Monday, March 1, 2010

March 2010 Book List

10. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Mitch Albom graduated from college with big dreams and every intention of keeping in touch with his favorite professor, Morrie Schwartz. But as the years pass and his musical dreams aren't becoming a reality, Albom pursues success as a sports writer, which brings him much financial security. While flipping channels one night, he hears the name of his old professor on Ted Koppel's Nightline. What he learns about Morrie's failing health causes him to return to his simpler past, by way of spending Tuesdays with Morrie for the remainder of his old mentor's life.

I had to keep in mind that this was not a work of fiction because I kept hoping for more to come from Albom's character. Morrie, however, was a different story. He was quite a teacher, shaped from tragic events during his early childhood years. The more I read, though, the better the overall experience became, and I ended the book with tears running down my face.

Since I enjoyed watching The Five People You Meet in Heaven, which followed the book more closely than I could've imagined, I checked Tuesdays with Morrie out from the library's DVD collection. With Jack Lemmon starring as Morrie, it looks to be promising. My expectations are high.

Note: My high expectations were exceeded. The movie was great!

11. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling

Harry, worried about Lord Voldemort's return and angry that none of his friends from Hogwarts are keeping him informed about what's going on, is suddenly attacked by dementors in his own neighborhood. The Order of the Phoenix, originally formed to counter Lord Voldemort in his earlier days, has reformed to protect Harry. Some of its members whisk Harry off in the middle of the night and deposit him in his godfather's wretched family house. He must face a hearing to determine if he will be expelled from Hogwarts after performing underage magic yet again, this time in front of his Muggle cousin Dudley. In spite of the Ministry of Magic's determination to quiet Harry's claims that Lord Voldemort is indeed alive, he is found not guilty of the charges and allowed to return to Hogwarts.

Harry's fifth year at the wizarding school is his most stressful yet. Not only does he have to prepare for major exams that will determine his future career, he is being ever more closely drawn to Lord Voldemort's thoughts. In the midst of this, Albus Dumbledore is replaced at headmaster by the evil Dolores Umbridge, a power-hungry employee of the Ministry of Magic whose main goal is to get rid of Harry once and for all.

At 870 pages, this is the longest volume in the Harry Potter series - and it's a page-turner just like the previous four books. I hope to start the 6th in the series later today!

12. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter is depressed after the death of his godfather. Dumbledore has sent word that he's coming to pick Harry up from the Dursley's to take him to the Weasley's. Along the way, they recruit an old professor, Slughorn, to join the Hogwarts staff, presumably as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. On board the Hogwarts Express, Harry slips into his Invisibility Cloak to spy on Draco Malfoy, who he has seen acting strangely since a chance meeting in Diagon Alley to buy school supplies. Malfoy realizes Harry is there, hexes and injures him, and leaves him on the train to return to London. Nymphora Tonks, a member of the Order of the Phoenix, finds Harry and escorts him to school, where Professor Snape meets him at the gate and taunts him on their walk to the castle. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are surprised to find out Slughorn is the new Potions teacher and horrified to learn that Snape has finally gotten the Defense Against the Dark Arts job.

In his Potions class, Harry comes across an old textbook with handwritten instructions to improve potions. The book was signed "The Half-Blood Prince", an unknown being with a dark and dangerous side. Harry keeps the book as his own and experiments with some hexes written in the margins - sometimes with horrifying results. Sometimes wondering if the book had been his father's, but realizing it couldn't have been, he's shocked to find out who it really belonged to.

Meanwhile, Dumbledore has decided to take Harry under his wing and teach him about Tom Riddle, aka Lord Voldemort. He has procured memories from people who had run-ins with Riddle, and he shows them to Harry to help him gain insight into who the Dark Lord is. Harry is assigned to get one of Slughorn's memories of Riddle. Once he does, and he and Dumbledore realize what Voldemort has done to make himself immortal, they set off to acquire an artifact where Voldemort has hidden one part of his split soul. Dumbledore is near death as they return to Hogwarts, only to find the Dark Mark above the school, a sign that the Death Eaters, Voldemort's followers, are present and have killed.

This book is darker and more intense than the others, and it's a page-turner. There are several different plot lines to follow, including Harry's, Ron's, Hermione's, and Ron's sister Ginny's love lives; the Quidditch team; classes; etc., but they all flow nicely with the others. I hope to begin the seventh and final book in the series this weekend. I'm sure it'll be as difficult to put down as the others.

13. Here's the Deal: Don't Touch Me by Howie Mandel

Eleven years ago, comedian Howie Mandel was forced to reveal his greatest fear to the world at the end of an interview with Howard Stern. While his adult-diagnosed severe ADHD leads him to do things for laughs without considering the consequences, his OCD keeps him in constant fear of being contaminated by germs. He washes his hands in scalding water. He won't touch doorknobs or elevator buttons or handrails with his bare hands. He won't shake hands with people he meets and greets anymore, preferring to use a fist bump instead.

Mandel chronicles his childhood, adolescence, and adult life with an honest, though sometimes crude, approach. He details pranks he pulled on people that caused friendships to weaken because he didn't know when to stop. He discusses his seemingly haphazard rise to fame through stand-up comedy, dramatic television, feature films, a Saturday morning cartoon Bobby's World, and guest hosting on Regis and Kathie Lee. He describes his descending popularity after his own failed talk show before rising to the pinnacle of his success as the host of the popular television game show Deal or No Deal.

Some parts of Mandel's story made me laugh out loud; others made me feel embarrassed for him. It's an interesting look into the complicated life of a celebrity who craves attention, yet struggles with some of the most basic things in life. If you're offended by vulgarity and foul language, I wouldn't recommend this book. It's not rampant, but it's unnecessary and I was uncomfortable with it.

14. For One More Day by Mitch Albom

Charles "Chick" Benetto was at the end of his rope. The guilt he felt after the loss of his mother eight years earlier suffocated him until his alcoholic escape cost him his family, his job, and almost his life. His story, as told by a second party, reveals how one more day with his mother, the day he almost died, opened his eyes to her love for him and the lengths she went to protect him, in spite of his unreturned devotion to his absent father.

This is written as if it could have been a real experience; I had to double-check to make sure it was indeed fiction. It's a fast read, but one that will make you think about your relationship with your own mother, your father, your children.

15. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

The final volume of the Harry Potter saga is just as thrilling as the first, second, third, etc. After Albus Dumbledore's death. Harry, Ron, and Hermione decide to leave Hogwarts to search for and destroy the remaining Horcruxes containing parts of Lord Voldemort's soul. The Ministry of Magic falls to Voldemort's control and the wizarding world has new rules of order imposed on it. Only pure-bloods are safe: Mudbloods (wizards and witches born to Muggles) and Half-bloods (those born to a wizard and a Muggle) are under attack. Harry has become the number one enemy of the Ministry and everyone on Voldemort's side is searching for him, eager to be the one to turn him in to the evil lord.

When Harry and his friends return to Hogwarts to retrieve a Horcrux, a battle breaks out between the good forces of wizardry and the evil forces of Lord Voldemort. Some of Harry's friends from the Order of the Phoenix are killed, and as Harry finds out what he must do to end Voldemort's reign of terror, he offers himself as a final sacrifice. But Voldemort's plan does not go as he had hoped...

I was surprised by how drawn in I was to this series. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I can't imagine reading through the whole series again, though, now knowing the outcomes of all the plot twists. I don't think it would hold the same "magic" as the first reading. I am considering watching the movies now.

Overall, I think the series would be okay for Caleb to read, but the last two or three books are quite dark. Also, as the books progress, probably because the characters age, Rowling is freer in using profanity. I think that was unnecessary, as she could have gotten the feeling across in other ways. If I let him read the first few books, I don't think it would be right to keep from reading the last ones, as the story is a powerful one. Thankfully he's not interested in reading them right now.

16. Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom

In another work of non-fiction, Albom becomes reacquainted with his lifelong rabbi. Though he lives in another city and doesn't attend a synagogue regularly, Albom always returns once a year with his parents. His rabbi, who has known him almost his entire life, asks him suddenly to give his eulogy. After thinking it over, Albom agrees and begins getting to know his rabbi on a more personal level, visiting him once a month. To his surprise, the rabbi isn't near death and the visits stretch out over a long course of time. When the rabbi does start having serious issues with his health, Albom realizes how much his rabbi means to him and how much he's taught him about life and love and faith.

Another thread in the story follows Albom's relationship with a black preacher to a congregation of homeless people. At first this storyline seems completely out of place and it isn't until midway through the book that the connection is finally revealed.

I was disappointed with the book. It left me feeling empty. While Albom does make strides reclaiming some of his Jewish heritage and overcomes some of his prejudices, it's his lack of faith in Jesus Christ that is left wanting. The title of the book is Have a Little Faith; I wonder what he's having a little faith in.

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