Review of the Audiobook The King of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner

kingofattoliaThe King of Attolia

by Megan Whalen Turner

performed by Jeff Woodman

Recorded Books, 2006. 9 CDs, 10.5 hours.
Starred review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: Wonderful Rereads

I’ve already raved about the three books about Eugenides by Megan Whalen Turner. As with The Thief and The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia gets better with each rereading.

In this case, I recently moved further from work, and have been listening to audiobooks on my commute. This is a wonderful way to force myself to savor The King of Attolia, as every other time I’ve read it, I wasn’t able to read it so slowly! I did find myself lingering in the car a few times, and was frustrated that my own copy of the book is in a box somewhere, so I couldn’t just read ahead.

Jeff Woodman does an excellent job reading, and you can easily follow the different characters.

I still don’t want to say much about the plot of any of these books. Megan Whalen Turner’s richly textured plots and subplots are what make these books better on every reading, as you notice details that escaped your attention the first time through.

The gods come into the story a little less obtrusively in this segment, urging Eugenides to face his destiny. The reader gets the sense that he will have an important role to play in political destinies of the entire continent.

I’ve started urging other adults to try this series. These books are among my all-time favorites, and go higher in my estimation with every rereading. Start with The Thief, and soon you’ll be eagerly waiting, like me, for a fourth book in the series. Don’t underestimate Eugenides!

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/king_of_attolia_audio.html

Review of Little Panda, by Renata Liwska

little_pandaLittle Panda

by Renata Liwska

Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 2008. 32 pages.
Starred review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #7 Picture Books

“Just the other day, Grandfather Panda was talking to his grandson.

“‘I am going to tell you a story of a little panda and the tiger that flew,’ he said.

“‘But that’s silly. Tiger’s can’t fly,’ interrupted the grandchild.

“‘How do you know if you haven’t heard the story yet?’ asked Grandfather.”

Here’s a sweet and gentle story about a little panda escaping imminent danger and learning to listen to his mother. The muted colors and round characters remind me of Jon Muth’s Zen Shorts.

I definitely will be using this book in a storytime or two. It’s short for young listeners, but has cozy time with Mama combined with elements of danger and a fun twist. And you can find out how a tiger can fly!

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/little_panda.html

Review of Princess of the Midnight Ball, by Jessica Day George

midnight_ballPrincess of the Midnight Ball

by Jessica Day George

Bloomsbury, New York, 2009. 280 pages.
Starred review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #9 Fantasy Teen Fiction

I do love fairy tale retellings. Princess of the Midnight Ball is a retelling of “Twelve Dancing Princesses,” beautifully carried out.

This fairytale is one that features a hard-working common soldier, and I liked that aspect of the book. The book opens with Galen returning from the war. His father was a soldier before him, and his parents both died in the war. You can’t help but like Galen, and it’s nice to see someone deserving work hard to save the day and win a princess.

The reason the princesses dance every night is more sinister than meets the eye in the fairy tale. Their mother made an ill-advised bargain with the King Under Stone. And now her twelve daughters are paying the price, unable to tell anyone about their suffering.

And Galen is a knitter! He learned to knit his own socks and scarves during the war, and it comes in handy for binding evil. Two knitting patterns are included at the back of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed that bit of the story.

Jessica Day George also does a good job giving the princesses distinct characters — not easy to do when you’re dealing with a family of twelve! She gives Galen some additional obstacles to overcome with the result a thoroughly satisfying tale.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/midnight_ball.html

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

i_need_your_love
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

www.thework.com
www.crownpublishing.com

“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!

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/i_need_your_love.html

Review of The Queen of Attolia audiobook, by Megan Whalen Turner

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The Queen of Attolia

by Megan Whalen Turner

performed by Jeff Woodman

Recorded Books, 2007.  8 CDs.  9 hours.

Starred Review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: Wonderful Rereads

This is approximately the fourth time I’ve read The Queen of Attolia, and like the rest of the books in the series, I like it better every time.  With its beautifully orchestrated touch of romance, this is my favorite of Megan Whalen Turner’s books, and indeed one of my favorite books of all time.

Jeff Woodman does an excellent job of bringing the book to life.  The advantage to listening the book instead of reading it was that I was forced not to gobble the whole thing down in one night, and got to draw out the experience.  The disadvantage was that I was very unhappy to arrive at work each morning while I was listening to it.  Of course, this was the perfect audiobook to be listening to just after moving.  My new commute is quite a bit longer than I thought it was going to be — but because it gave me more time to spend with Eugenides, I was glad!

Megan Whalen Turner creates rich and complex characters.  This book more thoroughly explores the character and background of the Queen of Attolia, and we learn that her apparent ruthlessness has reasons behind it.  We find ourselves actually liking someone who seems capable of atrocities. — Is that not the work of a master author?

I also love the way Megan Whalen Turner explores the question of why God (only in the book it is gods she invented) allows bad things to happen.  Eugenides has a Job-like moment that gives Eugenides — and the reader — a perspective on how God transcends human comprehension, but also works for our good, even when we don’t understand.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/queen_of_attolia_audio.html

Review of Home of the Brave, by Katherine Applegate

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Home of the Brave

by Katherine Applegate

Square Fish (Feiwel and Friends), 2007.  267 pages.

Starred review.

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #1 Other Children’s Fiction

Kek has come to Minnesota in winter from his home in Sudan.  War has made him lose everything — his father, his brother, his home, and their family’s cows.  He last saw his mother in the refugee camp before the soldiers came there, too.  He is staying with his aunt and Ganwar, his older cousin who came to America before him.  They too lost their family and home, and Ganwar lost a hand to the war.

To say that winter in Minnesota is different from anything Kek has ever known before is an understatement.  The cold is like claws on his skin.  The brightness of the snow burns his eyes.  He tries to help his aunt by cleaning her dishes in what people call the washing machine.  No one told him that machine was only for clothes.

But then Kek sees something he does understand — a cow, old and neglected.  The owner is old herself and isn’t sure she can keep her farm, but while she does, Kek can help.

Kek’s story is beautiful and lyrical.  We see the strange new world through his eyes, and see his inspiring ability to hold onto hope.  Kek’s optimism in the face of overwhelming difficulties uplifts everyone around him, even the cow.  And the reader will find his story uplifting as well.

When Kek does get discouraged, when the difficulties seem insurmountable, we are pulling for him with all our hearts.

I like Kek’s voice, simple but lyrical.  Here is a little section:

“The next week,

my ESL class takes a field trip to the zoo.

Field trip is another English trick,

like raining cats and dogs

and a barrel of laughs

because there is no field

and it’s not a far trip

like the one I took from Africa.

 

“We take a yellow bus.

When we get to the zoo,

we must stand in line to get our tickets.

The other kids complain,

but I am used to lines.

One day in the refugee camp

I stood in line for nine hours

to get a handful of corn.

 

“At last a guiding lady walks us past

birds and lizards,

fish and butterflies,

zebras and elephants.

We’re looking for animals

from our homelands….

 

“We are supposed to be watching the animals,

but I can’t stop looking at the people

looking at all the animals.

 

“A class of little children

laughs at the pigs

rolling happily in the cold mud.

Their class looks like our class,

or maybe we look like them:

many colors and shapes

and words.

 

“Of all the things I didn’t know

about America,

this is the most amazing:

I didn’t know

there would be so many tribes

from all over the world.

How could I have imagined

the way they walk through the world

side by side

without fear,

all free to gaze at the same sky

with the same hopes?”

This book is beautiful and inspiring, and will linger in your memory.  It gives you a taste of the courage and hope refugees must call up simply to face each new day.

Buy from Amazon.com

Review of Stealing Heaven, by Elizabeth Scott

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Stealing Heaven

by Elizabeth Scott

HarperTeen, 2008.  307 pages.

Starred review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #3 Other Teen Fiction

http://www.elizabethwrites.com/

http://www.harperteen.com/

Danielle is eighteen years old.  She’s been stealing things as long as she can remember.  Her Mom is good at what she does, and she’s trained Dani how to get the job done.

Dani’s never stayed in one place for long, and she’s never gone to school.  Her mom says, “Some kids go to school and leave not knowing how to write their own name.  You can do that and you can tell plate from sterling just by looking at it.  That’s education.”

When they decide to work in a beach town called Heaven, things begin to go wrong.  Dani meets a nice girl at the beach, who turns out to be the daughter of the owners of the richest place in town — the one her Mom plans to steal from.  Then a cute guy keeps running into her and seems interested in her — and he turns out to be a cop.

Having a friend or a boyfriend has always been out of the question for Dani.  But now she’s getting pulled in.  What will her mother say if she finds out?  What will Dani’s new friends say if they find out that she’s a thief?

This book pulls you into Dani’s dilemma as a young adult torn between what she’s always known, what she’s good at, and the call of a life that’s different, a life with relationships that last.

This is another book I couldn’t stop reading until I’d finished it in the early hours of the morning.  The story is gripping, and you do find yourself caring about Dani, but understanding her struggle.  Elizabeth Scott makes the characters distinctive and interesting, but completely believable.  I don’t think I’ve never met a professional silver thief, but now I feel like I know what that would be like.  I’m going to have to read more of her books.

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Review of The Thief audiobook, by Megan Whalen Turner

thief_audio.jpg

The Thief

by Megan Whalen Turner

Performed by Jeff Woodman

Recorded Books, 1997.  7 CDs, 7.25 hours.

Starred Review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: Wonderful Rereads

(My library had this book on CD, but Amazon only lists the cassette version.  I recommend finding it from your library!)

This is now approximately the fifth time I’ve read The Thief, and I enjoy it more every time.  Listening to it on CD was a good excuse to review it again, since I’ve already reviewed the print version as an Old Favorite.

I remembered why the book was a little hard to read aloud — Gen is a bit whiny and sarcastic at the beginning, and it’s a challenge to keep it up in your voice.  Jeff Woodman rose to the challenge, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it.

The Thief is a book where your perspective on everything changes toward the end of the book.  So it’s tremendous fun, on rereading, to see how the author planted all kinds of information all along the way, but you didn’t see any of it, because you were looking from a different viewpoint.

I really would like to see this fabulous book get checked out more often.  All year, I kept suggesting it as a selection for the Homeschoolers’ Book Club.  Well, May is our last meeting, so this time I didn’t suggest!  I simply informed them that we’d be reading The Thief.  The one who has already finished it was enthralled.  I will bring the two sequels, The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia to the meeting so they can check them out and read on.  Naturally, I am eagerly waiting to get a copy of The Queen of Attolia in audiobook form.  I definitely have to read the whole series again.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot, since I don’t want to give anything away.  Gen has boasted that he can steal anything, and it landed him in the king’s prison.  But now the king’s Magus has gotten him out of prison to take him on a mission to steal a long-lost, ancient treasure.

The book is set in a world very similar to ancient Greece, and along the journey the travelers tell tales of their world’s gods.  Technically, this book should probably be categorized as fantasy, but I put it under “historical,” because it gives such a feel of what it would have been like to live at that time, including political considerations.  No one does any magic, though they do encounter the work of the gods.

I have a hard time convincing people to read this book, because I don’t want to say too much.  So I end up simply raving about how clever the author is and how good the book is and begging you to try it!  I think with every rereading this book goes higher on my mental list of favorites.  Truly a magnificent book.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/thief_audio.html

Review of Lucky Breaks, by Susan Patron

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Lucky Breaks

by Susan Patron

ginee seo books, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York, 2009.  181 pages.

Starred review.

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #4 Other Children’s Fiction

Lucky, who is about to turn eleven, is someone I can’t help loving.  She’s intrepid, but she doesn’t always use the best judgment.  She’s a good friend with a big heart, but she sometimes does mean things in spite of herself.  Susan Patron writes in a way that makes you feel for Lucky as if you yourself were, once again, almost almost eleven.

Lucky Breaks is a sequel to the Newbery-winning The Higher Power of Lucky.  The themes are bigger in the first book, because Lucky’s dealing with the death of her mother and hoping Brigitte will adopt her.  While the issues in the second book are not as cosmic, they are still important — finding and keeping friends.

This book finds Lucky still helping Brigitte settle into Hard Pan, California, and she meets someone she hopes will become her best friend — a girl to laugh with until they hiccup.

But Paloma’s parents are worried about their daughter spending time in the dangerous desert.  Meanwhile, Lincoln is working on a mysterious knotting project that may take him away from Hard Pan.

Susan Patron’s characters are quirky in so many delightful ways.  Miles’ favorite book has shifted from Go, Dog. Go! to Brain Surgery for Beginners.  Short Sammy is digging a mysterious pit.  And Brigitte is figuring out what makes a person truly American.  You can’t help but feel that they are real people, friends about whom you’re eager to hear the latest news.

As for Lucky — She’s the same exuberant, intrepid, scientifically curious, rarely cautious, delightful young lady we met before, a little further along in her amazing journey of growing up.

Susan Patron promises a third book after this one.  I hope she writes quickly!

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/lucky_breaks.html

Review of Winnie-the-Pooh audiobook, read by Peter Dennis

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Winnie-the-Pooh

written by A. A. Milne

performed by Peter Dennis

Book published in 1926.  Blackstone Audiobooks, 2004.  3 hours on 3 cassettes.

Starred review.

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: Wonderful Rereads

I’ve already reviewed Winnie-the-Pooh at length and said how special it is to me: http://www.sonderbooks.com/ChildrensFiction/winniethepooh.html .

Although part of the specialness is that I fell in love with my husband while reading Winnie-the-Pooh together, I find that the book is still just as special even though my husband has now left me.  Winnie-the-Pooh has been part of my life much longer than he has.

I have checked out several cassettes from the library that I want to listen to before we end up getting rid of all our cassettes, and Winnie-the-Pooh is one.  (Though the same version is now available on CD.)  It was the perfect book to listen to while my son and I were making lots of trips back and forth while toting our possessions for a move across town.

Few things are as much fun as reading Winnie-the-Pooh aloud, especially with a group of enthusiastic readers.  However, when you are driving, you can’t read yourself, and this performance by Peter Dennis is the next best thing.  He is so exceptionally good at doing the voices of the characters, it’s a bit intimidating.  (Though I will not let that stop me.)

I was appalled to learn that my teenage son doesn’t remember most of the stories.  Surely I had read them to him enough times?  He learned to write his name P-O-O-H, for goodness’ sake! 

Anyway, we thoroughly enjoyed listening to and laughing over them in the middle of the serious business of moving.  We will definitely have to do some Pooh readalouds together just as soon as we find the box where my copy is hiding.

You can’t ask for a better family listening experience than this version of Winnie-the-Pooh.  And I don’t care if your family is all adults or includes toddlers.  Those who are only familiar with the Disney versions may not realize the wonderful subtle humor and charm of the original books.  It’s hard to imagine anyone of any age not enjoying these stories.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/winnie_the_pooh_audio.html