Friday, December 31, 2010

Young Adult Books: Are they popular because they are easy to read?

Some young adult books are popular among adults. I have previously posted about this topic here and here. Now I would like to discuss another aspect of this popularity.

Books for adults are usually longer than young adult books, with more difficult language and more complicated plots and character development. Perhaps adults are simply not willing to do the harder work of reading adult books. I think this might be a big part of the attraction, and that troubles me. Our minds and our hearts can be enriched so much by reading the challenging books. Classics that have endured for decades or centuries deserve our consideration for what they contribute to the great conversation of literature. But these books tend to be more challenging reading. If collectively we can not even bring ourselves to read adult books currently written, how will we learn from the wisdom of the past?

I think adults that are spending most of their reading time focusing on young adult books would benefit from doing some introspection about why they are focusing their attention there. I have times when I find that I am spending too much time reading young adult or children's book, and I have benefited from seeking more balance. Even youth can benefit from the challenge of reading some of the books written for an adult audience.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Flight of Shadows

Imagine that genetic research had been done on you, before you were born. You are different from everyone around you. You are searching for answers. This is the situation Caitlyn Brown faces in Flight of Shadows. On the one hand, she revels in her ability to fly. On the other, it makes her a target. Follow Caitlyn as she struggles to find her place in the world.

At first, I didn't realize that this book was a sequel, and this may explain why I felt somewhat disoriented in the first few chapters. The world is well crafted, but it took me a bit to feel fully grounded in it. The book is clearly written from a Christian world view. The over-arching theme is an exploration of genetic research and its implications, and there is some biblical discussion by several characters.

I enjoyed this book. It was a quick, interesting read. It left me thinking about the implications of genetic research in a new way. I recommend this book to science fiction readers. I also recommend this book to those who are curious about exploring the arguments against genetic research. This book delves into the issue in a thoughtful, non-pushy way.

Go here to read Chapter 1 of this intriguing book.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Happiness Project

Gretchen Rubin decided to spend a year trying to be happier. She gave each month a specific theme and came up with several goals for the month's theme. She began her project, not because she was depressed or unhappy, but because she didn't feel like she was as happy as she should be. She talks at the beginning of her book about using Benjamin Franklin and his self-improvement project as inspiration. At several points in the book she re-examines her goal of becoming happier, each time deciding that it is a worthy goal and that it is increasing her happiness. She is open about her successes and her setbacks.

I enjoyed this book immensely. I like reading about life "experiments" that other people try. Sometimes I get inspired to try some things myself, but sometimes I just enjoy the vicarious experiment.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about goals, experiments, or happiness. I recommend it to people who are feeling like they are not living life to the fullest.

If you want more information about starting your own happiness project, check out Gretchen Rubin's website here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"Is it Something In the Water?" Article

I found an interesting article online about the proliferation of LDS authors in the science fiction and fantasy genre. Go here to check it out and see what you think.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Reading

Do you have a favorite book to read at Christmas time? Many people read A Christmas Carol yearly. The Christmas box is another common one. Many families have a tradition of reading the Christmas story from the Bible during the season.

The other day we began to read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. My oldest daughter picked it out and we read the first couple of chapters in the car. Even my younger daughters are enjoying the story, although I am bit concerned that they may see the Herdman kids as inspiration. The story centers around the Herdman family. They are the meanest kids in town, and they end up with all the lead parts in the church Christmas pageant. The story is entertaining, and uplifting. It is also a quick read, making it great for families with limited time around the holidays.

Reading a specific book every year can be a great tradition, and can help us enjoy the holidays.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why join a book group?

People can have many different reasons for joining a book group. One of the book groups I was in for a few months was composed primarily of people that apparently joined it to motivate them to read one book in a month. They wanted to read fast, light reads. This didn't mesh well with my own reasons to join the group, since I was looking for more challenge. However, motivation to read is part of the book club experience. When you have a date that you are planning to discuss a book, it can help you continue reading a tough book.

Exposure to new genres and books is another reason to join a book group. Through book groups, I have read books I would have never picked up on my own. Sometimes I have found new favorites, and sometimes I have just stretched my experience. Which isn't a bad thing at all.

The discussions in a book group can help broaden your perspective and understanding of a specific book. There have been times that I have gone to a book group with a certain perspective on a book, and come away with a completely new perspective. What touches one person may not be what touches another. Meeting together to share thoughts and insights enriches us all.

I have met some amazing people through book groups. When you get to know each other by talking about the things you are learning about, you get to know each other in a unique way. Friendships can grow in a book group.

If you aren't skilled at agreeing to disagree, a book group is a good opportunity to practice. It builds speaking and discussion skills, if you participate. Book groups make you a better listener as well.

A book group can enrich your life in many different ways. Consider trying one out soon!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Gone With the Wind

Most of my close friends and family know that I love Gone With the Wind. It is a book that I come back to year after year. In fact, I just finished reading it for the second time this year. I find that I see the book differently each time that I read it. I continue to re-experience some of my past insights, while also gaining new ones.

My opinion of Scarlett is complicated. I admire her brash ability to take on the world, even while I think she is being an idiot about the people around her. I have the same mixed opinions of Melanie. She is also naive about people, but in a completely opposite way from Scarlett. She is also a strong woman taking on the world, but she manages to do it within the rules of society. Rhett and Ashley offer the same kind of counterpoint, although they both seem to see people much more clearly.

I highly recommend Gone With the Wind. If you have only seen the movie, you don't know what you are missing. The book gives you more insight into Scarlett's character, trials, and motivations. Every character is more developed in the book. Yes, it is a long book. But what is contained in all those pages has made it an enduring classic. Don't miss out on this book great book just because it is long!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Author Highlight: Lemony Snicket

My oldest daughter has been tearing through the Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events. I had read most of the books years ago, but stopped before the final books were released. As my daughter read the last few books, I read them too. The series is filled with unfortunate events, but they are often told in a humorous way. I had forgotten how somewhat unusual words are peppered throughout the book, with definitions provided. As a person who loves to play with words and learn new words, I found this to be a delightful diversion throughout the stories.

All told, we enjoyed Lemony Snicket's books, his clever way with words, and the adventures of the Baudelaire children. It provided several exciting discussions about choices, parents and children, and what it means to be a bad person. The books are a fun easy, read for both adults and children.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Year with Emily Dickinson

Poetry is such a different form of writing from prose, and there are often things that seem to be expressed more easily in poetry. Poetry does seem to take more effort on the part of the reader, and it often requires the reader to slow down enough to really take in the words.

Throughout 2010 I have read Emily Dickinson's poetry. My goal was to read at least 10 poems a month, as well as learn some things about her life. Most months I read many more than the 10 poems, and I have now finished reading my book of her poetry. It is titled The Collected Works of Emily Dickinson and in the front and back of the book it has essays about her poetry, a brief life sketch, and information about some of the other works that have been inspired by Emily Dickinson's work. For instance, Martha Graham choreographed a dance piece using one of Dickinson's poems as inspiration.

I have been inspired by some of Emily Dickinson's poetry, and I have enjoyed coming back to it each month. I think that next year I will do the same things with another poet or book of poetry, but I have not decided which one yet.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Minimalist Book Thoughts

A few days ago my husband sent me a link about minimalist living, which eventually led me to an article about Breaking the Sentimental Attachment to Books. I gave it a read because I have been thinking its time to weed out some of our books. It only took a few sentences before I was laughing. The author talks about the piles of books on every flat surface, which sounded quite familiar, but the mention of the two huge book shelves brought me up short. Two bookshelves? How huge? Did they span an entire wall? Or is she just talking about your average five shelf book shelf? Because this doesn't seem like that many books to me. The last time all my books fit on two tall five shelf book shelves was...never. When I took my books out of my parents house for the first time, they didn't fit on two bookshelves. And a lot of books have been added since then. Sometimes by the box.

After I calmed down a bit about the difference in scale between my book collection and the one mentioned in the article, I read the rest of the article. I did find it a helpful starting point for paring down the book collection. There are some good things to think about and ideas about evaluating what books to discard. But there is no way I am ever going to own only twenty books. I'm not even remotely interested in that.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Books Finished November 2010

Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest
Parenting: A House United by Nicholeen Peck
Parents and Children by Charlotte M. Mason
Righteous Influence by Lee Tom Perry
Servant of a Dark God by John Brown
The Culture Code by Clotaire Rapaille
The Dark Devine by Bree Despain
The Element by Ken Robinson
The End by Lemony Snicket
The Great American Staycation by Matt Wixon
The Journal of Curious Letters by James Dashner
The Limit by Kristin Landon
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket
The Writing Circle by Corinne Demas
Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

*These are books that I have finished reading. This list does not include books that I have skimmed. The list does not include picture books that I have read to my children, nor does it show all the other reading I have done. These books were finished in this month, but some may have taken considerable time to read, bit by bit.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Book Quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes

"The best of a book is not the thought which it contains, but the thought which it suggests: just as the charm of music dwells not in the tones but in the echoes of our hearts."--Oliver Wendell Holmes

Sometimes I read simply for enjoyment or escape. But other times, I am touched by a book and the ideas it suggests to me. These experiences are what brings me back again and again. Classics tend to have the universal themes and broad ideas that inspire and enlighten me. I like to read them for more than just the enjoyment of the story. Classics broaden my horizons in a way that isn't possible with most current fiction. With a classic, I know that it has universal themes because it has stood the test of time.

Monday, November 29, 2010

National Novel Writing Month Finale

This will be my last post on my National Novel Writing Experience this year. I have learned a lot, even though I didn't officially complete the challenge. In fact, I came in quite far below the 50,000 word challenge.

Would I go for the challenge again? Probably. I can see that in the future I might actually be able to arrange things so that I could reach the final tally. I liked having a goal to shoot for, and I wrote a lot more than I would have if I hadn't been aiming high.

What are some things I learned? I reaffirmed how much I enjoy writing. By pushing myself harder than normal, I was able to discover a realistic expectation for daily writing. I also learned how much I really need to get some post pre-written for this blog. I have been writing posts as I go, but would like to have a few posts ready to go for busy days.

Overall, NaNoWriMo was a good experience for me. I learned a lot and accomplished more than I would have otherwise.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Young Adult Books: Themes and Adult Readers

Typically, a YA book will deal with growing up, coming of age, or being misunderstood by adults. Is this storyline what draws adults today? Are we, as a culture, seeking for a vicarious coming of age because we are confused about what the exact path is to adulthood?

Our culture is lacking in rites of passage, and the way to become an adult is unclear. Ask five people when a person is an adult, and you are likely to get five different answers. Young adult books may outline a path to adulthood, or it may simply follow a young persons quest of becoming an adult. This is a prevalent them for this type of book. When adults are drawn to books with this kind of theme, it does seem to suggest that they are looking for answers themselves.

Another theme typical for YA books is young love or early dating experiences. Can this be part of the allure of young adult books? Could this be an indication that we desire those early romantic relationships, and value those relationships above stable, long term relationships?

The upswing in the popularity of YA books could be a sign that our society is feeling greater attraction towards infatuation. In many of the books, it does appear that these young relationships are going to be long term, but that is all in the future. Balancing other life experiences with love over the long term is not a common theme for YA books.

Maybe it is these themes, or others, that is attracting so many people to YA books. What is this trend saying about the people who are reading these books?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Book Groups in my Life

I have been part of several different book groups. Right now I am a member of a great book group, but I have had both positive and negative experiences in the past. In a late post, I will go into more detail about what is great about the current book group, but now I want to focus on past experiences.

Some of the negatives have been because of differing expectations for a book group. In one group that I briefly joined, the chosen book was going to be the only reading some of the group members did that month. Most of those members wanted something light and fun. The commitment was keeping them motivated to read, and they felt that one book a month challenged them enough. The group discussions were much like the books, light and popular. There was little disagreement during discussion and, for me, no challenge in reading the books. The book choice was often a book without a lot of depth. During this experience, I recommended a deeper book. Many of the women in the group simply refused to read the book and didn't come to that discussion session. This was disheartening for me, and I think I only went back to two meetings after that.

Another book group that I was part of was good for the most part, but there was one individual that could not tolerate differences of opinion. She would simply talk over anyone who disagreed with her. This led to discussions that were sometimes rather shallow.

Some of the positive experiences I have had with book groups were helped by good book selection. Some books lend themselves to deeper discussion, and more topics for discussion. The book Life of Pi is an example of one of the great book club selections from one of these positive experiences. It includes some of the following topics for possible discussion: religion, coming of age, zoos and animal treatment, how people can be like animals, emigration, being orphaned, India and Canada. This is just one book, and the list doesn't include every possible topic from it.

Another positive experience was with a small group that fluctuated between four to six members. We rotated the book selection and hosting. This worked well because we were all choosing books with multiple possible discussion topics. We were able to read a good variety of books before the group members moved or had scheduling difficulties.

Book clubs can be a wonderful or frustrating way to share what we are reading. More on this topic to come!

Friday, November 19, 2010

National Novel Writing Month Update Week 3

Yes, I am still writing for NaNoWriMo. I realize that my last post about NaNoWriMo was a bit gloomy. It wasn't really my intention to be negative. I am still working on the book, and it is progressing.

I won't be making it to 50,000 words. I have a greatly modified number of words that I am shooting for. I realize, after reading some of the "Pep talks" sent out by the NaNoWriMo website, that many people feel that the final count is what matters. But that was never really the entire point for me. I wanted to see what it was like, and what the hype was about.

I plan on attempting this project again in the future, with 50,000 words as a definite goal. But this time I was going for more of an experience. And I am definitely getting it.

What I've learned: I am not at a point in my life that a number goal of 1600 or so words a day makes sense. I am a homeschooling mom of four kids ages 3 to 12, and I can't take a month off to write at this point. I can actually fit anywhere from 500 to 1000 words into my schedule every day. I am pretty sure I could do this indefinitely. It would mean reading less, but I think I can do that. I have things that I want to write and I want to get them written and out into the world. I am glad that I attempted NaNoWriMo, and I am continuing to write the novel I started for the project. I'm learning a lot.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Limit

Kristin Landon has done a great job creating a believable future world, in which if your family exceeds their debt limit the oldest child can be taken to a workhouse to work off the debt. The main character in this young adult novel is a boy named Matt. He is smart, but his parents aren't good with money. They go over their limit and Matt is taken. His contact with the outside world is blocked and he discovers that all is not as it should be.

I found this book to be fascinating. Landon has introduced a few ideas that seem like they could actually happen in the future. It's clear from the beginning of the book that the people agreed to this program, but the government has begun pushing it further than the original intention. This idea seemed eerily familiar to me.

I highly recommend this book. Young adults and adults alike will enjoy this book. It was fairly fast paced, with interesting characters and a unique science fiction world. This might be a good introduction to science fiction for younger readers.

Monday, November 15, 2010

An Experiment in Reading: The Quick and the Dead

A while ago I read Education of a Wandering Man by Louis L'amour, and realized that I had never actually read any of his fiction books. So, it went on my mental to-do list, and languished there for a few months. However, that has now been remedied. I read The Quick and the Dead.

It was an interesting experiment, considering it brings my Western novel consumption to a grand total of two books. I found the book to be a good, quick read. It had lots of action and was about what I expect from a Western: lone gunmen, groups of unruly men, semi-helpless women, etc. But it just isn't really my thing. There wasn't enough of what I love: character development, compelling relationships, and unique plot.

I read this book as a way to broaden my reading range. I have great respect for Louis L'amour because of Education of a Wandering Man. However, I think I just don't really enjoy Westerns. I might be interesting in reading one that has more of the things I enjoy in books. Any suggestions are welcome.

Friday, November 12, 2010

National Novel Writing Month Update Week 2

I can't do it. I am not keeping up with the requisite word count. I want to, and I have ideas. Lots and lots of them.

It is the time commitment. I am still writing, still plunging forward with this experiment. However, I am not writing the full number of required words. Forget getting ahead. I can't even keep up.

This isn't the same as term papers written, invariably, in the hours before a class. The words do not just flow out easily, as they did for most school work. I am drowning in a sea of words.

Also, one of the major downfalls of NaNoWriMo is apparent--there is no time for research. This is pretty unfortunate for me, because some of my plot revolves around a medical condition. The rich details that I would love to add are missing because I simply haven't the time to do the research necessary to add them.

So here is my revised goal: Continue, with high hopes. Also with the recognition that I may not make the full 50,000 words. But I will have a lot more words written at the end of the month than I would have if not for this experiment.

P.S. I plan to do research when the month is over so that I can add the needed details.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Brown Ink

I recently read a book that was printed with brown ink. I have noticed a number of current books are beginning to be printed with the brown ink. It does remind me a bit of old sepia toned photographs, and I think the idea is to create an aged look to the book. This can help set the tone of the novel, subtly transporting the reader to a different world or time.

After reading the book and considering the brown ink, I began to realize how much a book's aesthetic really does make a difference. Certain fonts are more difficult to read, and tend to scream "self-published" to me. Also, the type of paper and the largeness of the print can contribute to the pleasantness of reading a particular book. Even the largeness of a particular book can limit the readability. (Trying to read War and Peace lying down, for instance, isn't something I can recommend.)

Books aren't just about the words on the page. There is something that contributes or detracts from the experience that is part of the physical nature of the book.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Young Adult Books: Attracting Large Adult Audiences

Young adult (YA) books are rising on the bestseller's list, and many adults are gravitating to these books. Why are adults so drawn to these books that are written primarily for a younger audience?

At this point in my life, I read children's, juvenile, young adult, and adult literature. My children's reading levels are diverse enough to justify the entire spectrum of reading. I don't shy away from much when it comes to reading, and I think that the lines between these categories are often blurry. I enjoy books written for every level.

Often young adult books are cleaner, with less swearing, violence, and sex, which could be attractive to a number of adult audiences. However, this has been changing, with some YA books becoming quite graphic in both language and content. (Much to my surprise when I randomly picked up a young adult book a few months ago, intending to preview it for my advanced 11 year old reader. It didn't make the cut.) Most of the YA books that are selling to adults are on the cleaner side.

I think this could be part of the reason for the popularity of Young Adult books among adults. I also think it is partly for other reasons as well. Stay tuned for more of my thoughts on this topic.

Friday, November 5, 2010

National Novel Writing Month Update Week 1

It is day five of National Novel Writing Month. My first thoughts on this experience: this is a thing only crazy people do! But here I am, still plugging along. I even have a story that is, if I do say so myself, compelling. I can't wait to see where my characters are going to take the story. I do have a rough outline of how I think it is going to go, but I have already had some surprises when actually writing.

I am gaining greater respect for novel writers. It is a lot of fun, but also work.

Most days it has been difficult to find the time to do the writing. Evidently, the computer is like the phone. When I use it, my children see it as a signal that I must be talked to right that second.

Also, I am not reading as much as I normally do. Writing is taking away from the time I usually read. Which is fine for a month, but I am starting to miss it.

One thing I am worried about: Thanksgiving. Its a big deal for us. We go to my husband's parents, and Black Friday is a big deal for the women in the family. Maybe I can do some extra writing ahead of time, so I have less to write those few days.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Boxmaker's Son

This is the story of an LDS man remembering his father, his hero. The memories are from many different ages, but the respect for his father continues throughout the book. What I loved most about this book: the gentle, lyrical language. The memories are related in a way that evokes nostalgia. I also liked that it took place in Oregon, an area that I am familiar with.

This book is a short read, yet tugs at the heart. It sure to stir memories of childhood and fathers. I felt that seeing the father through his child's eyes was a bit like living with a father like that myself.

Read this book for a short, sentimental journey through the eyes of a man who adored his father. This book will appeal to those with a need to see positive relationships between a parent and child.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Books Finished October 2010

Almost Sisters by Nancy Anderson, and Lael Littke, and Carroll Hofeling Morris
An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldan
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
Chasing Windmills by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Codex by Lev Grossman
Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George
Drive: The Surprising Truth about What motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
I Will Teach You to be Rich by Ramit Sethi
Instead of Education by John Holt
Raising a Family Up to the Lord by Gene R. Cook
Spend Well, Live Rich by Michelle Singletary
The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss
The Boxmaker's Son by Donald S. Smurthwaite
The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes
The Dead-tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
The God Engines by John Scalzi
The Grim Grotto by Lemony Snicket
The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment by A.J. Jacobs
The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton
The Quick and the Dead by Louis L'amour
Things I Want My Daughters to Know by Elizabeth Noble
Unexpectedly Milo by Matthew Dicks
Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin

*These are books that I have finished reading. This list does not include books that I have skimmed. The list does not include picture books that I have read to my children, nor does it show all the other reading I have done. These books were finished in this month, but some may have taken considerable time to read, bit by bit.

Friday, October 29, 2010

National Novel Writing Month

In 1999 a small group of people got together with an idea: write a novel in 30 days. The first year there were 21 participants. The number of participants has grown to thousands (165,000 in 2009). Last year more than 30,000 people wrote 50,000 words. This event takes place every year during the month of November.

This year I am taking the challenge. I will attempt to write a novel in 30 days. I will post on my progress weekly here on the blog. I have the beginnings of a plot developing in my mind, and I am excited to get started. It will be an interesting experiment. If you are interested in joining me on this adventure go to to find out more.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Surprising Library Resources

Most people do not use the library fully. They may not be aware of all the great resources available at the local library. Here are some of the resources available for checkout at my library:

-books, books, and more books
-music cds
-books on cd and tape
-sheet music
-playaway books, which is basically a special mp3 player loaded with just one book
-Games for Wii, playstation, and other game consoles
-movies on vcr and dvd
-tv series on dvd
-kidpacks, filled with fun things on a topic (the music one has a video, musical instruments, and books on music)

Resources at my library, not for checkout:

-internet access
-Interlibrary loan, get any book you want from the extended library system
-literacy classes
-Free presentations about community topics
-bulletin board with community information
-children's programs
-teen programs
-family game night with movie
-various animals to see in the children's area
-read to a therapy dog
-interesting displays that rotate regularly

What is the best resource you have found at your library?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Unexpectedly Milo

What if you had an uncontrollable urge to open jars of jelly? Or sing a certain song karaoke? What if you also attempted to keep these urges a secret from everyone around you, including your wife? Milo has been keeping his compulsions secret for a long time, and his life is cracking at the seams.

In his newest offering, Matthew Dicks once again allows a glimpse into the inner world of a troubled individual. Milo, the main character of this book, has compulsions that he must fulfill. He feels that he has been managing pretty well, but the dilapidated state of his marriage indicates otherwise. In his distress, an unexpected discovery leads him to re-evaluate his policy of keeping his compulsions a secret.

For an intriguing look into the world of a person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, read Unexpectedly Milo. This book is also for anyone who has ever felt they couldn't be true to themselves. I found myself unable to set this book down, because it so easily showed me the world from Milo's viewpoint.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Way of Kings

Brandon Sanderson, one of my favorite authors, has begun an epic series. The Way of Kings is the first in this series, and it is a great beginning. After reading it my first response was "wow" and my second response was "dang, now I have to wait for him to finish writing the series."

This series has a unique magic system. I have noticed an interesting trend in Brandon Sanderson's magic systems-he tends to use natural phenomena to enhance, control or create magic. It works because he not only seems to have an unlimited supply of ideas on how to do this, but it also makes sense. We, the readers, can wrap our minds around the fact that such-and-such natural phenomenon leads to such-and-such magical result.

In this new series, the magic is an integral part of the story. However, the people and their motives, relationships, and dilemmas are what make the story really great. As a reader, I came to care about the people in this book. I felt their pain, and hoped their hopes.

The great thing about an epic fantasy is that you get to follow the characters and story line over the course of a long time. Ideas are fully explored and developed. The down side to this is that it takes time. Questions are often unanswered from book to book, and the wait between books can be excruciating. I just want to be clear that this isn't a one-tome book. It is the awesome beginning of what promises to be a great series. Now we just have to wait for the rest of the books.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Book Borrowing

I borrow books from our library a lot. I pay fines when I am late, and have on occasion had to pay to replace a lost or damaged book. I purchase my own books too, but I rely heavily on the library for supplementation to my private book collection.

Sometimes I borrow books from friends. I work hard to keep track of them and take care of them. I think I have returned them all. But I have loaned a lot of books to other people that I never got back. I have become a bit more selective about what books I am willing to loan out. I tend to loan fiction more frequently. I don't like to loan books that were difficult to purchase or expensive to replace. (My definition of expensive is pretty low. I buy most of my books second hand.) My favorite nonfiction books tend to get opened often, so I don't really like to loan those. But overall, that still leaves a lot of books that I am willing to loan out.

The borrowing and loaning of books is an old practice. Abraham Lincoln would walk miles to borrow books from neighbors. Benjamin Franklin founded America's first lending library. Books used to be quite expensive, which encouraged lending through libraries and throughout communities. Even though books are less expensive now, libraries continue to be an excellent resource for many books.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Guinea Pig diaries: My Life as an Experiment

A couple years ago I read A.J. Jacobs first book, The Know-It-All, which I found entertaining. So, when I saw this book on the library shelf I picked it up. The first page of the Introduction drew me in and I didn't put the book down until I finished. The book is about a series of life experiments Jacobs tries out, one month at a time. He attempts Radical Honesty, outsources much of his life, and pampers his wife, among other experiments. These experiments lead to interesting interactions with other people.

One of the things I like the most about the book is Jacob's wife, Julie. She puts up with a lot of strange behavior from her husband, but she seems to pretty much roll with it. It is a lovely demonstration of a committed marriage. No roommate or girlfriend would put up with some of these experiments.

One of the experiments Jacobs attempted was to stop multitasking. He tried to limit himself to doing one thing at a time. (Ironically, I read that chapter while eating. Multitasking at work!) His willingness to take the experiments to extremes is demonstrated throughout the book.

The insights that Jacobs shares at the end of the book about how these experiments effected him long term are almost enough to convince me to try out some of the experiments. I can see how taking something to the fullest can make the big picture become clearer.

This book is a fun non-fiction read. I recommend it for adults. Be prepared for both entertaining stories and a fresh look at some of your every day behaviors.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Abstinence Teacher

I picked up this book based on its cover. The title and cover seemed interesting, and after I read the back I thought it would be good. It wasn't quite what I thought it would be from skimming the description on the back. Here's what I thought I was reading: Abstinence teacher encounters opposition, possibly adjusting her methods.

Basically, the book is about a woman who has taught health for years. She makes a comment that is misconstrued and is then forced by the school board to teach abstinence only when a religious group sues the school. She does not believe in abstinence education, and therefore fights the change all the way. There is also a character in the book who is a member of the religious group, who is struggling with living the religion. These two characters come together in an unlikely association.

This book is written from a very liberal perspective. The religious people are all shown as either fanatics, or private defectors. When the main character discovers that a family member wants to attend church, she comes close to having a panic attack. There is contempt for teaching abstinence, and an insistence on the idea that all teenagers are having sex. No middle ground is ever explored, which was surprising to me. The cover certainly seemed to indicate that middle ground would be explored.

My personal belief is that teenagers should be taught about oxytocin and its powerful bonding effects, and the impact sex will have on their emotions because of this. All people, especially teenagers with their developing selves, should be encouraged to wait longer in relationships before having sex. This idea or other similar "middle ground" ideas are what I was expecting from the book. I feel that the author does the reader a disservice by not at least exploring these ideas.

What bothered me the most about this book: the obvious agenda. Its true that part of the problem was my own expectations. But another part of the problem was the heavy hand of the author. I like to read stories that give me insights into other people's world views. I like to see a situation from a different perspective. I probably would have come away with at least a better understanding of ideas so different from my own, even if I didn't come to agree. I don't like to have another person's world view rammed down my throat. I don't like my fiction to preach at me. I would not recommend this book unless you are anti-religious and liberal.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Wednesday Sisters

I didn't really know what to expect with this book, because the title was recommended to me with no additional information. I knew it was a fiction book, but that was pretty much it. As I began reading it, I initially thought it was just another story about a group of women friends. But it is more than that. The women, brought together by the neighborhood park, decide to start a writing group. They write, read each others writings, and critique them. They meet every week. Their lives go through normal ups and downs, but their friendships and writing brings them strength.

This book is a light, quick read. The friendships are the focal point of the book. I found the book to be entertaining and inspiring. This book would make a good vacation read, if you are looking for something with an interesting story line.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Dead-Tossed Waves

Carrie Ryan's sequel to The Forest of Hands and Teeth is just as good as the first book. The world continues to be overrun by zombies. This book keeps the story fresh because it takes place in a different location, with its own traditions and beliefs about the zombies. Typically zombies aren't really my thing, but the way that Carrie Ryan writes about people makes the story very compelling and even believable.

When the phrase "the dead-tossed waves" is used in the book it accompanies the most chilling word picture I can ever recall reading. I stayed up late to finish the book two nights ago and the scene is still rolling around in my mind.

If you enjoyed Carrie Ryan's first book, you will definitely enjoy this one too. It is a truly well done sequel. If you aren't sure about zombies, don't discount these books. The characters are so realistic that their struggles carry the book. The relationships and the dilemma posed by a world hedged in by fear are what makes these books great.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Books Finished September 2010

Austenland by Shannon Hale
Genius Squad by Catherine Jinks
Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver
Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers by Gordon Nuefeld and Gabor Mate
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
Steady Days by Jamie C. Martin
The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrota
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin
The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
When Children Love to Learn by Elaine Cooper

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Author Highlight: Brandon Sanderson

I have recommended Brandon Sanderson's books more often in the past year than any other author's books. He is an amazing author of fantasy books. He has the ability to create unique magic systems and worlds with every series/book he writes. His first published book, Elantris, is a stand alone novel, which is great for a quick preview of his style and ideas. Warbreaker is another stand alone of his, and it was a great quick read as well.

When I read the Mistborn Trilogy I was subtly reminded of the game Magic: The Gathering, and was delighted to learn later that Brandon Sanderson had indeed drawn some of his inspiration from that game. The magic system reflects that inspiration, but the plot line is original and exciting.

Each new book of his that I read, I am excited to see the new and interesting way Brandon plays with magic systems. His characters seem real, and his story lines run smooth.

Most of Brandon's books are written for adults, but he also has a great series for middle readers. Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, the first of his youth series, is a hilarious story of a young boy with a special talent for breaking things.

Brandon Sanderson has a new book, which I just finished reading. It is called The Way of Kings, and is the first in a new series. I plan to review that book more in depth soon.

For a great read, check out anything by Brandon Sanderson. To learn more about this amazing author and his current projects, visit his website at

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Forgotten Book

This past weekend I went into a book shop in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I saw an intriguing book and skimmed the back cover. I didn't have paper with me to write down the name of the book. I came out of the book shop, and continued shopping. Later, I realized that I had forgotten the name of the book.

Sadly, the weekend trip is over. I have no name for this book, only a desire to locate it and read its contents.

I may have to visit another book shop again soon, where I will wander through the aisles trying to find the forgotten book. Will I even be certain that I have found the right one?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Book Love Thoughts

I like the feel of books in my hand, and the smell of paper. I like how the right side gets lighter as I progress through the book. I judge books by their covers. If it doesn't have a good title and cover, I might not even pick it up. I love getting book recommendations from friends. I will give those books a try no matter what their title or cover.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Aprilynne Pike's second book about the world of fairies builds on the concepts of the first book, and furthers the story. In both books, she creates a unique world of fairies. Wings is the name of the first book, Spells is the recent release, and there are four books planned for the series. This book is written for young adults, and is therefore an easy read for adults. If you like fairy stories, you may like this unique twist on an old theme.

This story also provided some interesting discussions at our house about dating because the main character, Laurel, is caught between two competing love interests. This dilemma highlights the larger dilemma of her life, that of being caught between the human world and the fairy world.

This story will be enjoyed by girls, and perhaps adults, that are interested in fairy stories.

Monday, September 6, 2010

"A lot of books"

In our front room we have a tall bookshelf full of books. This bookshelf represents only a small fraction of the number of books populating our home. There are books in every room. A few days ago I had a visitor that said "you have a lot of books." I realized that she meant just the books in our front room, so I kind of chuckled. Then I led her into the den where she could see the five bookshelves overflowing with books. She was shocked. (Trust me, I am equally shocked when I go to people's houses that don't have books. They never seem like homes to me.) My visitor then asked if I had read all of the books. Nope. But I plan to eventually.

We do have a lot books. Occasionally, I feel the need to purge some books and then I get rid of some of them. I typically donate them, but sometimes I sell them in exchange for credit at the used bookstore. Because if I visit the used bookstore, you know I'm walking out with books. But the books keep creeping back up to larger numbers. They are tucked away in various corners and nooks. So, if you come to my house don't be fooled by the books you see--that's not all of them.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers

Do you know a child who is more connected to their peers than parents? Do you want to feel the closeness with your child again? The authors of this book show how peer-oriented attachment interferes with healthy child development, and why attachment to parents and adults is important.

This book explains attachment in a very clear, understandable way. It shows how children may have lost their attachment to parents and other adults. Even better, the book outlines a plan and solutions for keeping children attached to parents or helping them find that attachment if it has been lost. The steps are not complicated, and are possible for any parent who is sincerely looking for the missing connection with their child.

The final paragraph in the text is worth the price of the book.

I think all parents should read this book. It describes succinctly and clearly concepts that are of vital importance to our parenting. It helps make obvious an underlying dynamic in parenting that many parenting books do not address. If you are a parent, or if you work closely with children or adolescents, you should definitely read this book.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Books Finished August 2010

Angel Song by Sheila Walsh and Kathryn Cushman
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks
Free Range Knitter: The Yarn Harlot Write Again by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee
Get Known Before the Book Deal by Christina Katz
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Not Buying It by Judith Levine
Parenting: A House United by Nicholeen Peck
Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher
Spells by Aprilynne Pike
The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf
Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto
Young Wives by Olivia Goldsmith
Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded by John Scalzi

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Author Highlight: Suzanne Collins

Yesterday I finished the third book in the The Hunger Games Trilogy. I haven't read anything else by Suzanne Collins, but I enjoyed these books immensely. These books are so well-written I want to read everything by Collins.

The trilogy is written for young adults, but adults will enjoy this thought-provoking read as well. Each year in the Panem, the Hunger Games pit children against one another in a fight to the death. In this post-apocalyptic society, those in the Capitol live in luxury while the 12 Districts live in poverty. This story is one of courage and self-discovery. All three books in the trilogy are gripping and move the story along.

I could not put these books down. I highly recommend them. Set aside some time, and get these books.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Weight of Silence

Heather Gudenkauf is another new author with an amazing first novel. This book reminded me of Jodi Picoult's work because she deals with high stress situations and relationships that feel real. As each character's unique viewpoint is told, you truly see the world from that character's perspective. In this gripping book, two young best friends go missing at the same time. As the families of the two girls search for them, the reader gets to know some of the hidden world of each family.

If you enjoy Jodi Picoult, you will enjoy this book. It is an insightful look into what happens in a family when a child disappears. It also deals with issues of spousal abuse and parenthood. What makes a good parent? This is one of the questions this book asks.

I highly recommend The Weight of Silence, and look forward to any more books Heather Gudenkauf might write.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Help

After anxiously awaiting a copy of this book, I have it in my possession and have read it. It was great. This is Kathryn Stockett's first book, which sadly means it is her only current offering. I will definitely pick up any other books she might write.

This book is an insightful treatment of what it was like to be "the help" in the South in the 60's. The story revolves around three women, two black women with differing experiences and one white woman who wants to help them tell their story. Together these courageous women uncover the hidden side of the conundrum of the help. Stockett does a beautiful job of letting the reader into the world that she is portraying. She highlights the way that the help was both trusted to raise children and distrusted in a myriad of other ways. She shows how the affection between the women of both races was tenuous because of the many social rules that they lived with.

I recommend this book as a must read. I think all adults and some teenagers would benefit from reading this book. There is a nice mix of humor, tenderness, and serious life issues in this novel. It will be especially enjoyed by those interested in the Civil Rights Movement in the USA.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Help Surprise

I am a little bit confused by this, but I have the book The Help from the library. It was suddenly on hold for me, after looking like I still had to wait for over 100 people to get it. Now I am wondering, how did this happen. Was that big number of people waiting for the book wrong? Does the library inflate this number, or did over 100 people simply decide they didn't want to wait any longer? I don't know. I have begun the book, and am excited to have it so much sooner than anticipated.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Books in Bed

One day when my oldest daughter was eight, I discovered that her bed was literally covered in books. She slept on the top bunk and I hadn't been up there in a while, because I was in an unwieldy pregnant state. When I say that her bed was covered in books, some naive people may be under the impression that this means a mere five or ten or even twenty books. Those people would be quite wrong. No, the books were five or ten thick covering the entire surface of her bed. They were children's books and therefore thin, but the poor child probably hadn't felt the mattress in weeks.

I think the obvious question that comes to mind at this point is why I wasn't aware that so many books were missing. The answer is that we have such an abundance of children's books that I had no idea. (The eternal state of our bookshelves will now be easy to guess--unruly.) I did realize that some books were up there on her bed, but the magnitude was surprising. She was supposed to be sticking of a limit to five books in the bed each night. She may have even been sticking to that limit, but neglecting to put away any of the books.

Reading is a delightful way to end the day, but books are not always very comfortable in bed. It is a skill to read a large hardback book while lying on one's side, and I certainly have logged plenty of hours trying to learn it. Paperbacks are so much easier to navigate that for a while I declared a personal rule of no hardbacks in bed. This lasted for a good six months before I succumbed to the whiles of Gone With The Wind. Falling asleep on a paperback isn't much more comfortable than a hardback. Some paperbacks are so large the pages flop back and forth if you read them with any tilt at all. And the thicker the book, the more impossible the whole scenario becomes.

Even though reading in bed can present its own unique challenges, I won't stop. I will continue to fall asleep with a book in hand more often than I would like. My rest will continue to be disturbed by paper companions. I will lose sleep as I stay up later than any sane person would to see what happens next. Books in bed are part of my life, and have been for as long as I can remember.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Hold Update 6: The Help

I am now the 187th person waiting for the book The Help. The library now has 66 copies of the book. I think this puts my current wait time at approximately 10 weeks. The time has been passing much faster than I initially estimated. Hooray for the library!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Young Wives

I picked up this book because it was an interesting title. I decided to bring it home because the book jacket stated that it was by the same author as "The First Wives Club." I saw that movie and found it entertaining, so I decided to give the book a try. It was a mildly entertaining read, if you aren't expecting a plot too different from "The First Wives Club." It doesn't begin the same and the individual stories of the three women are unique to this book, but it began to take on a very familiar plot towards the second half of the book.

I also want to point out that this book title is misleading, since by the end of it none of these women can really be called wives. So instead of a story about women who are young and beginning their marriages, it is a story about women who are young and are ending their marriages.

If you are not experiencing a negative situation at the hands of a man, this book may be mildly entertaining. Perhaps it would make a good vacation read. If I was a woman currently or recently victimized by a man, I would probably find some parts of this book inspiring and empowering. I can recommend this book to women in such situations.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The "List"

I don't keep a formal list of what I want to read in a particular place. I have a notebook that I jot down notes and ideas in when I am reading, and occasionally books I am interested in reading will be written down there as well. This helps me remember book recommendations or books mentioned in other books. If I have access to my computer when I get a book recommendation, it might go on a library list.

I have books that I want to read that are not written anywhere. Some of them are classics that I haven't had the opportunity to get to yet. One book I have on my unwritten list is Wuthering Heights. I have tried to read this book on three separate occasions, and I even know the general plot and characters. I haven't made it through the book. However, I have a number of friends that really enjoy it, and I would like to read it for this reason.

This list has also manifested itself in physical form. There are books in my house that I haven't read yet. I purchased them or received them as gifts, but they languish on the shelf. Why do I keep putting books on hold at the library, if I have unread books at home? This question has a complicated answer. (Which I may delve into in a future post, but not today.)

I have attempted to write out a to-be-read list in the past, but the pace of my reading quickly outdistanced the list. It was frustrating, and I felt constrained to read a specific book at a specific time. The lack of system is working pretty well for me right now.

Hold Update 5: The Help

I am now #211 on the hold queue at the library for the book The Help. This puts my estimated time till acquisition at twelve weeks. After this long wait, I hope the book is a great read.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Double Dipping For Readers

Double dipping is considered a bad thing when it comes to food. It's not polite to put the same piece of food back in the communal dip. But when it comes to reading, double dipping is a great thing. If you know you will have to spend time waiting, or even if you think you might, a book will make the time go faster. Books are portable, and can be enjoyed almost anywhere.

I like to take nonfiction with me when I think I will be reading on the go. It seems easier to read in snippets when it is nonfiction. Fiction can be more difficult to wrench myself away from.

Typically, everywhere I go, a book goes. I choose my purses based on whether they are big enough for a standard book. I have read books in waiting rooms, fast food drive-thrus, parks, hospitals, and that is just the beginning. (I don't recommend reading and driving as a double dip. It's extremely hard and dangerous.)

What about you? Do you take books with you on the go?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Books Finished July 2010

12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time: A Semi-dysfunctional Family Circumnavigates the Globe
A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
Discord's Apple by Carrie Vaughn
Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Gossamer by Lois Lowry
Heaven Bound by Lynn C. Jaynes
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Making Money Freelance Writing by Editors of Writer's Digest
Making the Perfect Pitch by Katherine Sands
Ruined by Reading by Lynne Sharon Schwartz
Sidetracked Home Executives by Pam Young and Peggy Jones
The 5,000 Year Leap by W. Cleon Skousen
The Brothers by Chris Stewart
The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Infinite Atonement by Tad R. Callister
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
Undead and Unwed by MaryJanice Davidson
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Write that Book Already by Sam Barry and Kathi Kamen Goldmark
Writer's Market Guide to Getting Published by Editors of Writer's Digest
Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

*These are books that I have finished reading. This list does not include books that I have skimmed. The list does not include picture books that I have read to my children, nor does it show all the other reading I have done. These books were finished in this month, but some may have taken considerable time to read, bit by bit.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Author Highlight: David McCullough

You may be familiar with David McCullough because of his popular book 1776. This is a man that makes history come alive. Of his books I have read, my favorite is John Adams. Because of the amazing amount of research and care that McCullough puts into his books, I learned so much about this great man. I look up to John Adams so much, and admire his sacrifices for our country. I love the relationship that he and his wife, Abigail, had. And I owe this admiration and respect to David McCullough's work.

I never knew much about the Panama Canal, but I learned because of the research that McCullough did. He makes the people leap off the page and their circumstances unforgettable. His real skill is in showing the good and the bad, the truth unvarnished. He does this in such a way that I come away respecting the history he has displayed through his books.

McCullough's books are filled with information that is left out of brief histories and textbooks. His books are generally big, with lots of endnotes (very satisfactory for nerds like me) and details. These books are an investment of time and thought. But they are so worth it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Library Musing

At our library, each card can have five books on hold at once. The limit used to be ten, but last May (2009) the libraries in the area all changed this. All the libraries in the Treasure Valley are part of the hold system, so each patron has access to a much larger system. I can go online, log in to the library, and search for every book available in the system. (For some reason, the system is also linked to Twin Falls Library, but that is a tease. I am not allowed to put those books on hold.) Interlibrary loan is available through a different process.

When the book limit for holds dropped down to five books, I promptly helped my oldest child get a library card. This soon proved to be inadequate for our library needs, and my second child has also received a library card. Its working great. The kids do have books on hold, but most of the selections are for me. No one has questioned why my eight year old is checking out books that are clearly for more advanced readers.

Here's where it gets tricky. The library puts the hold books on a special shelf when they come in. They put the first four letters of the last name and the last four numbers of the library card on a slip of paper in the book. The hold books are then shelved alphabetically by last name. No big deal, right? Each member of my family has their own card number, and pretty soon I knew which was which. But husband got a card at our new branch. The last four numbers that the library uses to differentiate each person are the same as our oldest child's last four numbers. Its statistically improbable that this would occur, but we beat the odds. When I pick up the books on hold, I have to know which card each book belongs to. Not that hard really, because the library won't even let you check out a hold book on a different card.

Two of the librarians, however, have taken issue with the duplicate card numbers. They appear flustered and distressed every time I check out with books from the two cards. They say we must come in and get the problem fixed. Why are they so upset? We have it figured out. Its under control. The other librarians seem okay with it. It just doesn't seem like that big of a deal to us.

We have books to pick up at the library. I hope we get the right librarian.

Hold Update 4: The Help

I still have The Help on hold at the library. I am still quite a long way from receiving the book. In the last week, I have dropped down to number 253 in the list of people waiting for this book. I can expect the book in about fourteen and a half weeks.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Angry Housewives Eating BonBons

Isn't that a great title? I just loved it. The title alone made me want to pick up this book and see what it was about. In this book, Lorna Landvik has followed a group of women throughout the course of their adult lives. They are a book club, and this book is about them, the books they read, and the friendships they form in the club. With a bit of humor, this book manages to show several different personalities and life situations as well as the normal ups and downs of life. Friendships grow and change, and the women in the book are influenced by each other as well as the books they read and share.

I felt an affinity to these women because I have been a member of several book groups. I know how hard it can be to find or create a good one, and I was inspired by the length of time the book club existed. This is a good book for women who are in a book club, or for people unsure of what the benefits of a book club may be. This was an entertaining read, although it does deal with serious issues because it follows the women over the course of thirty years. This book also highlights a different book with each chapter, which might be a bonus for those looking for ideas of books to read.

Landvik was a new author for me. I will look for another book by her in the future.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter

This is a book about a woman who is as fanatical about knitting as I am about reading. When she began to talk about the "stash" of yarn in her house and all the hiding places for her yarn, it had a ring of familiarity. Only my stash isn't yarn. My stash is books. And I got some new ideas about where to hide books from reading where Stephanie Pearl-McPhee keeps her yarn.

If you like to knit, you will enjoy this book. You may also enjoy it if you have a passion that causes you to accumulate stuff. I thought this book was hilarious. It is a quick read.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hold Update 3: The Help

It has been another week. I am now #278 on hold for the book The Help. I figure this means that I will get the book in approximately 16 weeks. That is an estimated week and a half less than last week's calculated wait time. Sixteen weeks is about 4 months, so my wait time is shrinking.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Elizabeth walked off the pages and into my heart. Here is a heroine that seems real. She isn't perfect and her story doesn't end the way I wished, but I was changed. It is characters like Elizabeth that make fiction worthwhile. They give us strength to heal and courage to fight for justice. In fact, all the characters in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society have things to tell us about life.

The format of this book threw me off a bit at first, because it is a collection of letters. I wasn't expecting that, even though this book had been recommended to me several times. I am glad I continued on, because this is a great book. It is set in 1946 and revolves around an author and the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Guernsey was occupied by German troops during World War II, during which time the people of Guernsey were not allowed contact with the outside world. During this time of occupation, some of the people formed a literary society. Many of the members were not really readers, but they found that reading benefited them in unexpected ways.

I think this is a book for every adult. We all have times when courage and strength are needed. This book is fairly easy reading, once you get used to the fact that it is comprised of letters. The characters seem like real people, and the situation they find themselves in is based in historical fact. I gained a different view of WWII from reading this book. This is also a good book for book clubs, because there are a number of different topics and issues to discuss.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Poetry Appreciation

When I was in tenth grade, my English teacher spent about one half of the year on "poetry appreciation". If this had been my only experience with poetry, I am certain I would despise poetry. We were required to count the meter of the poetry and listen to our teacher's explanation of what the poem meant. We were not allowed to disagree with her explanation. Tests were given as essays in which we were expected to parrot back her explanation of the poems.

I objected to this analytical way to appreciate poetry. I loved poetry, and had dabbled in writing my own verse. I tended to read poems for the feel of them, allowing the pictures they painted to form in my mind. Unsurprisingly, there came a day when I disagreed with this teacher's explanation of a particular poem. I wanted to know if I was allowed to put my own interpretation of the poem on the test, should the poem be covered on the next exam. She accused me of cheating, because I must have seen the test. The test day came, and this poem was on the test. I wrote down my own interpretation of the poem, with supporting information. I failed that question.

I don't write this to put down English teachers. I had just the one bad English teacher experience. I am using this to illustrate how many people might think they don't enjoy poetry because of a similar negative experience. After an experience like this, poetry may never be approached again. But you probably have more experience with poetry that you like than you realize. Most songs are poems, and a good one will stick in your head for days.

Some good beginning poetry books include any of Shel Silverstein's poetry, A Child's Garden of Verses (not just for children), The 100 Best Poems of All Time, and Best Tales of the Yukon.

Here is another poem I have enjoyed by Emily Dickinson:

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry

This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

I gave another zombie book a try, and this time it was a success. Carrie Ryan has written this post-apocalyptic book in which there are many rules and constraints surrounding the small village in which the heroine, Mary, lives. The past is shrouded in mystery, and the present is filled with zombies. Mary struggles to find her place in her small village, but it is difficult. The book explores themes of love and belonging, truth and secrets. I haven't yet procured the sequel, but I am anxiously waiting for it.

This book is a good one for either light adult reading or teenagers. It is entertaining and thought provoking. It is more a book in which zombies happen to exist than a book about zombies, so this is a great read even for people who aren't into zombies. The book does leave some questions open at the end, but I am hopeful that the second book will answer them. Carrie Ryan is a good author, and I look forward to reading more of her work.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hold Update 2: The Help

It has been another week. I am now number 308 on the waiting list for the book The Help. Which means I can expect the book in about 17 and a half weeks. I am glad that the book seems to be having a quicker turnover than I originally anticipated, but this still seems like an awfully long time to wait for a book. Will it be worth the wait?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Beatrice and Virgil

Yann Martel has written another book about animals just as ground breaking as Life of Pi. Martel's new story, Beatrice and Virgil, centers around an author and a play-write/taxidermist working on a play about animals. The story has many layers. One of the underlying themes is the Holocaust. The animals demonstrate the drama of human pain and sorrow. Martel's ability to bring animals to life and shed light on the human experience through those animals is the magic that ties these two works together. However, Beatrice and Virgil is a very different story from Life of Pi.

I struggled with how to write this review because this book touched me in a profound way and I wanted to do it justice. I found myself moved by this book and its portrayal of the Holocaust. I have read a number of books on the Holocaust and have felt deep emotions about it in the past, but this book's unique approach helped me to come to the topic in a whole new way. I highly recommend this book. This is a great book for group discussion as well as solitary contemplation. I needed a box of tissues available when I got to the end. Don't miss this amazing, thought-provoking read!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Something Missing

Can a thief be likable? Matthew Dicks answers yes in this novel about a career criminal named Martin that refers to his victims as clients, stealing from them on numerous occasions over the course of years. What does he steal? Mostly, his haul reads like a grocery list. He steals food and household supplies. More expensive items are monitored over the course of months to be sure they won't be missed.

Martin is confronted with a dilemma. He begins to discover that his clients have problems that only he can fix, because he knows so much about their lives. He cares about his clients and he begins to help them, breaking many of the rules he lives by. These rules are one part OCD and one part smart crime, and they have kept Martin's criminal activity a secret for years.

This book is a quick, enjoyable read. Matthew Dicks offers insight into the lives of both thieves and individuals with OCD. I found it particularly amusing that Martin's friends and acquaintances believe he is a writer when he is actually a thief. Apparently, Matthew Dicks wanted to clarify that he is not personally a thief/writer, because he makes a point of saying he is not a thief in his bio at the end of the book. Though he does claim to be a writer.

I wouldn't have predicted that I would enjoy this book so much. A book about a benevolent thief is an unusual premise, after all. But it was quite entertaining and I found myself rather liking Martin. Read this book to find out what's missing for Martin.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Family Reading

My children and I read together. We have enjoyed hours with Harry Potter, Winnie the Pooh, and Percy Jackson. Roald Dahl is a favorite author and Charlotte's Web has been read several times. Michael Buckley's Sisters Grimm have delighted us and brought us classic fairy tales in a new way.

I find that reading together creates a connection beyond the time spent on the actual reading. Often, my children are inspired to play or act out parts of the books we read. They use the books as a beginning to their own adventures. Hailey Potter, the twin of the famous boy wizard, has been part of the make believe repertoire for at least four years. Narnia has been discovered in the back of a closet a few times. (Alas, no wardrobes at our house.) Golden Tickets to various events and activities have materialized.

Our books have created a secret family language. My children often refer to characters and situations that we have encountered in our readings. If someone feels sad they might say they feel like Eeyore. Wishing to be "like Matilda" is a desire for magic powers. When they compare a situation they are experiencing to one we have witnessed in a book, my children know they will be understood.

We have been able to discuss a wide variety of topics because we discovered them in books. Bullying, dating, death, disease, love, anger, fear...the list goes on. The books have given us an opening to talk about difficult topics. They have given us clear examples of these topics working in the lives of others. We can talk about these situations, weighing pros and cons, and follow them to their conclusion. Because the books help us learn from the experiences of others.

Reading to children isn't just for when they are tiny. Read a book with a child today.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hold Update: The Help

I still have the book The Help on hold at the library. No friendly book lenders have come forward with a copy for me to borrow. It has been a week since I put the book on hold and I am now the 335th person waiting for this book. According to my calculations, I should get the book in nineteen and a half weeks. On the plus side, I have eliminated one and a half weeks of estimated time in a week of actual time. On the down side, that is still quite a long time to wait.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Education of a Wandering Man

Louis L'amour wrote this book about educating himself through books. He quit school because he felt that school was holding him back from the education he wanted. He was not allowed to study higher sciences, even though he felt well prepared by the texts he read from the library. After leaving school, he traveled around the world for a number of years. During that time, he read consistently. In the back of the book, he lists all the books he read each year for several of his traveling years. It is a long and varied list.

I enjoyed Louis L'amour's thoughts on education. He believed that the books he read and the experiences he had traveling gave him a better education than the one he would have received at an institution. I liked learning about where he found the books he read and about the multitude of job experiences he had. His reading was varied by necessity; he read everything he could get his hands on. He never stole the books, but admits that he occasionally considered it.

Speaking of his reading life, Louis L'amour said, "I know that often I longed for someone with whom I could talk of books, writers, and things of the mind, but that was not to be for a long time, except here and there when I chanced on some other lost literary soul. Loneliness is of many kinds, and the mere presence and companionship of people does not suffice."

I had never read anything by Louis L'amour before. I know this is going to shock some people, because it seems like I will read anything. Evidently I am prejudiced against westerns. I have definitely been judging those books by their covers. However, I was delighted with this book, and it led me to consider reading his books.

You will enjoy this book if you like to read about what others are reading. You will benefit from it if you are interested in learning from the great books. If you love the writing of Louis L'amour, you may enjoy getting to know him better through this book.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Book Theft #2

Evidently, the theft of books is an old danger. This warning was written by a medieval German scribe:

This book belongs to none but me
For there's my name inside to see
To steal this book, if you should try,
Its by the throat that you'll hang high.
And ravens then will gather 'bout
To find your eyes and pull them out
And when you're screaming "Oh, oh, oh!"
Remember you deserved this woe.

I love this little poem. I am amazed at the ferocity of the scribe's response to his book possibly being stolen. But when I consider that it often took years to transcribe one book, it makes a bit more sense.

Beware all book thieves!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The 5000 Year Leap

Our Founding Fathers worked hard on the Constitution. They came from various walks of life, but they had studied ideas on politics and government. They came together to try a grand experiment. They created a government that was unique throughout history, drawing inspiration from the best ideas of the best minds. Our Constitution was crafted to withstand the test of time. Its main goal is to protect the right of the people.

In the book The 5000 Year Leap, W. Cleon Skousen outlines 28 principles that our government was founded upon. The two principles that intrigued me most were #15 and #26. (My understanding is that these principles are not necessarily listed in order of importance.) The 15th principle has to do with economics. This tied in nicely to the last book I wrote about, That Which is Seen and That Which is Not Seen. What intrigued me the most about this principle was that it was never carried out in the way the Founding Fathers intended. Skousen shows some ways that this has hindered our nation. The 26th principle has to do with recognizing and protecting the family as the core unit of society. This topic is near and dear to my heart, and I am always interested in strengthening families. Skousen points out that the ideal of strong family relationships fills many of the writings of the Founding Fathers. They considered it an underlying part of a strong society. These two principles stood out to me as I read this book for the second time.

I enjoyed this book. It takes a complicated subject and condenses it down into 28 recognizable and easy to understand principles. Learning more about the Founding Fathers and the Constitution increased my appreciation for the United States. Skousen uses quotes from the Founding Fathers and other sources, which helped illustrate the principles and gave me a taste of the actual thoughts of these men.

If you want a clear way to understand the ideas behind the Constitution, this book is a great choice. You will gain a greater appreciation for our Founding Fathers as you read their words and ideas.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

That Which is Seen and That Which is Not Seen

In 1850, Frederic Bastiat wrote an essay/book about economics. He was a Frenchman, but much of what he had to say has bearing in today's world. He points out that a poor economist will only look at where government money is being spent, but that a good economist will look at where the money would have been spent if its use had been left in the hands of the public. He makes the point in several different ways--the money that goes to the government is depriving the individual who earned the money of something. Bastiat is not arguing for no taxes. He states that if something is of real utility to the public, then that may be sufficient cause to spend the money.

At one point, Bastiat offers this little question, "Which of the two is the most exacting parasite, the merchant or the official?" He then goes on to show that government involvement always costs more. He makes a case for keeping charities private and for the government to take a hands off approach to commerce. He demonstrates that frugality benefits a community more financially in the long run. This book is a fantastic read for every American. It can help us evaluate economic policies of our government.

My takeaway from this book: We must always look for the hidden result of any public or economic policy. We must use wisdom in government, just as we utilize wisdom in our private decisions. We must look at long term results not just short term benefits.

You can read That Which is Seen and That Which is Not Seen online here or you can purchase it in book form.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Books Finished June 2010

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
And the Skylark Sings with Me by David H. Albert
Angry Housewives Eating Bonbons by Lorna Landvik
Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon
Finding the Angel Within by Pamela H. Hansen
Goblin Quest by Jim C. Hines
God's Debris by Scott Adams
Lessons at Blackberry Inn by Karen Andreola
Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
Raising the Perfect Child through Guilt and Manipulation by Elizabeth Beckwith
Red Hot Internet Publicity by Penny C. Sansevieri
The Alliance by Gerald N. Lund
The Career Novelist by David Maass
The Freedom Factor by Gerald N. Lund
The Gaslight Effect by Robin Stern
The Mermaid's Madness by Jim C. Hines
The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer
The Ultimate Gift by Jim Stovall
This is Not the Story You Think It Is by Laura Munson

*These are books that I have finished reading. This list does not include books that I have skimmed. The list does not include picture books that I have read to my children, nor does it show all the other reading I have done. These books were finished in this month, but some may have taken considerable time to read, bit by bit.

A New Record: The Help

I have been hearing a lot about a book called The Help. You have probably seen it or heard of it. I decided to put it on hold at the library. I am now the 366th person waiting for this book. This is a new record high for me.

After I saw what number I was on the waiting list, I checked the number of copies in the library system--61. Most of the libraries in the system have a four week checkout, so I decided in a purely arbitrary decision to guess that a typical person will keep the book for three and a half weeks. So, if all goes well, I will have this book in my hands in approximately 21 weeks. That is almost six months!

Maybe someone I know has a copy that they would be willing to loan me?

Its true. I could purchase this book. But if I purchased every book I read, we wouldn't be able to pay the bills.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Author Highlight: Emily Dickinson

In January I decided* to pick a poet to focus on for this year. The poet I chose is Emily Dickinson. I have been learning a bit about her life and my goal is to read a minimum of 10 poems by her each month. I have exceeded this goal every month so far, because I am enjoying it so much. Emily Dickinson was born in 1830 and died in 1886. She never married and was considered eccentric. A number of her poems are about books and reading, including this little gem:

He ate and drank the precious words,
His spirit grew robust;
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was dust.
He danced along the dingy days,
And this bequest of wings
Was but a book. What liberty
A loosened spirit brings!

As evidenced by this and other poems, Emily felt a great affinity for books and other readers. As a book lover myself, I get a thrill when I read what other people have written about reading. I too know what it is like to fill up on words.

*This decision was part of a larger decision to participate in a personal growth course for homeschooling mothers. You can learn more about this program here.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Magicians

I stayed up late finishing this book last night because it was compelling. It is a story about a very smart, very lonely teenager who is invited to a school for magicians. Even though I found this book to be so interesting, I felt a bit let down at the end.

In real life, I know I won't get all my questions answered. I have reconciled myself to this part of reality. But in the world of books, I expect some answers. This book gives few. I have more questions at the end of the book than I did at the beginning or middle. There are loose ends everywhere. I saw no indication that there will be a second book forthcoming that gives me some answers.

In spite of my frustration, I did enjoy this book. One of the overarching themes is the question of whether happiness is caused by circumstances or attitude. The reader must come to their own conclusion, because the author does not give a definitive answer. I personally feel that we must create our own happiness, but that was already my opinion. This book did give me the opportunity to look at my opinion again and re-evaluate.

Throughout this book, Quentin is fascinated by the fictional world of Fillory (roughly translated-Narnia). In the beginning of this book, Quentin believes that his interest is part of the reason that he is not dating the girl he likes. He feels that Fillory is a land where the choices you make are important, unlike the every day world. It is a land where happiness is possible, even probable. He eventually discovers that it is a real world and is able to journey there with his friends. He has to put his theory to the test. Is Fillory all that he dreamed it would be? Is he different because of being in Fillory? These questions are explored in this book. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to enter a fantasy world, this book is for you.

If you don't mind having unanswered questions at the end of a book, you should read this book. This book will stay in your thoughts for a while, because you will keep wondering about the things it left unexplained. Anyone who has a love of fantasy and magical systems will be intrigued by this nod to other fantasy books.

Update: After a bit more research, I discovered that Lev Grossman is coming out with a sequel to The Magicians. It should be out in 2011.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Freedom Factor

Does the Constitution matter? Gerald Lund clearly answers yes. In this book, a bill is about to be passed that will significantly change the way our government works. Bryce Sherwood, a senator's aide, is a leading proponent of the new bill. However, the luster of the new bill fades when he is thrust into a world where the Constitution was never ratified.

Gerald Lund typically writes historical books, with lots of footnotes making his extensive research apparent. He has put the same thought into this book. This fictional book is a great way to learn a bit more about the founding of the United States and the Constitution. I stopped reading several time to look up information, because I wanted to be clear on what was history and what was fiction.

Read this book if you are not sure about the importance of the Constitution, or if you are interested in seeing one author's perspective of how our country would look without it. This could be a good selection for book clubs or home school unit studies. It is a easy read and an intriguing introduction to our country's political history.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Library Vandalism/Frustration

One of our local libraries has been vandalized--by condiments. Since last April, someone has been pouring various condiments into the book drop, causing over $1500 in damage. This week, the police caught a woman dropping an open jar of mayo into the book drop. She was arrested and charged with malicious injury to property and carrying a concealed weapon. I was skimming the article online and at first I thought the concealed weapon charge was a strange one (for a jar of mayo), but a more careful read of the article revealed that she had a loaded gun under the driver's seat of her car.

I suspect that this woman may not be mentally well. But either way, what is her problem with the library? Has she been banned from the premises and this is her creative, angry response? Did her library fines get too high? Was the library the scene of her husband's torrid affair? What horrible thing did the library do that provoked this response? There was no indication of her reasoning in the article.

I have frustrations with the library sometimes. I pretend that paying fines is just part of the library experience, but I don't really want to pay fines. Once, the library accused me of losing the directions to a video game, but they hadn't been in the case when I picked the game out at the library. I was a bit frustrated when I called to discuss the charge, but the librarian believed me and dropped the fine. I had to pay to replace War and Peace because my toddler colored on it. I had been planning to buy it, and the coloring doesn't bother me.

My biggest issue with the library right now is the limit on how many books I can put on hold. Last year, the libraries in our area decided that 10 books per person was just too many holds. They now limit the number of holds per person to 5. I realize that for most people this might be plenty. But I do almost all of my library "shopping" online, using holds.

When you take four children into the library for a visit, you do not browse the stacks. You just hope that you can make it through without any screaming, crying, or stomping. And you hope the kids will behave too. So a trip to the library mostly involves me corralling the younger two and encouraging the older two to make use of the information desk for help. I usually just pick up my books from the hold shelf. When the library dropped the limit to 5 books on hold, I was unhappy. Keep in mind that sometimes I have the 100+ spot when I put a book on hold. It can take months to get some books.

So, my oldest children got their own library cards. I use their queues for my own book holds. That's right. I bent the rules. So far, the library hasn't asked why an eight year old is putting Diana Gabaldon and John Scalzi books on hold. My children do get to put books on hold on their accounts, but they have to speak up quickly because I fill the spots up fast.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

God's Debris

The creator of Dilbert, Scott Adams, isn't just a funny man. He has written a serious book called God's Debris which discusses several life altering questions in a teeny tiny tome. In the introduction of this book, Adams suggests that the book will be best enjoyed if discussed after reading. My husband and I both read the book and then had a discussion about it. Some of the topics covered: probability, the nature and purposes of God, relationships, and free will. This book is set up for creating discussions. You will like this book if you like to discuss what you read. You will NOT agree with everything that the main viewpoint of this book proposes as truth.

If you like books that stretch your mind and give you food for thought, this book is for you. If you like to use ideas from books as a jumping-off point for discussion, encourage a friend or two to take up this thought experiment with you. It is a fast read, but it will stick with you for much longer than the time it takes to read. This book can be found for free online here.

It can also be found at, if you want a print version.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Melissa's Rules for Reading

I love books. But sometimes a book just isn't the right fit for me. I know that other people might enjoy a certain book, and I also realize that I might be a better audience for a book on different occasions. So, I have developed "rules" for reading. These rules aren't set in stone, but they help me be more selective about books. You might think that because I read so much, I don't care what I read. But I hate feeling let down when I invest a few hours into a book, and realize that I should have gotten out long before the end.

So. Any book I just pick up on my own with no introduction gets fifty pages. Classics and personal recommendations get 100 pages. If I am not into the book at that point, I am done. I used to read to the end no matter what, but now I just don't. If I am struggling with a book, I will give it the full number of pages for my "rules". I find that there are many books that need close to the full 100 pages before I am into them. Classics generally have a slower startup than contemporary books, but I often find that they are worth the extra investment.

Two exceptions I routinely make: if it is for book club or if the book is extremely short. Part of the reason I go to book clubs is to be exposed to new writing, and I would hope my selections would be given the same benefit of the doubt. Also I want to be able to discuss the book.(Look for an upcoming post about book clubs.) Sometimes a short book that is a train wreck is worth just finishing to discover the rest of the story.

Do other you have guidelines you follow when reading?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Book Theft #1

I recently read a book titled The Man who Loved Books too Much, by Allison Hoover Bartlett. It recounts her experience learning about the world of book collecting and one specific book thief. I don't really know much about book collecting in the sense of expensive books. My own collection is ever growing, but with regular everyday books. The books in this story are worth thousands of dollars each. The book thief talks about his desire for a collection, and it seemed to me that the theft was about the value of the books more than anything else. In fact, many book collectors evidently don't even read some of the books they purchase.

This book got me thinking about book theft. To my knowledge, no one has stolen any books from me. I have loaned out books that were never returned but I am assuming that was negligence, not malice. When my husband discovered that our public library had a signed copy of You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing, we had a brief discussion about the ethics of replacing their copy with an unsigned copy we purchased at the bookstore. Of course, we decided that even though the library wouldn't benefit from the pride of having a book signed by Scalzi, it would still be stealing.

Books are important to me. I have had times when I wanted a book that I couldn't afford, but I don't steal them. I have always had access to a local library and utilize interlibrary loan. I can get almost any book in my hands without stealing. I have a hard time understanding why someone would be motivated to steal books. Any thoughts?