Monday, December 29, 2008

Recovering from the Holidays

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. I enjoyed time with friends and family. I always have a hard time waiting for Christmas because I want my family to open the gifts that I bought them. The anticipation of watching them open gifts drives me crazy. I badgered my husband so much that he finally relented and opened a couple presents before Christmas morning. Of course, he made me open one for every one that he opened. We'll be married 22 years in May, and it is starting to show. We are beginning to think alike. We both bought each other a CD. We both bought each other books. The funniest thing is the big gift that we got each other. He got a Harley Davidson motorcycle back in August. He's been wanting a HD leather jacket, but they're very expensive. So, I started looking around and found one on eBay for less than $200 with free shipping/handling. It was new with the tags. So, of course I ordered it for him and couldn't wait for him to open it. Little did I know, but he had done the same thing. He ordered the exact same coat (except mine is a woman's) for me. Both of our boys knew what we had gotten each other and couldn't wait to see us open our gifts. It was pretty funny. The boys got me a beautiful piece of pottery and a digital picture frame. Of course, the best part was all being together -- happy and healthy. I'm looking forward to a great 2009! I wish everyone the same thing.

In case you're curious, the books that I received for Christmas are:

If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino
Serena by Ron Rash
Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman
The Gravedigger's Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I've started If on a winter's night a traveler. I really don't know what to expect from this one. It sounds so very strange. However, there is a really nice introduction that has helped somewhat. I love the idea of this book, and I hope I'll actually enjoy reading it, as well.

I finished Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier and really enjoyed it. I"ll be posting a short review soon. I also hope to catch up on my blog reading over the next couple of days. Right now, I'm off to clean out a couple of closets.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Christmas Letters by Lee Smith

This is a novella by the North Carolina author who wrote On Agate Hill and The Last Girls to name just a few. It tells the story of three generations of women through the annual Christmas letters they write to friends and family. I always enjoy reading books that are told through letters and/or diary entries. This is a new take on that format for me. It really worked well in this case. You'd think that you couldn't convey all that much about a family in a relatively short annual letter; however, Smith manages to paint a vivid picture of these characters and how their lives are intertwined over place and time. It begins with Birdie writing home to her family as she is spending her first days away from home with her in-laws while her new husband is away fighting in WWII. Smith captures the excitement and the fear in the young bride's words without being overly sentimental. Birdie describes how much she loves taking care of her new baby, Mary in subsequent letters.

It's this same child that takes up writing Christmas letters for the family years later. Mary had always been a very intelligent girl and dreamed of going to college. However, she quits school to elope. The children soon begin to come and life takes over as it often does. The reader sees the passage of time in society as well as in the family as the letters continue throughout the years. Just as in real life, there are joys and heartbreaks along the way.

It's Mary's daughter Melanie who takes up the post to write the Christmas letters when she comes of age. Though things have changed in many ways, they are still a family. As always, Lee Smith does a great job portraying these characters as real people that I easily identify with. This is a book that I'll probably revisit often at Christmas.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fleece Navidad by Maggie Sefton

I know it's hard to believe, but I actually finished this book. It's been lingering in my 'currently reading' sidebar for what seems like ages. Again, I have to blame it on the furious knitting activity that has been taking place at my house. I've finished two scarves and four hats in the last couple of weeks. That may not seem like a whole lot, but combined with work and getting ready for Christmas, it's pretty good. I wrapped my very last gift last night, and now I can get back to reading!

This book is part of the Knitting Mystery series by Maggie Sefton. I've read all of the previous five books and have enjoyed them. However, this one was kind of a let down. I don't think it is actually the book itself. I just think I'm tired of the series. I begin to lose interest with the same set of characters, same setting, and similar plot lines after several books. The biggest draw for me in the beginning was all the references to knitting -- descriptions of new projects, luscious yarns, etc. However, I don't think even that can keep me interested much longer.

Kelly Flynn, CPA and part-time sleuth, gets involved in another mystery in the small Colorado town of Fort Connor when a woman is killed in a hit and run. At first it appears to be an accident, but it soon turns out to be something more sinister.

I am not usually a very astute reader. I don't normally look for the clues in mysteries. So, even though I may have some idea about who dunnit, I'm not usually sure about it until close to the end of the book. However, in this case, it was blatantly obvious early on. Again, it's a fun read, but I think I need to take a break from the series, at least for a while.

One thing I did like about this one is that it contained more than the usual one recipe and one knitting pattern. Instead, it contained five knitting patterns and seven recipes.

I'm beginning Lee Smith's Christmas Letters today and look forward to something with a little more substance.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Secret Santa has Arrived!

I got home from work yesterday and had several packages waiting on me. One contained several things I ordered for my husband for Christmas and the other was from my Secret Santa. It turns out that my Secret Santa is Lisa C. from BooksListsLife in South Dakota. My box contained a Ruth Rendell Inspector Wexford Mystery, End in Tears. It also contained a package of lovely bookplates and an adorable cloth jewelry bag. I know I should really post a picture, but I forgot my camera. It's always so exciting to receive gifts in the mail, especially when they're as nice as this one. Thanks, Lisa! Another nice surprise is the fact that I've discovered a new book blogger that I didn't know before.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Read Your Name Challenge

O.K., I think I can handle this one, too. Victoria is hosting the Read Your Name Challenge 2009. The idea is simple -- read books that begin with the letters of your name. For me, this will only require four books! Visit Victoria's challenge blog for all the rules. Here is my list:

L = Love in the time of Cholera (overlap with What's in a Name Challenge)

I= Icy Sparks by Gwyn Rubio

S= The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

A = Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout OR Anna Karenia by Tolstoy

Once again, these are all books that I already own. So, I'm not buying new books, and I'm whittling away at the tbr mountain.

Let's Try this Again!

I don't consider myself all that great at finishing reading challenges; however, that doesn't mean that I don't like signing up for them and deciding which books I want to read. It's fun to look through all the books I have patiently waiting to be read and try to match them up with these creative reading challenges. I will try not to sign up for too many in 2009, but I'm not going to make any hasty promises. The first one I'm signing up for is one that I haven't attempted in the past -- What's in a Name? Go take a look at Annie's blog for the official rules.

These are my choices for this challenge (so far):

What’s in a Name Challenge 2009

  • A book with a profession in its title: The Archivist by Martha Cooley OR Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
  • A book with the time of day in its title: The Curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon
  • A book with a relative in its title: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger OR The Good Mother by Sue Miller OR The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards OR The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton
  • A book with a body part in its title: One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash
  • A book with a building in its title: Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
  • A book with a medical condition in its title: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

We'll see how this one goes. I'm excited about my choices for this one. To make it even better, all of these are books from my own personal stacks, so I'm not buying new books.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Year End Reading Wrap Up

I know 2008 is not technically over, yet. However, I know how busy I'm going to be for the remainder of the year. So, I'm going to go ahead and do my end of year wrap up. I guess I was semi-successful with the reading challenges that I participated in this year. At least I was more successful this year than last year. That's progress, right? I completed the following challenges:

Maggie's Southern Reading Challenge

Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge

Carl's R.I.P. III Challenge

I almost completed Andi's Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge. I finished every book through September. If I could have managed to read The Human Stain by Philip Roth, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and a short story collection, I would have completed this challenge. But, I did read nine of the twelve books for this challenge. So, that's pretty good.

I did terrible with the Orbus Terrarum Challenge. There were nine books for this one, and I think I read four.

I also set myself the challenge to read 52 books this year. I know that isn't a huge number compared with some of you that I see in the book blogging world. But, with my schedule, that's a reasonable number -- one a week. I'm happy to report that I have actually surpassed that goal this year. As of right now, I have read 62 books! I know I will complete at least one more. I'm hoping to read three more before January 1. Either way, I'm happy with this number.

Some statistics just for fun:

Fiction: 59
Non-Fiction: 3
YA: 9
Poetry: 1
Classics: 6
Southern Literature: 6
ARC: 4
Graphic Novels: 2
Books in Series: 11
Own: 55
Borrowed: 7
Mystery: 3
Gothic: 4

Nothing really very surprising here. I always read a lot more fiction, and I love the classics and Southern lit. As you can tell, I also buy most of my books. The only time I borrow a book from the library or from someone is when it is for a book club and it's not something I would want to read otherwise. I guess the biggest surprises would have to be the graphic novels and the YA lit. Maus I and Maus II were actually the first two graphic novels I've ever read. I wasn't sure how I would like the experience, but I was pleasantly surprised.

I tried to come up with a top 5 for 2008, but it is absolutely impossible. So, I'm choosing a top 10 instead. I don't finish books that I don't like so I like everything that I read. Of course, I like some more than others, but it's still a difficult task to choose.

Here is my top 10 list for 2008 in no particular order:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Speaking of Love by Angela Young
Light in August by William Faulkner
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

I like looking back over what I've read throughout the year. Thinking about a book I've read takes me back to the time and place when I was reading it. Now, I'm looking forward to the holidays, some well deserved time off work, and planning what I want to read in 2009!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Book Club 2009

One of my book clubs met Tuesday night for the last time in 2008. We had a really nice time. For something a little different, we had a book exchange. We all brought a book that meant something to us. The books were all nicely wrapped and looked really pretty sitting in the middle of the table. The books were numbered and we each drew a number to determine who got which book. Then, we each went around the room and showed the book that we received, and the person that brought that book explained why she chose that book and why it is special to her. It was really neat. I received One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash. The person who brought it explained that this is one of her favorite authors, and that this was his first book. She is currently reading his latest book, Serena, which she says she can't put down. An extra bonus is that he's a North Carolina author.

I took To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This is my all-time favorite book. It's the first book that I remember reading that made a huge impact on me. I was 14 years old, and I read it on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Autumn. I read the entire book while laying in a hammock in our side yard. I've reread it many times since that day. A couple years ago, my husband found me a first edition copy on eBay for our anniversary. I learned later that he had searched for months. Needless to say, this is one of my most treasured books.

We also set our reading calendar for 2009. Surprisingly enough, I haven't read any of these books. However, I do have several in the stacks at home. Here's the list:

The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
by John Boyne
Three Cups of Tea
by Greg Mortenson
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines
Cold Sassy Tree
by Olive Ann Burns
The Camel Bookmobile
by Masha Hamilton
The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard
Run by Ann Patchett
Tortilla Curtain by T.C Boyle
One Book/One Community (tba -- we'll participate in the county reading program)
Nickel & Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
The Christmas Letters by Lee Smith

I'm pretty excited about most of these. The only one I probably wouldn't read on my own is Nickel & Dimed simply because I don't usually read that type if non-fiction. But, I'll probably read and may even like it. That has certainly happened in the past. That's one of the great things about a book club. It sometimes forces you to stretch your reading horizons a bit.

I'm still only reading little bits here and there -- certainly not like I normally read. But, I've finished a couple of the items I'm knitting for Christmas and hopefully will have more time to read soon. I'm starting to have some serious withdrawals.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Therese Raquin

I finished this book a while ago and just haven't had time to post about it. I've been busy knitting desperately trying to get some Christmas presents done. I really haven't been doing much reading at all. I have started a 'knitting novel' for one of my December book clubs, though.

This novel by Emile Zola apparently caused quite a stir when it was first published in 1868. The novel tells the tragic story of Therese and her lover Laurent and the lengths that they go to in order to be together. For the time, the sex scenes were quite explicit, and the author was actually accused of pornography. I personally didn't think they were that explicit and don't think most people today would be offended by them. The Penguin Classics edition that I read contains a preface in which Zola defends his work against these accusations.

Therese is taken in by a woman after she is orphaned and is raised with the woman's sickly son, Camille. It's just assumed by all that the two will marry one day, which they do. The three live a relatively happy life until Camille brings a young man home with him one day. Laurent awakens feelings in Therese that she has never experienced before. The two begin an affair and become obsessed with possessing each other. This is not a sweet story of a forbidden love. Instead, it quickly turns into a very dark tale, and Therese and Laurent find themselves in a living nightmare.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman

I've had this book forever and just finally got around to reading it. The book begins,
"Be careful what you wish for. I know that for a fact. Wishes are brutal, unforgiving things. They burn your tongue the moment they're spoken and you can never take them back. They bruise and bake and come back to haunt you. I've made far too many wishes in my lifetime, the first when I was eight years old."

The story is told in this first-person voice throughout the book, and we never learn the narrator's name. In fact, when I got ready to post this, I had to go back and make sure that I hadn't just missed her name. I know this was a conscious decision by the author. It fits very well with the loneliness and guilt that the narrator carries. She doesn't feel that she deserves to be known because of that wish that she believes changed the course of her life.

She spends her life avoiding meaningful relationships with people. The only person she believes has ever truly loved her despite her flaws is her grandmother who cares for her and her brother after her mother dies. However, when her grandmother dies many years later, the young woman is thrown into a tail spin all over again. Though they've never really been all that close, her brother convinces her to move to Florida where he and his wife are college professors. She continues to drift through her life until the unthinkable happens. She makes another wish that comes true. She is hit by lightning, which begins another strange chapter in her life. Through a lightning survivor study group at the college, she learns about Lazarus Jones, a man who is said to have died for forty minutes after his lightning strike. Having always been fascinated by death, she seeks him out hoping to learn something from him.

This a short, powerful book. Like most of Hoffman's books, the reader has to be able to suspend disbelief. However, she makes it quite easy to do so. Though her premise is strange, I didn't really question anything about it. The book is heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time and one I highly recommend.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Top Selling Books

USA Today's Top Selling Books of the last 15 years Meme!
I got this from Maggie's blog

Here are the rules: Bold what you've read, italicize what you own, star* books on your TBR list!

1 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - J.K. Rowling
2 Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution - Robert C. Atkins
3 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
4 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling
5 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J.K. Rowling
6 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling
7 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J.K. Rowling
8 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K. Rowling
9 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J.K. Rowling
10 Who Moved My Cheese? - Spencer Johnson
11 The South Beach Diet - Arthur Agatston
12 Tuesdays With Morrie - Mitch Albom
13 Angels & Demons - Dan Brown
14 What to Expect When You're Expecting - Murkoff, etal.
15 The Purpose-Driven Life - Rick Warren
16 The Five People You Meet in Heaven - Mitch Albom
17 The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People - Stephen R. Covey
18 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
19 Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus - John Gray
20 The Secret - Rhonda Byrne
21 Rich Dad, Poor Dad - Robert T. Kiyosaki
22 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
23 Don't Sweat the Small Stuff - and It's All Small Stuff - Richard Carlson
24 The Secret Life of Bees - Sue Monk Kidd
25 Eat, Pray, Love - Elizabeth Gilbert
26 Twilight - Stephenie Meyer
27 The Notebook - Nicholas Sparks
28 The Memory Keeper's Daughter - Kim Edwards
29 The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
30 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
31 A New Earth - Eckhart Tolle
32 Oh, the Places You'll Go! - Dr. Seuss
33 The Four Agreements - Don Miguel Ruiz
34 Angela's Ashes - Frank McCourt
35 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
36 Body-for-Life - Bill Phillips, Michael D’Orso
37 New Moon - Stephenie Meyer
38 Night - Elie Wiesel
39 Chicken Soup for the Soul - Jack Canfield, etal.
40 The Greatest Generation - Tom Brokaw
41 Breaking Dawn - Stephenie Meyer
42 The Celestine Prophecy - James Redfield
43 Wicked - Gregory Maguire
44 Good to Great - Jim Collins
45 Eclipse - Stephenie Meyer
46 Eragon - Christopher Paolini
47 Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood - Rebecca Wells
48 Your Best Life Now - Joel Osteen
49 In the Kitchen With Rosie - Rosie Daley
50 Simple Abundance - Sarah Ban Breathnach
51 A Child Called It - Dave Pelzer
52 A Million Little Pieces - James Frey
53 The Testament - John Grisham
54 Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul - Jack Canfield, etal.
55 Deception Point - Dan Brown
56 The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
57 Marley & Me - John Grogan
58 Dr. Atkins' New Carbohydrate Gram Counter - Robert C. Atkins
59 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
60 The Brethren - John Grisham
61 The South Beach Diet Good Fats Good Carbs Guide - Arthur Agatston
62 The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town - John Grisham
63 For One More Day - Mitch Albom
64 The Polar Express - Chris Van Allsburg
65 The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
66 The Last Lecture - Randy Pausch, Jeffrey Zaslow
67 What to Expect the First Year - Arlene Eisenberg, etal.
68 Love You Forever - Robert Munsch
69 Green Eggs and Ham - Dr. Seuss
70 A Painted House - John Grisham
71 The Rainmaker - John Grisham
72 Skipping Christmas - John Grisham
73 Cold Mountain - Charles Frazier
74 The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time - Mark Haddon
75 Life Strategies - Phillip C. McGraw
76 Seabiscuit: An American Legend - Laura Hillenbrand
77 The Summons - John Grisham
78 Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - John Berendt
79 The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien
80 The Runaway Jury - John Grisham
81 Goodnight Moon - Margaret Wise Brown
82 The Perfect Storm - Sebastian Junger
83 Snow Falling on Cedars - David Guterson
84 The Giver - Lois Lowry
85 Embraced by the Light - Betty J. Eadie
86 The Chamber - John Grisham
87 You: On A Diet - Michael F. Roizen, Mehmet C. Oz
88 The Prayer of Jabez - Bruce Wilkinson
89 Holes - Louis Sachar
90 Digital Fortress - Dan Brown
91 The Shack - William P. Young
92 The Devil Wears Prada - Lauren Weisberger
93 Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen
94 A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini
95 The Seat of the Soul - Gary Zukav
96 Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul - Jack Canfield, etal.
97 The Partner - John Grisham
98 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
99 Eldest: Inheritance, Book II - Christopher Paolini
100 The Broker - John Grisham
101 The Street Lawyer - John Grisham
102 A Series of Unfortunate Events - Lemony Snicket
103 The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver
104 Into the Wild - Jon Krakauer
105 The King of Torts - John Grisham
106 The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell
107 The Horse Whisperer - Nicholas Evans
108 Hannibal - Thomas Harris
109 The Audacity of Hope - Barack Obama
110 Running With Scissors - Augusten Burroughs
111 The Glass Castle: A Memoir - Jeannette Walls
112 My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult
113 The Last Juror - John Grisham
114 The Devil in the White City - Erik Larson
115 Left Behind - Tim LaHaye, Jerry B. Jenkins
116 America (The Book) - Jon Stewart
117 The Red Tent - Anita Diamant
118 John Adams - David McCullough
119 The Christmas Box - Richard Paul Evans
120 The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants - Ann Brashares
121 Sugar Busters! - Leighton Steward, etal.
122 Blink - Malcolm Gladwell
123 The Power of Now - Eckhart Tolle
124 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life - Don Piper
125 The Fellowship of the Ring - J.R.R. Tolkien
126 1776 - David McCullough
127 The Bridges of Madison County - Robert James Waller
128 Where the Heart Is - Billie Letts
129 The Ultimate Weight Solution - Phillip C. McGraw
130 Protein Power - Mr. & Mra. Michael R. Eades
131 Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul - Jack Canfield, etal.
132 Into Thin Air - Jon Krakauer
133 Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
134 Three Cups of Tea - Greg Mortenson, David Oliver Relin
135 You: The Owner's Manual - Michael F. Roizen, Mehmet C. Oz
136 1,000 Places to See Before You Die: A Traveler’s Life List - Patricia Schultz
137 Self Matters - Phillip C. McGraw
138 She's Come Undone - Wally Lamb
139 1984 - George Orwell
140 The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis
141 The Millionaire Next Door - Thomas J. Stanley
142 The Other Boleyn Girl - Philippa Gregory
143 The Zone - Barry Sears, Bill Lawren
144 The Pilot's Wife - Anita Shreve
145 The Lost World - Michael Crichton
146 Atonement - Ian McEwan
147 He's Just Not That Into You - Greg Behrendt, Liz Tuccillo
148 Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
149 The World Is Flat - Thomas L. Friedman
150 Cross - James Patterson

I always think I'll have read more of the books on these types of lists than I actually have. All of the ones that are in italics are ones that I own and plan to read so I didn't * them.

I've been reading a great deal about the economy and how the publishing industry is suffering as a result along with everyone else. I always buy books as gifts whenever possible, and this Christmas will be no different. But, I saw something neat on Book Club Girl's blog. Check it out here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Christmas Swap 2008

I just found this at Nymeth's blog. I participated in this last year as a brand new blogger. It was so much fun. I'm definitely going to participate again this year. She asked that we help spread the word, so that's what I'm doing. Go check it out here to get more information.

The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday

Well, it's finally happened. I'm a little disappointed in one of Alexander McCall Smith's books. I've read every one of his 44 Scotland Street series, one of the No. 1 Ladies Detective series (there are just too many for me to get started on these!), and all of the The Sunday Philosophy Club series. Up until this point, I've loved them all. They're always funny, witty, insightful and just plain fun. However, this last installment of the Sunday Philosophy Club, The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday, fell a little flat for me. Isabel Dalhousie just didn't seem to be herself at all in this installment. The mystery portion of the book, which is never the focus of the novels, was pretty much nonexistent. It could have been left out altogether. I can't really put my finger on it, but she wasn't her normal, witty self. I didn't seem to enjoy those interior monologues of hers in which she struggles with herself over seemingly minor events. I usually find myself smiling quite often while reading these books, but it just didn't happen this time. Maybe it was just me. I'll continue to read these books, but I hope the Isabel I know and love makes a return.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Book Clubs

Because of rescheduling, both of my face-to-face book clubs met this week. On Tuesday night, we met to discuss The Broker by John Grisham, which I didn't get to read. The discussion was good and everyone seemed to have liked the book -- lots of international intrigue and political corruption. Following the lively discussion, we made plans for our December meeting, which will include bringing our favorite book wrapped nicely for an exchange. Our December meeting is usually very informal. Everyone is choosing to read any type of Christmas book. We also chose our books for the coming year. I don't have my list with me right now, but I'll share that later.

Last night, I met with my other group, and we had a local author/speaker come in to talk to us. It was really nice. Fred T. Morgan is a Stanly County (NC) native who worked his entire career as the Features Editor at the local newspaper (Stanly News & Press). However, his passion is researching the local folklore, ghost tales and other colorful stories from the area residents. He has written seven books. Several of the books are collections of ghost tales that he listened to growing up. He said that his family spent evenings telling stories in front of the fireplace -- all trying to outdo each other. His last two books depart a little from the supernatural tales. Uwharrie Bizarres is a collection of true stories from local residents. Morgan says that this is his favorite of all his books. His newest book is called Come to the Lobby, which is a collection of stories from his days in the news room. It seems that he was the person that was called to the lobby to talk to anyone walking in with information they felt was newsworthy.

I bought several of his books, including a couple copies of his newest for Christmas presents. I think my dad and uncle will enjoy these stories. I'm sure I'll enjoy reading the stories, as well. However, I enjoyed his talk probably more than I'll enjoy the stories themselves. He was fascinating. He's in his 80s and he's full of life and energy. He shared the story of how he came to be a book lover at the age of 8 years old. The librarian at his school physically pulled him into the stacks and opened a book in front of him. She told him to take it home that he would love it. It was full of adventure and fun. He reluctantly took it home and was immediately drawn into the story. I wish you could hear him tell about his experience. He described her as the stereotypical librarian (including the glasses and the bun). He worked in the library for several years as he got older. She would send students to him for reading recommendations. When He got to high school, he began to neglect the school library and the librarian, but he continued reading. She died and was buried before he ever heard about her illness. He says that he regrets to this day that he never thanked her for taking a personal interest in him as a child and putting him on a different path as a lifelong reader and writer. He asked everyone there to always thank the librarian for the help we receive, which made me feel good.

He does his own research, usually in person. He doesn't own a computer and says that he has no desire to learn. He writes in long hand on a legal pad and types out his manuscripts on his old manual typewriter. He's not a famous author and not known outside of this area of North Carolina, but he is a treasure just the same.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sometimes Life Gets in the Way

I have actually been reading even though I haven't been posting. I've finished two books that I really enjoyed since I last posted here. Before I get too behind, I thought I better go ahead and just give you my (very) brief thoughts.

The first book is The Sister by Poppy Adams. This is a book that reminded me a little of The Thirteenth Tale. Sisters and the bond they share throughout life plays a big role in both of those books. Both of the books have that Gothic element to them, as well. I actually finished The Sister around Halloween, which was perfect timing. Another similarity is the unreliable narrator. However, in this book, you don't know that right away. The reader picks up subtle hints along the way until finally you realize that things are not as they appear. I really enjoyed this one. My only little qualm with the book is the long, detailed descriptions of the study of moths. I know that this played a role in letting the reader figure out things about the narrator, but I did find myself skimming some the longer passages. I highly recommend this one. Hopefully, this author will continue writing. I'd like to see what she comes up with next.

The other book I finished is Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. These two books couldn't be more different. I find that I've been doing that quite often lately. Instead of reading a lot of the same kinds of books, I'm going in totally different directions every time I choose a new book to read. This one was just pure fun. Miss Pettigrew is a middle-age spinster (she's only 40!) who is in desperate need of a position as a governess so that she can pay her rent on her flat. She shows up at the lavish apartment of Miss LaFosse, a nightclub singer. From the minute the door opens, her life is changed forever. She is swept up into a life that until now she has only experienced through her one guilty pleasure -- "talkies." She goes from one outlandish situation to another as she slowly begins to realize that life hasn't passed her by after all. This is a quick, fun read. I know this was made into a movie last year, but I didn't see it. I may have to see if I can rent it. I think it would be hilarious on film.

Friday, October 24, 2008

On Agate Hill by Lee Smith

I reluctantly finished On Agate Hill last night. I initially got a slow start with the book, but that had nothing to do with the book itself. It was simply me being stressed and in a weird mood. The book is written as a series of diary entries with a few poems, letters and other documents scattered throughout. I usually like this style because you get inside the character's head. You know what they're thinking and feeling at all times. Interestingly enough however, in this case, that doesn't mean that I understood everything that was going on. I still have questions about certain things now. I guess that is truly the mark of a good writer. Smith uses this straight-forward form but still manages to make the reader think and interpret the action and motives of the characters.

The basic story is that of Molly Petree who is orphaned by the American Civil War. We learn about Molly's life with her Aunt and Uncle following the death of her family through her diary entries. From the beginning, you realize that she's ahead of her time. She isn't interested in the things that most little girls of the period are interested in. She has a burning desire to learn and travel and see the world. She wants to experience everything that she can. Unfortunately, she's stuck on a remote plantation, which has seen better days. Molly must face more adversity as things continue to go from bad to worse.

The next section of the book deals with Molly's life after she ends up in a boarding school due to the generosity of her benefactor, Simon Black who suddenly appears at Agate Hill one day. He was a childhood friend of her parents who promised her dying father that he would look after her. Molly seems to thrive at the school making friends and taking advantage of the opportunity to learn all that she can. Following an event reminiscent of something that happened to her as a child, she leaves the school and begins teaching in a remote mountain school. She has had no shortage of male attention throughout her life; however, she has never had an interest in a serious relationship. Things change when she meets Jacky Jarvis. Will she marry this reckless man or accept the proposal of the more steady Henderson Hanes who can finally offer her the one thing she has never had -- security. The rest of the book deals with her life after she marries. She goes through a great deal as a wife and mother, but through it all she remains strong and proud.

There is a great deal more that could be said about this book, but I don't want to give too much away. It is very well-written and thought-provoking. I still have a few questions in my mind regarding Simon Black and something that happens to Molly's husband. I think I'll head over to LibraryThing and see if I can join in a discussion about this one. I really can't recommend this one enough.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Back in the Saddle

Well, it's Monday morning, and I'm back at work. We got home from our weekend trip yesterday evening. We had a great time. We left home early Saturday morning and stopped for a nice breakfast before we left town. I had a Belgian waffle, which was heavenly! During the week, I usually eat a bowl of oatmeal or some cottage cheese and fruit. So, a hot waffle that's crusty on the outside and soft on the inside with a huge dollop of melting butter and warm syrup is a special treat for me.

We got to Seagrove around 10:00 AM and found the visitor's center. Seagrove was not exactly what I had expected. I had a quaint little village in my head with all of these potteries within walking distance of the downtown area. Instead, it's a small town with potteries scattered here and there along Highway 705, also known as Potters Highway. So, instead of walking to all of the potteries, we had to drive to most of them. There are a few that are close together right in the heart of the downtown area. We did get a few nice pieces. My husband likes pieces that have a salt glaze (which has a speckled appearance). I got a beautiful cyrstalline bud vase in blue and yellow, which just happens to match my kitchen perfectly. They actually grow crystals on the pots somehow and it makes a really pretty design. I dont' know much about pottery and the different glazes, but the potters are very friendly and are more than happy to show you how they make these beautiful pots. Even though we saw a bunch of beautiful pottery, my favorite shop was actually a yarn shop. They were having a "hooker" party when we went in. For those of you who don't crochet or knit, that is what they call it when a group gets together to knit/crochet. My poor husband was such a good sport. There were about 40 women packed into this tiny shop, and then there was my husband. I bought some beautiful wool yarn on sale. She had some beautiful items already made, but I couldn't afford any of those.

We ate a delicious lunch at a little family restaurant just outside Seagrove. I had a marinated steak salad that was wonderful. We then made our way over to Pinehurst, which is an absolutely gorgeous little town. We didn't know it, but they were having an arts & crafts festival Saturday. So we walked around downtown looking at all the goodies. We stayed in the Pinecrest Inn that night. It's a lovely old inn that's probably 100 years old or more. Once again, the best part about it was the dinner and breakfast that was included in our stay. Yes, in case you haven't caught on already, everything seems to revolve around food for me. hehe I got a prime rib that was huge. I ate about 1/3 of it and hated leaving it there. My husband got a pork chop that was humongous. He couldn't eat all of his either. We were so stuffed, but we couldn't pass up the homemade key lime pie. We asked for it to go so we could eat it later in the room.

We got up Sunday morning and enjoyed a nice breakfast before checking out and heading home. The weather was so nice all weekend (cool with a little breeze and bright blue skies). So, even the drive home was nice. Autumn is my favorite time of year, and I love to watch the leaves fall as we drive along. It was a lovely, relaxing weekend -- just what I needed. Oh, and on the reading front, I jumped right back into On Agate Hill last night and read for about an hour. I think I was just stressed to the max last week. By the way, thanks to all of you who left me such sweet, encouraging comments. It means a lot!

Friday, October 17, 2008


I'm not sure exactly what's going on around here these days, but I think I'm in a reading slump. I've been sick and can't seem to shake it. I'm better, but I'm still exhausted by the end of the day and don't sleep very well. I finished The Graveyard Book, which I really liked, and I've started On Agate Hill by Lee Smith. But, I haven't gotten very far into it, at all. I love Lee Smith and the book seems like it's going to be good. But, I put it down before I really got into it, and I haven't been motivated to pick it back up.

Things have been pretty stressful at work, and I usually turn to reading for stress relief, but I've been knitting instead. I don't have to concentrate and the rhythm is quite soothing. So, though I haven't been reading over the last week, I have been knitting. I've finished one pair of socks and am about to finish the first sock in another pair. I'm surprised at how fast socks knit up. I was so intimidated by them in the beginning. Maybe one day if I get up the courage, I'll actually put a picture on here of one of my creations.

My husband and I will be leaving tomorrow morning to spend the day in Seagrove, NC. For those of you who may not know about Seagrove, it's a wonderful little town that is famous for it's pottery. There are numerous shops and galleries within a 5-mile radius of the little downtown area. It's only about an hour's drive, but I've never been. So, I'm pretty excited about that. The weather is really supposed to cool off tomorrow, as well. So, it should be a nice day for walking around. There's also a covered bridge in the area that I want to go see. After our day checking out the pottery, we're going to spend the night at an inn in Pinehurst. This is another little town, except this one is famous for it's golf course. However, we won't be playing any golf on this trip. The one night stay includes dinner and breakfast the next day. Pinehurst is a nice little town for window shopping, as well. So, we'll just hang around there on Sunday.

I hope everyone has a nice weekend and hopefully I'll have some reading to talk about next week. By the way, I have been keeping up with what everyone else is reading through your blogs. I'll be anxious to catch up with everyone who participates in Dewey's Read-a-thon when I get back.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I read this much-anticipated young adult novel over the weekend, and I have to say that I did enjoy it quite a bit. It's geared towards a younger audience, but I didn't really feel as if I were reading a young adult novel. The story is about Nobody "Bod" Owens who is being raised in a cemetery. His parents and sister were brutally murdered when he was just a baby by the man Jack. We don't know until much later in the story why they were murdered. However, Bod escapes the same fate by toddling up the hill into the local cemetery. After much debate among the residents of the cemetery Mr. & Mrs. Owens, who never had children when they were alive, agree to care for young Bod. However, the problem is that they aren't allowed to leave the cemetery and therefore won't be able to find food for their young charge. So, they turn to Silas who is neither dead nor alive and therefore can leave the cemetery to get the necessary things to care for Bod. As long as Bod doesn't leave the cemetery, he is safe from any harm. For he's told from a young age that his life is in danger if he ever leaves the cemetery. For many years, Bod seems content to live among the dead residents of the cemetery where he learns much about life lived throughout history. Of course, as he nears young adulthood, he longs to experience life for himself despite the obvious danger. At the same time, the forces of evil are gathering and Silas must put himself in danger to protect Bod once and for all. This is an enjoyable read and one that I think will be a big hit for both YA readers and fans of Neil Gaiman.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Secret Lives of People in Love

This is the September selection for the Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge. I had no clue what this book was about until I picked it up. It's a book of short stories that all deal with love in one way or another. Despite the title and the subject matter, all of them aren't "happily ever after" stories. The author looks at many of the complications that often accompany love in the real world. I read the stories over a period of a couple weeks and did enjoy most of them. However, now that I've finally gotten around to writing up a review, I don't really remember that much about any of them individually. I guess if I had to choose a favorite, it would be Snow Falls and Then Disappears. This is simply because of the way that the author (in just a few pages) lures the reader into thinking one thing and then slowly reveals the truth of the situation. It's quite clever. I found myself going back to reread the story to see if there were clues that I missed. I think these are the types of stories that would definitely reveal something new on each reading. So, I'll probably revisit some of these at some point.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Banned Books Week

Better late than never, I guess. The annual celebration sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) began on Saturday and runs through the rest of this week. I abhor censorship in all of its forms and so I look forward to this celebration each year. We have a display of frequently challenged/banned books in our library along with lists that patrons can pick up. I particularly enjoy talking with the patrons who come in and are shocked to see certain books on the list. I hear the same things every year. "Why is this on there?" "That's my favorite book!" "I remember reading that when I was little." So, I strike up a conversation and talk about how usually well-intentioned people find something offensive in the books and take it upon themselves to try to remove the book so that no one can access it.

Don't get me wrong, there are some things that I would not care to read for various reasons (other than poor writing). I don't shock easily, but I know of a few books that I would probably pass on. However, I know that there are some people who may enjoy reading the very book that I may find offensive. It doesn't give me the right to attempt to keep those people from reading that book. When it comes to children, their parents are the only ones who should decide what is or is not appropriate for them until they are old enough to make those decisions for themselves. As a democratic society, we should never fear information. Banning books is just ignorant.

There's only one thing I wish ALA would change about this yearly celebration -- the name. You'd be amazed at just how many people think that we're promoting banning books because of the name. Yes, the name does get your attention, but some people don't get it. So, I spend a great deal of time explaining to people that we're promoting freedom to read -- not censorship.

Here are a few links for you to check out if you're interested.

ALA Banned Books Week

Banned Books Online

Amnesty International Banned Books

Banned Books and Censorship

Book Burning (Wikipedia)

Book Burning (Nazis)

Book Burning in the 21st Century

Monday, September 29, 2008

What's Going On?

O.K., this is a strange post, I know. But, I've been trying to access the RIP III site and keep getting a message that says,

"My apologies, however, it doesn't appear you're supposed to be here. Let me know if so."

Is anyone else having trouble accessing Carl's site? Or is it just me? Any help will be appreciated. I would just email Carl, but I don't have his email address. I always just go directly to the site.

Friday, September 26, 2008

How Fiction Works by James Wood

As you can tell by my reviews on this blog, I'm not a big nonfiction reader. However, I do branch out a little every once in a while and read something out of the norm. This is one of those occasions in which I'm glad I did take a chance on something I wouldn't normally pick up. The author looks at specific pieces of literature and discusses why they work or don't work (in his opinion). He discusses all the aspects of fiction writing. However, it's his discussion of character and point of view that interested me the most. I'd like to think that I'm an astute reader, but I realized while reading this book that maybe I'm not all that astute after all. It was really interesting to see how much of a difference it makes when something seemingly minor is changed. I won't go into any great detail with this. However, if you're at all interested in the subject matter, this is a great little book.

I have a stack of about 25 books on my bedside table at the present, but I haven't decided what I'm going to read next. I have a couple of book club meetings coming up in the next week so it will probably be one of those. I actually haven't been reading quite as much as normal because I've been working on knitting a pair of socks. It never fails, as soon as the first hint of autumn rolls in, I'm ready to start knitting again. If I get really brave one day, I may even post a picture.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Though I hadn't initially chosen this as one of my potential reads for Carl's RIP III challenge, I picked it up at the suggestion of some other bloggers who said this would make a great selection for this challenge. I'm so glad I listened. This is more a novella instead of a full-length novel, but it packs quite a literary punch. It also falls into the category of psychological ghost story just as The Haunting of Hill House does. The main character is a young woman who is hired as governess for two young children at a country estate. The situation is strange from the beginning when her employer, the children's uncle, says that he doesn't want to bothered at all with their care and upbringing. She is to take full and total responsibility and not bother him with anything. It's obvious from the way the governess acts that she is infatuated with this wealthy, mysterious man though she only meets him a couple times.

Upon arriving at Bly, the country estate, she is pleased to find that the little girl in her charge, Flora, is angelic. She worries somewhat about the girl's older brother, Miles, who she meets shortly thereafter when he returns on holiday from boarding school. However, her fears are quickly relieved when she sees Miles for the first time. Like his sister, he is also a beautiful, innocent child. The governess throws herself into her duties and enjoys herself immensely.

However, it isn't long before strange things begin to happen. She is out walking one evening at dusk and suddenly sees a man standing on one of the old towers of the house staring ominously at her. He never speaks and never approaches her and disappears as quickly as he appeared. She is startled by this but chooses not to say anything to Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper, or anyone else for that matter. She wants to fulfill her duties as the person in charge at Bly. So she tries to convince herself that the man was probably just a stranger who wandered onto the estate out of curiosity. He appears again some days later staring in a window of the house as she enters the room. She's so frightened this time that she does tell Mrs. Grose about what she has seen. After she describes the man in great detail, the housekeeper says that she knows who he is -- the deceased assistant to the master, Peter Quint. The governess also tells Mrs. Grose that she knows he was not looking for her but for Miles. She's not sure how she knows this, but she does.

To add to the mystery and unease, she receives a letter from the headmaster at Miles' school saying that he is not welcome to return after the holiday. Again, instead of investigating further, the governess simply decides to ignore the situation because she feels that Miles is too good of a little boy to attend a boarding school like that in the first place. She'll see to his education at the present and deal with finding him a suitable school later. All seems well until the mystery deepens once again when a woman begins to appear to the governess, as well. From her appearance, the governess assumes that this is the children's former governess who died earlier. She describes her as evil incarnate. Following these revelations, the housekeeper reluctantly tells the governess that Miss Jessel and Mr. Quint had had an affair and that they spent a great deal of time with the children. In fact, she says that Mr. Quint showed an "unnatural" interest in Miles. Knowing all of this, the governess believes that the ghosts of Mr. Quint and Miss Jessel have returned for the children. The governess takes it as her personal duty to protect these children who may have been corrupted by these two when they were alive and now have come back for them in death.

The tension quickly builds throughout the story as the governess struggles to maintain her sanity while trying helplessly to protect the children. I won't say much more about the story and what happens because it would definitely take away from the experience of reading it for the first time. I read some critical commentary after reading the book, and it seems that there is a great deal of disagreement among critics regarding what 'really' happens in the book. Just like in the Haunting of Hill House, there is a question as to how much of what is happening is really happening and how much of it exists in the mind of the governess. Again, I won't go into great detail, but it's interesting to see both sides of the argument. For me, I like to think that it really happens the way the governess relates it. It just makes a better story. But, you be the judge.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

This is my first official selection for Carl's RIP III challenge. I had originally included Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy in my pool of titles, which I read and reviewed last week. However, after reading it, I decided not to include it in my RIP III challenge because I didn't really like it. I know that shouldn't matter, but I don't want to include any books that I don't like in this challenge. Since I only committed to reading two books and I've got until October 31, I have plenty of time to change my mind if I want to.

Now, on to The Haunting of Hill House. This is the perfect book for this challenge. It's deliciously dark and spooky. It's not blood and guts horror. According to the introduction of the Penguin Classics edition that I read, it is considered a psychological ghost story. I have to admit that I think that designation is spot on. The book deals with the terror that can often come from our own mind. There are four main characters, which include Dr. Montague, "an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of psychic phenomena;" Luke who is in line to inherit Hill House; Theodora, a young woman who doesn't reveal much about her private life; and Eleanor Vance. Eleanor has taken the car she shares with her sister and fled to Hill House without letting anyone know where she's going. Eleanor lives with her sister, sleeping on a cot in the baby's room, following the death of their mother. Eleanor spent over a decade caring for her mother who showed no affection or care for Eleanor whatsoever. In fact, Eleanor feels as though she's never belonged anywhere and has never really been loved by anyone.

Eleanor has a very rich interior life, which the reader has access to throughout the book. On her way to Hill House, she indulges multiple fantasies about what her life could be like. She envisions herself living in an enclosed garden and in a large house with lion statues guarding the front of the house. The reader gets the sense early on that Eleanor is in a fragile emotional state, but she's not crazy.

Everyone expects this to be a fun escape from their everyday lives. However, things soon turn serious when Hill House begins to show its true colors. Jackson does such a good job of building suspense and a sense of foreboding as the novel progresses. As the unexplained continues to happen, Eleanor begins to question herself and the other inhabitants of Hill House. The line between reality and the supernatural is blurred to say the least. The reader senses Eleanor's struggle to figure out what's going on around her. At one point, she wonders why the others can hear what's happening when it's going on inside her head.

I won't say more for fear of ruining this for any of you haven't read it. Let me just say that it's a great book and absolutely perfect for this challenge. I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Jackson, which I really liked, as well. I'd be hard pressed to decide which I liked best.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Twenty Wishes by Debbie Macomber

This is the fourth book in the Blossom Street series by prolific author Debbie Macomber. The series began with The Shop on Blossom Street and continued with A Good Yarn and Back on Blossom Street. I was first intrigued by the series because of the knitting connection. Just like I love to read books about books, I also love to read books that have references to knitting. I'm not a master knitter by any stretch of the imagination, but I do love to knit. I've read and enjoyed each of the books in the series. They are light, fun, quick reads with a little more depth to them than many books in the same category. I have to admit that I was just a little disappointed in this latest installment. Lydia, the yarn store owner from the first couple books, barely made an appearance at all. In fact, the characters from the first several books were mentioned in passing but were not the main characters for this book. Instead of the series being focused on Lydia and the yarn store, it seems that Macomber is introducing a new store owner from Blossom Street with each new book. This is not really a criticism but more a misunderstanding on my part from what I thought the series was going to be.

In this book, we meet Anne Marie who owns a bookstore on Blossom Street. She's 38 years old and recently widowed. She'd married a much older man who had a family from a previous marriage. At the time of their marriage, Anne Marie didn't think that would be a problem for her. However, as the years passed she found herself desperately wanting to become a mother. She's now dealing with the death of her husband and trying to come to terms with the fact that she'll probably never have a child of her own.

The title of the book comes out of a Valentine's Day party held at the bookstore for several of her friends who are also widows. Though they come from different backgrounds and lifestyles, the women share the fact that they're all recently widowed. As each woman struggles to come to terms with her situation, they decide that they'll each make a list of twenty wishes -- not goals, but simply wishes. This was a way to rejoin the world of the living and look towards the future. I was actually intrigued by the idea of making a list of wishes. We all have things that we would love to be able to do at some point in our lives. I haven't actually started a list, but I have thought about a few things that I might include, such as going to Scotland. I dont' know if it'll ever happen, but it's nice to think about anyway.

As I said earlier, I enjoyed the book but was a little disappointed that there were few references to knitting and that so many new characters are introduced with few appearances from characters from previous books. Many of the individual story lines in the book ended predictably, but I didn't mind that all that much. I guess I'll wait and see what happens when the next book is published, but I'm not sure that I'll continue reading this series at this point.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy

I'm not sure exactly where to start with this one. I can't really say that I enjoyed this book. I really thought I would from the blurb on the back of the book, but it wasn't to be. I haven't read anything else by McCarthy so I don't know if this is typical of his writing or not. If it is, I probably won't be reading any more of his work. The story is about a young woman who has her brother's baby. There's no background information to explain how they came to be alone or why they're living in this remote cabin in the middle of nowhere. The reader isn't told whether the brother rapes his sister or whether she consents to sex with him. All this happens before the story begins. He's afraid that someone will find out about their secret and so he won't call anyone to help her when the time comes to deliver the baby. In reality, I don't think he wanted anyone to be there to witness what he does. After his sister falls asleep, he takes the baby and leaves him in the woods and tells her that the baby died. She soon discovers his lie. While she spends the rest of the book looking for her son, her brother is searching for her. I'm not squeamish, but I could see how some people would find this book more than a little disturbing. There is quite a bit of senseless violence without any redemption. Don't worry about spoilers with this one -- because there really is no plot. Like I said, this one is hard to describe.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Shack by William P. Young

I read this book for another one of my book clubs, which met last night. I had heard a great deal about this book before picking it up and honestly probably wouldn't have read it had it not been a book club selection. The reviews I've seen have been very mixed -- people either love it or hate it and for various reasons. The book tells the story of Mack, a man struggling with his faith and trying to make sense out of life after the abduction and assumed murder of his youngest daughter. It deals with the big issues that some people have with God. How can a loving God allow such horrible things to happen? What role should organized religion play in a person's spiritual life? How can someone ever be good enough to merit grace?

Several years after the fateful camping trip where Missy was abducted, Mack receives a note in his mailbox. As crazy as it sounds, the note is from God and asks him to meet him at the shack in the Oregon wilderness. Mack knows exactly what shack he's talking about -- the one where his daughter's bloody dress was found during the police search. As you might expect, Mack first assumes that this is a cruel joke or worse yet that the note may be from the killer himself. Mack struggles over what to do, but eventually goes to the shack. What he finds there changes him forever. He spends a weekend with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. They are nothing like he imagines, but he slowly comes to realize that what he needs most is a personal relationship with them. There is some question as to whether this actually happens in the book or if it's a dream. The author leaves that door open for the reader to decide. I don't think it really matters one way or the other. The end result is the same for Mack.

The author originally wrote this book for his children and a few close family members and friends. I think he had ten copies printed if I remember correctly. They passed the book on to others and it took off like wildfire. The book is fiction, but it does have some parallels to the author's life. For me, the book explains the author's journey from pain, grief, and bitterness into a place where he's made peace with himself and his God. Some who've read it have been deeply touched by it. Others, mostly evangelical Christians, oppose what they believe is a departure from scripture. For me, I read it as a book of fiction about a man's life and how he dealt with a tragedy that I would never want to have to live through. The book is well-written and imaginative. Personally, I loved his depiction of God as an African American woman. I personally believe that God is without gender and/or race.

As I said earlier, I probably wouldn't have picked this book up to read on my own. However, I can say that I did enjoy the book. Of course, I wasn't trying to analyze it against the Christian Bible or anything else. I took it for what it is -- a good work of fiction. I'm glad that the author didn't go into great detail regarding the abduction of Missy because that's something I have a hard time reading. I also think the middle portion of the book when Mack is at the shack with God is a little long, and a couple times the author seems to be trying to hammer home a point regarding his theology. However, it was a good book, which I enjoyed reading. It's a quick read, as well.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Carl's RIP III

I've been trying to decide which of the options to go for with Carl's challenge. I think I'll commit to Peril the Second (just two books) between now and October 31. I also decided to only use books that I already had in my tbr pile. So, without further ado, I'll choose two out of these:

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy
The Sister by Poppy Adams
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher
An Absolute Gentleman by R. M. Kinder
Down River by John Hart
Echoes from the Macabre by Daphne du Maurier
Hard Row by Margaret Maron

Some of these are lighter mysteries, but they've been in the pile a while so I thought I'd consider them as part of this challenge. I'd like to get to more than two books, but I figure I can aim low and possibly exceed my challenge commitment.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Walking Across Egypt by Clyde Edgerton

I read this book over the weekend for one of my book clubs, which meets next Tuesday. In fact, this is more than just a book club selection. It's actually a One Book, One Community book for my area. They have a ton of really great things planned during October around the book. The author will appear at several different events, and he'll also give a writing workshop at the community college that I work for -- free! All I can say is if you haven't ever read anything by Clyde Edgerton, don't wait any longer. He's a North Carolina author and is always more than happy to participate in events around the state. His brand of Southern Lit. is a little lighter than that of Faulkner or O'Connor, but no less worthy. It's full of many of the mandatory themes for Southern Lit. -- religion, food, family, and people down on their luck. What's missing from this book that is always prevalent in books by more famous Southern writers is the misery. As much as I like Faulkner, O'Connor, and Capote (just to name a few), you don't usually come away from their books with a light heart. I actually finished Walking Across Egypt with a smile on my face. In fact, I found myself laughing out loud more than once while reading this book.

Like many of Edgerton's books, this one is set in the fictional Listre, North Carolina. The main character is Mattie Rigsbee who is a 78-year old, feisty widow that loves nothing more than to feed everyone she meets. This character reminds me so much of my own grandmother who is now 95 years old and in a nursing home. My grandmother, like Mattie Rigsbee, made it her mission in life to feed anyone who came to her house. I don't mean just a sandwich, mind you. I mean a full course meal, which might include fried chicken, meatloaf (she always had more than one main course), cabbage, fried okra, fried squash, sliced tomatoes, rice, gravy, homemade biscuits, green beans, corn and several different desserts. My grandma is famous for her chocolate pie and egg custard pie. I'm drooling just thinking about it.

In between cooking and taking care of her home, Mattie is busy with her church and family. She has two grown children, but she's still waiting on grandchildren. Mattie takes every opportunity she's presented to remind her children that she isn't getting any younger and neither are they. Her life takes an unexpected turn when she is introduced to Wesley, a young man in the juvenile detention center nearby. Taking her scripture seriously, she decides to "do unto the least of these." She visits Wesley and takes him some of her famous homemade poundcake and a mason jar of sweet tea. Wesley is rough around the edges but can't get this kindness out of his mind.

I won't go into any more detail, but this is a "feel good" story that is at turns both heartwarming and hilarious. The book was made into a movie, which stays pretty close to the original. It was good, but as usual I prefer the book. If you've read the book, leave me a comment telling me your favorite scene. I bet I know what it is!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing

I read this book in two brief sittings, and it's hard to define or place neatly into a category. It's also the first book I've read from author, Doris Lessing. The story is that of Harriet and David Lovatt, which begins with their brief courtship and marriage in the late 1960s in England. They are both alike in that they don't want to take part in the societal changes taking place all around them. They have old-fashioned values and want nothing more than to create a life together complete with lots and lots of children. They buy a huge house in the country and begin right away on their family. Much to the chagrin of their family and friends, they continue to have children one right after the other to the detriment of Harriet's health and their economic situation. However much everyone around them disapproves, they are happy and plan to continue their lifestyle even if that means that David's father must help support them.

Everything is just as they had planned until Harriet finds herself pregnant with her fifth child. From the beginning of this pregnancy, nothing seems right. She gets huge right away and the baby seems as if it is trying to claw its way out of her. She is absolutely miserable until the baby is born. But right away, Harriet knows that something is not right with this child whom they name Ben.

I don't want to say much more for fear of spoiling the experience of reading this. I'll just say that Harriet is forced to make a decision that no mother would ever want to make. As a mother, I found myself wondering what I would do in her situation. There are no easy answers or nice tidy endings here. Because I haven't read anything else by this author, I don't know if this is typical of her work or not. But, based on this book, I'll definitely seek out some of her other books. The only real problem I had with the book is the fact that I felt like I never really got to know most of the characters in the book, except for Harriet. I know that the story centers around her and her decision about Ben and how it affects the family, but I would have liked to have been able to get to know David and some of the other family members a little better. However, that's just a minor quibble with an otherwise amazing book, and I recommend it highly.

This is a short book, at only 133 pages and would probably fit the bill for Carl's RIP III challenge. I know I really shouldn't join the challenge, but I'm going to. I've done a decent job with challenges this year, but I may not finish all of them. But, this one is just too fun to pass up. I'll be posting my list hopefully later today or tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Maus by Art Spiegelman

Sorry I've been away all week, but I just haven't been able to find the time or energy to do much else beyond what I absolutely had to do at work and at home. I know Alias Grace has been in my "Currently Reading" sidebar for quite a while now, but I haven't actually been reading it. I love Atwood, but I just couldn't get started on this book. I know I will in the near future, but right now I needed something else. So, even though I've been absent from the blog, I have been reading. I read Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman for the Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge. It's a graphic novel in two parts, which deals with one family's ordeal living through the Holocaust. I have had very little experience with graphic novels, so I wasn't sure what to expect. This book is actually based on the true story of the author's family, Vladek and Anja Spiegelman who both ended up in Auschwitz during WWII. Unlike most of the rest of their family, including their oldest son, they survived the war and emigrated to the U.S. afterwards. The book is very well-done and documents a well-known yet little understood event in history. I don't know how anyone can ever truly come to grips with what happened to so many people under the Nazis. In fact, in addition to the story of what happened to Art's family, the book is also about his difficult relationship with his father. Obviously the living hell that his parents endured changed them irrevocably. Art didn't always understand why his father was the way he was. So, writing this book served to help heal their strained relationship, as well.

As I said, I haven't had much experience with graphic novels. In the beginning, I was a little distracted by the drawings. But, after the first third of the book, I got into a rhythm, which allowed me to read and look at the drawings without being distracted. The book actually went very quickly. I'm glad I read it, and I'd be willing to read more graphic novels in the future.

Hopefully, I'll get back in my reading groove having finished this one. I'm feeling a lot better. It's just been a busy couple of weeks. In addition to moving my son into college, I'm teaching a class in the evenings in addition to my full-time day job as librarian in a community college. It's a new class so I've had to build the course from scratch. I think I'll enjoy it after I get everything planned out. I appreciate all the nice comments from you guys over the last week or so, as well. I'm already adjusting to the empty nest, and my youngest is adjusting to college life just fine.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Tired and Overwhelmed

I haven't read anything for pleasure since probably last Thursday. I need to read for my sanity, and it's really starting to show now. So, what have I been doing if I haven't been reading? I took off work Friday to finish getting my son ready to go to college. I spent all day Friday shopping and packing. Then we got up at 4:30 AM on Saturday to drive the four hours to arrive during our assigned check-in time. The actual moving in was painless because they had volunteers to take all of his stuff up to his room. That was great! He's in a traditional dorm with just two beds, two desks, and two dressers on the fifth floor of a high rise building. His roommate seems fine although I know it will take some getting used to for my son. He's so used to having his own space. It still took most of the day to put his stuff away and make a couple runs to the local Wal-Mart to pick up things we didn't even think about him needing. We ate dinner together Saturday night and then had orientation on Sunday. The students went in groups to their own sessions while all the parents attended sessions together. Since I've done this all before, I really didn't learn anything much from the sessions so it was pretty boring. All I did was sit there and think motherly thoughts. How can he be this old? How is he going to like it? Will he be homesick? Will he be safe? The rational part of my brain knows he'll be fine, but it's always hard letting go. He's smart, strong, and has a good head on his shoulders. He's going to have a ball. Meanwhile, I'm going to miss him terribly just like I still miss his older brother. Sure, I see him some on weekends, but it's not the same.

On the positive side, I'm kind of looking forward to some me time and of course spending some time with the hubby. We had our children when we were pretty young, and now we're going to have our time together. I'm still trying to get over lack of sleep, but hopefully in the next couple of days, I'll be back to normal. For those of you without kids, I know this probably seems pretty silly, but I assure you it's extremely difficult to watch your kids grow up and leave home. It's rewarding and I'm happy for them, but just a little sad, too. They have been wonderful kids, and I'd love to do it all over again. O.K., the pity party is officially over, and I'll be back to reading and talking about books soon!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sea Glass by Anita Shreve

This was a selection for my book club, which met on Tuesday night. I really enjoyed the book and was looking forward to a good discussion. However, I ended up not going. I actually got off of work early on Tuesday and decided to mow the yard. The weather has been absolutely beautiful around here lately, and I love being outdoors. So, I really don't mind mowing at all. But, that meant that I didn't have time to get to book club and see what everyone else thought about this book. So, I guess you're stuck with my random thoughts.

The only other book by Shreve I've read is The Pilot's Wife, and that was years ago. I don't remember too much about it, but I know I liked it at the time. So I came to this one with few expectations. Each chapter is devoted to one of the main characters, and I usually like this style when all of the characters are well-developed. In this case, it works. The story is set in the Northeast during the early 30s just after the Stock Market Crash. We meet Honora and Sexton as newlyweds. I liked being able to see how Honora and Sexton each perceived things. It shows a great deal how differently men and women think sometimes. They're both young and naive and don't really know what to expect from marriage. In fact, they don't really know each other all that well because they didn't date very long. The other characters are woven into the story as their lives intersect with Honora and Sexton. McDermott works in the mill and becomes involved in union organizing. Alphonse is a little boy from the town who also works in the mill. Vivian is a socialite that vacations on the coast each year. It's interesting to see how Shreve brings all these characters together.

I really enjoyed the setting, and I love this time period. Though I'm thankful I didn't live through it, the Great Depression is fodder for some really interesting books. The reader can tell that Shreve did her research into this time period. In letters from her mother, Honora gets advice on how to make the little they had go a long way. Her mother included recipes that took very few ingredients and told her how to make her own cleaning supplies, etc.

I enjoyed this book and would recommend it. It's a quick read but not fluffy. It deals with relationships, but it's not overly sentimental. The author seems to have the knack of hitting that middle ground, which provides a glimpse into what makes us all human and how we interact with each other especially during difficult times.