Monday, March 29, 2010

Water - Social Justice Challenge

This is my very belated wrap up for the Social Justice Challenge February Topic -- Water. I addressed the initial questions for this topic here.

I wanted to read Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway but I had a difficult time locating a copy of the book, so I adjusted my reading to online articles. I chose to focus on dams. In my AP Human Geograpy class we were studying development and one of the first pieces of infrastructure that can contribute to the development of an area is a dam. I created a lesson comparing and contrasting the Aswan High Dam in Egypt and the Three Gorges Dam in China. We looked at the economic, political, cultural and environmental impact of each dam. Students then had to decide if each dam was a positive or negative force on the area and support their decision with specific data. Overwhelmingly they addressed the environmental and cultural concerns of the Three Gorges Dam, while admitting that the dam did control flooding and helped prevent drought in parts of China. This brought about many excellent discussion points on development, flooding, agriculture, preservation of culture and environmental concerns and the impossible situation governments face trying to satisfy all points of view. Living in a community where a dam and the lake it creates permeates many parts of their life, it was an eye opening lesson for many of them.

** I did finally find a copy of Monique and the Mango Rains. A review is coming very soon.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday Salon - March 2010

March Review Edition

This month I read (linked to reviews)

The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Day After Night by Anita Diamant
Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway
Hope's Boy by Andrew Bridge

Our Book Club met tonight and we discussed Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.
We also will be reading Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff for our April selection.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sex with Kings

by Eleanor Herman

I picked up this book in hopes of finding some interesting facts and tidbits to use in my AP European History class. From the title alone, I was sure I would find something to spark the interest of a class of 17 - 18 year olds.... well, not really.

First of all the book is not written chronologically or by country, but by topics. Topics like Beyond the Bed -- The Art of Pleasing the King, Public Opinion and the Mistress as well as The Fruits of Sin -- Royal Bastards made it difficult to organize and use the information for my class. Looking for information on the political power of Madame de Pompadour proved difficult.

It ws next to impossible to keep up with all the kings and the countries they were from -- do you know how many Charles there are in England, not to mention France? At least 12, but I might have missed one or two.

I did pull afew interesting, classroom appropriate tidbits..

"Courtiers aped the king's treatment of the Queen. If he treated her with respect, so did they. If the queeen was to remain a significant pressence at court, she required her husband's support."


"Frederick III, the elector of Brandenburg, an uxorious prince who despised infidelity , appointed a beautiful court lady as his official mistress and loaded her down with jewels, even though he never touched her -- his wife would have killed him."

For the purpose I read the book -- to gather historical background and facts to add to my European History lectures -- it just did not measure up. I probably won't read other books by this author.

Rating - C

Booking Through Thursday

Booking Through Thursday asks
"Do you take breaks while reading a book? Or read it straight through? (by taking breaks I don't mean eating, sleeeping, going to work; I mean putting it aside and reading something else.)

My answer - sometimes. But, I only put it aside if I have lost interest in the book. Sometimes I will start reading a book and it is just not the right time for me to read it. So, I put it on my night stand, read something else and eventually go back to it. Most of the time, I fall in love with the book and finish it quickly. If I don't get into it this time, I usually stop reading it altogether.

That begin said, I usually have at least 2 books going at a time. I have my "reading" book and my "studying" book. For example, I am "reading" Hope's Boy now. I am also "studying" How to Read Literture Like a Professor. Usually my "studying" books are related to the classes I am teaching at school and take me much longer to finish. I also have a 3rd book going on my Nook. Since getting my e-reader I find that I also keep a book going on it to read on the go. This will probably be the norm until I switch over totally to ebooks.
To join in the fun visit Booking Through Thursday.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What's On Your Nightstand 3/23/2010

It has been forever since I participated in What's On Your Nightstand. It always sneaks up on me. I am just lucky today that I thought about it or I would have missed it again..... To join in the fun visit 5 Minutes for Books.

Read this month -

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Day After Night by Anita Diamant
Currently Reading -

Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway
The Reluctant Suitor by Kathleen Woodiweiss
The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family by Mary S. Lovell

Up Next -

The Know It All by A. J. Jacobs for my high school book club April selection
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins for the Social Justice Challenge April Topic - Hunger
My Book Club's April pick - whatever we pick on Sunday

The Book List - Three Books You Loved As A Child

Rebecca at Lost in Books hosts the Book List - a quick meme that lets you share lists of books. This week's topic - 3 Books You Loved As a Child

1. Dr. Suess's ABC Book

My dad read it to me so many times we can still quote it to each other.

2. Twas the Night Before Christmas

My grandmother always tried to skip parts and I caught her every time! I think if I tried really hard I could still quote the entire poem.
3. Trixie Belden - The Secret of the Mansion

This book put two of my favorite childhood obsessions together - mysteries and horses. I so wanted to be Trixie!

The Friday Night Knitting Club and Knit Two

by Kate Jacobs

I am reviewing these together because you really can't read one without the other because one truly is only half the story.

The Friday Night Knitting Club was a good, solid story. One online review compared it to a warm blanket on a cold night, which is an accurate description -- it really is comfortable. The premis is a knitting club made up of multigenerational women forms at a knitting shop run by single mother Georgia Walker. As they women get to know each other, they also come to depend on one another even though they come from such different places, backgrounds and experiences. It reminded me a lot of my Bunco group. I did not know any of the girls well at first, but we have battled divorce, unemployment, breast cancer, loss of parents, homeschooling, ADHD diagnosis and a million other life events. There are my "go to girls."

I thought there were some great characters in the book, especially Cat. Cat is a high school friend of Georgia's who reappears as a damaged, spoiled socialite on the verge of divorce from a neglectful husband. Watching Cat's journey (and it is a LONG one) to self-confident, independent, successful business woman was quite a ride. She is my favorite character precisely because her journey was so rough and for her to come out in one piece was a triumph.

The second book, Knit Two picks up where The Friday Night Knitting Club leaves off, but it follows Georgia's bi-racial daughter, Dakota as she struggles to find her own path in the world. For me, I needed to "finish" the story and I enjoyed this book. However, I did feel the plot veered off in some unrealistic directions, had a few dead end events and the author tried to hard to wrap it up into a neat package at the end.

Both books were entertaining and enjoyable reads, but I liked the characters more than I liked the author. I probably won't seek out other books by Kate Jacobs, but I did dust off my old knitting needles and began knitting again!

Rating - B for both books

Monday, March 22, 2010

Everything Bad is Good For You

by Steven Johnson

I read this book on the recommendation of Stephanie at Stark Raving Bibliophile ( you can read her review here). I actually read this book almost a year ago and have recommened it to so many people (our 2009 Salutitorian quoted it in his speech!) I can't believe I have not reviewed it yet.

The premise of the book is that TV, video games and movies of current pop culture are not as bad for us as some people make them out to be. Johnson argues that pop culture grows more sophisticated each year and congnitively challenges our brains, ultimately making us smarter.

"Popular culture has been growing increasingly complex over the past few decades, exercising our minds in new and powerful ways."

Video Games -
The video games of today are much more difficult that in years past -- Pong, Pacman, Space Invaders - all these were reflex games - mash the buttons and something happens. There were no complicated tricks, tips or cheats necessary. Contrast that with Grand Theft Auto, EverQuest and Ultima that require a 200 page guidebook just to be successful, not to mention the hours of trial and error needed to figure out how to advance. Also, newer games force participants to make, build or maintain something. Civilization, Zoo Tycoon and all the Sims games revolve around the building and responsible upkeep of either a civiliation, city or amusement park with animals. The problem solving skills and creativity required rival anything teachers can create in a classroom, not to mention the variety of decision-making skills required.

"No other pop cultural form directly engages the brain's decision making apparatus in the same way"

Even television has gotten smarter. Beginning with Hill Street Blues in 1981 - television shows introduce more characters, multiple plot lines and references to current and historical events. West Wing, Lost, Seinfeld, ER, the Sopranos, even the Simpsons stretch our thinking much more than Dragnet, Mary Tyler Moore or Three's Company ever did. In order to understand and "get" all the references in current television shows, the viewer must process hidden clues, make inferences, plot line leaps, current events, historical figures, past episodes and literary references. Call me crazy, but these are the same strategies my high school AP English teacher taught me to use when trying to read "real" literature.

Film -
Like television shows, films have gotten more complex, forcing viewers to think in order to follow and understand the plot lines. Johnson compares Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. Lord of the Rings has 3 times as many characters with signficant plot lines than Star Wars. It requires the viewer, on the fly, to follow many more narrative threads and background information. The biggest change is among children's films. Compare Bambi and Finding Nemo and you will see Nemo requires children to keep up with over 20 characters and their plot lines in several locations.

"Where the child's mind is concerned, each viewing is training him or her to hold those multiple threads in consciousness, a kind of mental calisthenics."

A new genre of film has developed-- the mind-bender, a film designed specifically to disorient the viewer, mess with their heads. Think Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects, The Matrix and Magnolia. Each of these films mentally challenges the viewer in some way.

Does this mean all pop culture is good for us? NO -- there is still plenty of mind-numbing junk out there. There is still the question of violence, sex and morality in general. There is still the question of how much TV, movies and video games is too much. What Everything Bad is Good For You is trying to point out is that pop culture can (and is) making us smarter than it has in the past.

"The first test screening of the Hill Street Blues pilot in May 1980 brought complaints from the viewers that the show was too complicated... Fast forward 20 years... audiences happily embrace that complexity."

Is this just a way of making us feel better about letting our kids watch TV and play video games for hours? I don't think so. My son is a much better basketball player after playing NCAA Hoops on XBox 360. He understands the game and what is allowed and what is not. I believe most of what he learned he could not learn by playing in the driveway. Watching both my kids discuss the open-ended ending to a movie and discussing the various ways the plot could have ended proves to me that they are interacting more with a children's movie that we did at their age. I think Johnson is on to something and everything bad just might be good for us (in moderation).

Rating - A

People of the Book

by Geraldine Brooks

Hannah Heath arrives in Sarajevo to restore the Sarajevo Haggadah - an ancient Jewish volume rescued during the Bosnian War. She finds several items in the book - an insect wing, wine stains, salt crystals. As she investigates each item, she discovers the mysteries of the book and how it came to be protected and preserved over the centuries.

But, there is so much more to the book. There are many, many layers to the story
  • There is the modern story of the Haggadah
  • The history and protection of the Haggadah
  • Hannah's journey of self-discovery
  • Hannah's mother's secrets
  • The story of Sarajevo itself
  • Ozren's story of redemption and Werner's destruction

Each layer is woven together to create a beautiful story, alternating from present to past in an effort to fully develop not only the story, but the characters as well. The journey of the Sarajevo Haggadah gives you faith in people, faith in survival and most importantly, faith in peace.

Over time, the book is protected not just by Jews, but by Christians and Muslims as well. It is hidden in a mosque -

"Serif and the khoja took the haggadah into the library of the mosque. They found a narrow place on a high shelf, pressed between voloumes of Islamic law. The last place anyone would think of looking"

It is saved from the Inquisition by a Catholic priest.

"Suddenly, the pen was in his injured hand. He flipped the pages until he found the place. He wrote: Giovanni Dom. Vistorini. That is who I am, in this Year of Our Lord 1609."

It is even hidden in an Israeli Holocaust museum.

"But in the end, the one who looked like a soldier understood me. He smiled at me, very kindly. Then he turned to the others and said, Well, why not? The entire story of this book, its survival until today has been a set of miracles. So why not just one more?"

Excellently written about a new and interesting topic, at least for me, People of the Book drew me in and has kept popping up in my mind long after I finished it.

Rating - A

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring Reading Challenge 2010

This is my favorite challenge by far. I think I like the freedom I have to choose my books or to change them if necessary. I also almost always finish it! The Spring Reading Challenge is hosted by Katrina at Callapidder Days. Visit her to learn more. The challenge runs from March 20 - June 20, 2010.

My list....

Non-fiction -
The Know It All by A. J. Jacobs (for my high school book club - April)
Flawless - Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History by Scott Andrew Selby and Greg Campbell
Hope's Boy by Andrew Bridge (for The Social Justice Challenge - March)
Fiction -
The Reluctant Suitor by Kathleen Woodiwiss
The Help by Kathrym Stockett
The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan (for my high school book club - May)
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (for The Social Justice Challenge - April)

Neighborhood Book Club selections for April, May and June (we have not selected these yet)
April -
May -
June -


If I finish these, I also would like to read
The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
The Count of Monte Cristo (unabridged) by Alexandre Dumas
Globalization by Manfred Steger
International Relations by Paul Wilkinson

Monday, March 8, 2010

Southern Vampire Series

OK, I did it, I couldn't help myself. I read all 8 of the Sookie Stackhouse books. I know I said I wouldn't, but I did.

I have an excuse... it was easy to do. I bought all 8 books as a package deal for my nook. Instead of being separate books, they were loaded one after the other, so when I finished one, I just kept on going to the next one, then the next one, then the next one, until I had read all 8 of them.

I'm still not convinced they are great books, some of the characters are flat, there are storylines that never go anywhere, there is foreshadowing that foreshadows nothing. But, I am so caught up in the drama! I have to know who Sookie ends up with!!! It had better not be Bill or Alcide, or even Sam. I was sad when she broke up with Quinn and I still hold out a bit of hope for him, but my money is on Eric. I do like Sookie more now than I did after the first book. She has developed some depth and I like how she has a conscience and sticks to her values.

I also really like how Charlaine Harris used the existence of supes to explain some real life events -- Elvis sightings, missing persons, Hurricane Katrina, etc. It is a very entertaining and creative approach.

While I'm not signing up for the fan club, I will read the other books as they become available.

Rating - B