Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dancing Bones - Patsy Clairmont

Synopsis from B&N: We all want to live on a peaceful mountaintop where we can look down on the world below without getting hurt. With her trademark humor and style, Patsy Clairmont uses the story of "dancing bones" in Ezekiel to remind us that life in the valley can be pretty breathtaking, too. It's often in the valley that we learn and love the most. Rather than running from our troubles, Patsy says true "valley girls" find grace, freedom, and a sense of humor in the midst of turmoil.

I picked up this book on clearance at our local Christian bookstore last spring. I am just now reading it.

It took a few chapters for me to get into it; then I finally began to catch the message.

We all long for “mountain top” experiences. But let’s face it, most of life is lived in the valley and we don’t fully experience the mountaintop until heaven. So let’s make the most of our valley times.

Patsy Clairmont helps point out all of the things we have to appreciate in the valleys of life: friends, pets, wonder, solving the puzzles, food, salvation and so much more. She encourages readers to not look at the “valleys” in their lives as something to drudge through. Oh no. She challenges us all to dance.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Martyr's Song - Ted Dekker

Synopsis from B&N: Marci is waiting for a miracle. She longs to possess physical beauty that will save her from being a teenage outcast. The miracle that she receives comes in the form of an old woman's story. It leaves her skin untouched, except for tears of joy.

Not my favorite of Dekker’s books. So while I checked out the other three books in the “series”, I will be waiting some to read them. Perhaps I’m just not in a Dekker mood right now.

There are four books in the series. But in the intro to The Martyr’s Song it said they can be read in any order. Ack! My left-brained mind can’t handle that. So during my wait I’ll be sorting out recommendations for which order to read them in.

I disagree with the Barnes and Noble synopsis that this is the story of Marci. To me, it was really more the story of a village in Bosnia told through the vehicle of Marci and her self-derision.

It was hard to read at times. Like all Dekker’s book, it makes you think. Would I be able to have Nadia’s courage? The father’s faith? What would I do if placed in the same situation? You are forced to recognize there is a life beyond this one…which is so much more real than what we experience here and now.

Home in Time for Christmas - Heather Graham

Synopsis from B&N: Centuries ago, by a scaffold in Manhattan, rose petals drifted gently to the ground like snow on a wintry Massachusetts night. Melody Tarleton is driving home for Christmas when a man—clad in Revolutionary War-era costume—appears out of nowhere, right in the path of her car. Shaken, she takes the injured stranger in, listening with concern to Jake Mallory’s fantastic claim that he’s a Patriot soldier, sentenced to death by British authorities. The last thing he remembers is the tug of the noose.

Safe at her parents’ house, Melody concocts a story to explain the handsome holiday guest with the courtly manners, strange clothes and nasty bump on the head. Mark, her close friend who wishes he were more, is skeptical and her family is fascinated—though not half so fascinated as Melody herself. Jake is passionate, charming and utterly unlike anyone she’s ever met. Can he really be who he claims? And can a man from the distant past be the future she truly longs for?

Thanks, Rhonda, for the book recommendation! It was just what I needed to kick off my Christmas break.

While I will say the book was predictable and there were a few curse words sprinkled throughout, that gets all of the negative out of the way. I enjoyed the story and the characters. They were all kind of quirky but definitely in a good way. I still didn’t like Mark at the end, but that’s okay. The rest of them made up for it.

I liked the elements of time travel and the contrast of how values have changed.

Definitely a good, light read – fit for the season.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Christmas Wedding - James Patterson & Richard DiLallo

Synopsis from B&N: The tree is decorated, the cookies are baked, and the packages are wrapped, but the biggest celebration this Christmas is Gaby Summerhill's wedding. Since her husband died three years ago, Gaby's four children have drifted apart, each consumed by the turbulence of their own lives. They haven't celebrated Christmas together since their father's death, but when Gaby announces that she's getting married—and that the groom will remain a secret until the wedding day—she may finally be able to bring them home for the holidays.

This was pure fluff. Which sometimes (more times than not) I’m okay with. I guess I just expected more from James Patterson.

Gaby is a likeable character but nothing special. Her family all has issues (drug abuse, job loss, major medical issues) but, for some reason, those things are all glossed over. They’re not dealt with in any semblance of a realistic way.

The “mystery” groom was really no surprise.

I do have to say, I read the large print version. And sometimes I like to do that because then I feel like I’m making progress faster.

But can I talk about the cover? The bride on the cover is wearing a traditional wedding gown and doesn’t even look like she is near 50 years old. Gripe.

If you’re looking for a good Christmas read, I’m sure there are better ones out there.

Cartel - Sylvia Longmire

Summary from B&N: Having followed Mexico's cartels for years, border security expert Sylvia Longmire takes us deep into the heart of their world to witness a dangerous underground that will do whatever it takes to deliver drugs to a willing audience of American consumers. The cartels have grown increasingly bold in recent years, building submarines to move up the coast of Central America and digging elaborate tunnels that both move drugs north and carry cash and U.S. high-powered assault weapons back to fuel the drug war. Channeling her long experience working on border issues, Longmire brings to life the very real threat of Mexican cartels operating not just along the southwest border, but deep inside every corner of the United States. She also offers real solutions to the critical problems facing Mexico and the United States, including programs to deter youth in Mexico from joining the cartels and changing drug laws on both sides of the border.

I picked up this book after my hairdresser (thanks, Alison!) mentioned it because the author is a client at her salon (go to Buckingham studios in O’Fallon!).

It was…wow…a lot more intense (as in some gruesome details my stomach was barely strong enough to handle) than I expected. But it was also eye-opening and taught me a lot about the drug wars in Mexico, the effect on the U.S., the cartels who control, etc. I had no idea (I do seem to be saying that a lot recently after taking in a non-fiction read).

Having lived in Tucson, which is two hours from the border, I think I should have been more aware. Nope. Totally clueless. Did you know that cartels are growing marijuana in our state and national parks?!?!

I loved all of the information details packed into this book. And that Longmire doesn’t just look at it as a “Mexico problem.” Because the issues affect the United States in many ways and, let’s face it, people in the U.S. are huge consumers of illegal drugs that are pushing up from Mexico. And the fact that our weapons go south to arm the drug war…I hadn’t realized that before.

I think what I like best, though is that Longmire does offer solutions. They’re not short-term solutions. But they are something – and better than saying “here are all the issues and there is no hope.” In fact, she even points some to the changes the current president of Mexico has already made that are making a small dent.

Anyway, good reading on a current “in the news” topic.

Mothers and Daughters - Rae Meadows

Summary from B&N: A rich and luminous novel about three generations of women in one family: the love they share, the dreams they refuse to surrender, and the secrets they hold.

And they sure do hold a lot of secrets. It was amazing how little these three women – grandmother, mother, daughter – know of each other. It makes me think about how well the people “close” to me really know (or don’t know) me.

The chapters alternate between Violet (grandma), Iris (mother), and Samantha (now adult daughter and mother herself) and their stories. Although I would say that Samantha is the true main character. We learn more about her…and about the others through her.

The story was engaging…my only disappointment was that I wanted it to continue so that I could learn more about the three generations.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Chritmas Carol and Other Christmas Stories - Charles Dickens

I’m sure that most of us are familiar with A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. That was our December book club book. Some of us had read it before; others had not. We all professed a love for the Muppet version.

That being said, I was not aware that Dickens had written two other “Christmas” stories. They were included in my book and are entitled The Chimes and The Holly Tree. And, after muddling through them, I see why they’re not well known.

While I enjoy Dickens’s imagery in A Christmas Carol and can make it through some of the drearier parts because I know what’s coming, The Chimes was just plain creepy. I have no understanding of what the point really was and what the moral was (if there happened to be one). And it was far creepier than Marley’s ghost.

The Holly Tree wasn’t as creepy (although there was mention of murderous inn keepers) but was kind of just a nice story.

Over all, I would say the “Other Christmas Stories” were quite the disappointment. However, A Christmas Carol is always a good read.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Yellow Dirt - Judy Pasternak

Summary from B&N: From the 1930s to the 1960s, the United States knowingly used and discarded an entire tribe of people as the Navajos worked, unprotected, in the uranium mines that fueled the Manhattan Project and the Cold War. Long after these mines were abandoned, Navajos in all four corners of the Reservation (which borders Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona) continued grazing their animals on sagebrush flats riddled with uranium that had been blasted from the ground. They built their houses out of chunks of uranium ore, inhaled radioactive dust borne aloft from the waste piles the mining companies had left behind, and their children played in the unsealed mines themselves. Ten years after the mines closed, the cancer rate on the reservation shot up and some babies began to be born with crooked fingers that fused together into claws as they grew. Government scientists filed complaints about the situation with the government, but were told it was a mess too expensive to clean up. Judy Pasternak exposed this story in a prizewinning Los Angeles Times series.

Shocking. My sister said it would be when she recommended it, and she was not wrong. My brother-in-law is Navajo, and I have always been fascinated with Native American culture, wishing I had such deep roots and abiding family ties.

But what the government allowed to happen to the Navajos…all for the sake of uranium…is appalling. The U.S. government is supposed to be a protector for these people. Instead, from 1930 -1960 they exploited the Navajos and their resources. And the implications of this exploitation are still being felt today.

I had never heard of this before reading this book. There were a lot of technical and political items in the book that made it slightly more difficult to read. But Pasternak also tells the story through the eyes of The People, the Dine, who experienced uranium mining and its after-effects first hand.

The government again clearly proves that it is not capable of taking care of anyone – as government interests will always come first.

I recommend reading this book. It will open your eyes to something that is not even touched upon in our history books.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Heaven Is for Real - Todd Burpo

Synopsis from Barnes & Noble: Heaven Is for Real is the true story of the four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who during emergency surgery slips from consciousness and enters heaven. He survives and begins talking about being able to look down and see the doctor operating and his dad praying in the waiting room. The family didn't know what to believe but soon the evidence was clear.

Told by the father, but often in Colton's own words, the disarmingly simple message is heaven is a real place, Jesus really loves children, and be ready, there is a coming last battle.

Jeff actually recommended this book to me. And if the husband (who is NOT a big reader) recommends a book, I sit up and take notice.

Heaven has always been one of those nebulous topics for me. I’ve always kind of pushed it off, out of my mind, since I can’t figure it out. I guess I’ll just know/see it all when I arrive.

The thing that struck me most about Colton’s story is that his visit to heaven had one huge impact on his life: he was passionate (at four years old) about people knowing Jesus so that they could be in heaven when they die.

Isn’t that what heaven is really all about: being with Jesus? There is all this theology and all these theories. But does it really matter if we have wings or not, whether we’re young or old, if people up there can see us down here, etc. The important thing is that we get to be with Jesus. And why wouldn’t we want to make sure we show others the way to Him through His love.

Caleb's Crossing - Geraldine Brooks

Synopsis from Barnes & Noble: The narrator of Caleb's Crossing is Bethia Mayfield, growing up in the tiny settlement of Great Harbor amid a small band of pioneers and Puritans. Restless and curious, she yearns after an education that is closed to her by her sex. As often as she can, she slips away to explore the island's glistening beaches and observe its native Wampanoag inhabitants. At twelve, she encounters Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a tentative secret friendship that draws each into the alien world of the other. Bethia's minister father tries to convert the Wampanoag, awakening the wrath of the tribe's shaman, against whose magic he must test his own beliefs. One of his projects becomes the education of Caleb, and a year later, Caleb is in Cambridge, studying Latin and Greek among the colonial elite.

My great-aunt recommended this book to me. And I am incredibly grateful.

I will say that it took several chapters for me to get into the book; I think because of the language. There are a lot of old English terms used (salvages) that took a bit of getting used to it. But once I was acclimated, the story just flowed…and not exactly how I expected it to.

I enjoyed the story. It is loosely based on a character I’d never considered – the first Native American to go to college in the colonies. I grew attached to both Caleb and Bethia throughout the narrative.

I definitely will be checking out more of Geraldine Brooks’s stories after I have made a bit of a dent in my own bookshelves.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

SEAL Target Geronimo - Chuck Pfarrer

Summary from B&N: On May 2, 2011, at 1:03 a.m. in Pakistan, a satellite uplink was sent from the town of Abbottabad crackling into the situation room of the White House in Washington, D.C.: “Geronimo, Echo, KIA.” These words, spoken by a Navy SEAL, put paid to Osama bin Laden’s three-decade-long career of terror. SEAL Target Geronimo is the story of Bin Laden’s relentless hunters and how they took down the terrorist mastermind, told by Chuck Pfarrer, a former assault element commander of SEAL Team Six and author of the bestselling Warrior Soul: The Memoir of a Navy SEAL. After talking to members of the SEAL team involved in the raid, Pfarrer shares never-before-revealed details of the historic raid and the men who planned and conducted it in an exclusive boots-on-the-ground account of what happened during each minute of the mission— both inside the building and outside.

I don’t remember how I heard about this book, but I wanted to read it because I got to observe a little piece of history regarding this operation. The USS Carl Vinson happened to be pulling into port at Pearl Harbor the day I was there. That is the carrier that Bin Laden’s body was transported to and then buried at sea from. But back to the book…

I found it very interesting. Although I also found that the majority of this book wasn’t specific to this mission. (Probably a good thing considering the need for security – it wasn’t even supposed to be known that it was a SEAL job). In reading it, you learn a lot about the history of the Navy SEALS and some about the history of Osama Bin Laden’s rise to power. And then it concludes with this historical mission.

The book was difficult to read, at times, simply due to all the codes and such. However, even a novice like me was able to make heads and tails of it. Man, the SEALS train for a lot…and run very regimented operations. And I’m grateful for them…whoever and wherever they are.

My only qualm with the book is one piece of misinformation…that makes me wonder if all the other facts in the book were thoroughly fact-checked. And the misinformation has to do with SEAL history on the location of a base. Pfarrer states that Offutt Air Base is in Florida. It is not. It’s in Nebraska. I know this; I was born there.

But one error doesn’t cause the whole book to be thrown out. If you are interested in the military or the war or the SEALs or recent events, I definitely think it’s worth a read.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

One Summer - David Baldacci

Summary from B&N: It's almost Christmas, but there is no joy in the house of terminally ill Jack and his family. With only a short time left to live, he spends his last days preparing to say goodbye to his devoted wife, Lizzie, and their three children. Then, unthinkably, tragedy strikes again: Lizzie is killed in a car accident. With no one able to care for them, the children are separated from each other and sent to live with family members around the country. Just when all seems lost, Jack begins to recover in a miraculous turn of events. He rises from what should have been his deathbed, determined to bring his fractured family back together. Struggling to rebuild their lives after Lizzie's death, he reunites everyone at Lizzie's childhood home on the oceanfront in South Carolina. And there, over one unforgettable summer, Jack will begin to learn to love again, and he and his children will learn how to become a family once more.

The first Baldacci book I read was the The Christmas Train. I think a sister-in-law recommended it to me…or maybe it was one of those random library picks. Who knows. Anyway, I loved it.

Then I got into reading his political intrigue books (of which there are many). I really liked them as well.

However, with One Summer David Baldacci returns his focus to relationships and a feel-good story. And I thoroughly enjoyed the return.

I enjoyed Jack and Micki’s journey through death and life and grief and joy and struggles and all the mess that waking each day throws our way. They were three-dimensional characters who made mistakes and grew and just…became.

My only qualm was the romance bit; it seemed too happen quickly for me. Although that could be because the culmination – while “two years later” – was on the next page.

Another amazing thing for current fiction: NO cursing or “scenes”. That was completely refreshing.

Definitely worth picking up and reading.

Just Walk Across the Room - Bill Hybels

Summary from B&N: What if you knew that by simply crossing the room and saying hello to someone, you could change that person's forever? Just a few steps to make an eternal difference. It has nothing to do with methods and everything to do with taking a genuine interest in another human being. All you need is a heart that's in tune with the Holy Spirit and a willingness to venture out of your 'Circle of Comfort' and into another person's life. Just Walk Across the Room brings personal evangelism into the twenty-first century.

I picked up this book from the library because in the recent past my church did a sermon series and small groups based on it. I missed some of the sermons due to working with the junior high group and shuttling Jeff to the airport. And I didn’t attend a small group because…well, life is crazy. So I definitely wanted to read the book.

And it did not disappoint. I absolutely believe that you earn your right to speak into people’s lives – whether it’s about faith or choices or whatever. And so evangelism like Pastor Hybels writes about just makes sense. You need to have a relationships. Build a relationship. Care about people. And then listen to the Spirit and follow the leading there.

I will admit, although it makes sense and sounds simple, for a natural introvert like me it is anything but. The fear of rejection keeps me from “walking across the room” and engaging people more often than not. Although it is interesting. I spent a week or so reading the book and finished it up Friday night. Saturday we were going to the birthday party for the daughter of friends. I use the word “friends” loosely. They are Jeff’s friends. I would like them to be mine. But we live an hour apart. So there hasn’t been time to build that sort of relationship. So we’re really more acquaintances.

Anyway, back to the point.

Twice during the party I walked up to someone, introduced myself, and engaged in conversation. I didn’t even think about it. I just did it. This book and its concepts must have been in my subconscious.

Did we have deep, spiritual conversations? No. I don’t think there was anything remotely spiritual about them. But I got out of my “circle of comfort”, walked across a room, and engaged in conversation. That’s huge for me.

Definitely a book worth reading. Practical and encouraging all in one.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Always Something There to Remind Me - Beth Harbison

Synopsis from Barnes&Noble: Can you ever really know if love is true? And if it is, should you stop at anything to get it?

Two decades ago, Erin Edwards was sure she’d already found the love of her life: Nate Lawson. Her first love. The one with whom she shared everything—dreams of the future, of children, plans for forever. The one she thought she would spend the rest of her life with. Until one terrible night when Erin made a mistake Nate could not forgive and left her to mourn the relationship she could never forget or get over.

Always Something There to Remind Me is a story that will resonate with any woman who has ever thought of that one first love and wondered, “Where is he?” and “What if…?” Filled with Beth Harbison’s trademark nostalgia humor and heart, it will transport you, and inspire you to believe in the power of first love.

I enjoyed the story itself. It flowed nicely. The characters were dynamic, and I grew to really like some of them (and dislike others). This was a quick read. And the topic, I believe, really does appeal to women and those of us who play the “what if” game.

I could have done without the more intimate details.

Your Child's Writing Life - Pam Allyn

Synopsis from Barnes&Noble: An illuminating, first-of-its-kind resource to help parents foster a love of writing in their child's life.

New educational research reveals that writing is as fundamental to a child's development as reading. But though there are books that promote literacy, no book guides parents in helping their child cultivate a love of writing. In this book, Pam Allyn, a nationally recognized educator and literacy expert, reminds us that writing is not only a key skill but also an essential part of self-discovery and critical to success later in life. Allyn offers the "the five keys" to help kids WRITE-Word Power, Ritual, Independence, Time, and Environment-along with fun, imaginative prompts to inspire and empower children to put their thoughts on the page.

I picked this up at the library as a resource for work. And while it is primarily a guide for younger writers, there are some prompts I can use with my 7th and 8th graders.

I love that it breaks it down by age/developmental level to look at what writing skills to develop and gives prompts for parents to use at home. And tips to create a “writing life” at a young age. Definitely a book I will be purchasing to have on my shelf as a resource.

I tell my students on a regular basis that writing is so *integral* to whatever they want to be and do later in life (yes, even for you pro-ball players and singing sensations). A lot of times they don’t get it because it hasn’t been a part of their life until school…and really, to be honest, until they hit middle school.

My girls will also benefit from this read (although they might not feel it’s beneficial)…I see Christmas and summer break writing projects heading their way. 

So, for anyone with a child of any age, pick it up and read it.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Between Here and April - Deborah Copaken Kogan

Synopsis from B&N: When a deep-seated memory suddenly surfaces, Elizabeth Burns becomes obsessed with the long-ago disappearance of her childhood friend April Cassidy. Driven to investigate, Elizabeth discovers a thirty-five-year-old newspaper article revealing the details that had been hidden from her as a child—shocking revelations about April's mother, Adele.

Elizabeth, now herself a mother, seeks out anyone who might help piece together the final months, days, and hours of this troubled woman's life, but the answers yield only more questions. And those questions lead back to Elizabeth's own life: her own compromised marriage, her increasing self-doubt and dissatisfaction, and finally, a fearsome reckoning with what it means to be a wife and mother.

Book club book for October.

I have never thought much about depression and suicide as a mother. When I have, my thoughts have (honestly) been toward what a horrible mother the woman must have been. This book challenged me to look at it all differently – through the lens of overwhelming motherhood. Not that it ever makes it okay. But more that there should be compassion on some level.

Joyce Meyer always says that “Hurting people hurt people.” How true is that in these instances.

The story was well-told (although, again, I could have done without the same language and sexuality that seems to pervade modern fiction) through the eyes of Elizabeth Burns.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

One Day - David Nicholls

Synopsis from B&N: It’s 1988 and Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley have only just met. But after only one day together, they cannot stop thinking about one another. Over twenty years, snapshots of that relationship are revealed on the same day—July 15th—of each year. Dex and Em face squabbles and fights, hopes and missed opportunities, laughter and tears. And as the true meaning of this one crucial day is revealed, they must come to grips with the nature of love and life itself.

I don’t know why it still surprises me that so much modern fiction is fully of swearing and sex…but it does.

I heard about this book when I saw a preview for the movie. While I enjoyed the book, I think I’ll be skipping the movie due to the above issues.

All that being said, I think that the format the book took was quite clever. To cover two decades of the relationship between Dexter and Emma by highlighting the same date (coninciding with the day they met), was a unique way to share their story. And, quite frankly, I didn’t feel like I had missed out on anything by the book not covering the other 364 days of each of those years. Nicholls did an excellent job with that aspect.

I didn’t ever grow attached to either Dexter or Emma…or any of the subsidiary characters. I mean, it was an interesting story, but I didn’t feel like I could related to any of the characters.

The ending (well, not the very end but the end of the second to last part) did come as quite a shock to me. I hadn’t seen it coming at all…which I always appreciate.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

When Your Child is 6 to 12 - John M. Drescher

Synopsis from B&N: We've been over-run with child-rearing manuals for infants. We've been swamped with advice for relating to teens. But little has been offered to parents whose children are in middle childhood! John. M. Drescher, a wise voice in the field of parenting literature whose books have sold more than 400,000 copies.

I don’t quite know how I feel about this book. I have two dear step-daughters who both fall smack in the middle of that age range at eight and ten.

Maybe I’m too hard-core. Or maybe I’m too old school. I don’t know. However, while this book mentioned in passing that you should discipline them, it doesn’t go into how to do so effectively. Instead it focuses more heavily on the warm fuzzies of self-esteem, encouragement, praise, etc. It goes so far as to say that you shouldn’t tell this age child what to do; instead you should simply model it.

While I believe that you should model the behavior you expect, I think you have to say it too. They are just not observing you enough (especially as they get to the older end of the range) to pick up everything they need. That’s why children at this age are cognitively and emotionally self-absorbed. Instruction needs to be more explicit at times.

I have issues with the whole “need to preserve their self-esteem” mantra in general. I don’t give my students grades that will best support their self-esteem (despite what some parents would prefer). I give them the grades their work earns them. I believe there should be sports for fun. However, I also believe if you play competitively, there have to be winners and losers. That’s a life lesson and when better to learn it?

I also fully support encouragement and praise. But there are also times when correction and redirection are needed. Sometimes your kid really screws up and there just isn’t anything to praise in that situation. You shouldn’t make something up – that is modeling dishonesty.

So while there were some good things in the book, I think some balance is called for.

Secret Daughter: A Mixed-Race Daughter and the Mother Who Gave Her Away - June Cross

Synopsis from B&N: June Cross was born in 1954 to Norma Booth, a glamorous, aspiring white actress, and James "Stump" Cross, a well-known black comedian. Sent by her mother to be raised by black friends when she was four years old and could no longer pass as white, June was plunged into the pain and confusion of a family divided by race. This is an inspiring testimony to the endurance of love between mother and daughter, a child and her adoptive parents, and the power of community.

I actually came across this book when I was looking for another book of the same title.

I found the perspective on race interesting. I grew up an Air Force brat, in diverse environments and with diverse people surrounding me. So racism is never something I’ve really been able to grasp. I mean, 1954 wasn’t really that long ago…50ish years. Yet mixed-race children had an entirely different upbringing, according to Cross’s book.

I enjoyed the relationship between June and her “adoptive” mom. I think that Aunt Peggy loved her as she was her own. However, June always had her birth mother, Norma, in her life. And Norma had a completely different set of values. I’m sure that added to confusion in young June’s life.

The book doubled back on itself some, which led to confusion. And the prose was tedious to slog through at times.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Emma - Charlotte Bronte and Another Lady

Synopsis from dustjacket: In the very last months before her death at age 39, at the height of her powers, Charlotte Bronte set the scene of a new novel entitled Emma...The wanton havoc wrought by Emma in the life of Mrs. Chalfont, the narrator, is not the only proof of her ruthlessness. She plays a part, too, in the sufferings of the abandoned child, Martina. The affection which grows between Mrs. Chalfont and Martina out of their mutual distress illumines this story. And Emma herself, with her inexplicable motives, her incomprehensible anger, and her darkness of soul, develops into a character of whom Charlotte Bronte woud have been proud.

Charlotte Bronte began this tale while "Another Lady" finished it. The beauty of it is that the transition from one author's thoughts to the other's is seamless. I really couldn't tell what was Bronte's from what was written by her successor.

The story was engaging and charming - even through it's depressing bits. I really grew attached to both Mrs. Chalfont and Martina. And, suprisingly, I didn't start putting the pieces of the puzzle together until close to the reveal.

F in Exams: The Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers - Richard Benson

Synopsis from B& "F" stands for "funny" in this perfect gift for students or anyone who has ever had to struggle through a test and needs a good laugh. Celebrating the creative side of failure in a way we can all relate to, F in Exams gathers the most hilarious and inventive test answers provided by students who, faced with a question they have no hope of getting right, decide to have a little fun instead. Whether in science (Q: What is the highest frequency noise that a human can register? A: Mariah Carey), the humanities (Q: What did Mahatma Gandhi and Genghis Khan have in common? A: Unusual names), math, or other subjects, these 250 entries prove that while everyone enjoys the spectacle of failure, it's even sweeter to see a FAIL turn into a WIN.

Wholly entertaining. Some of the "wrong" answers are so clever that you do kind of have to wonder if they really are the answers students actually put. However, as a teacher, I've received some rather interesting test responses. So I don't doubt too much.

This book was a fun 20 minutes entertainment.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work - John M. Gottman, Ph.D.

Summary from B&N: John Gottman has revolutionized the study of marriage by using rigorous scientific procedures to observe the habits of married couples in unprecedented detail over many years. Here is the culmination of his life's work: the seven principles that guide couples on the path toward a harmonious and long-lasting relationship. Packed with practical questionnaires and exercises, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work is the definitive guide for anyone who wants their relationship to attain its highest potential.

I don't think I got the full benefit of this book as it was a library book. So I didn't have time to do all of the exercises and activities, much less present them and do them with the husband person. However, in reading the regular text and scanning the exercises/activities, I think that Dr. Gottman's book offers a lot of practicality to healing and improving a marriage.

The only offputting part of the book was that the author comes off as a bit of a "know-it-all." However, as the "Country's Foremost Relationship Expert" perhaps he has a right to be. :)
Definitely worth checking out. I will be purchasing a copy of my own.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sarah's Key - Tatiana de Rosnay

Summary from B& Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to this past. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into the past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

I have been reading more Holocaust history/novels recently. But this is the first time I’d read one set in France. In fact, I’d never thought of how WWII affected other countries than Germany and what occurred in those occupied nations during the war. De Rosney says in her author’s note that this is not a historical work nor is it intended to be. However, I did learn history through it, and it opened my eyes to events and actions I’d never considered.

The first half of the book is told in two voices – the girl’s and Julia’s – alternating each chapter. This was not confusing in any way. In fact, I believe it added layers and dimension to the story.

I enjoyed getting to know Julia’s character. She is very dynamic. As she faces various moral dilemmas and emotional stressors in the book, she responds in a very human way. I feel that – even though she isn’t – she could be a real person who really walked out this investigation and her life.

Sarah’s character seemed more static to me. Perhaps because everything around her was depressing. Or perhaps because we stop hearing her story, told in her voice, halfway through the book and it is then carried on through the voices of others. The trauma she experienced perhaps led me to keep an emotional distance from her character.

All of the references to Paris sights and streets was a bit distracting to me, but I can imagine it would make the book more interesting to someone who has been there.

The secrets – in both the historic and the modern day accounts – were intriguing. To live with that kind of knowledge or memories and to never share…how hard that might have been. And the fact that the French government’s involvement in the deportation of the Jews is rarely acknowledged and not at all taught in their schools was surprising to me. After all, here in the U.S. we learn all about our wretched past – slavery, the Trail of Tears, etc.

Definitely a book to put on your “To Read” list – I was so engaged in it that it took me less than 24 hours from start to finish. I wanted to know what happened next – in both the stories.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Heartache No One Sees - Sheila Walsh

Synopsis from B&N: At a time that should have been considered the highlight of her career, Sheila Walsh admitted herself to the psychiatric wing of a Washington, D.C. hospital. Having worked for five years as cohost of The 700 Club, the years of treading water while trying to keep so much around her afloat and keep various plates spinning left her drowning in a hopeless sea of clinical depression. Despite her best efforts, she simply couldn't will herself out of it.

Now more than ten years later, Sheila understands what it's like to be wounded. It has been the passion of her heart to study what God's Word has to say about this and then share her liberty with other hurting souls.

It took me over a year to read this book. I kept picking it up, reading some, and putting it down to think it over. And then returning to it again days (or weeks) later.

Sheila Walsh writes in an easy-to-read style and tells her story in an approachable way. I appreciated the “Application Points” at the end of each chapter, and the study guide in the back was good – if some of the questions were rather difficult.

I think this excerpt from the book really sums up the message:

Our very wounds, when offered to Christ, become beacons of hope to others. When you have had your heart broken, you understand what it’s like to suffer, to feel despair. You recognize that drowning look in the eyes of someone else.

Now is the time to live as Christ lived. Now is the time to love as Christ loved. You don’t have to be perfect, just perfectly convinced that love is the only way to reach a broken heart.

Sheila challenges each of her readers to face and work through their past issues and hurts. Work through them with God, in themselves, and, at times, with others. And then continued walking in freedom by reaching out and helping Jesus heal others.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Queen's Necklace - Alexandre Dumas

Cover Image
Synopsis from B&N: The Queen’s Necklace dramatizes an unsavory incident in the 1780s at the court of King Louis XVI of France involving the King's wife, Marie Antoinette. Her reputation was already tarnished by gossip and scandal, and her implication in a crime involving a stolen necklace became one of the major turning-points of public opinion against the monarchy, which eventually culminated in the French Revolution.

This is our book club book for September. When it was first brought up, I asked if it had to do with Marie Antoinette and the scandal of the necklace. And, indeed, it does. But the story is so much bigger than that.

Apparently, this is book three in a series of six. But I think it could definitely be read as a stand-alone. There were a few points of confusion for me, but I’m not sure if that’s because I hadn’t read the first two books or because the first two pages of the book were missing out of my copy. ? And, really, the little confusion seemed trivial to the main plot and didn’t decrease my enjoyment of the story at all.

The book centers around Marie Antoinette and several members of her court. She is painted in a very sympathetic light – as having a good heart and trying to help others. It made me want to cheer for her side. But, ultimately, her trusting and helpfulness aids in her downfall and the particular scandal of an amazing diamond necklace.

It’s a thick book but don’t be deterred by that. Even with all the French words (I took Spanish in high school), it was a quick read.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire - Rafe Esquith

Overview from B&N: Perhaps the most famous fifth-grade teacher in America, Rafe Esquith has won numerous awards and even honorary citizenship in the British Empire for his outstandingly successful methods. In his Los Angeles public school classroom, he helps impoverished immigrant children understand Shakespeare, play Vivaldi, and become happy, self-confident people. This bestseller gives any teacher or parent all the techniques, exercises, and innovations that have made its author an educational icon, from personal codes of behavior to tips on tackling literature and algebra. The result is a powerful book for anyone concerned about the future of our children.

Okay, I’ll be honest. I’d never heard of Rafe Esquith before I read this book. And I’m a teacher…who reads books all the time about teaching, teachers, teaching methods, etc. After reading the book and about all he’s managed to accomplish, I’m wondering how I haven’t heard of him.

I did get a few key website and ideas and strategies for my classroom. For example, I will be instituting the “weekly essay” with my classes once we do our writing process/6 traits unit. Also, I love his economics system. I can’t use it, but our social studies teacher also does economics the first part of the year with our seventh graders. So I passed that idea on to her.

The book was easy to read. But it was also disconcerting at times – in that I wonder what I’m doing with my days and how I’m not able to manage all that he does (despite the fact I put in my overtime and such too). I found myself wondering how big his classroom is, how his family feels about all the time he spends at school, and what he does to get such amazing parental involvement and student interest. After all, his fifth graders aren’t that much younger and can’t be that much more un-world-weary than my 7th and 8th graders. So I would have liked to have some of those questions answered.

Additionally, much of the book came off as very condescending. “I accomplish all of this and if you were a halfway decent teacher you would too.” Or maybe that would just be my guilty conscious/wanting to be amazing and make my mark on the world self talking.

In the end, I would say it’s worth the read.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

Synopsis from B&N: Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead, subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity. She takes up the post of governess at Thornfield, falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman's passionate search for a wider and richer life than Victorian society traditionally allowed. With a heroine full of yearning, the dangerous secrets she encounters, and the choices she finally makes, Charlotte Bronte's innovative and enduring romantic novel continues to engage and provoke readers.

Okay, first of all I just have to say that I think I’ve spent my whole reading life confusing the Bronte sisters and their tales. I knew the plot of Jane Eyre before reading it. But I always ascribed said plot to Wuthering Heights…thinking I had read the latter (and own it) but not the former. But upon reading this book, I’ve found that I was wrong. And now I find myself trying to sort out if I’ve ever even read Wuthering Heights.

I really enjoyed this story. I appreciated Jane’s character and her depth of integrity. I did not like any of her male cousins and am glad the book ended happily.

Jane is a very spiritual, “do the right thing” girl. Temptation is there to lash out, to give in to her passions, etc. But at Lowood she learned to control those emotions and to act rationally and rightly. A part of me wondered if she lost a bit of herself in doing that, but in reflection I really don’t think so. She became a truer version of herself.

I think that Jane Eyre can give us all a deeper spiritual message and truth:

“I care for myself…I will respect myself. I will keep the laws given by God; sanctioned by man.
 I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad – as I am now. Laws and principles are not for times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?”

I pray I can remember well remember her words the next time I face temptation. And to “plant my foot” in what I know to be true and right and good.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Organized Teacher's Guide to Your First Year of Teaching - Steve Springer et al

Synopsis from B&N: Make your first year teaching a success! As a new teacher, you can be completely overwhelmed—feeling lost and not knowing where to start when you receive the keys for the first time. The Organized Teacher's Guide to Your First Year of Teaching will be your guide during these first few days and weeks and put you on the road to success. Featuring a series of lists, checklists, charts and diagrams, this handbook can be read quickly and referred to over and over. It includes a CD-ROM of all checklists and any matter that is reproducible.

I try to read one or two books of this ilk at the start of each school year. I usually pick up a few nuggets I can incorporate into my classroom, routines, or lessons.

The Organized Teacher’s Guide indicates on the cover that it’s “Perfect for teachers of grades K-8”. I would says definitely more K-3 and potentially some 4 & 5. I didn’t find much of use for my 7th/8th grade classroom. Although I guess if it were a self-contained room, some of the tips would be helpful.

So, in truth, I didn’t really read the book. I more scanned it. And, in honesty, I haven’t looked at the documents on the CD. So there might be something useful there yet. Most of the text was simply common sense, something you learn via student teaching, or tips not applicable to a middle school environment.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Schooled - Gordon Korman

Synopsis from B&N: Capricorn Cap Anderson has been homeschooled by his hippie grandmother, Rain. When Rain is injured in a fall, Cap is forced to attend the local middle school. Although he knows a lot about Zen Buddhism, nothing has prepared him for the politics of public school.

I just read this book because we are going to be reading and discussing it with our Advisory classes this fall. So I figured I should probably read it and be familiar with it.

It was a quick read – even for a Juvenile Fiction novel.

Capricorn Anderson knows nothing of the world that he is suddenly thrust into. And he certainly knows nothing about the world of middle school. The cliques, the teasing, the protocol. However, he is such a truly genuine person. Which helps him a lot.

I thought that some of the characters truly represented middle school students whereas most were just caricatures to get a point across.

I’m interested to see what my 6th – 8th graders have to say about it. We’ll read chapters 1 & 2 next Tuesday.  I'll try to remember to update here.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Just So Stories - Rudyard Kipling

Synopsis from Drawing from the oral storytelling traditions of India and Africa, Noble prizewinner Rudyard Kipling's vigorous, amusing tales offer imaginative answers to unanswered questions about animals and provide little pearls of wisdom. These classic tales, filled with playfully clever animals and people have entertained young and old alike for over a hundred years.

I don’t believe that I’ve ever read Kipling’s Just So Stories although I had certainly heard of them. So I figured it was high time to check them out.

Many of them address a “Best Beloved” in them – as if the stories are told orally. Which, really, I think would be the best avenue for the tales of how things came to be the way they are.

I found them amusing.

Tramp for the Lord - Corrie Ten Boom

Synopsis from This is Corrie ten Boom's story: beginning where her profoundly moving bestseller ended, taking us on a uniquely thrilling tour to the nearest and farthest corners of the earth. She is a modest and simple woman who has seen and known a world few others could imagine; a survivor of Hitler's worst concentration camps and one of the most remarkable evangelists of our time.

When Corrie ten Boom was released from the concentration camp in Germany, she took with her a vision in her heart. A vision given to her by her sister who died in camp. A vision to be hope and work towards restoration and forgiveness…in Germany and around the world.

This is the story of “Tante Corrie” fulfilling that vision. With the help of God. The book provides various short vignettes of her travels and her speaking and her life. She is very real, showing where she in her humanness failed but God’s grace was redemptive.

Corrie ten Boom and her life are beyond inspiring. It leaves me asking God: what more do you have for me to do? I mean, if He can use a 70 and 80 year old woman to bring salvation to those around the world…surely He has something more for me. But perhaps I need to start with the small works He’s placed in front of me – and focus on doing them totally surrendered and with all my heart.

My only qualm with the book (and it’s a small one) is that my very left brained mind would have preferred for the antic dotes to be in chronological order. But even with them hodge podge, what an example to learn from!

One Thousand Gifts - Ann Voskamp

Synopsis from Just like you, Ann Voskamp hungers to live her one life well. Forget the bucket lists that have us escaping our everyday lives for exotic experiences. In One Thousand Gifts, Ann invites you to embrace everyday blessings and embark on the transformative spiritual discipline of chronicling God's gifts. It's only in this expressing of gratitude for the life we already have, we discover the life we've always wanted ... a life we can take, give thanks for, and break for others. We come to feel and know the impossible right down in our bones: we are wildly loved — by God.

This was a challenging book to read. But I had expected that. A friend (thanks, Shari!) told me about Ann Voskamp’s blog many months ago. So I knew that both her writing style and topics would be a challenge for me. Knowing that, I took a first pass at this book, One Thousand Gifts, and it was confirmed that it is one of those books that you need to read several times in order to get the full meaning and depth of it.

While I don’t necessarily agree with all of the deeper theology, I applaud the overall message. And feel compelled to undertake an attitude of gratitude more in my own life.

Ann began her journey with a challenge from a friend: record one thousand gifts, blessings, things to be thankful for. And in that she saw all the little things in her daily life – the sun glistening on soap bubbles, the flight of a bird – that really are gifts from God into our lives. But she also learned that to be truly thankful you need to be thankful in the bad as well as the good. What a lesson. Hard to hear…to understand…to do.

I am the first to admit I can be a bit of a complainer. It’s something I work on and struggle with due to my entire “realistic” (pessimistic?) outlook. In this book, Voskamp chronicles her own journey from complainer to thanks-giver. And is very real in it. It is not always easy. And at times she reverted to her old ways. And I think that’s how the journey will be for most of us. The key is to keep moving forward in the journey.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Organized Simplicity - Tsh Oxenreider

Synopsis from Simplicity isn’t about what you give up. It’s about what you gain. When you remove the things that don’t matter to you, you are free to focus on only the things that are meaningful to you. Imagine your home, your time, your finances, and your belongings all filling you with positive energy and helping you achieve your dreams. It can happen, and Organized Simplicity can show you how.

I read about this book on a friend’s blog months ago. There was a wait for it at the library. Absolutely worth the wait, and I will be purchasing a copy of my own.

I consider myself to be a fairly organized, clutter-free (other than books – that’s my weakness) person. However, I also believe there’s always room for improvement. And, hello, a book that offers me a plan to completely spring clean my house in just 10 days – count me in! I’ve been working on spring cleaning all summer and have finally decided my plan is just too complicated. The one Tsh Oxenreider offers seems much more…achievable.

She also takes the time to address the mindset of simplicity. And to approach life and decisions and purchases intentionally. What do you want your home to be and do for you? What is your family’s mission statement and goals for each room? Are you accomplishing that? She helps you to look at the bigger picture and the “why” behind organizing and removing clutter.

Of course, as with all organization books, there are things you can’t/won’t use. I will not be making my own shampoo out of baking soda and water; I have enough hair issues as it is. But I added far more things to my “tool box” than I left behind.

A great reference to have.

If Wishes Were Horses - Robert Barclay

Synopsis from In this unforgettable novel of love, hope, and second chances, a grieving man's personal plan for redemption is suddenly and unexpectedly turned upside down . . . .

Wyatt Blaine desperately seeks a reason to continue. Devastated by the senseless deaths of his wife and son at the hands of a drunk driver, he remains unable to forgive, and to love again. Searching for a sense of peace, he decides to revive his late wife's equine therapy program for troubled teens at the Blaine family ranch. By honoring her memory in this way, he hopes to find the sense of closure that has long eluded him.

Book club book for July. And as one member pointed out – one of the few books we’ve read that had males as dominant characters (or even was written by a guy).

This book been compared to Nicholas Sparks. I don’t really feel it is in the same league, but I enjoyed the story over all. It was a quick read. I had heard of equine (horse) therapy being used with autistic and Down’s syndrome children and adults. However, I had never heard of it being used for those with emotional issues. So that aspect of the novel was interesting.

I didn’t get as connected to the main characters – Wyatt and Gabby – as I did to some of the more auxiliary ones like Ram (Wyatt’s father) and Aunt Lou (the Blaine’s cook/house manager). I felt they were more interesting and less predictable.

I did have a few issues with the book. In a few places, the time sequence was off. That always annoys me. Also, I was disappointed by Ram’s letter at the end of the book and confused by the three year wait for it. That just didn’t make sense to me. Finally, the title of the book is mentioned in Gabby’s thoughts, but I didn’t really understand it.

All in all, though, it’s worth the read.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Oahu Revealed - Andrew Doughty

Synopsis from The most comprehensive yet easy-to-use guidebook series introduces the all-new third edition of "Oahu Revealed." Bestselling author Doughty has covered it all and shares all he finds--from the top of the Ko'olaus to the lost sunken island off Kane'ohe, everything is reviewed anonymously. This book and a rental car are all one needs to discover what makes Oahu so exciting.

Before I went to O’ahu with Jeff (who had to be there for work), a friend recommended I pick up the “blue book” about O’ahu. She had purchased one before her first Maui trip and said it made all of the difference. So I went to my local Borders (A moment of silence, please, over the fact Borders is going out of business.) and found the “blue book” for O’ahu. It is by Wizard Publications, Inc. and proved itself to be absolutely invaluable.

I started reading it before we left for our trip. And it was our constant reference while we were there. The directions were great. The majority of the descriptions and prices were accurate (some prices/hours changed and one restaurant closed down – no doubt since publishing). They did provide an online tool for all in the book as well. I didn’t use that though. We even used the GPS coordinates to figure out how to get to a spitting cave. And spent another day reading through the pages/driving around the coast (Jeff drove – I read), stopping as things in the book struck our fancy.

My only gripe is that I felt some of the maps could have been better. But I’m a horrible map reader, so that could be accounted to user error.

I finished reading the book upon our return, marking notes about what we did and saw. The book and O’ahu itself has entirely too much to cover in the amount of time we were there. But we’ll just take the book next time and know what we still want to see or what we want to see again.

However, if you are traveling anywhere that Wizard Publications has done a guide book too (I know they’ve done 4 of the Hawaiian Islands). It manages to be both entertaining and informative, all the same time.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

'Iolani Palace

I bought this book because I the taking of pictures was forbidden when I visited ‘Iolani Palace while recently in Honolulu. It turned out to be an interesting book overall.

This book details both the history of ‘Iolani Place, the only (former) royal residence on United States soil as well as touches on the lives of the Hawaiian monarchs. It’s a very approachable take on the past. The photographs are absolutely beautiful and capture the essence of the palace that I felt when I was there.

Fight Less, Love More - Laurie Puhn, JD

Synopsis from Harvard-trained lawyer and family and divorce mediator Puhn shows busy couples how to stop fighting and start communicating. She gives simple, five-minute conversations that will instantly improve communication--as well as the quality of relationships.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t read this entire book. I only got to chapter 11. Perhaps I’m burnt out on marriage and relationship books. Perhaps the one five-minute conversation I did try wasn’t well received.

I had hoped for a bit more practical application from the book. It does seem that Ms. Puhn knows what she’s talking about and sites many examples from couples she has mediated or counseled with. But personally I didn’t have many light bulb moments. So I will return it to the library to be revisited another day. After all, summer break is almost over. I need to be reading fun stuff!!!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Miles to Go - Richard Paul Evans

Synopsis from Evans presents the second installment in an inspiring new series about an executive who loses everything and embarks on a walk that takes him across America. Alan Christoffersen, a once-successful advertising executive, wakes one morning to find himself injured, alone, and confined to a hospital bed in Spokane, Washington. Sixteen days earlier, reeling from the sudden loss of his wife, his home, and his business, Alan left everything he knew behind and set off on an extraordinary cross-country journey. Carrying only a backpack, he planned to walk to Key West, the farthest destination on his map. But a vicious roadside stabbing has interrupted Alan’s trek and robbed him of his one source of solace: the ability to walk. Homeless and facing months of difficult recovery, Alan has nowhere to turn—until a mysterious woman enters his life and invites him into her home.

The second “journal” in The Walk series was a bit slower of a read than the first and then seemed rushed at the end. Perhaps that is because most of the book takes place during Alan’s recovery. So he is not walking and making progress on his journey.

One of the things that I liked about both books were the nuggets of wisdom you receive from Alan and his journal. For example, one of the overriding themes in Miles to Go is that it is not just what we are able to accomplish ourselves. But it is equally important that we inspire others to do great things.

I think of this in my teaching career. Most days, I don’t feel like I’m doing very great things at all. I believe that education is important, and I love what I do. However, many days I walk away from my classroom in the evening wonder if I accomplished anything at all. Then I think back on all the great teachers (both in and out of school) I had – the ones who inspired me to read and dream and think and write…and to ultimately become a teacher myself. Did they always know what they were planting in me? Or did they have those hum-drum days as well? My guess would be it’s the latter.

So we do what we can. We set goals. And then, ultimately, we set one foot in front of the other and move forward.

The Walk - Richard Paul Evans

Synopsis from What would you do if you lost everything—your job, your home, and the love of your life—all at the same time? When it happens to Seattle ad executive Alan Christoffersen, he’s tempted by his darkest thoughts. A bottle of pills in his hand and nothing left to live for, he plans to end his misery. Instead, he decides to take a walk. But not any ordinary walk. Taking with him only the barest of essentials, Al leaves behind all that he’s known and heads for the farthest point on his map: Key West, Florida. The people he encounters along the way, and the lessons they share with him, will save his life—and inspire yours.

This book was a really quick read. The chapters are short (some just a page), and the narrative really moves along.

I love Al’s determination to just walk away from it all. I don’t know if it’s courage or stupidity on his part. He really doesn’t have anything to stay for. But still, that takes guts.

This first book in the series covers only the first leg of his walk. He doesn’t even move past his home state of Washington. However, he journeys many miles emotionally and learns from others along the way. And the reader gets to learn from him.

It’s written as a personal narrative with some bits of journaling thrown in. I can’t wait to read the second book (which is next up in my stack). Unfortunately, I’ll then need to wait until April 2012 for the third book.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Jane Austen Education - William Deresiewicz

Synopsis from Austen scholar Deresiewicz turns to the author's novels to reveal the remarkable life lessons hidden within. With humor and candor, Deresiewicz employs his own experiences to demonstrate the enduring power of Austen's teachings.

I make no bones about the fact that I am a Jane Austen fan. The satire, the romance, the fun. So I was interested to read this book subtitled: “How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter.” To look at Austen’s work from a more cerebral and educational perspective than from a purely entertainment one.

William Deresiewicz starts out his literary critique by stating that he was not a fan of Jane Austen and her work. It wasn’t highbrow enough for him. So I started out my reading not being a fan of him. However, as he progresses through Austen’s books and grows to like and learn from her, I also come to like him as an author.

I found it unique how Deresiewicz parallels the lessons he’s learning from the Austen novels to what he was currently experiencing in his own life.

Jane Austen does, indeed, have a lot to teach us all. And William Deresiewicz takes the time to point that out to us. Emma helps us to see and appreciate the little things in life. Pride and Prejudice is a story of growing up and becoming a better person. Mansfield Park can show its reader where to find true happiness if one only takes the time to look. The education continues through her six popular books

At times, he is a bit redundant. However, overall it was an interesting and informative book to read. And it helped me to look at one of my favorite authors from a new perspective. I can’t wait to go back and reread some of her books and see if I can connect to the lessons there.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Learning - Karen Kingsbury

Synopsis from Bailey Flanigan is growing closer to her dream to be an actress and dancer in New York while Cody coaches a small high school football team ... on and off the field. But neither feels complete without the chance to share their dreams with one other. Can distance truly make the heart grow fonder? Or will Cody learn to turn to others to share in his happiness? And when tragedy strikes? Who will be there to provide comfort in the face of loss? As Cody's past catches up with him, he must learn to reach out for help or risk withdrawing permanently inside himself. Both Bailey and Cody find themselves learning significant life lessons in this poignant love story, featuring members from Karen Kingsbury's popular Baxter family.

Now I am very much a Karen Kingsbury fan. And it pains me to write this…I really did not like her latest book in the Bailey Flanigan series, Learning. I don’t know if it’s because I feel so attached to the characters and found myself spending much time yelling at them and disappointed in them. Or if it was because the story itself seemed to drag and not really go anywhere.

I do still enjoy how Karen shares her life through the story of the Flanigan family. And I’m holding out hope for the next book. I believe she has an amazing gift and a good heart.

A Long Fatal Love Chase - Louisa May Alcott

Talk about seriously loving someone to death.

Rosamond was brought up by her reclusive grandfather who showed her no love or compassion. So she was primed for Philip Tempest to sweep in and offer her love and adventure like no other. Rosamond willingly follows Philip into the freedom he seems to offer. However, as she learns more about Tempest, she sees that freedom isn’t really what she’s found. But Rosamond is stronger and more resilient than anyone gives her credit for. As the book flap says “Remarkable for its portrayal of the sensuality and spirit of its Victorian heroine, A Long Fatal Love Chase, tells a compulsive tale of love, desire, and deceit.”

This book took me a bit to get into. Okay. Quite a bit…as in the first half of the book. Once I reached around midpoint, though, I was really engaged in the tale and attached to Rosemond’s character. I was amazed by her character and ability to rebound from the tragedies she faced. That she continued to stand for good and what was right even when her heart wanted evil and what was harmful to her. Such constancy.

It was melodramatic at parts and a bit ridiculous at others. But once you muddle through the first half, the rest is captivating and difficult to put down.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Gift - Cecelia Ahern

Synopsis from Extremely successful executive, Lou Suffern is always overstretched, immune to the holiday spirit that delights everyone around him. The classic workaholic who never has a moment to spare, he is always multitasking while shortchanging his devoted wife and their adorable children. And ever since he started competing for a big promotion, he has barely seen his family at all.

One frigid morning in an uncharacteristic burst of generosity, he buys a cup of coffee for Gabe, a homeless man huddled outside his office building. Inspired by his own unexpected act of kindness, Lou decides to prolong his charitable streak and contrives to get Gabe a job in his company's mailroom. But when Gabe begins to meddle in Lou's life, the helping hand appears to be a serious mistake. Gabe seems to know more about Lou than Lou does about himself, and, perhaps more disturbingly, Gabe always seems to be in two places at once.

With Lou's personal and professional fates at important crossroads and Christmas looming, Gabe resorts to some unorthodox methods to show his stubborn patron what truly matters and how precious the gift of time is. But can he help him fix what's broken before it's too late?

I really enjoyed Cecelia Ahern’s first book, P.S. I Love You. However, in the ensuing years I haven’t read anything else by her. I ran across this book while browsing the library shelves (never a good pastime for me as I end up walking out with more books than a reasonable person can read) and figured based on the first book I’d give this one a try as well.

I didn’t enjoy it as much. I don’t know if that’s the book’s fault or mine. I had some preconceived notions about what it was about, who Gabe was, etc. And I was trying to figure out how it all works together and such for most of the book. So I couldn’t fully engage in the story as a result.

Additionally, while the moral is really good, I did have a lot of the plot figured out before it happened.

That being said, I still think it’s worth the read. Although I caution about some of the language in the book. It’s enough to be a obnoxious. The underlying message of the book is one that I certainly need a reminder of…frequently. Time is precious. I can choose how to use it, but I will never get more.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Inheritance - Louisa May Alcott

Synopsis from School Library Journal (on YA. Alcott's first novel, written at age 17 and discovered in 1988, is a delightful rags-to-riches ramble in the life of orphan Edith Adelon, who is taken in by Lord and Lady Hamilton to serve as a companion to their young daughter, Amy. When Lord Hamilton dies, Edith is treated as a servant in the household until she saves Amy's life. Purer than pure, young Edith takes the slights and verbal abuses of her jealous rival, Lady Ida, while Lord Percy, an older, wiser, and sadder friend of young Lord Arthur Hamilton and the reason for Lady Ida's jealousy, looks on in his attempts to love Edith from a distance. Set on an aristocratic English manor in the 19th century, the plot twists and turns its way to a "happily ever after" ending. Even though characters are stereotyped and the plot is at times contrived, this precursor of Little Women is sure to be popular among budding readers of Jane Austen or sprouting young writers looking for desirable role models. This squeaky-clean novel written by an outstanding author at the beginning of her career is a desirable addition to any YA collection. Dottie Kraft, formerly at Fairfax County Public Schools, VA.  Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

I more agreed with the second review from Booklist on, but the above one provided more a synopsis of the story itself.

While probably not truly bad for a first novel written at 17 years of age, I found both the plot and the characters of The Inheritance to be rather contrived. All of the characters were static and one-dimensional. I even had a difficult time feeling any empathy for orphan Edith Adelon. The story was pretty predictable as well.

As a positive, it is a quick read.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery

Synopsis from Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert had decided to adopt an orphan. They wanted a nice sturdy boy to help Matthew with the farm chores. The orphanage sent a girl instead - a mischievous, talkative redhead who the Cuthberts thought would be no use at all. But as soon as Anne arrived at the snug, white farmhouse called Green Gables, she knew she wanted to stay forever. And the longer Anne stayed, the harder it was for anyone to imagine Green Gables without her.

I have to say that this is probably one of my all-time favorite books from childhood…and as an adult I enjoy them just as much. So I was excited when we decided on Anne of Green Gables as our book club book for June.

Montgomery is such an enchanting really don't want to skim any of it but instead read every single word. And Anne is such a fascinating character. She is a very dynamic and engaging girl/young lady. I both laugh and cry when I read this book. Even though I have read it so many times I know what’s coming just by the chapter title…I still thoroughly enjoy the journey.

My favorite quote this reading go-round is one said by Anne to her “bosom friend”, Diana, when discussing conflicting thoughts and feelings: “There’s such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I’m such a troublesome person. If I was just one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn’t be half so interesting.”

Isn’t that so true of all of us and human nature in general? We are not static, one-dimensional creatures. We have many facets and opinions and ideas and feelings and interests. And that creates some of the dilemmas we face in life. But it also makes life a lot more interesting.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Pioneer Woman - Ree Drummond

Synopsis from I'll never forget that night. It was like a romance novel, an old Broadway musical, and a John Wayne western rolled into one. Out for a quick drink with friends, I wasn't looking to meet anyone, let alone a tall, rugged cowboy who lived on a cattle ranch miles away from my cultured, corporate hometown. But before I knew it, I'd been struck with a lightning bolt . . . and I was completely powerless to stop it.

Read along as I recount the rip-roaring details of my unlikely romance with a chaps-wearing cowboy, from the early days of our courtship (complete with cows, horses, prairie fire, and passion) all the way through the first year of our marriage, which would be filled with more challenge and strife—and manure—than I ever could have expected.

This isn't just my love story; it's a universal tale of passion, romance, and all-encompassing love that sweeps us off our feet.

It's the story of a cowboy. And Wranglers. And chaps. And the girl who fell in love with them.

I absolutely and thoroughly enjoyed this book. As I read it, I kept thinking I would love to see a movie of it. However, there is no way a movie could ever aptly portray this wonderful, engaging story.

I rarely laugh out loud while reading a book. With this one, I did so many times. Poor Jeff kept giving me looks wondering if his wife has lost her mind.

Ree Drummond tells her love story in such an energetic and soul-baring way that you can’t help but get sucked into her city-girl mindset as she’s falling completely in love with her “Marlboro Man.” One thing I loved about the book that was *very* pleasantly surprising is that while there is definitely passion between the author and her man, it is very clear that they put limits on that passion and stayed pure until marriage. How wonderful.

It was great to see how Ree Drummond grew and changed throughout her story. I have nothing negative to say about this book. I liked it all.