Although I feel like I finished a lot of books in May, NONE of them were books that count towards my 2010 goal of reading some of those books already sitting on my shelf. Frustrating! Hopefully it will spur me into doing a little better in June. Here's what I read:
40. Random Harvest, James Hilton (4 stars) What a neat treat from a bygone era. Random Harvest was written in 1941 and was so popular at that time that it was #2 on the NYTimes Bestsellers of the Year list. It was immediately adapted to film, which was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, but I highly recommend reading the book first--it is so much better! You may think that having been written more than 60 years ago would make it quaint, archaic or unapproachable, but it is anything but. It's a fabulous glimpse into those years between the wars.
41. A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation, Noah Lukeman (4 stars) I'm a language geek, so reading a book about punctuation is actually a fun thing for me. This book was aimed more at writers. Instead of hard and fast rules, it explored what punctuation use says about a writer, how it affects the reading, etc. Quick and interesting.
42. Whittington, Alan Armstrong (2.5 stars) Ever heard the story of Dick Whittington and his cat? I hadn't, and I don't recommend this book to find out about it! Okay, maybe if you read it to yourself, but it was terrible to read aloud. I do a lot of reading aloud to my kiddos, and I saw the Newbery Honor medal on the front and thought "ooo, a story of a kitty-cat" and assumed it would be good quality. The book attempts to tell the historical story of Dick Whittington at the same time as a more modern day story on a farm and the result was convoluted and very choppy. Chapters would end mid-thought seemingly, the characters were poorly developed, the two stories were not balanced--keeping up with both of them was a pain. Nowhere near E.B. White's talent. It was well documented, however. I would suggest reading it silently with the realization that it is more about history than the barn animals. We were glad when it was done.
43. The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver (almost 5 stars) see my whole review here.
44. Flower Children, Maxine Swann (2.5 stars) As interesting as the premise sounded--four children being raised in an extremely free-form family in the 1960s--in the end the story fell flat. There were many glimpses into their lives that had me hoping for more, but it just wasn't tied together. It would have had more impact as a short story or as a group of short stories in a collection.
45. The Bread Winner, Arvella Whitmore (3 stars) Arvella Whitmore did a good job at bringing the Great Depression to life for the Junior Fiction readers in The Bread Winner. Books about the Great Depression are often dry or depressing, really giving the reader a chance to feel a bit of the despair that was so profoundly felt. The problem with this is that it tends to bring the interest level down, leaving the reader bored and frustrated. (This may not be the result when the reader is more mature, but often seems to be the case with younger or more immature readers.) In this sense, The Bread Winner is a real gem. The pace is great, the characters interesting, and the problems, though clearly felt, are not overwhelming. My only complaint with the book is that the main character is encouraged to fight, and indeed solves her problems only by being willing to do so. This doesn't negate the value of the book, however, as it provides a good discussion opportunity.
46. No Plot? No Problem, Chris Baty (3.5 stars) Written by the guy that started National Novel Writing Month, this book is about that journey and how to get yourself through to that 50,000 word goal. Interesting perspective, fun to read.
47. Square Foot Gardening, Mel Bartholomew (4 stars) Easy to read and understand, Square Foot Gardening will have you wondering why you waited so long to start a garden of your own. Mel Bartholomew was formerly an efficiency expert, and it certainly shows through in his book. From the basis of his methods to begin with, all the way through to the final design of the book. A lot of information in a very easy to read and understand format, recommended!
48. Lily's Crossing, Patricia Reilly Giff (3.5 stars) The strength of Lily's Crossing is in identifying with the thought processes and struggles that kids often have. The author doesn't belittle Lily's feelings that she is unliked by her grandmother, rather she empathizes but makes a point to help Lily grow. In this book, World War II is shown from the perspective of American youth as well as European youth; the characters are extremely well drawn.
49. The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life, Noah Lukeman (3.5 stars)Not your typical writing instruction book, The Plot Thickens helps writers to really think in-depth about their characters. It's full of exercises and questions that would be extremely helpful in the writing process.
50. Adam of the Road, Elizabeth Janet Gray (4 stars) One of the things about Adam of the Road that is unique and pleasing when compared to much modern Junior Fiction is the innocent outlook on life. Even when Adam is displaying less than stellar behavior, such as boasting, he is quick to realize his error and tries afterwards to do better. His faults, and the faults of other characters, aren't emphasized. While it may not be a gritty, realistic view on life, it is rather refreshing. There is also quite a clear picture painted of medieval life, which must be part of the purpose of the book. Adam's adventures continue throughout the book, and it is an entertaining romp. It would probably be a lot of fun to read aloud as well as to oneself. Robert Lawson's illustrations, as usual, are fabulous.