Friday, January 30, 2015

Laurie's January Reading and Movies

I had surgery on January 4 (disk replacement), so I've been forced to stay home from work and have had lots of time to read and watch movies.  It's given me a good start on my 50/50 for 2015.  I've mostly read children's books this month, because it's library ordering season and I am trying to keep up with the latest in children's literature.  

My January Reads:

Grown-up Book:  The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
This is not a book I would have chosen on my own, but I read it for a book club I attend with my colleagues.  I have a love-hate relationship with this book.  I loved the writing.  It drew me in.  The characters came to life and the book was full of emotion and feeling.  But the characters made so many terrible choices that it was difficult to read.  Basically, a 13-year old boy named Theo survives a bombing at a NY art museum that tragically takes the life of his mother.  The book is the story of how that experience, and a beautiful Goldfinch painting from the museum, shape his future.  It's a Pulitzer prize winner.  Gritty and heartbreaking, but with a fairly satisfying ending.  Conservative readers might have a hard time with some of the more graphic content and language.

Middle-Grade/YA Literature:

Rain Reign, by Ann Martin
This book won the Charlotte Huck award for outstanding children's fiction.  It really is outstanding, and it's a much-needed contribution to children's literature.  Rose is an autistic 5th grader who is obsessed with homonyms.  I loved experiencing the world through her words and her eyes, but it was also heartbreaking and difficult.   She has a special relationship with Rain, a stray dog her father brought home for her. I lost count of how many times I cried while reading this book, and I still get teary-eyed thinking about it now.  It was one of those powerful books that will stay with me forever.  It was especially near to my heart because there are autistic people in my life who I love very much.

Absolutely Almost, by Lisa Graff
This book won a Charlotte Huck honor for outstanding children's fiction.  A young boy named Albie struggles with learning and feels that he is almost good at things, but not quite.  His new babysitter helps him to find his strengths and feel better about who he is.  This book was sweet and heartfelt.  I absolutely loved it.  (I also recommend Lisa Graff's A Tangle of Knots, which I read last year.)

Lions of Little Rock, by Kristin Levine
I've read a number of children's books focused on segregation and the civil rights era, but this one was somewhat unique.  Marlee is a 12-year old girl starting middle school in Little Rock, Arkansas. She becomes fast friends with Liz, a new girl at school.  Liz helps Marlee overcome her fears and proves to be a remarkable friend.  When Liz suddenly leaves school, Marlee is determined not too let dangerous challenges prevent them from being friends.  I really enjoyed this book.  It has the potential for great discussion about having courage to stand up for what is right.  It's also a sweet story about the power of friendship.

One for the Murphys, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
One of my 5th graders at school recommended this book to me a couple months ago. "Ms. Laurie, you HAVE to read this BOOK!  It's AMAZING!"  I promised her I would, and I am so glad I did. The book is about a foster child named Carley who has no idea what to make of her new foster family.  The Murphys are just a little too perfect, and Carley isn't sure she can ever fit in.  This was another book that made me cry.  It was so full of love and healing and hope.  Highly recommend it.

The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had, by Kristin Levine
It's funny, but I literally just realized this book is written by the same author as Lions of Little Rock. I just happened to read them both this month.  The book is set in the 1910's. 12-year old Dit has been hoping that the new postmaster will have a son his age.  He is disappointed and surprised when he learns that the new family not only has a prim and proper daughter, but they are African American. Dit and Emma strike up an unlikely, but sweet and loyal friendship.  I didn't like this one as much as Lions of Little Rock, but I did enjoy it.  It has similar themes of friendship and courage in the face of racism.


Being in Saudi Arabia, I don't get to go to a movie theater unless we travel out of country.  But fortunately, there's Amazon Instant Video and Netflix to get me through.  Here's what I've watched this month:

Main Street
This was a 2011 movie starring Colin Firth.  I watched it because, well, Colin Firth.  It was a bit difficult to adjust to him in such a different role, and using a Texas twang.  I can't say I loved this movie.  Firth plays a man who is trying to convince a small, struggling town to allow his company to store toxic waste in a warehouse.  The movie keeps you guessing as to whether or not he is being honest with the town. It was a slow-paced film and it ended very abruptly.  It was well-acted, and it brought up some important ethical issues, but it left me feeling unsatisfied in the end.

Daniel Deronda
This is a 2003 miniseries based on the book by George Eliot.  Gwendolyn Harleth is a somewhat vain and self-centered girl who meets Daniel Deronda after losing at the gambling tables.  They feel an immediate connection, but their lives draw them in different directions.  I like a story that shows good character development, and I enjoyed seeing how Gwendolyn learned from her experiences.  Daniel is one of those good, steady, compassionate men that can make women swoon.

October Baby
2011.  A young woman named Hannah is shocked to learn that she was adopted.   Struggling to find herself, and wanting to understand issues with her health, she sets out on a road trip with a childhood friend, his not-so-nice girlfriend, and a few other friends.  It's a heartbreaking and heartwarming story.  I enjoyed it.  It you watch it, make sure you have a box of tissues close by.

Friday, January 23, 2015

First few books of the year

I've read or listened to four books so far this year. I enjoyed them all.

Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by David and Tom Kelley

This book is by brothers both of the design firm IDEO and one is the creator of Stanford's The idea behind this book is that it's not just "creative types" that can bring creativity and innovation to their jobs and lives, but that we can all be creative and bring design principles into our everyday situations. I believe what they say, but I'm not sure that it's as easy as they make it sound. They give exercises in the book, but I don't see them being as effective as taking one of the wildly popular classes at the But we can't all do that, so a book is a good place to start. I particularly enjoyed chapter 5, Seek: From Duty to Passion the best.

West with the Night by Beryl Markham

I read this several years ago, but I didn't remember much about it. I remembered that it was beautifully written, and I loved the language. I remembered one quote.

I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.

So I decided to check the digital audio book out from the library. It was read by Julie Harris. I think I preferred reading it to listening to it, because the complexity of some of the sentences and the difficulty of pronouncing some of the African place names made the audio version not flow quite as well.

I still love it, and it's still beautiful. It is a memoir written by the pilot Beryl Markham. She made the first solo flight across the Atlantic ocean from east to west. She talks about her childhood in Africa raising race horses and hunting wild boar and how she learned to fly and her work as a pilot in Africa and about her flight across the ocean. A wonderful book. I think some time, I'll read it again.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloan

I read this on the recommendation of a friend who is totally in love with this book. This is the story of Clay who finds himself as an unemployed designer much in need of work. One day he stumbles upon Mr. Penumbra's bookstore and gets a job as the night clerk. He begins to notice strange things. Most of the customers check out books, but don't buy anything. His job is to meticulously track what is happening in a log book. Being a designer, he decides to create a 3D model of the bookstore. After meeting Kat from Google (and starting to date her), they find out that patrons of the bookstore are trying to solve codes and find the key to immortality.

This was a fun book. It's good for people who like both fantasy and the mundane. Perhaps it has something to teach us about our own journeys toward immortality and who we might bring along.

Trash by Andy Mulligan

I listened to the audio version of this book while commuting. This was an interesting, fast-paced story. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I found parts quite disturbing. The book follows the story of three trash boys, Raphael, Gardo and Rat. They live at a dump and spend their days picking through trash hunting for things to sell so they can earn money for themselves and their families. This was the first disturbing thing, because there are children around the world who live like this. One day Raphael finds a bag containing a wallet, a key, an ID card, and 1100 pesos - his unlucky-lucky day. It turns out the police are looking for these items as clues in a robbery case. A houseboy has stolen $6,000,000 from his corrupt (though never caught and convicted boss). The houseboy was caught and killed by the police. The boys follow the trail of clues to solve the mystery and finish what was started and maybe save themselves and the poor people of their city.

As I said, I really enjoyed this book. I had a lot of trouble with the police corruption and the brutality of their treatment of a child. So if you have kids, you might read it first before letting them read it, just to make sure they can handle it. It's a story of empowering the powerless and righting wrongs and doing what is right even when it is difficult or dangerous. It is well worth the read.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Heather's 2014 Reads

Several of us discussed it, and we decided that in 2015 we should make a better effort with both the 50/50 challenge and the blog, even if our chances of success aren’t all that great. I thought I’d begin by listing all the books I read in 2014, with occasional notes. It wouldn’t be worth doing the movies, as I only saw three or four, which is as many as I’ve seen in the first few weeks of 2015.


I had a decent reading year in 2014 – over 60 books. I seriously embraced audio books as a valid way to experience more books. When I Metro and walk to or from work, it takes about an hour, and since I can’t really read during that time, audio books seemed a good use of my time.


Here’s what I read in 2014

  1. Beautiful Creatures
  2. Beautiful Darkness
  3. Beautiful Chaos
  4. Beautiful Redemption
    1. This is a series of paranormal young adult romance or something novels about a Caster (witch) and the boy whose interested in her. I read them because I saw the movie of the first book and liked it. It’s a good thing I saw the movie first, because I would have been annoyed with the changes they made. A well-written, interesting and enjoyable read.
  5. I am Half-Sick of Shadows – Flavia de Luce, so of course it was a good book.
  6. A Cape Code Notebook – Short book that I bought during a trip to Cape Cod.
  7. The Orphan of Awkward Falls – Children’s book
  8. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate – another children’s book. This was excellent.
  9. Charon’s Cosmology – poems by Charles Simic
  10. Murder Past Due
  11. The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived before Achilles (audio)
  12. The Raven Boys – I didn’t realize this was the first book in a series (The Raven Cycle), so I was really annoyed when I got to the end. I enjoyed it, more YA paranormal.
  13. Human Chain – poems by Seamus Heaney
  14. Cannery Row – I read this before a trip to Monterey. I recognized Steinbeck’s characters on the statue we saw.
  15. Morning poems – poems by Robert Bly
  16. Pooh and the Philosophers: In Which It is Shown That All of Western Philosophy is Merely a Preamble to Winnie-the-Pooh
  17. The Human, the Orchid and the Octopus (audio) – I loved this book.
  18. Splintered
  19. Shades of Grey (not to be confused with that other book) – This book was set in a colourtocracy and was one of my favorite books of the year.
  20. Summer World (audio)
  21. The Dream Thieves – second book in The Raven Cycle
  22. Fahrenheit 451 (audio) – Just revisiting a book I’d enjoyed in high school.
  23. Way Off the Road (audio) – Humor, and it did have some funny bits in it.
  24. The Voluntourist
  25. Dive # 1: The Discovery – Children’s book
  26. Infinity Ring #1: A Mutiny in Time (audio) – Children’s book. This one was written by James Dashner, so I was interested in it. These are middle-grade books written by various authors, so all a particular writer’s style is edited out. Still fun for children, and I’ll continue listening to them.
  27. Eaarth (audio)
  28. Infinity Ring #2: Divide & Conquer (audio)
  29. The Jungle Book (audio)
  30. The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel: The Alchemyst
  31. Why Read Moby Dick (audio)
  32. Stung – YA, dystopian
  33. Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians (audio) – Children’s book
  34. Man Down
  35. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
  36. Olive’s Ocean
  37. The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable – I read a lot of children’s books, trying to keep up my knowledge, but there are too many!
  38. Around the World in 80 Days (audio) – He never rides a balloon!
  39. Science Matters (audio) – This is a book designed to give the reader basic scientific literacy. It has the best explanation of the theory of relativity that I’ve ever heard. It was great, and I might have to listen to or read it again.
  40. The Calder Game (audio)
  41. The Danger Box (audio)
  42. The Copernicus Legacy: The Forbidden Stone
  43. Adam Bede (audio)
  44. First Light
  45. Being Henry David
  46. A Tale of Two Cities (audio) – I never read this, even as an English major. It was great.
  47. The Unfinished Angel (audio)
  48. Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin (audio)
  49. I’ll Mature When I’m Dead (audio) – Dave Barry
  50. Physics of the Impossible (audio) – Michio Kaku
  51. The Lost Code
  52. Treasure Island (audio) – I listened to this because I wanted to listen to a modern “sequel” read by David Tenant. I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did. An excellent adventure story.
  53. Book of Mormon – this is a reread, but that’s OK.
  54. Silver: Return to Treasure Island (audio) – see 52, above
  55. The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (audio) – I listened to it because I liked the title.
  56. Infinity Ring #3: The Trap Door (audio)
  57. Infinity Ring #4: Curse of the Ancients (audio)
  58. Escape from Mr Lemoncello’s Library (audio) – children’s book, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
  59. The Getaway Car – I read this after hearing Ann Patchett give a talk.
  60. X-Files: Whirlwind – Don’t judge me.
  61. A Path Appears – excellent! I got my copy signed by Nicholas Kristof.
  62. The Real Boy
  63. Blue Lily, Lily Blue – Book 3 of The Raven Cycle
  64. Our Mutual Friend (audio)
  65. Man’s Search for Meaning
  66. Dave Barry’s History of the Millennium (So Far) (audio)