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.