Saturday, January 31, 2009

Silver Spoon Kids

I just finished reading book #10 - Silver Spoon Kids - How Successful Parents Raise Responsible Children, by Eileen and Jon Gallo. I cannot remember how I stumbled upon this book, but it is really good.It starts out saying that affluence is a double-edged sword. It allows us to raise children in comfort, but also allows over-indulgence. It gives us the ability to buy products and services that help learning and development but also makes it easier to focus on materialism. It increases the choices available to our children, but overloads them with activities. It enables them to be involved in philanthropy but creates a sense of entitlement. The authors state that affluence is actually often a state of mind rather then a glut of money, and many people that are "living the life" can not really afford it. Hence the bankruptcies and credit crises we are now seeing. The authors aren't all gloom and doom about money though. They basically say that kids can be taught to be appreciative and respectful, if they develop healthy relationships with money and needs vs. wants. They also advocate philanthropy from an early age, and say it is especially important for teenagers who are in a self-centered period of life. The authors talk about the "school curriculum" and how it encourages classism - the process of treating groups of people differently because of their class background. And one of my favorite positive quotes is "Affluence is simply an additional opportunity to make the world a better place."

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn got a rave review from Orson Scott Card so I picked it up at the library this week. I am supposed to be reading Seven Storey Mountain and Les Miserables but I needed something light and quick. Funny how some 500 page books are light and quick and others are ... not.

This was a great book. It speaks to every female who has wanted to be the hero but knows it doesn't fit in the rules. Eona is masquerading as Eon, a candidate for Dragoneye Apprentice. Training is harsh and losing is not a real healthy option (they don't kill them, there just isn't much other hope) so the candidates are not friends. Eon isn't chosen by the Ascendant Rat Dragon so things look dismal. Then suddenly the Mirror Dragon appears and chooses him (or her). That's when things get really dangerous.

It's lie upon lie and secret upon secret as Eon tries to find out how to access the power of the Mirror Dragon while trying to learn what it means to be a Dragoneye without the benefit of being an Apprentice for 12 years. Not to mention learning to be a Lord after being a peasant all his life. What's a girl to do but try to be even more male and wonder who to turn to for help without revealing anything that earns a death sentence (oh, like being a *girl*, which is immediate death, no passing go).

This, of course, is all happening in the midst of a major power struggle and the power of right and good is depending greatly on Lord Eon's power as the Dragoneye of the Mirror Dragon. That's a lot of responsibility for a 12 year old boy (or even a 16 year old girl) with a very tenuous grasp on the power and no understanding of how to make it all right.

The characters are very interesting, and I found them well developed. The world and the power of the Dragons is interesting and introduced well. I read a lot of stuff like this, but I found this story easy to follow and get in to. Yes, Eon is hiding a lot of stuff, but it all makes sense and there just isn't time or place for sharing. Alison Goodman provides charts and details, but they aren't necessary to understand and follow the story. They are a nice whipped cream topping on a very tasty dessert.

I'm looking forward to the sequel, Eona the Last Dragoneye .

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Week 4 - Book 5

Week 4 - Book 5

Week 4 in the quest to read 52 books in 52 weeks should have you starting book # 5. If you need suggestions about what to read, head on over to the Well Trained Mind forums and see what everyone else is reading.


Curious about the previous weeks.

Week 0 - Book 1
Week 1 - Book 2
Week 2 - Book 3
Week 3 - Book 4

If you need some suggestions, you can always read e-books. There are plenty available online. Project Gutenberg has over 27,000 books to choose from and includes many different languages. You can chose from the complete works of Austen to G.K. Chesterton to H.G. Wells.

If you want to join in the debate over Electronic Books versus Paper books, check out what everyone is saying over at Booking Through Thursday


And from all of us who are reading or have read Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, we wish you a big congratulations for winning the top prize in children's literature

The John Newbery Award.

The Private Patient: A-

I started the new year by swiping the book I bought for my dad and reading it while he was in Great Britain for a few days. The Private Patient is by P. D. James.

The plot centers on a woman, Rhoda Gradwyn, who has chosen to undergo elective plastic surgery to repair a disfiguring facial scar. James' plots are always complex and this book is no exception. Her stories are tight, each detail is relevant.

James is a master of description. The murdered woman, Gradwyn, has a flat in the City of London. If you have ever been in the City of London on a Sunday morning, you know the silence that James describes:

She would walk out in spring or summer, as early as six o'clock, double locking the front door behind her, stepping into a silence more profound and mysterious than the absence of noise. Sometimes in this solitary perambulation it seemed that her own footsteps were muted, as if some part of her were afraid to waken the dead who had walked these streets and known the same silence.

As always in James' books, not every loose end is completely tied up, and not everyone gets a happy ending. In fact, in many of her books, no one gets a happy ending. I am glad though that she loves her sleuth, Adam Dalgliesh, enough to not leave him in a bad place. She knows that each book may be the last and she wants to end things well for him.

The Private Patient is less bloody and violent than her last two books, The Murder Room and The Lighthouse. It isn't her best; I still stand by Original Sin as her finest work, but it is so nice to relax with a writer that you trust implicitly not to do anything idiotic.

Week 4's book: What About Hitler?

Book: What about Hitler? Wrestling with Jesus’s Call to Nonviolence in an Evil World, by Robert W. Brimlow

Grade: B-

Disclaimer: This may be an unfair grade, since this is my first venture into the theology of pacifism. I’ve been increasingly fascinated by the practice and philosophy of nonviolence as I’ve worked my way through the ancient and medieval history of the world. Somewhat to my surprise, I’ve discovered that my inclination is to write traditional political narratives–and also that I find military history absolutely fascinating. I wouldn’t have expected that. But there it is.

More and more, though, I’m fascinated not so much by the kings and generals who declare war (their motives are usually fairly transparent) but by the armies who fight for them. Why do soldiers march out and die? How do their leaders convince them that this is a good idea? Why do some men and women refuse–and why are they the exception?

So I have a stack of books on pacifism and just war which I’ll be reading, over the course of this year. This was on the top of the stack, and while I found parts of it useful and interesting, overall it was a disappointment for two reasons.

In the first place, Brimlow spends most of the book attempting to debunk the theory of just war, rather than carefully laying out his own position–it’s a very defensive book. If I’d wanted a book about just war, I’d have bought a book about just war. (In fact, I did, and it’s in my stack.)

And second, his conclusion skirts the real issue. OK, if you call your book What About Hitler? you’re probably setting yourself up for disappointment. (I remember C. S. Lewis writing once about The Well at the World’s End that the biggest problem with the book was that NO book could ever live up to the wonderful title.) But Brimlow’s book wraps up with the assertion that followers of Christ are commanded to “follow Jesus along the path of peace as his faithful disciple,” even though this “will probably lead to our death.” Then he spends pages and pages defending this, on the assumption that his readers will say, “Hey, that can’t be the message of the gospel!”

Well, of course it is, and anyone who’s spent more than a week or so with the New Testament will have figured that out. The reason the Hitler question is vexing is because it doesn’t pose us with the problem of: What if I choose nonviolence, and then die? It poses us the much more complex question of: What if I choose nonviolence, and then others die, six million or more?

Brimlow does point out, usefully, that the “What about Hitler” question, when posed to pacifists, is essentially unfair. The is passage worth quoting in its entirety:

In a very important respect, the Hitler question is a dishonest one, or at the very least misleading. It assumes that Christians and the church have no involvement and no responsibility prior to some arbitrary date in the early 1940s. If the question is asking how a pacifistic church should have responded to the horrors of the Holocaust, the answer surely lies in being a peacemaking church long before the Holocaust ever began. The church should have preached and lived a love of the Jews for many centuries before the twentieth; the church should have formed Christians into the kind of people who do not kill Jews, or homosexuals, or gypsies, or communists, or other Christians, or Nazis, or whoever else was victimized by the war. The church should have lived and taught in such a way that the First World War would have been incomprehensible in a largely Christian Europe and, failing that, should have railed against the Versailles Treaty and the vengeance it embodied in favor of forgiveness and reconciliation.

All true. But I’m still left wondering…given that this entity called “the church” did no such thing, what was the responsibility of the individual peacemaker?

This question remains unaddressed. Brimlow does attempt to deal with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his choice to turn away from nonviolence and involve himself in an attempt to assassinate Hitler, but this is one of the most unsatisfying parts of the book–in fact I’m still trying to figure out exactly what he’s getting at.

Well, it’s only the first book on nonviolence in a large stack. Looking forward to discovering more.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Unexplored Depths of the Soul


This week for 'A Book a Week' I read ‘Heart of Darkness’ by Joseph Conrad. What good timing! Laura has also read Conrad’s novella this week too; I appreciate having a reading buddy for this book.
Conrad was born in the Ukraine to Polish parents. ‘Heart of Darkness’ was written in his second language, English.
Our copy of this book has been sitting on our shelf since last summer. A good friend recommended it too me because I enjoy the work of E M Forster and was looking for something similar. I have started and failed to read it several times over. But it is only 111 pages long. Really, it can't be impossible to get through.
Five men are on a boat on the River Thames at sunset. (I can picture this. We live only a short walk away from the Thames. I have a head start.)



Marlow, a seaman and wanderer, tells his companions about his decision to follow a childhood ambition and travel into the heart of the African Continent. He decides to captain a steamboat for an ivory trading company. The previous captain was killed by an African chief’s son who was defending an elderly tribesman from the captain’s blows; ‘when an opportunity offered at last to meet my predecessor the grass growing through his ribs was tall enough to hide his bones. They were all there. The supernatural being had not been touched after he fell.’
As Marlow narrates his journey into the Congo, he describes more and more scenes of human suffering and terrible violence in horrible detail. A feeling of growing doom descends. There are abandoned villages, chain gangs of Africans; none of the white men seem to be achieving their ‘civilising’ goals, the ‘International Society for the Suppression of Savage Cultures’ [p71]. One such man ‘was looking after the upkeep of the road, he declared. Can’t say I saw any road or any upkeep, unless the body of a middle-aged negro, with a bullet-hole in the forehead, upon which I absolutely stumbled three miles farther on, may be considered as a permanent improvement.’ [p.29]
The deeper Marlow gets into Africa the more ancient, huge and primeval the forests seem. The Congo is ‘so hopeless and so dark, so impenetrable to human thought, so pitiless to human weakness.’ [p72]. By the time I got to this point in the story, I’ll admit, I thought this line summed up my experience of reading the book.
When he finally reaches his boat he finds that it has sunk. He must raise the boat and repair it, which takes months. He hears tales of a remarkable man called Kurtz who, reputedly, has had astonishing success in ivory collection and, by all accounts, is regarded as a god by one of the tribes. Kurtz ‘had the power to charm and frighten rudimentary souls into an aggravated witch-dance in his honour.’ In the end Kurtz has succumbed to his own savagery and the darkness he has indulged his soul in. The ancient wilderness ‘whispered to him things about himself which he did not know…and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating’ [p83].
When Marlow finally comes across Kurtz he is dying. Around his tent are shrunken heads. Officialdom has turned its back on him despite his great success in ivory collecting. His ‘methods’ are finally seen as repugnant. He has no medicine or supplies. His dying words are “The horror! The horror!”
Marlow returns to Europe and, a year after the death of Kurtz, takes some papers to Kurtz’s bereaved fiancée. She confidently talks of Kurtz in terms of being a wonderful irresistibly lovable man. She says how well she knew him; better than anyone knew him. Marlow bites his tongue. In the end she asks what Kurtz’s final words were before he died and Marlow tells her that he said her name.
This book was a great struggle for me to read. I disliked the lack of paragraphs. There was a heavy dose of abstract thought needed and I often felt lost in forest of text.
Moreover, I felt very uncomfortable with the frequent use of ‘n…..’ I felt quite alien to the reader of 1902 who would have seen this book through the eyes of Imperialism. The Holocaust, apartheid, Rwanda lead the 21st century reader to see only the removal of humanity in Conrad's African characters. We, the modern audience, are waiting for Conrad to ask more questions about the cruelty and injustice of Imperialism. Conrad had travelled along the Congo himself and the vividness of the writing reflects his intense experiences. There are some incredible images and the message of hypocrisy and the evils of Imperialism are clear to today's reader. Is this the way the book would have been read by the 1902 reader? Was it akin to us watching foreign correspondents on television in war-torn countries? Our consciences are run through the mill as we consider our responsibility in this human suffering. But is this the message of the book which was written to quite a different audience?
Laura read Things Fall Apart’ as a companion piece. It is an excellent choice, being the parallel story of the invaded peoples of Africa. If you had to read only one of the two I would say Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ every time. It is also the much more readable of the two, without losing equally vivid writing. ‘Things Fall Apart’ has the voice of the real Africa that is so frustratingly and distressingly missing from Conrad’s work. ‘Heart of Darkness’ isn’t so much about Africa after all, but man’s unchecked journey into the darkest corners of his own humanity. We are left, cold, about the subject of Imperialism.
Next week I am going to find something fun to read.
Lorna normally blogs at Socks and Books

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What's On Your Nightstand - January

It is the fourth tuesday of the month which means it time for What's on Your Nightstand hosted by Jennifer at 5 Minutes for Book

Jennifer says "I love everyone's excitement about posting and reading around in this monthly carnival. I know — it's a dangerous exercise, and I appreciate all of you who take the risk each month of exposing your to-be-read pile (which if it's anything like mine, doesn't always adhere to your goals). Even riskier, some of you are willing to read others posts, opening yourself up to finding even more lovely books worthy of attention."

I cleaned up my nightstand a couple days just to make it presentable for you all. There were books heaped in, on, and around it and was looking kind of messy. I found several books I had already read but not moved to the bookshelves, so took care of that. Not the nightstand is more organized and less cluttered and makes me feel a whole lot better. Some books won't fit such as War and Peace or Wall of Phantoms because they are just way to0 large. The rest of the classics are in the bookshelves in the living room

I have a combination of nonfiction and fiction books from several genres including christian, romance, mysteries, suspense, science fiction and classics. A little bit of this and a little bit of that. I've been trying to be good and restrain myself from buying more books until the majority of these are read. I've only added 3 new ones to the pile including Stephen king's "Duma Key", Hannah Alexander's "Safe Haven" and Debra Webb's "Find Me." However, my wish list has grown quite long.

I am doing several challenges (see my list of books here, includes links to reviews) including Winter Reading Challenge of which I've read 16 out of 26 books so far. I'm concentrating on reading the books from my winter reading list, before moving to the rest.

I just finished reading "Kiss" by Tedd Dekker and Erin Healy and thoroughly enjoyed it. Will be writing up a review soon, but just want to say it is well done, keeps your imagination engaged and the pages turning to see what is going to happen next.

Looking forward to reading these books:
James received Mysterious Benedict Society from Santa for Christmas, but it looks like I'll be reading it first. I picked up many of these books, such as The Book Thief and The Graveyard Book on recommendations from other bloggers. I've been reading books by Terri Blackstock for years, but Susan Meissner ("The Shape of Mercy"), Brandilyn Collins ("Coral Moon") and Colleen Coble ("Dangerous Depths" of the Aloha Reef Series) are recent discoveries. I picked up "Fireproof" after hearing about the movie and look forward to reading it.

I picked out the classics "The House of Dries Drear" by Virginia Hamilton, "The House of Mirth" by Edith Wharton and "The Uncommon Reader" by Alan Bennett in honor of the Dewey's Book's Reading Challenge.


I also have one nonfiction book (my water closet book - otherwise wouldn't find the time to read it) that I'm currently reading called "How to Read a Book" by Mortimer Adler. I picked it up a few years back and skimmed it, but never took the time to read it in depth. It is interesting and informative to say the least.

With so many books to read and engage my brain, I rarely watch tv anymore, except for Numbers, of course. To find out what is on everyone's nightstand and find even more books to add to your wishlist and TBR piles, head on over to Jennifer's

So, what's on your nightstand?

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Product Description(From Amazon.Com)
On her way home from school on a snowy December day in 1973, 14-year-old Susie Salmon ("like the fish") is lured into a makeshift underground den in a cornfield and brutally raped and murdered, the latest victim of a serial killer--the man she knew as her neighbor, Mr. Harvey. Alice Sebold's haunting and heartbreaking debut novel, The Lovely Bones, unfolds from heaven, where "life is a perpetual yesterday" and where Susie narrates and keeps watch over her grieving family and friends, as well as her brazen killer and the sad detective working on her case. As Sebold fashions it, everyone has his or her own version of heaven. Susie's resembles the athletic fields and landscape of a suburban high school: a heaven of her "simplest dreams," where "there were no teachers.... We never had to go inside except for art class.... The boys did not pinch our backsides or tell us we smelled; our textbooks were Seventeen and Glamour and Vogue." The Lovely Bones works as an odd yet affecting coming-of-age story. Susie struggles to accept her death while still clinging to the lost world of the living, following her family's dramas over the years like an episode of My So-Called Afterlife.Her family disintegrates in their grief: her father becomes determined to find her killer, her mother withdraws, her little brother Buckley attempts to make sense of the new hole in his family, and her younger sister Lindsey moves through the milestone events of her teenage and young adult years with Susie riding spiritual shotgun. Random acts and missed opportunities run throughout the book--Susie recalls her sole kiss with a boy on Earth as "like an accident--a beautiful gasoline rainbow." Though sentimental at times, The Lovely Bones is a moving exploration of loss and mourning that ultimately puts its faith in the living and that is made even more powerful by a cast of convincing characters.

This was a wonderful book! It didn't exactly end like I would have liked it too. But I guess that's just me. I really had a hard time starting this book, as I read the first page. It's very disturbing knowing that a child has been murdered. It also brought back lots of memories to me. You see my daughter died when she was 4 of a drowning accident. I often wonder about her. This book gave me lots to think about when we die.

Next up is Southern Storm by Terri Balckstock or Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, which ever one I get done first.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Split Second by David Baldacci


Split Second

By

David Baldacci






Front Flap: "Michelle Maxwell has just wrecked her promising career at the Secret Service. Against her instincts, she let a presidential candidate out of her sight for the briefest moment, and the man whose safety was her responsibility vanished into thin air. Sean King knows how the younger agent feels. Eight years earlier, the hard charging Secret Service agent allowed his attention to be diverted for a split second. And the candidate he was protecting was gunned down before his eyes. Now Michelle and Sean are about to see their destinies converge. Drawn into a maze of lies, secrets and deadly coincidences, the two discredited agents uncover a shocking truth: that the separate acts of violence that shattered their lives were really a long time in the making--and area long way from over."

Split second is an excellent story with many twists and turns and keeps you reading long into the night. The more information Michelle and Sean uncover, the more complex the situation becomes. Add to the mix, the dead bodies piling up behind Sean and Michelle as the bad guys try to cover up and confuse them; the attempts on their lives; bad guys who are really good guys and good guys who are really bad guys and you have one exciting story. This is the first time I've read anything by David Baldacci and will be going back for more.

Heart of Darkness and Things Fall Apart

This week I read two works about Africa. At least, Heart of Darkness takes place in the physical continent of Africa.Heart of Darkness was a reread (from high school of course). I did find it a good read, difficult but not impenetrable. The descriptions of what Marlow sees and hears are great, and vividly portray an Africa under colonialism.

I read Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe because I saw comments on LibraryThing and in the introduction to my Joseph Conrad book mentioning the book and Achebe's comments about Joseph Conrad. I am glad I did, the book is well written and a great picture of Africa from an African; real people, daily life, and culture clashes.

Things Fall Apart describes a decade in the life of a member of a village on the River Niger. We learn about Okonkwo, his father, his wives and children, his role in the village, and his love of the traditions of his tribe. The first part of the book gives us a picture of what life is like, the rules of the society and the meaning they give to Okonkwo's life. We see things done for tradition's sake that are disagreeable, but accepted. Perhaps they should be questioned, but then arises the difficulty of preserving what is good while allowing debate and change.

In the second and third parts, we see Okonkwo in exile and missionaries (white and black) move in to preach Jesus Christ. There are many clashes, from cultural differences between men willing to listen to each other, to violent clashes between men unwilling to learn about the other side. In the end, Okonkwo cannot bear to see his village destroyed by the change that has come.

In addition to reading his book, to see his portrayal of Africa, I also needed to hunt down his essay. Now, often Achebe's essay is published in the same text as Heart of Darkness, but not so with the version I read. I seem to have found a copy online here. Achebe begins identifying the desire or even need in "Western psychology to set Africa up as a foil to Europe, as a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar, in comparison with which Europe's own state of spiritual grace will be manifest." He then uses Heart of Darkness to show that very need.

Further in he mentions that Africa is really just a setting and backdrop for the story, depersonalized and dehumanized. I think the essay covers the topic well, so he isn't just unhappy that Conrad shows Africans as less than humans and then complains that he doesn't show Africans at all. The essay then goes on to demonstrate Conrad's racism from sources other than the plot and characterizations in Heart of Darkness.

The essay is a challenge to me after reading Heart of Darkness. There is always the fear, when reading a critic's take on something, that I am unable to see what they see. It generates this disappointment in my own ability to read something critically and identify the images and motives and meanings. There is, of course, some of that. Even more so, there is the awareness that my interpretation of the novella seems quite satisfactory to me but is perhaps insufficient when faced with Achebe's comments.

I read Heart of Darkness and in Mr. Kurtz I see a portrayal of a man who was good at many things (painting, music, politics, writing) and considered a good man. He took his ideals to Africa, enlightened attitudes of treatment of the natives and bringing them the benefits of civilization. What he found in Africa was the darkness of his own sinful heart. I don't think that Africa turned him bad or wiped away the good of his civilization. I do think that the environment (the greed of the white colonialists who wanted ivory and the vulnerability of the natives) provided the opportunity for his base nature to overpower the veneer of civility. He finds that his goodness is not very deep, his talent is not earned or appreciated, and his ideals do not have enough foundation to withstand the evils that man is capable of. And what I see in Heart of Darkness is all about the white men showing their true colors.

Mr. Achebe challenges me though, as I realize that while I find the natives portrayed sympathetically, abused and wronged by the white man, they are not portrayed honestly. As Marlow travels down the river, I felt he was characterizing our loss of touch with life and the daily immediacy and intimacy with nature and the world as a whole that "civilization" keeps at a distance through business and politeness. An African ceremony is used to get closer to nature and inner emotions, while a European ceremony is much better at keeping emotions and intimacy at a great distance. Achebe sees it all as a cheat of the Africans though. They are producing art and literature and a history at the very time that Conrad is showing them as shadows that appear on the river bank, jump up and down, and then melt back into the jungle.

The other topic I found interesting and hard to understand in Heart of Darkness was Conrad's treatment of women. He find his aunt removed from reality. He finds the Amazon woman at Kurtz's place to be a towering figure of strength with no emotion. He finds the Intended of Kurtz, back in Europe, to be a tragic figure with no real understanding of the man she loved, who must be protected from that darkness. While I understand and agree with the hero/damsel stories and the complementarian roles of men and women, I would have to say that women don't come across with much more characterization of detail in this novella.

I recommend Heart of Darkness for it's exploration of the soul. I definitely recommend Things Fall Apart for a picture of Africa. And check out Achebe's essay for provoking thought.

My summary of Heart of Darkness is here. And my summary of Things Fall Apart is here.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Grade A+ (of course)


Charles Dickens expressed his sorrow at laying down his pen after two years spent with David Copperfield. Despite its 1095 pages (Penguin Classic edition) I too wanted to turn the book back to its first page and read it all over again.
I shall miss Aunt Betsy. We are introduced early on to this formidable character and remain a little afraid of her for a good time after that. She is irritable with David's mother and leaves in disgust shortly after David’s birth when she learns that he is not a girl.
David is born fatherless but in his early years leads a happy life with his mother and their servant Peggotty. Then, in some harrowing chapters, David's mother is wed to the self-righteous and hard Mr Murdstone. Mr Murdstone and his equally cruel sister set about correcting David’s mother, send David away to school and then finally break David's mother's spirit to the extent that she and her new-born son die.
‘I don’t find authority for Mr and Miss Murdstone in the New Testament’ [Aunt Betsey, page 1043]
Left bereft by the Murdstones, school and finally child-labour, David walks penniless, from London to Dover, where he finds his Aunt's house. The cosy description of her home is our first indication of Betsey’s other softer side:
'the air from the sea came blowing in again, mixed with the perfume of the flowers; and I saw the old-fashioned furniture brightly rubbed and polished, my aunt's inviolable chair and table by the round green fan in the bow-window, the drugget-covered carpet, the cat, the kettle-holder, the two canaries, the old china, the punchbowl full of dried rose leaves, the tall press guarding all sorts of bottles and pots, and wonderfully out of keeping with the rest, my dusty old self upon the sofa.' [Page 242]
I wanted so much to live in that house. Before David comes to his Aunt’s home, the preceding chapters seem relentlessly dark; but the following chapters, when David is given hope and opportunity, are a mix of light and shade.
David Copperfield is not simply the biographical account of just one man; we follow the course of many lives – often with the same theme of the exploitation of the innocent and good by the cynical and sometimes down-right evil.
Later in the book we meet Uriah Heep, a young man of slimy white skin and no eyebrows whose, ‘damp cold hand felt so like a frog in mine, that I was tempted to drop it and run away.’ [page 469] Uriah is a true villain. He worms his way into people’s lives and sucks their worldly possessions and self-worth from them like a parasite.
Despite Uriah Heep’s extreme nature, I found none of Dickens’ characters caricatured. We can understand their motivations and explain every action; unlike many books, where characters are often only scenery, put in to serve only the plot.
For example, you might recognise this ‘promising boy of about twelve or thirteen’ and his mother, during a dinner party:
‘These observations……were interrupted by Mrs Micawber’s discovering that Master Micawber was sitting on his boots, or holding his head on with both arms as if he felt it loose, or accidentally kicking Traddles under the table or shuffling his feet over one another or producing them at distances from himself apparently outrageous to nature, or lying sideways with his hair among the wineglasses, or developing his restlessness of limb in some other form incompatible with the general interest of society.’
[Page 662]

Or recognise the awkwardness of David when he wants to impress two aunts of Dora’s and is told to ‘Pray, be seated.’
‘When I had done tumbling over Traddles [his friend] and had sat upon something which was not a cat’
[Page 740]

David’s house after he is first married sounds quite familiar too: ‘we were at once always cramped for room, and yet had always room enough to lose everything in.’
[Page 800]
David Copperfield is foremost about a young man’s quest for self-improvement and so I will leave you with one of my favourite lines to that end:
‘a man who has any good reason to believe in himself never flourishes himself before the faces of other people in order that they may believe in him’
[Page 860]

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Week 3 - Book 4

Week 3 - Book 4

We are heading into week 3 and starting the 4th book. My 4th book for the challenge will be Split Second by David Baldacci. This will be the first time I've read anything by Baldacci and you can find out more about him here.

What are you reading this week? Need some ideas? How about a hot new mystery such as:

Stephen J. Cannell's On the Grind: A Shane Scully Novel or John Grisham's The Associate or Janet Evanovich's - Plum Spooky.

What about science fiction:

Star Trek: a Singular Destiny by Keith DeCandido or Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor by Matthew Stover or Regenesis by C.J. Cherryh.

or nonfiction:

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham or Lincoln: the Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan or Susan Wise Bauer's The History of the Ancient World.

Find out what the ladies and gents at the well trained mind forums are reading this week and maybe it will spark a interest or two in something different.

Curious about the previous weeks.

Week 0 - Book 1
Week 1 - Book 2
Week 2 - Book 3

Happy Reading!

Week 3...the chick-lit week

Books: Various

Collective Grade: Hmmm...

I'm actually a chapter or so into next week's book, a set of theological essays on God and genocide called Show Them No Mercy, and I'm finding it enlightening. But I started it last week and then, for various reasons, needed a week of just plain fun reading.

So instead of finishing it, I raided the library and had myself a chick lit week. I read five novels this week (they go pretty fast): Jemima J. and Mr. Maybe, both by Jane Green; The Next Big Thing by Johanna Edwards; Glitter Baby by Susan Elizabeth Phillips; and Sushi for Beginners, by Marian Keyes.

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Come on, guys, what do YOU read, the adventures of Dirk Pitt? Sports Illustrated? We all need fun reading. And no one with a family and a job (which is to say, no one who works 18-hour days) picks up Proust at 11 PM to relax. I read chick lit, and I'm not embarrassed.

Well, I'm a little embarrassed, mostly because my father reads my blog.

Anyway, this was an enlightening week of reading. Two of these books were repeats; I read Jemima J. and Sushi for Beginners several years ago when I wrote a review-essay on "women's fiction" for Books & Culture, and wanted to see how they struck me now. The other three were new.

Back then, I concluded that chick lit was as interested in food as in love, maybe more so. That obsession is alive and well. The Next Big Thing is about an obese woman who joins a reality show to lose weight and change her life, and finds love (I'll give you a moment to recover from the shock). The heroine of Glitter Baby diets for most of her teen years and then liberates herself by gaining twenty pounds. There's lots of calorie counting and nibbling and binging in all these books, and if you want to know what I think about it, you can read the essay.

But in this past week, what really leapt out to me was this: chick lit has no idea what to do with mothers.

I note this in passing in my earlier essay. But now I have an eight-year-old daughter, and I am astounded by how much the heroines of these novels hate their mothers. All of these women are trying to create a brand new life for themselves from scratch—a good life, a satisfying life—but this inevitably involves rejecting their mothers and the world where their mothers live. Rejecting them with loathing and scorn, too. "My mother on her own is bad enough," scoffs Libby, the heroine of Mr. Maybe, "but with her ridiculous twittering friends it's just a total nightmare....I want to kill them. All of them. And in my mother's case I'd make it particularly tortuous." Libby's mother doesn't understand why her daughter wants a career in PR; she just wants her daughter to get married, which Libby finds completely laughable.

Never mind that the whole books is about finding a man; no, if your mother wants it, it must be horrendous.

Chick-lit mothers come in four varieties: mothers who keep telling their daughters to lose weight, mothers who want to feed daughters who are trying to diet, mothers who try to suck their daughters back into boring drab lives, and dead mothers. All of them, except for the dead ones, spend every moment criticizing their daughters. Jemima J.'s mother tongue-lashes her about her weight until Jemima gets thin, at which point her mother calls her a scarecrow, and Jemima finally has an epiphany: “God knows I’ve tried. I mean, I’ve achieved the one thing that I always thought she wanted, but no, it’s still not enough, and I suddenly realize that, for whatever reasons, I will somehow never be good enough for her. I will never make her happy. I am either too fat or too thin. There is no middle ground. Nothing I every do is destined to please her.”

Sushi for Beginners’s Lisa dreads going home: “With every visit the house she’d grown up in became smaller and more shockingly dreary. In the poky little rooms crammed with dirt-cheap furniture, she felt shiny and foreign, with her false nails and glossy leather shoes. Uncomfortably aware that her handbag probably cost more than the dralon couch she was sitting on. But though her mum and dad oohed and aahed respectfully over her fabulousness, they were fluttery-nervous around her. She should have dressed down on her visits, to try to narrow the gap. But she needed as much stuff as possible, to wear like a suit of armor, so that she couldn’t be sucked back in, subsumed by her past. She hated it all, then hated herself.”

You get the idea, so I won't keep on quoting. All of these women are trying to create a brand new life for themselves from scratch—a good life, a satisfying life, a life where they inhabit a new world. By definition, this world is the opposite to everything their mothers treasure.

I'm still trying to figure out exactly why this is. In part, it seems to be an inability to deal with aging; middle age is inevitably pictured as a time of disappointment and automatic boredom. (I'm forty and haven't yet found this to be the case, although I have quite a bit of middle age to live through yet.)

But partly it seems to be because Mom is too powerful to fit into the new worlds these women build. She shatters them, shows them to be illusory. She has to be rejected for them to thrive. She has to disappear--and in most of these books, she does. The daughters find men, but they walk away from their mothers, and there is no resolution of difficulties, no restoration of relationship.

In the end, it wasn't quite as relaxing a week of reading as I'd hoped. (I may need to go back to rereading Agatha Christie when I need a mental break.) But it did leave me with a deep and abiding gratitude for my own mother--who helps me teach my children, tells me that she likes my clothes, shares her books with me, and assures me that I'm doing a good job with my life when that's what I most need to hear.

4selectingvictims

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Books #1, #2, and #3


I finally have a second to come here and post a bit. This challenge is really taking a lot out of me! I may be a bit behind, but I'm hanging in! For those who don't know me, I am French Canadian. I tend to read English books most of the time, mainly because they're cheaper to buy. With this challenge, I try to read French books.

First book:
Chagrin d'école, by Daniel Pennac
Prix Renaudot 2007

A book about school, by a reknowned French author. My son studied that author last year, but it was for a children book. Pennac writes for both adults and children. This one here is definitely for adults.

Daniel Pennac was a 'bad student', a 'cancre' as we say. Bad marks in school, "mom please take me out of school!' yet he ended up being a 'professeur de français'. This book is about how to reach the kids who are failing, how to give them a love of litterature, a love of reading.

He has a chapter on dictation that is simply delicious. In fact, I will give the best part as dictation to my two kids! I don't currently have the book next to me, or I would share what Pennac has to say about dictation. There's so much love in it!


Second Book: Un animal doué de raison

I read this book as a teenager, and decided to re-read it. Because my kids are marine mammal-crazy, there's always talk about dolphins and orcas in our home. This book suddenly popped in my memory as a book my son might enjoy.

It was written in the early 70s, during the Vietnam war. The US is doing research with dolphins, some researchers do it for the science, others do it for the military applications. One lab manages to teach dolphins to speak English. Eventually, the military will seize the dolphins and train them - in complete secret of course - to put mines on ships. The world gets on the verge of WWIII when a US military ship gets blown up by a nuclear bomb near China. The US government blames China, China blames an accident aboard the ship. The dolphins will eventually be given an opportunity to say what really happened (yes, the US bombed their own ship to have a reason to wipe out China)

Written from a French point of view, the US goverment and secret service do not get a nice treatment. But the dolphins do, and that was my primary reason to revisit this book. I handed it to my son afterwards, and he enjoyed it. He cried in the last few chapters, and managed to understand the politics pretty well for a young one who is just getting interested in politics.

Book # 3: Comme un roman Daniel Pennac

Yes, another book by Pennac. This one is about loving books, not about school although there's a lot of cross-over between his two books. (He did write more than two books). This essay is also about why teens no longer read. He doesn't blame TV, commercialism, movies, or any of the standard culprits. He does blame the way 'EDUCATION' handles books, how kids are forced into regurgitating whatever it is that their teacher wants them to say, instead of just enjoying the book.
In short, he stating that writing about a book (like I'm doing now!) is a sure method of getting kids turned off from reading.

He also promotes read-alouds, even for older kids, teens about to leave high school, and young adults in university. Since we're a Sonlight family, that resonated closely with me!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

GOLDEN GIRL AND OTHER STORIES


Product Description(From Amazon.com)
On first glance, they seem like just a regular bunch of kids. The school runt. The science nerd. The mouse. The tough new kid. Mr. Average. And the golden girl. At school, they all follow the same routine and play the popularity game. But things are very different at home and in their thoughts. There's more going on at Elmwood High than any teacher could ever imagine.

This was a very good book. As I work with kids, I always wonder what is going on at home. Because I only have them a few hours out of a day, I always wonder if they are alright and what's going on to make them angry, sad, happy or upset.

Up next:The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Plain Secrets

Plain Secrets: An Outsider among the Amish is about an Amish family living in Ohio. The author is neighbors with them and was allowed, over a period of 10 years, to get to know the family and the Amish way of life.

After introducing us to the Shetlers, his neighbors, the author introduces a young man who has left the Amish. The author has the opportunity to meet with him and learn what it is like to leave his family's heritage. At eighteen, Jonas only has an eighth grade education and says it has been harder to find a place and make a living than he expected.

Any book will bring research and factual knowledge about the topic, combined with the personal perspective and world view of the author. Joe Mackall has an understanding of Christianity and the Bible and is able to use that to explain some of the Amish beliefs and behaviors and well as show where some of those beliefs and behaviors do not have a foundation in Scripture. It is noticeable, however, that the author seems to have head knowledge but not heart knowledge of Christianity. This could be a weakness, in that some of the traits of his neighbors that he finds attractive are honest Christian traits, not just Amish. It is also a strength in that he calls attention to the Christian faith of the Amish. It is more the fault of English Christians that the author finds the Amish so much more Christian in some respects.

The portrayal of the Amish is balanced. There is a healthy respect and even envy of their simple, practical, and full way of life, including a strong sense of community. The insularity and tradition-bound practices are also revealed, along with a very typical (English?) world view that believes individual freedom is paramount and the Amish stifle it in so many ways.

By incorporating the story of Jonas leaving the Amish way of life, the subject of shunning is examined. This is a touchy subject to talk about. The concept of being held accountable for your action and having roles in the church for "getting in your business" and calling you on your sins is very unpopular in America today. When it's done right, the Christian church, and the Amish, sees this discipline (even excommunication) as a display of love. To outsiders, the shunning of a child because they have rejected the beliefs of the church seems cruel and heartless. Where the struggle comes is realizing that the Amish believe that rejecting the Amish way of life leads to damnation of the soul, without any room for considering that the lifestyle can be rejected without giving up the belief in Christ that is the way of salvation.

The world view that all beliefs are equally valid isn't really tenable. But taking every aspect of a religion as equally important, rather than identifying which beliefs are truly crucial and which are opinions or preferences has lead to a lot of heartache and warfare.

A very interesting read providing a glimpse into a different way of life.
I would give a score of 3.5 out of 5.

Book 3 - The Debt

The Debt by Angela Hunt

Grade: A



This book is incredible. I already knew I loved Angela Hunt after reading The Note last month and was happy to dive into another of her tales. This book begins looking through the eyes of a pastor's wife, active and dedicated. Her husband pastors a megachurch which is broadcast on national television. The heart of the story is about the shaking of her thoughts and understanding of what the walk of a Christian is supposed to look like. My favorite quote from the book is "Why are we surprised when we see sinners sin?" So often, we Christians live a secluded life that revolves around the church. We succeed in walking uprightly and protecting our children from the big bad world....but if we stay there, who is reaching the big bad world? Sometimes the lost seek the church. But this is rare. The church is supposed to be seeking the lost. This book brings it home so tenderly yet so passionately.

My first two books and their reviews can be viewed here, as well as a giveaway of The Note by Angela Hunt.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Unspeakable by Sandra Brown



Unspeakable

By

Sandra Brown





Back Cover: "Carl Herbold is a cold-blooded psychopath who has just escaped the penitentiary where he was serving a life sentence. Bent on revenge, he's going back to where he began--Blewer county, Texas. Born deaf, lately widowed, Anna Corbett fights to keep the ranch that is her son's birthright, unaware that she is at the center of Herbold's horrific schemel, and that her world of self imposed isolation is about to explode. Drifter Jack Sawyer arrives at Anna's ranch asking for work, hoping to protect the innocent woman and her son from Herbold's rage. But Sawyer can't outrun the secrets that stalk him--or the day of reckonig awaiting them all..."

Unspeakable is a murder mystery, thriller and romance all thrown into one. Brown puts you into the head of all the characters from the violent world of Carl to the cushioned, isolated world of Anna, who is deaf and mute. Their worlds are about to collide when Carl escapes with revenge on his mind. He is out to kill the people who put him jail from the town's sheriff to his stepfather who threw him out of his house to Anna, his stepbrother's wife. Meanwhile, a drifter with ties to Carl and the town, comes to work for and protect Anna and her father in law from Carl. Who is Jack Sawyer really and why does he feel the need to protect Anna and her father in law?

The story is very well done, the characters are 3rd dimensional and it will keep you reading long into the night. Don't start reading it before you go to bed. However, be forewarned that due to the nature of the story, there is a lot of swearing and graphic violence.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Man in the High Castle

Book: The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick

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Grade: A-

Why: The first fully successful alternative history. Japan and Germany triumph in World War II, but a novelist living in Japan-controlled Cheyenne has written a bestselling alternative history in which Germany lost. Fearing German reprisals, the writer has retreated to a guarded fortress: he has become the Man in the High Castle.

I've been meaning to read this for years, and I was so exasperated by James Wood's snotty pretentiousness that I decided to read science fictionfor my second title. Philip K. Dick can be difficult to read. He doesn't give you a lot of backstory; you plunge right into the story and have to figure out what's going along as you read. But if you persist, the kaleidescope of fragmented scenes eventually starts to shake itself into a visible image. It's a composition skill that I admire. When I write, I always overexplain; you have to have a lot of confidence in yourself and in your readers to write as he does.

In one way, The Man in the High Castle is intriguing because it so clearly lent its techniques and strategies to an entire genre. Alternative history existed before this novel, but almost every alternative history that follows it owes Philip K. Dick a debt. By coincidence I just finished watching the prematurely-cancelled TV series Jericho, and was struck by the number of ways in which the episodes pay homage to this book.

As a stand-alone work, the book fascinates by circling around and around the idea of reality. There are three political realities in the book: the one in the reader's mind (ours), the one in which the characters live (a world divided between Japanese and German control), and the one constructed by the Man in the High Castle's novel-within-a-novel; the Allies triumph in his book, but there are significant differences between that triumph and the one that we know. A secondary plot involves the sale of "genuine historical artifacts," American items from before the war, and by the end of the book we are forced to question seriously what "genuine" means. And almost every character has a double identity: which one is "real"?

Philip K. Dick even manages to question his own skills, channeling James Wood at the same time that he laughs at high-brow pretensions. "Amazing, the power of fiction, even cheap popular fiction to evoke," one of the German victors thinks to himself after reading the Man in the High Castle's novel. "They know a million tricks, these novelists....Yes, the novelist knows humanity, how worthless they are...swayed by cowardice, selling out every cause because of their greed--all he's got to do is thump on the drum, and there's his response. And he laughing, of course, behind his hand at the effect he gets."

The minus is because Philip K Dick is not much on character development; he's a plot and theme man, and there's not a lot of psychological reality to his people. Which is fine. Take the novel on its own terms.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

IN DEFENSE OF FOOD


To me this is the sequel to The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. In this book Mr. Pollan gives you all kinds of info on the way we eat. And why we eat. Also the how we should eat. It is called the Western Diet. We all eat processed foods, fast foods and snack foods. But do you know what is in all that food and if it is nutritious food? Mr. Pollan puts all this into perspective!

Do you remember eating at the dinner table with your family, having conversations, discussing the days activities? As a child this is how I ate my meals. All 7 of us, 5 children and my parents, sitting down to the kitchen table eating a meal. This has a lot to do with the why's of our eating habits.

And did you know some of the foods that pass for food isn't really food at all? It has been processed and refined so much, most of the actual food or nutrients are not there anymore! It's a real eye opener if you never thought of your food and how you eat!!!

This is my 3rd book for the 3rd week of January. Actually I have read 5 books in 3 weeks. But I'm not counting 2 of them towards my 52. My book for next week will be Golden Girl and other stories by Gillian Chan. It is a YA book so it most likely won't even take a week to read. And speaking of a week, when exactly does the week begin for this challenge????

"Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte

While I read this as a Senior in high school, I truly enjoyed reading it without it being an assignment.  That said, I couldn't get over the depth of each character and the ability to harness their pain indefinitely.  How the human character can be so scarred left me feeling rather sad.

A must read, I enjoyed the book tremendously.  I am looking forward to reading the other Bronte sister's books this year.

Week 2 - Book 3

Week 2 - Book 3

Today is the beginning of Week 2 and the start of reading Book 3. How is everyone doing? Are you still in the middle of your last book, starting a new one or two or three? Leave a comment or check in here and tell us what you are reading this week.

Curious about the previous weeks.

Week 0 - Book 1
Week 1 - Book 2

6packofun has suggested we come up with a rating system for our reads. Many book bloggers have rating systems such as A - F, 1 - 5, stars or hearts and also some very creative ones. What kind of rating system would you like to see?

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

I picked this up because I needed something to distract me part of the time I am on the elliptical, I didn't want a book I would mind getting a little bit sweaty, and it couldn't be too deep or have small type since I *am* on the elliptical trying to read. This was hanging around the house. My nephew picked it out last year when I told him I would buy a book for him to read.
It is just as funny as the first time I read it years ago. I'm sure I will read the rest in the series before the year is out. The reader has to keep up with the plot, the characters, and the strange asides that the author throws in, and it is funny even when it isn't very funny just because of the stuff that is tossed in. Did you know humans are only the 3rd most intelligent species on earth? Sure, everyone knows about the dolphins. It's the number 1 intelligent species that is misunderstood.
I recommend it as a quick, fun, and quirky read.
The series, on some level, is about the meaning of life. But don't look for deep thoughts (except for the one Deep Thought) in here.

I pulled this quote for my email signature: "This must be Thursday," said Arthur to himself..., "I never could get the hang of Thursdays."
Now, back to something deeper, like Plutarch's Lives or The Histories by Herodotus.
Happy Reading!

Monday, January 12, 2009

O Pioneers!

Overall, I enjoyed O Pioneers!, and I think Cather may become a new favorite. I like her style and that she writes about the prairie from the perspective of someone who knew and obviously loved this land. Her descriptions of this familiar landscape and the plants, animals, and people which inhabit(ed) it really endeared her to me. It's ridiculous the thrill I got at reading the mention of some of my favorite wildflowers such as ironweed and snow on the mountain or a perfect picture painted in words of something I'm likely to see on a walk or drive near my home.

In addition to painting such a beautiful and accurate backdrop for her story, Cather populated it with characters so full, rich, and real that I felt I knew them. The main character of the story is Alexandra, a Norwegian immigrant who is left with great responsibility at a young age and who not only bears that weight but is able to prosper under it, if at some personal cost. Her strength and determination are inspiring, yet the reader is allowed a glimpse into how she might have chosen differently for herself had her circumstances been different.

This glimpse into what Alexandra may have chosen made me wonder what she could have done differently to allow for both her own personal desires and accomplishing what she felt was her duty. The same question could be asked about Marie Shabata, the beautiful, young Bohemian girl so unhappy in her marriage to a cruel husband but so determined to be a good Catholic and live joyfully and share that joy with others, including her husband. It made me a little angry that they did not do what it was so clear to me they should have done to secure their own happinesses, even when their sacrificing happiness did nothing to secure that of others. Of course, we see this often enough in real life. Good fiction always has some truth in it, and when we reflect upon it we may find insight into our own lives or those close to us.

It did make me angry that Alexandra did not make a greater effort to understand Marie who had been such a friend to her but rather was too forgiving with someone who did not deserve it as much. This was her one great failing and the thing I liked least about this book, even above any tragic events in the story. Yet, in some way I do find it admirable that Alexandra was able to forgive the unforgivable, knowing that a hard and bitter heart would not undo the wrong that had been done. Perhaps we are meant to learn from both the good and bad in Alexandra's handling of the situation and her feelings surrounding it.

The strength of this novel, for me, lies more in the beautifully descriptive narrative and rich characters than in the plot itself. I look forward to reading more of Willa Cather's novels.

The original draft of this review along with some of my favorite passages from the book can be found here.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Book 2 - Transfer of Power

Vince Flynn's Transfer of Power is an action packed political thriller.

A group of terrorists has taken the White House. The terrorists did not capture the president, but did wire the historic building with trip bombs. With over 100 hostages and the president locked in his bunker politicians try to negotiate with the terrorists. Unknown to the Vice President and other politicians, the president's bunker is in the process of being breached.

With the help of World War II vet and White House historian Milt Adams, Mitch Rapp finds a way into the White House. Mitch determines that the president is not safe.

The vice president is hoping he is only one heat beat away from the presidency. Politicians want to find a peaceful solution to an impossible situation. The military wants to retake the White House by force.

With all this arguing going on, Mitch save the president, the hostages and the White House from destruction.

Next in this series is The Third Option.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini


Powerful...riveting....unforgettable...evocative....extraordinary


These are words used by other reviewers to describe this #1 New York Times Bestseller and first novel by Khaled Hosseini.


This was my second selection for the 52 week challenge, chosen because it was a Christmas gift from my daughter last year and it's been sitting on my shelf just waiting for me to dive in and crack it open. I thought it was an amazing story - a tale of two boys and their lives growing up in modern day Afghanistan - it opened my eyes to a part of the world an a way of life I am not too familiar with. I will definitely put his second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, on my ever growing TBR list.

THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES



From the back cover:
Leaving behind a world on the brink of destruction, man came to the Red Planet and found the Martians waiting, dreamlike. Seeking the promise of a new beginning, man brought with him his oldest fears and his deepest desires. Man conquered Mars - and in that instant, Mars conquered him. The strange new world with its ancient, dying race and vast, red-gold deserts cast a spell on him, settled into his dreams and changed him forever. Here are the captivating chronicles of man and Mars - the modern classic by the peerless Ray Bradbury.

This was a very confusing book. At first I thought it was describing people on earth instead of Mars. I guess I have a preconceived idea of what Mars should look like and if their were Martians what they would look like. I can also understand one person, his name was Spender, that tried to stop the settling of Mars by humans. We would soon settle Mars and it wouldn't look like Mars anymore, it would look like Earth. All the Martian buildings, books, roads, and mountains would soon be gone or renamed with Earth names.

Next on my list is In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

The Law of Rewards






A coworker gave me this book to read. I had previously read another book by Randy Alcorn so I graciously accepted the invitation. The premise of the book is that we should use our time,money and possessions here on earth for God-focused things. By sowing seeds on earth we will reap our harvest in heaven. I enjoyed reading the book although at times it seemed a little preachy. However, if anyone is interested in learning more about eternal rewards I highly recommend it.

~Michelle

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Saturday Salon

Saturday Review of Books


Sherry over at Semicolon hosts a Saturday Review of books for all to share their book reviews. You can post a link to the books you have reviewed for the past week. It is a great sight which is very popular with the book bloggers. I have found many an interesting book that way. Plus I also post links to books I have written and posted on my blog.

For those who want to try it out and don't know how to post a link - go to the bottom of your post and click on the date. Once the page refreshes with only your review, highlight and copy the address in the address bar. This is the address for your post. Then all you have to do is click over to Semicolon and fill in Mr. Linky. For Your Name: Type your name and put the name of the book in parenthesis and for the URL paste the link.

Happy Reading!

Robin

Friday, January 9, 2009

If There Be Dragons by Kay Hooper



If There Be Dragons

By

Kay Hooper




Back cover: "What was a woman like Brooke Kennedy doing running a guest lodge alone in the Montana wilderness? And why was her best friend so worried about her? Those were the questions Code Nash asked himself after agreeing to cancel his tropical vacation to go on a mission of mercy into blizzard country. For the strong and self-assured woman he found didn't need or want his help--but she was in trouble. Brooke had isolated herself from the world for reasons she wouldn't or couldn't say. But Cody didn't need to be a psychic to sense that Brooke was afraid. Even more, her fear had intensified from the moment he arrived. Now, as the dangerous storm strands them together, Cody must learn the well-guarded secret of this beautiful, gift woman--if he can convince her to give him the one thing he needs to save her from a self-imposed exile: her trust."

Sometimes you need something easy and light to read and "If There Be Dragons" was just that - a simple romance but with a twist. The main character, Brooke Kennedy is psychic and she can read minds. Something is out there in the wilderness calling her mind to mind and wants her help. Something not quite human and she is scared. Brooke's best friend, with matchmaking on her mind, sends Cody out to help her. Cody falls in love immediately with Brooke and sets out to be her prince and slay all her dragons. Figurative dragons - the dragons on life, the past that haunts Brooke and keeps her isolated in the wilderness. He helps her to face what is calling her, from out in the wildnerness and conquer her fear. It is a fast, interesting read and the quick, witty conversations between Brooke and Cody are humorous.

This is the first time I ever read anything by Kay Hooper and it was an interesting introduction to her writing. I discovered this was a light story out of the majority of the 60 books she has written. I don't quite remember what drew me to this book, but glad I've discovered her. She has written a series of paranormal romantic thrillers and first up on on the wishlist for a later time is Stealing Shadows (#1 Shadows Trilogy) According to Booklist, it is the beginning of a "Thrill-ogy" of suspense novels.

Bantam Publishing
288 Pages

Term Limits

Term Limits by Vince Flynn is the book I read this week. It was a rather enjoyable action/adventure story that takes place in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area.

From the back cover:
In one bloody night, three of Washington's most powerful politicians are executed with surgical precision. Their assassins then deliver a shocking ultimatum to the American government: set aside partisan politics and restore power to the people. No one, they warn, is out of their reach - not even the president. A joint FBI-CIA task force reveals the killers are elite military commandos, but no one knows exactly who they are or when they will strike next. Only Michael O'Rourke, a former U.S. Marine and freshman congressman, holds a clue to the violence: a haunting incident in his own past with explosive inplications for his country's future.

I decided to re-read the series because my husband got the most recent book for Christmas. When I read it I realized I had forgotten a lot of the little details over the past few years. Reading Term Limits was like reading a book I'd never read before with just a couple familiar characters.

With a weak President, a currupt Chief of Staff and National Security Advisor, the story twists and turns. By the end you'll be cheering for the bad guys. Or where they the good guys to begin with?

Term Limits if the first in a series. Next week, I'll report on the next book Transfer of Power which introduces the main character for the series, Mitch Rapp.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Intellectual Aussie

I am not very good at reading what other people have chosen for me and so this kind of book club suits me well. I have bought a nice clean notebook and been scribbling away my favourite quotes and thoughts as I have gone along. In fact I can barely read my scribbles. What has happened to my handwriting? I digress.

This week I have been reading Clive James' 'The Meaning of Recognition; New Essays 2001-2005'. I picked it up in the library because I thoroughly enjoy James' radio essays on the BBC's A Point of View but he has finished his season and I suppose it is back to the dry, Google-savvy, Lisa Jardine next week.

The essays are taken from pubications such as the Spectator, the New Yorker, the Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books and include subjects such as Shakespeare, Primo Levi, Isaiah Berlin, Yeats, but also include Formula One racing (yawn), The Sopranos and The West Wing.

I suppose I got more out of the essays that I had background enough to critique but part of the main pleasure of this book was to be inspired to read some great writers and also to write better essays myself.

In Aldous Huxley Then and Now, this caught the eye of the auto-didact in me:
'From the arts angle, to read all the essays in sequence is like being enrolled at the college of your dreams. They have all recently been published in sic scholarly volumes edited by Robert S Baker and James Sexton'

James' book itself is like a series of tutorials, made all the richer by the inclusion of a postscript after nearly every one. In 'The Battle for Isaiah Berlin' James answers criticisms of his original article made by 'professional philosophers'. He goes through their criticisms piece by piece, and is unable to resist this last word on the subject of formal philosophy itself. Here he considers why Isaiah Berlin said so little about the Holocaust when he was one of the foremost historians and thinkers on the 20th Century:

'After all, he was free to speak untrammelled by the kind of analytical concentration on language that leaves it with no subject but itself.'

A consistent thread of the book concerns his decision to step out of the limelight. He was a familiar face on the television here in the UK until perhaps ten years ago (I'm not sure, not having actually had a tv for those years. In fact I didn't know he had left until I read this book). His screen persona could be described as an intellectual, voluble, Aussie wit combined with well-placed raising of eyebrows. He touches on the artificiality of fame, stalkers, but most of the undeserved fame so typical of western pop culture today. The desire for fame almost seems like a mental illness to him:

'You can very rapidly get used to the idea that the swish restaurant will always find a table for you. You can get so used to it that you think the restaurant needs a new manager on the night when the table strangely can't be found. What's needed, of course, is not a new manager for the restaurant but a new injection of fame for yourself. Now there's a distortion. That way madness lies'

'The Meaning of Recognition' is a search for those thinkers and cultural landmarks which deserve their fame and are therefore deserving of our time and attention. I am inspired to read some Aldous Huxley, more Primo Levi, perhaps even Philip Larkin but Isaiah Berlin is lower down on my 'to read' list than he was before I read this book:

[Isaiah Berlin] was once famous for understanding everything about the age he lived in. There is still reason to believe he understood a lot. But if today he is starting to look a bit less penetrating about it all, it could be becuase things have moved on.'

And, okay so I skipped the essay on Formula One (perhaps I would have enjoyed it), and the essay on the West Wing (since I have never seen the show) but I am certainly glad I spent my first week of 2009 reading the rest of these essays.
For next week, or perhaps the week after, I am going to read 'David Copperfield' by Charles Dickens. Already my New Year's halo is slipping.

Lorna regularly blogs at Socks and Books

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

Wicked

The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

by

Gregory Maguire



Wicked is a fractured fairy tale by Gregory Maguire. What exactly is a fractured fairy tale? According to the Oxford Companion for Fairy tales they "are traditional fairy tales, rearranged to create new plots with fundamentally different meanings or messages. Fractured fairy tales are closely related to fairy‐tale parodies, but the two serve different purposes: parodies mock individual tales and the genre as a whole; fractured fairy tales, with a reforming intent, seek to impart updated social and moral messages".

Back cover: "When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum's classic tale, we heard only her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious Witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so wicked. And what is the true nature of evil? Gregory Maguire creates a fantasy world so rich and vidid that we will never look at OZ the same way again. Wicked is about a land were animals talk and strive to be treated like first class citezens, Munchkinlanders seek the comfort of middle-class stability, and the Tin Man becomes a victim of domestic violence. And then there is the little green skinned girl named Elphaba, who will grow up to become the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, a smart, prickly, and misunderstood creature who challenges all our preconceived notions about the nature of good and evil."


I decided to read Wicked after reading a lot of buzz from various book blog reviews. Supposedly everyone is loving this book. I'll be honest, I really didn't care for it. I don't know why I expected it to be a light tale, but I did. It was anything but light. It was well written, but dark and morbid. I found myself reading only a few chapters at a time, then giving up my reading time to browse the blogs. It wasn't bad enough for me to give up reading the book. I wanted to get through the story, even though I pretty much knew how it ended.

The story started with Elphaba's parents just before she was born. Frexpar is a minister and Melana, a discontent housewife. Elphaba is born, ugly and green with strong teeth that will bite off a finger. She abhors water and won't get near it. They can't decide who the father was, because Melana can't remember who she had been with. The story goes from there in fits and starts, skipping time periods and describing scenery and life, more than getting into the characters.

Elphaba falls into being a witch when she is sent away to away to school and isn't a very good one. She never really masters the craft and constantly works on trying to better herself. There are many side stories involving Glinda, her reluctant snobbish room mate who ends up being the Good Witch of the West. Elphaba's sister - Nessarose, born without arms, ends up being the Wicked Witch of the East, even though she is very religious, following in her father's footsteps. We find out Glinda made the special red shoes that Nessarose wears, that help her keep her balance. Elphaba wants the shoes and it's all she wants when Nessarose is killed by the house dropping on her.

Dorothy is pretty much left a side story until the very end when she is told by the wizard she has to kill Elphaba in order to go home. The ending is comical with Elphaba's old Nanny welcoming Dorothy to the castle and offering her something to eat and Elphaba's son trying to lure Dorothy into a room for a kiss. Dorothy only wants forgiveness for accidently killing Nessarose and during the conversation, Elphaba uses her broom as a torch. A spark lights her clothes on fire and Dorothy throws a bucket of water on her to put out the fire. We all know what happens next.

My curiousity about Maguire's fractured fairy tales has been satisfied and I can honestly say I won't be reading anymore of his books.

Robin of Mytwoblessings