Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Book Log - January 2015

  • Beyond the Sunrise, by Mary Balogh (adult fiction)
  • The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins (audiobook, narrated by Richard Dawkins and Lalla Ward; non-fiction)
  • How Jesus Became God: the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (audiobook, narrated by Walter Dixon; non-fiction)
  • Misquoting Jesus: the Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, by Bart D. Ehrman (audiobook, narrated by Richard M. Davidson; non-fiction)
  • Stranger at the Wedding, by Barbara Hambly (audiobook, narrated by Anne Flosnik; adult fiction)
  • Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer (audiobook, narrated by Scott Brick; non-fiction)
  • The Masqueraders, by Georgette Heyer (audiobook, narrated by Ruth Sillers; adult fiction)
  • Neverhome, by Laird Hunt (adult fiction)
  • The Great Greene Heist, by Varian Johnson (middle-grade fiction; DNF)
  • The Serpent's Shadow, by Mercedes Lackey (audiobook, narrated by Michelle Ford; adult fiction)
  • Danse de la Folie, by Sherwood Smith (audiobook, narrated by Heather Wilds; adult fiction)
  • Crown Duel, by Sherwood Smith (audiobook, narrated by Emma Galvin; young adult fiction)
  • Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein (audiobook, narrated by Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskill; young adult fiction)
  • Cesar's Way, by Cesar Millan (non-fiction)
  • Cesar's Rules, by Cesar Millan (non-fiction)
  • K.I.S.S. Guide to Raising a Puppy, by Liz Palika (non-fiction)
  • Training Your Superpuppy , by Gwen Bailey (non-fiction)
  • 15 Minutes to Great Puppy, by Kevin Michalowski (non-fiction)
  • Unlock Your Dog's Potential, by Sarah Fisher (non-fiction)
  • and many more dog books
  • Son, by Lois Lowry (audiobook narrated by Bernadette Dunne; young adult fiction)
  • All the audiobooks of the Hurculeah Jones series by Betsy Byars (middle-grade fiction)
  • All the audiobooks from the series A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (children's fiction)
  • All the audiobooks of the Herculeah Jones series by Betsy Byars (middle-grade fiction)
  • How To Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell (audiobook, narrated by David Tennant; children's fiction)
  • Meet the Austins, by Madeleine L'Engle (audiobook, narrated by Maggi-Meg Reed; middle-grade fiction)
  • Where There Is No Doctor, by David Wermer with Carol Thuman and Jane Maxwell (non-fiction)
  • Weirdos From Another Planet: A Calvin and Hobbes Collection, by Bill Watterson (graphic novel; fiction)
  • Babymouse: Queen of the World, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (graphic novel; children's fiction)
  • Babymouse: Our Hero, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (graphic novel; children's fiction)
  • Babymouse: Beach Babe, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (graphic novel; children's fiction)
  • Babymouse: Puppy Love, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (graphic novel; children's fiction)
  • Babymouse: Mad Scientist, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (graphic novel; children's fiction)
  • Happy Birthday, Babymouse!, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (graphic novel; children's fiction)
  • Something Under the Bed Is Drooling: A Calvin and Hobbes Collection, by Bill Waterson (graphic novel; fiction)
  • The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson (graphic novel; fiction)

Sometimes the Movie Is Better Than the Book

We book lovers can be very vocal in our defense of beloved books and downright scornful of any attempt at reinterpreting an author's work. In this post I won't go into the irritated befuddlement I feel over a really bad interpretation, in which they (meaning Hollywood) ruin a delightful story (Ella Enchanted - 2004) or change the story so much that the book seems to have been used only for its title and a few very basic story elements (Cheaper By the Dozen - 2003, Mr. Popper's Penguin's - 2011.)
It doesn't happen often, but sometimes the movie maestros make a movie that is as good as the book, even when they change a few elements of the original story. (I'm thinking of Lord of the Rings and the BBC's Wives and Daughters.)
On a rare occasion, the movie is better than the book, although admittedly this might not be the same for everyone. Here are a few movies that in my subjective opinion surpassed the books on which they were based:

BBC's North and South1. BBC's North and South (2004) - based on Elizabeth Gaskell's novel of the same title.

While I like the book, the TV serial is so much better, and the characters much more realistic, less wooden, and it gives the main characters a worthy, swoon-inducing reconciliation, while the novel's scene of reconciliation is incredibly anti-climactical and boring.

The Magic of Ordinary Days2. The Magic of Ordinary Days - based on Ann Howard Creel's novel of the same title.

I just couldn't like this book. I wanted to and fully expected to because I loved the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. It just didn't happen. The main character was annoying, snobby, whiny, selfish, uncompassionate and she didn't improve. And the man she marries has the personality of a wet dishrag. I think the book suffers from want of some serious editing, and too often the author goes into annoying, long history lessons. The movie, on the other hand, has a marvelous screenplay, having removed the junk from the book and cut it down to the basic story: a pregnant, cultured, smart, standoffish young woman makes a marriage of convenience with a Colorado farmer during World War II. His simple ways and quiet devotion to their marriage and the coming baby (which is not his) teach her some much-needed lessons in compassion and unconditional love.

The Princess Bride3. The Princess Bride - based on William Goldman's novel of the same title.

The movie is much more charming, swashbuckling, adventurous, interesting, and humorous than the book, and it gave us fabulous quotes to spout: "When I was your age, television was called books." "Inconceivable!" "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." "Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something." "They're kissing again. Do we have to read the kissing parts?" "My way's not very sportsman-like." I didn't dislike the book, I just felt that the movie made the story better; it cut out all the superfluous.

The Last of the Mohicans (1992)4. The Last of the Mohicans - the 1992 film based on James Fennimore Cooper's book.

This lush production is very different -more intense, exciting, romantic - than the 1826 novel, thank goodness. I've tried to read this book for years and each time I give up out of intense boredom. I'm content with just enjoying this movie version.


What movies are on your better-than-the-book list?

Book Review: Shadows by Robin McKinley

Synopsis from the publisher: Maggie knows something’s off about Val, her mom’s new husband. Val is from Oldworld, where they still use magic, and he won’t have any tech in his office-shed behind the house. But—more importantly—what are the huge, horrible, jagged, jumpy shadows following him around? Magic is illegal in Newworld, which is all about science. The magic-carrying gene was disabled two generations ago, back when Maggie’s great-grandmother was a notable magician. But that was a long time ago.
Then Maggie meets Casimir, the most beautiful boy she has ever seen. He’s from Oldworld too—and he’s heard of Maggie’s stepfather, and has a guess about Val’s shadows. Maggie doesn’t want to know . . . until earth-shattering events force her to depend on Val and his shadows. And perhaps on her own heritage.
In this dangerously unstable world, neither science nor magic has the necessary answers, but a truce between them is impossible. And although the two are supposed to be incompatible, Maggie’s discovering the world will need both to survive.

Some authors' books are automatic buys for me. Robin McKinley is one such author.
The story is set in a contemporary-ish, maybe future-ish alternate earth- a world that in many ways is familiar to the modern reader, but contains plenty of the unfamiliar. I was confused for awhile about the workings of the world of Shadows. McKinley uses unfamiliar words for things that aren't well-described at first. Only bit by bit does the reader glean the inner workings of the world in which Maggie, the main character, lives. I still don't feel like I have a complete handle on it.
McKinley writes people well. None of her characters succumbed to archetypical portrayals. They were all authentic, real, relatable people. I liked the slightly scattered but grounded voice of Maggie, the main character, who is trying to find her place in the world and in her family, now that her mom has married a man Maggie completely distrusts. She doesn't, strangely, seem to be thinking about the future. (I say "strangely" because she is in her last year of high school.) All her concerns are with the present, maybe because her stepfather and his shadows are seriously creeping her out and messing with her worldview. The stream-of-conscious narration was a little confusing at times, and I had to keep going back to reread passages because I felt like I had missed or misunderstood something. But as irritating as it could be, it also loaned authenticity to Maggie's teenage self.
I also like how she tied up the story, but left plenty of room for imagining what would come next for these people.

*This post originally published on October 2, 2013

A Dictionary For Book-Loving Kids (and Adults)

Book lovers tend to love dictionaries and also tend to have a few different copies lying around the house. (Our current number is five. I know. It might be a sickness.)  But a dictionary that contains a plethora of quotes from children's literature to help define the words? Guaranteed to become an instant favorite. Merriam-Webster's Elementary Dictionary (for kids aged 8 through 12 years) was an instant hit with my girls when they saw that quotes from books they've read and loved are used to help provide context for the definitions. This book never stays shelved. I find it lying all over the house. As a book-loving, book-pushing mom, this makes me so happy.

*This post originally published on August 17, 2013

Book Review: Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande

For those who haven’t read the book, here’s a very brief synopsis: Mena, an Evangelical Christian on the outs with her own Church, for reasons not made clear at first, starts high school as a social outcast, but getting assigned to Ms. Shepard’s biology class starts to change her world.
The book deals with themes of evolution vs. creationism, bullying, and prejudice. I was fascinated with Mena’s character growth in this very readable book. Sadly, I can foresee some Creationist-minded Christians trying to get this book banned from school libraries, which would be a shame, because Brande created characters who are ethical, caring, interesting and realistically normal at the same time. Some other reviewers on GoodReads have complained about the one dimensional characters of the religious kids, when the reality is that the attitudes and behavior displayed by the religious kids makes them seem pretty one dimensional, just as it does in real life when people behave similarly. Having witnessed first hand the mass ignorance and bad behavior displayed by so-called "intelligent" design (aka Creationism) fans toward those who disagree with them, I found the book very realistic in its portrayal of the characters and situation. (And yes, I'm aware that the situation could be reversed as well, but that has not been my experience.)
The part I thought wasn’t fleshed out well was Mena’s relationship with her parents.  She obviously loves them, but never seems to question why they wouldn’t support her or show more empathy toward her. Surrounded as she was by hate and vitriol on all sides, I’m surprised she seemed so calm (relatively speaking) and accepting.

*This post was originally published June 23, 2013

Book Review: Tales From the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird by Vivian Vande Velde

My nine year old daughter found this in the Junior Fiction section of the library. She tossed it disgustedly on the return pile a few days later, saying, "This book is dumb. I don't like the way the author redid the fairy tales." Since she's not a big fan of fairy tales anyway, I decided to read it to see if she was right, or if she just didn't appreciate it because of the genre.
The answer, I found, is a little of both. After reading this compilation of "twisted" fairy tales (and it's a quick read) it's clear to me that the book has been wrongly placed in the library: it isn't a book for the 8-12 age range, unless you've got a kid who's ahead of his/her years, irony-wise. The cultural references, dark humor, and general irreverence are more suited for teens and adults. The stories themselves are well-written, and amusing in places, (and secretly echo some adults' feelings about certain iconic fairy tales) but for the most part, I myself couldn't work up much enthusiasm over them. But I can definitely see a more appreciative audience out there for it.

*Originally published on June 14, 2013