Monday, November 30, 2009

Relative Reads Review - The Shack by William Paul Young

I was given the great fortune of growing up in a family of readers. Both of my parents read, and so do the majority of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. In fact, my Great-Grandma had cataract surgery in her 90's, because she couldn't bear to not be able to read. I thought it would be interesting to read some of the books THEY have discovered and enjoyed over the years, so I asked them to send me some recommendations, and the fun began! I have a list of the titles various family members have suggested on the side of the blog, so if you want to see what will be coming up you can take a peek.


The Shack by William Paul Young (recommended by Aunt Leah)
published 2007
248 pages


Synopsis from publisher:

Mackenzie Allen Philips' youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack's world forever. In a world where religion seems to grow increasingly irrelevant "The Shack" wrestles with the timeless question, "Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?"


My thoughts:

I was looking forward to reading this book for two reasons - my aunt Leah recommended it, and she has great taste in books; and because there has been A LOT of varying opinions about it floating around, so I was interested to see what I would think.

I guess I was a little underwhelmed. I found it to be neither sacrilegious nor life-changing (both words I'd seen used to describe this book). Much of the theology presented in the book was quite similar to what I personally believe. I found passages that made me cheer with agreement:

"We want males and females to be counterparts, face-to-face equals, each unique and different, distinctive in gender but complementary, and each empowered uniquely...I am not about performance and fitting into man-made structures; I am about being."

and passages that made me cringe in recognition:

"...you have judged many throughout your life. You have judged the actions and even the motivations of others, as if you somehow knew what those were in truth. You have judged the color of skin and body language and body odor. You have judged history and relationships. You have even judged the value of a person's life by the quality of your concept of beauty. By all accounts, you are well-practiced in the activity."

I was frustrated by the writing, which often just seemed clunky, and should have been cleaned up by a good editor. I didn't really care that much for the initial story, which seemed a lot like the backstory to an episode of Law & Order: SVU. But there were moments I found quite powerful and beautiful.

I think it's an interesting read. I understand why some people would consider it life-altering. I don't exactly get the charges of heresy, but in general I think those types of accusations are usually overblown. I think this probably is the very book that somebody needs, and I hope that person finds this book.

Finished: 10/23/09
Source: loan from my mom
Rating: 7/10

Don't just take my word for it! Here's what some other fabulous bloggers had to say:

Dreadlock Girl

She is too fond of books
Devourer of Books

Sunday, November 29, 2009

TSS - Sunday Shorts


A few shorter reviews for your enjoyment. =)









The Liberation Diet by Kevin Brown and Annette Presley

published 2008
240 pages

Synopsis from Amazon:

Truly life-changing, The Liberation Diet by Kevin Brown and Annette Presley shatters myths to bring a commonsense approach to eating—and living. Exposing the half-truths and outright lies taught by conventional nutritional wisdom, the program reveals why modern diets fail and shows how The Liberation Diet is the answer to America’s weight problem. With a bold and candid wit, this must-read tells it like it is with a balance of knowledge and experience to teach a clear message about diet truth and error while promoting a lifestyle of real-food nutrition coupled with simple exercise. With chapter titles such as Lipid Profiling, The Stealth Additive, Milk Matters, and The Cow and the Tiger, the co-authors brilliantly script a simple plan to lose weight and keep it off for life. With thought provoking discussions on food additives, fats, carbohydrates, calories, water, salt, and more, readers will look at how they eat, why they eat, and what they eat in a whole new way.

My thoughts:

Well, this was an interesting book. I think much of the information presented was important, but was a bit turned off by the often sensationalistic approach used by the authors. I think the idea of fewer processed food, eating food as close to the way nature made it as possible, etc. is good advice - it's the same idea as shopping only on the perimeter of the grocery store. But when I read things in the book like, "the pharmaceutical industry invented the drug Viagra for carbohydrate lovers to combat a low sex drive", it made me question a lot of their assertions. I think this book is a good idea, but wouldn't be able to recommend it based on the way that idea is presented.

Finished: 10/29/09
Source: the authors - thank you!
Rating: 4/10



Days of Blood and Fire by Katharine Kerr (Deverry series, book six)
published 1993
390 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

In the peaceful land of the Rhiddaer, Jahdo the ratcatcher's son stumbles upon a secret meeting between a city council man and a dangerous, mysterious woman. Suddenly the boy is tangled in a web of intrigue and black magic that drags him far from home. In the company of a blind bard, Jahdo must travel to Deverry to unravel the evil that binds him. But there the boy is caught up in dangers far greater than he has ever known. Two powerful sorcerers--one human, the other elven--are battling to save the country from a goddess gone mad. Their strongest ally is the mercenary soldier Rhodry Maelwaedd, a berserker bound to both women by fate and magic . . . and to the dragon upon whom all their live may depend.

My thoughts:

Yep, I still love this series, even with the introduction of (gasp!) a dragon. In this installment, Kerr takes a break from her adventures in the past lives of her characters, and offers up an entire novel set in the present life of Jill and Rhodry. While I always enjoy learning about their part, there is just something so compelling about these two characters, and I very much enjoyed staying in their lives for this entire novel. She also opens up more of her world, giving us a glimpse of the home of the dwarves, as well as two entirely new groups of people, which can only be setting the stage for more drama. This is an excellent series based on Celtic mythology, and I highly recommend it.

Finished: 11/26/09
Source: Forest Avenue Library
Rating: 8/10


Isis by Douglas Clegg
published 2009
113 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

If you lost someone you loved, what would you pay to bring them back from the dead?

Old Marsh, the gardener at Belerion Hall, warned the Villiers girl about the old ruins along the seacliffs. “Never go in, miss. Never say a prayer at its door. If you are angry, do not seek revenge by the Laughing Maiden stone, or at the threshold of the Tombs. There be those who listen for oaths and vows…. What may be said in innocence and ire becomes flesh and blood in such places.”

She was born Iris Catherine Villiers. She became Isis.

From childhood until her sixteenth year, Iris Villiers wandered the stone-hedged gardens and the steep cliffs along the coast of Cornwall near her ancestral home. Surrounded by the stern judgments of her grandfather—the Gray Minister—and the taunts of her cruel governess, Iris finds solace in her beloved older brother who has always protected her. But when a tragic accident occurs from the ledge of an open window, Iris discovers that she possesses the ability to speak to the dead...

Be careful what you wish for.

My thoughts:

This would be a perfect choice for someone participating in next years RIP challenge - this short novella packs a lot of punch. Clegg gets the atmosphere just right, and the illustrations by Glen Chadbourne are gorgeous and haunting. Apparently, this story is part of Clegg's larger Harrow House series, and has made me want to seek those novels out. I'm not usually a horror fan, but this author has won me over. Spooky and heartbreaking.

Finished: 11/29/09
Source: Forest Avenue Library
Rating: 8/10

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Review - Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel


Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
published 2009
532 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII's court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the king's favor and ascend to the heights of political power

England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. The quest for the king's freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum.

Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: he is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

My thoughts:

How does one make a 500+ page novel about the Tudor court seem almost passionless? I mean, we all know the stories of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Katharine of Aragon and Thomas Cromwell - these people were brash and proud and lusty and courageous and strong. Why then, after reading the Booker Prize winning Wolf Hall, do I feel more like I've read an essay about these characters than a fully engrossing novel?

I almost think Mantel's novel was SO well-researched that she lost track of the wonderfully fascinating people who lived this story. She clearly knows her stuff, and I don't think you could fault the historical accuracy of the novel. But it didn't sweep me away into the lives of Henry and Thomas, which is really what I wanted when I picked it up.

Don't get me wrong - I read it all the way through to the end, and in places it was compelling. But there was just SO much of the political, when I was hungering for more of the personal. Also, Mantel made the decision to refer to Cromwell as "he" for much of the novel. This was at times confusing when it seemed more logical that someone else would be the "he" that was speaking - I found myself reading and re-reading fairly frequently just to get a handle on who exactly was talking. It was strange, and threw me out of the narrative on a number of occasions.

I'm not terribly familiar with Booker Prize-winning novels, so I can't say if this is representative of the genre, but I will say that, for me, it was a disappointment. I don't think it will encourage me to pick up another novel by this author, which is too bad, because I really wanted to love her work.

Finished: 11/22/09
Source: Forest Avenue Library
Rating: 6/10

This book counts toward:


Friday, November 27, 2009

451 Fridays


451 Fridays is based on an idea from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In his novel, a group of people (Bradbury calls them Book People) are trying to keep the ideas found in books alive. Instead of actually saving the books, the Book People each "become" a book - memorizing it, word for word, and passing it down to the next generation.

451 Fridays asks what books you feel passionate about. What book do you think is so important that you would be willing to take on the challenge of "becoming"?


Today, I'm so thankful to welcome Anna to 451 Fridays. Anna blogs at Diary of an Eccentric, where there is always something interesting going on. I love the articles she writes for Examiner.com, and the joint reviews she does with her daughter, The Girl. Anna is also the co-host of the War Through the Generations challenge, which I am looking forward to participating in next year. Welcome, Anna!

What 5 books do you believe are important enough to be saved, and why?


The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan -- Amy Tan tells such beautiful stories and her understanding of the complex mother-daughter dynamic and ability to put it into words is awesome.


Night by Elie Wiesel -- A must-read for those interested in learning about the Holocaust.


Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen -- Austen's humorous commentary on society, manners, and relationships is the original chick lit.


Anne of Green Gables (series) by L.M. Montgomery -- It's impossible not to fall in love with Anne, the free-spirited child, and watching her grow into a women, wife, and mother was a high-point of my childhood reading.


Sea Glass by Anita Shreve -- Shreve has a way of making her characters come to life, and she brilliantly throws in a final twist that leaves you shocked and emotionally drained.


Of those 5, which book would you choose to "become"?


The Joy Luck Club. It's been my favorite book since I first read it in college, and one of the few books I've read more than once. It makes me cry every time.


Do you have any favorite quotes from that book, so we know why you love it so much?

"And then my mother cut a piece of meat from her arm. Tears poured from her face and blood spilled to the floor.

My mother took her flesh and put it in the soup. She cooked magic in the ancient tradition to try to cure her mother this one last time. She opened Popo's mouth, already too tight from trying to keep her spirit in. She fed her this soup, but that night Popo flew away with her illness.

Even though I was young, I could see the pain of the flesh and the worth of the pain.

This is how a daughter honors her mother. It is shou so deep it is in your bones. The pain of the flesh is nothing. The pain you must forget. Because sometimes that is the only way to remember what is in your bones. You must peel off your skin, and that of your mother, and her mother before her. Until there is nothing. No scar, no skin, no flesh." (page 41 in my paperback copy)



Anna, thank you so much for taking the time to share with us YOUR list of books which must be saved.

If you have a list you are burning to share, please let me know - I'd love to have you!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!


"Give me the end of the year an' its fun
When most of the plannin' an' toilin' is done;
Bring all the wanderers home to the nest,
Let me sit down with the ones I love best,
Hear the old voices still ringin' with song,
See the old faces unblemished by wrong,
See the old table with all of its chairs
An' I'll put soul in my Thanksgivin' prayers."
- Edgar A. Guest, Thanksgiving




This year, I am thankful:

~That my uncle Mark, who has lived for 26 years with ALS, is home from the hospital after a scary bout with pneumonia.

~ That Baby Sam came through his first surgery with flying colors.

~ That I have a job, no matter how much I complain about it.

~ That spending the holidays with my family is a pleasure, not a chore

~ That I have blessings upon blessings - my life is good!


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Baby Sam surgery update

From his website, written by his mom at 3:30 this afternoon:


"We have just come from seeing our son! He is puffy, swollen, bruised,and covered with Betadine stains... but I must say when we saw him open his little eyes we did not care about anything else. Our baby boy is alive. He made it through his first surgery!! Thank you Lord!

He has pacing wires, a femoral artery catheter, chest tubes, and an arterial line in his neck added to the growing collection of hardware on his little body. His heart rate has been good and steady, his oxygen sats look right where they should be, and his blood pressure is excellent. Everything looks great so far.

The day before Thanksgiving and we have SO MUCH to be thankful for this year. So very much. I'll probably be eating a turkey sandwich from the hospital cafeteria tomorrow, but I don't care. Not even a little bit. We have our sweet sweet Sam. He is lying in a tiny hospital warming bed hooked up to medications and machines...but we have him, his heart beating his lungs breathing. That is all we need."


Certainly something to be thankful for on Thanksgiving!

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.


I'm joined in The Nonfiction Files by Jehara. If you would like to play along with us, let me know!


My current read: The Big Thaw: Travels in the Melting North by Ed Struzik
published 2009
278 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Climate changes effects are reshaping the Arctic profoundly. Landscapes are being radically transformed, animal habitats are disappearing, and natural resources are being revealed to an energy-starved world. Veteran Arctic journalist Ed Struzik took eleven trips throughout the north to document this rapidly changing land, gaining unprecedented access to scientific expeditions, native communities and security and sovereignty experts.

The product of those trips, The Big Thaw is the only book that looks at global warmings wide-ranging impact on the Arctic. Struzik goes into the field with the worlds leading polar bear scientist, skis on melting glaciers with glaciologists, travels the Northwest Passage on an aging icebreaker and stalks a carnivorous rogue walrus with an Inuit hunter. His journeys bring him up close to some of the worlds most unique animals, from the iconic polar bear to the mysterious narwhal.

Struzik melds the vivid stories of his experiences with fascinating explorations of the Arctics past from the alligators and giant tortoises that inhabited the north 55 million years ago, to the 19th century explorers who died searching for the Open Polar Sea and its possible future as the center of international struggle, underground smuggling and ecological disaster.

My thoughts:

Well, it was bound to happen - I'd been on such a string of fascinating nonfiction reads that a snoozer was inevitable. For me, that's what this was. I have a couple of ideas about why it didn't work for me - here they are:

1. I hate winter and ice and snow, and this book is all about the Arctic. Yuck. I get that it's beautiful, and a great natural resource, and all that, but I'm getting all set to dread winter here in Iowa - I probably shouldn't have tried to read this book in this season. It just reminded me of all the reasons I'd like to move somewhere tropical for the next 4 months.

2. It was very "science-y" - and by that I mean, lots of stats, not so much story. And even that probably isn't completely fair, because the author does spend a good amount of time talking about where he went, and what he saw, and the people he came into contact with. It just had an overall pervading textbook-ish feel that turned me off.

3. I felt like I already knew most of the information in the book. My husband is a Discovery Channel nut, so we spend a good deal of time watching documentaries, and I think much of the information presented in this book has already been covered, with many more pictures to keep my attention. This probably isn't the fault of the author - he can't help it that my house is a center of learning for all ages.

Really, I think if you are quite interested in the global warming and the fate of the Arctic glaciers and such, you would really like this book. It just wasn't my cup of tea.


Finished: 11/21/09
Source: Wiley publishing group
Rating: 5/10

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Baby Sam update

****Caution - photo alert. For those who don't wish to see, please consider yourself warned.****


From Sam's latest update:

"Sam had a PIC line put in his little neck today. They had to put him under for that and it took over an hour. It was so hard waiting for him to come back from that. When it was done, and I saw him with the new addition to his lineup of wires I just broke......

The original plan for Samuel's heart condition was to do the first surgery called a Norwood operation. That plan has had to be altered because of Sam's rough and traumatic first few days of life. His lungs have sustained damage from the fluid and blood that filled them and the resucit
ation efforts. The damage will heal, but it will take time. Because of this they all feel that Sam is not strong enough to survive the Norwood operation, so they are changing the plan. He will have an operation called a Hybrid Norwood which will enable the doctors to do what is essential for his heart right now, and not risk him going on the heart and lung bypass machine. It will make Sam's second operation more involved, but we are praying he will be strong enough then to endure it.
It is still a very involved heart operation, and carries with it a lot of risk. The risk of losing Sam is still staggering. All of which we heard today. It took our breath away. They have scheduled his surgery for this Wednesday. We will find out what time tomorrow. PLEASE start praying for our sweet Sam right now!!"






Review - Regular Guy by Sarah Weeks

Regular Guy by Sarah Weeks
published 1999
120 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Guy is convinced that the man and woman with whom he has lived all his life cannot possibly be what they claim to be--his parents. They're too weird! Would anyone else's mother tie-dye every pair of underwear in the house? Would anyone else's father perform the famous oyster trick by sucking an oyster up his nose with a horrible noise and spitting it out of his mouth--in a restaurant? No--except maybe the parents of the weirdest, craziest, most unappealing kid in Guy's whole class, Bob-o. But Bob-o's parents are as normal as parents come--just like Guy. This gives Guy food for thought, especially when he finds out that he and Bob-o have the same birthday, and were born in the same hospital! Guy and his best friend Buzz are determined to find out the truth about what really took place the day Guy and Bob-o were born.

My thoughts:

This book was my selection for challenge #2 of Jenners' Take A Chance Challenge -

Random Word. Go to this random word generator and generate a random word. Find a book with this word in the title. Read the book and write about it.

My random word was "regular", so I found the book Regular Guy. Boy, this book was a lot of fun!

Who doesn't remember being a kid and wishing you had a different family? My parents are great, and yet I can still remember packing up my little suitcase and getting ready to run away. (As a funny aside, my plan was to run to my grandma's house, because I was CONVINCED that she wouldn't tell them I was there. Clearly I didn't think that part through very well...) Regular Guy's hero, Guy, is sure of the same thing. His parents are SO EMBARRASSING, and he knows there must have been a mistake.

This book is a delight - it's clever, and funny, and tackles a subject that is almost universal. Guy is an endearing main character, and his best friend, Buzz, is a great sidekick. It was so much fun to read as Guy and Buzz discover "clue" after "clue" to their great mystery, and their plan to solve Guy's problem is hilarious.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and recommend it for kids in upper elementary school. It's about family, and friends, and coming to terms with your identity, and it's also a great read.

Finished: 11/16/09
Source: Forest Avenue Library
Rating: 8/10

This book counts toward:

Monday, November 23, 2009

BOO!!!

Sorry kids - lots of spammers have forced me to enable comment moderation - hopefully they will soon go away, so I don't have to put you through this for too long.....=(

I'll get everyone's comments approved as soon as I can. BOO to spammers!!

Movie Reviews - Good Morning, Night and The Namesake

A couple more movie reviews for the Orbit Terrarum Film mini-challenge:


Good Morning, Night (Italy)


Plot summary from IMDB: The 1978 kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro, president of the most important political party in Italy at the time, Democrazia Cristiana, as seen from the perspective of one of his assailants -- a conflicted young woman in the ranks of the Red Brigade.

My thoughts:

I thought this was an interesting look at a terrorist act from the perspective of the terrorist. Not knowing much about the political landscape of Italy in the 1970s, I don't know whether or not Moro was a good guy or bad guy, but can assume that kidnapping a political rival is never a good way to go. The lead actress was stunning and powerful in her role of brainwashed terrorist slowly beginning to feel sympathy for the man she helped to imprison. Parts were strangely surreal, and I found these to be jarring, as the tone of much of the movie was somber and tense. I'm interested enough to seek out books on the subject. Recommended if the subject is something that grabs your attention.



The Namesake (India)

Plot summary from IMDB: American-born Gogol, the son of Indian immigrants, wants to fit in among his fellow New Yorkers, despite his family's unwillingness to let go of their traditional ways.

My thoughts:

Well, the book was better. (Who's surprised?) In fairness, this was a very good movie, well adapted and very true to the tone and content of the novel. I felt that Tabu, the beautiful actress who played Ashima, was perfectly cast. She portrayed such a range of emotions, from lonely and frightened new bride to startled and disapproving mother to heartbroken widow. I thought the relationship between Ashima and Ashoke was wonderfully captured, and felt it was the strongest part of the movie. I was a bit disappointed by the treatment of Gogol's name - his struggle with coming to terms with his identity was such a central part of the novel, and I didn't think the movie gave that part of the story enough emphasis. Overall, though, I was pleased, and would recommend the movie.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Poe Fridays (on Saturday)


This week's Poe selection is a poem, The Bells. If you are not familiar with this gem, I'll reprint the first stanza:

HEAR the sledges with the bells -
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells -
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.


But really, you should read the whole thing - you can do that here.

Last week I said I was feeling burned out on Poe - this week reminded me why I started this year-long project. I love this poem, and I'd forgotten how much. I love the rhythm and meter, the unusual, hypnotic rhyme. I love the way the mood of each stanza shifts, so a poem that starts out joyfully ends up in tragedy. I think each different type of bell represents a different place in a person's life - from the joy of youth to the sadness of death, and I think Poe captures this brilliantly.

Also, one of my favorite composers, Sergei Rachmaninoff, wrote a choral symphony based on this poem, and it's gorgeous. Here's the first movement, based on the stanza above:





Poe Fridays is hosted by Kristen at WeBeReading.

Friday, November 20, 2009

451 Fridays


451 Fridays is based on an idea from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In his novel, a group of people (Bradbury calls them Book People) are trying to keep the ideas found in books alive. Instead of actually saving the books, the Book People each "become" a book - memorizing it, word for word, and passing it down to the next generation.

451 Fridays asks what books you feel passionate about. What book do you think is so important that you would be willing to take on the challenge of "becoming"?

Today, I'm so happy to welcome Booklogged to 451 Fridays! Booklogged blogs at A Reader's Journal, where there is always something interesting going on. One of my favorite features on her blog is Blogging Around the States, where she is working her way through the 50 states, interviewing bloggers that live in each. What fun! Welcome, Booklogged! (Also, this might be my favorite 451 picture yet - love reading to the little ones!)

What 5 books do you believe are important enough to be saved, and why?

All the ones I've listed are engaging, well- written and teach us something important.

1. The Giver by Louis Lowry - Reminds us that it's good that we are different.

2. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver - Our way isn't necessarily the best way for everyone throughout the world.

3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - War is ugly, watch out for megalomaniacs and there is kindness to be found in humble hearts.

4. Atlas Shrugged - Socialism is scary and we need to be aware of it's sneaky entanglements.

5. Anne of Green Gables - Keeping a child-like outlook on the world and looking for the good in people and moments can bring wonder into our lives.


Of those 5, which book would you choose to "become?"

Anne of Green Gables - I think if I 'became' that book I would be a pleasure to be around and my outlook on life would be honest, child-like, refreshing and I would be filled with delight. Also, people would like to hear my story over and over again.


Do you have any favorite quotes from that book, so we know why you love it so much?


"What a splendid day! I pity people who aren't born yet for missing it. They may have good days, of course, but they can never have this one." - Anne


"I'd rather walk calmly along and do without the flying and the thud." - Marilla

"Isn't it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive--it's such an interesting world. It wouldn't be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There'd be no scope for imagination then, would there?" - Anne

"Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?" - Anne

"Next to trying and winning, the best thing is trying and failing." - Anne



Thanks so much, Booklogged, for sharing with us YOUR list of books which must be saved. (And YAY for another Anne fan!!)

Do you have a list you'd like to share? Please let me know - I'd love to have you!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Baby Sam update



Thanks to everyone who sent thoughts/prayers/bright thoughts/good vibes to this little guy -he's here! He has quite a struggle ahead, though - here's an update:

"They broke Joy's water after more than 24 hours of labor. After that she had an epidural...
and about 30 minutes later felt severe pressure. Sam was coming--but he was sticking out a FOOT. In between her water breaking and that moment he had managed to flip himself around and was breech. This presented a very scary situation in the operating room. Joy worked very hard to get him out quickly.

Samuel David Owens was born at 7:20 PM on November 18th. He weighed in at 6 pounds on the nose, and was 19 inches long. They immediately whisked him to ICU where they found several complications. His lungs were filling up with blood, and he took his very first ambulance ride at minutes old to St. Mary's hospital. Several tests were performed and we were told that Sam needed a procedure done immediately to open his atrial septum which was completely sealed shut. Kurt went with Sam, and was told that Samuel had several things going against him, and to be prepared for the worst. They did not think he would survive the procedure....


Shortly after 1 o'clock this morning weary looking doctors came in to talk with us. They told us Sam was doing WELL...but he is also a VERY sick little baby, and he has a VERY long and rocky road ahead of him. They were amazed at how remarkably strong Samuel was, and how resilient his body was.
Kurt and I were not surprised at all. We knew The Lord had done a miracle and saved our son.

We were both able to see him and touch him. He is absolutely beautiful, and we are so much in love with our new little boy already. It hurts our hearts knowing what he is up against, and what lies ahead.

Please pray for no seizures for Samuel--a very real complication right now.

Pray for his lungs and heart to heal from the procedures they did last night.

Pray for him to stabilize in general--the next few days are very fragile!!"



Thanks so much for your continued well-wishes for this family. They appreciate it more than you know!

Thursday Tunes



Thursday Tunes is a weekly event hosted by S. Krishna, devoted to sharing the music we love.

S. Krishna usually features a new artist each week - just to be different, I'm going to focus on a specific song, because it's the song that hooks me. There are very few artists whose entire body of work is in my MP3 player, but I have thousands of songs I love.


Have I mentioned that I have fairly eclectic musical tastes? Here's a sampling of what's been playing (loudly) at my house this week.










Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.


My current read: My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq by Ariel Sabar. If you need to catch up, you can read my first posts about this book here and here.

Synopsis from publisher:

In a remote and dusty corner of the world, forgotten for nearly three thousand years, lived an ancient community of Kurdish Jews so isolated that they still spoke Aramaic--the language of Jesus. Mostly illiterate, they were self-made mystics and gifted storytellers, humble peddlers and rugged loggers who dwelt in harmony with their Muslim and Christian neighbors in the mountains of northern Iraq. To these descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel, Yona Sabar was born.

In the 1950s, after the founding of the state of Israel, Yona and his family emigrated there with the mass exodus of 120,000 Jews from Iraq--one of the world's largest and least-known diasporas. Almost overnight, the Kurdish Jews' exotic culture and language were doomed to extinction. Yona, who became an esteemed professor at UCLA, dedicated his career to preserving his people's traditions. But to his first-generation American son Ariel, Yona was a reminder of a strange immigrant heritage on which he had turned his back--until he had a son of his own.

My Father's Paradise is Ariel Sabar's quest to reconcile present and past. As father and son travel together to today's postwar Iraq to find what's left of Yona's birthplace, Ariel brings to life the ancient town of Zakho, telling his family's story and discovering his own role in this sweeping saga. What he finds in the Sephardic Jews' millennia-long survival in Islamic lands is an improbable story of tolerance and hope.

Populated by Kurdish chieftains, trailblazing linguists, Arab nomads, devout believers--marvelous characters all-- this intimate yet powerful book uncovers the vanished history of a place that is now at the very center of the world's attention.


My final thoughts:

This final section was all about the Sabars' life in America - Yona's first impressions of his new country ("They would tell you things which would never occur to me to mention to someone I just met, if ever..."); meeting the woman who would become his wife ("She sees the image of God in human beings even when they are not at their best..."); his work as a professor, and struggles with his increasingly rebellious son.

Sabar doesn't try to sugar-coat his relationship to his father. He was full of teenaged frustration, and treated his father cruelly. His adult insight into the motivations behind that behavior were interesting, and I could relate to them. Although I don't think I was ever that purposefully cruel to my parents, I know what he means when he says his father probably would have understood the feelings he wasn't mature enough to put words to.

Eventually, Sabar grows up and realizes that he might be able to learn something from his father. His attempts to connect with his father's past, and the trip they take back to Zahko, wrap up this book, and I admit I found this section the least compelling. I was much more interested in the relationship between the two men, and felt the pages of Sabar running around fruitlessly looking for his lost aunt lost some of the strong sense of personal history that I had so enjoyed until that point.

Despite that, I still recommend this book strongly. It's cast of characters is impossible not to fall in love with, and I predict you will start to think of them as members of your own family, like I did. Sabar has a wonderfully engaging storytelling style, and the pages fly past - you will be amazed at how quickly you are done, and how much you miss this fascinating, quirky, remarkable family.

Finished: 11/14/09
Source: the publisher - thank you!
Rating: 8/10


One of the reasons I started The Nonfiction Files as a weekly feature was to reinforce the idea that nonfiction isn't scary - there are so many wonderful stories to discover! If you have read a great piece of nonfiction lately, let me know, and I will link to your post on my next weekly Nonfiction Files!

I'm joined in The Nonfiction files by Jehara. If you would like to play along with us, let me know!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Review - The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden


The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden
originally published 1958
31 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Ivy, Holly, and Mr. and Mrs. Jones all have one Christmas wish. Ivy, an orphan, wishes for a real home and sets out in search of the grandmother she’s sure she can find. Holly, a doll, wishes for a child to bring her to life. And the Joneses wish more than anything for a son or daughter to share their holiday. Can all three wishes come true? This festive tale is perfectly complemented by beloved Barbara Cooney’s luminous illustrations, filled with the warm glow of the Christmas spirit.


My thoughts:

"This is a story about wishing."

One of the best traditions my mom started with my sister, brother, and I as kids at Christmas was to read aloud a collection of Christmas stories. We would occasionally add a new one, but each year we knew we'd hear the story of The Little Fir Tree, A Christmas Memory, The Animals' Christmas Eve, and The Night Tree.

Of all of the books she read to us, I think my favorite was The Story of Holly and Ivy. It has everything a good fairy tale should - a little, lost girl; a doll who desperately wants to be loved; a kind-hearted family; a villianous owl. Each is perfectly written, and are just waiting, like Holly, to find a home in your heart.

"Dolls are not like us; we are alive as soon as we are born, but dolls are not really alive until they are played with."

This particular edition has the added bonus of gorgeous illustrations by Barbara Cooney - they bring the story to life. This is a wonderful read-aloud book. At it's heart, it is about making wishes and hoping for them to come true - a perfect story for Christmas.

I absolutely love this book. I hope you can find a spot for it on your shelves!

Finished: 11/14/09
Source: Forest Avenue Library
Rating: 10/10

This book counts toward;



It is worth 20 points!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Baby Sam


Look at that sweet little face. I'd like to introduce you to Samuel David Owens, who will be making his entrance into the world next Tuesday. Normally, this would be a joyful announcement, but for Sam's parents, this will be a very scary day.

You see, Sam has a big brother, Matthew, who was born with a very severe heart defect. Matthew is 9 years old, and has already had 8 open heart surgeries. If you are a parent, you can understand just how difficult this has been for Matt's mom and dad.




Here is Matthew (on the right) with his brother, Parker, and sister, Emma Grace. Matt is doing well now, but will always have health issues because of his fragile heart.


When Matt's parents found out they were going to have another baby, they were happy, but that happiness quickly turned into devastation - their precious, unborn baby has an even more severe heart defect that Matthew. You can read the details on his website. On Friday, Baby Sam's parents found out that he would need to be born on Tuesday - more than 1 month before his due date.

I went to high school with Sam's mom and dad, and cannot express how much I hurt for them. Joy and Kurt are, truly, shaken to their very core - please, if you have a moment, send up a prayer, a bright thought, a silent wish - if you can, pray for Baby Sam.



"Broken hearts become brand new - that's what faith can do."


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Poe Fridays (on Saturday)


This week's selection is the short story, The Oblong Box. You can read the full text here.

Our narrator tells the story of a trip he took on a boat from Charleston to New York City. Once aboard, he realizes that an old friend is also making the voyage. The friend has his family with him - a wife and two sisters - as well as a strange, oblong box emitting a foul odor. The narrator notices other unusual things about the friend and his family, and proceeds to draw (honestly) the most ridiculous conclusions imaginable. Eventually, he learns the truth about the box, which we (the readers) figured out quite a while ago.

You know, it's possible I'm getting burned out on Poe. I don't know how this story would have struck me a few months ago, but reading it this week I just found it silly. At no time could I believe that anyone would be so dense as to not be able to figure out what was inside the box. I didn't find the story suspenseful as much as I found it irritating.

It might just be my reading taste right now, but Poe is definitely not hitting the spot. I'm not giving up on him yet, but am certainly finding him challenge right now.

Poe Fridays is hosted by Kristen at WeBeReading.

Friday, November 13, 2009

451 Fridays

451 Fridays is based on an idea from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In his novel, a group of people (Bradbury calls them Book People) are trying to keep the ideas found in books alive. Instead of actually saving the books, the Book People each "become" a book - memorizing it, word for word, and passing it down to the next generation.

451 Fridays asks what books you feel passionate about. What book do you think is so important that you would be willing to take on the challenge of "becoming"?

Today, I am so honored to welcome author Garret Freymann-Weyr to 451 Fridays! Here's the official bio:

Garret Freymann-Weyr (née Weyr) was born and raised in New York City. She inexplicably went to college in North Carolina (UNC-Chapel Hill) and, just as inexplicably, got an MFA in film (NYU). She now lives outside Washington, D.C. with her husband. She has written five books for young adults, one of which, somewhat inexplicably, won a Printz honor. Her work has been sold to countries including the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, and China. Her next book, French Ducks in Venice, is a picture book for a younger audience.

Here's what I know - she writes great books, as you can tell from my review of After the Moment. Also, she is a very cool lady. She sent me a card - an actual card! via snailmail! - to introduce herself to me when I agreed to be on this blog tour. And she's been so gracious in the emails we've exchanged for the 451 post - really, I'm a fan. I'll definitely be out looking for more of her work. She also has a website where you can read more about her, including essays like this one I especially like about reading above your grade level. (You'll probably have to scroll down to find it, but it's worth it. Of course, you could just read all of them, which wouldn't be a bad way to spend some time, but make sure you read the one with Great Expectations!)

Welcome, Garret!


What 5 books do you believe are important enough to be saved, and why?

The part of me that believes ‘Western Civilization Is Important’ wants to give you a list full of achingly gorgeous and precious works. You know the gang of The Iliad, Inferno, The Aeneid, etc. But the part of me that fervently believes that books are a passport to pleasure is going to go in another direction.


1. Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers because it is about the magic that lies within childhood, but it never ever talks down to children or presumes to teach them anything.


2. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton because it is a love story and a comedy of manners that doesn’t amuse its readers so much as it transforms them.


3. Middlemarch by George Eliot because people no longer even think the way Eliot writes and her characters will break your heart. I tended to skip over the stuff about land reform because I am not a Proper Reader. But it is my belief that stepping into this novel will bring as close as you can get to time travel (backwards that is).


4. Pitch Dark by Renata Adler because it is unlike any other modern novel. Adler uses fragments to build her narrative, which sounds annoying and should be annoying, but isn’t. When you are lost and not sure of what life will allow you, this novel illuminates how to be lost and found at the same time.


5. Parthian Stations by John Ash because his poems allow you to step into another person’s soul. Ash, born in Manchester, lived in NY from 1985 -96. He now lives in Istanbul, and his work is full of longing, grief, memory, and joy. It is everything you think of when you imagine what beauty really is.


Of those 5, which would you choose to become?


Mary Poppins, because who wouldn’t want to spend eternity in a British nursery? I wouldn’t mind being the elusive and sad Countess Olenska in The Age of Innocence or Dorothea Brooks in Middlemarch, but if I were to become a book, it would have to be Mary Poppins. Hands down.


Are there any quotes from the book(s) you'd like to share?



From Mary Poppins:



“It was the first day of Spring. Jane and Michael knew this at once, because they heard Mr. Banks singing in his bath, and there was only one day in the year when he did that.”


From The Age of Innocence:


“He longed to ask Madame Olenska if she did not have the same feeling: the feeling that they were starting on some long voyage from which they might never return.”




Garret, thank you so much for taking the time to share with us YOUR list of books which must be saved!!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Review - After the Moment by Garret Freymann-Weyr


After the Moment by Garret Freymann-Weyr
published May, 2009
328 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Maia Morland is pretty, only not pretty-pretty. She's smart. She's brave. Shes also a self-proclaimed train wreck.

Leigh Hunter is smart, popular, and extremely polite. He's also completely and forever in love with Maia Morland.

Their young love starts off like a romance novel - full of hope, strength, and passion. But life is not a romance novel and theirs will never become a true romance. For when Maia needs him the most, Leigh betrays both her trust and her love.

Told with compassion and true understanding, After the Moment is about what happens when a young man discovers that sometimes love fails us, and that, quite often, we fail love.

My thoughts:

I found this novel to be lovely and frustrating. I was impressed with the author's ability to get into the mind of a teenage boy - I think, for the first time, I feel like I understand the way their brains work. In a lot of ways, I could see my brother and cousins in Leigh - their basic goodness, their fascination with girls, the way they try to do the right thing, and the confusion that sometimes results when those impulses collide. I think Leigh might have been just a bit too perfect, but that made his resulting betrayal all the more poignant.

I loved the writing - it was subtle but powerful, and kept me engaged in the story throughout. The author tackles some hefty topics, but the book itself never feels heavy - it is filled with humor throughout, and Leigh has some great lines.

"As anyone who has grown up surrounded by romance novels could tell you, they all end on moments that are certain and right. In these stories, the hero and heroine, even before their moment arrives, are full of qualities that can only be described as right. As good...

As anyone who has survived one could tell you, love affairs, and the people who have them, tend to be a little less right than romances. The moments are more uncertain, and the people having a love affair are not required to be good."

Now, this next part will get a little spoilerish, so consider yourself warned.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

This book also made me VERY angry. I am trying not to give too much away, but a VERY BAD THING happens. And eventually, we discover that one of Leigh's friends was involved in the VERY BAD THING. And everyone seems to know that this particular character was involved, and no one seems to be that upset about it, because HE SAID HE WAS SORRY. And boy, did that make me mad. Because I was NOT interested in absolution for this character. In fact, I was horrified, and I think Leigh's reaction was perfectly justified. I GET why Leigh did what he did, and I was STILL mad at that character.

And I realized that a book that can tick me off that much is probably pretty darn good. Because it completely involved me in the lives of its characters - so much so that I felt actual anger. At first I was even angry at the author for writing it that way, but I realize that was probably misplaced. What she wrote was, unfortunately, the way things would probably go. And THAT makes me even more angry. But, also thankful, that she was brave enough to write the story that was real.


I think this is a powerful novel that deals with important issues teens will likely have to face. Because some of the topics are sensitive, I would recommend reading it along with your teen, to be able to discuss the issues it raises. It stirred up lots of emotions in me, but ultimately I am glad to have had the opportunity to read it.

Finished: 10/25/09
Source: TLC Book Tours/the author
Rating: 8/10


Don't just take my word for it! Here are the rest of the stops on this tour:


Monday, October 19th – Books by Their Covers

Tuesday, October 20th – Eclectic Book Lover

Thursday, October 22nd – Cindy’s Love of Books

Tuesday, October 27th – The Brain Lair

Wednesday, October 28th – Luxury Reading

Thursday, October 29th – Pop Culture Junkie

Monday, November 2nd – Steph Su Reads

Wednesday, November 4th – Bart’s Bookshelf

Thursday, November 5th – A Striped Armchair

Tuesday, November 10th – The Bluestocking Society

Thursday, November 12th – As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves

Monday, November 16th – Starting Fresh

Tuesday, November 17th – Beth Fish Reads

Thursday, November 19th – Book Addiction

Monday, November 23rd – The Novel Bookworm

Tuesday, November 24th – All About {n}

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.


My current read: My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq by Ariel Sabar. If you need to catch up, you can read my first post about this book here.

Synopsis from publisher:

In a remote and dusty corner of the world, forgotten for nearly three thousand years, lived an ancient community of Kurdish Jews so isolated that they still spoke Aramaic--the language of Jesus. Mostly illiterate, they were self-made mystics and gifted storytellers, humble peddlers and rugged loggers who dwelt in harmony with their Muslim and Christian neighbors in the mountains of northern Iraq. To these descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel, Yona Sabar was born.

In the 1950s, after the founding of the state of Israel, Yona and his family emigrated there with the mass exodus of 120,000 Jews from Iraq--one of the world's largest and least-known diasporas. Almost overnight, the Kurdish Jews' exotic culture and language were doomed to extinction. Yona, who became an esteemed professor at UCLA, dedicated his career to preserving his people's traditions. But to his first-generation American son Ariel, Yona was a reminder of a strange immigrant heritage on which he had turned his back--until he had a son of his own.

My Father's Paradise is Ariel Sabar's quest to reconcile present and past. As father and son travel together to today's postwar Iraq to find what's left of Yona's birthplace, Ariel brings to life the ancient town of Zakho, telling his family's story and discovering his own role in this sweeping saga. What he finds in the Sephardic Jews' millennia-long survival in Islamic lands is an improbable story of tolerance and hope.

Populated by Kurdish chieftains, trailblazing linguists, Arab nomads, devout believers--marvelous characters all-- this intimate yet powerful book uncovers the vanished history of a place that is now at the very center of the world's attention.


My thoughts so far:

This second section of the book finds Yona and his family in Israel, which cannot live up to the dreams they have built for their homeland. While it is a much more melancholy read than the first part, I found myself connecting even more with this remarkable family.

While Yona's father and grandfather are each disappointed in their new country, Yona finds creative ways to make himself at home. While still in high school he gets a job to help support his family, and goes to school in the evenings. He quickly forms fast friendships with a group of boys at the high school - all feeling like outcasts because of their family situation and status as Kurdish refugees. I found the discrimination by Jews of European descent against Jews of Middle Eastern descent startling - as, I'm sure, did the families who were being discriminated against.

While Yona makes his way in the world, finishing high school and enrolling in college, he encourages his siblings to do the same. In a way, it was an interesting parallel to many of the stories of immigrant families to the United States - the kids assimilate fairly quickly, while the parents struggle to fit in. Yona's father was never able to replicate the success he had enjoyed in business, and his mother was virtually homebound. I felt sad for these two vibrant people who just couldn't seem to find their place in the new land.

Yona truly comes alive in college, and finds himself immersed in the world of linguistics. I love the way the author describes language:

"Language lives. It inhales culture and history. It sprouts new limbs, sloughs off old ones. It goes through cycles of rapid growth, unremarkable periods of stable maturity, decay, and sometimes, as with Hebrew, miraculous rebirth."

It is because of Yona's knowledge of a language that is almost unknown to the scholars of his day - Aramaic, the language of his youth - that he is finally able to go to America, which is where this section of the books ends. I feel so excited for him, to go on this great adventure, and yet worried as he leaves his family behind. I've become very invested in these lives - this is great storytelling!



Also participating in The Nonfiction Files is Jehara - stop by and visit! (p.s. she just got married this weekend, so you should really go congratulate her!!)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Green Books Campaign Review - Sweet Utopia by Sharon Valencik

This review is part of the Green Books campaign. Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 great books printed in an environmentally friendly way. Our goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.



Sweet Utopia by Sharon Valencik
published 2009
183 pages


Synopsis:

These easy-to-make, sensational desserts are all lactose- and cholesterol-free. Now you can create the luscious flavors and familiar textures of traditional desserts without the use of eggs or dairy. Straightforward ingredients are used to create a variety of the best cakes, cookies, pies, puddings, and other treats. Full-color photos provide inspiration for making these tempting sweets.

My thoughts:

So, my first cookbook review, and I choose a vegan cookbook? I know, it's a little crazy - I'm not a vegan- but the idea of "better for me" desserts won me over, and I had to try it. The book itself is quite nice - large pictures for each recipe make it easy to see what you are trying to make, and I felt all the recipes were explained in a way that made them seem quite logical to follow. The "green" part of this book is, of course, that all the recipes are vegan, and also that the book itself is printed on paper that contains postconsumer recycled content, which apparently saved 89 trees.

The author gives many ideas and suggestions for the vegan cook, including what to do if you don't have the ingredients you need, substitutions for many of the ingredients, and the option to make most of the recipes with non-vegan ingredients if necessary. She states that all the specifically vegan ingredients are easy to find at your local grocery store, and for the most part I found that to be true. So, how are the recipes you ask?

The first recipe I tried was Chocolate-Pecan Paradise Pie. (Here's a picture of my finished product). It was described as looking like a thick brownie pie - I thought maybe it would be a cross between a brownie pie and a pecan pie. It was....not exactly that. I thought it tasted alright, but not really like what I expected when I read the recipe. There is molasses in the recipe, and I felt like that taste came through quite strong.

It wasn't bad, but not as fantastic as I would have hoped based on the description.







I also made the recipe for Pumpkin -Chocolate Chip Muffins, but left out the chips, and baked it into a loaf. (Again, my finished product - halfway eaten!) I thought this recipe was quite good, although not as good as other pumpkin bread recipes I've tried.




I also tried to make Cappuccino Custard, but that was a pretty serious fail. It required mixing of cornstarch and soy milk over medium heat - don't let the mixture come to a boil - don't let the mixture form lumps. I tried making this twice, and each time ended up with paste. I'm sure it was my own error, but didn't have the patience to try again.

I think if you are a vegan, or interested in starting a vegan lifestyle, this would probably be a great resource. For someone like myself, who was just an interested observer, I don't think the recipes are good enough to warrant purchasing the book. However, if eating vegan is something you are interested in, there is a lot of good information in this book, and I would recommend it.

Thanks to the publisher for sending my this book to review. If you are interested in learning more about the Green Books campaign, including a list of other books reviewed, make sure to visit their website!

Happy Birthday








Happy Birthday, JoAnna Emma. You have my heart wrapped around your tiny little finger. It has been such a joy to be your aunt - I can't believe you are already one year old! You've had a busy year - here are some highlights.
























































































































































Sweet girl, I can't wait to see what you learn next. Happy, happy birthday. I love you so much!