Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Poetry Bee: Rekindling the Lost Art of Recitation

When I was a young girl, I fell in love with poetry. I read it quite a bit, and I wrote some of my own poetry. I didn't memorize poems myself, but I was in awe of those that did. I remember reading books in which the characters memorized quite long poems and wishing that this practice still existed. I knew a few people that had memorized poetry, but they were the minority.

Earlier this year our family joined a poetry club as part of our homeschooling experience. I have seen my children grow and make connections through memorizing poems and reciting them. I have been privileged to learn and memorize poetry along with my children. We have begun to recognize specific poets in other venues, and we have learned a lot of new vocabulary. The biggest benefit of poetry in their lives has been somewhat intangible. My children and I "own" these poems because they have become a part of us. This wonderful benefit is not a part of most modern curriculum, but it can be. The book Poetry Bee: Rekindling the Lost Art of Recitation lays out a plan for setting up a memorization group in your school, homeschool, community, or home. It also has a great collection of poems to enjoy reading or memorizing. I recommend this book to all parents, teachers, and other people interested in poetry.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Night Circus

I recently read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I had been hearing about this book from several places, but wasn't really sure what to expect. It was a delightful read, with a unique magic system and intriguing twists. The night circus is more than just a circus, it is a venue for a contest between those that can really perform magic. This book is part love story, part tragedy, and part fantastic magic.

I look forward to more books by Morgenstern, because she has crafted this book beautifully. If you enjoy fantasy based on tweaking the rules of our world you will love this book. If you enjoy love stories, especially those with complexity, you will want to read The Night Circus.

Monday, November 21, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011 Update 3

I'm behind, but I am still writing. I am still spending about the same amount of time each day on writing, and my actual number of words written is slowing down. But...I have still written more this month than I normally write. I can actually see this book coming together and becoming what I want it to be. I am very excited about how the book is coming together. Because this is a nonfiction project I am having to slow down to make some decisions and do some research. My word count is 30000 which puts me about a day and a half behind where I should be on my word count.

Monday, November 14, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011 Update 2

It's another week. I didn't do quite as well this week at staying on top of my writing. Earlier this week, I was starting to think maybe I didn't have as much to say on my topic as I originally thought. However, with effort and a fair amount of slogging through the writing process, I was able to end Sunday the 13th of November with 21,674 words. The end goal for the 13th day of the month is 21,671 words so I have three extra words. I am ecstatic! I am actually doing it, and I made it through the first slump. I even have a plan for tomorrow...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011 Update 1

Last night I finished the day with 12,053 words written so far on my book this month. I feel like it is going quite well. The official goal for the day was 11,669 so I am actually ahead. I have been trying to get a bit ahead because I am concerned about getting much writing done Thanksgiving weekend. We are spending the weekend with family and I will be surprised if I get to do any serious writing. Just checking in to update, now back to writing...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011

  It's November, and that means National Novel Writing Month has come again. This year I am working on a nonfiction project. I really think that I can reach my 50,000 word goal this year because I have been thinking about this idea for a while now, although I hadn't written a word on it until yesterday. This is day 2 and I have reached a word count of 4,009. The daily goal if you write daily and plan to achieve 50,000 words is 1,667 words. I realized that because of Thanksgiving and family time, I have to get a bit ahead of that number if I am going to make it. So, I hope to reach 2,000 words a day for the first week. So far, so good. Yeah, me!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

This is Ransom Riggs first novel, and I can't wait to see what other fiction he will write in the future. This book is a strange mix of history and fairy story, but it works. The story begins with a boy disillusioned with his grandfather's childhood stories. After his grandfather's death, Jacob sees something that disturbs him and makes him wonder if his grandfather's stories were actually real. Jacob and his father travel to Europe to uncover the truth.

What I really, really loved about this book: the photographs. Most are the beginnings of trick photography, woven into this tale. I also enjoyed the weaving of history and fairy story. It was an enchanting, grown up fairy story. Also, the father to son to grandson relationships were complex and intriguing.

You will like this book if you enjoy fairy stories or fantasy. It is also a great read for those who enjoy something unique in fiction, and the book would be great for discussion groups. The parallels between World War II Nazis and monsters, refugees and Peculiar Children will make for some interesting discussions.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ruby Red

The other day I was browsing in the teen stacks at our library and came upon this gorgeous book by Kerstin Gier. The cover is a deep red with silver filigree and has ruby jewels on the front. I definitely judged this book by its cover, and I quickly read the synopsis. A young girl has a time travel gene, but her mother lied about her birthday to conceal this fact from the family. I checked out the book, abandoned my other current reads, and delved in. I loved it. The story was moving along, and it was great. About three quarters of the way through the book, I realized that there was no way the book was long enough to answer all my questions. Sadly, this book is part of a trilogy. Not only that, but it is a translated copy. Kerstin Gier writes in German. Because I really enjoyed the first book, I hope to see the next two books in the trilogy translated soon.

This book is for anyone who enjoys fantasy or history; it is an interesting combination of the two. Women and girls will probably enjoy this book most, as there is a strong female protagonist. The book is directed towards a teen audience, but other age groups will also enjoy the book. This book is worthy of its cover.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Update on Game of Thrones

I have made it through the rest of George R.R. Martin's books that belong in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. I quite enjoyed the first couple, but then my enjoyment began to decrease. This often happens with the middle books of a series. I like to call them "bridge books" because they tend to have necessary plot and character development without tying up many loose ends. Since the series is not complete (two more books are currently scheduled for the future on George R. R. Martin's website) this makes the last three books currently available middle books for the entire series.

After some pondering, I realized that the fact that these books were middle books wasn't the only frustration I was having with the books. I like my books to generally work out for characters. I don't enjoy investing in a character and then having that character die. Martin clearly has no qualms about killing off characters, as well as thwarting them in ways that seem impossible to reverse. I am not saying I never read or enjoy books in which main characters die, because that isn't true. But I felt that these books were brutal. The books also deal with a lot of darker issues of humanity, and I just don't find that as enjoyable as other books. Will I read the rest of the series? Yes. I think I will. Will I stay up and have an all night read session? No, probably not.

Many people will enjoy these books. They are well written, epic fantasy. The characters are developed and seem real. The story is fascinating, and Martin's writing moves along quickly even though the books are large. If you enjoy epic fantasy, and aren't put off by the idea of you favorite characters failing, you will want to read these books.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Game of Thrones

George R. R. Martin is releasing a new book in his series A Song of Fire and Ice. A Game of Thrones is the first book in the series, and is currently an HBO series as well. I haven't seen the series, although I have heard good things about it. The book is a long one and is a very compelling read. I enjoyed it and have begun reading the second book.

This book has interesting characters, a good story line and a unique world. If you like fantasy, especially epic fantasy, this book will be a great read for you. These books are long, making them perfect for summer traveling which may include a lot of waiting. If you enjoy fantasy you should check out A Game of Thrones.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Little Britches

If you haven't read Little Britches, you are missing out. It is a great story about a family weathering hard times together. The family works together and they all work hard. The parents tried to teach their children right from wrong mostly by example, but they would use well-placed words on occasion as well.

This is a passage that really touched me:
"Any man who says the world owes him a living is dishonest. The same God that made you and me made this earth. And He planned it so that it would yield every single thing that the people on it need. But He was careful to plan it so that it would only yield up its wealth in exchange for the labor of man. Any man who tries to share in that wealth without contributing the work of his brain or his hands is dishonest."

There are several books in this series by Ralph Moody, but they all start with Little Britches. This book is a great read for everyone. Families can also enjoy it together as a read aloud.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Classics Teach Us About What it Means to Be Human

Classics endure for several reasons, but one of the big ones is that they are so real, so true that they expose human nature. Classics are fairly universal books that appeal to many different people over the course of generations.

If you want to understand what it means to be human, you can find the answer in a classic book. If there is a perspective you are having difficulty identifying with, there is probably a classic book that can lend you the perspective you desire. How would you handle war, famine, other hardships? If you prefer to find out without having the actual experience, a classic can help you have that vicarious experience. Classics allow us to view the broad range of human experience and perspectives. The more classics we read, the better we understand humanity.

Classics also grapple with the big questions of life. What is the point of it all? What does it mean to be a good person? How do my choices affect others? Classics have dealt with these questions and more. Classics don't always come up with solid right or wrong answers, sometimes they just explore the issues and leave the choices up to the reader. They do offer expanded perspective of these big questions, though.

If you have occasionally wanted to pick up a classic but avoided it for some reason, decide today to enrich your life by getting started. Classics are amazing!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Quote by Allan Bloom

"The failure to read good books both enfeebles the vision and strengthens our most fatal tendency --the belief that the here and now is all there is."
--Allan Bloom

Allan Bloom actually had a lot to say about reading and books. Most of what he said was pretty great too. Go read a great book because you wouldn't want your vision enfeebled. Also, so you can realize that the past has significance for all of us.

If you aren't reading good books, you are missing out on so many of the great lessons they offer. Learning from mistakes is much easier when they happen in a story.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Best Mothers Day Present Ever. I got a kindle. I am very excited about my new toy, and have been busy downloaded free books and checking out samples of books.

Thats all for today folks. My kindle is calling my name...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Self-Publishing in Stilettos: A Woman's Guide to Publishing With Confidence

This book by Cinnamon McCann about self-publishing is packed with information on how to publish your writing. The author takes you from the beginning of the process to the end, with details about each option. My
absolute favorite thing about this book: the author doesn't let her personal bias color each option. I have read quite a few writing and publishing books, and many of them clearly feel that certain choices are less worthy than others. This book just tells you the options, and includes pros and cons of each plan.

With all of the information, resources, and checklists in this book, you will have the tools you need to self publish. It is the best book I have come across on the subject. Pick up this book if you are interested in self publishing.

I was given this book for free to review. I attempt to review each book without regard to whether I purchased, borrowed, or was given the book.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Books Finished April 2011

5 Conversations You Must Have With Your Daughter by Vicki Courtney
Cursor's Fury by Jim Butcher
Dance With Them by Kathryn Lynard Soper
First Lord's Fury by Jim Butcher
FreedomShift by Oliver Demille
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
Keep Chickens! by Barbara Kilarski
Matched by Allie Condie
Mr. Monster by Dan Wells
Princeps Fury by Jim Butcher
Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George
Schooled by Gordon Korman
Shadowheart by Tad Williams
The Homeschool Journey by Susan and Michael Card
The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

*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, April 22, 2011

Time Travel!

Time travel is possible through books. How else can you experience what it was like to fight in the Civil War, cross the ocean with the Mayflower, or sign the Constitution?

One of my favorite people is John Adams. I have traveled with him to France and watched him help found our country. I have seen his parenting style and read over his shoulder as he read letters from his loving wife. All of this was made possible through books. I have been inspired by this awesome man, and his life. He wasn't perfect, but for me that makes him more endearing. (I certainly didn't learn all these things from a class at school. I learned little more than his name and the fact that he was a Founding Father there.)

I think this aspect of reading is why so many books have time travel in them. Avid readers don't have to suspend reality too much to believe in time travel. After all, they experience it for themselves almost every time they open a book.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Quote by Theodore Parker

"The books that help you most are those which make you think that most. The hardest way of learning is that of easy reading; but a great book that comes from a great thinker is a ship of thought, deep freighted with truth and beauty."
--Theodore Parker

This little quote says so much with so few words. Perhaps someday I will be able to be so succinct. Some of the books I have learned the most from were heavy reading. Often, classics are more difficult than current fiction, but they have stood the test of time. Some books seem like they were written just for me, because they hold wisdom that I need.

Friday, April 15, 2011

House of Leaves

Sometimes the echoes of a book will linger in the back of my mind for a few days, popping to the forefront in odd moments. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is one of those books. The book's format is unique because the story is made up of a man critiquing a book which critiques a movie. The footnotes of the book are part of the story. Each level of the book has characters dealing with their own disturbing issues. Its an intriguing, creepy book which somewhat defies categorization.

Our bookstore has this book in the horror section, but it isn't quite what one generally thinks of when considering horror books. Its a psychological thriller, the kind that sneaks up on you. I loved it for this very reason.

I recommend this book to those that like mind bending books. It is also for those that enjoy unique books that push the boundaries of what a book entails. This is a book for adults. Its a big book, so be prepared to set aside a chunk of time for it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Quote by Henry David Thoreau

"To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader more than any other exercise which the customs of the day esteem. It requires a training such as the athletes underwent, the steady intention almost of the whole life to this object."
--Henry David Thoreau

I like this quote because it highlights that reading isn't just an activity for pleasure. If a good story is all you ever get out of reading, you aren't reading well. This doesn't discount the benefits of a good story; there is a time and place for that. But it also points the way to something richer and deeper. It shows that we must be actively thinking, pondering, and wondering as we read. This is reading well.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Books Finished March 2011

Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher
Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher
Girls on the Edge by Leonard Sax
Grayton Beach Affair by James Harvey
Of Mice and Men by David Farland
Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card
Shadowmarch by Tad Williams
Shadowplay by Tad Williams
Start Here: Doing Hard Things Right Where You Are by Alex and Brett Harris
The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Reis and Jack Trout
The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett
The Healing Power of Stories by Daniel Taylor
The Host by Stephanie Meyer
The Overton Window by Glenn Beck
Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax
Think Twice by Lisa Scottoline
Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

*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, March 30, 2011

Great Article!

I found a great article about reading and some of its benefits. It is written by a homeschool mom, but it applies to anyone who enjoys stories. Check out the article here.

Are you sharing stories with the young people in your life? It is a wonderful way to connect with them about big and little ideas. Seeing one of your favorite books through the eyes of another person can be a great experience.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Library Dreams

I had a dream about the library last night. I think this dream was prompted by the fact that a new library branch is opening up near my house. In my dream, the new branch was open and we went to visit it. It was pretty well stocked and the trip was good until we tried to check out books. As we tried to check out books, we were informed of a new library policy. Only five books could be checked out at a time per household. I was horrified. That's not even one book per person at our house. I tried to negotiate with the librarian but it was fruitless.

When I woke up I was relieved that this had only been a dream. Our library actually has an incredibly generous book limit. With one card, you can check out up to 100 books. We have four library cards at our house, which really means we could have 400 books from the library at our house. We haven't gotten close to that number, but it is nice to know that I can check out books without concern over limits.

Friday, March 25, 2011

I love My Book Group

The book group I am currently a part of is the best one I have ever attended. I have been going for about a year now, but the group has been active for three years. We are called Mothers Who Know Read, and you can check out our blog here. We meet monthly and we focus mostly on the classics. We read Shakespeare plays twice a year. I like the challenge of reading these books, and discussing the ideas we encounter in them.

One of the great things about the book club is that there is always a lot of discussion and different opinions and ideas. It seems like everyone gets something slightly different out of the books, and we all benefit from one another's viewpoints. Sometimes opinions are changed and sometimes we just agree to disagree. It is a great experience to meet once a month to discuss books.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Why Gender Matters

In this insightful book, Leonard Sax discusses research on the differences between males and females. Does gender matter? This book answers in a resounding yes, and goes on to illustrate why. Sax offers ideas on how to approach gender differences in life and school in order to better teach our children. This book gives examples, research findings, and ideas for parents and educators. It is a great book that every adult would benefit from. Read this book if you work with children.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson

"'Tis the good reader that makes the good book; in every book he finds passages which seem to be confidences or sides hidden from all else and unmistakably meant for his ear; the profit of books is according to the sensibility of the reader; the profound thought or passion sleeps as in a mine, until it is discovered by an equal mind and heart."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love this quote. I often read with a small notebook close by so that I can write down thoughts or ideas that spring from my reading. Sometimes I will be struck by a quote and want to record it so that I can read it again later. Other times, a situation in a book will remind me of something similar that I have experienced. I like to summarize my thoughts and reflect on books when I finish them.

The really wonderful and great thing about learning through books is that not every person comes away with the same message. So the hidden treasures of knowledge are not the same for each person, or even the same each time a great book is read. There are some books that seem to speak to me over and over again. I have found writing down my thoughts to be helpful in preserving the insights I get while reading.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Author Highlight: Patrick Rothfuss

Dear Patrick Rothfuss,

I love your work. You make me laugh, you make me cry, and your words are beautiful. You know how to craft a book that is truly a work of art. When I finished your book last night, I was bereft. What else could I possibly read that was going to live up to your book? (I chose something I've read before, with an interesting story but disappointing writing. I figured that would be safe.)

So, I am singing your praises and recommending your books to everyone, but I am also quite frustrated. I just don't know how to wait for years to read your next book. It is agonizing. It's good to build up anticipation for a book, but I think you are taking it to the extreme.

That's right, this is a love-hate letter. Because I love your writing, but I hate it that you are leaving me hanging for an indeterminate length of time. Again.

Wishing you speedy writing,
Melissa R. Wolfe

Monday, March 14, 2011

Library Fines

Right now I have fines at the library. This is going to be true pretty much no matter when you read this post, because I always have fines at the library. I have an imperfect system of going to the library. I don't go at a regular time, and so I tend to always have one or two books due. Combine my irregular trips with an array of due dates (one week for video games, two for new releases, four weeks for most books), and I end up with tardy returns.

Our branch allows up to $10 of unpaid fines on your card before you can no longer check out books. I love this policy, but I also vaguely feel that it fosters bad habits. I am aware that the book is due back, because I got an email saying it was due soon. Sometimes I try to renew online, but not every item can be renewed. Have I mentioned how fun it is to take four kids to the library? So, I might not make it to the library before that book is due, which results in a fine. But I don't stress out about it too much, because after all I can still check out books.

I'm curious to know whether others have perpetual library fines as well? Or perhaps someone has a great system for making sure their books are always turned in on time?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Part 2 of Do Hard Things

I wrote a standard review about the book Do Hard Things here. My oldest daughter is now reading the book and we have been discussing it quite a bit. She is enjoying the book and I can see that it is inspiring her to think about how she can make an impact in the world around her. I think this is great, and I think the book does a good job of offering that inspiration to young people.

In the book, Alex and Brett talk about how they arrived at the point of working harder and engaging more fully in the world around them. They share that it began as they were reading some of the classics. Their father had prescribed an intense study schedule for them, and they were reading books that were about big ideas. They were having discussions about the big ideas when they decided to begin the blog that grew into their website and book.

In Do Hard Things, Alex and Brett are just telling their story. They don't actually recommend reading the classics to others in the book. Perhaps they are unsure of how important that step was in their journey.

I was struck by the fact that they were reading classics when they formed the plan of how to begin making a difference. The classics are about big ideas, and people that have taken action on the big ideas. Classics can offer us inspiration about where to start, and give us the strength to continue when it becomes hard. I feel that any person wanting to do hard things will be better off if they study the classics.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Grayton Beach Affair

Today I am participating in the blog tour of the book The Grayton Beach Affair by James Harvey.

Christian Wolfe moved back to Germany in 1936. He had lived, gone to school, and worked in the United States, but he missed his home land. However, the Germany he returned to wasn't quite the same as he remembered. Despite his attempts to go unnoticed, his bravery and perfect English send him on a mission to rescue a German prisoner of war. He heads to the US in a submarine. During the few days he is attempting the rescue, he meets Maggie. His heart and life are changed by his experience with her.

This book combines history, war, and love. I learned some new things about World War II as I read this book, and I was happy that the author included some historical information at the back of the book to clarify facts. The book touches on large issues, such as race relations and perspectives of the war, but it also deals with the more day to day issues of the heart and soul.

If you like love stories mixed with history, this book is for you. If you want to learn more about World War II, you will find the unique perspectives presented in this book interesting. This is definitely a book for adults, as some parts are graphic. The balance between the love story and the war is well done in this book, so it will appeal to those just looking for a good love story.

I was given this book for free to review. My opinions are my own, and are not influenced by the receipt of the book.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Jane Austen Ruined My Life

Emma grew up believing in happy endings. She thought she had found it until she discovered her husband in a compromising position with her teaching assistant. This book begins after her life seems to have crumbled around her. She flees to England when she is contacted by someone claiming to have Jane Austen's missing letters. As Emma explores the land where Jane Austen lived, she struggles with her own ideas about love, romance, and happy endings.

This story will be a good read for Jane Austen lovers. The book explores some of Jane Austen's life, including the places she spent time. The author develops a theory of what may have been in the missing letters of Jane Austen. This chick lit is a fun, quick read for any woman, but it will especially appeal to Jane Austen lovers.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Books Finished February 2011

Dear Pen Pal by Heather Vogel Frederick
Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo
Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning by Oliver and Rachel Demille
Lost Boys by Orson Scott Card
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
Scratch Beginnings by Adam Shepard
Secrets of Eden by Chris Bahjalian
The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card
The Mortal Messiah: Book 1 by Bruce R. McConkie
The Relationship Seasons by Matthew O. Richardson
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

*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.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Hollywood Stories

The subtitle of this book is "Short, Entertaining Anecdotes about the Stars and Legends of the Movies!" and the book lives up to this claim. Because of my love for Gone With the Wind, the first thing I did with this book was turn to the index and look for Vivian Leigh. I was really happy to see how comprehensive the index was, because this book lends itself to flipping to the back to search out our favorite stars.

The stories in this book are fun to read, and can be shared with the entire family. The author, a Hollywood tour guide, has clearly done his research to find entertaining behind the scenes information. This book brings the Hollywood tour to you.

This is a great book for those times when you have just a few minutes, and want something entertaining to read. It would be great on a coffee table in your home. It would also be a nice addition to any office waiting room. If you love trivia and would like to know some extra stories about Hollywood favorites, this book is for you.

I was provided this book by the author, Stephen Schochet, for free to review.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Quote by John Ruskin

"To use books rightly, is to go to them for help; to appeal to them when our own knowledge and power fail; to be led by them into wider sight and purer conception than our own, and to receive from them the united sentence of the judges and councils of all time, against our solitary and unstable opinions."
--John Ruskin

There is so much good stuff in this quote that I don't quite know where to begin. Reading books helps us see life from a new, broader perspective. Every day life is much like a river. We are in the middle, trying to find our way through the rapids. Books, filled with the knowledge of the past, can be like a guide for us. Fiction can help us understand human nature. It can make truths clear by placing it in our minds and our hearts. Nonfiction can give us much needed information, or tell us the important lessons of the past. We can experience the failure and triumphs of others as we read. We can learn from the mistakes and foibles of our fellow men.

Books are messages sent out to the world by their authors. We can ignore them, or we can learn from them. What are we choosing today?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Do Hard Things

Alex and Brett Harris have started what they call a rebelution. It is a movement for youth to "rebel" against low expectations. The Harris brothers lay out a basic plan for how young people can make a difference in the world, and they show how great it can be to do the hard things in life.

I loved this book. Even though I am not the age this book is directed to, it inspired me to aim higher and achieve more. My oldest daughter is now reading the book, and we are discussing it together.

If you were inspired by the book The Fourth Turning, this book will give you hope that the younger generation is on track for the role they will need to play in history. Teens and their parents should read this book. Anyone who is feeling a need for direction will benefit from this little volume.

More information from Alex and Brett Harris can be found at their website here.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Her Fearful Symmetry

Would being a twin be like being half of a person? Could you find love, experience joy on your own, or sleep alone? Her Fearful Symmetry uncovers the dark side of being a twin, something that few books delve into. Julia and Valentina are identical twins. Their aunt passes away and leaves her entire estate to them, on the condition that they live for one year in her flat in London. Part of the will stipulates that their mother, who is the aunt's twin, and their father are not allowed in the flat.

Things are strange for the twins from the beginning, because their mother has rarely spoken of their aunt. They are curious about the reasons behind the estrangement. After they arrive in London Valentina begins to feel that their aunt's ghost is in the flat. The story just becomes more compelling as it continues.

This is an interesting, disturbing book. Its final chapters are still rattling around in my brain days after finishing it. It is the kind of book that is great for book discussions with a friend or book club, because of the controversial decisions people make in the book. I recommend this book to clubs, as well as to people who enjoy stories with a twist.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream

How much can a person with $25 and the clothes on his back accomplish in a year? This is the question that Adam Shepard set out to answer. Scratch Beginnings is this story. Follow his journey through homelessness, searching for a job, setbacks, and triumphs. The language and reality of the streets is represented on the page for readers.

I read this book as part of my new nonfiction challenge. It was a great beginning to the challenge. I found the book both entertaining and inspiring.

This is a great book for adults and older teens. The final thoughts that Shepard offers are an insightful reflection on his experience, and a lesson all of us can learn.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Parenting A House United: Changing Children's Hearts by Teaching Self Government

We read this book by Nicholeen Peck as part of my book group a couple months ago. It outlines on of the best parenting plans I have seen. I have been teaching parenting workshops off and on for years, and this book has sent me back to the drawing board. It incorporates ideas that many parenting plans do not include, such as how to teach children important skills and values.

We have been slowly implementing many of the parenting ideas from this book in our home, and it has been great. This book advocates a very involved style of parenting, but the ultimate goal is allowing children to make informed choices about their behavior. And guess what? It works!

To find out more about this book and Nicholeen Peck, visit her website here.

I recommend this book to all parents, and to all those that work with children. This book is self-published, but the lack of professional editing should be overlooked because this is a great resource.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Quote by Clarence Day

"The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man nothing else that he builds ever lasts monuments fall; nations perish; civilization grow old and die out; new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again and yet live on. Still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men's hearts, of the hearts of men centuries dead."
--Clarence Day

Are we learning from the wisdom of the past? Books can give us so much information that will help us in the here and now, because they impart the lessons of history. But we must access that information by reading, by digging deep for what lies beneath the surface.

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo has this section on how architecture is the library of past civilizations. Before books were common, man left his mark on the world and told his story through massive buildings. Architecture can reveal a lot about history, but books get to the point much more quickly. They reveal the inner workings as well as the outer actions of mankind. We should learn from the stories that our ancestors have left behind, in hopes that it will prepare us for the future.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Pillars of the Earth

I had heard a lot about this book and seen it in the stores. It just hadn't been high on my priority list. I was browsing my library and came across the second of the series. I read the back of that book and decided that perhaps it was time to read Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth.

The book is large. It covers a number of topics, but the main thrust of the novel is the building of a cathedral. The characters were interesting and intriguing. The struggle to fund the cathedral and then build it properly was fascinating to me. Follet explores many of the gritty aspects of life--abuses of the nobility, rape, greed, betrayal, and more are all part of this book. It may be too intense for some readers.

If you enjoy historical novels, this could be the book for you. If you like big books that cover many years and several characters, then you will enjoy this book. This is definitely a book for adults.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Pancakes and Reading

Do you like pancakes? I do. We have sourdough pancakes quite a bit at our house. I like to try out different toppings. Some days I will have syrup and other days jam, powdered sugar, fruit, or just plain butter. Most of the time everything is good. On occasion, I will bite down into a pancake to discover that the batter wasn't mixed quite thoroughly enough. Instead of a lovely cooked batter, I have eaten a mouthful of flour. Yuck!

I love reading and books. If I have down time, I typically read. But not every book is a good fit for me. In fact I recently read this one book...well, lets just say that I was ready to kick the author in the shin by the time I finished it. True, I could have just put down the book, but the author had managed to create characters that were both annoying and intriguing. This particular author has written many other books that I have enjoyed, so I continued on with reading. When I got to the end of the awful book, the ending was so disturbing that I cried. The book was just like that mouthful of flour.

If you eat enough pancakes you will taste a mouthful of flour. Its the same with reading. Not every book will be a perfect pancake, but it shouldn't stop you from trying again.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Books Finished January 2011

A Fisherman of the Inland Sea by Ursula K. LeGuin
A War of Gifts by Orson Scott Card
Daughter's Keeper by Ayelet Waldman
Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
Hitler's Private Library by Timothy W. Ryback
How to be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward
Mira, Mirror by Mette Ivie Harrison
Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst
Much Ado about Anne by Heather Vogel Frederick
Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card
Room by Emma Donoghue
Servant of a Dark God by John Brown
Stand for Something by Ken Kasich
The Coming Aristocracy by Oliver DeMille
The Diamond of Darkhold by Jeanne DuPrau
The Hunt for Dark Infinity by James Dashner
The Miracle of Mercy Land by River Jordan
The Narcissistic Family by Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman and Robert M. Pressman
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet
The Princess and the Hound by Mette Ivie Harrison
The Rest of Her Life by Laura Moriarty
The Writing Group Book by Lisa Rosenthal
What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell

*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, February 2, 2011

The Miracle of Mercy Land

Mercy Land is a young woman who works at the local newspaper in a small town. One day, the owner/editor of the newspaper asks for her help with a mysterious book. As they read this book, they learn about the people in the town. The book shows them the entire lives of many of the people they know. Mercy doesn't realize it, but the newspaper owner takes the book as a call to action to right an old wrong.

This book is interesting because it explores a big what if question--what if you could go back and change a mistake you made? What else would it change? Can it even be done? The author explores these ideas in a sensitive, intriguing way.

I recommend this book to all adults and most youth. Parents may wish to preview this book to decide how to discuss some parts with their youth. This book will provide a variety of topics and ideas to discuss. It would be great for book groups too.

You can read chapter one here.

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

Monday, January 31, 2011

Library Vandalism Redux

Remember a few months ago when I posted about someone vandalizing our local library with condiments? The case is back in the news. The woman arrested back in October recently plead guilty to dumping maple syrup, corn syrup, ketchup, and mayonnaise into the book drop. The official charge she plead to is misdemeanor malicious injury to property. The brief article stated that the vandalism was her retaliation for being banned from the library in 2007.

I think dumping condiments into the book drop is a very sad thing. It probably resulted in several thousand dollars worth of damage. I also know that the book drops she targeted have extra padding, which I imagine was a huge pain to clean. The library staff may have been inconvenienced but it is tax dollars that pay for the library. Any books or cds that have been replaced plus any other costs come out of the public library fund. Those funds won't be available to buy new books or cds because they were spent on replacements. So, the general public is the unwitting victim of the vandalism this woman committed. It just saddens me.

I am wondering how, exactly, a person gets kicked out of the library. Anyone who can fill me in on the possible reasons, I would love to hear them.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Quote by Horace Mann

"A house without books is like a room without windows. No man has a right to bring up his children without surrounding them with books, if he has the means to buy them. It is a wrong to his family. Children learn to read by being in the presence of books. The love of knowledge comes with reading and grows upon it. And the love of knowledge, in a young mind, is almost always a warrant against the inferior excitement of passions and vices."
--Horace Mann

I like this quote a lot. I realized not too long ago that the presence of books is part of what makes a house feel welcoming to me. Without books, it doesn't seem like a home. I also believe that having books in the home is so important for children. It is better for them if it is just a part of their life. If a child grows up in a reading house, they will read.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A New Challenge

I found an intriguing list online, title 40 Modern Nonfiction Books Everyone Should Read. I have decided to take the challenge and read at least ten of these books. I have read a few of them already, so I will choose ten books I haven't read and begin. After reading ten from the list, I will evaluate whether to continue reading the author's suggested nonfiction books.

I am excited about this new challenge. I will review a selection of the books I read from the list.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Emma Donoghue has written an intriguing, gut wrenching book. It is told from the viewpoint of Jack, a smart five year old boy whose entire world measures eleven feet by eleven feet. His mother is his main companion, and they are occasionally visited by a man he knows as "Old Nick". "Old Nick" brings them things from the the world outside, but Jack always has to stay in the wardrobe when he visits.

Because this book is told from Jack's viewpoint, Donoghue is able to address the difficult subject of abduction and captivity in a unique way. This book is an intriguing look at the world and the relationships between people.

I recommend this book to adult readers. It is a truly gripping story.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Quote by Ray Bradbury

"You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them."
--Ray Bradbury

I love this quote because it is by Ray Bradbury, a man who wrote an entire book about a culture destroyed by burning books. But he makes a good point. All you have to do to destroy a culture is get people to stop reading books. I know many people who do not read, and it saddens me. I think there is so much we can learn and understand about people, values, truth, love, justice, and more when we read. Those who are not reading are missing something out on something vital, something better.

Begin where you are today. Pick a book that challenges you, and read it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Servant of a Dark God

John Brown has created a unique fantasy world, and populated it with interesting characters. Much of the book is written from the perspective of Talen, a smart youth who is caught up in the swirl of dangerous events. This book is fantasy done right. It has many of the classic fantasy elements, but presents a new, complex way of looking at things. Characters are not clearly good or evil, and their motivations are multi-layered just as people in reality.

I have read this book twice in the last few months, because I enjoyed it immensely. The only let down is that the sequel isn't out yet. If you enjoy fantasy, especially when it is well-crafted, read this book.

You can read the first chapter of this amazing book at the author's website here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hitler's Private Library

This is a book about Hitler's books. It begins with a brief discussion about how examining the book collection left behind will reveal much about its owner. The author, Timothy W. Ryback, then goes on to talk about some of the books Hitler left behind, including how well used they appear and markings left in the margin. The book is about the books of Hitler, when they came into his life, and how they influenced his thoughts.

A few things stood out to me about this book. First, some of the books that Hitler seemed to read were the typical classical books that many of us have heard of or read: Shakespeare, Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Gulliver's Travels, for example. He spent hours reading each night, and would then discuss his readings in the morning. These are not things that immediately signal a troubled mind.

But he also had a vast collection of war books, as well as many Anti-Semitic books. His markings in these books show him to be greatly taken with the ideas and philosophies. It seems that he missed many of the messages in the fiction books, while believing whole-heartedly the nonfiction vitriol. Perhaps he was a man who did not see the truth in fiction?

This book gave a me different perspective of this man who affected the lives of so many. A deeper perspective, which did not improve my opinion of him but did shed some light on his decisions.

If you are interested, this book was an intriguing read. It is for those looking for greater clarity about how Hitler thought. It may also be for those interested in books and personal libraries.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Fourth Turning

Occasionally, I will read a book that changes how I see everything. This was the case with this book by Strauss and Howe. It is about the circular nature of history. This book was originally published in 1997, and many of the things the authors projected have happened. The authors outline different generational patterns, and how these generations have historically created specific types of events. History repeats itself. Most people give this phrase only lip service, but Strauss and Howe outline specific events through history that follow the generational pattern. Why does this matter? Because if history repeats itself we can know what to prepare for and some of the things we can expect.

If you are ready for a larger perspective of history and the times we are living in today, read The Fourth Turning. Be ready to dig deep and learn a lot. This book is worth it.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Rest of Her Life

When I was in high school, an older female student accidentally hit another girl who was walking near the school. The younger girl died. This, essentially, is the plot of the book The Rest of Her Life. It is told from the viewpoint of the mother of the older girl. I found it to be a poignant, complex read. I did not have true objectivity for this book, because it mirrored a real event for me. The characters choices, emotions, and experiences rang true for me. It is a thoughtful book that begs the question, "What would you do?"

If you enjoy books with interesting characters in hard situations, you should read this book. If you like to read Jodi Picoult, this is a book for you. This book kept me up late, because I wanted to keep reading.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Evaluating a Potential Book Group

I have had great experiences with book groups, as well as some experiences that were not so great. There are many benefits from a book group experience, and I think that most people can find a group they enjoy. Finding an established book group can be easy, but discovering if it is a good match for you may not be as easy.

Here are a few ideas for evaluating a potential book group. Realize that every group has a different focus and style. Some groups focus much more on the social aspect of the group. They are about the meeting, not the reading. I was once in a group like this, and I enjoyed it well enough for a while. However, discussions began to be derailed because a couple people would not finish the book and would insist that we not discuss the endings at the group. You may be fine with this policy, but it was quite frustrating for me.

Some groups are directed by one person. Others are a shared responsibility. I have been in good groups with both styles. Some groups are held at libraries or book stores, while others are held in the homes of members. I know of a few groups that meet at restaurants. There are pros and cons for all locations, but these are much less important than the camaraderie and discussion.

Pay attention to how the group interacts with one another. The social aspect of the group will determine many other factors, including whether a group will last. Are the discussions intense? That is fine as long as there is an underlying current of respect. In fact, it is probably a mark of a good group if the members do not shy away from difficult subjects. I have been in one book group that discussions were continually shut down by one member of the group who had a particularly condescending way of disagreeing.

Book selection and discussion are the two largest factors you should evaluate when looking at a book group. Some groups do not have a stated book list, but allow members to make suggestions. Although these groups could be considered eclectic, they tend to read mainly contemporary fiction. Some groups have a more formal book list to ensure a greater variety of books. It may be possible to know a year or more in advance what books will be read. Some groups have a genre that they read, such as mysteries or science fiction or religious books. Taking a look at a book list for the next few months can give you a real feel for whether a book group would work for you.

The discussions when the group gets together are the main part of the book group experience. Some groups discuss literary techniques, the author's life, and plot structure. Other groups discuss only the themes from the book. Some groups discuss how the book relates to their own lives, and how the book changed them. Your own preference should be the deciding factor on whether you join a particular book group or not. Discussions are best when all members have a common goal, and respect for each other.

When you join a book group, you should select it carefully. It can be a great experience if it is a good match for you.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Books Finished December 2010

Flight of Shadows by Sigmund Brouwer
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Heat Wave by Richard Castle
Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning by Oliver and Rachel DeMille
Midwives by Chris Bohjalian
Naked Heat by Richard Castle
Sarah by Orson Scott Card
Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley
Tethered by Amy Mackinnon
The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe
The Good Mother by Sue Miller
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
The Law of Similars by Chris Bohjalian
The Promised Messiah by Bruce R. McConkie
The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce

*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.