Thursday, January 31, 2013

Echoes by Robin Jones Gunn

Read while home alone? absolutely
Tissues needed? nope
Overall rating: 3.5 stars

Interesting things seem to happen to Lauren: she decides to get a perm and it ruins her hair. She gets a computer and regularly sends messages to the wrong person. Her fiancĂ© gets a job in New York City and forces her to choose between coming along and ending their relationship.  Lauren ends things, and then continues to converse with her new online pal. Eventually she’s forced into another decision: should she risk the online friendship for a real life interaction?

This is the third book in the Glenbrooke series. I haven’t read any others, so I’m not sure if having background would make this a more enjoyable book. The story was fun, but it was pretty predictable and fairly cheesy—I found myself rolling my eyes a few times. I was annoyed with Lauren for a bit with her lack of computer knowledge, but then I realized that the original copyright was 1996, so I was able to forgive her that. Echoes is Christian fiction, so there are references to God, but generally not in an overly-preachy way. In all, this was a quick and easy read, but not one that I have to read the rest of the series.

You can read about Robin Jones Gunn here. And get more info on the book here.

This is another book I did NOT get at my library. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review, but the opinions are mine.

Do you always read series in order? What are your thoughts about online relationships? 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Children's Books Playscapes

Reading is just something we do at our house. We visit the library, we have bookshelves full of choices for everyone, books are part of our bedtime routine, reading is a fun thing to do. Most of the time. Then there are times when I realize that the only books Toddler Train Man read in a day were the ones before bed. Sometimes those trains just can't be left alone! 

To get back into the reading-is-fun groove, sometimes I just bring out the books at some point during the day. We read. Problem solved. Other times I've created "playscapes" to go with certain books. It's pretty easy to do and it literally brings books to life. Here's an example:

I picked a book that TTM knows, then gathered props to help him act out the book. Easy, right? 

Here's another:

I didn't have all the props I wanted for this book, so I printed out a few pictures from the internet, glued them to cardboard, added a cardboard "stand," and presto! And yes, that's a tree made from a paper towel tube with tissue paper tucked into the top. Perhaps it isn't pretty, but it's functional!

Usually I put these together at night, then leave them out for discovery the next day. When I forget and start gathering while TTM is awake, he gets interested and helps me get what we need. Also fun. 

My favorite part is listening in while he "reads"/acts out the book. I'm always amazed at how he remembers some of the phrases and even uses the expressions he's heard as the book was read to him. 

I did a REALLY simple playscape when TTM was 6 months old or so. It was one of those books with a big, bright picture of a toy and its name on each page (train, ball, teddy get the idea!). My memory is sketchy from that time (let's blame sleep-deprivation, shall we?), but I'm pretty sure he was surprised that the objects in the book could be real.

Kara at Simple Kids gave me the "playscapes" name with her post. You can read her ideas here.

How do you help children interact with books? What are some of your favorite children's books that could be retold this way?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

Read while home alone? yes
Tissues needed? possibly a few
Overall rating: 4 stars

On the verge of WWII, a young boy in South Africa is forced to grow up quickly when he is sent to a boarding school. Racial identity is everything; Peekay is the “wrong” race, and so gets bullied horribly by older students. He then has a chance meeting with a boxer that forever changes his life. Later Peekay develops a relationship with a German professor of music. In addition to being a great learner, Peekay realizes that he has great abilities to adapt. He uses these skills and learns a most important lesson about the power within himself: the power of one.

By chance I checked out the YA version of this novel, so the adult version carries the story farther—at some point I think I will enjoy reading that. The Power of One wasn’t a quick or easy read, but it was thought-provoking and inspirational. I don’t like boxing, but appreciated the discipline and thinking that went into it. Some of the fight scenes (both boxing and bullying) were fairly graphic, so I did skim some of those descriptions. It was also interesting to read about South Africa, especially during WWII. I think it would be intriguing to learn more about that country’s history and how the different groups function together.

Thanks to Jody at Mud Hut Mama for recommending this author/book! :) 

Peekay’s interest in boxing changed his future. What have you learned that has shaped your life? 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

Read while home alone? absolutely
Tissues needed? yep, even though you know how it will end
Overall rating: 5 stars

Mary Anne Schwalbe is quite a woman. She traveled the world extensively to help refugees and served others in a variety of ways. She loves meeting people, taking the time to ask questions to see what she can learn. Then she is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Although her prognosis isn’t great, she doesn’t allow the disease to slow her down…much. As Mary Anne and her son, Will, wait for countless doctor’s appointments they form a two-person book club. Often they read the same books, but sometimes they read different books and find connections between them. Some books are ones either or both of them have previously read, others are soon-to-be-released copies of books they receive. Mary Anne has a unique reading method: she always reads the end of the book first. Will is pretty sure she would approve of the title of his book giving away the ending.

This could have been a morbid book—the author’s last times with his mom, sharing books—but it wasn’t. It was inspiring to read about their personal relationship and see how it grew with Mary Anne’s illness. I was also awed by all that Mary Anne did in her life—absolutely amazing!

It also could have been an awkward read—a book about reading books?—but again, it wasn’t. Their book choices were interesting. They went through a plethora of books (there’s a handy index of them in the back of the book), and there are some that I think I’d like to read, but mostly I just enjoyed their conversations about their reading.

If you enjoy discussions of books, mother-child relationship stories, or tales of a woman facing huge challenges, this is a book for you.

Fun coincidence: Will Schwalbe was the editor for Mitch Albom’s The Time Keeper. I love connections like that!

What books would you want to read and discuss with a loved one? Do you ever read the end of a book first?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Deadline by Randy Alcorn

Read while home alone? sure
Tissues needed? nope
Overall rating: 2 stars

Three men who have been friends since childhood are spending a Sunday afternoon watching football together—as usual. At halftime they go out for pizza. That’s when the usual changes: there’s a horrible accident and all three land in the hospital. Only Jake Woods leaves the hospital alive. As the columnist tries to navigate a new world without his best friends, he receives an anonymous note that indicates it wasn’t an “accident.” Jake works with a police officer/buddy to uncover the truth about his friends and what led to their deaths.

The mystery/adventure of that summary caught my eye and I thought I’d really enjoy this book. Unfortunately there was also a lot of Christian political message permeating the story that was a turn off for me. I don’t mind discussing issues such as school vouchers, abortion, and gay rights, but I found that I didn’t enjoy it while reading a fiction book for pleasure.

Alcorn’s writing style also didn’t draw me into his story. There were too many details that didn’t seem necessary and quite a bit of text that I read as preachy. The resolution of the mystery was interesting, but I was tired of the book by that point and didn’t enjoy it as much as I might have.

There were also vivid descriptions of heaven from one character’s perspective. It was intriguing to read Alcorn’s version of heaven, but again some of the descriptions were too lengthy (and preachy) for my tastes. Although I didn’t enjoy this book much, it was interesting to read some opinions about a variety of controversial topics. 

You can read chapter one for yourself here.

I received a copy of this book free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. The opinions (obviously!) are my own.

How do you feel about combining fiction and political commentary?