Saturday, May 19, 2012

Getting lost in the story (reflective) - why reading can make us better people

young man sitting on top of bookshelves reading a book
You've probably heard readers say things like "Reading that book was like being in that world myself" or

"I was so wrapped up in the story that I lost track of time" or

"That's the last book in the series?
I want to know more about those characters!"

In the very best sort of books, we lose sight of ourselves, our surroundings, our own troubles, as we immerse ourselves in someone else's world and struggles and victories. It can be a realistic book or the highest fantasy, a short story or a tome as thick as your leg - if the story and characters feel real to us, then we are transported away from our own existence without moving at all.

A recent research study also showed that reading a compelling story can also improve our own behavior and attitudes, even after our reading is done! "Feeling the emotions, thoughts, beliefs and internal responses of one of the characters as if they were their own," also known as "experience-taking" was studied by Ohio State University researchers in several reading experiments with college students.

OSU assistant professor Lisa Libby noted the difference between  experience-taking and perspective-taking, which is more like looking through a window at someone else's situation. "Experience-taking is much more immersive -- you've replaced yourself with the other," she said. With the right story, readers don't feel like they are manipulated into being inside the character's head. "Experience-taking can be very powerful because people don't even realize it is happening to them. It is an unconscious process," Libby said.

As you choose to read books with characters who are different from you, you're giving yourself more ways become a more empathic person, more understanding of differences, more able to see other viewpoints than your own.

And what about reading books filled with people much like you? Then you have opportunities to "try on" their reactions to situations you may not have faced, to take their experiences and learn from them - without having to live through the troubles, trials, and joys yourself.

Here's to "getting lost in a good book" and to finding our better selves along the way!

Ohio State University (2012, May 7). 'Losing yourself' in a fictional character can affect your real life. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 19, 2012, from­ /releases/2012/05/120507131948.htm

Photo of man sitting on bookshelves reading a book: (c) Microsoft Office clipart.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Lia's Guide to Winning the Lottery, by Keren David (fiction) - teens, money, fiscal mayhem

book cover of Lias Guide to Winning the Lottery by Keren David published by Frances Lincoln
Oooh... winning 8 million pounds in the lottery at age 16!
That's over 12 million US dollars - in a lump sum!
Lia has so many plans for that money...
too bad that everyone else seems to have plans for it, too.

Yes, in the U.K., 16-year-olds can buy lottery tickets (it's 18 to 21 in US states which hold a lottery).
Yes, the winner's proceeds are deposited in the bank all at once.
Yes, Lia is sure that everything will be wonderful now...

If you won a big lottery prize, would you hold a press conference as Lia did, or keep it quiet? Could you handle sudden wealth on your own, or would you hire impartial financial advisors?

On this Fun Friday, join Lia on a wild romp from her dreary London suburb to the top shops, as she learns some life-lessons about finance and friendship in this funny novel from Keren David, who brought us the more-serious story of Ty in When I Was Joe (my review) and Almost True (my review); book 3 in that series, Another Life, arrives in the USA in October 2012.

Book info: Lia's Guide to Winning the Lottery / Keren David. Frances Lincoln Books, 2012. [author's website]   [book website]     [publisher site]

My Recommendation:   If her mum would just shut up, Lia could hear the lottery numbers announced. At the internet café, the teen learns that she did indeed win a huge jackpot! Now all her troubles are over…until the new problems begin.

And just who should revive her from her fainting spell at the internet café but the mysterious and handsome Raf, whom she’s been eyeing at school since he arrived at mid-term. Her best friend Shaz was in the middle of family dinner or Lia would have gone to her house to check that last lottery number. Eight million pounds! She dreams about what she’ll do with all that lovely money… move to her own apartment, travel away from their boring London suburb, start living life right away instead of wasting time in high school and university.

The lottery people assign her a financial adviser and a personal banker as her winnings are paid all at once, there’s a big press conference, and suddenly Lia is super-popular at school. Her parents keep saying “we won the lottery” – why don’t they understand that Lia won, not them? Of course some money would help bolster the family bakery business, competing with the new superstores, but it is Lia’s money, thankyouverymuch.

Her pal Jack bought her the lottery ticket as a birthday gift, so his mum thinks he’s entitled to half the money – Jack just wants a motorcycle, never mind that he can’t get a license until he’s 17. Lia spreads around the wealth a bit more, treating a limo full of school chums to a clothes shopping spree, funding vocal lessons for 14-year-old sister Natasha. More time with Raf would be nice, instead of him working two jobs after school.

When Shaz says that she can’t accept anything from Lia because her faith states that gambling is immoral, Lia is a bit shocked – can money change friendship so much?
Why is Raf trying to keep that suave gentleman from talking to Lia?
Can Jack’s mum really sue Lia for a share of the winnings?
Why isn’t Natasha home from that party yet and who’s the threatening voice on the phone?

Chapter headings of keen advice for lottery winners contrast vividly with Lia’s comical rush to make the most of her lottery experience, despite everyone’s efforts to help her. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Project Jackalope, by Emily Ecton (fiction) - mad scientist, secret agents, crazy science fair

book cover of Project Jackalope by Emily Ecton published by Chronicle Books
Researchers think up lots of unusual things,
like cyborg insects
and tracking devices smaller than a grain of rice.
Some stay on the drawing board forever and some don't.

So, why not develop a jackalope?  Reputed to have a vicious personality, the ability to mimic human voices, and savage killer instincts, jackalopes would make terrible pets - but might be terrifying weapons as well.

You'll have to read Project Jackalope  for yourself to see if the Professor has created a true jackalope or if Jeremy and Agatha can keep it away from the scary guys in suits or if Jeremy finally passes science with his science fair project! Find this funny middle-grade book at your local library or independent bookstore.

Book info: Project Jackalope / Emily Ecton. Chronicle Books, 2012.  [author's website]   [publisher site]

My Recommendation:
Something is breathing in the clothes hamper! Why did Professor Twitchett leave his super-secret project in Jeremy’s bedroom and then disappear? It was one thing to run errands for the Professor, but this note about “keeping the experiment safe” is crazy. Can it really be… a jackalope?!

Jeremy’s idea of a science fair project is Styrofoam planets, but Professor Twitchett downstairs is a real scientist, even if he tries to keep things hush-hush. Mom is allergic to furry things, so Jeremy has to let classmate Agatha in on the secret so she can keep the jackalope in her apartment. When government agent-type guys in suits start questioning everyone in their building, Jeremy knows in his gut that he can’t give them the sharp-antlered rabbit.

The Professor’s assistant at the zoo research center hasn’t seen him lately, and his desk is suspiciously neat.  Ditzy old Mrs. Simmons thinks he’s bringing her a dog in a bag when Jeremy hides in her apartment for a minute. The suits show up at the junior high school, intent on getting answers from Jack. Soon Agatha and Jack are on the run, taking the jackalope along, of course.

How long can they elude the scary guys in suits?
When will the jackalope start using his cloth-shredding antlers on them?
Can jackalopes really imitate human voices to confuse their prey?
Why did the Professor create a killer mutant bunny in the first place?

When everyone interested in the jackalope arrives at the junior high science fair, the results are epic! (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Enchanted, by Alethea Kontis (fiction) - fairy tales with a twist

book cover of Enchanted by Alethea Kontis published by Harcourt
Seventh daughter of a seventh son and seventh daughter,
named for her birth-day, according to the traditional rhyme,
Sunday is accustomed to odd things in the Wood,
so a talking frog is rather expected.
But there's nothing everyday about falling in love with him.

You'll nod your head as you recognize the many fairy tales found in the early chapters of Enchanted, from the shape of the Woodcutter family home to the fate of sister Tuesday of the red shoes.

But there's more to this tale than just homage to nursery rhymes and fairy tales, as Sunday strives to find her own way in the world rather than what's been previously written, Rumbold tries to undo the actions of his impetuous younger days, and the King has his own sinister agenda.

Enchanted  was just published on May 8, 2012, so look for it at your local independent bookstore or library now. Kontis tells us that book two is in the works, giving readers a preview with a short story featuring one of its key characters, Ashes-in-the-Wind.

Book info: Enchanted / Alethea Kontis. Harcourt, 2012. [author's website] [publisher site]

My Recommendation:
A talking frog, a cow traded for beans that grow a sky-high beanstalk, a house shaped like a shoe – for Sunday, it’s just life as usual in the Wood. But when her friend Grumble disappears and the King seeks a new wife, old tales of evil spells are remembered, and Sunday tries to change what has been foretold.

Seventh daughter Sunday writes that she’s “doomed to a happy life,” but would rather be interesting than good and boring. Of course, wishes made in an enchanted land usually lead to adventures, so life in the Woodcutter family’s odd-shaped house is often more chaotic than taciturn Mama would like, despite the curlicued brightness of Papa’s stories from the Wood.

The ten Woodcutter siblings are children no more, although adopted Trix looks just as he did at age 12, thanks to his fairy blood. Ever since oldest brother Jack Jr. disappeared while in the King’s service, their family has stayed well away from the Arrilard palace, its sole prince, and its rumored curses.

Meeting Grumble by the fairy well was certainly more interesting than doing her chores, doubly so because the frog liked to listen to her stories, appreciative in his praise. Of course, any talking frog in the Wood must have been human first, so Sunday hopes that someday Grumble will tell her how he became cursed into frog form. She’d have to be careful about writing down his tale, as anything that she wrote had a strong chance of coming true, but he left the well without even saying goodbye.

Released from the froggy spell suddenly, Prince Rumbold finds himself in the palace, weak and confused. Who are his friends and who is against him? Why does he hear spirit voices in the palace night asking for death? What was the name of the girl who kissed him beside the well? His cold and regal father does allow Rumbold to invite all the eligible women of the kingdom to a grand ball at the palace, staying in his tower throne room to invoke magic for himself alone.

Will Rumbold find Sunday among all the people at the ball? Will Sunday recognize Rumbold out of his froggy skin? Will the Prince or the King choose a bride at the ball?

This bright-and-dark story about family, loyalty, and love in an Enchanted  land reminds us that even the simplest fairy tales and nursery rhymes can carry the power of mighty words. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls, by Julie Schumacher (fiction) - literature, swimming pool, awkwardness

book cover of The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls by Julie Schumacher published by Delacorte
Summer in the suburbs.
If you can get away, you're gone...
these four girls are stuck in the sweltering, sticky heat
and in a book club together - with their mothers!

Mother-daughter book clubs can be a great opportunity for discussions, intellectual sharing, and true personal growth. But not this one, with its highly incompatible members, brought together solely by the AP English reading list and the moms recognizing one another from yoga class.

Lots of zany antics (usually instigated by CeeCee) between their encounter with each book (interesting insights there). The 19th century works are in the public domain, so you can read them online free; you can find print copies of all the books that Jill, Wallis, CeeCee, Adrienne and their moms discuss at your local library or independent bookstore of course.

"The Yellow Wallpaper", by Charlotte Gilman. Free download at Project Gutenberg.
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. Read online free at Project Gutenberg.
The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin. Author's website with some excerpts.
The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros. Author interview on its 25th anniversary.
The Awakening, by Kate Chopin. Read online free at UNC Library of Southern Literature.

Book info: The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls / Julie Schumacher. Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2012.  [author's website]   [publisher website]

My Recommendation:  One slip on the stairs, and her summer plans for adventure turn into a knee brace, rehab exercises, and required reading for senior English class. Adrienne couldn’t know that summer would also include midnight escapes, unlicensed drivers, epic chaos, and a dead body in the town swimming pool!

Isn’t it bad enough that Adrienne has to miss her long-planned canoe trek with best friend Liz this summer? Now her mom has gotten them into a mother-daughter book club in their dead-end boring suburb. Honestly, just because the moms take yoga class together doesn’t guarantee a compatible group for literature discussions…

Popular and pretty CeeCee is high school society-plus (her trip to France cancelled because she totaled another car), Jill works at the swimming pool snack stand, and Wallis is… Wallis – in their grade, but younger, recently moved to West New Hope with her mom (who is writing a scholarly philosophy book). The girls groan about having to write an essay over their summer reading. Such a strange bunch of characters in this book club, especially when you factor in the mothers, including Wallis’s mom, whom no one has ever met and who never comes to the mother-daughter book club meetings.

Meeting at Jill’s house to discuss "The Yellow Wallpaper" short story, the group chooses four books from the Advanced Placement reading list: Frankenstein, The Left Hand of Darkness, The House on Mango Street, and The Awakening. The girls see each other often at the pool (where else is there to go in their town in the summer?) and finally decide that “The Unbearable Book Club” describes this weird summer thing with the moms exactly.

CeeCee decides that Adrienne needs to get out of the house more, so she shows up at midnight for a road trip, and that’s just the beginning of the craziness. The summer heat rises, Adrienne’s mom has few answers for her questions about the father she’s never known, Wallis repeatedly appears for book club without her mother, then zips back to the woods where they live.

Is Adrienne going to let CeeCee run her summer?
Will Adrienne’s knee ever heal?
Does Wallis really have a mother?
What’s it like to play mini-golf at midnight in the rain?

Each chapter is headed by a literary term with Adrienne’s witty definition, as the girls’ discussions of each book underscore the tensions and dreams in their own lives. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Silverhorse, by Lene Kaaberbøl (fiction) - guest post recommendation by Rachel Ward

book cover of Silverhorse by Lene Kaaberbol published by Macmillan UKWild hellhorses,
A headstrong young girl,
Women lead society, men travel as they can.

Guest reviewer Rachel Ward brings us an exciting book about a chilling future on Blogathon2012's Guest Post Day.

Silverhorse is the first book in the Katriona series, one of several written by Danish author Kaaberbøl, whose four-volume Shamer Chronicles fantasy series is published by Henry Holt Books  in the USA.

Check WorldCat to find a library near you to check out Silverhorse or check your favorite bookseller for a copy of this London-published novel. Its sequel, Midnight, has also been translated into English, but book 3 remains in Danish only. Perhaps reader demand will interest a US publisher in getting the entire Katriona series back in print.

Book info: Silverhorse / Lene Kaaberbøl. Macmillan (London), 2007.   [author's website in Danish]  [author's biography from Gale Biographies of Children's Authors]  

Rachel's Recommendation *:
Silverhorse by  Lene Kaaberbøl is set in a post-apocalyptic world where nobody is allowed to own the land, but it is passed down from mother to daughter. Women are the rulers with a duty to care for the land, and men lead an itinerant life. The main character is 12-year-old Kat, daughter of Tess, the maestra of Crowfoot Inn. Kat has a fiery temper and fights constantly with her stepfather. 

In the end, Tess has no choice but to send Kat away, despite it being very unusual for a girl to travel in this society. After a disastrous apprenticeship to a dyer, she ends up at the academy for Bredinari, who ride the strange and dangerous hellhorses - wild nightmares crossed with sturdy mountain horses - and serve justice and law in the land of Breda. Here, Kat has to learn to control her temper so she can master the weapons and horses she will need to handle. Events come to a head when she gets caught up in power politics beyond her control or understanding, and finds herself fighting for survival.

The plot rattles along at a good pace and Kat is an engaging and sympathetic, if flawed, character. Her struggles with both authority figures and bullies her own age are all too recognisable and the book also tackles the reverse-sexism of her world, snobbery, loyalty, betrayal and true friendship.

Kaaberbøl's writing is truly fantastic, in every sense of the word. This is an excellent and compelling fantasy story, translated from the Danish by the author herself - being able to write as well in another language as she can in her own is a skill of which I am frankly in awe!

Highly recommended  (Cover image courtesy of the publisher.)
*This review was originally posted on A Discount Ticket to Everywhere on Saturday 12th May, 2012.

photograph of guest blogger Rachel Ward
Rachel Ward - guest blogger
Since gaining her MA in Literary Translation in 2002, Rachel Ward has been working in Norwich, United Kingdom, as a freelance literary translator from German and French to English. She specialises in children's and young adult literature as well as crime novels, fantasy and other contemporary fiction. 

She blogs on reading and translation at and is on Twitter as @FwdTranslations. Her most recent translations, the Nea Fox books by Amelia Ellis, are available as e-books from Amazon and