Friday, January 29, 2010

Baby Sam

from Sam's journal:

1/28/10, 12:41 pm

"His surgeon just came and spoke with me. It was not good. He said that there was nothing more they could do for Sam, and we have two options right now. We can wait and see what he does in the next couple of days, or we can take him off of the ventilator, and he will pass away."

1/29/10, 11:04 am

"Aunt Julie here....

Just a short time ago a decision was made to stop Sam's dialysis. Tonight he will be rocked to sleep with a new body in the arms of our loving Father.

Kurt and Joy are holding him now. They are surrounded by their family and friends. It won't be much longer now.

Joy showed me a book last night that one of Sam's nurses bought for him. It is called "Kiss Good Night" and I find it fitting

"And she bent way down, kissing Sam once and twice and then twice more.

Outside, the wind blew and the rain came down.

In the little white house, Mrs. Bear was taking out the light whispering, "Kiss good night, Sam... kiss good night..."

And Sam went to sleep..."

Sam will go to sleep today and wake up in heaven. How many people can say that they got to take their first steps in heaven?"

1/29/10, 1:40 pm

"Just a short time ago little Sam left the arms of his earthly father into the arms of his Heavenly father. "

1/29/10, 9:27 pm

"This morning Samuel's x-ray and lab work came back. His x-ray showed severe distention in his belly, and his lab work showed complete kidney failure. His digestive system was starting to shut down. There was nothing more that could be done. His body was weary, and God was clearly telling us that it was time to give our sweet baby boy back to Him. We wept, but we did not weep for Sam. We knew that today he would leave our arms and be in the arms of his Savior. And he did.

Kurt and I laid in bed with him, our faces against his cheeks, with both of our arms around him. We told him we were proud of him, that we loved him so so much, and that we were so thankful to have him as our son. We told him that Jesus was waiting for him, and that He would hold him until we could again. We prayed for and with him. Sam was ready to go. What we were told could take hours took only seconds....

We are rejoicing for our sweet baby. His heart and his body are healed, and he looked upon his Heavenly Father's face today. So, while we sorrow-we sorrow not for Samuel, but for us."

Thank you for caring for my friends, and their sweet boy, for his short time on earth. You will never know what it meant to them. If you have been following Sam's life, please visit his journal and read Joy's complete entry -

"Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest..."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fairy Tale Fridays

I'm a little late on this - what else is new lately! - but here's a fun new weekly activity that I'm going to start participating in:

Fairy Tale Fridays, hosted by Tif at Tif Talks Books.

What is this, you ask? Well, here's what Tif says:

In 2009, I read The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. Connolly put a spin on the classic fairy tales to create a gripping and entertaining modern tale of his own. I fell in love with the book, have continued to think about it, and have decided that I want to explore fairy tales in more depth in the coming year. The result: Fairy Tale Fridays!!

Every week, a fairy tale will be highlighted and discussed, from Hans Christian Anderson to The Brothers Grimm to even a multitude of tales from around the world. I may even throw in a fable or two to mix things up as well as opportunities to highlight your favorite tales from more recent authors. I encourage others to read the stories along with me, whether they may be the original or the more family-friendly children versions (with your child!), and then write a little something regarding your thoughts. These thoughts can include: Which version did you read? How does it compare to the children's version? Are they what you remember as a child? Do you have a recommended recent read that was inspired by this tale? It's really up to you to take it and be creative!!

Sounds like fun to me, and I've been hoping for something like this to pop up to replace Poe Fridays, which I enjoyed being a part of all last year. Sometimes my posts might be on Saturdays, but I am planning to try to participate every week.

Do you want to join us? Head over to the Fairy Tale Fridays post to get all the info. Our fairy tale for this week is Hansel and Gretel - time to get reading!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.

I'm joined in The Nonfiction Files by Jehara. If you would like to play along with us, let me know!

My current read is Secret Daughter: A Mixed-Race Daughter and the Mother who Gave Her Away by June Cross.

Synopsis from publisher:

June Cross was born in 1954 to Norma Booth, a glamorous, aspiring white actress, and James “Stump” Cross, a well-known black comedian. Sent by her mother to be raised by black friends when she was four years old and could no longer pass as white, June was plunged into the pain and confusion of a family divided by race. Secret Daughter tells her story of survival. It traces June’s astonishing discoveries about her mother and about her own fierce determination to thrive. This is an inspiring testimony to the endurance of love between mother and daughter, a child and her adoptive parents, and the power of community.

My thoughts so far:

I'm having a couple of different reactions to this book so far. Initially, I found myself feeling extremely angry with June's mother - she seemed to make a string of pretty poor choices, which led her to virtually abandon June because she was "inconvenient". I also felt angry with Aunt Peggy, the woman who raised June, because while I understand she took in June as a kindness, and truly loved her and took care of her the best she could, she also enabled June's mother in relinquishing her responsibilities.

But as I read further, I started to understand her decision better. I still don't know that I think what she did was okay, but I get that she probably felt like she didn't have other options, and that what she did was in June's best interest. She did at least provide a safe, caring environment for her daughter, and I could appreciate that.

June is still a girl throughout the first section of the book, so much of the time she is confused and unsure as she tries to figure out how to navigate between the two different worlds she is forced to live in. It's impossible not to feel for her - I felt like I just wanted to hug her much of the time. She is obviously very close to the story, and yet is able to talk about her mother without bitterness. It's clear the two had an odd but ultimately loving relationship.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the portrayal of race relations in the 1950s and 60s. In particular, the discussion of "passing" and it's importance at the time has been fascinating. I'm looking forward to the next stage of June's journey.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Trilogy review - The Sisters of the Quilt by Cindy Woodsmall

A co-worker loaned me this trilogy - she told me it was one of her favorites, so I was interested to read it. I don't read a lot in this genre - I know some people call it "bonnet romance" - but I had read and reviewed The Hope of Refuge by the same author last year, and while it didn't make my list of top reads for the year, I did enjoy it. I was interested enough in reading more by Woodsmall that I was happy to accept the loan - I decided to just write one post about the three books, recording my thoughts about each one as I finished.

When the Heart Cries by Cindy Woodsmall (Sisters of the Quilt, book 1)
published 2006
326 pages

synopsis from publisher:

Despite being raised in a traditional Old Order Amish family, seventeen-year-old Hannah Lapp desires to break with custom, forgo baptism into the faith, and marry outside the cloistered community. She’s been in love with Mennonite Paul Waddell for three years, and before returning to college for his senior year, Paul asks Hannah to be his wife. Hannah accepts, aware that her marriage will change her relationship with her family forever.

On the evening of their engagement, tragedy strikes and in one unwelcome encounter, all that Hannah has known and believed is destroyed. As she finds herself entangled in questions that the Old Ways of her people cannot answer, Hannah faces the possibility of losing her place in her family, in her community–and in the heart of the man she loves.

My thoughts:

While this was an entertaining enough read, I think I can tell this is one of the author's earlier works. The character development doesn't feel as rich as it did in The Hope of Refuge, and she seems to rely more on predictable plot devices. It was pretty easy for me to determine what was going to happen next, and I was right with relatively few exceptions.

I'm a bit surprised by the fairly negative depiction of the Amish lifestyle - Hannah's parents and community are portrayed as narrow and almost cruel, which is definitely a different tone than I had expected. There is a LOT of disaster in this novel - I hope the second is lighter, just because I feel like Hannah really needs a break from the tragedy.

I'll keep reading, but I'm not completely sold.

Finished: 1/20/10
Source: loan from Kayla
Rating: 6/10

When the Morning Comes by Cindy Woodsmall (Sisters of the Quilt, book 2)
published 2007
317 pages

synopsis from publisher:

Her relationship with former fiancee Paul Waddell in tatters, Hannah Lapp has fled her home in hopes of finding refuge with another Amish outcast, her shunned Aunt Zabeth in Ohio. Hampered by limited education and hiding her true identity, Hannah struggles to understand the confusing world of the Englischers and embrace unfamiliar freedoms, but a deepening friendship with the handsome Martin Palmer renews her courage to face the future.

Meanwhile, Hannah's absence and the distressing events that led to her disappearance create turmoil among her loved ones in Owl's Perch, Pennsylvania. Her father stubbornly refuses to search for her or to acknowledge increasing signs of instability in daughter Sarah, who suffers secret guilt over her sister's ruined reputation. Fiancee Paul Waddell is wracked with regret over his betrayal of Hannah's trust and is concerned with her whereabouts. He befriends Hannah's remaining allies - brother Luke, best friend Mary, and loyal Matthew Esh - trying to convince them to help search for his love.

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this book more than the first in the series. Hannah is given a chance to grow, and is able to make things happen, rather than just having things happen to her. Her relationship with Martin is much more believable, and her friendships with the Amish women she tries to help are refreshing.

I'm still not sold on the drama happening back in her home town - many of those characters just irritate me, so I am considerably less interested in their parts of the story. However, I do hope for a happy ending for several of them, so will continue reading the final book in the series.

I can't say there is anything about this series so far that is especially deep or well-written, but I am invested enough in Hannah's character that I want to know how things turn out - and I most definitely have an ending that I DO NOT want to see.

Finished: 1/23/10
Rating: 7/10

When the Soul Mends by Cindy Woodsmall (Sisters of the Quilt, book 3)

synopsis from publisher:

After receiving a desperate and confusing call from her sister, Hannah Lapp reluctantly returns to the Old Order Amish community of her Pennsylvania childhood.

Having fled in disgrace more than two years earlier, she finally has settled into a satisfying role in the Englischer world. She also has found love and a new family with the wealthy Martin Palmer and the children she is helping him raise. But almost immediately after her arrival in Owl’s Perch, the disapproval of those who ostracized her, including her headstrong father, reopens old wounds.

As Hannah is thrown together with former fiancĂ© Paul Waddell to work for her sister Sarah’s mental health, hidden truths surface about events during Hannah’s absence, and she faces an agonizing decision. Will she choose the Englischer world and the man who restored her hope, or will she heed the call to return to the Plain Life–and perhaps to her first love?

My thoughts:

*still reading - had this post pre-scheduled but life got in the way of my finishing the book. Will update when I am done. =) *

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Review - Triangle by Katherine Weber

Triangle by Katherine Weber
published 5/07
257 pages

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at

Esther Gottesfeld is the last living survivor of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire of 1911, and she is tired of telling her story. Something of a celebrity in the weeks and months immediately after the trial, she was subjected to court cases and newspaper interviews about her miraculous escape. Now, at age 106, Esther just wants to forget - but the fire, and the deaths of her beloved sister and fiance, still haunt her dreams.

When Ruth Zion, a feminist scholar researching the fire, contacts Esther about her story, Esther reluctantly agrees to meet her. As Ruth questions the aging Esther about that horrific day, she begins to detect inconsistencies in the story. Is it just the pitfalls of old age, or could Esther truly be hiding something? What could she possibly know about the fire that she is too scared to tell?

Rebecca Gottesfeld, Esther's granddaughter, is a brilliant geneticist. She and her partner, composer George Botkin, are the only family Esther has left, and the three are inseparable. When Esther dies, Rebecca is surprised to be contacted by Ruth but agrees to meet with her. At first infuriated by Ruth's suggestion that Esther might have been lying, Rebecca and George soon can't dispute that Esther's story might not add up. But how can you learn the truth about a life after someone is already gone?

In Triangle, author Katharine Weber explores the ways in which a person can tell the story of their life. By weaving together George's unique instrumental compositions and the fantastic tale of Esther's escape, she illustrates how both music and a person's life can be carefully constructed, and how the interpretation of both lies in the ear of the listener.

Weber's story ensnares readers from the first page, carrying them seamlessly through the intertwining tales of past and present. While her characters and dialog at times feel a bit too perfectly created, the story itself is interesting enough to overlook that small quibble. This is a fascinating look at a piece of modern American history, and readers will surely find themselves eager to discover the truth of Esther's life.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Forgotten English

One of my fun Christmas gifts was this little daily calendar - Forgotten English: A 365-Day Calendar of Vanishing Vocabulary and Folklore.

Each day, it has a weird old word or custom - some of them are highly entertaining. Here are some of my favorites so far:

Gilravage - To hold a merry meeting, with noise and riot, but without doing injury to anyone. It seems generally to include the idea of a wasteful use of food and of intemperate use of strong drink...(John Jamieson's Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, 1808)

Ackenpucky - Any food mixture of unknown ingredients. (Harold Wentworth's American Dialect Dictionary, 1944)

Ear-Biting - This odd mode of expressing pleasure, which seems to be taken from the practice of animals who, in a playful mood, bite each other's ears, is very common in our old dramatists. "I will bite thee by the ear." Romeo and Juliet (Rev. Alexander Dyce's Glossary to the Works of Shakespeare, 1902)

Affray - A skirmish or fighting between two or more. It is oft-times confounded with Assalt. But they differ in that an assalt is only a wrong to the party, but an affray may also be without words or blow given, as if a man sew himself furnished with armour or weapons not usually worn, it may strike fear into others unarmed. (Thomas Blount's Law Dictionary and Glossary, 1717)

Bowssening - Casting mad people into the sea, or immersing them in water until they are well-nigh drowned, have been recommended by high medical authorities as a means of cure. (James Pettigrew's Superstitions Connected with Medicine and Surgery, 1844)

This is a fun little calendar - I will probably share from it throughout the year.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

TSS - Review - The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver by Lois Lowry
published 1993
179 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Jonas's world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear of pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the community. When Jonas turns 12 he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.

My thoughts:

Every time I read a book that has been widely banned or challenged, I find myself eagerly awaiting the part that makes it "bad" - I expect something salacious, with lots of language, or sexual situations, or violence - something tangible so I can say, "Oh, sure, that's why parents don't want their kids to read this book."

Except I didn't find anything. What I found was a thoughtful story about a young boy in a highly controlled society, who begins to understand what it's like to have freedom. At first, Jonas' world doesn't seem that different from our own. But little by little, I began to understand just how dangerous his Community really was.

Lowry does a brilliant job of revealing just what the reader need to know at the time - she doesn't ever give everything away, but slowly and methodically drops the hints that allow her readers to put the pieces together. She builds compassion for all her characters - there isn't a "bad guy", just people who have chosen a specific path. This book really is all about choices, and the consequences of those choices, and it leaves the reader with so much to think about. I think this would be an excellent book to discuss with a junior high-aged child - in fact, my edition has a discussion guide at the end with questions that I can imagine would generate good discussion among a group of adults.

So I was left with the question, why has this book been banned? I did some research on the internet, and found the following article - apparently The Giver has been called "the suicide book", and some parents feel it doesn't clearly explain that suicide is not the solution to life's problems. Personally, I don't think it presents either suicide or euthanasia - the other apparently controversial topic presented in the book - in favorable lights at all. But I'm curious - have you read the book? What did you think about Lowry's treatment of these issues?

I think The Giver is an excellent novel. I definitely recommend it - I don't think I'll soon forget it.

Finished: 1/10/10
Source: my shelves
Rating: 9/10

This book counts toward:

2010 Challenge - book 1/20
category - YA

Unlock Worlds Challenge - book 1/6

Take Another Chance Challenge - book 1/16
Challenge 5 - Title Word Count
Challenge Description: Go to and, using the True Random Number Generator, enter the numbers 1 for the min. and 5 for the max. and then hit generate. Find a book to read that has that number of words in the title. Read the book and write about it.

My number was 2.

42 Science Fiction Challenge - 3/42

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Poe Fridays (on Saturday)

It's our last week of Poe Fridays, and Kristen told us we could pick ANYTHING we wanted to talk about this week - my selection is The Masque of the Red Death. You can read the full text here.

This is the story of Prince Prospero, hiding with his subjects from the dreaded Red Death. He decides to have a masquerade ball, with seven rooms each decorated in a different color. The last room is black, with with a blood-red light. Most of Prospero's guests are too scared to enter this room. At the stroke of midnight, Prospero notices a guest dressed in black robes, with a mask, looking like a representation of the Red Death. Prospero is insulted, and chases the man through the ball. When they reach the final, black room, the man turns to face Prospero, and the prince falls dead.

I was first introduced to this story in high school, and it was one of my favorite that we read that year. I was intrigued by it's gothic nature, and the many interpretations that could be drawn. I remember this was one of the few stories that actually generated discussion - most of the time our English classes were notably silent, but Red Death really got us talking.

It's been good spending the year reading and learning more about Poe. Thanks to Kristen, who hosted Poe Fridays each week at WeBeReading.

Friday, January 15, 2010

451 Fridays

451 Fridays is based on an idea from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In his novel, a group of people (Bradbury calls them Book People) are trying to keep the ideas found in books alive. Instead of actually saving the books, the Book People each "become" a book - memorizing it, word for word, and passing it down to the next generation.

451 Fridays asks what books you feel passionate about. What book do you think is so important that you would be willing to take on the challenge of "becoming"?

For our first 451 Fridays feature of 2010, I'm happy to welcome Jeanne, of Necromancy Never Pays. (Yep, that's really her blog name. To find out why, pay her a visit.) Jeanne can just about always talk me into reading whatever she's most recently reviewed, and she occasionally does Trivial Pursuit for Book Lovers posts, which are a lot of fun. Welcome, Jeanne!

What 5 books do you believe are important enough to be saved, and why?

Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

This is one of the first books I ever loved so deeply that the love has remained untarnished by sentimentalism into my adulthood. I named my first child Eleanor after both the 12th century Queen of Aquitaine and the flower of Lorien (also Sam Gamgee’s daughter).

Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

I identify strongly with all the characters in this novel, in turn. The ridiculousness of the Pearl’s desire to have “extra” children is so pathetic, for instance, and seems to me so true to life.

Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

Because I can’t forget Codi’s question “Didn’t you ever fly in your dreams?” and Loyd’s reply “Only when I was real close to flying in real life.”

Shakespeare, Othello

Can there be any more impassioned and deluded utterance in the entire English language than Othello’s “It is the cause”?

Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Through ridicule and absurdity it makes some serious points, but its readers are laughing too hard to mind.

Of those 5, which book would you choose to "become"?

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

Favorite quotes from that book, so we know why you love it so much?

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is one of the most extraordinary ventures in the entire history of catering. It has been built on the fragmented remains of…it will be built on the fragmented…that is to say it will have been built by this time, and indeed has been—

One of the major problems encountered in time travel is not that of accidentally becoming your own father or mother. There is no problem involved in becoming your own father or mother that a broad-minded and well-adjusted family can’t cope with. There is no problem about changing the course of history—the course of history does not change because it all fits together like a jigsaw. All the important changes have happened before the things they were supposed to change and it all sorts itself out in the end.

The major problem is quite simply one of grammar, and the main work to consult in this matter is Dr. Dan Streetmentioner’s Time Traveler’s Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations. It will tell you, for instance, how to describe something that was about to happen to you in the past before you avoided it by time-jumping forward two days in order to avoid it. The event will be described differently according to whether you are talking about it from the standpoint of your own natural time, from a time in the further future, or a time in the further past and is further complicated by the possibility of conducting conversations while you are actually traveling from one time to another with the intention of becoming your own mother or father.

Most readers get as far as the Future Seminconditionally Modified Subinverted Plagal Past Subjunctive Intentional before giving up; and in fact in later editions of the book all the pages beyond this point have been left blank to save on printing costs.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy skips lightly over this tangle of academic abstraction, pausing only to note that the term “Future Perfect” has been abandoned since it was discovered not to be.

Jeanne, thank you so much for taking the time to share with us YOUR list of books which must be saved.

I've decided to make 451 Fridays a bi-weekly feature; my well of participants is running a little dry, and this will allow me to keep the feature running as long as possible. As always, if you or someone you know is interested in participating, please let me know!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.

I'm joined in The Nonfiction Files by Jehara. If you would like to play along with us, let me know!

My current read is Nothing To Do But Stay: My Pioneer Mother by Carrie Young.

Synopsis from publisher:

Carrine Gafkjen was, as her daughter remembers, at once the most liberated and unliberated of women. If she had considered the subject at all she would have thought it a waste of time. She firmly believed in destiny; what fate planned for her she dealt with head-on.

In the early 1900s the twenty-five-year-old Gafkjen boarded a train from Minneapolis to claim a homestead for herself on the western North Dakota prairies. She lived alone in her claim shack, barred her door at night against the coyotes, existed on potatoes and salt, and walked five miles to the nearest creek to wash her clothes. A decade later she had, by her own ingenuity, doubled her landholdings and became a secure women of property. Then, at an age when most other women would have been declared spinsters, Carrine Gafkjen married Sever Berg and had six children.

Nothing to Do but Stay tells the story of this uncommon woman with warmth and good humor. It gives testimony to the lasting spirit of our pioneer heritage and, in these uncertain times, to the staying power of family and tradition. This book will appeal to all those with an interest in the settlement of the West, the history of the Great Plains, women's studies, and the perseverance of the early-twentieth-century farmers.

My thoughts:

Normally I read nonfiction books over the course of a few days to a couple of weeks, but I gobbled this small book up in one sitting. Less a linear narrative and more a series of essays about life as a pioneer, this is a quiet testimony to a type of strength we just don't see anymore.

I knew I would like the author's mother from the first sentences - "My pioneer mother was wild for education. She firmly believed that young people given enough schooling and using the brains they were born with could rise above themselves as far as they wanted to go, the sky the limit." She lived that belief, giving each of her 6 children a high school and college education during a time when many had to stop going to school to help support the family.

Carrie's mother was strong - there is really no other way to describe her. She was strong of back, strong of mind, strong of purpose. She moved to North Dakota, bought her land with cash, worked and saved and made herself a prosperous farm - alone. She didn't have a family to support her, or husband to depend on - she made her own decisions, bore the consequences, and became extremely successful. Then, when she decided to have a family, she committed completely to the changes that life brought, and had a loving marriage and raised 6 happy, intelligent and well-adjusted children.

The author has a clean, simple way of telling a story. She doesn't create drama where it doesn't exist, but allows the reader to experience the struggle and joy of life as a homesteader as it happened. One of my favorite examples is this story of her mother's weekly laundry routine:

"My mother spent every Monday from dawn until late afternoon doing the family wash. It was probably no accident that four out of six of her children were born on Tuesday.

If she wasn't having a baby on Tuesday, my mother ironed. She had three flatirons, which she heated on top of her kitchen range and which she lifted with a detachable handle. She changed irons about every ten minutes as they cooled off. When I awakened on Tuesday morning, I could hear my mother ironing. The handle squeaked as it was pushed against the flatiron moving across the ironing board. One Christmas my father bought her an outsized gasoline iron, which was equipped with a small gas tank on the back; it had to be generated like a gas lamp before being lit. My mother loved that iron. It had such a large smooth surface, and she didn't have to heat up the coal range as she did with her old flatirons. But all day the carbon monoxide fumes drifted up in her face, and by the end of the day she had a splitting headache. Still, she refused to give it up; she thought the headaches were worth the time it saved. One Tuesday, however, she was in a hurry, and she didn't generate the iron long enough. It started to puff, and she hurled it out the kitchen door a second before it burst into flames. It couldn't have happened to a nicer piece of equipment."

If I have a quibble about the book, it's that I was expecting a bit MORE about the author's mom - while she is certainly featured, the story is as much about the entire family as it is about one person. I did enjoy the family vignettes, but found Carrie's mother to be the most interesting, and would have loved to read even more about her.

This is a quick read, and I think it would have wide appeal. It would be a good book for someone who doesn't have a lot of time to read - each chapter is basically a complete story, and this would be a volume that could be dipped into if you only have a few minutes to read each day. I think it would also be appropriate for young adult readers. It's not story-driven, but rather glimpses of a lifestyle that has passed us by.

Finished: 1/9/10
Source: my shelves
Rating: 8/10

This book counts toward:

Women Unbound Reading Challenge - book 1/8

The 4 Month Challenge - book 2/20

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Battle of the Bards

Need something to tide you over between fantasy football and March Madness?? (Maybe that's just me...)

Does a Literary Battle Royale sound like fun?? (Now THAT'S more like it!!)

My friends Padfoot and Prongs have just what you need - The Battle of the Bards.

How it works:
Each week there will be 2 posts featuring highlights from the battling ballads (one pair up from the left and one pair up from the right) and you will be given a good amount of information to help you make your choices when voting. There will be interesting facts, quotes, and summaries for each play. We need any and all literary lovers to crawl out from the wood works to place your vote and aid us in our quest. As the weeks press on, the number of contenders will get smaller and smaller until we reach our final battle and a champion is announced!!

What's in it for me?
If answering that tried and true question isn't enough glory for the average blogger, we have a bit of an incentive for participating.
For those who get their predictions in on time, you will be enterd for a chance to win....
(ooooohhhh ahhhhhhhhh)
That's right marauders. For that lucky thespian who gets the most guesses accurate, at their door they will find a literary package filled with treasures galore. The grand prize includes:

1. A copy of the winning Shakespeare play (plus an assortment 4 plays of your choice).

2. A custom mug featuring the B.o.B logo

3. Any prize of your choosing from the GBI Etsy store

4. Oh and wait for it...... a 20$ gift card to B&N courtesy of Padfoot and Prongs.

4. Other literary mystery prizes that will begin to pop up as the contest progresses, (not just for the winner) so be sure to participate and check back often.

But remember folks, to win this cornucopia of prizes you need to get registered and submit your predictions before January 18th.

How fun does this sound? I'm preparing my choices as we speak - if you want to sign up, head over to the Battle of the Bards post, where there is more info and a spot to enter. Let the games begin!!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

My resolutions

I've been reading the many and varied posts about 2010 blogging resolutions - reading deliberately, reading out of comfort zone, tracking what we read, reading more for fun, etc.

I've been quietly envious of all the planning and thought that has gone into those posts, and started setting goals for myself about fancying up my blog, and figuring out how to structure my reading and blogging for the coming year.

And then, last Wednesday, we had (another) snowstorm. Roads were bad, traffic was crazy, and a friend of mine slid into the back of a semi while trying to avoid another accident. He didn't survive.

He left behind a wife, and two beautiful young sons. I saw him at 3:00 pm that day, and by 6:00 he was gone.

To be perfectly honest, this staggered me. I can't imagine being his wife, receiving that phone call. I can't imagine wondering what the last thing I said to my husband was - was it kind? Did he know how much I loved him?

This is just the latest in a series of events over the past year that has served to remind me of how precious and fleeting is the time we have to spend with those we love. We are not guaranteed a tomorrow - all we have is this one, singular moment.

It suddenly made worrying about how to make tabs for my blog seem rather unimportant.

So today, on the anniversary of the day I came into the world, here are my resolutions for 2010:

~ Make sure the people I care most about never doubt how much I love them
~ Don't pass up an opportunity to spend time with the people that make my life blessed
~ Find a reason every day to rejoice
~ Be deliberate about thanking people when they touch my life
~ Remember that every day is a gift

"There's no such thing in anyone's life as an unimportant day." ~ Alexander Woolcott

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Poe Fridays (on Saturday)

We are coming to the end of our year-long journey with Poe, and I approach it with mixed feelings. On one hand, I would be lying if I didn't say I was getting a bit burned out. This happens to me when I read a whole bunch by the same author all in a row - it's why I don't try to read series with more than 3 books back to back. I just need to give myself a break, and then I am able to appreciate the author's work a bit more.

However, it has been an enlightening and mostly entertaining year reading Poe's stories and poems. I feel like I understand him better as a person, though maybe not as a writer, and I certainly have a new appreciation for his work. I'm glad I participated in this year of Poe!

Now on to this week's selection - Poe's only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. You can, if you are interested, find the full text here.

How to summarize this story? It's part adventure, part travelogue, part coming-of-age, partly incomprehensible. Arthur Gordon Pym, of Nantucket, goes on several sea voyages, most of which turn out horribly. He survives shipwreck, mutiny, ambush, illness, starvation - really, he has quite a dramatic time. And...then it ends, in one of the most abrupt finishes I've ever read.

I'm glad Kristen gave us extra time for this one - it was not an easy read. Parts were quite exciting, but parts seemed rambly, and there were places that made me feel pretty uncomfortable - Poe clearly bought into the prevailing racist attitudes of his day, and made his few non-white characters awfully stereotypical.

I think if it would have been a short story, I actually might have enjoyed it. I definitely was intrigued and entertained by the first section, and a good way into the second. However, it really started to drag for me about halfway through, and I definitely had to push myself to finish. And then the ending - suddenly, it was just done. I couldn't tell if Poe ran out of things to say, or was just as tired of this story as I was.

It's interesting to note the influences this story had on other work, most notably that of Herman Melville and Jules Verne. It had a somewhat mixed reception at the time it was initially published, but has gone on to be one of Poe's most translated works.

Poe Fridays is hosted by Kristen at WeBeReading.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Thursday Tunes

Thursday Tunes is a weekly event hosted by S. Krishna, devoted to sharing the music we love.

S. Krishna usually features a new artist each week - just to be different, I'm going to focus on a specific song, because it's the song that hooks me. There are very few artists whose entire body of work is in my MP3 player, but I have thousands of songs I love.

My birthday is coming up this weekend - woo hoo! I'll take an all-expenses paid trip to someplace tropical, thanks. (Somehow I don't think that's in the plan....)

So, in honor of the big event, let's all pretend we are 14 again......*grin*

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.

I'm joined in The Nonfiction Files by Jehara. If you would like to play along with us, let me know!

My current read is Spiced: A Pastry Chef's True Stories of Trials by Fire, After-Hours Exploits, and What Really Goes On in the Kitchen by Dalia Jurgensen. You can read my previous posts about this book here and here.

Synopsis from publisher:

Spiced is Dalia Jurgensen's memoir of leaving her office job and pursuing her dream of becoming a chef. Eventually landing the job of pastry chef for a three-star New York restaurant, she recounts with endearing candor the dry cakes and burned pots of her early internships, and the sweat, sheer determination, and finely tuned taste buds-as well as resilient ego and sense of humor-that won her spots in world-class restaurant kitchens. With wit and an appreciation for raunchy insults, she reveals the secrets to holding your own in male-dominated kitchens, surviving after-hours staff parties, and turning out perfect plates when you know you're cooking for a poorly disguised restaurant critic. She even confesses to a clandestine romance with her chef and boss-not to mention what it's like to work in Martha Stewart's TV kitchen-and the ugly truth behind the much-mythologized family meal.

My final thoughts:

Jurgensen concludes her story of life and work as a pastry chef with her job in a 3-star restaurant. In many ways this is her best job, as she has complete control over her dessert menu, better working conditions, and a much better schedule. However, she experiences the full brunt of workplace tension, as the staff around her subject each other to harassment, sexual innuendo, and full-on aggression. By the end of her book, she is looking to the future, wondering if she will be able to continue working in her current position in the restaurant world.

This was probably my least favorite part of the book, although the tone and style remain as entertaining as before. Jurgensen chooses to share, in great detail, the seedier parts of restaurant life, and I just didn't care that much about those details.

She was working in New York during 9/11, and her restaurant's response to the tragedy was remarkable. Basically shutting down regular service, they spent several days preparing and serving food to search-and-rescue workers, medical personnel, and survivors, walking the food to ground zero themselves. Eventually they became a sort of control center for the many restaurants, distributors, and other food services who came together to help in the rescue efforts. Of all the stories of 9/11, I hadn't heard this one before, and it was a pleasure to read.

In general, Spiced was a lot of fun. It reminded me in many ways of Top Chef, one of my favorite TV shows, and was a great read for this busy time of year. My biggest complaint is that Jurgensen didn't share recipes for any of the countless yummy-sounding desserts she talks about making - however, if you look on her blog (My Spiced Life), you can find a few, including a brownie recipe you can bet I'm going to try. Ultimately, Jurgensen isn't probably going to change your life, but I bet she'll give you a few hours of entertainment, and probably make you a little bit hungry, too!

Finished: 12/23/09
Source: the publisher - thank you!
Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My Month in Movies

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
~ Ferris Bueller

Here's a look at what made it off my Netflix queue into my DVD player this month:

Sin Nombre (2009) - This movie has been receiving a lot of critical acclaim, most notably at Sundance and the Independent Spirit Awards, and it was certainly compelling. The story of two teens from Honduras trying to escape their individually crappy lives and travel to the US, there were moments that were excellent. I thought especially the two young actors portraying the main characters brought their parts to life beautifully. It's not exactly a cheery film, however, so renters beware - not much good happens in this story.

My Sister's Keeper (2009) - Well, this was one case where reading the book first definitely ruined the movie for me - I knew the major spoiler, and the ending was completely different. However, Cameron Diaz was a complete surprise - what an acting job she did! And I enjoyed seeing Thomas Dekker in a short but poignant role. If you haven't read the book, and want a good tear-jerker, I would recommend this one - it's a weepy!

The Memory Thief
(2007) - I found this movie to be very sad. A young man who doesn't have a past of his own becomes obsessed with the stories of Holocaust survivors. The lead actors, Mark Webber and Rachel Miner, were completely believable in their roles, and while the story itself was quite intriguing, I did feel it lacked a bit of narrative drive. However, a really good indie film - recommended.

State of Play (2009) - am I the only person who has seen this movie? Because it was pretty darn good. Russell Crowe is, as usual, excellent - he kinda grosses me out in real life, but in the movies he's remarkable. Jason Bateman plays a great slimy guy, and of course the incomparable Helen Mirren as the ballsy newspaper editor. Ben Affleck is even darn good. There were some plot holes, as in any thriller, but the tension and urgency allowed me to overlook them. I've seen hardly any press about this movie, but I really enjoyed it.

Inglourious Basterds (2009) - So, Tarantino takes on the Nazis - and this is pretty much what I expected. I do enjoy Tarantino's movies (well, except for From Dusk Til Dawn - seriously? It's a vampire movie?), so I wasn't surprised by much of anything, and took it for what it was - a rollicking good time. Brad Pitt is brilliant - his skill as a comedic actor shines. If you can stomach the Tarantino style, this won't disappoint - if he's not for you, this one won't change your mind.

I feel like I'm missing something from this list, but I can't remember what....oh well. Next up in my queue is District 9, and I have a feeling that's going to produce some nightmares....

Monday, January 4, 2010

Review - Reader and Raelynx by Sharon Shinn

Reader and Raelynx by Sharon Shinn
464 pages
published 9/08

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at

Reader and Raelynx is the fourth novel in Sharon Shinn's Twelve Houses series. Set in the world of Gillengaria, the series follows the adventures of seven disparate friends as they try to save a kingdom. Gillengaria is divided into 12 principalities, each controlled by one of the Twelve Houses, the noble families who have ruled this world since its inception. The Twelve Houses are ruled by King Baryn, who makes his home in the royal city of Ghosenhall.

Unrest is brewing in Gillengaria, with lesser lords unhappy under the rule of the Twelve Houses, and two of the Twelve Houses fomenting rebellion against King Baryn. Baryn is guarded by his elite soldiers, the King's Riders, and a group of powerful mystics with abilities both amazing and frightening. Soon, however, it is Baryn's daughter, Princess Amalie, who will be in need of protection.

In the first three novels of this series, Shinn introduces a group of four mystics and two Riders who, abandoned by their own families, form unbreakable bonds of love and friendship. Reader and Raelynx is Cammon's story. Cammon is a powerful Reader, sensitive to the thoughts and emotions of others. When Baryn decides Amalie must take a husband, Cammon is called on to help guard the princess, reading the intentions of the men who come to court her. When tragedy strikes the royal house, Cammon becomes even more important, and the relationship between the two young people grows ever closer. With war on the borders and the future of Gillengaria in question, Cammon and his friends must keep Amalie safe, no matter the cost.

This is a mostly satisfying conclusion to a much-beloved series. Cammon and Amalie make a delightful pair, and Amalie is a strong, feisty heroine with surprising complexity and depth. Shinn allows the reader to become reacquainted with all the characters who have featured strongly in previous volumes - Senneth and Tayse, Kirra and Donnel, Justin and Ellynor, Valri, Romar, Coralinda and Halchon Gisseltess - and brings many plot points started in those volumes to their logical conclusion. While some details are less surprising than one might hope, the overall story is strong.

These novels will not be for everyone - hard fantasy readers may find more romance than they want, while romance readers may not appreciate the fantastical worlds Shinn creates. However, readers looking for action and adventure with a good dose of magic and romance won't go wrong with this series.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

TSS - 2009 in Review

JoAnna and I are VERY ready for a new year. 2009 just seemed....hard. For a whole lot of reasons. But my sweet girl and I are both looking forward to great things in 2010.

(And I hadn't shared a picture of my adorable niece in a while - isn't she a doll!! Almost ready to walk...)

But first let's take a look back at 2009 in books. I've been having fun reading posts from other bloggers about their favorites, and least favorites, and all the other lists you have created. As I was looking over the books I've read in 2009, I noticed that the books that really stood out to me weren't necessarily the ones that I rated the highest (although there were plenty of those), but the ones that surprised me in some way.

SO, here's my list of books that were unexpected pleasures this year.

Best Book with a Woolly Mammoth as a character:

Alaska by James Michener
- my first selection in my Relative Reads feature, I read this book on the recommendation of my Grandpa. I hadn't read anything by Michener before, and was frankly a bit intimidated by it's size. Also, there were entire chapters written from the perspective of animals, and they totally worked. I'm hooked on this author, and have more of his books on my shelf to read this year.

Best Book that I was SURE I wouldn't like:

So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger
- It's official - MY MOTHER IS ALWAYS RIGHT. There, I said it. I remember really not liking Enger's first novel, so when my mom gave me this one to read I was.....not excited. But I will happily eat my words, because I loved this novel - so much that I plan to go back and re-read the other one.

Best Book I picked up from the library completely randomly:

My Abandonment by Peter Rock
- proving that sometimes you SHOULD judge a book by it's cover, this was a last minute grab in the library bag, and it blew me away. You do NOT want to know too much about it going in - just read it and wait to be astounded.

Best Book in which I totally disagreed with the author:

Losing My Religion by William Lobdell
- This book was hard to read, and I don't agree with the author's ultimate conclusion - that believing in God is not a choice, but a foregone conclusion - but I deeply respected his journey to that conclusion, and thought he wrote about his painful experiences with great eloquence.

Best YA Book that doesn't involve vampires:

Skellig by David Almond - I'll be honest - I'm a little bit "vampire/werewolf/fairy/etc" 'd out. Do authors write YA books that don't involve some kind of extra-human creature anymore? Well, Skellig has something like that too, but it's completely different from what you expect, and I found it delightful.

Best Completely Unreliable (and yet, somehow absolutely believable) Narrator:

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon - You know right away that Lou is probably not the best judge of his own life story, and yet he makes SO much sense - this was a brilliantly written novel, probably the best SF I read all year.

Best Book that could easily be turned into a trashy show on The CW:

Gossip of the Starlings by Nina de Gramont - admitting I liked this novel feels a little bit like admitting I enjoy One Tree Hill and Gossip Girl - just a little bit ashamed of myself. But oh, if you want a guilty pleasure read, look no further - this one is juicy.

Best Book that should probably be on the Oprah's Bookclub list:

After the Fire, a Still, Small Voice by Evie Wyld - this novel = bleak. You know how most of Oprah's picks kinda make you feel heavy when you get done reading them? (Or is that just me?) This novel had a bit of that same feel to it - it wasn't a cheery read, but it was arresting.

Best Book where I'm not quite sure I know what was going on:

Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente - honestly, I almost can't even give you a plot summary of this novel. It was odd, and dense, and wonderful, but I have a feeling it would really be a love-it or hate-it kind of book. I loved it.

Best Book about an Inanimate Object:

The Big House by George Howe Colt
- who would have guessed I'd become so engrossed in the fate of an old, slightly rickety house that I've never seen? But I certainly did.

Best Use of Chess as a metaphor for Life:

The Kings are Already Here by Garret Freyman-Weyr
- I'm pretty sure this is my favorite "new author" find of the year, and I loved this YA novel about a ballet dancer and a chess player. (And please note - no supernaturaly things going on - just a really good story about really interesting people.)

My Book of the Year -

Life's That Way by Jim Beaver - this book affected me in ways I still can't quite articulate. I want everyone to read this book - don't be put off by the heavy subject matter. This is a book about celebrating life - rejoicing in every moment - and it was so exquisitely written. I completely loved it.

Highest Rated books:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
My Abandonment by Peter Rock
Losing My Religion by William Lobdell
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Life's That Way by Jim Beaver
Skellig by David Almond
The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by M. Shaffer & A. Barrows
The Sandman: The Dream Hunters by N. Gaiman and P. Russell
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
The Big House by George Howe Colt
Reader and Raelynx by Sharon Shinn
The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden
The Darkness that Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker

Lowest rated books:

The Marchesa by Simonetta Agnella Hornby

Ulysses by James Joyce
Eve by Elissa Elliott
The Believers by Zoe Heller
Liars and Saints by Maile Meloy
On the Road by Jack Kerouac

So, that's my year in a couple of quick lists. As always, I'm happy that the list of books I loved is MUCH longer that the list of books I didn't.

"You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend." ~Paul Sweeney

I felt that way a lot in 2009, and am thankful for all the friends I found along the way. Here's to another great year in 2010.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Monthly Wrap-up

I hope you and your families have had a joyful holiday season! Just as quickly as December arrived, it has now passed, and it's time to take a look at what I was reading over the past month:

Triangle by Katharine Weber - interesting story about the oldest living survivor of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911, and the ways in which people construct the stories of their lives. Good, but at times the characters and dialogue seemed a little too "perfect" to ring true. Rated 6/10. (review forthcoming)

The Lost City of Z by David Grann
- truly exciting nonfiction about the quest to find a lost city in the jungles of the Amazon. I was hooked from the start, and it was a thrill to read all the way through. Rated 8/10. (My thoughts on The Lost City of Z)

This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun
- intense, powerful read about a man surviving as a prisoner in a hellish prison camp. This was not an easy read, but will be one of my most memorable of the year. Rated 9/10. (My review of This Blinding Absence of Light)

Spiced by Dalia Jurgensen - fun memoir about life and work as a pastry chef. I'm currently talking about this in The Nonfiction Files, so you'll continue to hear my thoughts for the next couple of weeks. Rated 7/10.

The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker - dark, epic fantasy novel that sets the stage for (I hope!) a fantastic conclusion, this first in a trilogy was a great read. Recommended for fantasy fans - if you don't enjoy the genre, I wouldn't tackle this one. Rated 9/10. (My review of The Darkness That Comes Before)

Well, I won't win any prizes for quantity this month, but in general what I read was very good in quality, so I'm happy with that. And now, on to 2010!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Review - The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker

The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker
The Prince of Nothing series, book 1
published 2003
589 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Strikingly original in its conception, ambitious in scope, with characters engrossingly and vividly drawn, the first book in R. Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing series creates a remarkable world from whole cloth-its language and classes of people, its cities, religions, mysteries, taboos, and rituals-the kind of all-embracing universe Tolkien and Herbert created unforgettably in the epic fantasies The Lord of the Rings and Dune.

It's a world scarred by an apocalyptic past, evoking a time both two thousand years past and two thousand years into the future, as untold thousands gather for a crusade. Among them, two men and two women are ensnared by a mysterious traveler, Anasarimbor Kellhus-part warrior, part philosopher, part sorcerous, charismatic presence-from lands long thought dead. The Darkness That Comes Before is a history of this great holy war, and like all histories, the survivors write its conclusion.

My thoughts:

This was quite a book to end the year reading. The first in a high-fantasy trilogy, it has me very excited to read the next two volumes.

Bakker has lot of ground to cover - his world is highly complex, with thousands of years of history and culture to explain, so at times all that information does feel a little overwhelming. I appreciated, however, that I never felt like Bakker was rushing through the preliminary stuff - everything worked within the confines of the story. I did have to read a bit more slowly that usual, because there were lots of new names and places to learn, but Bakker includes an extremely helpful list at the end of the book with that important information, so it was easy to flip back and forth if I was unsure who was talking.

Bakker's characters were satisfyingly rich and complex - each has so many facets to their personality that I feel like I've still only scratched the surface. Characters that I initially felt were not as interesting or important were allowed to unfold throughout the novel, so that by the end the entire cast - good and bad, and everyone in between - were compelling.

This felt very much like a "setting the stage" novel. I mean, we spent 500+ pages getting ready for a Holy War that we never quite arrived at! I think that might be frustrating for some readers - all this reading, and no payoff. However, I think it just made me more excited to see what will happen next.

This is a VERY dark novel - violence is rife throughout the book. I did find myself skimming over some of the descriptions of battle, and the plotting and machinating that was going on. But Bakker was able to hold my interest, even with all the fighting, because of the connection I felt to the characters. I do wish there was a stronger female character, but I have hope for the continued development of Serwe and Esmi.

I really enjoyed the reading of this novel, and I'm very excited to see what happens in the next installment of this series. I think fans of "high" fantasy or "epic" fantasy will probably enjoy this novel quite a bit. If you don't typically read the genre, I wouldn't even attempt it - I don't think it would work for you at all.

Finished: 12/27/09
Source: Forest Avenue library
Rating: 9/10