This second novel by Joanne Rendell, Crossing Washington Square, was such an enjoyable and smart read. I flew through the book, and it truly reminded...moreThis second novel by Joanne Rendell, Crossing Washington Square, was such an enjoyable and smart read. I flew through the book, and it truly reminded me of why I love contemporary women's fiction so much! It did this not just because I loved this book itself but also because of the interesting discussions about contemporary fiction that take place within the story.
The two main characters are each female literature professors, at the fictitious Manhattan U, who are on opposite ends of the literary spectrum. Rachel Grey is a young, animated professor still working towards tenure. Her recently published book explored the relationship between the work of Jane Austen and contemporary women's fiction. Diana Monroe, on the other hand, is more serious, already tenured, and studies the works of Sylvia Plath. She and Rachel immediately dislike each other and maintain a tense relationship. The tension is further heightened when a charming and attractive visiting professor from Harvard arrives and gives both Rachel and Diana flattering attention. Then, without realizing the other is going, Rachel and Diana each volunteer to chaperone a study abroad trip to London. While there they are confronted with a situation with one of their students in which they have to work together and end up learning a lot more about the other.
My thoughts on this book can be described perfectly by the quote by Nicole Kraus on the cover of the book: "A charming, witty, and cerebral novel." This novel was fun, engaging, and smart. Each of the characters, despite their differences, was easily relatable. They each experience some of their own struggles, but they were great examples of strong, confident women and left me feeling empowered as a woman as well. I love when, while reading, I feel like I am cheering on the characters. These are some of the wonderful things about women’s literature and are also discussed in the book; Rachel and Diana get into heated debates about the merits of popular women’s fiction and these are some of the arguments Rachel gives. These discussions also piqued my interest in the subject and reinforced my desire to take a class in literature.
For those who enjoy popular women’s fiction, Jane Austen, books about colleges or professors, or even just discussions about books in general, this novel is a gem. The plot was well paced and continuously moved forward, engaging the reader throughout. The setting is the same as in Rendell’s first novel, The Professor’s Wives’ Club, and a couple characters from that book are mentioned in passing, but this is a stand-alone novel.(less)
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn is an adorable and clever book that explores the combined issues of dystopia and language. The characters in this book li...moreElla Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn is an adorable and clever book that explores the combined issues of dystopia and language. The characters in this book live on the fictional island of Nollop. The island is named after Nevin Nollop, the creator of the famous phrase "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" which contains all 26 letters of the alphabet. The residents of Nollop are lovers of language. They idolize the since deceased Mr. Nollop and have a statue erected in his honor in their town square.
At the beginning of the novel, one of the letter tiles, z, falls off the erected statue. After deliberation, the High Council decides this is a sign from Nollop and that he wants them to terminate the use of the letter in all oral and written conversation and correspondence. Most of the townspeople adapt. But then more letters keep falling and communication starts to become exponentially more difficult. Ella and others then start on a mission to save the island of Nollop from the overzealous High Council before their means of communication is taken away from them completely.
I thought this book was such a cute, humorous, and witty read. I laughed throughout the book at the absurdity of the "High Council" and the subsequent antics of the townspeople. This was an easy read once I got into it. The first 10 or so pages took a minute to adjust to because the characters speak in a more formal manner with unfamiliar-to-me vocabulary words. But then, the entire book is written in letters to and from different characters which sometimes lends itself to more formal speech, so that might account for some of the language. I will admit there were a couple instances where I wondered if it was really necessary to use as many large words so frequently, but for the most part it wasn't an issue. (If you're looking to learn some new words, though, you may be in for a treat!) As the High Council bans more and more letters, the extreme change in words and spellings greatly reflects the way in which the government is getting out of control. This may or may not have been intentional, but it added an interesting dimension to the novel.
Because the book is written in epistolary form, we don't necessarily get to read or see a description of each character -- we get to know them and their thoughts without dealing with the sometimes annoying stream-of-consciousness narration. The plot was interesting and moved along well. The book is short at 208 pages and can easily be read in a couple quick sittings. I definitely recommend this book! Lovers of language will also really love this book. (less)
NurtureShock was a great read and a fascinating and important addition to the field of child psychology and parenting. Despite the gravity of the subj...moreNurtureShock was a great read and a fascinating and important addition to the field of child psychology and parenting. Despite the gravity of the subjects, the book was also an easy read and is fairly short too! I almost passed this book up for a blog tour and am SO glad I didn't because this is a book I will keep on my shelf and will recommend to others.
NurtureShock takes some common myths about parenting and/or child development and explains how current methods may actually have the opposite or, at least, unintended effects, (and also explains what methods research shows should be done). The book is broken up into 10 chapters, each as enthralling as the next.
1. The Inverse Power of Praise 2. The Lost Hour 3. Why White Parents Don't Talk About Race 4. Why Kids Lie 5. The Search for Intelligent Life in Kindergarten 6. The Sibling Effect 7. The Science of Teen Rebellion 8. Can Self-Control Be Taught 9. Plays Well with Others 10. Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn't
The book also includes an introduction and a conclusion that are equally as interesting as the chapters themselves. Even the different studies that were done for each of these topics were fascinating to read about. Being written by science journalists, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman (as opposed to the scientists behind the research) the writing was easy to relate to and fun, rather than steeped in only numbers and scientific terms.
The things discussed in NurtureShock are those that should be applied at home as well as in schools. The chapters can each be read separately as they, for the most part, don't necessarily relate to the other. I don't even think I could pick a favorite chapter because I enjoyed, and learned from, each one. I am not usually a non-fiction reader. (I tend to get bored halfway through most non-fiction books). That was not the case at all with NurtureShock. The only thing I would have changed in my reading of the book was to read just one chapter at a time and let it digest for a day or two before moving on. I could have done this had I started earlier, but I waited and then had to finish the book in a couple days (for my blog tour).
I think that anyone who is a parent, a teacher, works with kids, etc. should own a copy of this book (and have read it). The science is very interesting and has real effects when utilized.(less)
I only recently learned of the book Push (1996) when I saw a theater preview for the movie, Precious, based on it. I, of course, knew I wanted to read...moreI only recently learned of the book Push (1996) when I saw a theater preview for the movie, Precious, based on it. I, of course, knew I wanted to read it right away. It was a short book and I thought it was good. Not great but not awful either. But it was a very difficult read -- in more than one way.
One difficulty was the abuse issue. It's put right out there from the beginning that Precious is sexually abused by her father consistently. At the beginning of the book, Precious is pregnant with her second child by her father. Throughout the book, Precious gives some description of the abuse. Though brief, these descriptions are vivid. To make it increasingly worse, Precious is abused by her mother physically, emotionally, and sexually as well.
*Sidenote* In my "real life" outside of blogging, I interview children who have been sexually abused to get all the details and facts regarding the abuse for law enforcement and/or child protective services to do their investigations. Despite hearing about these details in real life, I tend to get more disturbed when I read about it in fiction. A well-known author commented on one of my reviews, when I complained about the use of too vivid descriptions of abuse, by saying I chose to view their (the girls') world with "frosty lenses". It's possible that I do, but I think it's almost necessary when working with this specific job. If I had the disgusted, emotional reactions I have when I read fiction with every child I interview, how unhealthy would that be?! Anyway, when it comes to reading, I guess I let my guard down and connect with the characters, and the descriptions are difficult. There were things described, however briefly, that yes, were difficult to read.
Another difficulty was the method of narration. Push is narrated by the main character, Clareece Precious Jones, aka Precious. The story is told using her manner of speech which takes some getting used to. A main event in the story is when the characters learn to read and write. At that point in the story, Precious starts narrating using her knowledge of letters, as though she is writing a letter. Initially it was very confusing (and was translated into what she meant). As her writing improved, the translation went away but it was still difficult to figure out. Then it got to a point where you could more easily understand what she was saying. It was a unique method but was somewhat frustrating as well. It wasn't every page that was narrated in this way but, rather, certain parts.
Part of me wonders if my lack of outright amazement at the book is because in the 13 years since this book has come out we, readers, have seen so many other stories along the same lines and stories that utilize similarly unique methods of narration (though the 2 I think of off the top of my head are actually much older than this book). Anyhow, it is a short, quick read. (I read it in one night/ almost one sitting). I look forward to seeing the movie, but expect I will like the movie better than the book mainly because I think we will gain a more well-rounded understanding of Precious than we have in the book. Push is most definitely a sad but triumphant book.(less)
I had heard amazing things about this book for some time before I finally picked it up! Even then, I picked it up only because my sister was reading i...moreI had heard amazing things about this book for some time before I finally picked it up! Even then, I picked it up only because my sister was reading it for an online book club and I thought I'd join in. I'm so glad I did!
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is a story told from the viewpoint of the family dog, Enzo. Enzo observes and remarks on the idiosyncrasies of human life and hopes to be reincarnated as a human after he dies. (This is something he believes because of a documentary he once watched). But this book isn't solely about a dog telling a story. It's about a family, and a father, and the trauma that affects the family -- which is then narrated by the dog.
For the first 50 or so pages I wondered what everyone thought was so great. Sure, it was a cute idea, but the surprisingly somber tone of the book had me questioning it. I envisioned Enzo as cynical and the human equivalent of a "grumpy old man". I also was unsure about the large amount of NASCAR talk because this is an event (sport?) that does not interest me. At all.
I will say, though, that the inclusion of the life/NASCAR comparisons were thought provoking. "The art of racing in the rain" is after all a skill that takes work as is making it through difficult life events. In addition to these comparisons, Enzo, throughout the book, talked about different famous race car drivers and what qualities of theirs he admired. I did find all this interesting enough and enjoyed the useage of it. What I also liked was that this not just about the dog; rather, there was a completely unrelated (to the dog) story that was taking place around him. I don't have anything against dogs... I have a dog who I loooove (check out the about me section of my blog) but the book was more intricate than just that. This story was absolutely heartrending and emotional. I consider a book great when it is able to elicit such strong emotions from me, and this did!
One other thing I wanted to mention was the writing. It was simple, yet powerful, which makes sense as it was narrated by the dog. And it's sort of off-topic, but it sort of showed me how to be a good writer... I read and review a lot of books, and I hope to write a book(s) one day, so I pay a large amount of attention to sentence structure, "show don't tell", etc. And what I noticed was that Enzo seemed to have a grasp on the "show don't tell" because as a dog, he doesn't know to "tell" -- he just says what he observes. He used fairly simple sentence structure, yet had an impressive vocabulary. The method of writing worked so well and can be applied to other narrators too!(less)
The Help by Kathryn Stockett has been lauded throughout the blogosphere and bookstores as one of the best books of 2009. It has been on the best selli...moreThe Help by Kathryn Stockett has been lauded throughout the blogosphere and bookstores as one of the best books of 2009. It has been on the best selling list since its release in February of this year. In fact, it was slated to come out in paperback, but this date was pushed back due to the generous sales in hardcover that have yet to slow down.
I am sometimes hard on books, especially when I hear such rave reviews and am less than crazy impressed. But I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed The Help and agree with it being one of the best of 2009.
A quick summary for those of you who haven't read it a million times already (hehe)... The book takes place in 1960's Jackson, Mississippi during the civil rights era. Minny and Aibileen are two African American maids that work for yuppy/junior league society women. One of the women, "Skeeter" Phelan, is more forward thinking than the other women and takes the injustices of the civil rights into her own hands by deciding to write a book about it. She enlists the help of Aiblieen and Minny to gather stories from many different maids in the community. Meanwhile, she writes the book anonymously without deluging the town because of the unrest and controversy she would start.
The Help is told from three narrative points of view; Minny, Aibileen, and Skeeter. The characters are immediately engaging and maintained my interest throughout the book. The storyline was well paced and put together as well. Seeing as how I wasn't alive in the 1960's, and even if I were, my family was not the kind that had maids of any race or ethnicity, I was appalled at the way in which these women were treated. What makes it worse is that the white women actually believed they were being nice and/or were doing their maids a favor by treating them what they thought was kindly. As I said in my Sunday Salon post after I finished this, " it [definitely:] roused some passionate feelings in me about race, prejudice, ignorance, and hypocrisy." This is a book that has stayed with me and that I will share with others and read again. It makes you think a little about social injustices, how far we've come, and yet how far we have to go.
I do have to mention that I didn't care for the ending. It wasn't awful but I would have liked it better if some certain things had been different. Also, I'm unsure how I feel about the fact that this story is very similar to the author's upbringing. I truly disliked the majority of the "employers" in this book and wonder how much of this story was true to the author's own life experiences. But regardless, the author did do a good job in both the writing of this book and in telling the story.(less)
Tricks tells the stories of 5 teens who find themselves, due to various situations, leading dangerous lives in prostitution and "turning tricks". Eden...moreTricks tells the stories of 5 teens who find themselves, due to various situations, leading dangerous lives in prostitution and "turning tricks". Eden is from an ultra-conservative and religious family who disapprove of her dating; Seth works with his father on a farm in a rural area and struggles with his homosexuality; Whitney can't seem to live up to her sister or earn her mother's love; Ginger's own mother is addicted to drugs and engages in prostituting herself; and Cody finds himself in financial straits after becoming addicted to gambling. The book describes how their situations lead them to prostitution and then further illustrates typical scenarios they deal with.
I realize Ellen Hopkins takes on issues that many people shy away from or are scared to confront. Teenage prostitution is definitely one of them. However, I felt that this book did almost nothing but describe sex scene after lewd sex scene. I couldn't help but feel "dirty" after I read this, and I don't consider myself a prude. I mean, at my job I interview children about sexual abuse on a daily basis and the descriptions in this book still bothered me. I felt the book was overly focused on the sexual scenes and less on the actual stories.
One thing that may have made this book more enjoyable/tolerable was to tell each character's story straight through, making the book almost like a collection of "short stories" of teens who have been in this situation. It would have been just over 100 pages per character which isn't bad when written in free verse. Instead, the book focuses on one character and then abruptly stops and changes to the next character all throughout the book. It was advertised that the stories would interweave to tell one powerful story, but that HARDLY happened. The characters mentioned one or two of the other almost in passing. The stories really had nothing to do with each other except that they were each about teen prostitution. The start and stop of each character's story made it more difficult to get to know each character and it made their individual stories too choppy.
So would I still recommend Ellen Hopkins's books to readers? Absolutely. She grapples very difficult topics that need to be brought to life and her verse writing is so alluring. However, I would NOT recommend this as one of the first books to read by her. I do feel that this book could have been done much better and would have had a much better impact, at least for me. (less)
I know you've all read a million reviews for this! It's been all over the blogosphere for a while now, and will continue to be since it is being made...moreI know you've all read a million reviews for this! It's been all over the blogosphere for a while now, and will continue to be since it is being made into a movie to come out in 2011! And I read this back in December so this may be a short and not as detailed review...
To make the summary short, this takes place in the future when North America is a country called Panem. It's made up of 12 districts. Every year the country holds what is called "The Hunger Games". Every district sends a boy and a girl to represent the district and they all fight for their lives. The Hunger Games are televised for everyone else to see. We follow Katniss as she represents her district and tries to win by being the last one alive.
I had a couple distinct lines of thought when I was reading this. First off, I am always drawn to the plots in dystopian lit and always find myself getting weirded out by it. I don't know if I would say I enjoy dystopian lit... I tend to think it's like a nightmare... or a train wreck that you can't look away from despite how awful it is. *On a sidenote, the book 1984 terrified me!* So I had a few moments of thinking this.
My second line of thinking was WHY?? am I reading a book about children killing each other?? And all for what amounts to a reality show? This is awful!! I had to be reminded that this was fiction, dystopian lit, and that in reality, I read plenty of books where people are murdered, etc. so I pushed through and read it.
It was an enjoyable read for me and the concept, while still awful, wasn't done badly. I was curious to see what would happen next. I will say that I didn't love this book as much as everyone else. But it was good. And I'm looking forward to reading the sequel Catching Fire which I have in my TBR. I also wanted to add that I read a lot of people really disliked the character, Katniss. I didn't feel that way at all! I didn't find her whiny, as some people did, and the stuff she did "whine" about I totally thought she had every reason to, lol!! (less)