Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Book Review: 'Wenny Has Wings' by Janet Lee Carey

✰✰✰✰✰ When eleven year old Will North wakes up in the hospital, he is confused and sad. You see, he died along with his little sister, Wenny, when a truck ran them over. He remembers dying and speeding through a tunnel towards a light. He also remembers flying through the air with Wenny. However, only Will came back. Suffering from serious injuries, Will begins to write letters to Wenny as he recuperates in the hospital. As Will uses a journal given to him by a church youth leader, he learns to express the feelings he can’t share with anyone else.

Not that anyone is listening. His parents can barely stand to look at each other let alone talk to Will. Unable to talk to his parents and friends about his near-death experience, Will finds comfort in writing to Wenny. As time passes Will writes to Wenny less and less. He returns to school and helps his friend, Gallagher Krumley, face the challenge of going through the Tunnel of Death. During this time Will’s father seems to struggle the most with Wenny’s death and his feelings of guilt. However, with a new baby on the way, the family must learn to move on while still holding Wenny’s memory dear to their hearts.
The Bottom Line: Wenny Has Wings is a beautiful story of love, loss, grief, and acceptance told in the form of letters written by the surviving sibling. Author Janet Lee Carey's writing is magical as she takes the reader through one boy’s journey to come to terms with his sister's death. Highly recommended for kids in Grades 4 and up, especially for those coping with grief and death issues. This is a very quick read. Also, highly recommended for writers looking for an excellent example of an epistolary novel. I hope to read more of Carey’s books in the future.

Details: Wenny Has Wings by Janet Lee Carey. Hardcover published by Atheneum Books in 2002. 240 p. ISBN: 0-689-84294-5

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Autobiography, Biography, or Memoir: What's the Difference?

What’s the difference between an autobiography, a biography, and a memoir?  This is a question that I have encountered many times in my work as a reference librarian at several public libraries. Patrons arrive at the library looking for information about a celebrity or a politician and are confronted with a selection of books that includes autobiographies, biographies, and memoirs. To many people, these three words mean the same thing. Indeed, all are nonfiction stories about an individual’s life. So what is the difference? That's an excellent question.

Let's begin with biographies. Biographies are works written by someone other than the subject. The subject of the book may be living or dead, but the subject has been meticulously researched and studied by the author for years. Biographies fall into two types: 1.) Popular books about celebrities and politicians. 2.) Academic works about historical figures. Additionally, a biography may be authorized or unauthorized. While an unauthorized biography may contain new or controversial information, it may also contain errors since it was written without the subject’s permission or input.

Now let’s turn our attention to the words autobiography and memoir. The two terms are often used interchangeably. And that's okay in some cases. Both are written in first person; in other words, both are written by the subject of the book. However, there is a specific difference between an autobiography and a memoir in the timeline covered in the book. An autobiography covers the chronology of the author’s entire life from birth up to the writing of the book. In simple terms, think of an autobiography as a self-biography. While having a biographer write one's biography may give the work more of an academic tone, an autobiography may provide more insight into the subject’s life because the subject lived through it. On the other hand, a memoir focuses on one specific aspect or time period of the author’s life. For example, the four years the author spent in college may constitute a memoir. Additionally, memoirs may focus on a life-changing event such as overcoming depression or a stroke. Thus, a memoir may offer a more intimate look into a person’s life.

Each type of book offers a different perspective. So the next time you’re looking for information about Kirk Douglas, for example, you’ll  be able to make an educated choice between The Ragman’s Son: An Autobiography by Kirk Douglas, Kirk Douglas by Michael Munn, and My Stroke of Luck by Kirk Douglas to get the perspective you want. Knowing the difference between the terms autobiography, biography, and memoir will help you find exactly the type of information you are looking for.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Book Review: 'An Unholy Communion' by Donna Fletcher Crow

✰✰✰½ As the third book in the Monastery Murders series begins, Felicity is looking forward to Ascension morning. Running late to the tower at the College of Transfiguration, Felicity can hear the heavenly sound of voices singing. Tragically, as she looks up at the tower, a figure in black plummets to earth and lands before her. As Felicity steps away, the hand of the dead man releases a simple scrap of paper with a strange emblem on it. The police are quick to dismiss the incident as a suicide. However, neither Felicity's fiancé, Father Antony, nor the dead man's widow believes it.

Hoping for a little peace and quiet, Father Antony encourages Felicity to accompany him as he leads a youth pilgrimage through Wales. Unfortunately, evil influences and sightings of the strange emblem seem to be around every corner. The group encounters a series of sinister, almost paranormal, events aimed at defeating their progress. As the group makes their way to St. David's, the paranormal events become even more sinister and seem to threaten their very lives. However, along the way, the group learns to work together and with the power of prayer they struggle to overcome the forces of evil. Meanwhile, as Felicity and Father Antony tend to the pilgrims, they must try to solve the mystery of one man's death before any one else gets hurt.

The Bottom Line: Fans of crime fiction featuring clerical sleuths will want to check this series out. Also, those who enjoy mysteries set in the English countryside may want to give this one a try. An Unholy Communion is chock full of historical information making this book an interesting read. The themes of teamwork, friendship, and good overcoming evil make this book a worthwhile read. Although I have not read the first two books in the series, I was able to pick up this installment and read it without feeling like I was missing anything. While this isn't a quick weekend read, I did enjoy the author's ability to make the English countryside come alive. I felt as if I was on the pilgrimage myself, especially after I checked out  Donna Fletcher Crow's photos on her website. Finally, this book includes a glossary for those of us not familiar with British history and terminology.

Details: An Unholy Communion (The Monastery Murders) by Donna Fletcher Crow. Paperback published by Lion Fiction in 2013. 384 p. ISBN: 978-178264-004-2 Note: I received a copy from Kregel in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewer program at LibraryThing.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Book Club Etiquette

Book clubs provide an opportunity to share your love of reading and enhance your understanding of books through sharing your impressions with others. Books clubs can also be a great way to meet people and learn something new. However, book clubs can sometimes get off track, and members can end up talking about everything except the book. Sometimes you will find that one member has dominated the entire discussion while others felt left out. These problems and more can be avoided by establishing a few simple guidelines for book club etiquette. Over the years I have found that the following tips are useful in keeping a book club running smoothly and making sure that all participants feel free to contribute.

Tips for book club etiquette:

  • Read the book before arriving to the meeting. Some groups allow participants who haven’t quite finished to participate, but don’t make this a habit. Make a good faith effort to finish the book every time.
  • Be prepared to discuss the book. You can do this by jotting down a few notes while reading the book. Take note of passages and quotes to discuss. Write down page numbers and any questions you may have.
  • Turn your cell phone off or at the very least set it to vibrate.
  • Be a good listener. Don’t engage in side conversations when someone else is talking.
  • Be open-minded. Instead of complaining about a comment, provide thoughtful criticism.
  • Be courteous and respectful of others even if you don’t agree with someone or if you didn’t enjoy the book.
  • Don’t dominate the group. You may have many ideas about the book that you just can’t wait to share, but try to give everyone a chance by taking turns.
  • Focus on the book. Sometimes discussions get off course. Remember that you are in a book club to talk about the book and keep your input relevant.
  • Before inviting someone new to the group, talk to the group leader or discuss it with the group first.
Attending a book discussion should be an enjoyable experience. Following these tips will help your group stay focused on the book. Keep in mind that some groups are more informal than others; feel free to tailor these guidelines to suit your group. The goal of meeting to discuss a book is to have fun and learn something new. So keep your guidelines simple, and remember the most important tip of all:
“What happens at book club, stays at book club."