Sunday, November 24, 2013

"Allegiant" by Veronica Roth

Disappointed.  If you want the very short version of my review of Roth's third book in the Divergent series, that's all you need to know.  If you're interested in reading a more detailed review, or if you want to know why I was disappointed, keep reading.

(Spoiler at your own risk...yadda  yadda yadda)

"Allegiant" begins in the aftermath of "Insurgent"'s conclusion, with the revelation to the people within the city that they are secluded from the rest of society because people outside the chain link fence will need the people of the factions to rescue them.  A rebel group, the Allegiant, aim to overthrow Evelyn Johnson's factionless society.  Headed by Cara and Johanna, the Allegiant organize a group to sneak past the security at the fence in order to make contact with the outside world.

Faults:  So, it sounds exciting, right?  But out of the three books in the series, this final installment had the weakest development.  When I'm lost in a good story, I am thoroughly invested in the experience the author has created for me.  I enjoyed that experience in the first two books, but as I was reading "Allegiant" I felt like I was walking through a story with gaping holes everywhere:  ideas that weren't complete, segues that were shaky, characters that weren't appropriately introduced.  One of the biggest faults in the story, I felt, was voice development.  Roth broke away from Tris's solo narration and gave some chapters over to Tobias to tell.  But Tobias didn't have his own individual voice!  His voice was not unique enough to carry his own chapters and his voice was not true to the character I had grown fond of during the first two books.  Frequently during the Tobias chapters I forgot who was telling the story, because he sounded so much like Tris. He'd express himself and I thought, "Really??"  It simply wasn't believable.

So many times while I read this book I thought it felt rushed, like Roth was writing for a deadline instead of investing time in making the story polished and complete.  I almost wondered if she thought, "This is my third book and I have such a strong following.  People are going to buy it even if I don't put as much effort into it."  I know, that's really unfair of me.  But I was sorely let down by the style and development of the story.  And the ending...don't get me started on the ending.  It was not only disappointing, but wholly unnecessary.  Perhaps Roth felt it was justified, but she didn't prove it to me.

Positives:  There were a few shining gems hidden throughout the story.  I love reading books on my phone so I can highlight the articulate ideas and phrases that are pleasing to my senses, the parts that resonate with my heart.  A few examples:

"The first step to loving anyone is to recognize the same evil in ourselves, so we're able to forgive them."
"It seems fitting that the blow would leave a mark on both of us.  That's how the world works."
"I know what people who are stained with violence look like."
"If we stay together, I'll have to forgive you over and over again, if you're still in this, you'll have to forgive me over and over again too."
"I think you're still the only person sharp enough to sharpen someone like me."
"I fell in love with him.  But I don't just stay with him by default as if there's no one else available to me.  I stay with him because I choose to, every day that I wake up, every day that we fight or lie to each other or disappoint each other.  I choose him over and over again, and he chooses me."
"Time can make a place shrink, make its strangeness ordinary."
"Don't confuse your grief with guilt."
"It's what you deserve to hear..., that you're whole, that your worth loving, that you're the best person I've ever met."
"That is not enough of her, but it is also far too much."

There you go, Amy's reflections on "Allegiant."  I know lots of people who agree with my feelings as well as lots of people who really enjoyed it.  If you've read the first two books, you have to read this one to see how it all wraps up.  But be warned, you might not enjoy the end of the ride.

Monday, November 11, 2013

"Heaven is Here" by Stephanie Nielson

Does this title look familiar?!  It should.  My dear friend Micaela reviewed it back in February.  I've been curious about it since she reviewed it because it's a memoir, and that's kind of my "thing" lately.  But Micaela wasn't raving about this book, so I was hesitant to dive into something I might not like.  And I have a weird thing about "churchy" books...I usually don't like them, so I find myself skirting away from them.  But, ta-da! it was this month's book club book, so I took a chance on it.

The beginning of the book is a bit syrupy.  I interpret that as Stephanie having the gift of seeing life through rose-colored glasses.  Stephanie lived her entire life, until she was a mother of two, in Provo, Utah.  I lived several years of my life in Utah County, from 9 years old to 22, so I'm pretty familiar with the world she grew up and lived in.  Before my family moved to Utah we lived in St. Louis, so Utah was a huge culture shock for me.  I finally admitted to myself as I read this book (which made me really inspect some deeper parts of my heart and history) that I never really fit in with the Utah scene.  When I moved with my husband and infant daughter to Boise, Idaho, almost 10 years ago, I finally felt like I had found an environment I could thrive in.  (I hope none of my Utah friends are hurt by this confession--if it weren't for you those years would have been wholly unbearable.) It was an environment Stephanie thrived it, but it produced perpetual challenges for me. Once I moved outside of "the bubble," when I came to Idaho, I felt freed from that.  I found more people like me.  (Not that Idaho is wildly different from Utah.  But on the other hand, it is.)

I don't blame Stephanie for her charmed life leading up to the accident. She and I are different people who have lived different lives in different circumstances.  I do not, in any regard, mean to undermine or reduce the significance of her accident and what she has gone through to recover her life.  I loved this book and her story.  I never cried as much in any other book as I did in this one--and for those who know me best, that's saying something.  I am not a cryer.

However, I had experiences earlier in my life that taught me things about who I am and what I'm made of at a younger age than she did.  No, I never went through the harrowing and life-threatening ordeal she went through, not even close.  But because of who I am and the life I had, I learned of lot of those lessons about self-worth and value at an earlier age.  I'm not saying I'm better than anyone because of that, but I was sorry it took a plane accident and months of agonizing recovery for her to learn those essential, divine truths about herself.  But like she says in her epilogue, God has a plan for each of us.  And hers is exceptional.  She's a fighter, she's an overcome-er.  

Yes, I wept during this book.  A lot.  It was so tender.  I cried because I couldn't fathom the physical pain she endured.  I cried because I understood feeling depressed and worthless.  I cried because I have four babies of my own, and have questioned if I'm the mother they deserve.  I cried because she triumphed over the countless, mammoth hurdles in her path.  I cried because of her testimony.  I cried when she felt like she couldn't endure one more day, because I knew she could pull through.  I cried for her husband, who had to be strong for everyone while going through his own hell, because I have felt like I've played that roll in my life as well.  I appreciated how vulnerable and honest Stephanie was.  It is never easy to unearth the deepest, most intimate parts of yourself and expose them to the world.  But after the accident, she never had the luxury of hiding who she was--her face will never blend in with the crowd.  For her to have the strength to share herself as she did in the book, I am grateful.

I thought the title was cheesy before I read the story.  Stephanie shared similar sentiments when her editor suggested "Heaven is Here" for the title.  She said she finally agreed to it because she realized hers is a story of choosing to be happy and thankful despite your circumstances.  And she's right.  But I thought it pertained more to a specific part of the story after her accident.  When she was in the induced coma, Stephanie spent time with her grandmother, who had passed away years before.  But when it was time for Stephanie to wake up, she had a choice:  she could return to her body and her family, or she could stay with her grandmother. And she chose life.  Because here on earth with her beloved husband and children, that was heaven.  We can make our own heaven in our own homes.  It's not easy, as Stephanie and her family well understands, but we can do it.

Monday, October 28, 2013

"The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls

I. forgot. to. review. a. book!  I knew there was one I had read during the busy part of summer that I never wrote about! I recently asked for memoir/biography recommendations on Facebook and my cousin said "The Glass Castle" in a comment, then it hit me like a flash of lightening!  The title I forgot to review!  I'm glad she brought it up, because it really was a moving read.  It's just that my mommy brain has too many holes in it.

"The Glass Castle" is a memoir.  One of Walls' earliest memories is boiling hot dogs for herself for lunch on a gas stove top.  At the tender age of three.  Let that sink in for a minute--a three-year-old handling gas flames and boiling water, unsupervised.  Her little dress catches on fire and her mother rushes in from the other room, where she had been painting.  She puts out the fire but recognizes little Jeannette is in need of medical care.  She borrows a neighbor's car to rush her to the hospital, where she is treated for a few weeks for her burns that cover much of her torso.  Until her father decides he's fed up with doctors and their western medicine.  He decides to check Jeannette out of the hospital "Rex Walls style," grabbing his daughter from her hospital room and heading to a get-away car.  Just one of the anecdotes of Wall's unconventional upbringing.

Unconventional?  Certainly.  Neglectful?  Absolutely.  Abusive?  Too a degree, I'd say.  Many readers would argue that the intensity of the neglect inflicted upon Walls and her three siblings was abuse.  But the children were never beaten by their parents, however, they were put in countless compromising situations that put their mental, emotional, and physical well-being at risk.  Story after story in Walls' arsenal of personal history left my jaw scraping the floor.  I cannot fathom any parent putting their children through the conditions the Walls children had to endure:  not enough food, inadequate clothing, parents splurging money on booze and art supplies instead of providing for basic needs, moving frequently to avoid run-ins with authority, a house so poorly insulated that icicles formed on the inside walls, using a bucket for a toilet inside the kitchen.  It goes on and on and on.  

I was constantly expecting a diagnosis of some mental or emotional disorders for the parents, but it never reached that point.  The children lived with their parents' illogical and selfish choices until they were old enough to fly the coop.  One by one, they left home and went to New York City, where they scraped a living for themselves and finally got to live in a way they chose.  Just when they thought they're getting control of their lives again, Rosemary and Rex follow their children's lead and come to New York, also.  Jeannette has to learn how to deal with her parents in her new life and the new roles she's adapted to.

This book will constantly surprise you.  Truth is stranger than fiction in this case.  And the story-telling is so comfortable for the reader to dive into.  Despite the horrific tales, you can also cheer when Jeannette overcomes her obstacles.  I can't overemphasize how impressed I was with the almost objective way Jeannette recreated her childhood experiences.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" by Betty Smith

When I saw this book at my September book club, my first reaction was how thick it was.  It was nearly 500 pages!  As of yesterday, I was only 150 pages into it, so the past two days have been a whirlwind of flipping pages and ignoring my kids (to a degree).  My 3-year-old's encounter today with an inky stamp left her looking like Ronald McDonald.  Mom's a book addict and hates going to book club with the book unfinished:  guilty as charged.

This title is one I have always heard of, but knew nothing about.  It's the story about little Francie Nolan, a girl who grows up in the slums of Brooklyn, collecting gum wrappers and other rubbish off the streets to trade in for pennies to put in a little tin can bank hammered into the floor of the closet.  The story is largely biographical of Betty Smith.  It follows Francie starting at age 11, and following up through her 16th birthday, shortly after the start of WWI.  I adored the glimpses into life of the Nolan family, despite their constant hardships.  Franice's mother, Katie, had to clean houses to earn their rent, and when her father, Johnny, happened to get a gig as a singing waiter, there was sometimes enough to eat.  But Johnny was an alchoholic and undependable for steady income.  You'll meet Francie's eccentric Aunt Sissy, as well as other Nolan and Rommely family members who probably act a lot like people you're related to.

"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is more than a "coming of age" story.  It's a snatch of American history, a story still touching readers 70 years later.  I appreciated the window into Francie's life from nearly 100 years ago.  So much has changed, but so much has remained constant.  I guess when it was first published in 1943 it was considered scandalous, but those "shady" aspects of the book are something I can relate to, because reading these passages echo of controversies my generation sees every day.   Not only could the story be eye-opening to the past and still feel familiar, Smith's writing style is simply classic.  Her gift of story-telling pulls in the reader.  It was comfortable, humorous, heart-breaking.

I told myself I was going to make note of passages as I read this one.  The writing was so lyrical and pictorial I wanted to remember it.  But it was a library book and I read it so fast, that I only wrote down two passages.  So, here they are, two token lines to represent the heart of this treasured book.

"Katie had the same hardships as Johnny and she was nineteen, two years younger.  It might be said that she, too, was doomed.  Her life, too was over before it began.  But there the similarity ended.  Johnny knew he was doomed and accepted it.  Katie wouldn't accept it.  She started a new life where her old one left off" (97).

"'You married him.  There was something about him that caught your heart.  Hang on to that and forget the rest'" (102).

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Roses are Red, Violets are Blue...

"Insurgent" by Veronica Roth

I finished listening to "Insurgent" last week.  For a few days, for a few hours at a time, you could find me hunkered down on my couch with ear buds in my head while working on a crocheting project, occasionally interrupted by children and housework.  It was a very happy time, though, when I could live in this semi-hypnotic state, engulfed by fabulous story-telling and "double crochet, double crochet, double crochet, chain chain, repeat."  Bliss, indeed.

The saga continues for Tris and Four, along with Marcus, Peter, and Caleb, as they arrive in the peaceful headquarters of the Amity faction following the Dauntless attack on Abnegation, courtesy of an Erudite simulation.  But you know a couple of Dauntless won't last long in the peaceful banjo-strummin', hand-holding atmosphere of the Amity farm life.  Especially after Tris learns Marcus knows the secret behind the Erudite attack on Abnegation.  She'll risk almost anything, even her relationship with Four, to find out the truth behind her parents' deaths, .

Throughout "Insurgent," Tris is tortured by memories of some of her actions during the Erudite attack on Abnegation.  She can't forgive herself for the act of self-defense, and she's ashamed to confess to those closest to her, especially Four.  When he does find out, he is injured by the fact she wouldn't trust him enough to tell him herself.  In fact, the majority of this story is Tris being reckless and bristly because of the conflicting emotions she's bottling up inside.  She feels her life is only worth something if she sacrifices herself for the greater good, like those who sacrificed their lives for her survival. 

I loved this follow-up to "Divergent," but I hated how Tris treated Four throughout the book.  But that's a Dauntless romance for you, I guess.  I kept wishing they'd just kiss and make-up and she'd stop picking fights.  By the end she got all her ducks in a row.

(I listened to this one on audio book, and I have to say, the narrator did a FANTASTIC job when Tris is given the Amity peace serum.  It was probably funny in print, but it was over-the-top hilarious hearing the narrator's ditzy voice inflections when Tris is under the influence.  The. Best.)

The set-up for "Allegiant" has left me WAY too excited for its release.  I know I should have waited to start this series, but what can you do?!  Oh, re-read the books, I guess!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Divergent" by Veronica Roth

I've lost count of how many friends have recommended this book to me.  For a while I had a long to-read list and I didn't seem to have room for it, plus when I learned the third book of the series wouldn't come out till October 2013, I decided I'd wait till all the books were out before starting the series.  Then, last Tuesday night happened.

I was hot, tired, in a bad mood, and had a raging headache.  My husband could sense my bad vibes from across the room.  He wisely suggested my two favorite things:  "read" and "bath."  But I got grumpier because I didn't have a book to read!  

(That's a blatant lie.  I have several books that I've never cracked open.  It is like standing in my closet and saying I have nothing to wear.  I have plenty of clothes, but none that I want to wear, just like I had plenty of book but none that I wanted to read.)

Then a rush of instant-gratification washed over me and I decided to download the book onto the Kindle app on my phone.  I don't do ebooks very often, but it was only $3.99, so with that special one-touch purchasing option (thanks, Amazon!), I was reading in no time.  

All my friends were right, I loved it!  It paralleled "Hunger Games" and "Matched" in the fact that it's a future version of our culture after a societal collapse, and they've restructured in a way they believe will induce peace among themselves.  This story unfolds in Chicago.  As "Hunger Games" had the reaping, and "Matched" had a matching banquet, "Divergent" has a choosing ceremony.  There are five factions that the people have divided into, each focusing their way of life around a virtue to balance and serve one another:  Abnegation (the selfless), Candor (the honest), Amity (the peaceful), Erudite (the intelligent), and Dauntless (the brave).  The year the youth turn 16, they are expected to choose to remain in the faction they were raised in, or leave their families and way of life forever and align with another faction.  This story follows Beatrice, who was raised in Abnegation.  Before the choosing ceremony, the youth go through an aptitude test to determine their strengths to help them decide which faction they'd succeed best in.  Her results were "inconclusive," which is a rare (and as she discovers, a dangerous) result.  She was advised to tell no one she is Divergent, leaving her to determine her fate at the choosing ceremony on her own.  

That's how it starts, in a nutshell!  I loved this YA book.  I can't wait to get my hands on the next in the series, "Insurgent."  Roth's break-through novel left me anxious for more.

"Wings of Nestor" by Devri Walls

Have you ever had a humongous chocolate craving, and as soon as you get your hands of a bag of M&Ms (or any chocolate indulgence of your choice) you eat them and eat them and you devour the whole bag and then it's gone, and you sit back and realize you never really tasted the chocolate?  You were so absorbed in the consumption of your treat that you didn't take the time to pace yourself and enjoy it?  That was so me with this book!  I'm embarrassed to admit it.  But I was so eager to continue the story, I dove right in and almost didn't come up for air.  I enjoyed it, don't get me wrong.  But I read it so fast, the memories of what I read are a blur in my brain.

I wanted to read this one in the ebook version, to see if it had the same formatting errors the first two books had.  The answer to that was, yes, it did, and no, it didn't.  It didn't have the weird paragraphs in the middle of a sentence, but it lacked the italics that helped the reader understand when the characters communicated telepathically.  So, there you go.  Looks like the system still has a few bugs in it.

The 4th book in The Solus series is "Wings of Lomay," to be released sometime later this year (I think).

Sunday, September 8, 2013

"Wings of Tavea" by Devri Walls

(sorry, this was the best image I could find!)

I told you this was coming!  Back in February I wrote about Walls' first novel, "Wings of Arian." Last night I finished the second book in the Solus series, "Wings of Tavea."  "Tavea" picks up right where "Arian" left off, with Kiora (the Solus), Emane (the Protector), and Drustan (a shape-shifter) leaving Meros after an enchantment was dropped, which had kept the kingdom safe from evil for a thousand years.  They are not only looking for Dralazar, but are also in search of something else they need to defeat evil:  the Lights.  They meet new magical creatures and discover new enemies.  And a love triangle develops (I feel like I'm 14 again when I read about a good love triangle!).

Walls' scope of imagination blows me away.  I've read my fair share of fantasy books, but she brings new elements to the genre with one-of-a-kind beings, powers, and places.  I feel her story line and characters are positively unique.  I remember reading Mortal Instruments the first time and I thought it was like Harry Potter had a love child with Twilight.  Almost none of that in the Solus series.  And I'm greatly impressed with the development of Walls' writing skills between her first and second book.

Downsides to "Tavea:" the first negative aspect in the book was also found in "Arian."  I don't know if it's in the editing or transferring the ebook into paperback, but there are weird mistakes like paragraphs starting in the middle of a sentence, misplaced quotation marks, etc.  These errors were really distracting at times.  You know in "The Princess Bride" when Vizinni keeps shouting, "Inconceivable!" and Inigo finally says, "I do not think it means what you think it means."  Punctuation and grammar have rules and consistency for a purpose, and when those rules aren't followed for one reason or another, it really takes away from the essence of the story.  At least that's how I felt.  So I hope in future editions of the book those mistakes are taken care of.  Because Devri deserves better than that!  Second downside: I read "Arian" back in February, so remember the basics of the story, but some details escaped me.  I felt "Tavea" didn't have enough story overlap to help the reader remember certain details from the first book.  There's a fine line between under-explaining and over-explaining, and I felt "Tavea" was a little lacking and didn't quite cover all the bases to help the reader know what was going on all the time.

I highly recommend that you all explore Walls' story, and I'm more than anxious to get started on the third book, "Wings of Nestor."

Thursday, September 5, 2013

"The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho

Apparently, I'm one of the last people on the planet to hear about this guy or read this book.  Since I've had it from book club, I've told several people what I've been reading and most of them stopped me mid-sentence to gush, "Oh!  I LOVED that book!"  It played part in that strange phenomena, the one where you never hear a particular word/trend/place, but the moment you learn about it you see it EVERYWHERE. That was my experience with this book.  And happily so.

read at your own risk -- consider yourself warned

This book was an answer to prayer.  I believe I am a spiritual person; I have a tendency to see/feel God's love in small ways and "insignificant" things.  I am always deeply touched when I'm blessed with the recognition of God's tender mercies (I like to call them "love notes") in the little ordinary things in life.  I said this book was an answer to prayer, though not a prayer I put into words using my own cognition; it was a prayer that bled from my heart.  There was an unexpected turn of events in the life of my family recently. Not earth-shattering, although heart-breaking.  At the beginning I cried and prayed for days that, selfishly, the event would reverse and things could go back to the way I wanted them.  Then I prayed for understanding, patience, comfort, the ability to have God's grace in my heart so I could exercise forgiveness.  My heart ebbed and flowed with peace and pain, gradual healing mingled with reminders of the sorrow. So when I read the pages of this book, it was not like finding a fill-in-the-blank answer that I'd been hunting for. Rather, it was a calming whisper from my Father in Heaven that He understood my pain, but that He knew I could endure it with His endless love.  I don't understand many things about this universe, but He understands all, and I'm in His watchful care.  I don't know if everyone who reads this book will experience anything similar to what the book did to me.  I would call it a lengthy parable instead of a novel.  But I cannot deny that the very day when I found myself at the lowest low I had experienced in a long time just happened to be the day I cracked open this book, without having an inkling of what it contained inside.  It was a miracle.  And I was filled with love to buoy me through my storm.

I'm not going to tell you what the book is about--I'll let you discover that for yourself.  But I want to share some quotes and passages that were significant to me.

p 47 - It was if the world had fallen silent because the boy's soul had.  He sat there, staring blankly through the door of the cafe, wishing that he had died, and that everything would end forever at that moment.

p 64 - He was actually two hours closer to his treasure...the fact that the two hours had stretched into an entire year didn't matter.

p 69 - "I guess you don't believe a king would talk to someone like me, a shepherd," he said, wanting to end the conversation.

"Not at all.  It was shepherds who were the first to recognize a king that the rest of the world refused to acknowledge.  So, it's not surprising that kings would talk to shepherds."

p 75 - But all this happened for one basic reason:  no matter how many detours and adjustments it made, the caravan moved to the same compass point.  Once obstacles were overcome, it returned to its course, sighting on a start that indicated the location of the oasis.

p 76 - "But that disaster taught me to understand the world of Allah:  people need not fear the unknown if they are capable of achieving what they need and want.

"We are afraid of losing what we have, whether it's our life, or our possessions or property.  But this fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand."

p 77 - "Once you go into the desert, there's no going back," said the camel driver.  "And when you can't go back, you have to worry about the best way of moving forward.  The rest is up to Allah, including the danger."

p 85 - "Because I don't live either in my past or my future.  I'm interested only in the present.  If you can concentrate always on the present, you'll be a happy man.  You'll see there is life in the desert, that there are stars in the heavens, and that tribesmen fight because they are are part of the human race.  Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we are living right now."

p 87 - Maybe God created the desert so that man could appreciate the date trees.

p 89 - Meanwhile, the boy thought about his treasure.  The closer he got to the realization of his dream, the more difficult things became.  It seemed as if what the old king had called "beginner's luck" was no longer functioning.  In his pursuit of the dream, he was being constantly subjected to tests of his persistence and courage.  So he could not be hasty, nor impatient.  If he pushed forward impulsively, he would fail to see the signs and omens left by God along his path.

God placed them along my path.  He had surprised himself with the thought.  Until then, he had considered the omens to be things of this world.  Like eating or sleeping, or like seeking love  or finding a job.  He had never thought of them in terms of a language used by God to indicate what he should do.

p 98-99 - "Now, I'm beginning what I could have started ten years ago.  But I'm happy at least I didn't wait twenty years."

p 103 - "The secret is here in the present.  If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it.  And, if you improve upon the present, what comes later will also be better.  Forget about the future, and live each day according to the teachings, confident that God loves his children.  Each day, in itself, brings with it an eternity."

p 115 - "It's not what enters men's mouths that's evil," said the alchemist.  "It's what comes out of their mouths that is."

p 120 - "You must understand that love never keeps a man from pursuing his Personal Legend.  If he abandons that pursuit, it's because it wasn't true love...the love that speaks the Language of the World."

p 122 - "Don't say anything," Fatima interrupted.  "One is loved because one is loved.  No reason is needed for loving."

p 125 - "Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey."

p 125 - "And what went wrong when other alchemists tried to make gold and were unable to do so?"

"They were only looking for gold," his companion answered.  "They were seeking the treasure of their Personal Legend, without wanting actually to live out the Personal Legend."

p 127 - "The wise men understood that this natural world is only an image and a copy of paradise.  The existence of this world is simply a guarantee that there exists a  world that is perfect.  God created the world so that, through its visible objects, men could understand his spiritual teachings and the marvels of his wisdom.  That's what I mean by action."

p 130 - "Tell your heart that fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.  And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity."

p 132 - "Every search begins with beginner's luck.  And every search ends with the victor's being severely tested."

p 141 - "There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve:  the fear of failure."

p 156 - "'Everything that happens once can never happen again.  But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time.'"

Sunday, August 25, 2013

"Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald" by Therese Anne Fowler

Man! It's been such a long time since I've written a review. I know you've all been waiting for months with baited breath. ;) I am going to try and be better at this blogging venture!

This was another book that I saw on the new bookshelf at the library and thought it looked pretty interesting. It's a historical fiction novel about the life of Zelda Fitzgerald after she met F. Scott Fitzgerald. At the end of the book, the author lets the reader know what is fact and what is fiction. A lot of the dates and places are real. F. Scott Fitzgerald's temperament and alcoholism is based off actual events that happened and Zelda's hospitalizations were also accurate, among other things. The author speculates a little on the reason why Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald end their friendship and how Zelda may have felt after Scott's drunken episodes.

I don't think I will ever tire of catching glimpses into other people's lives, even if it is partly fictional. :) I really like that she writes in first person and uses letters of correspondence to develop the story further. It made me sad for the life the Fitzgeralds may have had if they hadn't been so wrapped up in the "young and bright" age of the 20s and the fame of his first novel. It made me sad for her as a wife and mother. I'm not sure if it's true or not, but I was surprised to find that she wrote as well and her stories were doing better than Scott's. Because of the time period, though, her stories were placed under his name. How frustrating that must have been! And not being able to realize other dreams that she had. I am realizing this is sounding quite depressing and it was a little bit, BUT I enjoyed how the author showed how much Zelda and Scott loved each other despite their misgivings and hardships. How much their love endured.

I enjoyed reading the book, but there were certain things that were a bit too... promiscuous for lack of a better word. There were some swear words and a bit too much sexuality in a few directions for my taste. Nothing too explicit, but it might be better reading about their lives in a biography if you're uneasy about that kind of stuff. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"The Rent Collector" by Camron Wright

The Cow.  She is one of the most despised and dreaded persons at the Stung Meanchey dump in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she collects rent from the people living in flimsy dwellings within the dump.  Living in a dump?!  Yes, where human waste, toxic pollutants and trash combine, the underprivileged masses live and work.  They sort through the mounds of refuse for items that are of worth to scrap collectors.  They get enough money to buy food from the vendors near the dump, and enough money to pay The Cow in exchange for the right to sleep in the confines of Stung Meanchey.

Another woman resides in the dump, Sang Ly.  She lives there with her husband and sick little boy.  She detests The Cow (named Sopeap), not because she must give her precious rent money every month, but because The Cow is rude, heartless, and demanding.  But one day The Cow spots something in Sang Ly's shack:  a book that had been found in the dump that the illiterate Sang Ly kept for the pictures to show her son.  At the site of the book Sopeap moans and cries, leaving Sang Ly disturbed by this unfamiliar version of the dreaded rent collector.  Sang Ly offers the ugly old woman the book, and as The Cow quietly shuffles away, Sang Ly has an epiphany:  Sopeap can read!  Sang Ly strikes a deal with the prickly Sopeap for reading lessons, and thus begins a beautiful exploration of a human mind into the world of literature, and the truth of Sopeap's past.

There are also parallels between this book and "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" that thrilled me.

For anyone who enjoys reading as much as I do, this story about someone discovering not only how to read but how reading literature can change one's soul will be an enlightening experience.  This is not a true story but it is based on real individuals in Cambodia.  Camron Wright's son filmed a documentary called "River of Victory" about the people living in Stung Meanchey, and this story evolved from that film.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book:
~"Sometimes broken things deserve to be repaired."
~"Sang Ly, we are literature--our lives, our hopes, our desires, our despairs, our passions, our strengths, our weaknesses.  Stories express our longing not only to make a difference today but to see what is possible for tomorrow.  Literature has been called a handbook for the art of being human."
~"Whether we like it or not, hope is written so deeply into our hearts that we just can't help ourselves, no matter how hard we try.  We love the story because we are ... Cinderella."
~"It doesn't matter where you live, Sang Ly, it is how you live."
~"Fear will flee.  You will always wake up when morning comes."
~"I still awake every morning to a dump that is smoky, but through the smoke, I've seen some of the most amazing sunsets."

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

"Letters in the Jade Dragon Box" by Gale Sears

Micaela recommended this to me, and she read it first, but I got my review up first!  Neener neener!  I read this one because of the biography/memoir kick I'm on.  

Chen Wen-shan is a fifteen-year-old girl living in British Hong Kong in the 1970s.  She lives with her stoic great-uncle and she likes Western culture, specifically cornflakes and rock 'n roll.  One day a messenger delivers a request for Wen-shan and her uncle to visit the Smythes, British museum curators living in Kowloon.  Wen-shan knew of her mother and grandfather still living in mainland communist China, but she had been smuggled to the safety of her great-uncle when she was five years old and she had no memory of her life there.  Mr. Smythe informs Wen-shan and her uncle he had smuggled out a box full of letters from her mother and paintings from her grandfather.  Over the next several months, Wen-shan and her uncle read the letters and view the paintings and learn of Wen-shan's past.

For me, the greatest value of this story, based on real events and people, was the story of the beginnings of communist China and the devastation wreaked  upon tens of millions of people.  It was a history I knew nothing of and I was often moved beyond expression at the horrors inflicted upon the Chinese by Chairman Mao and his socialist regime.  I wondered why on earth I don't remember studying this in school.  How come I know about Hitler and Nazi Germany and concentration camps, but I didn't know about Mao's campaign to make himself a vengeful and all-powerful god to the Chinese?  My naivete baffles and embarrasses me.  I guess that's why we must always seek learning and knowledge.  

Friday, June 21, 2013

"The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate" by Jacqueline Kelly

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Ever since I read "Heaven is Here..." by Stephanie Nielson, I've been checking in on her blog every now and then. In one of her posts, she mentioned this being one of her new favorite books. I was planning a 20 hour drive to see my parents and saw this in the audio books section at the library and thought it would be perfect for my trip.

Calpurnia Tate is 11 in 1899 and is the only girl in a family of all boys. Her mother is intent on making her more domestic in the arts of homemaking, but Calpurnia has much different interests. She is fascinated with the world around her and why things are the way they are. As she explores her world, she begins to also see her grandfather in a much different light.

I loved being able to listen to this book- especially when I was all alone in my car for hours at a time! :) It's a great book for girls that are more interested in things other than what the social norm expects of them. However, I felt like it smacked a little too much of feminist ideals. Calpurnia is constantly asking why: "Why can't girls be scientists? Why do girls have to stay home and cook and knit?". Questions that I'm sure girls had during that time period, but I don't know. Something about it just made me think the author may have been trying too hard to let girls know they can be anything they can.

Anyway, other than that little bit, it was a great book. I laughed out loud a couple of times at the wit and humor the author displays and loved the characters' development throughout the story.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

"Angela's Ashes" by Frank McCourt

A friend suggested this title to me because she knows I've been interested in biographies/memoirs lately.  I'm really glad she told me about "Angela's Ashes" because it was a gritty, honest story.  It took a little while to get used to McCourt's voice because the style of this book is completely different from the  majority of books I've read.  Once I got used to his cadence I felt I could hear his voice and see through his eyes as he recalled his childhood and adolescent anecdotes.

McCourt was born of Irish parents in New York in 1930.  When his infant sister died, the family returned to Ireland to be close to family.  But survival was a bigger challenge in Ireland than anything they had faced in New York.  McCourt accounts the challenges of growing up in Limerick, Ireland with a Yankee accent and having a father from the north and therefore distrusted in Limerick.  McCourt's father's alcoholism forced the family to live in ruin for years because he drank every rare penny that fell into his hands.

This was one of those books that made me ask myself where do I get off complaining about my insignificant problems when countless people like the McCourts had to endure inexpressible poverty, living life as the dregs of Irish society.  Similar to "Unbroken," this book made me ask myself how much can a man endure and survive and come out of it a decent, compassionate person. People are beautiful, as his is a genuine "diamond-in-the-rough" story.  His words and perceptions could be delicate and insightful despite the coarseness of his environment and upbringing.  Overall I appreciated how he was able to tell his story in a straightforward way, almost charging like a train, saying it how it happened and not thinking too much about it or what it meant.  It was what it was and then there was something new to share.  

One of the things I admire about McCourt's story is he didn't directly say he was hungry or he missed his father.  Just talking about the lack of food and his father's absence was enough for me to feel the keen aches and loneliness.

I'll confess it got a little too raw when he got to his puberty and adolescence and he divulged all the things boys experience during that phase.  I appreciate that it was a part of his development and story, but I wish it hadn't been so prominent the last third of the book.  And I was disappointed by the end.  It made sense to end when McCourt returned to America, but to wrap up the story with a romp with a married woman his first night off the boat's just to conclude with, "Isn't this a great country altogether?"  I mean, really?  I would have expected something with more sincerity and not so base to segue from the first 20-some-odd years of his Irish life to a new start in America.  

Monday, May 27, 2013

"Big Stone Gap" by Adriana Trigiani

First off, the author's name is a mouthful!  Can you say that five times fast?  I can't.  Oye!

This is a darling story about 35-year-old Ave Maria Mulligan, who lives in the small Appalachian town Big Stone Gap, Virginia.  She's resigned her role in life to be the town's summer play director, pharmacist, and spinster.  But shortly after her mother's death, secrets about Ave Maria and her mother begin to surface, changing how Ave perceives who she is, who were parents were, and where she came from.  With new understanding about herself, Ave has to decide what to with the new version of herself.

This book was thoroughly entertaining.  I've talked about a book drawing me in, like water being absorbed into a sponge.  This book did it from page one.  The characters are genuinely characters!  Each one is unique and genuine and play their role in the town.  I loved the quirkiness of the town population, the genuine feel of community.  

I loved Ave.  I'm a 32-year-old married woman, but there were many things I could relate to with Ave.  It's a woman thing.  No matter where we live or our situation in life, there are things we're going to relate to.  I'm a woman and I love a romance story that exists for the sake of the romance, for the chase and the mystery and drama.  This story dives into family relationships, and I found a lot of truth in what Ave discovers about a grown-up child's relationship with his/her parents.

I love what Ave learns about her Italian heritage.  My grandmother was a first-generation Italian-American, and a lot of the things Trigiani describes as Italian characteristics I have often seen in myself, such as being very expressive and talking with my hands.  Little things like that my husband doesn't understand about me, but I don't know how to communicate with the world without those habits!  hah!

I enjoyed everything about this book.  For the sensitive reader, I'll warn you there are some sexually suggestive passages, mild language, and pre-marital intimacy.  

There are three more books about Ave Maria:  "Big Cherry Holler," "Milk Glass Moon," and "Home to Big Stone Gap."  I'd love to read more about Ave.  As I've learned more about Trigiani, I'm excited by the number of highly acclaimed books she's written--and I'm surprised I've never heard of her before.  I think this is an author I'd like to explore more.  You should, too.

Monday, May 13, 2013

"Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand

I took AP US History in high school, but I don't remember much at all what I learned about WWII.  And what tidbits I do remember all evolve around the European side of it.  Sadly, most of what I know about America's involvement in the Pacific side of WWII comes from the 2001 movie "Pearl Harbor."  Yup, my familiarity with history is pretty sad.

After several recommendations, I finally decided to try "Unbroken."  I actually had it loaded on my iPod for months and months, but didn't start listening to it until a few weeks ago.  It was a wonderful reading by actor Edward Hermann (I recognized his voice, but looked over his filmography and the only movie of his I've seen is "Overboard"--funny I remember his voice from such an obscure and long-ago appearance).  

"Unbroken" is the life story of Louis Zamperini, a first-generation American born of Italian parents.  He was a hellion as a boy, causing his parents great amounts of angst and frustration.  As a young man, his older brother Pete trained him up as a runner, and he found state- and nation-wide recognition for his achievements on the track, ultimately forming him into an Olympic runner in the Berlin games of 1936.

With the onset of the war Louis was called up to serve as a bombardier and served several successful missions over the Pacific.  One sad day his plane was gunned down and he and two of his crewmen were stranded on a raft in the ocean for 47 days.  They were taken prisoners of war by the Japanese, and the following years of interrogation and POW camps where horrific and difficult to comprehend.  But the Japanese lost and Louis finally went home, believed dead by the military for years.  

His post-war recovery was gruesome, but he finally found hope in Jesus Christ through a tent revival by none other than Billy Graham.  He repaired his life and committed himself to helping troubled boys, much like his brother had helped him when he was young.

The strongest impression I got from this book was, "How much more can a man live through?"  I listened to the audio book, like I've mentioned, and it had a total of 214 tracks.  I kept watching as I progressed through the story as it got more and more incredible, stretching the imagination almost by the minute.  And then I'd see how many tracks were left in the story, my jaw dropping to see how much of the story was left to be told.  Again and again I wondered what else a man could endure and still survive.

I'm not prone to tears when I read, but "Unbroken" brought me close so many times.  The Bird.  That's all I will say.  This book will change the way you think about humanity.

Click here to read Micaela's review of "Unbroken."

Monday, May 6, 2013

"A Single Shard" by Linda Sue Park

Tree-ear is an orphaned boy living under a bridge with his older friend in a village of Korea known for it's beautiful and unique celadon pottery. He is fascinated by the potter's art, especially the work of one potter in particular- Min.

This book was a pleasant and easy read, but I felt like it was a little bit too predictable. It seemed to be on a more simplistic plane than most Newbery books that I've read. I wonder if the award was given based off the cultural aspect of the novel. I did enjoy getting a little peek into the Korean culture and I could picture the pottery vividly in my mind. I would love to see some! I think the message of the book is that with hard work, strong morals and good ethics, that you can find yourself and have a sense of belonging in the world. At least that's what I got out of it. :)

Definitely not a 5 star book in my opinion, but if you're looking for an entertaining and quick read, then I'd say try it.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"The Hobbit" by J. R. R. Tolkien

I have four weeks between my book club nights, but for some reason this month I procrastinated the majority of this book until the last two days before our discussion.  I read "The Hobbit" in a great whirlwind, and in fact, the last 20 pages I borrowed my mom's "speed reading" trick of reading on the first and last lines of each paragraph to get the gist of what's going on.

I read "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy about 8 years ago.  Okay, that's a lie.  I read the first two and threw my hands up shortly into the third.  I think I might have mild ADD, because the long descriptive passages in Tokien's books are hard for me to plow through.  I need more dialogue to keep things going, and those moments aren't as common.  But I persisted through "The Hobbit."  I think it was easier because I was slightly more familiar with the story line from watching the cartoon version as a child.  But of course that cartoon was incomplete, but I found the parts of the story that were new to me were really the highlights because I didn't know exactly what was coming.  For example, I loved Beorn, the bear-man.  I loved his character and morphing qualities, his hospitality to Bilbo and the dwarfs, and how he followed them through part of the forest.

My very most favorite part of this story was Bilbo's transformation from being the little bumbling hobbit who fretted over his forgotten handkerchief to the individual who became the leader in fulfilling the plans to restoring the dwarfs' treasure and kingdom.

I saw the movie a few months ago, not knowing it was only a third of the story.  I was slightly appalled that "The Hobbit" book was to become a movie trilogy.  But now that I have read it, I totally understand and I'm eager to see the other cinematic installments.

Monday, April 1, 2013

"The Power of Starting Something Stupid: How to crush fear, make dreams happen, and live without regret" by Richie Norton

This is a different kind of book for me to read.  I usually stick to fiction, and I just started into biographies, but a "self-help" or "business" book is really not what I usually dip into.  But I found out about it through Natalie Norton, whose name is on the cover.  I went to high school and church with Natalie, and through Facebook I heard all about her husband's writing.  My monthly budget has a zero balance for books, so I did what I usually do when I encounter a title I must read:  I drive down to (or sometimes call) my small-town library and submit a purchase request.  I was ecstatic when I got my email last week saying this title was available behind the desk for me to check out.

What Norton suggests in "Stupid" is applicable to anyone.  If you have a business idea, this is for you.  If you have an idea to improve your community, this is for you.  If you have personal goals you want to achieve, this is for you.  No one is happy living stagnantly.  You need motion, you need to START.  Norton's personal voice encourages the reader to believe in breaking out of their shell and discovering the power within to do great things.  Because of a dream.

Inspired.  That's what this book is and it's how it made me feel.  I have a dream, a goal, just like everyone else.  But this special book helped me give myself permission to believe in it and believe I can achieve it.  My dreams are unique and not quite like anyone else's dreams.  My dreams are valid and I won't live to regret not acting on them.

Monday, March 25, 2013

"Life of Pi" by Yann Martel

Seven years ago when my strapping 1st grade son was a tiny little newborn, I read "Life of Pi."  I loved it.  Fast-forward to a few months ago when my husband and I were in the movie theater and the previews started rolling.  All I needed to see was a zebra swimming within the hull of a ship and I started bouncing in my seat chanting, "Life of Pi!  Life of Pi!" and nearly ripping his arm off in my excitement.  Then my book club selected it for this month's read.  Then the person who was going to host the discussion forgot she was going to be in Mexico on vacation during our club meeting (how do you FORGET a trip to Mexico?!) and would be unable to fulfill her obligation, so I volunteered to take her place.  And I just finished reading it during a luxurious soak in my bathtub.

There were a few details I remembered from my first read-through, but all things considered, I might as well have been reading it for the first time for all I'd forgotten.  It's a story within a story within a story.  Once you get through it and understand the conclusion of the tale, you'll want to go back and reread it to see the symbolism and symmetry you weren't looking for the first time.  Unless you're incredibly intelligent and caught it all the first time, which I am not and did not.  I loved the facets of the story of religion and survival.  Being a religious person myself, I loved Pi's reaction to the different churches and perspectives on deity.  The Indian culture, the boat sinking, the animals, survival, Richard Parker.  This story was so inventive and dimensional and lovely.  I hope this is one you follow through and read, then come back and tell me what you think.

No, I haven't seen the movie yet!  It actually came out on video today (well, the day I'm writing this, not the day you're reading it, hehehe).  I don't know when I'll get around to seeing it, but I hope it's soon.  When I do see it I'll be sure to come back and let you know what I think, because I know that's important to you.  When I present this discussion to my book club, I plan on serving...drum roll please...pie!  (I can reveal that because by the time this publishes, book club will be long past and over with and no surprises will be spoiled.  Although, I'm pretty sure pie isn't that clever for refreshments.  I just revel in my own silliness.)

Long live Pi!

Monday, March 11, 2013

"The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver

"The Poisonwood Bible."  Where to start?  I wonder if I'm bothered with seasonal affective disorder, or if I'm just plain grumpy.  Because whenever I start asking myself what I'm going to write in this review, the answers aren't pretty.  I simply didn't like it.  It wasn't 100% awful, but I wasn't fond of it.

I had a hard time jumping into it.  A book needs to pull me in, make me hesitate to come up for air.  But this had no draw.  I forced myself to read through it like swimming in cement.

I hated The Reverend Nathan Price.  I mean, I think the reader is supposed to hate him.  I'd really be afraid of the mental stability of anyone who liked Nathan Price.  But he was such an unforgivable character.  He didn't change or learn or adapt.  He was psychotic.  He made me angry.  He didn't understand anything about human beings, American or African.  Zero redeeming qualities.

I also struggled with Orleanna Price until the middle of the book, where she finally gets to explain why she is who she is and how she got there.  I could forgive her zombie behavior after that.  She earned some redemption.

I felt nothing but sympathy for the poor daughters, who had no choice in ending up in Africa.  The twins I think had the purest souls, and Rachel was just vain and ignorant.  I was proud of Adah for moving past her deformity and allowing herself to create a new identity, and I felt pity for Leah for choosing a love and a life where she could never totally belong in any world.

There was no happiness in the book.  No hope.  No silver lining, not even a tarnished one. Everything was malaria and deadly politics.  That's not very generous of me.  But what about a happy scene (or two?) to propel the reader through all the poverty and illness?  I know the depictions of African history were real; life wasn't fair at all and always an uphill battle for survival. But the harsh reality doesn't mean they never had happy moments.  The book got me thinking about life and humanity, of course, but it was generally depressing.  Thank goodness for Rachel's narratives for some comic relief, which were only funny because she herself was a parasite trying to survive, not because she had two brain cells to rub together to spark her own wit.

And it wasn't what I would call a sad book.  Yes, there were many deaths and tragedies and set-backs.  But  to be sad there has to be some happiness sprinkled in it.  It was uninspiring.  And I think writing, no matter what genre, should inspire or motivate the reader in some form or measure.  And this book didn't just miss the mark, it wasn't even aiming in the right direction.

Monday, March 4, 2013

"In Search of Heaven: The Barrington Family Saga Volume 1" by Anita Stansfield

So, I'm a little bashful about this one.  I think there's a stigma about LDS authors such as Stansfield; either you think the genre is pertinent religious-based literature, or you think it's a load of cheese.  I'm not a fan but I do not condemn her writing.  I had my own reasons for reading this one, which I'm choosing to keep to myself (neener, neener).  I actually read this about 4 years ago, and it's the first of a series.  I won't be finishing the series, but I do want to read another Stansfield book to see if her style goes across the board or if she changes her voice depending on the theme of the book.

To sum up "Heaven," Eleanore is a young English woman who is a servant in the house of Lord James Barrington.  She has the opportunity to be promoted to governess of his children after the death of his wife.  With time he proposes a marriage of convenience as he makes plans to travel to America.  Eleanore accepts, for she has her own reasons for wanting to go to America.  She had discovered a strange new book of scripture and has keen desires to align herself with the religion that follows it.   Eleanore must overcome the trial of her marriage of convenience.  Her husband is a good man and treats her well, but she discovers that even though she married for practicality and an irresistible opportunity, she has fallen in love with him.  His heart was injured by his first wife, and he believes he can never love again.  Eleanore battles with being happier and more blessed than she ever anticipated, but despite all she has, she wants the love her husband denies her.

If you're not LDS (Latter-day Saint), this kind of story will probably seem ridiculous and predictable.  Even I sometimes thought the predicaments polished up far too neatly. But I adored the principles that drove the story line.  And I'm a girl--a predictable love story is always welcome.

Monday, February 25, 2013

"Reached" by Ally Condie

I know that I had said I would be posting my review on "Women with Attention Deficit Disorder", but I feel like it's a little too close to home right now and I wanted to wait a little longer to post. I'm sure you're all extremely disappointed. :) In the meantime, though, I finished "Reached", the third book in a trilogy written by Ally Condie.

It had a Giver/Hunger Games feel to it, which is a bit fascinating to me because these types of books make me wonder what it would be like to have every aspect of my life controlled by a higher power. And these types of books try to answer the age old question of whether or not being allowed to have the freedom to choose for one's self is in the best interest of a group of people. Or if it would be better for someone to decide for everyone else what jobs they would have, how many children they would have, what they could/couldn't eat, etc. This book also resonated with my own personal religious beliefs. It makes me grateful that I do get to choose. That we all do.

I also loved the symbolism that Condie uses throughout the three books. I love how the jacket covers symbolize what Cassia, the main character, is going through AND the pills that the Society has them carry. I love how she progressively adds voices to the other two main characters in the second and third books. I loved the names of the parts in the third book and how they all relate to each other. Her writing style flows smoothly and she ties everything in so well. I definitely recommend reading this series!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"The Miraculous Journey of Edward Toulane" by Kate DiCamillo

Another gift book!  This was given to my family by my mother-in-law for Easter 2012.  She's the kind of person who gives you something out of the goodness of her heart, but you know she's going to follow up eventually and ask how you liked the gift.  So I decided it was in my best interest to finally read it.  I tried reading it to my two oldest kids; Isaac was wholly disinterested, but Alayna was game.  It was a perfect bedtime story book because the chapters were short.

DiCamillo is an established author (Because of Winn-Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux, etc.).  Alayna and I enjoyed this story, as well.  Edward is a ceramic rabbit whose journeys and travels teach him about love, loss, and being vulnerable to love again.  The biggest messages I took away from the story were we will love all types of people we might not expect to love, and that love will often be lost due to circumstances out of our control, and love will return even if we have to wait a long time.  But no matter what, it is always worth it to love.  It is the greatest gift, the reason for living.  The characters were simple and varied and charming.  You'll love some and hate others; some might make you cry.  It's a simple story with profound meaning.  

Monday, February 18, 2013

"On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft" by Stephen King

I didn't know this book existed until one of my Facebook friends posted a quote from it.

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things about all others:  read a lot and write a lot.  There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut."

This grabbed my attention.  I had never read Stephen King before; I just knew him as the guy who wrote scary stories which were often turned into scary movies (which I don't   watch--I'm nightmare-prone).  But a successful writer writing about writing?  I couldn't resist.

I got around to getting a copy from the library and devoured the book.  I love his voice.  I thought it started out with some colorful language, and that amused me.  I don't mind the occasional expletive--I think it peppers up a story.  But, King pushed my limit--at times the language surpassed colorful to simply gaudy (ironically, he addresses this very issue in one of his chapters).  But the voice he uses during his life narrative and wisdom-sharing really excited me.  It's a book I simply must own my own copy of to reference and reread again.  But when I have my own copy, I'll read it with a Sharpie in hand.  Yes, I'm sure this sounds prudish.  I believe that in life, as well as in writing, if you can't find a more polite word to use you lack a certain creativity.

BUT, all that aside, this was an excellent read.  He doesn't just dispense good advice, he does it beautifully.  You can tell what kind of human being he is.  He's honest, and he adores his wife.

Click here for more great quotes from Mr. King's book.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"Tear Up This Book" by Keri Smith, from the American Girl Library

My daughter, Alayna, had all the money she got from her November birthday and Christmas burning holes in her pockets, so during Christmas break we did some serious girl shopping, just her and me.  It was awesome.  At Target she found this book, "Tear Up This Book."  She was immediately drawn to it by its title and description: "The sticker, stencil, stationery, games, games, crafts, doodle, and journal book for girls!"  Wow, that pretty much summarizes everything Alayna likes to do in her free time.  She has simply loved the activities in it from day one.  Even this afternoon I helped her work on a mobile she wants to surprise her little sister with to hang over her bed.  So, if there's a young 'tween in your life, she'll probably really dig this find.

Monday, February 11, 2013

"Heaven Is Here" by Stephanie Nielson

Heaven Is Here: An Incredible Story of Hope, Triumph, and Everyday Joy
Mormon mom and blogger, Stephanie Nielson, and her husband Christian were involved in a plane crash in 2008 leaving Stephanie's body 90% burned. This is her story about her experiences and how she was able to overcome this trial in her life. She is the author of the blog nieniedialogues.
This book had an unusual effect on me. I had mixed feelings throughout the whole book. In the beginning, she gives a little of her background story- little snippets of growing up, meeting Christian, beginning their family, etc. and I cringed and rolled my eyes at most of it. Seriously. It reminded me of my journal when I was 16 and it made me want to gag. Everything was so perfect and lovely. Her wording was so childish to me. I know- that's mean, but seriously, it took me awhile to get through the first part of the book. And I've been Mormon my whole life. It makes me wonder what people not of our faith think when they read this part. Or maybe I'm just really cynical... I don't think I usually am. Haha. Although, it did make me laugh when she mentioned how when she and her husband moved to New Jersey it was such a shock to her how standoffish people were. Mostly because I couldn't imagine living in one place for my whole life and actually knowing my neighbors as well as she did growing up. The whole first part made me think it was a little dramatized because she was remembering all the happy times. And although I was not a fan of her style of writing, it was her story to tell and if she felt that life was always perfect for her, then I guess it was and I'm happy for her.

I really started to enjoy the book (I know! It surprised me too! :)  ) after the plane crash. It was like she was a different author. Her words felt more real- there wasn't as much pretense to her emotions. And although I never have gone through, nor is it highly likely that I will go through what she did, I felt much more connected to her story. There are still bits here and there that I couldn't empathize with, but I found myself crying with and for her several times.

I am amazed at how strong the human spirit is. I am amazed at all this woman was capable of overcoming. I couldn't help but to keep turning to the pictures of her before the accident. She was GORGEOUS!! I couldn't help but feel a little sadness and sympathy for Stephanie losing her beauty- for not wanting to see herself for a long time afterwards. And although I didn't really care for her rendition of her "perfect" life at the beginning of the book, I think that attitude she had was what saved her from giving up.

After reading the book, I started looking in on her blog and read a few posts from before the crash and a lot since. In some ways her life still seems picture perfect. A little too perfect... But maybe that's OK. Maybe it's OK for someone to have a good life and to be happy. Maybe we can all learn from her example and make our lives perfect for ourselves. Life IS what you make of it.

Monday, February 4, 2013

"Wings of Arian" by Devri Walls

"Wings of Arian" is Devri Walls' break-through novel.  She's a local Kuna author, so I was eager to get my hands on her book. It's exciting for me to see someone guide their writing dream to fruition.

The Kingdom of Meros is a special place to live, for there is no evil.  The citizens haven't witnessed lies, cheating, murder, theft, or any kind of deception in a thousand years.  But that is going to change, because the dark forces that were defeated a millennium ago are stirring.  There is one who can save the kingdom in a final battle: the Solus.  The Solus and a Protector must be found and trained to defeat Dralazar, a dark magical being who wants dominion over all.  This is story is good versus evil in magical, mythical proportions.  

This story is imaginative, delightful, and adventurous.  If you've ever dreamed of making yourself invisible, flying on a Pegasus, battling a dragon, or transfiguring yourself into an entirely different entity, you should enjoy this other-world adventure.

The second book in the Solus Trilogy, "Wings of Tavea," is also available on ebook and paperback.  Review to come soon!

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

The Dressmaker 
I read this book quite a few months ago. In fact, I finished it just before going on a cruise this past summer. Maybe it's not such a great idea to read a book about the Titanic before embarking on a ship for the first time in one's life... Haha. Seriously, though, a lot of stuff was coming out last year about the Titanic because of the 100 year anniversary of its sinking and I saw this book displayed on a "new reading" shelf at the library. Have I told you that I love historical fiction? :) AND the two things that fascinate me the most are World War II and the Titanic. I know- kind of morbid in some ways, but I just can't get enough information about them! So I had to check it out, right?
The book is about a seamstress named Tess that wants to make a name for herself. After leaving her position as a maid, she is fortuitous in gaining employment with the world famous designer, Lady Lucile Duff Gordon, while simultaneously gaining passage onto the Titanic's maiden voyage. On board, she becomes intrigued with Jack, a self made millionaire from Chicago and Jim, a kind sailor, who is looking for the hope of a better life in America.
After the ship sinks, the survivors are brought to New York and are quickly brought to trial. Lady Duff Gordon is soon at the center of the trial as questions arise about the actions of some of the people that were able to make it into the lifeboats. Tess has a few decisions to make with who to believe and who to share her destiny with.
I liked the character development. Apparently, in real life, Lady Duff Gordon was NOT a fun person to work with. While the author portrays this in the book, she also lets us see some of her generosity as well. I liked how the author had background stories to the characters- it gave them some dimension. I mostly liked the book. The worst part (although it wasn't terrible) was the ending. It seemed a little vague... a little weak. Not one of those books that I LOVED, but a good read. I'd be willing to read more books by this author.