Thursday, May 30, 2013

Toddler Board Books

Hey guys, today I'm over at A Teacher Mom writing about some of my favorite board books for language development. Come on over and check out my post here.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My Favorite Part Of Summer

It's not the beach or the pool or the sun or the sandals.

As much as I love those things, seriously my favorite thing about summer is the free audio books offered by Sync. So yeah, that may sound kind of nerdy, but really, if you haven't heard of this summer program you are missing out. Each week all summer long, Sync offers two new audio books, a young adult paired with a classic, for FREE download. Yes, that's right, FREE! I mean, who doesn't like free stuff?

I've just checked out the lineup for this summer's offerings, and it's looking pretty good. Generally, the classics speak for themselves, but in years past I haven't been as familiar with the YA titles they offer. This year, however, there are several YA titles that have been on my to-read for a while. Here are a few titles that I'm particularly excited for:

Of Poseidon by Anna Banks. I've heard some good things about this young adult book, and I'm excited to check it out. Also, it's paired with The Tempest, which you know from this post is my pretty much my favorite Shakespeare play of all time. So I've got high hopes. Both of these are available for one week starting TOMORROW, so don't forget.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I haven't read this one since high school, but it is definitely a favorite and I think listening to it on audio will be the perfect way to reread.

The Raven Boys  by Maggie Stiefvater. I've heard so much about this one, and I'm excited it's being offered for free. If you've heard of the popular Scorpio Races (another on my long to-read list), this is by the same author. Both have been on my to-read list for a while, and now I'll get to cross this one off.

There are plenty more titles, so go check out what's for offer, then mark your calendars and don't forget to go back for your free audio books. Of course, I'll be reviewing all the titles I listen to here.

Enjoy your summer reads (or in this case, listens).

Monday, May 27, 2013

Book Review: The Night Circus

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Summary (Courtesy of Goodreads): The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des RĂªves, and it is only open at night. But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands. True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead. 

I am pretty excited that this book gets to be my inaugural review on this here little blog, because honestly, this is the best book I've read in a long time. I LOVE this book.

Now, up front, I recognize that this is not a book that everyone will love. I know many people who don't really go for this kind of fantastic, magical, atmospheric type book. And I agree, this book is heavy on description and a little bit lighter on the plot. It's not exactly action packed, and you have to pay close attention to the timeline because it jumps around a lot. My husband got so lost trying to follow even what decade they were in. So yes, I can see why some people wouldn't care much for this book.

But, this is exactly the kind of story that appeals to me, and I'll see if I can explain why. The magical world of the circus in this book spoke very directly to the little girl in me that used to write poetry about fairies and sunsets and clouds. Morgenstern alludes often to Shakespeare's play The Tempest, creating a link between the fantastical set created by Shakespeare and the magic in this book. My capstone thesis paper in my Shakespeare class in college was all about The Tempest, particularly the passage with the phrase "We are such stuff as dreams are made on..." (this blog is testament to how much I love that passage), and really, if I can turn the topic of dreams and magic into an academic thesis paper, I might be more than a little obsessed. Also, the love story? Le sigh... I love a good romance, but mix it in with dream-like magic and you definitely have a recipe for my new favorite book. And finally, the imagery of the black and white and red? My wedding colors were black, white, and red, for crying out loud. It's kind of like Morgenstern looked into the deepest corners of my personality and crafted a book just for me. Honestly, I think she might be my new author crush.

I would not necessarily classify this book as high literature. There are no groundbreaking insights into the human condition or deep thoughts of humanist philosophy. It is not the next great American novel, it's far too escapist for that. The themes it does explore-- the value of beauty or aesthetic spectacle, love conquers all, etc.-- are perhaps not the noblest themes of humanity. But this book is not mere escapist fluff. There is something in the questions posed about the nature of reality, about life feeling like a dream while dreams feel like life, about the creative power of the human conscious-- that resonate deep within our cultural heritage. These may be the themes of fairy-tales, but even Shakespeare took them seriously. Morgenstern has blurred the lines of reality so beautifully in this piece I can't help wishing the Night Circus were real. That is true magic.

As a note, a huge part of the appeal of this book for me was the fact that I listened to it as an audio book, and it's read by none other than the fantastic voice of Jim Dale. If you don't know who Jim Dale is, he was the narrator for all the Harry Potter books, and I spent years of my adolescence falling asleep to the sound of his voice. Honestly, his voice is the voice of magic to me, so it just seemed to be so fitting that he would narrate this book too.

There is simply too much that I could gush on and on about (like the conversation at the end between Widget and Alexander about the value of stories, one of my favorite passages), but for the sake of brevity I will refrain.

In short, I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys some pretty fantastic magical romance.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Reason for Beginning

The other day my husband asked me, "If you could only use one social media website, which one would it be?" Based purely on number of hours wasted, I think he expected me to say Pinterest. However, I immediately responded "Goodreads."

Because yes, I completely love Goodreads. A social media site that's all about books? Honestly, that is an idea made in English major heaven. Not only is Goodreads my favorite social media, I would also be more than a little bit devastated if it ever disappeared. I rely on the reviews and opinions of the people I follow to learn about new books and determine whether they are worth reading. My "To-Read" list on that site represents years of cultivated recommendations that I don't have written down anywhere else, and a silent cold fear grips my heart when I think of the possibility of losing that list. How would I ever find those books again?

But what I love even more about Goodreads is looking over the books I've already read, reading through my old reviews, and remembering why I loved (or hated) the book in question. Sometimes I find I've completely forgotten about some of the books I've read in the past, and it's great to remember the things I've read, to see if something is worth re-reading, or just to see how my opinion has changed with time. I don't usually write notes in my books as I read them (especially considering how 99% of the books I read come from the public library), so my Goodreads reviews are my notes. It would be tragic to me if I lost those.

In part as a way to have a secondary (and hopefully more in depth) record of my reflections on the books I read, and in part to reach out to other friends who don't use Goodreads (for the love! why don't more of my friends use Goodreads????), and also in part just because it sounds like fun, I've started this little blog to write reviews and talk about all things bookish. If you're interested in following along, I'd love any comments and discussion.

Also, if you haven't already, please feel free to hop on over to Goodreads, sign up, and friend me. I'd love to know what you're reading.