Monthly Archives: May 2011

Review: The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We SharedThe Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Most of us will agree there’s something magical about reading. It’s why when a lot of us who are bibliophiles hear that reading is declining more and more each year, we are a bit saddened by this news. Many of us may wonder what we can do about it and how we can inspire the next generation to continue the love of reading we have.

Alice Ozma and her father James have one idea. When Alice was in the fourth grade, the two made a vow to read together each night for 100 days. After that success and over a victory plate of pancakes, the two decided to try and extend the promise, calling it The Streak (no relation to the popular song by Ray Stevens).

"The Reading Promise" is a memoir of the Streak. It chronicles the books they read and some of the events that took place in their lives during the Streak. Ozma relates just a few of the memorable moments from their journey together, as well as the importance the Streak took on during its time. The story is told with affection and offers a bit of a challenge to readers–why not try an experiment like the Streak of your own?

"The Reading Promise" underlines the value of books and libraries in our world today. Ozma’s father is a librarian at an elementary school and one of the most memorable and heartbreaking chapters is late in the book as funding is cut for the library and her father is told to emphasize teaching the children how to use the Internet rather than reading to them and instilling in some of them a love of the printed word and page. Hopefully this book will serve as an inspiration for many of us who love to read to find a way to make sure others around us know why we love to read as much as we do and to share that love of reading with them.

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Review: Cast Member Confidential: A Disneyfied Memoir

Cast Member Confidential: A Disneyfied MemoirCast Member Confidential: A Disneyfied Memoir by Chris Mitchell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

During my college years, I spent several summers working at at the Busch Gardens theme park in Virginia. That experience plus trips to Walt Disney World over the years has always made me curious to know what goes on behind the scenes at the Disney theme parks.

So when I saw "Cast Member Confidential" on the shelf, I knew I couldn’t pass it by. Could it be the ultimate kiss and tell book at what it’s like to work for the most magical place on Earth?

Yes and no.

Early on, Chris Mitchell details what it’s like to be part of the culture of Disney and the requirements asked of cast members. But as soon as the rules are established, Mitchell then spends page after page talking about how he and other subverted the rules, becoming celebrities among the Disney crew for how far they could push the boundaries.

Mitchell also details what drove him to want to work for Disney for a year and a lot of the book dwells on his personal situation. At times, Mitchell comes across as too self-involved, a factor that works against this reader working up much, if any, sympathy for some of the trials he faces.

I guess what it all boils down to is I was hoping for something more than I got. I doubt we’ll ever really get a true behind the scenes look at how things work at Disney because it might spoil the magic. But it would still have been nice if "Cast Member Confidential" had been a little more of what was promised.

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Booking Through Thursday — Censoring

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In contrast to last week’s question–What do you think of censoring books BECAUSE of their intended age? Say, books too “old” for your kids to read?

As I said last week, I’m not into censoring books so much as making sure that people reading the book are the appropriate age to do so.   I believe this starts at home with the parents but that it also extends to grandparents, librarians, aunts, uncles, friends, etc.

It’s interesting to ponder books and think of them as being backwards compatible.  It’s always easier to revisit something or go backwards on the age appropriate level…

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Review: Star Trek: New Frontier: Blind Man’s Bluff

Star Trek: New Frontier: Blind Man's Bluff (No. 17)Star Trek: New Frontier: Blind Man’s Bluff by Peter David
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since the first installment of Peter David’s New Frontier series debuted over a decade ago, Captain Mackenzie Calhoun has been the center of the series and stories. Other characters have had their moments and novels to shine, but the New Frontier universe has always and probably will always revolve around Calhoun.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to fans that the latest installment in the series, "Blind Man’s Bluff," centers firmly on threats to Calhoun in multiple fronts. As Calhoun tries to find a way to neutralize the ever growing threat of the sentient computer system Morgan, little does he know events and characters are transpiring to move him off stage and make him pay for his involvement in the defeat of the Brethern at the end of the last novel.

Of course, Calhoun being Calhoun, he’s more than up to the task, though there are a few times throughout "Bluff" that fans may wonder just how Calhoun will survive the latest threat to his person, his reputation and his career.

And while Calhoun is front and center for this story, a majority of the supporting cast get a moment or two to shine. Long time fans of the series may be disappointed to know that two TV series characters get a lot more page-time than long-time favorites like Shelby. But given how vital they are to the overall arc of the story, the inclusion of Seven of Nine and the Doctor from Voyager are vital to the final chapters of the story. In fact, the inclusion of both characters almost makes David’s entry in the Next Generation Borg mini-series, "Before Dishonor", a bit more palatable since it sets up certain points for this story.

As with other New Frontier novels, the action isn’t just focused to one ship or setting. Events take place on New Thallon, the starship Excaliber, Calhoun’s home world of Xenex and even on Earth at Starfleet Headquarters. But even as sweeping as the landscape (or should I say spacescape) is for the story, David never loses his focus or his readers. You’ll easily be able to keep up with events, developments and the twists and turns of this enjoyable entry in the series.

It all leads to an astounding finish that while it doesn’t end on a life or death cliffhanger, will leave you ready for more. And that may be where the largest tragedy of all comes in. At this time, David isn’t contracted to write any more novels in the New Frontier series with Pocket. Hopefully, that will change based on the sales and clamor for more from fans. David clearly still has stories left to tell in this universe and with these characters and it would be a shame to see what has been the most enjoyable Trek fiction series in recent years be put out to pasture or given to someone else to write the next installments.

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Booking Through Thursday — Age Appropriate?

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Do you read books “meant” for other age groups? Adult books when you were a child; Young-Adult books now that you’re grown; Picture books just for kicks … You know … books not “meant” for you. Or do you pretty much stick to what’s written for people your age?

I don’t confine myself to one specific age range for books. I’ll read a book from the young adult section or even the kids’ section if it looks interesting. If I stuck with only the books written for people “my age” I’d miss a lot of really good, interesting material out there. I’m sure my selection of books confuses Good Reads no end when it tries to offer recommendations, but that’s part of the fun.

That said, I will say I think that there is merit to the age appropriate nature of a book. But that comes down more to having good parents, teachers, librarians and mentors to younger readers to help them out. I recently read “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian” because it was on the banned book list. I was curious about why it was banned, so I picked it up. And while I can see that it’s inappropriate for children who aren’t teenagers, I think it’s entirely appropriate for young adults, especially boys. If parents, teachers, librarians and mentors don’t think a lot of teenage boys think and talk just like the narrator of the book does, they’re fooling themselves. I wasn’t offended by what was said here because it’s how the character talks. It reminds me a bit of the new edition of “Huckleberry Finn” that is coming out that substitutes one word for another one. The word in question isn’t one I use, but I can understand why the word is in the novel and why it’s a part of the setting and who Huck is as a character. To remove it seems like censorship for the sake of censorship and done by people who only focus on that one word and not the entire novel as a whole or the context in which it was written.

As with “Part Time Indian” the controversy only made me want to re-read “Huck Finn” again because I enjoyed it in school as a young adult and to see what the experience would be like now that I’m a bit older.

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Review: Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back

Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and BackHeaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If I hadn’t heard Todd Burpo go on Rick and Bubba to talk about Coulton’s experiences detailed in this book, "Heaven Is for Real" might have had a more profound impact on me. (Then again, if not for his appearance on Rick and Bubba, I might not have picked up the book…so its a vicious circle).

Reading "Heaven is for Real," all I could keep thinking was that I enjoyed the account a lot more when I heard Burpo telling it than I did reading it. That’s not to say that this book isn’t going to have a profound impact on a lot of people, but it just didn’t quite have that impact on me.

I’ve probably been spoiled by other books on the subject of heaven that I’ve read in the past several years. I was profoundly moved by "90 Minutes in Heaven" and found the work done on Randy Alcorn’s book "Heaven" far more intriguing.

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Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you want to make an audience curious about a book, just put it on the "banned" list.

When I saw that this was one of the most objected to books on the list, I had to admit I was curious. I picked it up to see why it was banned and stayed for the fascinating characters and the moving story.

Arnold ‘Junior’ Spirit is a teenage native American living on a reservation. He attends the local reservation school until he’s challenged by a teacher to go to a more academically oriented school that may give him a chance to be something more. Arnold decides to follow that dream and ends up alienating his only friend on the reservation and becoming an object of scorn as well. He also struggles as he tries to find his place in his new school.

Moving, real and authentic, Arnold’s journey through the school year is compelling and frank. Told from the first-person perspective of a teenage boy, the story contains references to everything a teenage boy thinks about on a daily basis. Punches aren’t pulled and things aren’t sugar coated and the book is stronger for that.

"The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" is a coming of age story that will surprise you. There were moments in this book I laughed out loud and others where I had a lump in my throat. Often these two are within just a few pages of each other.

Experiencing the story, I realize that while Arnold swears and discusses coarse subjects, it’s all done because he’s being real with himself and the readers. That drew me in and kept me interested. And in one of the highest compliments you can pay to a book, I reached the final page and wasn’t ready for it to end. I’m not sure a sequel is necessary or demanded, but this is one reader who’d welcome another chance to spend some time with Arnold.

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