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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age



by Jason Boog
Touchstone     2014
336 Pages     Nonfiction

Recently I observed a strange thing. Only one grandson did any recreational reading on his own. The others read when they were forced to read or when a parent read to them. How is this possible when their grandmother reads voraciously? Additionally, I noted my toddler grandson knew how to swipe my iPhone to get to the games. So, when I noticed that a librarian I greatly admire, Betsy Bird of the New York Public Library, had written the forward to the new book Born Reading by Jason Boog, I decided that I ought to look into Boog's ideas about how to create lifelong readers. 

The biggest strength of Born Reading is the way Boog takes 15 key concepts, which he calls The Born Reading Playbook, and expands them in each chapter to create parents who know how to interact with their children and children who love to read. He has done the research, talked with the leading experts in child development, and also has created lists of great books and educational apps that will best supplement a child's development. He teaches parents to read "interactively" with their children in a way that makes reading part of the daily life experience.

Two of the things that really attracted me to Born Reading were Boog's research regarding digital media and young children and his observations about interactive reading. As a children's librarian, I am very tuned in to the concept of interactive reading, but I have only observed the consequences of the digital age on my grandchildren, since media has changed dramatically since I retired ten years ago. I valued Boog's opinions on the use of digital media.

Besides all that, Boog has a remarkable website filled with great information for parents on reading with lists of suggested books, websites, and media choices. I have used it on the educational book blog I produce for the online school Free World U.  You can find it.here

Several caveats: Boog is not a librarian, a children's literature expert, nor an educator. He is a writer and a father. The Publisher's Weekly reviewer calls Boog "A know it all rather than an educator or peer" but his material is valuable none the less. A perfect gift for young parents.

This slide presentation is a nice addition to Boog's information.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bones Never Lie



by Kathy Reichs
Bantam Books    2014
334 pages     Fiction

Bones Never Lie is the seventeenth book in the Bones series by Kathy Reichs. And this was my introduction to the series. It was an ok place to begin, although I would guess that the rest of the series is as good as number seventeen. Some Goodreads reviewers thought this was the best one of the series. I can't believe that I missed sixteen other mysteries! Where have I been?

 Dr. Temperance Brennan is a forensic anthropologist working in two cities, Montreal and Charlotte North Carolina. She is the alter ego of the author who is, in reality, one of a very few forensic anthropologists in North America. Brennan is haunted once again by her arch nemesis from Montreal, a woman named Anique Pomperleau, who tortures and kills young girls, sometimes after having kidnapped them, holding them hostage for long periods of time. This time, it appears that a girl has been tortured and killed in North Carolina. Could Pomperleau have come this far south to taunt Brennan? Police in northern Vermont also have a cold case that is similar, but of course, Vermont is close to the Canadian border so police in both countries are involved. As Brennan and her erstwhile partner and sometime lover, Andrew Ryan investigate, several more cold cases arise that seem to be tied to Pomperleau. Surprisingly, Pomperleau is discovered dead, and the detectives know that someone else is out there killing little girls. 

It is easy to see how Kathy Reichs uses her experience to construct her plots. It would take a forensic anthropologist to come up with some of the details that makes Bones Never Lie an exciting book. One reader calls the twist upon which the plot pivots "sticky" and it is so unusual that it truly sticks in your brain. Wait until you read it! The case seems to be going nowhere until Brennan's mother, who is in an assisted living facility facing dementia and cancer, uncovers some of the missing details with rather amazing online sleuthing. This, in itself, is a clever detail that adds to the suspense and enjoyment for the reader.

I received Bones Never Lie  as an advanced reader's copy and I tried to put it aside to read books higher up on my list. For some reason, the book just kept calling to me from the shelf until I tackled it and finished it in a couple of sittings. It was great fun and because my teenage grandson was visiting this week, he loved hearing all the gory details.

A good review on an excellent mystery book blog.
Kathy Reichs website and blog.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Invisible Girls: A Memoir



by Sarah Thebarge
Jerico Books    2013
266 pages     Spiritual Memoir

In her memoir The Invisible Girls, Sarah Thebarge relates two intertwined stories in her life—her struggles with breast cancer and the family of little Somali girls that she has helped for several years Thebarge is also a woman of steadfast faith, which is evident in every aspect of the memoir which covers a span of about five years.

Thebarge has experienced a great deal of change in her life. Her family moved several times as she was growing up, and then she as a young adult moves many times as well--first as the daughter of a fundamentalist pastor, and then as she goes to university and graduate school, creates her career and deals with the extremely invasive cancer. This is probably one of the reasons why she identifies so strongly with five young Somali girls and their mother, who have been abandoned by their father and husband. They are lost in this new land, and in many ways, Thebarge is lost as well. The relationship between Thebarge and the Somali family is healing on both sides as they all struggle to adapt to tremendous change.

Each chapter is a short vignette—either of her cancer and her recovery or of the family that she is helping. She also tells of her failed relationship with her fiancĂ©, who is unable to deal with his girlfriend's cancer. Thebarge's writing moves between the various aspects of her life and relationships and also as she struggles with the fundamentalist, restrictive faith of her upbringing. She has many arguments with God over what she feels is God's abandonment of her.  She writes that as she was recovering from the cancer, she plotted the future of her life. She decided that there must be some greater purpose to her life. Thebarge says: "Between the cancer and the pneumonia, I should have died by now. But God had mercifully healed me. So for now, until He cashed out my chips, what I owed Him was not a death, but a well-lived life." She seems to have reached a compromise with God.  It is at this point in her life that she meets the Somali family.

She takes the title, the Invisible Girls, from the idea that women often are invisible in society. At one point she equates the modest dress of the fundamentalist woman to the modest dress of the Somali woman she is helping. This overt modesty helps create invisibility in women, but she also tells of an incident of preaching the gospel to a young prostitute on the street—another form of an invisible woman. Her goal is to help the Somali girls to grow up to be women who are "too confident to wait for a man to rescue them, and to valuable to stay with a man who abused them." I think that adding this "invisible girl" theme to the book is a bit disingenuous because it feels contrived—perhaps the idea came from an editor who thought that the book needed something more than what Thebarge was delivering.

 The Invisible Girls was created from the blog Thebarge has written as a way of sorting out her life. She intends to use the proceeds from the book to pay for the educations of the five little Somali girls so that they can move out of invisibility into productive American lives.The fund can be found on her blog here: http://sarahthebarge.com/invisible-girls-trust-fund/

My hairdresser HIlary has been helping a young Nigerian woman/university student, Rejoice, and her little boy who came to Hilary's church seeking help. Rejoice is a student at Western Michigan University, and because of her unmarried motherhood status, she receives no support from her family. She is seeking asylum in the United States, and in the interim Hilary has taken it upon herself to offer the woman all the help she can. The stories are very similar, and I will take the book to Hilary when I go to see her. (More information about Rejoice and her needs can be found at the Go Fund Me site that Skyridge Church in Kalamazoo has set up.)

When I received The Invisible Girls from the publisher, I did not intend to read the entire book—just enough to get the gist of it so that I could write a short blurb on my blog. Despite its many flaws, it was a quick and inspiring read, and I finished the entire book in a couple of hours. It is one of those books that you read, sigh, and go "Ahh, nice!" and then move on with living. 

An interview with Sarah Thebarge.
Sarah Thebarge's website, blog, and donation site for the Invisible Girls.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Those Who Wish Me Dead



by Michael Koryta
Little, Brown     2014
391 pages     Fiction

Don't you love it when a book grabs you on the first page and never lets you go? That is exactly what happens with Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta. 

Jace Wilson is a 14 year old who witnesses a murder and sees the murderers face to face while at a quarry swimming hole in Indiana. A private security guard convinces his parents to hide him at a wilderness survival camp in Montana instead of putting him into a witness protection program. Ethan and Allison Serbin run the survival camp for troubled teens, and when the group that includes Jace comes, nobody knows which boy is the one in hiding. The action begins with the murders and ends with a forest fire in the mountains. Along the way there are several deaths and so many breath-taking moments that your heart never stops pounding. In the midst of the danger, Jace grows up, and Ethan and Allison grow older, wondering why they agreed to this craziness in the first place. 

The first chapter tells the story of Jace Wilson being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The details of the crime he witnesses is so graphically written that I had to stop reading at the end of the chapter. I was breathless, and so scared for Jace that I had to take a break to process the situation he is in. Koryta knows how to grab an audience and make them want more.

The assassins are among the most cleverly created villains that I have ever read—almost as clever as the villains in Fargo in their absurdity and menace. They are brothers and are totally bonded with each other—so close that their dialogue is uniquely their own and hard for their victims to follow. They also like to "play" with their victims, in much the same way that the cat plays with the mouse before it devours it. They are seemingly invincible, and as much as the reader hates their guts, you can't help but admire their prowess. They find Jace almost immediately upon their arrival in Montana, and they create a trail of terror, including several deaths and the forest fire that almost kills them all.

And then you can't help but admire the pluck and grit of Jace (or Conner, as he is known to Ethan and the other campers). He is facing a desperate situation, but he is a very smart, quick learner. He also has the good sense to know when he is not just in danger for himself, but that he is also putting other people in danger.  He is wary about seeking out people to help him because he knows that the assassins are on his trail; yet because he is just a boy, he inspires those who meet him to try to save him. The story line would have been entirely different if Jace had been an adult in danger rather than a teenage boy. You would have worried, but you wouldn't have been frantic with worry.

The details of the setting are realistic. That's because Michael Koryta has taken the same kind of survival training that Ethan taught in his survival school in Montana. Koryta and some friends backpacked in the Beartooth Mountains, and that trip became the inspiration for Those Who Wish Me Dead. His group had stopped for lunch at a vista overlooking the mountain range. "I realized I could not see another soul," he said. "I immediately began to think, 'I could put someone in a lot of trouble up here.'" 

Also remarkable, Michael Koryta is just 31 years old, and this is his tenth novel. He first hit the bestseller lists with The Prophet in 2012, and Those Who Wish Me Dead has already been optioned for a movie. One reviewer compares him to Stephen King because of the breadth of material he has created, including science fiction, fantasy, and ghosts. Many reviewers feel that Those Who Wish Me Dead is his best novel so far.

As I was reading the book, I had two major thoughts: The first was that this will be a great movie, and the second was that I wanted my teenaged grandsons to read the book. It isn't a YA book by any means, but one of my grandson's is on his way to the Philmont Boy Scout wilderness camping experience today, and my other grandson wants to spend his life in the woods. They will love everything about Those who Wish Me Dead.

Review on Tor.com.
Article about Michael Koryta in the Wall Street Journal.
Michael Koryta's website.
 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Jennifer, Gwyneth, and Me



by Rachel Bertsche
Ballantine Books     2014
258 pages     Memoir

In her delightful book, Jennifer, Gwyneth, and Me, Rachel Bertche channels some "celebrity muses" to make needed changes in her life. She says: "The point of this whole quest is to follow the examples of those who seem to feel the way I'd like to feel, the celebrities who present themselves to the world in a way I'd like to present myself, and see if it makes me feel glamorous, together, and happier."

And so she picks a celebrity a month to use as a model. She spends a month each--adopting Jennifer Anniston's exercise regime, Gwyneth Paltrow's diet and cooking, Sarah Jessica Parker's clothes sense, Tina Fey's work ethic, Jennifer Garner's marriage, Julia Robert's serenity, Jennifer Lopez's pregnancy, and BeyoncĂ©'s perfectionism. Along the way, she struggles with the lethargy that has come from working at home for the first time,  a lack of exercise, and the desire to spend the whole day in pajamas. She and her husband are trying to have a baby, and Bertsche juxtaposes her desperate desire to be a mother with the perfection of her chosen muses.

And in recording the struggle to conceive, Bertsche moves beyond the gimmick of the plot device to offer us a glimmer of the real woman with the real life situation. She does a remarkable job of moving beyond celebrity adoration to finding a balance that can motivate her life. None of us, including Bertsche, believe that celebrity is perfection. Most of us are happy with anonymity. All of us realize that the cult of celebrity has gotten out of hand. Bertsche explores all of these things as she tries to pick and choose characteristics of her celebrities to emulate. Two things I especially noted—one is that Julia Roberts doesn't pay any attention to social media. Bertsche discovers that her addiction to Facebook is a ploy to be unproductive. I can relate to that. I tend to look at Facebook when I am bored with a project or when I reach an impasse in my writing. The other is that Bertsche notices that Jennifer Garner never says a harsh word in interviews about her husband Ben Afflick.  That is also a good model to follow. Bertsche says that she occasionally will make a joke at her husband's expense just to be clever. I have found myself guilty of the same thing. 

I have to say that I have only had one celebrity addiction, and that was with Michelle Obama's clothes. Early in their first term in office, I found a website that chronicled what Michelle wore every day, how often she wore it, and which designers she used. I checked it nearly every day until last year when the author quit writing the blog. On another note, if I were to use a celebrity to emulate it would be Meryl Streep, because I think she is the world's best actress and seems to live a nice quiet, non-celebrity sort of life. 

Jennifer, Gwyneth, and Me uses a clever concept that follows a whole line of similar books, including Bertsche's first book MWF Seeking BFF, where she chronicles her attempt to find new friends after she moves from New York to Chicago. I didn't read MWF when it came from the publisher because I had just finished a book about friendship called What Did I Do Wrong? and I wasn't ready to read another friendship book. However, I have read several of the books that are mentioned as a comparison to Jennifer, Gwyneth, and Me. If you like her book, you will most likely enjoy these books as well: The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin; The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs; and Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, which I didn't read but saw the movie.

I do have to admit that I became so worried about Bertsche and her husband getting pregnant that I turned to her arch-nemesis Facebook to look her up to see if she had a baby—long before I got to the end of the book and found out she had a baby girl.  Then I could get back to the fertility struggles.

She closes her journey with the thought: "While I'm happy to have role models, and it's great to find inspiration in others, I need to find my own version of perfect without consulting People." Those of us who have lived far longer than Bertsche will be able to tell her that perfection never happens, but there can be lots of perfect days without perfection, and that "good enough" can be a doable mantra.

Additionally, I want to thank Bertsche for giving me lots of practice spelling Gwyneth!
A review in the Boston Globe
Rachel Bertsche website.