Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Lord of the Rings

I just have to include LOTR in this blog.  First of all, don't judge the books by the movies.  The movies are OK, but the writers took liberties with the story to simplify everything, focus a lot on the violent parts, and to add tension where none was needed, at least not in the books.  Example:  when they were in Mordor, Frodo never sent Sam away in favor of Gollum.  When I watched those scenes in the movies I kept yelling "What?  WHAT??" It was so preposterous.  And what did they do with one of my most beloved characters, Faramir?  They changed his personality almost completely; in the books he was a man of valor, honor, and perception, which was essential to the line of the story.

I'd better change horses here. 

The first time I read LOTR I was 11 years old and my family was spending some time in India.  We met a couple from Australia, and they gave me the book.  What treasure!  It kept me out from under my grateful parents' feet for at least a week.  Since then I have reread the story many times, or listened to it on audiobook.  The library has an audiobook of LOTR that is read by Rob Inglis:  fantastic! 

If you enjoy becoming immersed in another world, I promise you will love this one.  At its most basic, it is a story about good versus evil, but there is also beauty, poetry, wisdom, and humor throughout.  The author, J. R. R. Tolkien, greatly enjoyed studying languages; he makes up words and phrases in Elvish, Dwarvish, the Orc tongue, and more.  There are also some truly unique and wonderful beings that Tolkien brings to life, such as the Ents (tree herders), and the hobbits themselves, which an introduction in the book(s) goes at some length to describe. 

Friday, January 11, 2019

Elsie Speaks: The Home For Unwanted Girls

The Home for Unwanted Girls was delicious, though somewhat dry in places.  I really had to work to get it at it. But once I started it had me drooling! 

It wasn't so much the plot that kept my attention, but the fact that it smelled good.  You know, that good book smell (snacks my human ate while reading, the smell of my human, the smell of other humans, the smell of other humans' animals, etc). 

I can't tell you much about the characters, because, well I don't read...I'm a dog.  I can tell you that my human seemed to pay more attention to the book than she did to me, so that says something. I mean, have you seen my face? I'm adorable.

Of all the books I've chewed, this one was the best! (And I've chewed a number of books). My human tells me I can't eat books, especially library books.  But maybe she shouldn't leave me in a position to have to chew her books when she leaves me.  She should never leave me. 

Did I learn a lesson from this experience? No, I'm a dog, and apparently you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

The real question is: Did she learn a lesson?

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Jodi Picoult

A Spark of Light is the newest novel from Jodi Picoult.  What amazes me most about all of Picoult's work is the amount of research that goes into each novel.  If you are not familiar with her work, she tackles a "hot button" issue such as racism, right-to-die cases, suicide, mental health.  In this case, she takes on abortion.  Through the use of her characters, she lets you see both sides of an issue.  You can feel empathy for both sides.  I always look forward to new releases by Jodi Picoult because I know that her research will be flawless. 

However, this book fell short for me.  Perhaps I was too excited for it.  But I felt let down.  It was hard for me to keep my attention on it.  And that could be due to the fact that as the holidays approach I have a million other obligations and things to get done.  But to me, when you have a good book, one that really engages you and keeps you hooked, you are willing to forget about certain things because you just have to know what happens next. 

Unfortunately, while thoroughly researched, her characters didn't feel as real to me as others have.  They weren't interesting enough to make me want to know more and spend more time with them.  They were unsurprising and a bit formulaic. 

If you're looking for a book that presents a hot button issue in a slightly different way, give it a chance.  You won't be disappointed with the research that went into this novel.  If you're looking for the typical Picoult power-house novel, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed like I am. 

If you are a fan of Picoult's work, read this too! And be sure to share your thoughts on this one. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

To Siri With Love, by Judith Newman

I loved this book because it brought me into the world of people who have ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).  It showed me how the world appears to them, and made me aware of how I could help to make their surroundings more comfortable or at least, not harder to handle.   You know that saying, walk a mile in my shoes (Elvis?)... this will get you a few hundred yards into the life of a person with ASD and his/her family.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Less, by Andrew Sean Greer

This book is a fun read for the traveller; I wish Zoe could have read it.  My mother has been to every one of the countries the protagonist visits except Morocco, and she greatly enjoyed the descriptions of the places and people he meets.  Arthur Less goes from New York City to Mexico, Italy, Germany, Morocco, India, and Japan. 

The author provides some highly evocative similies, such as:  "The driver works the horn like an outlaw at a gunfight" (India).  He describes fighting (and eventually conquering!) the VAT refund system.  He presents deep questions, such as "What does a camel love?  I would guess nothing in the world..."  He gives us hilarious lingual misinterpretations, such as "There is a fence in my book.  You are to correct, please," and "Six greetings, class.  I am Arthur Less."  (If you know German you may be able to understand what he actually said that lead to these bizarre translations.  My Mom has lots of German so I imagine she was howling over these.)

There is plenty of other material in this book that is not related to travel, such as the difference between comfortable middle aged and crazy youthful love, which is handled with wisdom and empathy.  A major theme is the aging of the first full generation of gay men to survive AIDS.  This matters to me because one of my best friends in high school was gay, and died of AIDS along with so many of his compatriots who became ill before they knew what was happening and why. 


Friday, September 7, 2018

Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng

This is a book I kept hearing about but was unable to read because it was always checked out.  When I finally got to it though, I had to agree with the general hype:  an excellent read (like Lincoln in the Bardo)!  It takes place in Shaker Heights Ohio, which is part of Cleveland.  I grew up in Ohio and my college roommate Elizabeth was from Cleveland Heights, located next to Shaker, so I knew about Shaker's existence and reputation (from Elizabeth: hoity toity!).  It was fun for me right from the start.

In the story there are a number of situations leading to various consequences, as happens in life.  We get to know the main characters and then see how they cope with the fallout.  You, the reader, might be ready to condemn the actions of someone, but then change your mind as you learn more about that person. 

Yep, the world is not black and white; the two families featured in the book are themselves complete opposites, yet they are attracted to each other too.  One of the main polarities is lifestyle.  One family travels extensively, living on the edge and rootless.  The other has major roots in Shaker Heights and lots of money.  I found myself considering which way I would prefer and why.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Alexander McCall Smith's Books

I wanted to let you know about this author, in case you are looking for some fun reading.  His main claim to fame is The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, but he's also written a series about people living in Edinburgh, Scotland.  I started reading the Scottish tales first, since I've been in Edinburgh and loved it.  I then moved to the No. 1 Ladies' series on audiobook.  The novels are read by a woman with a light accent which I assume is Botswanan, and it's lovely. 

McCall Smith is the sort of writer you should go to if you want to read about people and places that are interesting without being super edgy.  There may be crimes, but there will be no grisly descriptions or foul language.  His stories have more depth than "cosy" books, and are often funny and clever and full of interesting facts about, for example, Botswana and her people.  The books are positive without being smarmy.  Kindness is the order of the day and wins out over greed and cruelty.  It's a relief to read a book like this after, say, Dean Koontz's Intensity.

It is also lucky that McCall Smith is prolific, so if you like his work, you can spend many a rainy day enjoying his delightful style.  Be sure to have a cup or two of tea on hand, and maybe even some scones!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

Ever read Anne of Green Gables?  Oliver Twist?  Jane Eyre?  All of these stories center around the travails of an orphaned child.  I remember reading them and being puzzled by the fact that orphans were considered second class citizens, at best, and purely evil at worst.  I couldn't understand how losing your family could make you a bad person, but apparently years ago that's exactly what people thought.  Then in the USA, in the 1920s, a woman named Georgia Tann opened an orphanage and began changing this perception about orphans.  Her charges were adopted by celebrities, wealthy politicians, folks from Hollywood.

Sounds sweet, right?  But this book, Before We Were Yours, is a fictional account of a family whose 5 children are stolen by Tann and are either murdered or sold for huge profit.  Turns out that this is what Tann was really up to, in real life.  She and her minions would steal children or tell parents their young ones had died when the kids had actually been sold. Youngsters who tried to buck the system or got too old to be placed were killed.  Ugh!

I recommend this book for two reasons, the first being that you learn about this incredible bit of American history, which still affects people today.  The other is that it IS a good story, well written if not rather predictable (for example, I knew the moment the heroine met the hero that they would become involved).  A real page turner!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Look at Me, by Jennifer Egan

I enjoyed Egan's Manhattan Beach, but I was disappointed by this book.  The main protagonist, Charlotte, is a successful model who has a car accident that ruins her face.  Although surgeons patch her up pretty well, we're told, she is not recognizable by her colleagues from her previous life.  I found this alone difficult to believe, as people are more than just their face.  Like I can often recognize a person by watching them move,  just seeing them walk down the street. 

So anyway, we follow Charlotte post-wreck to see what direction her life will take now that she can no longer model, and we also follow a few other characters of varying interest.  My problem was that I was not captivated by any of these other people.  One guy, Moose, has some kind of mental breakdown and the parts about him go on and on about his thoughts and ideas... but I couldn't tell where this was supposed to be going.  I couldn't understand him either as a person who is suffering from, say, bipolar disorder (his actual condition was not explained), or as an academic who feels he has made a major discovery. 

Another character has a secret past, and once you figure out what that is you understand his previously rather odd behavior, though he still fails to be convincing.  He doesn't seem to progress.

There were some interesting ideas and pithy statements, but not enough to offset the boredom and confusion created by other parts of the book.  I think it's funny that some of our patrons didn't like Manhattan Beach, but I did, yet I don't like this book.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth

I love when books surprise me.  I ordered Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth by Sheila O'Connor, mostly because it was a juvenile fiction book about the Vietnam War.  When it arrived, I was intrigued and set out to read it right away. 

Written in the form of letters between 11 year old Reenie Kelly and Mr. Marsworth, the town recluse, this book is full of the innocence of childhood summers, and the loss of that innocence set against the back drop of the Vietnam War.

We come to learn that Mr. Marsworth is a pacifist, and his opposition to the draft have left him ostracized by the community.  Reenie is looking for ways to prevent her 18 year old brother from being drafted.

It's rare that books make me cry, but this one had me crying multiple times, as we are drawn in to Reenie's adventures and her devotion to family. 

It is a wonderful book I recommend to a reader of any age. 

But I also realized I haven't read much about the Vietnam War, nor do I know much about it.  In school and even in college we learned the Revolution, Civil War, and World Wars, but never seemed to get to Vietnam.

I have read The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, Fallen Angelsby Walter Dean Myers, and ...And a Hard Rain Fell by John Ketwig.  But this was the first book that I have read from the point of view of the families left behind and those opposing the war at home.

This has inspired me to learn more about this era, and seek out related books. And to me, that is the mark of a truly remarkable book- one that leads you to learn more, that you won't soon forget, and leaves you moved.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Sing, Unburied, Sing

This novel by Jesmyn Ward is a wonderful blend of reality and Lincoln-in-the-Bardo-ish spirituality.  The story is about families: the daughter of a black family is involved with the son of a white family in modern day Mississippi, and between the two of them they make a third family.  The language is beautiful, " flowers, ushering forth sweetness from fruit," and evocative, "He's been orbiting her [his dying wife] like a moon, sleeping on the sofa with his back to the door, searching the yard and woods for pens and bins and machines to fix so he can repair in the face of what he cannot."

There is a lot of sorrow and ugliness in the story, but the end is so unexpected, so full of imagery, that I ended up feeling a lightness (as well as thinking, so THAT'S what the title means).

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

This nonfiction account by journalist Kim Barker takes place in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2004-09.  Some nonfiction can be pretty dry; this is anything but.  I listened to the audiobook and it was a hoot!  Between the reader's expert inflections and the author's dry wit, I found myself laughing as I wended my way to Wegman's on Saturday.  Barker is a serious student of the absurd.

Aside from deftly explaining the often utterly confusing politics of the region, Barker gives the reader a sense of what it's like to live in a war zone, something most of us Americans know nothing about.  She describes how she and her fellow journalists got a high from the danger, some of them deliberately seeking seriously unstable situations and barely making it out alive. 

If you ever wondered where the Taliban came from, and why Afghanistan has been at war for so long, this book helps you to understand the country's history and why, incidentally, our attempts to "fix" things over there are not working. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Graphic Novels...for adults?

When I suggest graphic novels, most adult think of the superheroes created by Marvel and DC Comics.  They imagine young boys reading graphic novels and their parents complaining, "Why can't they read real books?!"  But graphic novels are real books.  There are many articles that document how graphic novels are great for kids, improving language, vocabulary, reinforcing text with images for greater comprehension. 

But there are great graphic novels for adults, too! Especially if you are short on time.

Recently, Americus by MK Reed was recommended to us.  Here is the synopsis from Amazon: "Neal Barton just wants to read in peace. Unluckily for him, some local Christian activists are trying to get his favorite fantasy series banned from the Americus public library on grounds of immoral content and heresy. Something has to be done, and it looks like quiet, shy Neal is going to have to do it. With youth services librarian Charlotte Murphy at his back, Neal finds himself leading the charge to defend the mega-bestselling fantasy series that makes his life worth living."

Despite one image of the librarian reading at the desk reinforcing the stereotype that librarians do nothing but read, this book was fantastic! This is the fight for intellectual freedom and normal teenage life in a graphic novel.  

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is a coming-of-age story set in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution.  Similar to Americus, this book sets normal adolescent trials against a larger political landscape. 

Derf Backderf has two great graphic novels, My Friend Dahmer, about his experience as a classmate of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, and Trashed.  (My Friend Dahmer was recently made into a movie to be released later this year.)  But, I want to talk about Trashed.  Fresh out of high school with few prospects, Derf takes a job as a trash collector.  Not only does this give a first hand account of a job few would love, but a necessary one, but it also takes a look at the amount of trash American's create and what happens to our trash after we set it out on the curb. You will learn about the history of the garbage truck, how landfills are created, and what happens once landfills are full.  It will definitely give you an appreciation for our trash collectors and will make you think about how your own lifestyle contributes to the incredible amount of trash that we must deal with each year.

These are excellent books, that just might change your mind about graphic novels.