Review of The Magic and the Healing, by Nick O’Donohoe

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The Magic and the Healing, by Nick O’Donohoe

Firebird, 2006.  First published in 1994.  324 pages.

Reviewed January 14, 2008.

BJ Vaughan is packing up her stuff, ready to leave vet school forever.  Her mother committed suicide before she could be overcome by the symptoms of a genetic disease she might have passed to BJ.  Unable to focus, BJ failed her small animal rotation, and figures she might as well call it quits.

Then Dr. Dobbs calls her into his office and asks her to work on a special rotation he’s supervising.  He shows her a horn.

She barely noticed; the horn had taken her over.  “A land animal.  Antelope have two like this, generally darker.  Goats have two, but they curve more in any of the goats I know–“

She had her first suspicion of what it was.  She shivered, and the shiver turned into cold certainty.  Of course.  She should have guessed it long ago.  It was obvious, except–

Except that there weren’t any.

BJ accepts Dr. Dobbs’ assignment and finds herself traveling with a group of veterinary students into Crossroads, a place between worlds, where impossible creatures exist and need their help.

Here’s a fantasy book with a twist of James Herriot.  There’s a dark side to this book, as someone has sinister plans for Crossroads, and the students get in the way.  You can’t help liking BJ and her companions– her consistent reaction is to help ease suffering, with no thought to her own safety.

This book has more of a feel of fantasy for adults, though it’s published by a Young Adult imprint.  This isn’t fairy tale fantasy, but a somewhat grittier look at what it would be like to practice veterinary medicine on creatures like griffins and werewolves.

An absorbing and intriguing story.

This review is posted on the main site at

http://www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/magic_and_the_healing.html

Review of Book of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale

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Book of a Thousand Days
by Shannon Hale

Reviewed January 8, 2008.
Bloomsbury, New York, 2007. 306 pages.
Starred Review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2008: #1, Teen Fiction

I picked up many Advanced Reading Copies of books at the ALA Conference last June, but the one I was by far the most excited about was Shannon Hale’s new book, Book of a Thousand Days.

Mucker maid Dashti lost everything when her mother died, so she went to the city to learn to be a lady’s maid. When she comes to the palace, the princess needs a maid–because her father is sealing her into a tower for a thousand days because she has refused to marry the powerful ruler of the neighboring land.

Dashti is willing to be shut up in the tower with the princess and food for a thousand days. But when rival suitors show up outside the tower, events don’t turn out as expected. Can Dashti help her lady survive?

In many ways, Book of a Thousand Days reminds me of The Goose Girl, the book that made me fall in love with Shannon’s writing. Both books are lovely retellings of Grimm fairy tales. Both are phenomenal–wonderfully romantic, with a touch of politics and intrigue. In both, the fantasy is done with a light touch.

Both books also involve a servant passing herself off as her Princess mistress. However, the two situations are complete opposites. In The Goose Girl, the lady-in-waiting usurps her mistress’s place. In Book of a Thousand Days, the humble servant only carries out the deception because of the orders of the fear-filled princess.

In both books, we see character growth that rings true, and beautifully blossoming love, along with the forming of deep friendships during adversity.

I’m afraid I’m starting to get skeptical about the romantic heroes in Shannon’s books. They are too wonderful! I’m starting to think they are a woman’s idea of the perfect man (They certainly fit my idea of the perfect man!), and a real living breathing man could never come close.

But so what?! The magic in the book is done with a light touch, so it doesn’t hurt a bit to add another element of fantasy!

This story is simple, and so beautifully told. Why does it strike me as one of the best books I’ve ever read? I don’t think I can put my finger on the external ingredients that make it so. All I know is that it touches my heart.

This review is posted on the main site at www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/book_of_a_thousand_days.html

 

Happy New Year!

Happy 2008!  I’m starting off the year with a list of the books I most enjoyed in 2007, my list of 2008 Sonderbooks Stand-outs.

Since I spent 2007 studying for my Master’s in Library Science (and I finished it!), the reviews will take longer to post than this list. Don’t worry, they are on the way!

If only I didn’t read so many good books! As you can see, I have trouble narrowing down my choices. I do recommend every book on this list. They are books that stood out in my mind after a year of reading. For fun, I’ve listed them in the order I enjoyed them, which shouldn’t be construed as a ranking of their quality.

As always with the Stand-outs, I’ve categorized the books so so that I don’t have to make too many choices between wonderful but very different books. This year, I’ve added a category for audiobooks. Two of the audiobooks I listened to were the very best books I read in a previous year, so it didn’t seem fair to put them with the genre they are part of and have them top the list again. Instead, I ranked them according to my experience enjoying listening to them.

Happy Reading!

Review of I’m Proud of You, by Tim Madigan

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I’m Proud of You 

My Friendship with Fred Rogers

by Tim Madigan

Reviewed June 18, 2007.
Gotham Books, New York, 2006. 196 pages.
Starred Review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2007: #1, True Stories

What an amazing man Mr. Rogers was! This book tells how a newspaper interview led Tim Madigan to one of the deepest friendships of his life.

Mr. Rogers, famous to children for generations, is every bit as kind and loving a person as he appears on TV.  Tim Madigan says of him:

In my opinion, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood revealed only a fraction of his human greatness. Knowing him from television alone, it was tempting to see him as a man who might actually live in Neighborhood of Make-Believe. . . a person of epic goodness, no doubt, but also a man of innocence and naïveté, who, as a result, might be little acquainted with the grittier realities of life (though his program dealt unflinchingly with issues like divorce, death, and violence). . . . 

There was innocence about Fred in person, to be sure.  He could be quaint, such as when he referred to me as “my dear.” He was a vegetarian who would never eat “anything that had a mother.”  He wore a goofy-looking swimming cap and goggles for his daily morning swims.  He forever carried a camera, pulling it out with great delight to photograph people he had met for the first time.

But he was also a man fully of this world, deeply aware of and engaged in its difficulties, speaking often of death, disease, divorce, addiction, and cruelty and the agonies those things wrought on people he loved.  He worked very hard, a lifelong student of children and child development. . . .  An ordained Presbyterian minister, he devoured books by the great spiritual writers and was constantly preoccupied with spiritual questions himself.  He rose before six each morning to pray for dozens of people by name.  He was perhaps the most intelligent person I’ve ever known.

But in my mind, something else was at the heart of his greatness.  It was his unique capacity for relationship, what Esquire magazine writer Tom Junod once called “a fearlessness, an unashamed insistence on intimacy.”  That was true with almost every person he met, be it television’s Katie Couric or a New York City cabdriver; the Dalai Lama or the fellow handing out towels at the health club where Fred went to swim.  Fred wanted to know the truth of your life, the nature of your insides, and had room enough in his own spirit to embrace without judgment whatever that truth might be.

By the end of the book, the reader is also convinced.  Tim Madigan tells about some of the hardest years of his life, and how his friendship with Fred Rogers sustained him and his family through them.  His life was changed by being so freely and unconditionally loved, and reading this book has touched my life as well.

If you want to learn about a human example of unconditional love in action, I strongly recommend this book.

You can find this review on the main site at:

http://www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/im_proud_of_you.html

Review of The King of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner

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The King of Attolia
by Megan Whalen Turner

Reviewed March 5, 2006.
Green Willow Books, New York, 2006. 387 pages.
Starred Review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2007: #1, Teen Fiction

The King of Attolia is a sequel to Newbery honor winner The Thief and its follow-up, The Queen of Attolia. All three of the books have surprises and reversals toward the ends of the books. So I’m afraid I can’t even tell you the situation at the beginning of this book—since it will give away surprises in The Thief and especially in The Queen of Attolia. I definitely recommend reading these books in order, since that will give you the fun of the surprises.

As soon as I learned from our library book rental brochure that this book was out, I ordered a copy for myself. The books are so good, I knew I’d want to own it and read it many times. When it arrived, I read through it, and then I began reading the first book to my son at bedtimes. Much to my delight, he doesn’t remember the plot from the time quite a few years ago when I read it to him before.

I have to say that in some ways these books are even more fun to read the second or third time. You can see all the places the author planted clues of what will be revealed later. You appreciate her genius all the more.

My favorite of the three books is still The Queen of Attolia. But this follow-up was also truly wonderful. There were a few plot threads left hanging—I very much hope this means she’s planning to write more about the adventures of Eugenides. I would definitely love to read more.

To quote my son, as we were reading this book, “Eugenides rocks!”

You can find this review on the main site at:  www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/kingofattolia.html

 

Review of The Canterbury Papers, by Judith Koll Healey

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The Canterbury Papers 

A Novel of Suspense

by Judith Koll Healey

Reviewed December 17, 2006.
William Morrow, New York, 2004. 353 pages.
Starred Review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2007: #1, Romance Fiction

I loved this book! The subtitle says it’s a novel of suspense, but it’s also a historical mystery tale with romance, intrigue, and a smart, capable heroine.

The book features an actual historical character, Alaïs Capet, the daughter of Louis VII and his second wife, Constance of Castile. At a very young age, Alaïs and her sister Marguerite were sent to England to live with the court of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, the first wife of Louis VII.

Alaïs and Marguerite were betrothed to Henry II’s sons, Alaïs to Richard the Lionheart, and Marguerite to Henry Court Mantel. However, when Eleanor lost favor with Henry for plotting with her sons against him, he had her imprisoned in a tower and took Alaïs as his mistress. She never married Richard.

The book opens many years later. Richard and Henry are both dead and the younger brother John is ruling England, but doesn’t have a firm hold on the throne. Eleanor sends Alaïs to Canterbury to recover some letters which might hurt John’s power. Eleanor hints that she can give Alaïs information about a secret near to her heart, a secret she long thought was dead and buried.

The person in charge of Canterbury, William of Caen, once also lived in the court of Henry and Eleanor. He took his lessons with the royal children, including Alaïs, and was tormented by the princes, because he was their father’s favorite. Alaïs finds him quite changed since she last saw him. He also seems to know more than he lets on.

Alaïs is kidnapped just before she is able to recover the letters. She’s held in the same tower where Eleanor was once imprisoned. Now King John wants information from her—information she doesn’t have.

This story is full of action, suspense, and romance, and is highly enjoyable reading. I wouldn’t call it chick lit, because the historical background and political intrigue give it more weight than your typical light mystery. This is Judith Koll Healey’s first novel, but I hope there will be many, many more to follow!

This review is on the main site at www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/canterburypapers.html

 

You Don’t Have To Take It Anymore, by Steven Stosny, PhD

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You Don’t Have to Take It Anymore  

Turn Your Resentful, Angry, or Emotionally Abusive Relationship into a Compassionate, Loving One

by Steven Stosny, PhD

Reviewed March 5, 2006.
Free Press, New York, 2006. 364 pages.
Starred Review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2007: #1, Personal Growth

I’m starting to be amazed at how the exactly right book keeps coming into my life at exactly the right time. It makes sense. God of course knows me, and knows that the easiest way to get a message to me that I need to hear is to send it my way in a book. So I’m calling them my “current book from God.” As soon as I finish one, another comes my way. With this book, as soon as I’d gotten about a third of the way through, I liked it so much, I decided to order myself a copy, so I could go through it slowly, doing all the exercises.

This book is not at all as combative as the title sounds. As Dr. Stosny says,

“My emphasis on healing, growth, and empowerment means that you will not see in these pages lengthy checklists of behaviors that qualify you as a victim or lengthy descriptions of resentful, angry, or abusive men or explorations of how bad they are. You know better than anyone else that your relationship has put thorns in your heart. You don’t need a description of how much they hurt or how bad it is for you to keep them. You need to learn how to take them out and how to heal the wounds in ways that prevent scarring.  

Checklists and bullets about the behaviors or attitudes that qualify as resentful, angry, or abusive would distract you from your most important task. The true issue at stake is your core value—the most important things about you as a person—not his behavior or your reactions to it. As you reinforce and reconnect with your core value, you are far less likely to be a victim. As you experience the enormous depth of your core value, the last thing you will want to do is identify with being a victim, or with the damage or bad things that have happened to you. In your core value, you will identify with your inherent strengths, talents, skills, and power as a unique ever growing, competent, and compassionate person. You want to outgrow walking on eggshells, not simply survive it, and you do that only by realizing your fullest value as a person.

The renewed compassion for yourself that you learn in these pages will lead directly to a deeper compassion for your resentful, angry, or abusive partner. . . . You may be able to stop walking on eggshells and walk into a deeper, more connected relationship with a more compassionate, loving partner. It might not seem so now judging from his attitudes and behavior, but your husband wants that as much as you do. If you were to ask, he would probably tell you that deep in his heart he wants to be a compassionate, loving husband, even if he’d blame you for why he isn’t.

These are huge promises. But reading his methods for transforming your own resentment into compassion, I am convinced that they can work. This is truly about overcoming evil with good.

Now, his solution for a resentful husband is for him to read the “Boot Camp” section of this book. Though that might not be feasible, you can still use the techniques yourself to not react to blame and resentment with your own anger and resentment. As Steven Stosny says, “Compassion directly activates your core value—the most important things about you. In your deepest values, you act with conviction and strength. Compassion is power.” If you give up resentment and choose instead to be compassionate, there is no question that you are going to feel better and more powerful than if you vow to make him pay for whatever he’s done.

What’s more, Dr. Stosny has specific techniques, with the acronym HEALS, to teach you to react to a core hurt with compassion rather than with anger. I’m only beginning to practice it, but I’m already very impressed with it. This is so much better than getting angry and storing up retorts or ways to get even. Compassion and forgiveness are better for your body and soul than resentment and blame.

He isn’t talking about being a doormat.

Love him enough to recognize that his hurting you is killing what little sense of adequacy as a husband he has left. Love him enough to demand that he find it in his heart to value and respect you, according to his deepest values. He seriously violates his deepest values when he fails to value and respect you…. Every time he says a harsh word to you or gives you the cold shoulder, or simply fails to value and respect you, he hates himself a little more.

 

This book doesn’t promise it will get your spouse to change. It advises you, “Focus on what you can control—your ability to improve, appreciate, connect, or protect—rather than what you cannot control, such as the opinions and behavior of your husband.”

If you’re having trouble feeling worthy of love, Dr. Stosny tells the secret: “Here’s the hot and hard truth: Only your own loving behavior can make you feel worthy of love. It’s not rocket science. The only way to feel lovable is to be loving and compassionate.” And he helps you learn to do that.

This is a wonderful book. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s ever felt any resentment toward anyone! I also ordered from Amazon two other books by Steven Stosny that teach the HEALS technique, Manual of the Core Value Workshop, and The Powerful Self. I want to learn these techniques, because I believe that they will make me a more compassionate and forgiving person, as well as a much happier person.

As Dr. Stosny says, “Whether or not he changes, you must connect with your enormous inner value, resources, and personal power to stop walking on eggshells and to emerge as the richly creative, beautiful whole person you truly are.”

You can learn more about Steven Stosny’s work at the website http://www.compassionpower.com/.

This review is posted on the main site at www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/donthavetotakeit.html

 

Stand-outs 2007 are posted!

I’ve finally chosen the 2007 Sonderbooks Stand-outs!

These are the best books I read in 2006, reviewed between March 2006, and September 18, 2007.

For the next couple of weeks, I’m going to feature the Stand-outs on the main page and convert their reviews to the new format. Then I’ll post new reviews again.

Stand-outs are the books that stick out as exceptional when I look back over a year of reading. The sort of books I want all my friends to read, too!

Happy reading!

Review of High Priestess, by David Skibbins

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High Priestess
by David Skibbins

Reviewed September 18, 2007.
Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin’s Minotaur), New York, 2006. 280 pages.

I so enjoyed David Skibbins’ first book, Eight of Swords, I quickly snapped up his second Tarot Card Mystery.

This book also features the extremely quirky reluctant detective Warren Ritter. Even though he’s used to running from trouble or suspicion or intimacy, he’s sticking around Berkeley because of the new love in his life.

In this book, we again find Warren riding the heights and depths of his manic-depressive condition, and again getting unjustly suspected by the police. Like the first book, the story is fun, absorbing, and unpredictable. We learn about a series of mysterious deaths which might all be accidents. Or are they a determined pattern, with Warren’s old girlfriend on target to be the next victim?

I didn’t particularly like it that Warren was asked to investigate these deaths by the leader of “The Church of the Arising Night,” worshippers of Satan. The book includes a plausible sounding plea to join this cult, as well as the character of a sinister and threatening Christian minister. So if that would bother you in a novel, you should avoid this book.

As for me, I didn’t particularly like those details, but it’s not as if they suggest that all Christians are like this minister, or that joining the Church of Satan is a good idea. (Warren isn’t interested.) I wanted to know what happened to the character, so I read on. With all his quirks and weaknesses and shadowy past, he’s someone I find myself rooting for.

This review is on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/high_priestess.html

Review of Poems for Life

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Poems for Life
Famous People Select Their Favorite Poem and Say Why It Inspires Them
compiled by the Grade V Classes of the Nightingale-Bamford School
introduction by Anna Quindlen

Reviewed September 18, 2007.
Arcade Publishing, New York, 1995. 107 pages.

This book was compiled by a group of students. A teacher explains at the beginning,

We wanted the students not only to be awakened to a world of poetry through other people’s choices, but to become aware of a world of need outside their immediate communities, one to which they could in some way contribute.

The proceeds from the project went to charity. 

For two years, the students wrote to well-known people in all fields. Every day, they awaited the mail with eager anticipation. When a reply arrived it was greeted with curiosity and excitement. Each letter and accompanying poem was read in class and the poem and poet discussed. We greatly enjoyed finding out why people had selected a particular work, and we learned from what they had to say about it. What most struck all of us was how important poetry had been in the lives of the contributors, who had turned and returned to poems for amusement, solace, wisdom, and perhaps most importantly, to find some part of themselves.

All of the poems in this book are someone’s favorite, which means it makes good reading. The students included the letters sent by the celebrities, in most cases explaining why they chose that particular poem. Then the poem itself is included.

Contributors include people like Mario Cuomo, E. L. Doctorow, David Halberstam, Angela Lansbury, Yo-Yo Ma, Joyce Carol Oates, Diane Sawyer, Beverly Sills, Stephen Sondheim, and Kurt Vonnegut. This collection provides pleasant, fun, and many times inspiring reading.

This review is on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/poems_for_life.html