Friday, December 31, 2010

By the Numbers
For the Year 2010

Total books read this year: 86.

Fiction: 77.
Non-fiction: 9.

Young adult: 46.
Juvenile: 7.

Historical fiction: 16.

Published in 2010: 21.
Published prior to 1990: 7.

Re-reads: 3.

Read with the fifth- or sixth-grade book group: 8.
Read with the "book lunch girls" (aka Natalie's Book Club): 9.
Read with my long-time book club: 7.
Read with the Book Buddies: 5.

5-star rating: 8.
(Those were Matched, If You Come Softly, The Happiness Project, Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness, To Kill a Mockingbird, Slob, A Northern Light, and Harriet the Spy.)
4-star rating: 42.
3-star rating: 32.
2-star rating: 4.

How did your reading add up in 2010?

Monday, December 27, 2010

I Feel Bad About My Neck
by Nora Ephron

And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman.
Published in 2006. 137 pages.

This collection of personal essays is a quick read.

My favorite essay was "I Hate My Purse." I totally relate to Ephron's opening statement—

I hate my purse. I absolutely hate it. If you're one of those women who think there's something great about purses, don't even bother reading this because there will be nothing here for you. This is for women who hate their purses, who are bad at purses, who understand that their purses are reflections of negligent housekeeping, hopeless disorganization, a chronic inability to throw anything away, and an ongoing failure to handle the obligations of a demanding and difficult accessory (the obligation, for example, that it should in some way match what you're wearing).

The list of profundities in "What I Wish I'd Known" included one that made me literally laugh out loud—
When your children are teenagers, it's important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.

Ephron addresses more serious issues too, albeit with humor. From the essay "Me and Bill: The End of Love"—
The way I saw it, if Bill had behaved, Al would have been elected, and thousands and thousands of people would be alive today who are instead dead.

And from "Considering the Alternative"—
But if the events of the last few years have taught me anything, it's that I'm going to feel like an idiot if I die tomorrow and I skimped on bath oil today. So I use quite a lot of bath oil. More than you could ever imagine.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
by Stephen Chbosky

Published in 1999. 213 pages.

A coming-of-age story in epistolary form, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an important book. But it is not a feel-good book - though it does end on a hopeful note.

At times I was reminded of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and of This Is What I Did.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower made the top ten most frequently challenged books of 2009.

For more extensive reviews of the book, visit these book bloggers:


Dreamland by Sarah Dessen

Originally published in 2000.
Audiobook narrated by Liz Morton.

When her older sister runs away, 16-year-old Caitlin O'Koren tries to fill the gaping void in her life with cheerleading. Yet after falling from a cheerleading pyramid, she struggles with choices that send her life into a downward spiral. Mesmerized by affluent bad boy Rogerson Biscoe, Caitlin abandons her parents and friends for the seductive lure of his dangerous yet exciting world. But the pain of Rogerson's controlling rage soon shatters the pleasure of their clandestine romance. Trapped in a dizzying maelstrom of abuse, Caitlin seeks the solace of a drug-induced dreamland.

Sarah Dessen talked about writing Dreamland here.

I liked the first three-quarters of the book better than the ending. There was too much wrapping everything up in neat packages for me - and in ways that seemed quite unrealistic. I do think that the topic of teen dating violence is an important one, and I applaud Dessen for taking it on.

A few other random thoughts:
  • I would have liked to understand the character Rogerson better, why he did what he did, who he really is.
  • Early in the book I identified quite a bit with Caitlin's mother - but by mid-way, I couldn't believe she could be so oblivious to Caitlin's problems ... but maybe that's more realistic than I - as the mother of teenagers - would like to believe.
  • I liked the use of photography as a plot devise as well as symbolism.


Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
by Phillip M. Hoose

Published in 2009. 133 pages (including Author's Note, Bibliography, Notes, and Index).

Claudette Colvin received the 2009 National Book Award for Young People's Literature and was also designated a Newbery Honor Book in 2010.

Phillip Hoose wrote in the "Author's Note" at the end of the book:

More than any other story I know, Claudette Colvin's life story shows how history is made up of objective facts and personal truths, braided together. In her case, a girl raised in poverty by a strong, loving family twice risked her life to gain a measure of justice for her people. Hers is the story of a wise and brave woman who, when she was a smart, angry teenager in Jim Crow Alabama, made contributions to human rights far too important to be forgotten.

Like Chris Crowe's Getting Away with Murder, this is a good introduction to a lesser-known aspect of the Civil Rights Movement. Claudette Colvin was a very brave young woman!


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Holiday Swap Fun!

I participated in the Book Blogger Holiday Swap this year, and it was so much fun!
Do you want to watch me unwrap my packages?

Two packages in the mailing envelope ...

Bigger one first.
*Squeal* It's Twilight!
The new graphic novel version!
And a journal too!

Now the smaller package. What fun!

It's so true. Books do make good friends!

A big 'thank you' to Erin O'Riordan
of Pagan Spirits!
Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

Published in 2009. 507 pages.

I have been a fan of Barbara Kingsolver for twenty or so years, since I first fell in love with Taylor and Turtle in The Bean Trees. I have read all five of her previous novels, although I've yet to read her short stories or non-fiction books. And I had been wanting to read The Lacuna since its publication a year ago, but I was a little hesitant to jump right into it because of the length. (I've been feeling more reading satisfaction lately with short, quick reads.)

Because The Lacuna was the November pick for the Book Buddies, I started reading it in mid-November. It did prove to be a slow read for me - mostly because I was working on several non-reading projects during parts of November, but also, I'll assert, because it's a book that requires thought and time to process. I finished the book yesterday, after devoting a fairly large block of time on Thursday to it. In the end, I have to say that it's an amazing book!

    la·cu·na n. \lə-ˈkü-nə, -ˈkyü-\
    1: a blank space or a missing part : gap; also : deficiency
    2: a small cavity, pit, or discontinuity in an anatomical structure

The Lacuna takes the reader on an epic journey from the Mexico City of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to the America of FDR and J. Edgar Hoover as it relates the poignant story of Harrison Shepherd, a man pulled between two nations as they invent their modern identities.

I think much of the overarching theme of the book - and certainly a partial explanation of the title - is illustrated by this passage:
I didn't say what Frida would have. That you can't really know the person standing before you, because always there is some missing piece: the birthday like an invisible piñata hanging great and silent over his head, as he stands in his slippers boiling the water for coffee. The scarred, shrunken leg hidden under a green silk dress. A wife and son back in France. Something you never knew. That is the heart of the story. [page 325]

I got a good sense of place from the novel, particularly the sections set in Mexico. I have only visited Mexico once, but I could vividly picture some of what I saw there as I read about Harrison and Frida visiting an archeological dig and about Harrison and Violet visiting Chichén Itzá.

In a hearing before the Committee on Un-American Activities, Harrison Shepherd comments, "Art takes its meaning in the eye of the beholder" [page 488]. In that spirit, I took away many political messages from Kingsolver's tale. In my opinion, there are, sadly and frighteningly, so many similarities between the fear- and hate-filled atmosphere of the anti-Communist McCarthy era and the fear- and hate-filled rhetoric I hear in many places today. I recently read the following in an essay about faith:
There is nothing that will tear the fabric of society more quickly in a crisis than fear and panic.
That was followed, appropriately, by this quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt:
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror which paralyzed needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
It's too bad that the country didn't remember FDR's statement long past his death!

I've read two other works of historical fiction recently, one I loved and one I didn't. As with The Day the Falls Stood Still, I learned a lot from The Lacuna - both about history and about myself. I guess I found The Lacuna to be the kind of historical novel that I had wanted The Postmistress to be - multi-layered but cohesive, meaningful, beautiful, and satisfying!


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thankfully Reading Part 3

I haven't had much time to read today. I am thankful for several reading communities, though, so I wanted to respond to today's mini-challenge question.

First, I'm thankful for my original reading community - my mom! When I was young, she took me and my sisters to the library frequently, and she always made sure we had books in our home, even when money was very limited. I've borrowed a lot of books from her over the years. Even now, she always gives books to me and to my kids for Christmas.

Second, I'm thankful for the book blogging community. When I started this blog in January 2007, my primary objective was to keep track of the books I was reading. At that point I had no idea that such a great book blogging community existed out there! Visiting book blogs, participating in reading challenges, reading along with online book clubs, being part of book blogging events (like this one), and even meeting some of the book bloggers in Utah - I have a lot of fun being part of the book blogging community.

Finally, I'm thankful for my in-real-life book clubs. I've been reading with one group since June 2002. The composition of the group has changed over time - my sister Carrie and I are the only remaining original members - but we're still meeting about eight times a year, enjoying good books and good food. I've been meeting with another group for almost two years. I call them "my book lunch girls" - although officially it is Natalie's Book Club. I blogged about my gratitude for them earlier this month on my "regular" blog.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thankfully Reading Part 2

After reading some more of The Lacuna, I ventured out of the house for a little while this morning. While I was in the car, I listened to some of Sarah Dessen's Dreamland. Now I'm back in the house, watching BYU football and reading the blogs of other participants in the Thankfully Reading Weekend!

Among the many library books that I've currently got on my to-read pile are these:

Happy reading!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thankfully Reading Part 1

I can't think of anything I'd enjoy less than spending Black Friday at the mall. Neither am I part of the decorate-for-Christmas-right-after-Thanksgiving camp. My typical Thanksgiving weekend is one of rest and relaxation - which makes the Thankfully Reading Weekend perfect for me!

I slept until about eight o'clock this morning, when I was awakened by the sounds of two eleven-year-old boys (my son and his cousin) across the hall. I decided to read for a while, and then I sent them downstairs and fell back to sleep for a couple more hours.

Now I'm going to get some leftovers and resume my reading of The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. I've been working on it for almost two weeks, but because I've been quite tired and busy, my progress has been slow. Today is the day, I hope!

That is, unless I get distracted by movies and television shows on Netflix - which is my other "big plan" for this weekend.

What are you doing for the next three days? What book(s) are you reading?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Books I'm Thankful For

In the United States, today is Thanksgiving. This afternoon my family and I are celebrating by going under the overpass and down the interstate to Grandmother's house (that is, my kids' grandmother, aka my mom). Another twenty-five or so members of the family will be joining us, and we'll be eating a traditional Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, rolls, salads, vegetables, and pies and other desserts.

Beginning tomorrow, I'll start dieting (just kidding!) while I am Thankfully Reading for a few days.

For today, I'm going to borrow an idea from Suey and list some books that I am thankful for.

  • B is for Betsy by Carolyn Haywood. This is the first book I remember loving. As I recall it, I was in the second grade and home sick, lying in my parents' bed, when my mother brought me a book she'd picked up at the library. First published in 1939, B is for Betsy is still in print. I loved the entire Betsy series - and that likely helped form my love of book series today.

  • Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Gift from the Sea is one of the few books that I have read over and over. This classic non-fiction book was given to me by my mother after I had graduated from college and taken a job in another state. The issues Lindbergh explores are just as pertinent to women today as they were when it was first published in 1955. My copy is filled with highlighting and notes.

  • The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Reading The Happiness Project this year has been a truly life-changing experience for me. I've been thinking about happiness for several years, and this book has provided me with a perfect way to more seriously consider what I can do to be more happy. As Gretchen Rubin says, "Each person's happiness project will be unique, but it's the rare person who can't benefit from starting one." I'll be working on my own happiness project for years to come!

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I first read this classic as a senior in high school, and I re-read it this year for its fiftieth anniversary. I was afraid that I wouldn't love it as much this time as I remembered loving it then - but I think that, with some life experience, it was even better this time! I credit To Kill a Mockingbird with helping solidify my strong sense of social justice.

  • Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. I first read - and fell in love with - this celebration of nonconformity when it was required reading for my older daughter's middle school language arts class. I want to be Stargirl when I grow up! I also think that Stargirl introduced me to the concept that I could enjoy young adult novels - a genre that has become a favorite.

I'm also thankful for all-time favorites such as The Princess Bride, The Joy Luck Club, A Simple Plan, The Giver, The Hiding Place, Small Change: The Secret Life of Penny Burford, The Doomsday Book, and The Secret Life of Bees, books which have changed me or my view of the world in some way and which also illustrate my eclectic taste.

Finally, I'm thankful for The Chosen, Dinner at Homesick Restaurant, Midwives, The Bean Trees, and My Sister's Keeper, books which introduced me to the work of their respective authors, who became favorites of mine.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Oh, To Be Young

Back in 2008, I wrote a post in which I claimed that I am "Not Too Old" for young adult literature. Today I'm gratified to hear that NPR supports me in that claim!

Like I do, young adult author Gayle Forman, author of If I Stay, reads a lot of young adult novels, and she has identified five favorites of 2010 in article entitled "Oh, To Be Young" "because really," she says, "at the end of the day, don't we all have a 17-year-old somewhere inside of us?"

The five titles she picked are as follows:

I've not read any of these yet - although four of the five have been on my to-read list for a while, with The Sky is Everywhere currently on my nightstand. I'm looking forward to some good YA reading for the holidays!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What's On Your Nightstand?

Hosted by 5 Minutes for Books

I haven't done as much reading in the past few weeks as I expected I would, so right now I still have many of the same books as my nightstand as I did at the end of October, including North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, which is the pick for my "book lunch girls" meeting in December.

I'll be wrapping up my reading for the Fall into Reading challenge by December 20. As of today, I've read only seven of the 26 books on my list - with two more in process - so lots of those books are on my nightstand.

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa is the Book Buddies choice for December, so I need to get it on my nightstand soon.

Matched by Ally Condie will be released on November 30, and I'm looking forward to having it on my nightstand shortly thereafter! (Matched is the book for my January "Teaching Through Literature Discussions" class, and I'm eager to hear Condie speak.)

Check out what other people have
on their nightstands here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Fly On the Wall by E. Lockhart

Subtitled How One Girl Saw Everything.
Published in 2006. Audiobook read by Caitlin Greer.

At the Manhattan High School for the Arts, where everyone is "different" and everyone is "special," Gretchen Yee feels ordinary. She's the kind of girl who sits alone at lunch, drawing pictures of Spider-Man, so that she won't have to talk to anyone; who has a crush on Titus but won't do anything about it; who has no one to hang out with when her best (and only real) friend, Katya, is busy.

One day, Gretchen wishes that she could be a fly on the wall in the boys' locker room - just to learn more about guys. What are they really like? What do they really talk about? Are they really cretins most of the time?

Fly on the Wall is the story of how that wish comes true.

There were parts of this young adult novel I really liked. I think E. Lockhart does a great job with the voice of her protaganist Gretchen Yee - just like she does with Ruby Oliver and Frankie Landau-Banks. I think, too, that there are some important messages in the book about personal identity, about understanding the "opposite" sex, and about homophobia.

I also enjoyed the clever use of Spider-Man and Kafka's The Metamorphosis in conjunction with the telling of Gretchen's own transformation (literal and figurative), and I adore the paperback cover that illustrates part of that connection.

However, there was way too much unnecessary profanity and way too much discussion of "gherkins" and "biscuits" for me to really love this one. Especially once Gretchen literally becomes a "fly on the wall," the plot slows way down and I felt like I was being simply subjected to seeming endless descriptions of male anatomy.

I guess, all things considered, Fly On the Wall averages out to an average book for me. (But that doesn't diminish my overall love for E. Lockhart!)


Friday, November 19, 2010

The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck

With Kevin Balfe and Jason Wright.
Published in 2008. 284 pages.

This "feel good" Christmas tale wasn't as awful as I expected it to be - which is probably the highest praise I can give!

When it was announced that The Christmas Sweater would be the next pick for my long-time book club, I told the group that I'd vowed to never to read a book by Glenn Beck. One group member promptly reminded me that I always said that the best thing about book clubs was that they get me to read things I wouldn't choose on my own. Caught in this reading dilemma, I held out for a while (somewhat bolstered by the knowledge that another non-Beck fan in the group was boycotting the meeting altogether) and then decided that I really ought to read the book if I was to have any credibility in the group discussion. I finally read it the very afternoon of the book club meeting.

I found the story to be poorly written, repetitious, wordy, with plot holes and a lack of attention to details. A bad writing gimmick introduced at the beginning of chapter 16 made me want to scream. And despite receiving an assurance from the book club friend who'd selected the book that there was nothing political about it, I found the judgmental commentary on "government handouts" in the form of food stamps on pages 9 and 10 (yes, that early in the book!) to be offensive.

The thing is. I agree with most of the themes and concepts Beck presents in the book. Happiness is found not in material goods but in relationships and within ourselves. The principle of atonement is powerful and can indeed transform lives, giving us the second - and third and fourth - chances we need. God is mindful of us and "when life's perils thick confound [us, we can, indeed] put His arms unfailing round [us]." Those are truths that lie at the center of my life.

But. And this is big. Those messages run contrary to the messages of hate and fear and anger that I hear from Beck in other forums. That makes it hard for me to "feel good" about this book.

I did tell my book club friends that I probably would have been less critical of the book if it had been written by someone else. And I am glad I read it - so the true-ism about book clubs getting the members to read things they wouldn't have otherwise read is validated.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Compound by S.A. Bodeen

Published in 2008. 248 pages.

This 2011 Beehive Award nominee is a very compelling read! I basically read it in less than 24 hours.

Eli's father has feared a nuclear holocaust for years. Now it has finally come, and Eli and his family now must live in the protective compound that his father had built.

I feel like I know the characters of this post-apocalyptic-dystopian novel, and I was sobbing toward the end of the book. I highly recommend it to middle school students - both boys and girls - and to adults who enjoy this genre. I'm eager to read Bodeen's 2010 young adult sci-fi novel The Gardener.

Having completed this book, I qualify for
Level 2 of YA-D2!

From the peanut gallery: My 14-year-old book-loving daughter said, "Interesting and suspenseful. But it was kinda' disappointing because it wasn't what I expected it to be."


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Declaration by Gemma Malley

Published in 2007. 301 pages.

My book-loving 14-year-old daughter had to read two dystopian novels over the summer for her freshman language arts class. Of the dozen titles on the list (which included Uglies, The Giver, and The Hunger Games), there were only three that she hadn't already read: Brave New World, 1984, and The Declaration. I recommended that she pick one of the two classics (both of which I read in high school or college) and then also read the young adult novel. That's what she did.

When I picked up The Declaration from the library for her, I read the first few pages and I was sucked right into the story. It took me a while to get back to the book, but I'm sure glad I did!

Surplus Anna committed an unforgivable crime.
She was born.
The year is 2140, and longevity drugs provide a fountain of youth for those who sign the Declaration and agree to not have children. Children, like Anna, born outside the Declaration are a worthless burden who must pay back society for their very existence. But when Anna meets Peter, who tells her that nobody should be considered a surplus, she starts to wonder what is true, what is right - and what she should do about it.

I love this passage:
Surplus meant unnecessary. Not required.

You couldn't be a Surplus if you were needed by someone else. You couldn't be a Surplus if you were loved.

This is my first book for YA-D2 and also on my Fall into Reading list. I'm eager to read the sequels to The Declaration: The Resistance and The Legacy.

From the peanut gallery: Because my daughter was required to keep a response journal during her reading to examine common themes, characters, plot elements, and quotes and then write a three- to five-page essay comparing the two novels, I think she was "burned out" on both books by the time school started at the end of August. Last night when I asked her what she thought of The Declaration, she told me that it is "not the most exciting book, but easier to read than Brave New World." In looking over her response journal, though, I see some good insights into what it means to be human, the power of love, and the value of family.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

Published in 2010. 323 pages.

From the book jacket:

Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It's gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie's estranged father - and elusive European warlock - only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it's her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters.

Fun and imaginative! I nominated Hex Hall for a 2010 Cybils Award in Teen Fantasy/Science Fiction. The finalists will be announced on January 1.

The ending was abrupt, I thought, and I'm not sure what I think about what's going to have to come in the sequel Demonglass. But I'll definitely be reading it, so I guess I'm spellbound.

From the peanut gallery: My 14-year-old book-loving daughter says, "It was good. Not that original though. The historical aspect of it was interesting. The ending was abrupt."


Featuring Legos and Leis

Bumpy Landings is the debut novel of the brother of a friend. For more information, visit Donald J. Carey's website. For a contest - which involves chocolate - to promote Bumpy Landings, check out this post.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Celebrating the Holidays

I've signed up to participate in this year's Holiday Swap.

The deadline is today - November 14 -
so if you'd like to play, go sign up now!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Something, Maybe by Elizabeth Scott

Published in 2009.
Audiobook read by Ellen Grafton.

I've had young adult writer Elizabeth Scott on my to-read list since July 2008. I've finally read one of her novels - via audiobook!

Hannah's life isn't exactly that of a normal teenage girl. Her estranged father is a Hugh Hefner-type. Once one of his "special girls" and then a short-term sitcom star, her mother now tries to make a living via a pay-for-view website. Hannah doesn't want that kind of attention.

I wonder what it would be like to do high school things. To go out on the weekends. To kiss a guy.
To have a normal life. A real one.

I thoroughly enjoyed this sweet, fun teen romance. The interactions between Hannah, her parents, her best friend, and not one but two potential boyfriends were, by turns, humorous and heart-breaking. I found myself looking for reasons to be in my car so that I could hear more of Hannah's story. I'll definitely be reading more of Elizabeth Scott!


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gunnerkrigg Court by Thomas Siddell

Volume 1: Orientation
Published in 2009. 296 pages.

This is the first collection of Tom Siddell's popular and award-winning webcomic ( It received a 2009 Cybils Award for Young Adult Graphic Novel.

My 11-year-old son is a big fan of Gunnerkrigg Court - both the graphic novels and on the web. He tells me that he loves the combination of sci-fi and fantasy, and also that he likes the characters and the connections. ("Even if the main characters are girls," he says, "I still like the books.")

An entry on Wikipedia describes the webcomic as follows:

The comic tells the story of Antimony Carver, a young girl who has just started attending a strange and mysterious school called Gunnerkrigg Court, and the events that unfold around her as she becomes embroiled in political intrigues between Gunnerkrigg Court and the inhabitants of the Gillitie Wood, a forest outside the school. The comic's style and themes include elements from science, fantasy creatures, mythology from a variety of traditions, and alchemical symbols and theories; the literary style is heavily influenced by mystery and manga comics.

I've finally read the first volume. The illustrations are beautiful, but I have to admit that I'm not sure I "get it." But now, my son says, I have to read the second one!


Monday, November 08, 2010

Authors Who Have Influenced Me

My friend Katie posted a note on Facebook of the fifteen authors who have influenced her the most. She tagged me to post my own list, which I did on Facebook. I decided that it'd be fun to post it here as well, along with a few of the reasons why these authors are important to me:

(in alphabetical order)

Chris Bohjalian Midwives was the first of Bohjalian's books that I read. Before You Know Kindness is an all-time favorite. I love how he writes about issues and situations and makes me think in new ways.

Ray Bradbury Two of the books I read in high school that have really stuck with me are both by Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 and Dandelion Wine.

"Carolyn Keene" I adored Nancy Drew as a child! I consider her to be one of my early role models.

Barbara Kingsolver Kingsolver's novels have changed the way I view the world. I especially loved Animal Dreams . I'll be reading her latest novel, The Lacuna, this month with the Book Buddies.

E.L. Konigsburg My favorite novel in third grade was Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth. I also will never forget reading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which gave me my first urgings to someday visit New York City. As an adult, I still love Konigsburg's work - and I'm currently listening to the audiobook of The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place.

Harold Kushner I've read most of Kushner's books, and although he is a Jewish rabbi and I am a lifelong Christian, I've gained great insights into God and His workings with His children from Kushner. I especially loved When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough.

Madeleine L'Engle L'Engle is another author whose work has influenced me throughout my life. As a young person, I loved reading A Wrinkle in Time and A Ring of Endless Light, getting to know the Murrays and the Austins. (I'd love to re-read all of those books some day!) Now L'Engle's adult novel A Live Coal in the Sea is an all-time favorite.

Harper Lee I think that To Kill a Mockingbird, which I first read as a high school senior, was a direct influence in the development of my world view, my sense of social justice.

C.S. Lewis The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is an all-time favorite of mine from childhood, and I'm also influenced by much of Lewis' non-fiction work on Christianity.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh Gift from the Sea is one of the few books that I have read over and over. This classic non-fiction book was given to me by my mother after I had graduated from college and taken a job in another state. The issues Lindbergh explores are just as pertinent to women today as they were when it was first published in 1955. My copy is filled with highlighting and notes.

Chaim Potok I first fell in love with Potok when I read The Chosen. I also was able to hear him speak while I was at BYU. Some of my love of the Jewish culture comes from Potok's work.

William Shakespeare It probably goes without saying that Shakespeare is a major influence on the world. I particularly have enjoyed seeing his work performed at the Utah Shakespeare Festival every year since 1998, the first year I attended.

Jerry Spinelli I adore Stargirl. I want to be Stargirl when I grow up. Spinelli has also written some other pretty good books.

Anne Tyler I've read every one of Tyler's novels, beginning with Dinner at Homesick Restaurant. Her characters are quirky and lovable.

E.B. White I have vivid memories of listening to my third-grade teacher read The Trumpet of the Swan. And who didn't use The Elements of Style as a reference in college?

Which authors have influenced you the most?

Sunday, November 07, 2010

If You Come Softly
by Jacqueline Woodson

Published in 1998. 181 pages.

First line: My mother calls to me from the bottom of the stairs, and I pull myself slowly from a deep sleep.

Plot summary (from the Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data): After meeting at their private school in New York, fifteen-year-old Jeremiah, who is black and whose parents are separated, and Ellie, who is white and whose mother has twice abandoned her, fall in love and then try to cope with people's reactions.

Epigraph (taken from the poem by Audre Lorde):

        If you come as softly
        as the wind within the trees
        You may hear what I hear
        See what sorrow sees.
Why I read this book: Almost a year ago, I read Alexa's review of If You Come Softly and knew that I wanted to read it. In August, the book came back into my consciousness when I saw on Facebook that Alice was reading it. I put it on my Fall into Reading list in September, and now I've finally read it.

A few random thoughts: If You Come Softly is both a sweet and tender love story and a poignant look at race relations in America. It is a quick read. There aren't a lot of excess words. In its brevity and its sparseness lies its power.

This is the first of Jacqueline Woodson's books that I've read, although I've had her on my radar for a while. I will definitely be reading more of this prolific writer - beginning with the sequel to If You Come Softly, Behind You.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fall into Reading 2010
Status Report

About five weeks into the challenge, I've read five of the 26 books on my Fall into Reading list:

  • Any Bitter Thing by Monica Wood

  • The Declaration by Gemma Malley

  • Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

  • I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

  • The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

Host Katrina has posted some reading questions for challenge participants to answer. I offer a few of my thoughts:

What do you think is the biggest obstacle to your reading? What prevents you from reading as much as you’d like?

"Not enough time" is certainly the simple, though not complete answer. Time is indeed a significant factor, as illustrated by the fact that I read 30 books this year from January through June (an average of five per month) but since completing a five-year work commitment on June 30, I've read another 43 books (almost 11 per month). I know that I could read more, however, if I spent less time on Facebook. I also struggle with what I call "the book blogger's dilemma" - that is, finding the proper balance between reading books and blogging about them.

Do you eat/drink while reading? If so, do you have some favorite reading snacks?

Although I don't always eat or drink while reading, I do enjoy combining food and books. My favorite reading snack is microwave popcorn. I also enjoy reading while I eat a meal. In the last several months - since I have more time mid-day than I used to have - I've been having lunch every few weeks at Cafe Zupas or Paradise Bakery with a book.

When you read a book, do you read everything? In other words, do you read the dedication, the acknowledgements, the foreword, the afterword, the prologue, the epilogue, the appendix, etc.? Or do you just read the "meat" of the book? Or is your approach somewhere in between?

I read everything! Two recent reads with lots of "extras" were the non-fiction young adult history Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice and the novel The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Published in 2010. 326 pages.

I wanted to love this book. A historical fiction novel. Set during World War II. With not just one but three female protagonists. Each revealing part of the story from her own perspective. The Postmistress had all the elements of a great read! Alas ...

The book started slow for me, but I kept going because it was both a Book Buddies pick and a Salt Lake County Reader's Choice nominee. I kept hoping that something would happen that would captivate me - or at least let me see what the author was trying to tell her readers. Unfortunately, that never happened - even as I neared the end and just "knew" that I would finally be happy with the tale. The more I hoped for the book to come together in a way that I'd find satisfying, the more irritated I got ... and then I just got crabby.

  • If I had read "he leaned in to light her cigarette" one more time, I would have screamed.

  • What was with the weird, unrelated scenes of sexuality and discussions of women's reproductive health issues?

  • The plot was not cohesive. There were several "short stories" that I quite enjoyed, but as a novel it just didn't come together.

  • Even the title misrepresents the content, as "the postmistress" is only one of three female protagonists.

For a more thoughtful and positive review, check out Dawn's thoughts at She Is Too Food of Books.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What's On Your Nightstand?

Hosted by 5 Minutes for Books

Right now - just in time for Halloween - I'm finishing up The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe. It is a Salt Lake County Library Reader's Choice nominee, and it will also be the November/December read for my long-time book club.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell is the next pick for my "book lunch girls" meeting, so it is on my nightstand, as is The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, which is the Book Buddies selection for November.

In the next few weeks I'm hoping to read two non-fiction books on women's issues to complete the Women Unbound challenge by November 30. The two I'll likely read:

I'll also be continuing work on my Fall into Reading list all through November and into December. (Since I've only read four of the 26 books so far, I've got a long way to go!) Among the titles I'm most excited to read in the next few weeks:

Check out what other people have
on their nightstands here.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Buster Midnight's Cafe by Sandra Dallas

Published in 1990. 277 pages.

I've been wanting to read Sandra Dallas for a long time, so I was eager to get to this one - her first novel - for the October meeting with my "book lunch girls." I finished it this rainy Saturday morning while wrapped in a blanket in bed.

I think I started the book with a misconception. My friend Sue, who picked this month's book, had said we needed some lighter reading than we'd had recently, and she called the narrator "hilarious." My fourteen-year-old daughter, who read the book before I got to it, also said the book was "funny." As I started reading, however, although I found the characters to be fun and quirky - especially the names of Effa Commander and Whippy Bird, I wasn't finding the story to be at all funny. Poverty, prostitution, cancer, even boxing, are not light topics. Even the theme of friendship is one that I find more meaningful than light-hearted. (I looked up "light-hearted" in the dictionary: "Not being burdened by trouble, worry, or care; happy and carefree.") While friendship can, at times, be happy and carefree, I prefer relationships that are occasionally burdened by trouble, worry, and care - and the friendship of May Anna, Effa, and Whippy is certainly one with burdens.

I was about halfway through the book when I decided that it wasn't a light-hearted book and that I should just continue reading it through my personal worldview. Once that happened, I enjoyed the book a whole lot more. The power of friendship to sustain people through war, loss, and death. The ability of friends to come together to support and strengthen one another. The importance of assuming the best of those we love and seeing the good in them. Those are all themes I found in the novel. Dallas does a good job of exploring them through the lives and relationships of fun, quirky characters with an interesting and compelling storyline. I look forward to reading more of her work!

There is one aspect of the book that really bugged me. Effa Commander, the narrator of the story, frequently uses bad grammar - especially "me and ..." as the subject of a sentence. I understand that this was supposed to give the reader a sense of who Effa is, and while I accept that she is uneducated and unpretentious, her use of words in other ways is so beautiful and so effective that these instances of bad grammar grated on my nerves.

Have you read any of Sandra Dallas' books? Which one would you recommend I read next?


Friday, October 22, 2010

Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie
by Jordan Sonnenblick

Published in 2004. 273 pages.

Heart-breaking. Humorous.
Heart-warming. Honest.
You have to love it when the doctor lays all this horrific stuff on you and then tells you not to worry. It's like saying, "Here's thirty-seven pounds of assorted chocolates. Try not to think about food, though." Or "Look! There's Renee Albert in a bikini. But please try to keep your mind on algebraic functions." [page 235]

Author Jordan Sonnenblick's website.

2005 ALA Teens' Top Ten.

Sequel - After Ever After (2010).


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Good Picks for Book Clubs

As the member of several book clubs, past and present, I was interested by the Top Ten Discussion Books list compiled by Reading Group Guides. I have read eight of the ten, all with a book club of one kind or another:

  1. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (I read this one on my own at the end of 2009, and it made the list of my favorite books of the year. It was also a pick of the Book Buddies online book group this year.)
  2. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (I read this one with my long-time book club in January and posted a review.)
  3. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (I read this one with my long-time book club, back in October 2006 before I started book blogging. I did post a few thoughts on my "other" blog. In January 2007, another book club I met with briefly read the book, but the discussion was less than satisfying for me, as I explained here, and I stopped attending this book club.)
  4. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls (This was a pick for my long-time book club in 2006, and in January 2009 I re-read it with my church women's group book club, which is now defunct, and posted a review.)
  5. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (This was the "book club" read for my annual women's retreat in June 2008. I started it there and continued reading it through the summer.)
  6. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (I read this with my "book lunch girls" in February 2009 and posted a review. Then in June this was the "book club" read for my annual women's retreat.)
  7. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (I first read this one with my long-time book club in the summer of 2005. My church women's group book club read it in January 2007, and I posted a few thoughts.)
  8. Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay (I haven't read this one yet, although my mom recommended it to me not too long ago.)
  9. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (I read this one with my long-time book club in May 2009 and posted a few thoughts about it.)
  10. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (This one has been on my to-read list for several years, but I've not yet read it.)

As a fan of young adult and children's novels, I was also interested in the Top 10 Young Adults/Kids Books list. Of these, I've read eight, many of them with a reading group:

  1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (I read this one on my own at the end of 2009 and posted a review.)
  2. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (Although I read two of DiCamillo's other books in a mother-daughter book club - The Tale of Despereaux and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane - this one remains on my to-read list.)
  3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (I read this with the "book lunch girls" early in 2009 and posted a review. It was also the 2008 Salt Lake County "One County, One Book.")
  4. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (I read this one with the Book Buddies in November 2007 and posted a review.)
  5. The Giver by Lois Lowry (I've never discussed this all-time favorite with a group but have always wanted to. I posted a few thoughts on re-reading in January 2008.)
  6. The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman (I've not read this one yet.)
  7. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (I read this one with the "book lunch girls" in the summer of 2009 and posted a few thoughts.)
  8. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (I read The Deathly Hallows - the seventh book of the series - during the summer of 2007 and posted my review. My church women's group book club met to discuss it shortly thereafter. I read all the other books in the series on my own, pre-book blog.)
  9. The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins (I picked The Hunger Games for both the "book lunch girls" and my long-time book club in the summer of 2009, and I posted some discussion questions. I've since read the other two books in the trilogy on my own.)
  10. Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer (I chose Twilight for my long-time book club in June 2007 and posted a few thoughts and some discussion questions. My church women's group book club met to discuss Twilight a few months later. I read the rest of the series along with my daughters, including a formal discussion of New Moon at a lunch outing.)

What books have you enjoyed reading and discussing with a book group?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

13 Little Blue Envelopes
by Maureen Johnson

Published in 2005. 321 pages.

First line: As a rule, Ginny Blackstone tried to go unnoticed - something that was more or less impossible with thirty pounds (she'd weighed it) of purple-and-green backpack hanging from her back.

Brief summary (from the Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data): When seventeen-year-old Ginny receives a packet of mysterious envelopes from her favorite aunt, she leaves New Jersey to criss-cross Europe on a sort of scavenger hunt that transforms her life.

Why I read this book: I've been hearing good things about young adult novelist Maureen Johnson's work for a while, but I hadn't read any of her books until now. Tricia of Library Queue had recommended 13 Little Blue Envelopes to me as a short, quick read published in 2005, as I worked to finish the Countdown Challenge. (Tricia's review is here.)

A few random thoughts: Very nice read, particularly good for the Read-a-Thon! Ginny had her very own personal, miniature version of The Amazing Race - and, like the racers I admire most, learned more about herself in the process. I especially loved hearing about her adventures in Amsterdam and Copenhagen because, although I've never been there myself, I did recognize much of it from the photos and souvenirs that my sisters and I compiled into a scrapbook for my parents from their trip there a few years ago.

Something notable: 13 Little Blue Envelopes was an ALA Teens' Top Ten for 2006 (as was Peeps, which I also recently read.)

For more fun: Check out Maureen Johnson's website, including some FAQs about 13 Little Blue Envelopes. (I'm also now following Johnson on Twitter.) A sequel to 13 Little Blue Envelopes, titled The Last Little Blue Envelope, is scheduled for publication next spring.

From the peanut gallery: My 14-year-old book-loving daughter says, "I thought Suite Scarlett was cute, so I want to read this one."


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

We Have a Winner

As promised, I have randomly selected (using one lucky person from those who left a comment on my review of The Day the Falls Stood Still and will be passing along my copy to her.

And the book goes to . . . . Sue!
(Sue, I'll get the book to you shortly.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Any Bitter Thing by Monica Wood

Published in 2005. 335 pages.

I loved this novel that was part the journey of a woman from childhood to adulthood, part a mystery tale, part an exploration of faith, and part the story of a marriage! It was heart-breaking and faith-affirming. It was filled with both sorrow and hope.

This is part of the description of the novel on goodreads:

Lizzy Mitchell was raised from the age of two by her uncle, a Catholic priest. When she was nine, he was falsely accused of improprieties with her and dismissed from his church, and she was sent away to boarding school. Now thirty years old and in a failing marriage, she is nearly killed in a traffic accident. What she discovers when she sets out to find the truths surrounding the accident and about the accusations that led to her uncle's death does more than change her life. With deft insight into the snares of the human heart, Monica Wood has written an intimate and emotionally expansive novel full of understanding and hope.

The title of the book comes from a poignant Bible verse:
The full soul tramples upon the honeycomb,
but to the hungry soul, any bitter thing tastes sweet.
- Proverbs 27:7

Any Bitter Thing was a finalist for Beliefnet's 2005 Best Spiritual Book of the Year. I'd never read anything by Monica Wood before, but I think I'll have to look for her other work. Her website is here.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Reading Dilemma

I've publicly stated that one of the best things about a book club is reading books you wouldn't choose on your own. (I said that here as well as in a number of book club meetings and casual conversations.)

I've also publicly stated that I'll never read anything written by Glenn Beck. (I said it here and also implied it here.)

Can you guess what my long-time book club is reading for our November 4 meeting? That would be The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck. How do I deal with this dilemma?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Read-a-Thon End-of-Event Survey

I ended up bailing from the read-a-thon with just over two hours to go. I know I could have forced myself to stay awake, but I also know that, given my commitments for this afternoon, today would have been miserable for me if I hadn't gotten some sleep. So I opted for a better day today! (I'm still going to need to go to bed early tonight.)

Here is my end-of-event survey:

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?

Besides the end of Hour 22, when I decided to call it good, the hardest hour was Hour 16, when I just couldn't keep sitting any longer.

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

In general, I think young adult novels are the best read-a-thon picks.

One thing I did this time that I've never done before was listen to an audiobook while just sitting on the sofa. I've used audiobooks when I've had to drive somewhere during the read-a-thon or when I've wanted to get some chores done. This time I started an audiobook for those two purposes - but then I decided to just keep listening. I followed the Twitter feed some while listening, and I also instant messaged with a friend and played some word games while I listened. My tired brain definitely benefited from the change of approach for several hours.

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

This was my seventh time to participate in the Read-a-thon, and I thought it was great!

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

I had a lot of visits from cheerleaders this year. They were truly terrific!

5. How many books did you read?

Two - plus part of two others.

6. What were the names of the books you read?

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson. Fly On the Wall by E. Lockhart. Part of Any Bitter Thing by Monica Wood. Part of The Declaration by Gemma Malley.

7. Which book did you enjoy most?

13 Little Blue Envelopes was my first Maureen Johnson book; I'm sure I'll be reading more from her in the future.

8. Which did you enjoy least?

There were parts of Fly On the Wall that I really liked, but there were also parts that I really didn't.

9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?

Not applicable.

10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

If at all possible, I will participate in the next read-a-thon! This is one of the few things I do that is just for me. I'd like to be a reader again.

Elapsed Time 21:00

Progress Report

Time Read: 11:15

Pages Read: Approximately 700 (including the equivalent of four hours of audiobook listening).

Books Finished: 2. (Fly On the Wall by E. Lockhart and 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson.)

Time Blogged: 7:15

Frame of Mind: I've decided that I'm going to take off my contact lenses and then read until I fall asleep. I'm not doing too badly, but I just can't see myself muddling through three more hours. A big "thank you" to the cheerleaders and other visitors who've left me comments of encouragement!

Cans of Diet Coke with Lime Consumed:

Food Consumed:
Two mugs of hot cocoa. A bowl of fresh raspberries with raspberry yogurt. Two biscuits with cheese, and two hard-boiled eggs. One Cadbury Fruit & Nut Bar. A handful of Good & Plenty. A handful of cashews. Chinese take-out from Panda Express. One chocolate-dipped strawberry, and several pieces of Hershey's Bliss. Some Pringles potato chips.

Elapsed Time 19:30

Progress Report

Time Read: 10:15

Pages Read: 488, plus about 3 1/2 hours listening to an audio book (the equivalent of about 160 pages).

Books Finished: Just 1 - although I've made progress on three others.

Time Blogged: 7:15

Frame of Mind: I'm thinking that I'll maybe finish my audio book of Fly On the Wall and then head to bed. I'm not completely exhausted, but I'm worrying a little about my ability to complete a few tasks on tomorrow's to-do list if I've not had any sleep.

Cans of Diet Coke with Lime Consumed:
3 1/2.

Food Consumed:
Two mugs of hot cocoa. A bowl of fresh raspberries with raspberry yogurt. Two biscuits with cheese, and two hard-boiled eggs. One Cadbury Fruit & Nut Bar. A handful of Good & Plenty. A handful of cashews. Chinese take-out from Panda Express. One chocolate-dipped strawberry, and several pieces of Hershey's Bliss. Some Pringles potato chips.

Read-a-Thon Mini-Challenge

"Non-Fiction Read-a-Thon"
Hosted by Susie QTPies at Scraps of Life

I've got four non-fiction books in my read-a-thon piles - although I'm doubtful at this point that I'll get them read:

Girl Sleuth:
Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her

by Melanie Rehak

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
by Phillip Hoose

Looking Like the Enemy:
My Story of Imprisonment
in Japanese American Internment Camps

by Mary Matsuda Gruenewald

They Called Themselves the KKK:
The Birth of an American Terrorist Group

by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Read-a-Thon Mini-Challenge

Hosted by Carina at Reading Through Life

Elapsed Time 14:00

Progress Report

Time Read: 7:15

Pages Read: 446, plus one hour listening to an audio book (the equivalent of about 50 pages).

Books Finished: 1.

Time Blogged: 5:15

Frame of Mind: I'm glad I went for a walk earlier, but I'm feeling a little discouraged that I haven't got more reading done than I have. I'm thinking that I might switch to a different book for a while. I have enjoyed the mini-challenges I participated in today, so I send a big "thank you" to those who've sponsored those!

Cans of Diet Coke with Lime Consumed:

Food Consumed:
Two mugs of hot cocoa. A bowl of fresh raspberries with raspberry yogurt. Two biscuits with cheese, and two hard-boiled eggs. One Cadbury Fruit & Nut Bar. A handful of Good & Plenty. A handful of cashews. Chinese take-out from Panda Express. One perfect chocolate-dipped strawberry (prepared for me by my 11yo personal chef).

Read-a-Thon Mini-Challenge

"Title Word Scramble"
Hosted by Sheery at Sheery's Place
  1. yfferil enal = Firefly Lane

  2. aste fo eend = East of Eden

  3. retwa orf pntshleea = Water for Elephants*

  4. ot lkli a ckomgnrbdii = To Kill a Mockingbird*

  5. het gtaer ysbtag = The Great Gatsby

  6. yrhra tetrpo dna eth lyhdtea wollsah = Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows*

  7. hte rat fo nrgcai ni eht nair = The Art of Racing in the Rain

  8. eth mite reslveart efwi = The Time Traveler's Wife*

  9. eht rlig iehw eht gnodar ooattt = The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

  10. ydira fo a mypiw idk = Diary of a Wimpy Kid*

  11. a kwrlnei ni emit = A Wrinkle in Time*

  12. het rpoal sxprese = The Polar Express*

  13. vole dewlak ni = Love Walked In

  14. reehw eth dwli hingts rea = Where the Wild Things Are*

  15. eht ginnhsi = The Shining

  16. dnohogigt oonm = Goodnight, Moon*

  17. vwtienrie hwti a pvmarie = Interview with a Vampire

  18. eht cretse file fo eesb = The Secret Life of Bees*

  19. eht raesch = The Search

  20. het pelh = The Help*
*I've read this one.