I adore the times spent with my fellow members of the Paige Turner Book Club...but I have a literary appetite that simply cannot be sated with just one book a month. This blog is a place for me to talk about more of my reading adventures. Reviews, summaries, highlights, warnings, praises and quotes. Because after all, it can be a jungle...er...savannah...out there.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Eve: A Novel of the First Woman

By Elissa Elliott

If this book had not been on CDs, I probably would have stopped reading after the first few chapters. As it was, I had to “muscle through” and remind myself that I would be spending the time in the car anyway, so I might was well see how the story wraps up.

This book explored Eve, and Adam, their family, and their family’s interaction with the population of a nearby city. I read some reviews that were very harsh with the “historical accuracy” of the novel. To be honest, I wasn’t upset at all with the liberties Elliott took with Adam and Eve’s world. I *was* bored with the dynamic of the book. It was very disjointed. Half of the story was flashbacks by Eve, recounting creation, the fall, the exit from the garden, etc. But these flashbacks were all very bland. I could have done without them altogether. Also, the language of the book was inconsistent. For example: Eve has words for “ubiquitous” and “flummoxed” but not for “sun” or “brick.” Also, I found the plethora of similes a bit much to trudge through at times.

Adding to my frustration was Eve herself. She’s an incredibly weak and boring character. Her children all surpass her in intelligence, critical thinking, personality, and believability. For example: Eve and Adam are amazed when their six-year-old sun invents mud bricks. Not just by drying mud in the sun mind you, but by adding in different mixers to give added strength and structural integrity. Her other children are incredibly accomplished weavers, cooks, doctors, and farmers. Yet Adam and Eve seem to excel only at reminiscing about the past and wondering about their relationship…both with each other, and with Elohim.

While I enjoyed some the questions Elliott asked through her characters, I found it hard to believe that the children would be the rocks of the story. A couple of them trust Elohim, a couple others trust the faith of the city people, and the youngest is believable in her growing understanding and questioning. But Adam and Eve are frustratingly inconsistent. They vacillate from one extreme to the other: from wondering if they had hallucinated their experiences in the garden, to assaulting one of their children for even suggesting that Elohim isn’t the only god that exists.

This book had an interesting idea, but for me at least, it failed to deliver. If you’re going to write a book about Eve…I want to care about her.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Latter-Day Cipher

By Latayne Scott

This book caught my eye because it was a murder mytery involving a familiar idea, but with a new setting. The deaths in this story have a religious focus...but instead of centering on the Catholic church, this book used the backdrop of the Mormon community.

It was an enjoyable read, though I was let down by the ending. After keeping my attention so well, the book ended very suddenly and I didn't feel it wrapped up well. Anticlimatic might be the word I'm looking for. But until that point, I enjoyed the journey of the main character.

The autor writes as someone who was burned by her experiences with the Mormon community. But while I sometimes felt like she was venting, I think she was also careful to show that not everyone in the Mormon church is a an extreamist. And similar to the DaVinci Code, it's probably a good idea to remember that this book is a work of fiction, so all the craziness should be taken with a grain of salt.

As usual, some of my favorite characters were the ones cheering from the sidelines. Why do I like minor characters so much? *sigh* Well, no matter the reason, one of my favorite relationships in this book was between Selonnah (the main character) and Ann (a character she meets along the way). They had some wonderful conversations.

All in all, it made a welcome break from my organizational theory books. Have you read this title? What did you think of it?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Art of War for Women

By Chin-Ning Chu

This was a great audio-book find. The full title is: "The Art of War for Women: Sun Tzu's Ancient Strategies and Wisdom for Winning at Work." I found it to be simple, insightful, respectful, and refreshing. I would definitely recommend it to any one of my female friends. It's not very long, but you'll find yourself mulling over Chu's insights for long after the CDs are done playing.

One thing I really enjoyed: Chu encourages women to be honest with themselves. What makes you happy? What do you want out of life? What are your strengths and weaknesses? ... There are no right or wrong answers. I really the analogy Chu used here. What kind of shoes do you want to wear: combat boots or glass slippers? Either answer is fine. Some women want glass slippers. Their perfect world includes prince charming, a castle, and a home life. Some women want combat boots. They want to enter the battle and conquer the business world. Each option is fine and good. But where we run into conflict is this: wearing a combat clothes with glass slippers, or trying to coordinate boots with a ball gown. Neither works. Because deep down, you're not being honest with what makes you happy. Such a simple idea. But one that needs to be remembered from time to time.

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There's a lot of practical ideas and relevant advice. So if you're looking for something to play during your normal commute....give "The Art of War for Women" a try!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Catching Fire

By Suzanne Collins

I'm in grad school, so I have to do a lot of reading on the specific topic of organizational and leadership theory. I like my chosen field. Don't get me wrong. But sometimes, the required reading is...less than exciting.

I read Hunger Games earlier this year and absolutely adored it. Suzanne Collins is a very visual author. Not once did I feel lost in any of the action scenes. I felt as if I was there. I could totally emerse myself in her fictional world. It was also the kind of book that you can't put down. Once you begin, you're strapped in for the ride. It was a unique book with a great cast of characters and an engrossing (yet unfinished) story.

In short, I was counting the days until the sequel.

Catching Fire did not let me down. After impulse buying it from Amazon, I forced myself not to read it as soon as it arrived (since I'm being such a diligent student). But last week I decided to take a brain break from my organizational theory and just read a chapter. Two chapters. 100 pages. Just 15 more minutes. Half the book. Well, since I'm halfway, I might was well keep going.... Yep, I read the whole thing it in a few hours without putting it down and LOVED every bit of it. (Sorry school work! I tried to resist, I really did!)

Some twists I saw coming. Others I did not. But I truly enjoyed watching these characters navigate the challenges presented to them. Stephanie Collins doesn't back away from complication. She dives in headfirst; which makes for an adventure story that's relatable and relevant, even while it's larger than life.

In short: at the end of my second helping, I'm eagerly looking forward to a third.

(I'm also wondering if I can find a real-life Cinna. I love him. And when he said "Don't worry. I alway channel my emotions into my work. That way I don't hurt anyone but myself," he immediately made me think of the quote "Every job is a self-portrait of the person who does it. Autograph your work with excellence." What a wonderful little nugget of truth from a fantastic character! ...I want more!)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Audacity of Hope

By Barack Obama

It was enjoyable to experience this book in audio version, especially since it was read by the author: President Obama. I think when books are read by the author, you get to hear their words the way they intend. They can capture emphasis, inflection, and other things much better than a performer could. It just gives that extra glimpse into the author’s message. Plus, President Obama has a great voice.

Amazon says: With his second book The Audacity of Hope, Obama engages themes raised in his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, shares personal views on faith and values and offers a vision of the future that involves repairing a "political process that is broken" and restoring a government that has fallen out of touch with the people.

I say: I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I think Barack Obama is a nice, sincere man…but I don’t always agree with his ideas and solutions. But this book affirmed a truth that I believe: there’s fault to find on both sides of the political aisle. Obama writes with passion and sincerity, and I appreciated the tone and flow of this book. My cynical side wonders if he just wrote what people may want to hear. But then again, his memoir is very honest with the fact that we face a lot of complex problems in our country (and in our world).

An interviewer asked Obama: If readers are to come away from The Audacity of Hope with one action item (a New Year's Resolution for 2007, perhaps?), what should it be?
He answered: Get involved in an issue that you're passionate about. It almost doesn’t matter what it is--improving the school system, developing strategies to wean ourselves off foreign oil, expanding health care for kids. We give too much of our power away, to the professional politicians, to the lobbyists, to cynicism. And our democracy suffers as a result.

I can fully agree with that.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Blaggard’s Moon

By George Bryan Polivka

Allow me to borrow from the Amazon description: An exciting swashbuckling tale of a pirate sentenced to die for the crime of mutiny. As he awaits his fate, this pirate ponders his life and the events that have brought him to this fate. In the process of remembering, and in grappling with mercy and justice as they have been played out in his life, a tale is spun, a tale of true hearts wronged, noble love gone awry, dark deeds done for the sake of gold, and sacrifices made for love.

A pirate tale? Sign me up!

I really enjoyed this book. One of the things that made it unique was that it is told from three points of view/ points in time. You have the pirate awaiting his fate (Delaney). He is reminiscing, analyzing, and recounting a story told by Ham Drumbone. The view shifts to this storyteller, and Polivka does a fantastic job creating a fireside scene: the storyteller and his swarthy listeners. They interject and react to the story. Ham masterfully gets them back on course. The third point of view/time is the original events that comprise the storyteller’s tale – the story of Damrick and Jenta and the pirate world of Nearing Vast. I loved how it unfolded.

I also enjoyed that there was no clear hero of the story. It subtlety communicates themes like reaping what you sow, learning to change, and living without regrets, without getting overly sappy. The book has a bit of dark feel, but there’s a lining of hope around the edges.

I would recommend this book as a fun read. It would probably make for a good discussion book as well, since all of the major characters are flawed and don’t always make the best decisions.

Plus, there’s sword fighting. *grin*

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Well-Built City Trilogy

The Physiognomy, The Memoranda, and The Beyond by Jeffrey Ford

I picked “The Physiognomy” up off a display at the library. The cover intrigued me, and I saw that it won the World Fantasy Award in 1998. I figured it would be a good read.

At the end of the day: This series just wasn’t my cup of tea. I found it hard to follow in places. I thought large portions of it dragged. And some of the character transitions were a bit strange. Also, there were some nonsequitor plot points (particularly in the third book) that never resolved or went anywhere. That bothered me. I think all three books could have been edited a bit and combined into one story. But that’s just me.

Motivation: I wanted to read this book because it explored the idea of memory: how memories are stored, how they impact reality, how our mind works, etc. Also the main character, Cley, is a Physiognomist. (Didn’t see that one coming, did you? *wink*) Some friends and I had talked recently about the field of Physiognomy, and I was interested to see how Jeffrey Ford integrated this field into his story.

Of the three books, I think I enjoyed the second one the best. (Followed by the middle portion of the third book.) It’s in this part of the story that Ford really dives deeply into memory. Cley actually journey through the villain’s memory by way of an assisted mind meld. Very Star Trek. He’s looking for a solution to a pressing problem. And to find it he has to navigate and decipher the symbols and landscape in Drachton Below’s mind. Like Cley, I found myself getting attached to personalities and symbols within Below’s memory labyrinth…almost forgetting that they were not separate from Below himself. Then I remembered and found myself annoyed that Cley couldn’t do the same. Anytime an author can draw you in to be invested in the decisions made by his characters…it’s a good thing. (There are probably exceptions, but you know what I mean…I hope.) It was very unique.

I also liked the middle portion of the third book because it was when the main character had the surest idea of who he was and what he was doing. In the first book, he’s little more than a chess piece of Below. Then he starts breaking away, and forming his own thoughts, asking his own questions, and forming his own goals. That process takes from the middle of book 1 to the end of book 2. Cley really hits his personal stride in book 3. I enjoyed reading about him when he was full of purpose. (Course, then he gets a little fuzzy again. Or maybe I just didn’t fully understand the resolution of the series. In any case…the last part of book 3 let me down).

Physiognomy plays its most dominate role in the first book. Cley ends up mutilating one woman’s face in order to save her from her “evil” nature. It’s guilt over this act that wake him up as a character and start him on his journey. The rest of the series is really Cley’s quest to find forgiveness from that woman. As such, Physiognomy pops up now and again. Mostly to highlight that you can’t judge a person by their measurements. Much as you can’t judge a book by its cover.

The most intriguing character in the series is Misrix. A demon from the Beyond who is “adopted” by the evil Drachton Below, aides Cley on his journey, and later befriends a child from the city Wenau. There were some good moments in there about profiling, stereotypes, etc. My favorite character was a moody but trusty dog named Wood. Maybe because he made the most sense.

One reviewer observed that Ford writes about ideas instead of events. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t quite find my rhythm. It is a fascinating journey, especially in the 2nd and 3rd books. But it was one I felt I had to trudge through. Ford doesn’t fall back on stereotypes. He sticks with his own brand of crazy. I can respect that. But while parts of the series were nifty, there was something missing for me. Reading this series felt like watching an episode of Star Trek that featured Q.

In reviewing the third book, Publisher’s Weekly says, “Ford's graphic imagination is as powerful as ever, but the quest itself is vague and undefined, while the story ultimately fails to grip.” I think I agree.

Has anyone else read this series? Feel free to write and tell me what you thought!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fellowship of the Ring

Sometimes, one just needs to come home to a book. And that’s just what this series feels like to me: home. There’s just something about the characters, the world, the story, the adventure, the humor that pull me in each time. How can you not love a book in which the author writes in the forward:

“Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer. But even from the points of view of many who have enjoyed my story there is much that fails to please. It is perhaps not possible in a long tale to please everybody at all points, or to displease everybody at the same points; for I find from the letters that I have received that the passages or chapters that are to some a blemish are all by others specially approved. The most critical reader of all, myself, now finds many defects, minor and major, but being fortunately under no obligation either to review the book or to write it again, he will pass over these in silence, except for one that has been noted by others: the book is too short.”
It’s been a while since I’ve picked up these stories. I’ve been distracted by book clubs, reading challenges, and school demands. But as I strolled through these pages over the past week, I was reminded why time spent in Middle Earth is never wasted.

It was fun to remember all the bits that are different in the books than in the movies. For example, one of Gandalf’s most quoted lines – “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us” – isn’t spoken in the depths of Moria. He makes this statement in Frodo’s living room at Bag End at the very beginning of the journey. Also, while Sam is recruited much as he is in the movie, Merry and Pippen aren’t random tag-alongs. They help Frodo prepare to leave the Shire, and then insist that they come along with him (kind of like the scene in Rivendale). They were always in it together.

Also, in the book Aragorn is never unsure about who he is or where he’s going. In the movie, the members of the fellowship gaze in awe at the statues of the Argonoth. It was nice to remember that in the book, everyone is pretty much intimidated by them...except for Aragorn.
“Frodo turned and saw Strider, and yet not Strider; for the weatherworn Ranger was no longer there. In the stern sat Aragorn son of Arathorn, proud and erect, guiding the boat with skilful strokes; his hood was cast back, and his dark hair was blowing in the wind, a light was in his eyes: a king returning from exile to his own land. ‘Fear not!’ he said. ‘Long have I desired to look upon the likenesses of Isildur and Anarion, my sires of old. Under their shadow Elessar, the Elfstone son of Arathorn of the House of Valandil Isildur’s son, heir of Elendil, has nought to dread!’”
And for some reason, I absolutely adore the moment when Galadriel gives the Evenstar to Aragorn when the Fellowship is leaving Lothlorian. To me, it bears that much more weight that Arwen’s choice wasn’t a secret, but a precious gift given not just by her, but by her family as well.

I love Tom Bombadil too. (It’s hard not to.) I understand why he’s hard to incorporate into radio dramas and movies…which makes him that much more of a treat to read in the book.

And I love how the book doesn’t wrap up nicely. It stops in the middle of the confrontation at Amon Hen. Sam and Frodo crossing the river. Boromir sent to look for Merry and Pippin who are looking for Frodo. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli scouring the mountain for the ring-bearer too. It’s a lot of chaos, which makes me want to pick up Two Towers and keep right on reading. (Sounds like a great idea!)

My favorite quote this time through? [Frodo to Pippin] “Short cuts make delays, but inns make longer ones. At all costs we must keep you away from the Golden Perch. We want to get to Bucklebury before dark. What do you say Sam?’ ‘I will go along with you, Mr. Frodo,’ said Sam (in spite of private misigivng and a deep regret for the best beer in the Eastfarthing).”

(Probably extra hilarious just for me because I’ve been told I’m a blend of Pippin and Sam.)

Do you have books that feel like “home” to you? Or books that you enjoy reading more than once? Because not every book is a book like that. Some you can read once and move on. Others, like this one, become part of your literary landscape for a lifetime.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Haunting Lighthouses

by special guest Pam Ripling

I do. I not only love lighthouses, collect them, and visit them, I haunt them as well. I guess you could place multiple meanings on “haunting” – I could be a spirit, looking for my lost love, my drowned sea captain, my missing child. But since I am not yet dead, that’s not the likely meaning.

It could be that I lurk in the world of lighthouses, traveling here and there to “haunt” their staircases, roam their keepers’ quarters, snapping my camera and taking notes. Living people do have their favorite “haunts,” as it were. Lighthouses surely are some of mine.

But actually, my form of haunting lighthouses has to do with creating tales of the supernatural and placing them there. (Aha! So that’s where she’s going!)

It’s common knowledge among lighthouse enthusiasts that these ancient, lonely beacons are often thought to be inhabited by spirits. The very nature of their purpose brings with it danger, isolation and hardship. Tragedy exists in the history of nearly every light station, histories fraught with violent storms, pirates, and madness. What better fodder for a good ghost story?

My latest novel, POINT SURRENDER, takes place in a fictional California lighthouse that’s been abandoned for many years. Its last keeper has been dead for more than 25 years, and left behind a journal found by those who are now restoring the ancient, decaying tower. The journal tells a sad tale, and hints at why the keeper died there—but not a word about his missing family. Is the ghost that appears from time to time the keeper, or someone else?

Of course there’s romance and mystery—a hero and heroine, both with emotional baggage—and a cast of supporting characters that complicate their journey. The lighthouse itself is the best character, brooding, sad, filled with remorse. For hasn’t the lighthouse seen it all unfold?

My upcoming release, CAPE SEDUCTION, is set in an off-shore lighthouse perched on a deadly reef near the extreme northern California coast. The story takes us back to 1948, when a popular Hollywood starlet goes missing after the filming of a blockbuster movie set in the land-locked beacon. In 2008, the lighthouse begins to cause trouble for its present day owners, and the spirit of a young woman makes her presence known to many. Look for CAPE SEDUCTION this winter from Echelon Press.

It doesn’t hurt to research those U.S. lighthouses “known” to be haunted. The house at Heceta Head Lighthouse in Oregon (shown on the cover of POINT SURRENDER) is said to be haunted by a young keeper’s wife. “Rue” seems to be mourning for a lost child, perhaps seeking her unmarked gravesite on the grounds of the keeper’s house.

I’ve been asked: do they scare me? Thinking about them, writing about them, walking among them? No. There is no record of any lighthouse ghost inflicting harm upon any guest. Do I believe in them? I think I would be some kind of fraud if I didn’t; I am, after all, a writer of paranormal lighthouse fiction!

Pam Ripling, who also writes as Anne Carter, is the author of paranormal romantic mystery, POINT SURRENDER, from Echelon Press, Amazon, and for your Kindle, iPhone or other e-formats, Fictionwise. Visit Anne at BeaconStreetBooks.com.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

60 books...one year.

Ok. So I've already met and exceeded this goal. If you really want to know the extent of the damage, I've read 66 books. 21,421 pages. 76% of them for the first time. (Yes, I have a spreadsheet. Yes, there is conditional formating. and Yes, it rocks!) Some of those books were good, some of them I want to add to my very-special-only-inspiring-and-thought-provoking-stuff-goes-here shelf, and others I could have done without.

But you would have no idea...because I realized that I haven't been very good about posting my reviews and thoughts about those books. Shame on me. I'll blame it on a busy July.

Here's my promise. I'll be catching up. A post or two a week. And to reward you for your patience....I also promise something special for you next Tuesday.

Are you excited? I am!

Some Teasers:
  • The Simarillion = Yoda's diary + lots of "therefore"s.
  • The Physiogamist. Part of a trilogy that should have been one book. Maybe the only trilogy that I would recommend people read just the middle book.
  • Jesus Did it Anyway. Paradoxical Commandments = great stuff.
  • Marley and Me. Read it. Listened to it. Watched the movie....and cried during each one.
  • The Island in the Center of the Word. That Heather Johnson knows what she's talking about! (I picked this up after she reviewed it on her blog.)
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed. School reading. Bleck. But I find myself thinking about one or two lines...so maybe not a waste.
  • Thirteenth Tale. Reminded me of Jane Eyre.
  • Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World....oh wait...I haven't started that one yet. (Bonus points if you get my very bad joke)

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Hand to Guide Me

I’m a sucker for inspiring material, and this book is chock full of it. Denzel Washington is a spokesperson for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. He was active in the program when he was younger, and says “it was where I learned how to play ball, where I learned how to focus and set my mind on a goal, where I learned about consequences, and where I learned how to be a man.” That’s high praise. And in this book Denzel Washington brings together seventy-four others to talk about people who have inspired and shaped their lives. To borrow the words of the book sleeve, “Those voices join in the moving chorus of a book that pays tribute to the love and generosity of people taking time to help one another, lifting one life at a time.”

From a literary standpoint, it’s an “easy read.” The chapters are short. The language is informal. And the stories are very approachable.

But this is a book I will own because of the little “gems” scattered throughout the seventy-four stories. The personalities in the book are from all over. Some of them I instantly recognized. Some I recognized because of the company they keep. Others were totally unfamiliar. Some come from supportive families, and some from troubled pasts. But each and every one had a story to tell about someone who helped to shape his or her life. Some of the inspiration was the “long-term legacy” variety and some was the “random pivotal moment” variety. The presence of both makes this book poignant and relevant. Because you never know who’s watching. And you never know how you might just change someone’s life with a well spoken word or a right action in a difficult moment.

Legacy. It’s a beautiful thing.

"Change happens. The key is to keep reaching for that guiding hand and to keep extending our own. So go ahead. Train up a child in the way he should go...and watch what happens." ~ Denzel Washington

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Geisha, A Life

Not long ago, I read Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Though written as a realistic memoir, his book is a work of fiction. I read some fact vs. fiction reviews on his work and stumbled upon the name Mineko Iwasaki. She was interviewed by Golden when he was doing research for his book. He promised to keep her remarks confidential, but then gave a public “Thank You” in the acknowledgements of his book. I also read that Mineko was upset with Golden because she claimed he modeled much of his book on actual events of her life, but twisted them to portray them in a negative light. She was so upset that she decided to write her own story, and “Geisha, A Life” was born. With a back-story like that, how could I stay away?

I finished Mineko’s story during lunch today, and I can see why she was upset with Arthur Golden. As I was reading Geisha, A Life, I could see the inspiration for many of the characters and events in Memoirs of a Geisha. And as Mineko correctly points out, many of those events are given a more negative spin in Golden’s work.

But Mineko’s story is far from sad. She was a tremendously successful Geisha. She was singled out as a child to be the successor of her okiya, and though she had a charmed life, she worked very hard for it. Her drive, resourcefulness, and adaptability are what kept her performing at the top of her field until she chose to “retire” at age 29. She goes on to have a happy family life with her husband and children. Mineko’s book chronicles her successes and stumbles, and I found it to be a very enjoyable read.

One of the little nuggets in this story was an account of Mineko hiding a hobby from almost everyone in her life. Geisha in training were forbidden to participate in anything that might cause them bodily harm. And since Mineko was studying dance in particular, sports would never have been allowed for her. But even though her days started before dawn and ended late at night, she managed to join a girl’s basketball team! She says she got away with it because she claimed to be taking a flower arranging class. But as an ex-high school athlete, I don’t know if one class would provide enough cover. I had daily practices and weekly games, so my sporting life was a big commitment. But Mineko says she successfully kept her basketball career a secret. As an added bonus, her team finished second in their division that year. Go, girl, go!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Mandie Books

A little while ago, this post reminded me of a favorite series from my childhood: The Mandie Books. I picked up the first book at my grandparent's house. She didn't even know why she had it laying there. I read it and was drawn in. There was only one book, so I wait to wait for each new episode to come out...and as I result, I sort of grew up with Mandie. In every book she finds a mystery to solve, accompanied by her good friends Joe Woodard and Celia Hamilton. And at some tense moment in every book, Mandie gains courage from her favorite verse: "At what time I am afraid, I will put my trust in Thee."

Since the Mandie series was floating closer to the surface of my thoughts, on a recent trip to the library I decided to look up the author and the series to see how much the series had grown. (My Mandie addiction fell off in my high school years). That's when I discovered that my beloved childhood author passed away in October!

I immediately did two things: Checked to see how many books I was missing from the Mandie collection, and scour the internet to see if Mandie and Joe end up happily married at the end of the the last book (because the further along the series went, that was the biggest question I needed to be answered).

I have 36 of the 40 books, so well done there. But alas, there's no Mandie/Joe resolution. In fact, apparently there's a new potential love interest in the Mandie Goes to College "series" (only one book was ever finished)! I can't tell you how much this upsets me. Joe is fantastic. He's constantly saving Mandie's skin and then giving her the credit for solving the mystery. If she runs off with some college guy, then she's missing out on (and messing up) a fantastic childood-sweetheart opportunity. That's just not allowed!

Do you ever change storylines in your own personal literary world? Because in my Mandie universe, Joe will always have his place as the knight in shining armor.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Audio Adventures

I recently listened to two familiar stories: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, and Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden.

I first read Redeeming Love a year or two ago, and loved it. I enjoy when authors can take a short passage of scripture and weave it into a larger tale. I think it gives us a chance to really dive in and understand the characters, their situations, and their choices. Looking at them sideways as Kate would say. Redeeming Love takes the story of Hosea and sets it in the Old West during the gold rush. Rivers brought the familiar Biblical story to life in a whole new way. The audio book was able to do the same thing: it allowed me to experience this story “new” again. It’s interesting to listen to another person giving a voice to characters. Sometimes the narrator emphasizes a sentence or thought differently than I would have read it…be it by the timing or the emotion they use etc. And that difference helped me to pay attention and enjoy the story anew, for a second time.

I had watched the movie, Memoirs of a Geisha, but had not read the book. But I saw it as an audio book on the library shelf and decided to give it a shot. When I got to the checkout counter, my favorite librarian told me that he loved the book. “It’s so much better than the movie. And the movie was good,” he told me. After that praise, I’m happy to say that I concur. I really enjoyed how the book was recorded. The narrator talks slowly and deliberately, the way you might imagine an older, dignified, oriental woman telling a story. The book is full of similies and flowery descriptions. And since it *is* the book, it’s different than the movie. Parts of the plot are different, some of the characters have different facets, etc. Up until the last few chapters, I didn’t know if I was going to like how it all turned out. Nobu is a much greater part of Sayuri’s life in the book than in the move, and I found myself really liking him. The Chairman in Memoirs of a Geisha is kind of like Arwen in LoTR. They are portrayed a bit differently in the movies because the director wants you to connect more strongly with their characters. But having said all that, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would happily recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the movie.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Where's My Happily Ever After?

So I just finished all three books that are currently in the Vampire Academy Series by Richelle Mead (the fourth book is scheduled to come out on 8/25/09), and here is my complaint. There is no happy ending. And no conceivable happy ending in sight. Do I expect every book to have a happy ending? Of course not. Some of my favorite books have bittersweet or downright depressing endings. But this time, I was looking for fluff. Not serious reading or great literature, just a quick read with an entertaining plot. Fluff, to me, includes a satisfyingly happy or, at the very least, ambiguous resolution (side note: is ambiguous resolution an oxymoron?). The end of the third book? NOT HAPPY*. Where's my warm fuzzy feeling that usually comes with fluff? Fuzz and fluff are relatives after all...

*Now, this is not to say that I am unhappy with the series as a whole...I liked it...I would consider reading it again...dependent on the outcome of the 4th book, which I am planning on reading. I hope my warm fuzzy feeling is not lacking this time, but I'll be sure to let you know...

Friday, April 24, 2009

House of Night Series

House of Night Series
I read Marked, Betrayed, and Untamed. I skipped Chosen, but was able to infer the major plot events at the beginning of Untamed, so wasn’t lost at all in continuing the series.

The House of Night is a series of young adult Fantasy/Horror novels co-authored by P.C. Cast and her daughter Kristin Cast. The series revolves around the development and adventures of Zoey Redbird, a 16-year-old gifted fledgling vampyre who attends the House of Night school. Students move to this unique boarding school after they are “marked.” They then have four years of training (think, Hogwarts for vampyres) and during this time they will either make the full transition into a Vampyre or their body rejects the change and they die. Zoey has strong and unique abilities, and this sets her apart from her fellow students.

Things I like about this series:
It’s co-authored by P.C. Cast and her daughter. I also like how P.C. Cast acknowledges her students in the beginning of the book (she’s a teacher).

I like how the main characters are flawed and growing. There’s an emphasis on individual talent, but also the necessity of leaning on other and working together. I think the messages of trust, friendship, and doing the right thing get more poignant as the series progresses, and they would make good discussion points in a group setting. I especially like the character Sylvia Redbird. She is Zoey’s Cherokee grandmother and is often the voice of wisdom in the series. I also have a soft spot for Sister Mary Angela, who makes an appearance in book 4.

I like how the books are “easy reads.” They are engaging and you can finish one in a day or two (or if you’re me, in a couple hours). Also, each book covers a relatively short period of time, so if you happen to skip an episode, you can pick up what happened without too much trouble.

Things I didn’t particularly like:
Exploring sexuality is certainly a recurring topic in young adult fiction, coming-of-age stories, and the vampire genre as a whole, but many of the main crises in the series focus on the sexual misadventures of the characters. Even when other conflicts enter the storyline, it seems like the sexual dilemmas are always present.

The series is getting progressively darker as it moves forward. It reminds of the Harry Potter series: book one starts out with an introduction to the wizarding world, by book 4 the intangible villain has returned to power, and book 7 culminates with an “ultimate showdown” situation. But unlike Harry Potter which has one main villain who grows in power and influence, the House of Night seems to be introducing new evil personalities and phenomenon. It’s hard to tell how the escalation will continue to grow. Since it appears to be an open-ended series, maybe P.C. and Kristin Cast haven’t quite figured it out yet. I hope they have an arc in mind, otherwise I fear this series might go the way of the “Wheel of Time” – lots of books but no real end in sight.

Somewhat related, each book ends with a semi-resolution. The crisis of the particular book is resolved, but there’s already the sense of the next battle brewing. I know it’s meant to keep you hooked and coming back for more…but these books are literary candy to me and I want more of a warm fuzzy at the end. It’s there, but co-existing the gathering tension.

Overall recommendation:
Good for pleasure reading, especially if you like vampire stories.

Fashioned for Intimacy

When I read Fashioned for Intimacy by Jane Hansen for the first time, I scarfed it up. I labeled it as one of the best relationship books I’ve ever read, and I meant it. So when I decided to re-read it earlier this year, I was surprised at how differently I feel about it now. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t have the freshness and wonder of a brand new read. Maybe it’s because I’m a different person now. But for whatever reason, I didn’t experience the same joy on my second foray through the book.

I still agree with many of her insights. And I think she has some valid ideas of how the roles of men and women could be reconciled to the design that God initiated in the beginning. I particularly liked how Hansen affirms that men and women have different strengths, and those strengths are not meant to be in competition (who's stronger and in charge here?) but in cooperation (how can we be stronger together?). I think women who deal with dependency or identity issues would benefit from the wisdom offered in it's pages, so Fashioned for Intimacy is still worthy of a read-through. But I wouldn’t call it the “best relationship book ever.”

Heart of Jane's message:
"The woman is uniquely and specifically designed to stand before the man in an intimate, face-to-face relationship. However, although women were meant to look to God to find their life, identity, value and significance, since the fall of Eve in the dawn of creation, they have looked instead to men to fulfill these needs. Only when a woman's heart is turned back to God to meet her needs, she is…free to be the help God intended her to be: to draw the man out of his aloneness by relating on a level that moves past the surface and touches the deep places of his heart. She is then able to stand in a healthy, face-to-face relationship with him."
"Jane Hansen on Male Female Reconciliation." Jane Hansen, October 24, 2004

Thursday, April 23, 2009

And I quote...

Of all the diversions of life, there is none so proper to fill up its empty spaces as the reading of useful and entertaining authors.~ Joseph Addison ~

She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain. (1873) ~ Louisa May Alcott ~

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to bechewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts,others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly,and with diligence and attention.~ Francis Bacon ~