried to teach me how to do better at each of them than she had. . . .

“Growing up, I was utterly oblivious to the fact that Mom was teaching me all that. But I was instantly aware of her final lesson, which was hidden in her notes and letters. As I read them I began to understand that in the end you are the only one who can make yourself happy. More important, Mom showed me that it is never too late to find out how to do it.”

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Review of Still Life, by Joy Fielding

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

still_lifeStill Life
by Joy Fielding

Atria Books, New York, 2009. 369 pages.
Starred Review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #6 Fiction

This book is wonderful. Richly textured and thought-provoking, it also includes life-or-death suspense.

Casey Marshall has a perfect life. Having lunch with her best friends, it’s clear that one at least thinks it’s a bit too perfect. Casey and her handsome husband are even talking about starting a family soon.

But after lunch, something happens. Casey wakes up in darkness, only able to hear voices. They are talking about a terrible accident that happened to “the patient,” run down by an SUV. She begins recognizing distraught voices of people she knows and loves, and it dawns on her that the accident happened to her.

Nobody knows that she can hear them. People tell her husband that he should get on with his life, but he says he can’t stay away from her, he loves her too much. Her sister Drew is mad because Casey’s the executor of their parents’ estate, and Drew wants her allowance. A nurse’s aide talks about how handsome her husband is, and how she thinks she’ll be able to seduce him. Casey hears her making progress.

Then a detective comes along. He suspects the accident was not an accident after all. Now Casey has memories of all her friends and wonders who would want to hurt her.

Eventually the book becomes like the old classic Rear Window. Casey knows who wants to kill her, even though they have everyone else completely fooled. She knows when that person is planning to do it. But she is absolutely powerless to stop them. Or is she?

I would love to say more, but I will settle for saying that I loved this book and found the ending thoroughly satisfying.

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48-Hour Book Challenge Final Summary

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

48hbcWhew! I did it! And I enjoyed it and only wished I could do it longer! The fun of putting aside everything else and catching up my reading and my website was very gratifying. (Though I ended up with just as many books waiting to be reviewed as I started with. But at least all my blogs are upgraded and working again.)

My final statistics for the 48 hours between 10:30 Friday night and 10:30 Sunday night:

Total time spent reading and blogging: 23 1/2 hours.

(I almost spent half the time!)

This was broken down like this:
Reading time: 11 hours, 40 minutes
Listening time: 50 minutes
Blogging/reviewing time: 11 hours

Books finished: 5
Books reviewed: 5
Partial books read: 6

Pages read: 1,120.

Goodness, though, it did give me the bug and made me super aware of all the books I have waiting to be read…. I had checked out extra books to be ready for the challenge, and the sad part is that I really want to read them all, but obviously it’s going to take a lot longer than the check-out period to do so.

All in good time! It was a whole lot of fun making a start!

Here’s a list of books I read and partly read:

The Holy Bible (11 pages) Hey, I figured that I could count my nightly Bible reading in the total. It is reading!
The Eternal Smile, by Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim (finished and reviewed)
10-10-10, by Suzy Welch (52 pages). I lost interest and am turning this back in. The idea is great — when making decisions, consider the implications after 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years. However, the idea is simple enough, it doesn’t seem like you need to read a whole book to understand it.
Dragon’s Keep, by Janet Lee Carey (301 pages). Finished and reviewed.
Excuses, Begone! by Wayne Dyer (64 pages). Good stuff. I’ll keep reading this one, but I always read nonfiction slowly over time and in little bits.
How to Ditch Your Fairy, by Justine Larbalestier. (307 pages) Finished and reviewed. Fun!
Show & Tell: Exploring the Fine Art of Children’s Book Illustration, by Dilys Evans (21 pages). Good stuff. I’ll read more.
The Lincolns, by Candace Fleming (82 pages). Interesting! I’ll be finishing this soon, I think.
Not Becoming My Mother, by Ruth Reichl. 112 pages. Finished but not reviewed yet. A quick and interesting memoir.
Octavian Nothing, Volume I, by M. T. Anderson, the last 15 minutes of the audiobook. Finished and reviewed.
His Majesty’s Dragon, by Naomi Novik, the first 40 minutes of the audiobook. Good so far!

Another review written: Tea Time for the Traditionally Built, by Alexander McCall Smith.

You might wonder how I spent so much time blogging with only 5 reviews written. Well, I also wrote entries about the 48-hour challenge and entries on my other three blogs, Sonderquotes, Sonderjourneys, and Sonderblessings. I also added a page for each review on the main site and updated the About Me page there and on all the blogs. (They still said that I was pursuing a Master’s in Library Science! I’ve been a librarian for a year and a half now!)
I also finished upgrading the blogs and changing the look of each one to match my main site– but that was mostly a matter of letting the computer delete and copy files while I was reading.

Anyway, the whole thing was a whole lot of fun and it felt great to ignore unpacking boxes for a weekend and pay attention to my website. (Yes, I still have boxes to unpack from my move in mid-April. Mostly books!)

My biggest drawback was that I stayed up very very late two nights last week — reading and blogging — so I really needed to sleep this weekend. Oh well! Next year I will plan that better!

Review of How to Ditch Your Fairy, by Justine Larbalestier

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

How to Ditch Your Fairy,
by Justine Larbalestier

Bloomsbury, 2008. 304 pages.
Starred Review.

Have you ever known someone who never gets in trouble no matter what they do? Or someone who’s never had any cavities? In the future society portrayed in Justine Larbalestier’s book, they have learned the source of such “luck” — fairies!

Charlie (Charlotte Adele Donna Seto Steele) explains her bad fortune in fairies:

“I have a parking fairy. I’m fourteen years old. I can’t drive. I don’t like cars and I have a parking fairy.

“Rochelle gets a clothes-shopping fairy and is always well attired; I get a parking fairy and always smell faintly of gasoline. How fair is that? I love clothes and shopping too. Yes, I have a fine family (except for my sister, ace photographer Nettles, and even she’s tolerable at sometimes) and yes, Rochelle’s family is malodorous. She does deserve some kind of compensation. But why couldn’t I have, I don’t know, a good-hair fairy? Or, not even that doos, a loose-change-finding fairy. Lots of people have that fairy. Rochelle’s dad, Sandra’s cousin, Mom’s best friend’s sister. I’d wholly settle for a loose-change fairy.”

Charlie is trying hard to get rid of her fairy. She figures if she walks everywhere and gives the fairy no chances to use its skills, maybe it will give up and leave her alone. She’s tired of people dragging her around in their cars so they will find a parking spot.

Unfortunately, her plan backfires in multiple ways, and she gets demerits and even a game suspension, which is a tragedy at New Avalon Sports High School. Then the cute guy who moved in nearby and seemed interested in her is falling prey to Fiorenze’s all-boys-will-like-you fairy. All the boys like Fiorenze, but all the girls hate her.

This book is wonderfully funny. I was distracted at first by the slang — mostly because at a writer’s conference a couple years ago I went to a session where the author and her husband Scott Westerfeld talked about creating believable slang. I had to admit she did a great job with it — almost too good, in that it drew my attention. Still, she achieved believable, memorable, and easy-to-figure out in-words that the characters used in so-cool (“doos”) New Avalon. I liked it that Stefan, the new kid, had to get used to the words, too. My favorite one was “pulchritudinous” or “pulchy” for unbelievably beautiful people.

All in all, it seems like a good explanation for some people’s “luck.” And a whole lot of fun to read about.

I should probably call this Fantasy because it involves fairies. But these fairies are simply a phenomenon in a future society that scientists have finally identified — so I think I’m going to call it Science Fiction.

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Review of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, by M. T. Anderson

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing
Traitor to the Nation
Volume I: The Pox Party

by M. T. Anderson
Read by Peter Francis James

Listening Library, 2007. Unabridged. 7 Compact Discs. 8 hours, 19 minutes.
National Book Award winner.
Starred Review.

I decided to listen to this book on CD so I would finally read it. I had given the book to my son the Christmas after it was first published and had been meaning to read it. Then the second volume recently did very well in School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books. So I decided to listen to the book on the way to work and back. (And now that I have a longer commute, this is a good way to get books “read.”)

Octavian Nothing is amazing in its scope. Beginning just before the start of the American Revolution, Octavian lives at the Novanglian College of Lucidity. His mother was once a princess in Africa, but now she and Octavian are the only inhabitants of the house who go by names instead of numbers.

Octavian is trained in music, science, philosophy, Latin, Greek, and French. But he comes to learn that this training is all part of an experiment — an experiment designed to show the mental capacities of people of African descent. He also learns that there are inconsistencies in the philosophy of men who are fighting for “freedom” while owning slaves.

This book is by no means cheery, light reading. But it is powerful and moving. M. T. Anderson beautifully writes the characters voices as they would have expressed themselves at that time. The narrator, Peter Francis James does a wonderful job of giving each character distinctive voices, so you can tell who is talking simply by listening. In Octavian’s mother’s voice, I heard someone regal and dignified. In Mr. Gitney, a precise scientist.

The story is truly astonishing. I will definitely be reading the next volume, and have only to decide whether to go with the print or audio version.

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