"A house without books is like a room without windows." -Horace Mann

Friday, January 27, 2012

Go Away, Big Green Monster!

by Ed Emberley

Picked this fun kids book up from the library today, thanks to the recommendation of a friend I happened to run into there.  We also happened to arrive just in time for playgroup, and the kids got to make fun Chinese Dragon heads with streamers for the body which looked very much like flames as they "chased" each other in circles around the room.  A fun craft and I thought it was very creative and fun. 

We all really enjoyed reading this book for the first time before naps just now.  It's a fun book that uses progressive paper cutouts to slowly grow a "big green monster" with purple hair.  The second half of the book has the reader telling each of the facial features to "go away!" and the monster progressively disappears.  An easy and exciting book for kids, my boy and girl liked it equally.  Its got simple words and bright colors.  A fun book to pick up for your toddler!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Chosen

by Chaim Potok

An old, worn copy of this book sat on my mother's bookshelves all my young life.  Somehow it always got passed by, first because I was probably to young for it, and then because the cover wasn't "exciting" enough, and looked a little "heavy".  But I finally got around to it on my list and now am sorry I waited so long.

The story begins with a baseball game between two Jewish schools.  What starts as a somewhat casual game turns into a rivalry, and then outright war.  It hooks you into that game so well that you can almost smell the heat and the dust and the baseball glove leather.  Potok has a wonderful ability to set a scene that is infused with living, breathing movement that comes off the pages. 

Beyond the opening baseball game, the book is about friendship, religion, and father/son relationships.  It is about Jewish culture and belief.  I personally appreciated a small glimpse into the traditions of Judaism, and its different manifestations.  It was fascinating to learn of the intensity required by some to study the Torah, and to what lengths their devout beliefs go to.  I consider myself devout in my beliefs, and so it was good to be reminded of similar aspects but in a different setting.  It also focuses somewhat around the play between science and spirituality and how they are not always mutually exclusive.

Mostly I loved that for all the focus around Jewish culture, etc. the book really revolves around the friendship of two boys who are different from each other, as well as the relationships of each boy to their own fathers.  And I very much love a book that, once again, doesn't wrap everything up at the end into a neat little package stamped with the phrase, "and they all lived happily ever after."  Not everything is resolved perfectly in the end, and not everyone is happy.  Which makes a good book, because it makes you ask your own questions about how you would be in the given situation?  What kind of parent will I be?  How can friends be so different?  What can forgiveness do for someone?  How do I communicate with my parents/children?  How dedicated am I to my beliefs?  How do I reconcile my beliefs when something or someone challenges them?  These are just a few questions still running through my head after reading the book.  I love a book that I can think about for a long time afterward.

My mother most likely got her copy of this book from her best friend, my aunt (and also my friend) who loved Jewish studies and was fascinated with the culture, people and beliefs.  She went a number of times to Jerusalem to study, and read many books, and met many dear friends.  Unfortunately she passed away a little while ago from a heart condition.  I dearly wish I would have read this book years ago so that I would have had a chance to talk to her about it.  I'm looking forward to someday seeing her again and we'll have that long talk I've been longing for.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Martian Chronicles

by Ray Bradbury

Can anyone really be as amazing as Ray Bradbury, truly?!  The man was literally a genius, had an amazing imagination, and an even more amazing sense of humanity - good and bad (and often very bad).  A fairly prolific writer with 24 or so books to his name, many of which are collections of short stories, which are a lot harder to write than one might think.

My first introduction to Bradbury, as perhaps many of you, was watching the DISNEY version of "Something Wicked This Way Comes".  I wonder who at Disney thought a Bradbury novel would fit well into their genre?!  All I know is that it scared the bajeebers out of me.  I distinctly remember reading "A Sound of Thunder", and watching a short movie version of "All Summer in a Day" in school.  They are memorable because they are so disturbing, but not in a outright shocking or freaky way, just disturbing in small ways that makes you really think about life on this planet and the future.  Bradbury was a master of taking a story about another planet or aliens, and turning it back on the reader, making you look inside yourself to see how human we all are.  

I read Fahrenheit 451 as a young adult and was mesmerized.

After that I read some collections, which included favorites that come to mind such as "The Long Rain" and "Zero Hour."

So now I read the Martian Chronicles.  I liked this collection because unlike some of his others, the short stories in it are all somewhat connected to each other and move in a kind of disjointed chronological order, being about life on Mars, both alien and human.  Again, the human aspect of life on Mars really makes you wonder just how much different or NOT different we might be if another planet suddenly because an option. 

Two of my favorite stories from this particular collection are somewhat opposite each other.  The first is called "The Earth Men" and its quite funny and really is a comment on what we humans might do if someone were to show up claiming to be visitors from another planet.  The second story is called "There Will Come Soft Rains" and its a bit scarier.  However, again, not like a modern day horror movie with blood and torture.  Bradbury subtly plants images and sounds and movements into his stories that give you a slow-growing realization of all the little clues adding up, and suddenly you shudder (or sometimes laugh) when if finally dawns on you what's really happening.

I enjoyed this collection, as I have all of Bradbury's works so far.  I highly recommend you check out a few stories of his you haven't already experienced.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy

by John LeCarre

I normally don't go in for book by such prolific authors as John LeCarre because it seems like quantity rarely equals quality.  If someone asks me, "Have you read the latest LeCarre (or fill in the blank with another author)?"  then I usually decline, because it seems to me that unless you are truly an almost miraculous writer/editor etc, its hard to imagine putting out books that fast that are really good.  I'm sure they're good, but not really really good.

So, I was hesitant to read this one but it was recommended from a book website I love, and was recommended in an interview from a "spy novel" writer, so I figured that at least the recommendation came from someone who probably knew the genre well.

To finally get to the point of this post, I very much enjoyed Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  Probably not the all time best mystery novel I've ever read, but I haven't actually read a huge amount in this genre because there is so much of it that is really bad, or that just has a lot of crap in it that I'm not willing to wade through.

Some other comments on this book are that it is a very "cerebral mystery."  As in, its more brain than brawn.  Very true.  There wasn't honestly much action in this book, even if it was a spy novel.  Its mostly a lot of conversation, thinking and speculation from the main character who is brought back from forced retirement to figure out who the mole is within the spy agency.

One difficulty, which I didn't find bothered me too much, is that it is a British spy novel, so you've got to be okay with British words, lingo, and phrases, and some of them you just have to brush past because its not worth trying to remember all the different names and places.  But the reason I liked it is because it didn't feel the need to explain all this, it just assumed you either knew it or would figure it out for yourself.

Of course, any good spy novel is great if you can't really guess who the bad guy is, and this one kept me guessing all the way to the end and had a good surprise at the end.  I loved all the little spy details that make any good detective novel exciting and interesting.

And I recently discovered that they just released a movie based on the book, and I didn't even realize the coincidence until I was almost finished reading.  Unfortunately, I was disappointed that it was rated R.  I can pick the things in the book that they probably focused on and sensationalized to make it an R, but I think extremely unwarranted and unnecessary.  Most of the parts that would be "questionable" are told in retrospect through conversation and with a lot of inferring, so I don't think they needed to do that.  I was so looking forward to seeing their version of it.  Now I'll pass.  (getting down from my soap box now)

So, it would be a good book to read when you're a little short on your list of other books.  Can't say it was so fabulous I would tell you to read it immediately but it was a great break from my more serious line up of books, and still intense and kept me wanting to figure it all out.  Fun way to start the new year!