January 19, 2008

Short Book Reviews and a Long Tangent

This is the first of what I hope will be several posts regarding books we've read for pleasure, as opposed to those awful ones I'm still stuck reading for my credential program. Blech. Any insomniacs out there? Grab a copy of Norman Unrau's Content Area in Reading and Writing: Fostering Literacies in Middle and High School Cultures. Holy-Hannah-Montana-sold-out-concert. Big fat snore-fest.

Anywho, we both love to read, so we hope to periodically get on here and tell you our faves. As you may have already noticed, we have a fat list of books we've read since last summer. This doesn't include the various crossword and sudoku puzzle books we've filled.

Tangent Alert! Embarrassing admission: we used to have competitions between the two of us on who could finish a moderately difficult crossword. There were two on facing pages, so we'd flip to a fresh page, look at the time, and say Go! It would take each of us about 10-12 minutes to finish ours, and the only reason Ted hasn't mentioned it is because I beat him best of 7. He kicks my butt on the harder puzzles though. What I lack in brains, I make up for in mad pencil-flying skills.

So here's a short blurb about the latest books I've read, in no particular order.

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Armin - It's hard to believe this book was written so long ago. It's so quaintly cute, with all the subversive intents underlying everything. It's a story of four totally different women happening upon an advertisement to rent a castle in Italy for a whole month. They go, they're transformed, and the reader totally giggles. I couldn't stop thinking of my friend Jana on this one. She'd love it, if she hasn't already devoured it.

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier - My favorite book growing up was Rebecca by the same author. That one is an intriguing mystery tied up in the middle of a widower marrying a shy, pretty, yet awkward woman many years his junior. His large estate with its servants and pretentiousness intimidates her, but she grows up quickly as she figures out what really happened to her husband's late wife. This book has a similar type of mystery. A young man, Philip, orphaned at a young age and brought up by his older cousin, Ambrose, becomes acquainted with the woman he eventually married while he was abroad. Shortly after their marriage, Ambrose dies, and Philip can't seem to forgive Rachel, his widow, until he meets her. I'll leave it there for so I don't spoil it for anyone.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson - An interesting murder story of "whodunnit" set in post WWII on a small island off the coast of Washington. It opens with a court trial in December, and as the blizzard goes on outside, the reader is given many flashbacks about the backstories of the defendant, his wife, the town reporter, and the victim. Was it really an accident, or is the Japanese defendant really to blame for a white man's death based on a decade-old family feud and prejudice? Lots of interesting queries, and I love how the story was resolved.

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult - Holy crap, you have to read this book. This author did so much stinkin' research for this incredible, not-too-far-off-the-mark story. A 3-yr old girl is diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia, and the older brother isn't a match for transplants, so in the age of genetically engineered embryos, Mom and Dad make a designer baby girl to save the life of their other daughter. The day she's born, the umbilical cord stem cells are harvested and frozen, and the expectations put on her through the years are incredible. The book begins with her visiting a lawyer with issues of her own to request medical emancipation from her parents, and an amazing number of questions are brought up from then on. I found myself asking "What would I do if I were the daughter/mother/sister in this case?" And at the end, I totally bawled. This was a bad thing, considering my students came into the classroom right afterward and wondered what the heck they did to get me so upset. A fellow teacher read it and loved it, then went out and bought every other book this author has written - and there are a lot.

The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier - This author is fantastic. She writes the science column for the New York Times, and if anyone would get you interested in learning about the science you never learned in high school, it's this woman. She knew she wanted to be a writer, but took a variety of science classes in college, and now has an absolute gift for bringing all the important tidbits to the forefront with ease and LOTS of humor. I can't get over how clever this woman is in her writing - part of her genius is that she personifies things you've never thought to give a human voice to, including mammary glands and evolutionary time scales. I'm currently reading her other hilarious and wonderful book: Woman: An Intimate Geography. It's more than I wanted to know about myself, so of course I love it.

Stiff by Mary Roach - The author's name is fitting considering the tenor of the content. She writes all about dead humans. I used to work for a mortuary and got my fill of them, I thought, but she takes it 18 steps further - how cadavers are used for all sorts of research from crash test dummy impact capacities to helping forensic criminologists figure crack murder cases by putting a bunch of them in fields, cars, and concrete to test their decomposition rates. It's gory, graphic, and absolutely fantastic. I got two copies for Christmas one year from two very different people - what? Am I an open book or something?

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