Saturday, November 10, 2012

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

Published in 2012 by Wendy Lamb Books. 192 pages.

I absolutely loved this children's novel by the 2010 Newbery Award-winning author of When You Reach Me!

It's about bullying and about being afraid. It's about family and about friendship.

With a feel similar to Ellen Potter's Slob (which was one of my favorite reads of 2010), Liar & Spy is part coming-of-age story and part mystery, and it reminded me a bit of Harriet the Spy, a favorite from my childhood. I highly recommend Liar & Spy both for middle grade readers and for grown-ups who care about middle graders.

Lucinda Rosenfeld reviewed Liar & Spy for The New York Times here. Rebecca Stead's website has additional information about the book here. Other book bloggers who have reviewed Liar & Spy include the following:


Saturday, October 27, 2012

What I Am Reading

In my car: Life of Pi by Yann Martel.

In my kitchen: U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton.

On my Kindle: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.

With the Book Buddies: Christianity for the Rest of Us by Diana Butler Bass.

For my young adult literature class: Return to Exile by E.J. Patten.

Via DailyLit: The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence by Tom Peters.

With my scripture study: 21 Days Closer to Christ by Emily Freeman, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver, and Whom the Lord Loveth: The Journey of Discipleship by Neal A. Maxwell.

In conjunction with my happiness project: Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin.

Yes, I am reading ten books all at the same time!

What are you reading?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou

Published in 2008 by Random House, Inc.
Audiobook read by the author.

I listened to Letter to My Daughter on CD. It is a short book - just two discs - but it's read by Maya Angelou herself and just hearing her voice brought a smile to my face. My daughter and I heard her speak at a conference several years ago, and we adore her!

As is usually (maybe always) the case with a collection of short stories or essays, some are better than others. I most enjoyed the essays here in which Angelou related an experience from her life and what she learned from it.

I also liked the commencement address she wrote. There Angelou advises that courage is the virtue that makes all other virtues possible. I love that idea!


Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Schwa Was Here
by Neal Shusterman

Originally published in 2004.
Audiobook read by the author.

How can something that makes me laugh out loud one minute make me cry the next?!

The Schwa Was Here is a terrific story - one to which anyone who has ever felt ignored or invisible will relate. The tale is told from the viewpoint of Antsy Bonano, whose "voice" is wonderful - and I loved hearing Antsy's words from Neal Shusterman himself.

This is the third of Shusterman's books I've read - and all three are very different reading experiences. I've definitely become a fan!

Shusterman's website is here.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Read-a-Thon End-of-Event Survey

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?

Hour 21, when I decided to call it quits, was the hardest hour for me. I just wanted to lay on the sofa and "pretend" to read!

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

Young adult novels are great read-a-thon picks. Memoirs are also a good choice.

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

This was my tenth time participating in the Read-a-thon, and I thought things went well.

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

I enjoyed the visits from the Cheerleaders.

5. How many books did you read?

I finished two books - and I also read parts of three others.

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

The Year My Son and I Were Born by Kathryn Lynard Soper and Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead.

7. Which book did you enjoy most?

Both books were great!

8. Which did you enjoy least?

Not applicable.

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 - but I'm also thinking that it might be fun to try cheerleading.

Read-a-Thon Mini-Challenge

"Book Sentences"
Hosted by Kate at Midnight Book Girl

I have used four books from
my to-read pile to create a sentence.

Every day, the outsiders simplify life [of pi].

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Elapsed Time 16:30

Progress Report

Time Read: 10:15 (This includes about three hours of "reading" via CD. I'm currently listening to two audiobooks - U is for Undertow and Between the Lines. The former has keep me company for a couple weeks while I've done kitchen chores, and the latter has been my commute companion this week. Today I've listened to a bit of both books.)

Locations I've Read: 3. (In addition to reading at home, I spent a little time at the library this afternoon and then read while I ate a sandwich and some soup at Café Zupas. Oh, I guess listening to a book on CD while driving between locations means I actually "read" in four places!)

Pages Read: 516.

Books Finished: 2. (The Year My Son and I Were Born by Kathryn Lynard Soper and Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead.)

Time Blogged and/or Tweeted: 6:15 (One of the things I did was work on some long-overdue reviews that I hope to post this coming week.)

Frame of Mind: It was great getting out of the house for a while. I'm now in my PJs, and my contacts are starting to make my eyes feel "buggy." I'm not sure how much longer I can leave them in - but once I take them out, I think my body will expect that it's time for sleep.

Cans of Diet Coke with Lime Consumed: 3.

Food Consumed:
A mug of hot chocolate. A bowl of microwave popcorn. A small cup of clam chowder from Thursday's dinner. A bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit, a hashbrown, and a small orange juice - brought to me by my husband and daughter from the McDonald's drive-thru. Some chocolate Twizzlers. A Rice Krispy treat. A dinner of soup and sandwich (Yucatan Chicken Tortilla and Ultimate Grilled Cheese, respectively) - plus a piece of bread and a chocolate-covered strawberry. Some Hershey's Nuggets (with almonds and toffee).

Read-a-Thon Mid-Event Survey

Now that we're more than halfway through, we have a survey to complete:

1. How are you doing? Sleepy? Are your eyes tired?
I didn't go to bed early enough last night, so I'm definitely starting to feel tired. I left the house for several hours, though - spending some time at the library and then at a favorite restaurant - so I'm hoping that change of scenery will carry me through the next little while now I'm back home.

2. What have you finished reading?
I read The Year My Son and I Were Born by Kathryn Lynard Soper this morning. I haven't finished anything else yet.

3. What is your favorite read so far?
I'm enjoying everything I'm reading - even though I've only finished one book so far.

4. What about your favorite snacks?
I love chocolate Twizzlers!

5. Have you found any new blogs through the readathon?
I've visited a few that I'm going to add a few to my blog list: YA? Why Not?, The Allure of Books, and Mom is Reading.

Another Read-a-Thon Mini-Challenge

"Book Puzzle"
Hosted by Melissa at One Librarian's Book Reviews

This is the title of one of the books in my read-a-thon pile. Do you know what it is?

Image by lioness_graphics.

By the way, my entry in this mini-challenge a year ago is here - and it's a book I finally read this morning!

Elapsed Time 6:00

Progress Report

Time Read: 4:00

Pages Read: 243. (I am about three-fourths done with The Year My Son and I Were Born by Kathryn Lynard Soper.)

Books Finished: None yet.

Time Blogged and/or Tweeted: 2:00

Frame of Mind: I've been doing a lot of crying while reading - which is somewhat cathartic. I'm feeling a little sleepy - I didn't get to bed until late last night - so I think I'll need to look for a change of pace shortly.

Cans of Diet Coke with Lime Consumed:
(What?! I guess I better get a can now!)

Food Consumed:
A mug of hot chocolate. A bowl of microwave popcorn. A small cup of clam chowder from Thursday's dinner. A bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit, a hashbrown, and a small orange juice - brought to me by my husband and daughter from the McDonald's drive-thru.

Read-a-Thon Mini-Challenge

"Oldies But Goodies"
Hosted by Allie at A Literary Odyssey

Allie asked, "What classic book should all high school aged children read and why?"

My first thought was To Kill a Mockingbird. I first read it as a high school senior, and it has affected the way I've viewed the world for the past thirty years. I saw the play version this past summer and was reminded again why I so love this book!

A lot of read-a-thon participants answered Allie's question with TKMB. Some other answers I liked were The Outsiders (which my thirteen-year-old son just finished and I'd like to re-read), Fahrenheit 451 (which I also read in high school), The Color Purple (which I read for a college class I took about twenty years ago), Of Mice and Men (which I read just last year), and Frankenstein (which I also read just last year).

A few of those mentioned that I haven't read that but need (and want) to read are The Little Prince, The Count of Monte Cristo, and The Diary of Anne Frank.

A book I think all teens should read that wasn't mentioned - maybe because it was published in 2000 and so probably doesn't (yet) qualify as a "classic" - is Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl. I first read it when my oldest child had to read it in school - and I found it to be an amazing celebration of nonconformity!

Introductory Questionnaire

What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
The suburbs of Salt Lake City, Utah.

Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead.

Which snack are you most looking forward to?
Black bean nachos with fresh guacamole.

Tell us a little something about yourself!
I learned to read with Dick and Jane when I was six years old, and I've not stopped since. I work with numbers in my professional life, but I love words!

If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today?
I plan to get out of the house for part of the day's reading - maybe the library, maybe a favorite restaurant.

Elapsed Time 0:00

Here We Go!

It is quiet, dark, and cold - and yet I'm out of bed and ready to read. It must be Dewey's Read-a-Thon!

This is the tenth time I've participated - and I'm looking forward to a great day of books, blogging, and snacks. Good luck to the other read-a-thon participants, and a big thanks to the hosts, the cheerleaders, and all the other helpers!

If you're just stopping by and want to know more about what's happening, check out the read-a-thon blog or Twitter or Facebook page.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fall Into Reading

September 22-December 21
Hosted by Katrina at Callapidder Days

For the next thirteen weeks, I am going to "fall into reading"! It has been extremely difficult for me, however, to create a list of what I'm going to read. There are simply too many books on my to-read list! In the best possible world, I would read one book every single autumn day - but, alas, work and family and sleep and other necessary activities preclude that possibility.

My first list-making attempt resulted in a reading list of about 60 books. Then I started gathering those of the 60 that I have here at home, either because I own it (either in traditional format or on my Kindle) or because I've already checked it out of the library:

That pile was still too big for me to reasonably tackle during a thirteen-week span - and I'd rather end up with a feeling of accomplishment than a feeling of defeat. (By the way, I've been averaging a book-and-a-half per week this year, so I figure that I ought to be able to read 20 books in thirteen weeks without too much "challenge" - and a few more, especially if they're not too long, if I make it a priority.)

After adding a few titles of upcoming "required" reading (for my book clubs and for a literature class I start next month) plus a couple of new releases I'd like to get my hands on, I used the "random" sort function on goodreads (with just a little cheating) to narrow my list to the 26 books I plan to read for this challenge.

Here is the eclectic selection (in alphabetical order by author):
  • Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou
    (I plan to listen to this one on CD during my commute.)
  • The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith by Joanna Brooks
    (This is a memoir by the author of the blog Ask Mormon Girl.)
  • The Sand Bar by Rebecca Bryan
    (I gratefully received a copy of this debut novel by a local author for review.)
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
    (I checked out this recent release from the Kindle Lending Library, which is my favorite new "toy.")
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
    (I have heard many good things about this young adult novel.)
  • Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh
    (This is another one I plan to "read" via audiobook.)
  • Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale
    (My daughter and I attended the book launch for this sequel to Princess Academy.)
  • With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo
    (This is one of the children's books I will be reading in my literature class this year.)
  • Christ and the New Covenant by Jeffrey R. Holland
    (I would like to read this one as I wrap up this year's Sunday School course of study.)
  • The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
    (I think this children's historical fiction novel is getting some Newbery buzz.)
  • Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
    (The Giver is one of my all-time favorites, and I am planning to read the three books that complete the series, including the recently released Son.)
  • Messenger by Lois Lowry
  • Son by Lois Lowry
  • Sister by Rosamund Lupton
    (This is one of the current Salt Lake County Reader's Choice nominees.)
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel
    (My book club read this several years ago, but I skipped it because I was going to be out of town during the meeting. Since only two of the current members of the group - which has undergone a lot of change over the years - have read it, we've picked it again.)
  • Heaven is Here: An Incredible Story of Hope, Triumph, and Everyday Joy by Stephanie Nielson
    (This is the recently-released memoir by the blogger at NieNie Dialogues.)
  • The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
    (I have had my eye on this short historical fiction novel for a while.)
  • Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer
    (This is a collaboration between one of my favorite authors and her teenage daughter.)
  • Simplify: A Guide to Caring for the Soul by Carolyn J. Rasmus
    (Something about the title of this one just appeals to me deep inside.)
  • Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin
    (I adore Gretchen Rubin, and I am eager to read this second look at the concept of a "happiness project"!)
  • The Year My Son and I Were Born: A Story of Down Syndrome, Motherhood, and Self-Discovery by Kathryn Lynard Soper
    (I have been wanting to read this memoir for some time.)
  • Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto
    (This is another novel I was happy to receive for review.)
  • Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
    (This is the latest book by the 2010 Newbery award winner.)
  • Malice by Robert K. Tanenbaum
    (It has been more than five years since I read a book in the Butch Karp/Marlene Ciampi series, which currently stands at 24 books. This is the nineteenth.)
  • Variant by Robison Wells
    (This is one of the young adult books I will be reading in my literature class this year.)
  • Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
    (I am re-reading this all-time favorite for one of my book clubs.)

How I wish I could read all of my original picks during this challenge! (For the curious, here is a link to the complete "second-attempt" list.) But - as my sixteen-year-old daughter pointed out - it's not like I'm going to stop reading once winter arrives!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Forgotten by Cat Patrick

Published in 2011.
Audiobook read by Julia Whelan.

The six-disc audio version of Cat Patrick's young adult novel Forgotten caught my eye while I was perusing the library shelves for something new to "read" during my commute.

Every night, while sixteen-year-old London Lane is asleep, her memory of that day is erased. In the morning, all she can "remember" are events from her future. London is used to relying on reminder notes and a trusted friend to get through the day, but things get complicated a new boy at school enters the picture.

The premise of the book is compelling and unique - even if I was reminded of the film 50 First Dates at times - and I truly appreciated the underlying message about the value of remembering. The storyline didn't flow terribly well, though, and although I liked the various plots, they were somewhat disjointed, somewhat as if they each - if fleshed out a bit - could be a separate book in a series of books.

I do want to check out what the author has done (and is now doing) since the publication of this debut novel. Her website is here.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

And the Winner Is ...

As promised, I have randomly selected (using one lucky person from those who left a comment on my review of The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. and will be passing along my copy to her.

And the winner is ...
Inside a Book!

(If you'll email me your snail mail address,
I'll get the book out to you shortly!)

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D.
by Nichole Bernier

Published in 2012 by Crown Publishers. 309 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Crown Publishers marketing assistant Danielle Crabtree, who had contacted me about reading and reviewing it.
Thanks, Danielle!

From the book jacket: Before there were blogs, there were journals. And in them we'd write as we really were, not as we wanted to appear. But there comes a day when journals outlive us. And with them, our secrets.

Epigraph: An excerpt from "Letter Much Too Late" - an essay by Wallace Stegner about his mother, written sixty years after she’d died, when Stegner was eighty:
Somehow I should have been able to say how strong and resilient you were, what a patient and abiding and bonding force, the softness that proved in the long run stronger than what it seemed to yield to. ... You are at once a lasting presence and an unhealed wound.
First paragraph: The George Washington Bridge had never been anything but strong and beautiful, its arches monumental, cables thin and high. Kate watched them spindling like ribs past the car window as her husband drove eastbound across the span. It was a testimony to optimism, a suspension bridge, each far-fetched plate, truss, and girder an act of faith against gravity and good sense.

From just these three bits of the book, I could tell that this novel was going to be a great read!

What I thought about the writing: An experienced magazine writer and editor, Nichole Bernier has readily applied her skills to her debut novel. With beautiful prose, she tells of Kate, who receives, following the sudden death of her friend Elizabeth, a trunk filled with Elizabeth's journals. Kate's story alternates between her actions in the present, as she reads Elizabeth's journals during her summer vacation, and her memories of Elizabeth and of her earlier life. It comes together in a stream-of-consciousness that reminded me of how my own mind works. Periodically interspersed in the third person narrative are excerpts from Elizabeth's journals themselves, and this epistolary form allows the reader insights into Elizabeth's life at the same time that Kate struggles to reconcile the woman she knew with the woman in the journal pages.

What I thought about the setting: Set in the summer following the September 11 attacks on the United States, the novel uses the general anxiousness of that time to add to the complexity of Kate's emotions after Elizabeth's death. Before I started reading, I had expected that Elizabeth's death occurred on 9-11. Initially I wondered why Bernier had complicated the story by having that event in the background, but I think it adds an emotional layer to the plot. The location of present-day action is also used effectively. Having Kate read the journals in a vacation house on beautiful Great Rock Island provides a nice juxtaposition to the anxiety and turmoil of coming to terms with her questions about Elizabeth - and the issues the journals raise in Kate's own life. By the way, I read a good chunk of this novel while on my own vacation, sitting in a beautiful garden; it was a lovely way to spend an afternoon!

What I thought about the themes: The best novels, in my opinion, are those that keep me thinking long after I finish the last page. The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. is such a book simply because of its many thought-provoking themes. Family. Friendship. Motherhood. Marriage. Stories. Secrets. Loss. And - most poignant for me - choice. An early passage provided a preview of what was to come:
"What are you guys talking about?" [Kate's young son] James asked.
"Just debating what we should do tomorrow," Kate said.
"I want to go to the beach. And play miniature golf," said James. "One in the morning, one in the afternoon. Then swim."
"Well, you can't do it all. Sometimes" - [Kate's husband] Chris wiped his mouth and glanced at Kate - "you have to make a choice."
Later, we read Elizabeth's words:
Every day consists of these tiny choices with 57,000 trickle-down effects. You catch a different subway and brush against a stranger with meningitis, or make eye contact with someone you fall in love with, or buy a lotto ticket in this bodega instead of that one and totally cash in, or miss the train that ends up derailing. Everything is so [freaking] arbitrary. Every move you make and a million ones you don't all have ramifications that mean life or death or love or bankruptcy or whatever. It could paralyze you if you let it. But you have to live your life. What's the alternative?

A brief note on content: If this novel were a movie, it would probably have a PG-13 rating - so although the passage I just quoted includes the f-word, profanity isn't pervasively used in the novel. Neither are there any explicit sexual situations or violence. I know that others are sometimes uncomfortable with content that I find acceptable - but I don't think most readers will be offended by the content of this book.

What some others have said about this book: Cindi aka Utah Mom said, "This contemporary piece of literature is honest, passionate and timely from a debut author." (Her full review is here.) Alison of Alison's Book Marks wrote, "A beautiful novel. At once an ode to friendship and a page-turning mystery." (Her full review is here.) Devourer of Books said that the book will "spark questions relevant to the reader’s own life." (Her full review is here.) Nancy Robertson reviewed the book for The Washington Post here.

For more information: Nichole Bernier's website is here. Her Facebook page is here.

To share in the love of a good book: Somewhat reluctantly - because I think I might want to re-read this one - I'm going to pass along my gently used copy of The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. to a randomly-selected reader of my blog. For a chance to win, simply leave a comment on this post by Wednesday, August 15. (U.S. residents only, please.)

A final thought: The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. would be an awesome book club pick - and there is a Book Club Discussion Guide here.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Conspiracy of Kings
by Megan Whalen Turner

Published in 2010 by Greenwillow Books.
Audiobook performed by Jeff Woodman.

The young adult novels I enjoy most are the ones that are excellent books that just happen to be written for young people. Some young adult novels - even if enjoyable - scream "YA" to me. But the best ones appear equally at home in my hands as in the hands of one of my teenagers. The four installments of Megan Whalen Turner's fantasy series that began with The Thief are such books. With complex characters, elaborate plots, and meaningful themes, these are just fabulous reads.

A Conspiracy of Kings is the fourth - and to-date the last - book about the thief Eugenides and his associates. This one is focused on and partially told from the viewpoint of Sophos, friend of Eugenides and heir to the throne of Sounis.

I absolutely loved it! This one may be my favorite of the four (although it's certainly difficult to pick just one). Sophos is a terrific character, and there are lots of twists and turns on his path. I also found the political intrigue fascinating. Megan Whalen Turner is a wonderful storyteller - and Jeff Woodman, who narrates the audiobooks, is one of the best narrators I've heard.

If you haven't read this series, be sure to start with The Thief (which I reviewed here) - and be sure to do it soon! (My thoughts about the second and third books, The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia, are here and here.)

The publisher has posted the author's discussion guide for the series here.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Bliss, Remembered by Frank DeFord

Published in 2010. 351 pages.

I really enjoyed this historical novel, which I read with my long-time book club a few months ago. I first became aware of the book when it was a Salt Lake County Reader's Choice nominee last year, and although I didn't find the time to read it then, I heard good things about it and was happy that the book club decided to read it together this year.

The novel starts as follows:
The summer after my mother [Sydney Stringfellow] found out that she was dying of cancer, she asked me to come visit and watch the Olympic swimming on television with her. It was 2004, when the Games were in Athens. Mom had been on the United States swimming team in the Berlin Olympics in 1936, when she was eighteen. While she never talked about the experience - she was, in fact, mysteriously silent on the subject - she would say, "That's the only thing of any real consequence I ever did in my life."

The story of Sydney's adventures in Berlin in 1936 and the aftermath of her love affair with the son of a Nazi diplomat is revealed to the reader primarily in her own voice as she shares the story with her son. I know that the narrator constantly calling her son by name ("Teddy ... Teddy ... Teddy") made my friend Chelsea crazy - but I think this story is well worth the read. The older Sydney is a delightful character, and the experiences of her younger self made for a compelling read.

NPR posted a fun story about the book and author Frank Deford here.

This year my book club has also read Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts and Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, and I think the three tie together nicely for a look at Hitler's Germany, the 1936 Olympics, and World War II.

As a group, my book club seems to gravitate toward stories set during World War II. Among the other novels we've read are Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Sarah's Key, Skeletons at the Feast, The True Story of Hansel and Gretel. What are some other WWII books that you'd recommend to the group?


Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Fatally Flaky by Diane Mott Davidson

Published in 2009 by William Morrow & Company.

I started reading this culinary mystery series many years ago - and I found this fifteenth episode still a fun diversion. As my friend Linda says, Davidson weaves a good story - and I love all the talk of yummy food!

I've recently started borrowing some Kindle books from my local library. The system is not entirely user-friendly - but it is convenient having a book automatically downloaded to my Kindle and then removed on the due date. Fatally Flaky is one of those I borrowed.


Sunday, July 01, 2012

By the Numbers
One-Half of 2012

Total books read year-to-date: 36.
(At this point last year, I had read 44 books. In each year beginning with 2007 - the year I created this blog - I read more books than I did the previous year. If I'm going to repeat that result in 2012, I think I'm just going to have to read faster!)

Fiction: 26.
Non-fiction: 10.

Audiobooks: 13.
(That more than one-third of my "reading" happened during my commuting time is somewhat disconcerting to me.)

On the Kindle: 5.
(I own three of these. I borrowed the other two from the Kindle Lending Library.)

Published in 2012: 0.
(Of all these numbers, this one surprises me most!)
Published prior to 1990: 1.

Books by male authors: 6.
Books by female authors: 30.

Books by new-to-me authors: 22.
(Some of those are debuts but most are just my first experience with the author. In most cases, I will be looking for more of the author's work!)

Books that are the first of a series: 4.
Books that are part of a series I started prior to 2012: 5.

Historical fiction: 5.

Biography, autobiography, or memoir: 6.

Young adult: 15.
Juvenile: 2.

Review copies: 2.

Read for my Teaching Through Literature class: 4.
Read with the "book lunch girls" (aka Natalie's Book Club): 6.
Read with my long-time book club: 5 (counting one that I also read with the "book lunch girls").

5-star rating: 4.
4-star rating: 22.
3-star rating: 9.
2-star rating: 1.

How is your 2012 reading adding up?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

We Have a Winner

Very belatedly, I have selected the winner to the Return to Exile give-away using (My sincere apologies for the tardiness. I guess I've prioritized the work that puts funds in my bank account, the sleep I need to function, and my reading time over this blog of late. Hopefully, I'll soon find a way to put more hours in my day!)

And the book goes to ... Sue.

You may be interested to know that E.J. Patten has posted a Book Group Discussion Guide for Return to Exile on his blog here.

You may also be interested to know that I have several review copies in my reading queue - so stay tuned for additional give-aways!

The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner

Published in 2008 by WaterBrook Press. 307 pages.
2009 Salt Lake County Library's Reader's Choice.

I chose The Shape of Mercy, which had been on my to-read list since 2009, as the June read for Natalie's Book Club. Only three of the group members read the book, but the six of us who were able to meet for lunch earlier this week still had a great discussion.

Back row (l-r) - Sue, Natalie, Holly.
Front row (l-r) - Leslie, Alison, Linda.

Like Katherine Howe's The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, this novel alternates between a contemporary storyline and one set during the Salem witch trials - which I find to be a fascinating time in history. It tells of the lives of three women - Lauren, a young college student, who goes to work for Abigail, an elderly librarian, to transcribe the diary of Mercy, a woman accused as a witch in 1692. The historical aspects actually seemed to be better developed, even though that story is told only through sparse diary entries.

A work of Christian fiction, The Shape of Mercy addresses the important theme of judgment. I think I agree with a member of the book group who described the moral message as "a little heavy-handed" - but it also provided me with good food for thought. What assumptions do I make about other people? How does that affect my ability to connect with or compassionately serve them? Do my judgments ever harm others?

Just today I discovered that Susan Meissner wrote a blog from October 2008 to November 2010 related to The Shape of Mercy. (You can find it here.) As explained in the first post of the blog:
Have you ever wished the characters you've read about in a book lived on after you turned the last page, that you had a backstage pass to their lives beyond the confines of the book's pages?

Here on The Shape of Mercy blog, Lauren, Abigail, Clarissa [a secondary character], and even Mercy, will live on in posts that will appear on Mondays and Fridays. We begin where the book left off.
What a fun concept!

A day or two before the book group meeting, I jotted down some possible discussion questions while I waited at the auto repair shop for my car. We considered some but not all of these at our lunch. (NOTE: I don't consider any of the questions to necessarily be "spoilers" - but if you, like my friend Chelsea, don't want to know much about a book before reading it, come back later to read the questions.)
  • What did you think of the title? Consider the implications of the word shape as well as those of mercy. What do you think Meissner was trying to say in the novel about "the shape of mercy"?

  • Comment on the theme of judgment. Did the juxtaposition of the two storylines as illustration of this theme work for you?

  • How much did you know about the Salem witch trials before you started reading this book? What did you think about Abigail's requirement that Lauren not research anything about the trials while she was transcribing the diary? Why do you think Abigail did that?

  • Did Mercy's story's ring true to you? What did you think about its conclusion? Was it satisfying to you on both an intellectual and an emotional level?

  • Were you surprised to discover why Abigail had chosen not to marry the man she man she loved? [By the way, I am almost always surprised by such "revelations" - but one book club member said it was quite obvious.] How do their circumstances further illustrate the theme of judgment?

  • What similarities and what differences do you see among the three main characters of the novel - Mercy, Abigail, and Lauren?

  • Comment on the quality of "Christian fiction." Among things to consider: Are excellence in writing and "cleanliness" mutually exclusive in modern works of fiction? Can a book have a positive moral message without being overly focused on religious practice? Why does much fiction ignore the spiritual or religious lives of people? [By the way, I frequently avoid Christian fiction because my experience has generally been that the writing is not stellar. I'm always pleased to find a novel - such as The Secret Life of Bees - that enhances my spiritual understanding without sacrificing superb writing.]

  • Do you love the feelings behind the following passage from the book as much as I do?
    In the beginning, I [Lauren] chalked up [Abigail's] talkative moods to being a retired librarian who missed being around people who loved books. I suppose that was a small part of it. But there were other reasons Abigail pounced on any opportunity to discuss a book we had both read. Dissecting a book was the same as making sense of life. You have to find a way to interpret life, or you'll go nuts. That's her way. It is also mine.

Monday, June 11, 2012

What I've Been "Reading" As I Commute

Seven of the last ten books I've read were audiobooks. Unfortunately, my "day job" is cutting deeply into my reading (and blogging) time at present - but at least I can "read" while commuting. Here are three of the books on CD I've finished in the past two months.

Innocent by Scott Turow
Published in 2010 by Hachette Audio.
Audiobook read by Edward Herrmann
and featuring Orlagh Cassidy.

I loved Presumed Innocent when I read it twenty-two years ago. I also loved this sequel, which continues the story of Rusty Sabich and Tommy Molto who are again - twenty-two years later - pitted against each other after the mysterious death of Rusty's wife.

Innocent is more psychological than I remember the original to be but with the same tightly-woven plot that kept me guessing. Listening to this one - about fourteen hours long on twelve CDs - made two weeks' worth of commuting almost fun!

(This book definitely contains adult language and themes.)


The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
by Aimee Bender

Published in 2010.
Audiobook read by the author.

I quite enjoyed this odd tale of magical realism. The writing is absolutely gorgeous, and the premise is unique. I will be definitely be looking for more from this author.

For the record, I was bothered about a couple of the realistic aspects, such as why no one seemed to have ever heard of a cell phone. I think that for the magical to be "believable," the realism has to be fully real.


Ten Miles Past Normal
by Frances O'Roark Dowell

Published in 2011.
Audiobook narrated by Jessica Almasy.

Delightful, even sweet, Ten Miles Past Normal is a wonderful depiction of a fourteen-year-old learning to be herself, striving to "live large" and accepting the fact that she can happily exist at a place "ten miles past normal."


Friday, May 11, 2012

Return to Exile by E.J. Patten

Illustrated by John Rocco.
Published in 2011 by Simon & Schuster. 500 pages.

As a participant in the
Return to Exile blog tour,
I received a copy of the book
from the publisher.
Thanks, Simon & Schuster!

First sentence: Phineas T. Pimiscule was not what you'd call an "attractive" man.

Plot summary (from the Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data): On the eve of his twelfth birthday, Sky, who has studied traps, puzzles, science, and the secret lore of the Hunters of Legend, realizes his destiny as a monster hunter.

Why I read this book: When I heard about the "spring re-launch" blog tour of this Fall 2011 publication - written by a Utah author and in my 13-year-old son's favorite genre - I knew I wanted to be part of the fun. I love to support local authors, both in person and on this blog. (Another local author's debut novel will be featured here soon!) Besides, I figured I could coerce my son into writing a review for the post.

What I thought: Return to Exile - while seeming to borrow a few concepts from Harry Potter - is immensely imaginative. There was one strange character who I had a hard time getting my head around - but for the most part I loved the creativity of Patten's world-building. One creature I particularly enjoyed was the giant Gnomon mother Rauschlot. I also appreciated that although the book is likely to be viewed as a "boy book" (a gender-biased concept I despise), the leader of the young monster hunters is female and the main character Sky has a sister who adds some comic relief. The plot of Return to Exile is quick-moving and compelling - which was crucial to my reading enjoyment given the exhaustion I've felt from my "day job" of late - but it is complicated and also quite intense and violent, which makes me think that the book is better for older kids than a "middle grade" label might imply. I look forward to the December release of the sequel The Legend Thief.

From the peanut gallery: A big fan of Brandon Mull, my 13-year-old son is probably the ideal audience for Return to Exile. As expected, he loved it!

In his own words -
Return to Exile was a complicated, hypnotizing book that could not have been more creative. E.J. Patten has obviously spent time and effort on the book. At night, I often role-played in my mind how the rest of the book would turn out, later finding out the next part was so much more mysterious and exciting.

My favorite character is Hands, who was brave, nice, and always full of the adventure-craving spirit. He was always craving danger but was kind and fun to laugh at his and Andrew's lame jokes.

The best monster would be a Shadow Warg. It just sounds so cool, and it's really powerful. It brings a cool image to my mind. It reminds me of a character in a graphic novel I read - mysterious and dark.

My 16-year-old daughter has been very busy studying for her AP exams, so her "fun" reading is on hold. She's eager to read Return to Exile, though, especially because she and I got to meet the author back in March at Writing for Charity.

A note about the illustrations: Caldecott honoree John Rocco of the Percy Jackson series created the cover art and the pictures that start each chapter. I think they are awesome!

For more information: Visit E.J. Patten's blog "Patten Pending" here. Visit John Rocco's website here. The blog tour calendar is here, with links to all the participant's posts; I particularly enjoyed Suey's "Authors Pick Five", the passages quoted by Booklogged, and Diana's post, which asks the probing question, "What's up with the goulash?" (Be forewarned: Diana includes a couple of spoilers.)

To share in the joy of a good book: An autographed copy of Return to Exile is available for an interested reader! I will randomly select one lucky person from among those that leave a comment on this post by Friday, June 1. For an additional chance, "like" the book's Facebook page here (and let me know you did so in your comment).


Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel

Subtitled Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana. Originally published in 2001. Audiobook read by the author.

More a collection of personal essays than a cohesive memoir, A Girl Named Zippy provided me with a week's worth of pleasurable commuting time. Laugh-out-loud funny at times, it also has some tender moments. I especially enjoyed Zippy talking about her relationship with her father and about her mother's faith.

I don't think I would have picked Zippy up on my own - but that's the beauty of participating in a book club. I look forward to discussing it over Thai food later this month. Maybe we'll look at some of the questions in the Reading Group Guide.


Thursday, May 03, 2012

Coming Soon!

Due to a late book shipment, I'll be a trailing participant in the blog tour for E.J. Patten's Return to Exile on May 11. Be watching for reviews from not only me but also my teens! Our tour stop will also include an autographed copy giveaway! In the meantime, why don't you check out some of the other tour stops? The tour calendar is here. You could also "like" the Facebook page here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

Subtitled A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are.
Published in 2010 by Zondervan. 237 pages.

"He hath filled the hungry with good things" (Luke 1:53).

Last fall when a new-comer to my long-time book club suggested that we read Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts this year, I knew nothing about the book. I knew nothing about Voskamp's popular blog. I had no reason to support that suggestion other than an attraction to the idea of learning to be more grateful in my daily life.

One Thousand Gifts ended up being our read for January, and I fell in love with this life-changing book!

Just for balance, before I rave some more, I'll say that most of the group did not love the book. Several of them found the poetic, not-necessarily-grammatical nature of Voskamp's writing to be distracting, even annoying, and they didn't read far into the book. I will admit that Voskamp's writing style is far removed from my own - but it didn't take me long to come to embrace her beautiful words. One group member chose to not read the book at all, with the assertion that she already knew how to keep a gratitude journal. It is true that the basic concept of creating a list of things for which one is grateful is nothing new. This book, however, is so much more than that!

Because all of the members of the book club are Christian, though with different church affiliations and levels of activity, I don't think that the book's religiosity was a deterrent to their enjoyment of the book - but so as not to misinform any potential readers, I will mention that Voskamp's premise is solidly based on Christian theology, and she references the Bible frequently.

For me, reading One Thousand Gifts was the perfect way to begin the year 2012. I found the book insightful and meaningful, and I learned a lot about myself as I read Voskamp's thoughts. The title alone was an impetus to my choice of Fullness as my "one little word" for the year. (For more information about the "one little word" concept, see Ali Edwards' blog posts here.) As I read I learned more about what "fullness" can mean for me, and I felt immersed in the abundance of God's grace. I enjoy books for many reasons, but much of my reading is for "fun." A lot of it is escapist, taking me to other worlds just for the experience. The books I really love, though - fiction or nonfiction - change me somehow, allowing me to see myself or the world in which I live in a new way. One Thousand Gifts is such a book.

On the surface, I don't have much in common with Ann Voskamp. I'm an accountant who works in a downtown office building. She's a farmer's wife, attached to the land in ways I doubt I'll ever understand. She homeschools her six children. I have half as many kids, and I'm a big advocate of the public education system. I have a master's degree. She never finished university. Nonetheless, I feel a connection to Ann Voskamp, as we both strive to walk a grace-filled life.

By the way, I bought One Thousand Gifts for my Kindle, which allowed me to easily mark some the passages that I loved most. Here are just three:
Thanksgiving creates abundance; and the miracle of multiplying happens when I give thanks - take the just one loaf, say it is enough, and give thanks - and He miraculously makes it more than enough.
When we find ourselves groping along, famished for more, we can choose. When we are despairing, we can choose to live as Israelites gathering manna. For forty long years, God's people daily eat manna - a substance whose name literally means "What is it?" Hungry, they choose to gather up that which is baffling. They fill on that which has no meaning. More than 14,600 days they take their daily nourishment from that which they don't comprehend. They find soul-filling in the inexplicable. They eat the mystery. They eat the mystery. And the mystery, that which made no sense, is "like wafers of honey" on the lips.
Count blessings and discover Who can be counted on. ... Is that why the Israelites kept recounting their past - to trust God for their future? Remembering is an act of thanksgiving, a way of thanksgiving, this turn of the heart over time's shoulder to see all the long way His arms have carried.

I suspect I will be thinking about Ann Voskamp's ideas for a long time. Just today I discovered a 19-page readers' guide on her website. I think I'll use that guide as I re-read One Thousand Gifts in the coming months, seeking to more fully live it.


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick

Published in 2010 by Scholastic Inc.
Audiobook performed by Nick Podehl.

After Ever After is the fabulous sequel to Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie (which I read in 2010). There are some great life lessons here, maybe especially for young teens but actually for everyone. As the back cover says, "After Ever After is a real, tender, hopeful, and funny story about what happens when you stop surviving and start living again."

I was thrilled that I was able to convince my 12-year-old son to read both books. He's usually more excited about fantasy than he is about realistic fiction, but he ended up loving these! I think he could really relate to both eighth-grade protagonists - Steven in Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie and his little brother Jeffrey in After Ever After. (That parallelism was very fun for me too.)

I "read" this via audiobook. It has four discs, running 4 hours and 37 minutes. The narrator was fantastic!

After Ever After is a nominee for the 2012 Beehive awards, sponsored by the Children's Literature Association of Utah.


Friday, January 27, 2012

An Unquenchable Thirst
by Mary Johnson

Subtitled Following Mother Teresa in Search
of Love, Service, and an Authentic Life
Published in 2011. 526 pages.

I don't think I would have ever picked up this memoir of a former Catholic sister on my own, but I read it for the December meeting of my long-time book club - which we never held because of holiday scheduling difficulties. We did meet last night at Paradise Bakery, and over soup, sandwiches, salads, and chocolate chip cookies we talked about both this book and the pick for January.

Although the book is long, it is definitely readable. I think it's a meaningful read on three different levels: (1) as an example of the power of women telling their own stories, (2) as a critique of the structure and culture of the Missionaries of Charity organization, and (3) as a impetus for personal reflection on (and group discussion about) faith, love, and service.

For more information, check out Mary Johnson's website here.


Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Published in 2011 by HarperCollins Children's Books. 262 pages.
2011 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.
2012 Newbery Honor Book.

A beautifully-written, delightful and moving autobiographical story of a young Vietnamese girl who flees Saigon at the end of the war with her mother and brothers, relocating to the foreign world of Alabama. Well-deserving of its awards!


Monday, January 02, 2012

By the Numbers
For the Year 2011

Total books read: 93. (My goal for the year was 104 books. As late as Thanksgiving, I thought I might meet that goal. Alas. My goal for 2012 will again be 104 books.)

Fiction: 81.
Non-fiction: 11.
Poetry: 1.

Audiobooks: 24. (I'm amazed that one-fourth of my total "reading" happened via my ears!)

On the Kindle: 6. (Obviously, my Kindle - which I've had since May - isn't replacing traditional books, but it is a nice addition.)

Books by male authors: 31.
Books by female authors: 62.
Anthologies: 1.
(Note: These numbers don't add up because one book I read - The Future of Us - was a collaboration between a woman and a man.)

Published in 2011: 24.
Published prior to 1990: 6.

Re-reads: 1.

Historical fiction: 15.

Biography, autobiography, or memoir: 7.

Young adult: 46. (Wow! Almost half of my reading was YA.)
Juvenile: 8.

Read for my Teaching Through Literature class: 7.
Read with the "book lunch girls" (aka Natalie's Book Club): 10.
Read with my long-time book club: 7.

5-star rating: 5. (These were The Handmaid's Tale, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Okay for Now, Open, and Sisterhood Everlasting.)
4-star rating: 66.
3-star rating: 22.

What were your reading numbers for 2011? What are your goals for 2012?