Thursday, September 30, 2010

Review: Emma volumes 4 & 5 by Kaoru Mori

As far as manga goes, this has been a fantastically fun introduction into this new world.  Since I'm reading these in batches, I thought it best to introduce them in batches!

Synopsis:  In this installment, William finds himself pressured to develop a relationship with fellow socialite Eleanor.  While at the opera, Eleanor lets him know in no uncertain terms how she feels about him, pressuring William to address his future with or without Emma.

Review:  Once again, the tension of the story is built up to drive a wedge between Emma and William, even though their "relationship" has been of the Victorian, understated kind.  I found myself really despising Eleanor and am not sure if the pictures were meant to make her look quite so young?  In some ways she felt like a snivelling, insecure little girl looking to get her claws into William out of a sense of low esteem for herself.  Yuck!

Synopsis:  Emma is asked to escort William's mother back to London, where we begin to learn about a tense and sad back story about William's parents that has driven them apart.  Not only do we begin to feel a sense of sadness and tension for Emma and William, but also for his parents.  Emma's return to London as an escort inevitably throws the two together, where Emma learns of William's attachments.  How is she expected to feel or act?

Review:  Talk about drama in this installment.  In fact, I was flustered and frustrated when I flipped to the last page and found I had to wait for Volume six!  Even though these stories are driven by the nuance of pictures, the feelings of each character feel evident to the reader.  I hurt for Emma and kept hoping for her happiness and security.  As with a middle installment, there is still much to come, which I am eager to check out!

*FTC Disclosure:  This review is based off of library copies of both pieces.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Banned Book Week: An English Teacher's Perspective

Banned Book Week runs from September 25th through October 2nd, and is a great chance to think about and consider the power of books.  Most oppressed societies at one time or another have either banned reading altogether, or have banned the reading of certain books.  It's interesting to consider why, and what it is that books bring to the table for us to consider. Essentially, books challenge us all to look at someone's life and see it through their eyes, right?  Here are just a few of my own thoughts on book banning from my experience as a teacher.

  As an English teacher, I am painfully aware of book content as I read and prepare lessons for my classes.  The frequency that I hear complaints is not as high as one might think, but I do hear from parents and students alike about offensive content.  Obviously, I'm respectful of an individual's right to choose their reading material and have worked with students who have a legitimate claim to not be able to read a text.  We simply choose something different for them to read.

I have also found myself in the unique position of validating a lot of books that people have found unreadable.  These people rarely wish the book to be removed permanently from the school library, but wish me to know and see their opinions, which I acknowledge.  In fact, I really respect when a parent or guardian comes to me with questions about a novel that we can discuss.  I consider it an essential part of my job to be able to explain the rationale behind a novel I've chosen to teach or suggested on my reading list.  Once again, I can absolutely understand a person's right to choose the reading material of their child or to voice concerns.

While I haven't ever worked at a school where they have "banned" books, we have been asked not to teach certain novels for their content.  Actually, I should say we haven't been asked not to, but discouraged.  For instance, because of a pivotal scene in The Kite Runner that is deemed graphic and disturbing, we've been warned that it might be a bad idea to teach it to a class because of the complaints that might arise.  Interestingly enough, many of my students have read this book, and Hosseini's other novel A Thousand Splendid Suns, both excellent novels that I have have read and loved. Rarely have I heard a complaint, but have had many students attest to the power of the message in these novels.

Experience has taught me that students will approach a book if they feel ready.  Students that I thought would struggle with the content of a book have surprised me with their ability to reach greater meaning from stories I had to warn them about before reading.  Does that mean a student or reader is not "savvy" or "smart" if they don't wish to expose themselves to a book with questionable content?  I say no, because I respect their opinions as I would hope they would respect those who do want to read a challenged novel.  As with any conflict of interest, it seems to boil down to a respect for the beliefs and thoughts of others.

For this English teacher, I believe that reading is an amazing freedom of the mind!  I would hope that people would push themselves to explore good books, and to challenge themselves when the time is right.

Here is a list of Banned or Challenged Classics posted by the ALA (American Library Association).  Their site also offers other suggestions for learning more about banned books.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Film Review: Jude the Obscure

It's been awhile since I last reviewed a film, but recently put a couple of period dramas in my Netflix circulation that I can talk about.  Since finishing the novel Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, I really felt as though I secured my fan status of Hardy's work.  My admiration for his guts in tackling hard social issues surrounding marriage and women really have me in awe at his bravery!  Now I realize that his novels, and this one in particular, have received mixed reviews because of their often gloomy topics and outcomes.  For whatever reason, I really like the buttons that Hardy tried to push, and can continue to push in his readers today.  Having said that, I was curious to see this novel about poor Jude, the stone mason and academic, put to film.  Unfortunately, most of Hardy's novels have not been updated as Tess of the D'Urbervilles has been, so I had to settle on a BBC Masterpiece Theater version from 1971.  (See my Jude the Obscure review for more specific information on the storyline.)

The film itself was in broken into six mini-episodes that covered each of the sections of the original novel.  The filming felt very similar to a video recording of a stage play though, with its strange jumps and one dimensional shooting.  There was very little movement to capture the actions of the characters, but one film shot to show an entire scene.  Some of the backdrops, especially of Christminster looked like painted backdrops, since I didn't notice the people moving?  The acting was also a bit jarring.  Besides the characters looking out of date and garish in a lot of ways, I thought that the acting was reminiscent of the overacting that would be done in an older, classical version of a Dickens story.  In fact, it reminded me a bit of an old Christmas Carol film that was in black and white.  It was all just a bit much. 

The one thing that I thought was the most out of character with this out of date telling of Hardy's novel was the nude scenes.  Honestly, for something that would have been aired on PBS, I had a hard time imagining the scenes of the women undressing and showing their breasts and torsos being allowed on television.  Besides, having read the novel, I was confused as to the reason behind artistically choosing to shoot partial nudity?  It was just a bit odd is all.  If it was a necessary element to forward the character development and story I would understand, but this just felt thrown in there in a really bizarre way.

To be honest, the film was too long for me.  After about two and a half hours I started fast-forwarding drawn out dialogue scenes to get to the scenes that I remembered with  great interest, such as when Jude's wife returns and he finds out he has a child, or when Sue joins Jude and overlooks the downcast opinions of society to be with him.  Other than a few interesting interpretations, I can't say that my modern sensibilities caught on to this rather long, drawn out film.  In my estimation, I would definitely stick to the book until a better film adaptation rolls down the pike!

In closing, I have to say that while I ADORE my Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell films that have been made and remade of late, I really wish that some of these old films would get a good update.  In fact, I'd love to see someone conquer books such as Don Quijote or Brave New World.  Filmmakers have such a great wealth of stories to choose from in these classic novels! Maybe it's time for them to tackle some of them again?

Are there film adaptations of any novels or plays that you wish they would update? 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Review: Splendor by Anna Godbersen

One good thing about losing your voice is that you get a chance to really sit in and read!  Well, to be quite honest, I've been grading papers like crazy.  It's not my favorite thing to do, but now is a great time to try to get caught up (which never happens). 

Last week I came home one night and picked up the fourth in the Luxe series, Splendor, by Anna Godbersen and couldn't put it down.  I've really liked this series, so it was good to wrap it up.  I'm not 100% sure exactly how I feel about the ending, but it was good to see it through to the end.

Synopsis:  In the final installment, we find Diana searching for Henry Schoonmaker in Cuba, Elizabeth is embracing her new position as wife and soon to be mother, and Carolina Broad has taken on her new role as a New York socialite.  In turn of the century New York City, the lives of the upper class make every paper, whether accurate or not.   For each of the women it's less a question of what is accurate and more a question of what is real.

Review:   This is a fun series and one that I found myself falling into pretty easily.  Having always loved Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, this felt reminiscent of that era and style.  Godbersen's writing style and descriptions are delicious and keep the story moving, not to mention the list of characters that you readily care about and want to continue following. 

In some ways it becomes obvious what direction the story is heading in, but there is still a chance that it might take a different turn.  In this case, it did take a slight turn at the end that had me floundering.  Okay, I'll be honest.  I was a little angry.  The final decision that some of the characters' make is understandable, as they come to realize what will make them happy, but I can't say that after four books that I was quite as happy.  I'm still not really sure how I'm feeling about it all, but can say I liked the series as a whole. 

Overall, I really enjoyed the entire Luxe series and would recommend them to readers of YA or historical fiction.  In the past I've mentioned that I lack imagination for things such as Science Fiction, so I'm thinking that where my imagination lacks with Sci Fi, it makes up for in historical pieces such as in this series.  There is a lot of implied beauty, crazy drama, and masked emotion to behold.  For high drama and plot twists, this series fits the bill.

*FTC Disclosure:  The review was based on a personal copy of the novel.   

Friday, September 24, 2010

Literature in Teaching: Getting Away With Murder by Chris Crowe

The week that Parent Teacher Conferences falls on always seems to be a busy one.  This one was no different.  It's been a great week, but I'm now home sick with one of the worst sore throats I can recall.  I'm glad that I asked for a sub yesterday while I was at school, regardless of the second guessing I did once my voice warmed up by mid-day.  Today I can barely whisper, and even that has me wincing a little.  After sucking down an entire pack of Halls cough drops yesterday, I doubt that would have gotten me through to teach today.

Thankfully, my mind is clear and my fingers can still fly across the keyboard.  This is good, as I can share more about our first meeting for our district's book club "Teaching Through Literature Discussions."  I had the chance to meet Megan from Po(sey) Sessions and Allison from So Many Books So Little Time, who are both book bloggers.  If I missed others, my apologies!  I was rushing in right as it started, having been held up by last minute lesson plans I was writing up for my substitute teacher for today.  Once I left work, I really didn't want to have to return, so that put me in a little bit of a time crunch.

For our first discussion, we read Chris Crowe's non-fiction publication about the murder of young Emmett Till, Getting Away With Murder.  I actually had the chance to take a Young Adult Literature course from Chris Crowe when I was an undergraduate.  His class was rigorous, but exciting, and his teaching style was uniquely straight-forward and engaging.  I remember that we had to read stacks of books over the course of the term, which still adorn my bookshelves.  Thankfully, that class gave me a great foundation for teaching and recommending books to my own students.  At the time, Crowe was most likely just finishing his research on the murder of Emmett Till and finishing up with his first book.  I do recall Crowe sharing Emmett's story with us, as well as more information about his research and trip to Missisippi to learn more about the story.  He has gone on to write both his non-fiction account of Till's story, as well as Mississippi Trial, 1955.

For anyone who might be unfamiliar with the story, young Emmett Till was dragged from his uncle's home in Money, Mississippi on the night of August 28, 1955 and brutally lynched for whistling at a white woman at a local store.  Emmett was only 14 years old at the time and unfamiliar with the racial mores of the deep south, having come from Chicago, where Emmett had experienced much more freedom.  Both men accused of killing Emmett were later acquitted in court by an all-white jury in Greenwood, Mississippi.  They later went on in January of 1956 to admit to Look magazine in an article, "The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi" to the murder of Emmett.

Roy Bryant & J. W. Milam in court.
The story is appalling and hard to imagine being a reality.  The details, information, and pictures in Crowe's book are telling, and his writing throughout the book is very engaging and easy to read.  Although the story is hard to take, the emotions it stirs and the impact it had in flaming the Civil Right's Movement into action are undeniable.  I highly recommend this small, yet informative book for all readers as a reminder of the direction that fears can take any person, community, or society.

For more information on Emmett Till, see:

Monday, September 20, 2010

Review: The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler

We're off to another busy week ahead, and all I want to do is sit down with a good book.  There is a great Read-a-thon going on over at The True Book Addict this week.  I wanted to join in with all the fun, but have parent-teacher conferences this week, along with two other night activities I have to attend.  That limits just about anything I do outside of work to nothing!  If you're interested, you should stop by to sign up to get a nice chunk of reading done this week. 

Regardless of the busy schedule I'm now facing, I did get swept away by a pile of books this past weekend.  I have about twelve books I'm rotating through, which I don't recommend, but is about where my head is at right now.  On Saturday evening, I stayed home and spent a good 5-6 hours reading.  It was the best Saturday night date I've had in awhile!  Although my review isn't one of the books that I finished on Saturday, I wanted to share a quick review of The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler.  It's a quick, fun read.

Synopsis:  Penny and her mother uproot from NYC to move to Hog's Hollow, where Penny's mother opens a cupcake bakery.  Rather than get to know kids her own age over her long summer break, Penny waits until the first day of school.  Once there, her reception isn't good, and she finds herself as a virtual outsider and picked on by some of the more popular kids.  Along the way, Penny makes friends with a Tally and Blake, who take her under their wing.  There's also Marcus, the kid she sees walking his dog on the beach, who she can't help but feel drawn to be around.  If social pressure and making friends isn't enough, Penny has to deal with her parent's separation and whether Hog's Hollow is really the place she wants to end up.

Review:  Tackling issues of separation, divorce, being the new kid at school, and teen love, Heather Hepler's novel seems to have a little bit of everything.  We see the mean girl scenario play out in Penny's experiences at school, but on the other hand, we also see young love blossom before our eyes.  This small little young adult novel seems to have a little bit of everything in a teen's life.

Although the cover is what initially drew me to pick up this small book, the cupcakes and bakery make up a very small part of the story.  Hepler draws on real-life situations that teens face to flesh out the story in the book.  For instance, the first day of school scene and encounter with the school secretary are really well done. (In fact, I shared that chapter with the students in my Popular Fiction course.)  The way the author depicts how Penny feels, and what she sees, are really smart.  To say that Penny is uncomfortable and feeling out of place on that first day, is an understatement. 

Not all the scenes in the book pop out as much as that first day of school, but there are many other memorable moments that feel close to what teenagers feel and consider important.  Penny worries about her family, about her position at school, and about the boy she finds herself crushing over.  She isn't one of those characters that gushes, ad nauseum about how she feels about her crush, but you can sense how much she wants to be noticed.  In short, you really feel for her and want her to be happy.

While simple in its themes and ideas, The Cupcake Queen was a sweet, simple read.  The issues hit on in the book are familiar, yet vital to most teens, and I can see many readers connecting to Penny.  Overall, I found the story to be an easy read, but one I would recommend to many of my own students.

*FTC Disclosure:  Review is based on a library copy of the book.

Although the title is The Cupcake Queen, very little in the book references cupcakes at all.  Are you all right when a title only vaguely mirrors the story, or do you feel that the title should hit on the most important themes of the book?  What say you?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Review: I Am Ozzy by Ozzy Osbourne

Pardon my reminiscing this morning, but this post has a lot of meaning for me, and needs a little explaining.  Twelve years ago today my dad passed away from breast cancer.  I'm shocked it has been that long, yet still feel like it was just yesterday. 

When my father passed away, I was still in college, and life was moving at Mach 20.  After I graduated, I moved home to be with my mother, and although that was three years after his death, we had both hit a strange depression.  I was home though, and hoped that we could both pull out of this funk we found ourselves.  That fall the Osbournes reality series "The Osbournes" aired on MTV and my mother and I found a hearty laugh and a safe haven in their show. 

Who would think that a foul-mouthed, crazy Rock & Roll first family would help pull us out of a serious funk, but they did.  Now, if you know my mother at all, you know she is seriously straight-laced.  Yet somehow, this crazy family's heart, love, and humor was enough to reach out through the screen to my mother and I.  I know it sounds strange, but I have a real soft spot for the Osbournes and how their crazy antics could bring a smile back to our faces.  They had this "I will stick by you because I love you, no matter what" kind of attitude that reminded us how powerful love is in a family.  That regardless of our imperfections, our families can be our safety net.

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Has there ever been a more extraordinary rock-star story than Ozzy Osbourne's? Born into a life so poor that the whole family slept in one room, Ozzy endured a tough upbringing. Music was his salvation and his band Black Sabbath went on to change the music scene forever. But along with the rock and roll came the inevitable sex and drugs and Ozzy fell into a long relationship with addictive substances. The stories of Ozzy's days on the road are legendary - biting the head off a live bat, losing his best friend and writing partner Randy Rhoades in a tragic plane crash - but few know of the real heartbreak he suffered during those days of excess. In the end it was love that saved him: the love of his wife Sharon and kids Kelly, Jack and Aimee. In his highly anticipated autobiography, Ozzy comes clean: in all senses."

Review:  The show, "The Osbournes" was one of the shows that I credit for pulling me out of a serious depression after my father passed away from cancer.  The thing that really struck me about that show was how much they genuinely loved each other.  Yes, their lives were crazy, but the love they had for one another came pouring out of them.  It made me smile.

Ozzy Osbourne's life was filled with crazy ups and downs; some he created and some came from left field.  Ozzy worked in slaughterhouses, sang for Black Sabbath, and starred in his own reality show.  Regardless of what he was doing, it was easy to see from his autobiography that Ozzy was always honest about where he came from and who he was.  

I think the thing that struck me the most about Ozzy Osbourne's life was that although he admits to and acknowledges his many weaknesses, that his drug and alcohol abuse also helped to serve as a cover for his weaknesses.  I realize that addiction is a disease, but no matter how honest one claims to be, addiction overrides that honesty and allows one to hide behind its gruesome coat tails.  From all the drugs and alcohol that Ozzy took in his lifetime, it's hard to say why he's still alive.  Beyond that, his escapades with other women and larger than life rocker lifestyle should have driven any semblance of family far from the picture, but he has managed to hold on to his family.  This success at home has to be due to his wife Sharon, who put up with her fair share of abuse over the years.

As a fan of Ozzy's, I am hard pressed to really fault his own life story too much.  The one thing I do wish he would have included more was his relationships with his children.  Very little is mentioned about his kids, and I found myself curious about how he has maintained a strong, loving relationship with his children, regardless of his drug and alcohol abuse. 

 Right or wrong, the Osbournes are a family with heart.  They want to be honest about their actions and feelings, which is strangely why they seem endearing.  Ozzy's autobiography was interesting, and I enjoyed reading more about his life.  I do have to give a huge disclaimer that there is a lot of profanity throughout the book, reminiscent of Ozzy's way of speaking.  Honestly though, the book was trying to show this larger than life character for who he was, madness and all.  

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based off of a library copy of the book.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Book Blogger Appreciation Week: Future Treasures

Here we are at the end of Book Blogger Appreciation Week.  I didn't quite get in on everything this time around, as I missed signing up for a few things here or there, but I did get a chance to vote this year and wanted to give a Congrats to all the winners!

For the final meme for this week, we were asked to reflect on and consider a few things:

What you enjoyed about BBAW?  As many others have said, it's always fun to learn about new blogs that have started up recently, or been around and I just missed them!  In the end, we all really love books and want to share that with others.  What could be better? 

What are your blogging goals?  One of the things I've really tried to focus on this past year was to not get so caught up in self-imposed deadlines and posts that I forget why I started blogging in the first place!  In the end, it always comes back to good stories, and I want to continue to read and share great stories.  I'd love to feature a few more authors this next year and even help feature some of our great local authors.  Before I began blogging about books, I was pretty unaware of authors.  That is sad to say, but really quite true.  Today authors have blogs of their own and they reach out their readers in so many ways that I really can learn more about the artists who keep my life filled with great reading material. 

I know.  My goals are not all that exciting.  They are simple, but they spell out a pleasant year ahead of great reading and great friends with which to mix and mingle.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Local Author Book Club Opportunity

Alpine School District, in Utah County, is offering a course called "Teaching Through Literature Discussions"  that is essentially a book club centered on how to share books with students.  While this is geared towards educators, I contacted the district to see if it is open to the community, and the answer is yes!

The course will cost $50, but includes all six books, which will mainly be directed by the authors!  Yes, it looks like the authors will be the ones involved with sharing their books in these discussions.

So far, the schedule and presentations are:
  1. September 23rd:  Chris Crowe, Getting Away With Murder
  2. November 11th:  Lisa Mangum, The Hourglass Door
  3. January 20th:  Ally Condie, Matched
  4. February 17th:  Not announced
  5. March 17th:  Not announced
  6. April 7th:  Not announced

Whether you are looking to work on recertification, getting a college credit, or simply reading some great books, this sounds like an amazing opportunity!  If you're interested, you can sign up with Alpine School District on their Professional Development  main page.  Also, you can email me and I can send you a copy of the flyer that was distributed.

We discussed the best way to distribute the books (since they will be sent to the individual schools) and determined that you can either have them sent to me and we can arrange something, or they can be picked up directly from the School District in American Fork.

This should be a great opportunity to read some of our local authors.  If you're interested, and you think it might fit into your schedule, check it out!  You can contact me if you have any questions.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Book Blogger Appreciation Week: First & Unexpected Treasures

It's that wonderful time of year again when book bloggers get a chance to celebrate what we do!  Yes, we all love books, and in that process we meet some wonderful bloggers and add to those mountain high "To Be Read" piles from all of their recommendations.  I'm a little bit behind, but wanted to catch up by posting about two of the BBAW memes up this week.

The first topic for Monday was about new book blogs we've found in the last year.  I actually have to copycat for a second.  My good friend Colette, over at A Buckeye Girl Reads, listed me as a new find this year and I was shocked that we haven't known each other for longer!  Honestly, I have loved following Colette and chatting with her on Twitter.  We both have matched up on some fun "Chick-Lit" we both like, and have found a friend when it comes time for our favorite TV shows and sporting events.  Half of my family live in Ohio, so it's fun to have a fellow Ohio State Buckeye fan online.  I love Colette's willingness to try challenges (which I chicken out of) and her love for romance and paranormal reads.  Although I feel like I've known her forever, I'm happy to point her out as one of MY treasure finds from this last year!

Another blogger I met earlier this year was Iris, from Iris on Books.  I love the range of books that Iris reads and her instant dedication and enthusiasm for blogging.  I know Iris has a busy schedule as a student, and yet I have to say that her blog doesn't seem to suffer for her academic pursuits.  I highly recommend you check out her blog!

Also, I have to give a shout out to a couple of my friends. My friend Gretchen was my graduate school compadre and blogs from time to time about books.  She might just disown me for doing this, but I wanted to share Gretchen's Bookshelf with everyone!  She is one amazingly smart chica, who wowed me in graduate school, and continues to wow me today.  I know she doesn't like to post very often, but I always love to see what she has to say!

Also, I recently found out that one of my best friends in high school is working on getting a novel published.  I shouldn't be surprised though, since Jenni was always super talented. Jenni blogs at Wolf Tales, as well as having her own author page.  I wish her lots of luck!

For Wednesday, we are supposed to post on Unexpected Treasures.  These are books or a genre you tried due to the influence of another blogger. 

One big influence I had this last year was my interest in books about Hawaii or books written by Hawaiian authors.  I started following Hawaii Book Blog over a year ago, but have to say that I'm constantly inspired to seek out more great books through the reviews and news they post.   I actually first contacted Hawaii Book Blog when I noticed a post about our local library in Kahuku on the island of Oahu.  Now I know I didn't grow up there, but have grown to feel a sense of community and home in that area, so seeing that post made me a little homesick for my mom and my home there. 

On a consistent basis, Hawaii Book Blog posts library information as well as book signings and other great events going on.  Their dedication to keeping book news and information up to date and in reviewing local authors and books about Hawaii is amazing.  For me, this was a very unexpected treasure to find them and want to say a big Mahalo for all of their great work!

Tune in for more about Book Blogger Appreciation Week, and take a look at some of the great book blogs that are out there writing about a world of amazing reads!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Bookmark Winners!

Congrats to the following five people.  You have won a lovely bookmark made from a Samoan art tapestry! 

  1. Stacie
  2. Felicia
  3. Don
  4. Michelle
  5. Hannah
I wish I had enough for everyone who entered, but congrats to those who won!  I'll be popping them in the mail later this week. 


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Review: The Host by Stephenie Meyer

Here's the downfall of reading about nine books all at the same time--it takes forever to actually finish any one book!  For whatever reason, I have been in the mood to rotate my reading.  It's all good though, since they are all pretty great choices.

The latest book I finished was The Host by Stephenie Meyer.  I've had this since it first came out but was dissuaded from finishing it when I got bored in the first hundred pages.  That was a very bad sign for me.  I pushed it aside for something else and ended up not getting back to it until now. 

Synopsis:  This sci-fi read takes a departure from the vampire Twilight series Meyer is so famously known for to consider a future world where humans have been invaded by an alien creature.  This creature, who is planted/entwined into the base of their skull, takes on the body of their hosts, and in the case of the main character, that host is still very present and screaming in the background.  The host, Melanie Stryder,  has no choice but to share very emotional memories of a brother and first love she left behind in the Arizona desert.  This alien soul called Wanderer (or Wanda) feels compelled to go in search of Melanie's past and falls headlong into the human world and face to face with Jared, Melanie's love.  The struggle between what the body Wanda has been placed in feels for Jared, and Melanie's own frustration at having someone share these memories, leads these characters down a strange road.  Eventually, Wanda learns what it is to be human, and the very real physical and emotional power of love on said hosts.

Review:  I will never claim myself to be good with science fiction.  Although this novel is said to be an easy sell to those of us who are hesitant with the genre, I will admit to still struggling a bit.  In some respects, it could be that the deep sense of morality that the alien "Wanderer" or "Wanda" had just seemed strange to me at first.  Yes she was an alien, but her thoughts and ideas seemed so human-like as to make it difficult to see her as such a leech.  On the flip side, we knew immediately that Melanie was a feisty soul, since she continued to fight for her presence in her own body.  I loved Melanie and wanted her to have her life back, so the complication of having a moral and kind alien taking up space in her body really complicated the entire situation.

The first hundred pages or so really are a bit slow.  I have to warn reluctant readers that for me, at least, it was difficult to get through all of the set up for the society and hosting by human bodies that goes on in this future time.  The relationships in the book are well established though, with characters that are complicated and easy to care about.  Meyer does a nice job of complicating our expected beliefs that Wanda is the bad guy in the story and should be eliminated.  Yes, she has taken over Melanie's body, but could it be that Wanda is as much a victim in this story as her human host?

The different ideas about the value of life and relationships were interesting, and although I struggle with my own suspension of belief, I thought it was a good story.  It's not always my cup of tea to read survivalist tales or about alien life forms.  Who knew I was such a hard sell?  While not the top of my list of favorite reads, it was an interesting new one.  Oh, and I can also say that after putting it down the first time, that I've read it!

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based off of a personal copy of the novel.

What books have you started, only to put them down and not return to them until later down the road?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Library Loot: A Happy Weekend

Library Loot is a weekly meme hosted by Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader and Claire from The Captive Reader.  This is a great way to share books and such that you've picked up from the library.  Since I haven't actually posted this meme in awhile, I thought that this weekend might be a great time to jump back on the wagon! 

Thanks to a lot of road construction going on around my house this fall, I'm only making it to the library once a week, which usually falls on a Saturday. 

 Today I dropped off Stephenie Meyer's The Host, which I finished on Friday.  It was a little strange actually, but I'm glad I finally got around to reading it.  I'll be reviewing it later on this next week.

 As mentioned last week, I'm always checking out new cookbooks.  This week I checked out Jim Lahey's My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method.  I had read about it in one of my many food magazines and knew I had to check it out.  I've already glanced through it and know I'll have to give it a try.  His basic method is patterned after old Roman methods of bread making that look pretty easy.  I'm hoping for something good!

 My best friend has been raving about A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg for weeks now.  In fact, she insisted I run out and get a copy ASAP.  (Sadly though, the copy I checked out had about 20 pages that were dog eared wherever there were recipes.  Yep, I had to go through and flatten them out before it drove me crazy!)

I also picked up volume four and five in the Emma series by Kaoru Mori.  I've really enjoyed this series so far and am looking forward to continuing the story.

Finally, I picked up Things I Know About Love by Kate LeVann.  I saw this circulating through the blogosphere and wanted to read it.  I'm surprised by how few pages the book has, so I can see that it's going to be a pretty short read.

This week I have a nice variety of books that I've checked out.  Since I'm reading about nine other books right now though, with fifteen more in the wings, I might be getting into these a little later.  That's fine with me though.  I love having all of these great reading options!

What books do you have waiting in the wings?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Why I Can't Wait for Glee, Season 2

This week they re-aired my favorite episode from season one, which was centered around Artie.  Yes, I love Artie!  He has a distinctive sound to his voice, and how can you not like this scene where he dreams of hopping up from his wheelchair and dancing?!?

My other favorite scene is actually at the very end when he sings "Dream a Little Dream," a sequence centered around the fact that he's not coming out of his wheelchair.  Almost every day this summer, I played that song.  Now that I'm back at work, I play it just about every morning.  It's sad in this context, but it strangely puts a smile in my heart.  Yep, I'm a little cheesy that way!

I'm not some crazed fan, but I will say that for someone who isn't into scripted TV shows (yes, I'm a reality show, BBC, and documentary fan), I fell in love with this show last year.  I can't wait for September 21st to get here so I can start watching Season 2!

If you're a Glee fan, what's your favorite song or scene from the show?

P.S.  Don't forget to enter my bookmark giveaway.  It's super easy to enter!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Double Review: Emma vols. 2 & 3 by Kaoru Mori

As I've mentioned before, manga and graphic novels are a new field for me, only discovered within the past year. Thanks to reviews and mentions by great book bloggers, I have been working my way through  quite an exciting range of stories.  One of the great recommendations I picked up was the Emma series by Kaoru Mori. Told in Victorian England and portraying the differences in class distinction, this manga is a fun read for this English teacher!

Synopsis:  In volume two our shy maid Emma has developed a friendship with our wealthy hero William.  Although their social classes are vastly different and their lifestyles separated by an access to money, the two are drawn to one another and enjoy being together.  As expected, difficulty for the pair comes from all the differences listed, and few can understand why William would even give Emma a second look.

(Spoiler Alert)  Volume 3 picks up with Emma leaving London.  Although William has expressed his interest in Emma and showed that to his family, this interest has not been received well.  Now with Emma out of the city and seemingly out of reach, their fears might be for nothing, as William has no way of reaching her or knowing where she has gone.

Review:  Although both volumes in this series are engaging and fun to read, I found that I enjoyed volume two the most.  Much of the action and excitement picked up in the second volume, as we come to realize that William just might be a sweet match for our shy maid Emma.  Around every bend in the story I found myself cheering for her.  Who doesn't want to see a lower class woman win the heart of a rich man?  Yes, I'm sure there is some of that damsel in distress saving going on here (that I recognize and shudder at my own ease in accepting), but it gives it that escape factor that I enjoy.  This series is really quite fun to read.  I love the Victorian Era and the restraint it always guarantees a piece.  In a manga such as these, that restraint is not lost, and manages to pull the story forward in a way that adds elements that pictures and narration alone can not.

If you haven't yet tried a manga and enjoy any element of the Victorian period, then I might recommend you give these a shot.  Mori has created a fun series thus far, with a story filled with complications and irony.  Check them out!

*FTC Disclosure:  This review based off of library copies of the story.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Blogging News, a Readathon, & a Giveaway

Happy Labor Day to my American friends!  Sadly, this was a much-needed break already and I've been busy, busy, busy.  I spent some time on Saturday canning tomatoes, which turned out to take much longer than I remember.  Thankfully  they are all finished though, so like those Little House on the Prairie books I read a million times when I was younger, I'm ready for the blizzards of winter to hit!  (Also thankfully, there will be no side of beef hanging from my back porch to go chop off a piece.  That part of the story I conveniently skip in my own life.)

Today is my day to happily read to my heart's content.  Speaking of which, I recently joined the Dewey's Read-a-Thon being held on October 9th, the day after my birthday.  I can't think of a better way I'd rather spend my first day being a year older than to hide away behind a stack of good books!  If you're not familiar with this Read-a-Thon, it basically is a time that everyone who participates will read for 24 hours straight.  I've yet to ever read the entire time, but have definitely enjoyed trying.  There are often great challenges to join in if you're reading is slacking off, as well as wonderful cheerleaders who stop by to give you encouragement.  Here are some of my experiences if you're interested (cheering for Read-a-Thon 4/09 and reading for Read-a-Thon 10/09).  As always, it will be a great time, so head over to sign up today!

Also, launching today is a great new Jane Austen website being hosted by twenty great Austen writers.  Sharon Lathan, writer of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy: Two Shall Become One, Loving Mr. Darcy, My Dearest Mr. Darcy, and soon to be released in October, In the Arms of Mr. Darcy (which I'll be reviewing SOON), is heading up much of the action.  They have some really great posts up already, along with a fun looking scavenger hunt that I think I'll interrupt my reading today to go participate.  Stop by Austen Authors today to join in the Austen fun and to read great posts by many wonderful authors.

 Last up, I have a giveaway I kept meaning to post and decided that now is a great time to share!  This past summer I went into a Polynesian store at the local mall in Kaneohe, Hawaii.  We frequent that mall because it has our closest movie theater.  One day while we were waiting for our movie to start, I noticed these cool bookmarks made out of Samoan print designs that had been cut into strips.  The lady in the store (also Samoan) told me it was just their way of preserving the artwork once the piece could no longer be used (why it couldn't be used, I don't know).  I thought they were pretty interesting and bought a bunch of them to share!

If you'd like to have me send you one of these unique bookmarks, just fill in the form below with your information.  I'll draw FIVE winners, and the drawing will run until Sunday, September 12th at 11:59 pm (MST).  This giveaway is open internationally!

Good luck!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Around the Blogosphere: Foodie Blogs

As with many readers, I have a secondary love for cooking and cookbooks.  Last year I started following a couple of food related blogs and soon had a nice list that I enjoyed checking into.  I'll admit to checking out a couple of cookbooks every time I go to the library, so foodie blogs have seemed to fill a new place in my reading interests, and one that I thought I should share!

Anniebakes is a cute blog that shares some pretty easy and simple recipes.  This is a newer blog I've added to my list, but a good one!

Another blog I've followed for awhile is Brownie Points, which has some pretty delectable looking treats.  I love the pictures on this site and have used an idea or two about ingredients to jazz up my own cooking.

Chocolate & Zucchini is another blog that I have followed for awhile.  I liked the wide range of recipes that this blog features, from baked treats, to starters, to main dishes.  There is a nice variety shared on this blog, which is why I keep going back!

Closet Cooking is actually a new acquisition to my foodie blog roll.  This blog popped up in my search for more Thai recipes, at which time I also noticed a nice range of cuisines represented by this blog.

Another pretty new blog I discovered is Deep South Dish, which has me pretty excited.  Having lived in Mississippi before, I was excited to see some good southern dishes posted.  Along with that new blog, I discovered Kitchen Belleicious at the same time.  This blog has really nice recipe cards that are ready to print and use.  I loved the banana pudding tarts that was posted not long ago and have decided that I have to try making them.

Mommy's Kitchen is a nice, home cooking blog.  It's always fun to find recipes you didn't even know you were looking for in the first place, right?  Along this line, I also really like Well Fed, which walks through the steps for some nice recipes you could share with family and friends.

Dare I admit that some of my first foodie blogs that I followed were cupcake blogs?!?  The pictures, flavor combinations, and passion of the bloggers had me hooked right away.  One of my favorite is Cupcake  Bakeshop by Chockylit.  If you like pretty pictures of cupcakes and interesting combinations, then I can really recommend this blog.

Another place to see mouth-watering baked goods is My Baking Addiction.  Their site is really well put together and has great pictures of the recipes they cook up.

On my foodie blog roll I have a couple of blogs that are dedicated to Italian food.  The first is My Italian Grandmother, which posts a variety of Italian dishes from time to time.  (Just a warning though, it also has spontaneous music which you can shut off by scrolling down on the right-hand side.)   The other is Sunday Sauce. They actually haven't posted in awhile, but I like the search capabilities on the blog because they have a backlog of some good recipes.  I think the real reason I appreciate this site is because they explain things about the food or recipes.

The last site I want to mention is Simply Recipes.  This blog is really nice, and dedicated 100% to recipes and beautiful foods to share with their readers.  I love, love, love this blog and have tried out several of their recipes in the past. 

There we go.  I've wanted to share this secondary blogroll for quite some time.  If you like reading cookbooks and recipes, this is a nice collection of blogs to try out.

I know that there is a wonderful range of blogs out there.  What other types of blogs do you follow?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Review: Holly's Inbox: Scandal in the City by Holly Denham

Life sure does move right along.  Here we are facing the first of September and I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around it all.  As I've mentioned, I'm teaching a Popular Fiction class this year and so far so good.  The students just started The Hunger Games and are creating their own web sites, where I will have them create digital portfolios (which is kind of a fancy way of saying that they'll be writing and responding online).  Most of the students really got into creating their own sites, so I'll be interested to see what they create.  They should be fun to see!

On a more personal note, I've had a hard time this week of pulling my routine together.  I realize that every year I start off the first month or so of school collapsing as soon as I get home.  My classes are great this year, but I'm definitely wiped out when I get home.  There just isn't enough caffeine in Diet Coke to get me through a busy day.  I love you Diet Coke, but you don't give me as much pep as I'd like!  Last night I was beyond tired and just wanted to shut the world out and read, which was perfect, because I was able to finish Holly's Inbox: Scandal in the City.  It was light, breezy, instant get away for me.  In short, it was exactly what I needed to unwind at the end of the day.

Synopsis:  Picking up from where Holly was in Holly's Inbox, we find her still working as a receptionist for a London bank and in a relationship with a former school flame, Toby.  Still told in the epistolary form as the first book, we're privy to emails and even a few text messages between Holly and her coworkers, friends, family, and main squeeze.  Although everything seems all right on the surface, work has put Holly in the hot seat, as well as push Toby to working long hours away from Holly.  Eventually, things begin to crumble and Holly has to determine what is most important in her life so she can protect her future.

Review:  In much the same style as Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary, Holly is a bit of a character who always seems to be getting herself into some trouble.  Her letters to her best friend Jason, felt fun and whimsical, and topped my list for emails I most wanted to read.  Jason was sweet and caring, but a real crack up most of the time, mocking Holly for her insecurities and egging her on to push her relationship with Toby a bit farther.  This relationship aside, I couldn't help but wonder if people really do send as many short, even one-liner emails, as these characters do?  I can't imagine spending my day shooting short emails back and forth to people, but maybe that saves their sanity at a desk job?

The story was funny to read, and although it was predictable with its conflict and resolution, I still found myself eager to see how it came together.  As I mentioned in my previous review of Holly's Inbox, there is a risk in sticking strictly to the written communications without any commentary by the author.  It was easy to sense where things were going, but the author did still manage to throw in a few surprising twists.  I think I enjoyed this second installment a bit more than the first, possibly because the tension in the story came up a little earlier and had me flipping pages for the resolution.  Holly could be a bit of an acquired taste for some readers; she is quirky, anxious, and a bit insecure, which strangely annoyed me and made her more likable.  Although not perfect, it is a fun read that breaks out of the norm and helped me escape for an evening!

*FTC Disclosure:  A review copy of the book was provided by Sourcebooks.