YA Spotlight: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

It is pretty safe to say that Young Adult Literature isn’t just for teenagers anymore. But now that you’ve finished Stephenie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn and know the fates of Edward, Bella, and Jacob–what should you read next?

YA Spotlight on:

HungerGames

As one of the most talked about books last year, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, is not for the faint of heart. Set in an alternate future where the United States is divided into 12 Districts controlled by the powerful Capitol who, in order remind the people of their control and as a punishment for the actions of no-longer-existing District 13, forces each district to send a boy and a girl (between the ages of 12-18) to compete in the Hunger Games–a glorified competition where 24 children are forced to fight until only one survives. The story begins when Katniss Everdeen’s younger sister is chosen to be District 12’s female competitor and Katniss immediately volunteers to go in her place. So now Katniss has only two options: kill or be killed. But those options don’t work when she discovers there are certain people she cannot kill and others who cannot kill her.

Yup, this book has it all: science fiction, love triangle, politics, death, pretty clothes, sisterhood…and the best part? It is part of a trilogy!!! Book 2 of the Hunger Games, Catching Fire, was published just last month!

My Favorite Banned Book — To Kill a Mockingbird

to kill mockingbirdMy favorite banned book is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  I loved this book; I loved the movie.  I can still picture (in black and white) Gregory Peck portaying the consummate Southern lawyer Atticus Finch, wiping his brow in the hot, segregated courtroom while his adoring daughter Scout, looks on from the balcony.

Set in a small Southern town in Alabama during the Depression, the book follows three years in the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother Jem and their father, Atticus, who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman.  Thus, the book covers many issues, but because it is told through the eyes of young Scout, it never comes off as judgmental or preachy.

I could never understand why someone would not want others to read this book.  It won the Pulitzer Prise, it’s been translated into more than forty languages and was voted the best novel of the twentieth century.  If somehow you got through school without reading this book, now is the time to do so.  Come to think of it, it may be about time for me to read it again — it’s that good!

My Favorite Banned Book – The Lovely Bones

lovely bonesThe American Library Association (ALA) has designated September 26-October 3 as Banned Books Week in order to raise awareness of continuing threats against intellectual freedom. You may be surprised to find that even in this modern age of openess and equality, censorship remains a constant threat. Follow along with us this week as our librarians highlight their Favorite Banned Books.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is the heartbreaking story of a family struggling with the sudden and unexplained loss of their oldest daughter. Told from the perspective of the murdered daughter as she watches her family and friends from “the other side”, Susie narrates what happened to her (raped and murdered by the neighbor), agonizes as her parents and siblings mourn, and struggles to come to terms with what her own life on earth meant. There is a lot of sadness in this book, but there is also a great deal of celebration, joy and enduring love.

Five Love Langauges

5 love languagesThis book by Gary Chapman was recommended to me by my niece, who found it a helpful reference for her young family.  It’s a quick read, plus Chapman has multiple versions out on the same topic.  Similar to Jack Canfield’s Chicken Soup for the Soul series, he has editions especially designed for men, singles, teens, children, etc. — you get the picture.   The one I actually read was God Speaks Your Love Language.

The premise is simple enough.  According to Chapman, who has more than 30 years of counseling experience, “each person has a primary love language.”   We tend to be drawn to people who speak our primary language because we feel they are meeting our basic need to be loved.  Conversely, if a person does not speak our primary language, we may question whether they really do love us or not.

The five love languages are:

1) Words of Affirmation.  Most people love to hear the words, “Good job!” Some individuals, however, crave that affirmation and are also easily hurt by critical comments.

2) Quality Time.  This is about spending time one-on-one, giving undivided attention.

3) Gifts.  These tend to be tangible expressions, such as birthday presents or even money.

4) Acts of Service.  The list is endless– mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, cooking a meal.

5) Physical Touch.  Hugging , high fives and back rubs would all fit here.

Okay, so now that you know the basics — What’s your primary love language?

The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar

weight of heavenAfter their only child, 7-year-old Benny, dies unexpectedly of meningitis, Frank and Ellie Benton find their once perfect life in Ann Arbor empty and unbearable. When Frank is subsequently offered a new job in Girbaug, India, they grasp at the opportunity for a fresh start. Ellie adapts beautifully, volunteering as a counselor in a free clinic, and relishing in the vibrant color and boisterous activity that is India. Frank, on the other hand, struggles, never quite fitting in or understanding the vast cultural differences. He does, however, befriend a young boy, Ramesh, and becomes consumed with offering this child every opportunity, despite the father’s jealous objections. In the meantime, as Frank neglects his business, labor difficulties continue to fester into riot proportions.

As a ready, I could viscerally sense impending disaster, and even partially predict it. Still, I was caught unawares at the ending and left to marvel at this storyteller’s technique. The Weight of Heaven would make an excellent book club choice. As there are several issues with varying viewpoints presented, the book certainly promises to reap a wealth of healthy discussion.

Sarah Addison Allen

Though we have only one week of hot, laying around the pool weather, I recommended the following author to readers who enjoy light romance with an ability to suspend some disbelief.

SARAH ADDISON ALLEN – is from Ashville North Carolina, and brings the full flavor of her southern upbringing to bear on her fiction — a captivating blend of fairy tale magic, heartwarming romance, and small-town sensibility.

garden spellsIn Garden Spells there is a garden surrounded by a tall fence, tucked away behind a small, quiet house in an even smaller town, where an apple tree that is rumored to bear a very special sort of fruit grows. In this luminous debut novel, Sarah Addison Allen tells the story of that enchanted tree, and the extraordinary people who tend it….The Waverleys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has a reputation, famous for its feisty apple tree that bears prophetic fruit, and its edible flowers, imbued with special powers. Generations of Waverleys tended this garden. Their history was in the soil. But so were their futures.
A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants–from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys–except for Claire’s rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before.
When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire’s quiet life is turned upside down–along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past. And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy–if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom–or with each other.
Enchanting and heartfelt, this captivating novel is sure to cast a spell with a style all its own….

sugar queenThe Sugar Queen was written in 2008. In this irresistible follow-up to her New York Times bestselling debut, Garden Spells, is  the tale of a young woman whose family secrets–and secret passions–are about to change her life forever. Twenty-seven-year-old Josey Cirrini is sure of three things: winter in her North Carolina hometown is her favorite season, she’s a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her hidden closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night…. Until she finds it harboring none other than local waitress Della Lee Baker, a tough-talking, tenderhearted woman who is one part nemesis–and two parts fairy godmother. Fleeing a life of bad luck and big mistakes, Della Lee has decided Josey’s clandestine closet is the safest place to crash. In return she’s going to change Josey’s life–because, clearly, it is not the closet of a happy woman.

With Della Lee’s tough love, Josey is soon forgoing pecan rolls and caramels, tapping into her startlingly keen feminine instincts, and finding her narrow existence quickly expanding. Before long, Josey bonds with Chloe Finley, a young woman who makes the best sandwiches in town, is hounded by books that inexplicably appear whenever she needs them, and–most amazing of all–has a close connection to Josey’s longtime crush. As little by little Josey dares to step outside herself, she discovers a world where the color red has astonishing power, passion can make eggs fry in their cartons, and romance can blossom at any time–even for her. It seems that Della Lee’s work is done, and it’s time for her to move on. But the truth about where she’s going, why she showed up in the first place–and what Chloe has to do with it all–is about to add one more unexpected chapter to Josey’s fast-changing life. Brimming with warmth, wit, and a sprinkling of magic, here is a spellbinding tale of friendship, love–and the enchanting possibilities of every new day.

Breaking Away

breaking awayThere’s lots of bicycling in the news this week – RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) is at the halfway point and the Tour de France will finish on Sunday (can Lance Armstrong pull off his comeback?) Keep the bicycling theme going and check out the movie Breaking Away, one of the best sports movies ever made.

Set in the college town of Bloomington, Indiana, four friends are caught in limbo after finishing high school, not know what they want to do next. The college kids derisively call them “cutters” (for the stone quarry where most of their blue-collar fathers work). Dave escapes into his dream of becoming a bicycle racer for the world champion Italian team by training rigorously and even learning to speak Italian (much to his father’s chagrin). After one dream is shattered, an unexpected opportunity opens when a local team (the “Cutters”, led by Dave) is allowed to compete in the famous Little 500 bicycle race at Indiana University. What follows will have you cheering for what’s possible against impossible odds.

Loosely based on a true story (there really is a Little 500 race at Indiana University) this heartwarming (in the best sense) movie is more than a story about a bicycle race – it’s also about family and home, about loyalty and friendship, about accepting and embracing change, about finding your perfect place in the world. Beautifully acted (Dennis Christopher, Paul Dooley, Daniel Stern, Dennis Quaid, Jackie Earle Haley, Barbara Barrie) this inspiring film will make you laugh, cry and cheer.

Cooking with My Indian Mother-in-Law by Simon Daley with Roshan Hirani

CookingThis is a book about home cooking, but it’s also a book about family and the timeless tradition of passing down knowledge, from elder to child, mother to daughter or, in this case, mother-in-law to son-in-law. Daley has meticulously and lovingly recorded not only his mother-in-laws recipes, tips and advice, but also the the stories behind the recipes – family ancedotes, who passed the recipe on to her, influences from other countries and cultures, and which ones are favorites of guests and family alike. Keeping the project in the family, the beautiful photographs were made by Daley’s wife/Hirami’s daughter Salima.

You’ll find all of your favorites here, covering vegetables, lamb, chicken, rice, chutneys and sweets, all written for the home cook. There is special emphasis on the spices and techniques that make Indian cuisine so unique. While many of the dishes may seem exotic and difficult at first glance, closer inspection shows that even a beginner will soon be cooking authentic, delicious Indian food.

Shelter Me by Juliette Fay

Shelter MeThree months have passed since Janie’s husband was killed in an accident. She is still awash in grief, barely able to function, struggling to get herself and her two small children through each day when a contractor shows up at her house, ready to build the porch her husband had secrectly planned as a surprise for her.

Over the following months Janie finds strength and solace and even laughter from unlikely sources – her annoying, talkative Aunt, the shy, awkward priest, a neighbor she has nothing in common with, even the contractor who becomes a daily, calming presence in their lives. Slowly the pain lessens and Janie learns that moving on does not mean forgetting the past.

Shelter Me by Juliette Fay is a sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny story of how one family puts itself back together after unimaginable tragedy. The writing is compelling – it’s very hard to put this book down – and the characters so real that they will stay with you long after you finish.

On the Road Again….

car travelIt’s the American thing to do – despite the dismal state of the economy and the need to cut back, a lot of people hit the road each summer on vacation. Something about our vast collection of interstate highways, our love of cars, our need to explore – it’s all part of the American character. And seeing more of this beautiful country – mountains, plains, cities – keeps us going around “just one more” corner. Of course, there are stretches of road – Nebraska comes to mind as does, quite frankly, large chunks of Illinois – that you must get across just to get where you’re going. Thank goodness for that super-slick CD player, built right into the car – just the thing to keep you and everyone in the car happily occupied!

Now, what to feed it? Let’s turn to our own librarians for their recommendations.

Lynn reminds us that a lot depends on who’s on the car with you. If you’re traveling with multi-generations, you need to look for something that will engage the kids, but is interesting to adults too. She suggests The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford, the classic (travel!) story of three pets separated from their family. A perilous journey with cute, smart animals and a happy ending – a winner for everyone. She also suggests West with the Night by Beryl Markham (another travel story!), an incredibly beautiful description of Markham’s life in Africa of the 20s and 30s. Although probably not of interest to children, Lynn also loved The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, a poignant story of love and loyalty.

According to Lynn, another thing to consider when choosing a book on tape is the narrator. A good reader can make a so-so book interesting, while a bad reader can ruin even a great book. For this reason she recommends anything read by Audie Award winner Barbara Rosenblat who has narrated a variety of titles including the Amanda Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters and mysteries by Nevada Barr and Lisa Scottoline. Jim Dale, beloved award winner reader of the Harry Potter series is another narrator that makes listening a pleasure.

Ann just listened to The Miracle at Speedy Motors by Alexander McCall Smith, part of the No. 1 Ladies Detective series. Nothing terribly dramatic happens during the course of the book – read these stories for the evocative setting of Botswana, the various characters that you grow to love, the belief that kindness and politeness can improve any situation. This is a slow-paced book – sometimes almost too slow – but that’s also what makes it wonderful – calm and leisurely, leaving the reader/listener feeling the same.

Rita recommends the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlene Harris. They’re funny and fast-paced and you may find yourself believing that vampires really could be walking among us. She also liked Downhill Lie by Carl Hiaasen, a non-fiction account about returning to golf after a long absence. Read by the author, it’s filled with dry humor and great insights for fellow golfers.

Rita also reminds us that you there are hundreds of titles you can download from NetLibrary, a free service that allows you to transfer audio books to your MP3 player (which you can then hook up to the CD player in your car) Sign up for an account at either of the Davenport libraries, then access it from any computer, any time.

With so many great books to listen too, you might be tempted to take the long way home! What about you – do you have any favorite books-on-CD that you’d recommend for a long trip?