Floors – great children’s fiction

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Title: Floors
Author(s): Patrick Carmen
Genre: Children’s Fiction

Based on the name, I had no idea what to expect when I opened Floors to the first page. Within minutes, I was hooked. It is a mystery and fantasy rolled into one, and I like the fact that it gives kids who don’t like science fiction another option. Although it is fantasy (a hotel where the rooms have elaborate themes and the ducks seem to know what you are saying to them), it is not science fiction. It is what I like to call ‘good old fashion’ fantasy. This is a great book for both boys and girls, which makes it that much better, in my opinion. If you are looking for a great book for a 9-12 year old, pick this one up.

Leo lives in the Whippet hotel with his dad, who is the handyman. When the owner of the hotel disappears, Leo finds himself involved in solving a mystery, and along the way finds out a lot about this very mysterious hotel, and makes a new friend. In the end, he also learns about loyalty.


Left Brainers Listen Up!

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Title: The Riddle: Where Ideas Come From and How to Have Better Ones

Date Completed: 8/17/2011

Author(s): Andrew Razeghi

Copyright: 2008, Jossey-Bass

# pages: 215

Genre: Non Fiction

ISBN: 978-0-7879-9632-1

This book changed the way I look at things forever.  That is something that doesn’t happen with every book I read, but should probably be one of the goals of any book, especially nonfiction.  If you are in the mood to introduce a new way of thinking into your life, you should pick up this book.

Are you creative?  That is something that most of us answer as a yes or no question.  I would have answered ‘no’ before reading The Riddle.  One concept that I got from this book that had never occurred to me before is that creativity is not limited to what we traditionally call the arts.  You see, I can’t sing, play an instrument, dance, or draw, so I’ve always considered myself a left-brainer.  But, Razeghi points out that creativity associated with solving problems is called innovation.  Innovation and creativity are the same processes with different outcomes.  I solve problems all day long.  Voila!  I’m creative.  I’d like my membership card please!

I started Building a Bookshelf to solve a problem.  There are lots of families out there who are struggling to put food on the table and pay the rent.  They can’t afford to buy their kids books.  I wanted to solve that problem.  I came up with a creative (innovative) way of doing this.  Was my idea earth-shattering?  No, I didn’t reinvent the wheel.  But, we’ve given out over 3,100 books this year.  That could make a difference to at least one of the kids we touched.

One of the other big lessons I took from this book is that it is important to expose yourself to many different parts of life.  When you get outside your comfort zone, you experience new things.  These new things can help you look at those things within your comfort zone in a new light.  I have always believed in learning new things from a philosophical stand point.  I just never made the connection about how the information I learn in an area way outside my daily life could be beneficial to my daily life.  So, I encourage you to do something different today.  Pick up a magazine for a topic you know nothing about.  Instead of checking your usual websites, find a new one.  Or, instead of picking up another romance novel, pick up The Riddle.  You’ll be glad you did.

Printer, Scientist, Founding Father

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Title: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Date Completed: 8/1/2011

Author(s): Benjamin Franklin

Copyright: 2005, University of Pennsylvania Press

# pages: 178

Genre: Autobiography

ISBN: 0-8122-1929-5

Just about every leader in the self-improvement genre advises that you should read Ben Franklin’s autobiography.  So, it has been on my list for a long time.  I’ve tried to check it out many times, but it was never on the shelves at my local library.  So, I finally put a hold on it, and here we are.

The book takes the form of a letter to his son, so one of the most notable things about it is that it is not really a book, in the sense that it has no chapters.  It is a very long letter spelling out what, you assume, Franklin felt it was important to tell us about his public life.  I, for one, found it to be very enlightening.  First of all, I learned a lot about Franklin.  I’m sure I learned some of this stuff in elementary school, but I’ve since forgotten it.  He is responsible for much more history than just the kite flying and the socializing in France.  As a matter of fact, it is hard to believe that one person could contribute so much, in so many different aspects of life, to society.  I walked away with the sense that Franklin never slept and never had a sick day in his life.  He couldn’t have in order to do everything he did.

I also learned a lot about society in the 1700s from this book.  Because Franklin is writing about things that happened to him, you can easily get a sense of the way business, politics, and life was conducted during his time.  This was a period in our culture where arguments were made through the use of a pamphlet.  If you wanted to make a point about something, you wrote and distributed a pamphlet.  Others would read and either agree or disagree with you.  Many times, if they disagreed, they would do so through their own pamphlet.  I believe that this pamphlet culture was imperative to the building of our culture, because the author of a pamphlet would think through their position, layout their arguments, providing supporting evidence or testimonials, and ensure that they had made their case before publishing.  They put their reputation on the line when they published a pamphlet, knowing that if they published something that later turned out to be untrue, they would lose face.  In our current environment of sound-bites and tweets, I must say that I’m a little nostalgic for a pamphlet culture.

Finally, maybe because I spend my free time on issues of literacy and education, I learned from this book that Franklin was a self-taught, life-long learner.  Part of the reason that he accomplished as much as he accomplished is because of his shear curiosity.  He wasn’t a scientist, but that didn’t stop him from conducting science experiments and publishing his findings.  He didn’t do this for any other reason that he was curious to know why things work the way they do.  He didn’t say to himself, ‘I wonder how come it is faster to sail from America to Europe than it is to sail from Europe to America, but I’m not a scientist, so I guess I’ll never know.’  He did some experiments and found the Gulf Stream.  He didn’t leave it to someone else, he didn’t ask for permission, and he didn’t let the fact that he was a printer, not a scientist keep him from doing it.  He had an insatiable need to learn and discover new things.  That may be the best lesson we can take from Franklin’s life.

Harry Potter – known to his friends as HP

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Title: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Date Completed: 7/21/2011

Author(s): J.K. Rowling

Copyright: 1997, Scholastic

# pages: 309

Genre: Fiction

ISBN: 0-590-35342-x

I must tell you up front that I’m a huge Potter geek.  Yes, I was waiting at midnight when the new books were released.   No, I wasn’t dressed up.  I was originally very anti-HP.  We were in Scotland in 2000 and everywhere you went you heard that J.K. Rowling had had coffee here, J.K. Rowling had lived there.  I was rolling my eyes the whole time.

Then, I got home and my mom had read it and told me I had to.  So, finally I broke down and read it just to find out what all the hype was about.  Within an hour, I was hooked.

I don’t have to write a summary of the book.  You can find about a million on line if you don’t already know what the book is about.  What I will tell you is this – if you haven’t read it, you should.  If for no other reason than this is a book that has coaxed thousands (if not millions) of kids into reading and you should find out why.

After seeing the final movie on release day, I had the overwhelming urge to re-read the series.  So, I picked up book 1 and was immediately taken into the world of magic.  We all know that the book is always better than the movie.  What caught me by surprise is how much the movie has influenced me into thinking it is the story of Harry Potter.  There were so many things that I had forgotten.  Don’t let the movies (which, I think are excellent, by the way) be your substitute for sitting down and reading the book.  You’ll be glad you did.

The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari

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Title: The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari: A Fable About Fulfilling Your Dreams

Date Completed: 7/18/2011

Author(s): Robin Sharma

Copyright: 1991, HarperCollins

# pages: 198

Genre: Self Help

ISBN: 978-0-06-251567-4

NOTE:  I read this book in April 2010, so this is a repost of the review I did then.  This is a book that has to be re-read about once a year, so I just picked it back up and learned from it all over again.

I subscribe to a magazine called Success, and last month’s issue had an article about Robin Sharma.  They mentioned this book, and I was at the library that afternoon checking it out.  I have to admit, I was intrigued by the title.  I also liked the fact that his first copies of the book were printed and bound at Kinkos.  He wrote the book and didn’t base his success on whether or not he got published.

As you may know, I’m a self-help junkie.  I love this stuff, I freely admit.  I’m put a ton of it to practice in my life, and I really believe in it.  This is the kind of book that is good for the casual self-help reader because it delivers the message through a story rather than in a more textbook-type style.

Through the story of a successful lawyer whose life is out of balance, we learn the 7 virtues of enlightened living.  I like stories like this because you get into the story and forget that you are learning something.  And, ultimately, it is easier to remember what you learned because it isn’t a list of 7 virtues that you are trying to memorize.  It is a story with a plot line that includes the 7 virtues.  If you remember the story, you remember the virtues.


I’ll share my favorite virtue with you.  It is called ‘practice kaisen.’  Kaisen is the Japanese word for constant and never-ending improvement.  He talks about doing things that you fear in order to broaden your horizons.  He isn’t telling you to jump out of planes.  But, if you do things you fear, you gain courage.  When you gain courage, you start to see that  you can do the things you feel will make you happy, but you’re too scared to try.  For me, starting Building a Bookshelf is right up there.  I’ve always wanted to contribute in some way.  Last year, when I decided to grab the bull by the horns, I was scared.  But, I did it anyway.  I don’t know all of the answers when it comes to starting a charity, but I have the courage to give it a try and see where it leads.

After I finished the book, I returned it to the library and drove straight to the bookstore and bought myself a copy.  This is one that will be read and re-read so that I can remind myself that I am living an abundant life.

Mayfair Witches

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Title: Taltos

Author: Anne Rice

Copyright: 1994, Alfred Knopf

ISBN: 0-679-42573

Pages: 467

Date completed: 6/21/11

Genre: Fiction

 It has been a while since I’ve read Anne Rice, so when someone donated this book to us, I temporarily borrowed it to read.  Taltos is about the Mayfair Witches.  Kind of.  I guess it is really about the Taltos and the Mayfair Witches.  The Taltos is a race of beings who live on earth and have a life span of more than 1,000 years.  They aren’t like vampires.  Killing isn’t their primary purpose in life.  They are much more like humans. They will kill if they have to, but they’d rather live in harmony with the others on the planet.  Also, Taltos are not fond of witches.  They don’t trust them and will do what it takes to stay away from them. 

 I didn’t realize that this is the second book in the series until after I had finished it.  It didn’t seem to matter – everything in the story made sense to me without knowing the background of the first book.  But, I give you warning in case you want to read Lasher, the first book in the series, first. 

 The way this book is written, it keeps you turning the pages.  There are several very interesting characters that you want to know more about.  Besides the seven-feet tall Taltos and the Mayfair Witches, there is a man of about three feet tall who is gruff and troll-like.  He and the Taltos are best friends.  There is also a secret society of humans who protect the history of all of these non-humans.  Any good book about non-humans has to have a secret society.  I always wonder how people in a secret society make a living.  But, I digress.

 In Taltos, our main character believes that he is the last living Taltos on earth and has given up on ever finding another of his kind.  But, when he finds out that the Mayfair Witches may be able to point him toward another Taltos, he has to overcome centuries of mistrust and work with them.

A Monkey and a Donkey

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Title: Beatrice and Virgil

Author: Yann Martel

Copyright: 2010, Random House

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8154-4

Pages: 197

Date completed: 6/13/11

I generally do not gravitate toward fiction, and even less toward literature.  The difference, in my mind is that fiction is a non-true story that you read for enjoyment, whereas literature is a non-true story that you read for enjoyment, but it demands more of you.  In music terms, fiction is Bon Jovi; literature is Tchaikovsky.  Beatrice and Virgil is literature.

I’ve never read anything quite like this book.  It is a fiction story of prose with a play contained inside.  It is a truly disturbing story in the very best sense of the word.  From page to page, I never knew what to expect, and that is what kept me from putting it down.  I usually think of literature as ‘not an easy read,’ but this book was very easy to read.  A disturbing story that is very easy to read.  Seems not possible, yet Martel has accomplished it. 

I always have a hard time writing a review of fiction because I don’t want to give too much of the plot away.  So, I will do my best to intrigue you enough to read it without telling you the entire story.  Henry, the main character is a successful author who has taken a sabbatical from writing and moved to a new city where he promptly gets a job as a waiter in the local café.  Life is going along nicely, when he receives a letter from a fan of his book who has written a play.  As it turns out, the fan lives in the same city as Henry, so he stops by to see him in person.  The fan is a taxidermist by day who has written a play of Virgil (a monkey) and Beatrice (a donkey).  He asks Henry for help finishing the play.  Although he is a little weird, Henry agrees to help him, and an unusual relationship is formed.  And, here is the plot twist: this is a book about the Holocaust. 

Intrigued?  Pick up Beatrice and Virgil and read for yourself!

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