Thursday, December 31, 2009

Romance Novels

My mom shares all of her romance novels for me, and I tend to read them right before I go to bed, since they usually don't keep me in suspense the way other novels do, so I can actually go to bed at a decent hour instead of doing the "just one more chapter" thing. They are also a good way to clear my head after a stressful day at work when I don't really want to think to hard.

Here are a few I've read recently:
Minx by Julia Quinn - I keep saying Quinn is a different breed of romance novelists, and she is. Her books really go beyond the genre and she always has lovable characters. The male main character in this one is in a few of her others, and I love it when characters reappear like that. The female protagonist in this one is feisty and funny. She dresses like a man and runs the property and farm that she lives on, even though it's back in the early 1800s. It's got a good little story and was fun to read.

The Rocky Road to Romance by Janet Evanovich - I love Evanovich for her characters too, and she's hilarious. This one is a little weak; it's one of her first books, before the Stefanie Plum series. It actually has a lot of similarities to the Plum series, so it's really a building block for that which makes it more interesting to me, to see her process of becoming a better writer. It's got an accidentally crime solver, a crazy old lady who packs a .40 in her purse, and a dog named Bob. But the two characters fall in love way to soon and it has a really thin plot.

Song of the Road by Dorothy Garlock - Garlock's book are very sweet. They're more actual romance than loosely plotted sex scenes strung together like people think of romance novels being. She has several books about Route 66 back during the Depression. Song of the Road is one of those. It takes place in New Mexico and is about a young widow with a baby on the way and a drunk, mean mother. The mother was one of the most infuriating characters I've ever read about. She's horrible, and I feel so sorry for people who have to grow up with parents like that. The main character though was a tough, capable woman who manages to revive her family's motor court to make money and falls in love in the process. Good, simple, entertaining.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII

I normally read Alison Weir's book quickly, but it took me a while to get into The Six Wives of Henry VIII. I think I was just Tudored out. I've read a lot of books about Anne Boleyn over the last two years, watched the Tudors and a bunch of movies, read about Catherine of Aragon. So it took me a while to get through the first part of the book, the part about Catherine and Anne because I wasn't learning anything new. I wanted to finish all of my books I'm in the process of reading before the new year. I'm setting a goal to only read two books at a time next year, so I wanted to wrap up everything I'm in the middle of now.
Once I got the part of the book about Jane Seymour, my interest renewed. I'm really not that familiar with his later wives, so I enjoyed reaading about them and later part of Henry's life. I especially enjoyed reading about Anne of Cleves and Katherine Parr.
Anne of Cleves was his fourth wife, and his luckiest one. He simply divorced her, rather than beheading her or imprisoning her. Henry actually gave her three homes and plenty of money as part of the divorce. Anne was able to live in comfort and freedom for the rest of her life. Henry apparently thought she was ugly and wanted to get rid of her, but she was so amiable and well liked he did it nicely. He had heard of her great beauty and by the time he met her it was too late to back out. Apparently being nice and unattractive comes in handy once in a while. The most beautiful of his wives didn't fare so well.
I liked Katherine Parr because she was considered his most intelligent wife, and one of the most intelligent women of the time. She was Henry's last wife, and she was lucky in that he died before tiring of her. She was a very good stepmother to Mary and Elizabeth, more of a friend to Mary really since they were the same age (although they had a falling out later over religion). Weir notes that two of the finest minds of the time were molded by Katherine - Elizabeth I and Lady Jane Grey. Katherine was also instrumental in making it preferable for women to be educated. She promoted learning and scholarly pursuits in her court.
It's also interesting that out of his six wives, three were named Catherine. Makes it a little easier to remember. And two were named Anne. And his other wife and two daughters rounded out the names available - Jane, Mary and Elizabeth. It seems like pretty much every female had one of those names. And all of the men were Henry, Edward, or James. Makes it a bit confusing. It must be difficult to learn history in England. We Americans just have a few hundred years to learn of our country's history. English schoolkids have to learn 1500 years of history just of their country, with hundreds of people with all of the same names. It must be hard to try to remember if it was Henry the IV or V that did such and such. It just makes it that much sadder that most Americans don't know our own history, when it's not even that much stuff.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Arguing with Idiots

I know most people in the book blogging world probably aren't Glenn Beck fans, but I love the guy. And I loved his Arguing with Idiots too. Glenn is a libertarian, and the book is about exposing big government and trying to get people to go back to wanting small government. It's about personal responsibility and not expecting the government to take care of you. Grow up.
I like that Glenn shows how both Democrats and Republicans are wrong and need to be stopped. He's not just complaining about one party while the other party does the exact same thing, just to a greater or lesser extent than the other. All of his arguments come down to the Constitution - if it's in there then okay, if not, then it's not okay. The Constitution gives the federal government very few rights - so they should not be doing 90% of what they're doing. On the other hand, if a state wants to do something, it can go right ahead as long as they're following their state constitution. For example, the Constitution definitely doesn't give the federal government the right to create a national healthcare program. But if a state wants to screw themselves (like Massachusetts), then go right ahead. It's crazy how involved the government is with every aspect of our lives. It's none of their business where I send my child to school or if I homeschool. It's none of their business if I wear a seatbelt. Or if I buy health insurance. But, I don't expect the government to take care of me if I get in a wreck and am seriously injured because I was stupid and didn't wear a seatbelt. That's on me to fix, not them. I will stop there because this isn't a political blog, it's a book blog, but if you're interested in libertarian beliefs, this is a great book to pick up.
Also, it's a fun book. I liked how the book was laid out. It it very colorful and makes a lot of use out of sideboxes and pictures or illustrations. That made it a much more entertaining read than many nonfiction books are.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

British Kings and Queens

Mike Ashley's British Kings and Queens provides a great overview of all of the kings and queens of Britain. I feel like I have a better overall grounding of the subject now, and can better place them in history now. Before, I had read about various monarchs, but not in sequence, so I would often get confused about who went where. There are far too many to remember them all, but this gives me a better chronology at least. It was also neat to follow the genealogy and think about the current royal family descending from all of these other people.
I was also struck by the fact that the two best times in England's history were when Elizabeth and Victoria reigned. I knew that before reading this, but it's really striking when you read about them in conjunction with all of the other ones. Both of them ruled over great empires, the two biggest points in England's history. Both also ruled over a united Britain, which was rare. There was also great literary and scientific movements during both times.
On the other hand, it's surprising how many of the monarchs were somewhat crazy. Maybe that shouldn't really be surprising. They all either were raised to believe they were better than everyone and were coddled and spoiled, or weren't raised expecting to rule and were thrown in to it unexpectedly and didn't know how to handle it. And there's the fact that they married their cousins and once you do that a few times you're bound to get a few crazies.
Since Ashley is British, it was interesting to get his take on George III, the king during the American Revolution. George III was apparently one of the crazies, although they now think that was due to a blood disease, not actual madness. The war is covered pretty quickly since that's not the point of the book, but it renewed my interest in finding a British history book about that time period. I'd love to see how they teach that war in England.
Overall, if you're looking for a great overview of the British monarchs, this is a great choice.

The Lucky One

When I pick up a Nicholas Sparks novel, I expect to fall in love with the characters and dive into a story that takes my mind away. So I was surprised by the first chapter of The Lucky One. I hated what seemed to be the main character! The book starts off with this pervert cop who abuses his power. Where is my Southern prince charming? Fortunately, he does arrive shortly. :) The book is actually told through three points of view, which I think is a change from his other novels. The other two characters are much more likable.
I think the decision to tell the story this way, especially using the not very likable character, helped keep Sparks from falling into a rut. It made the book fresh. It also had an interesting story, about a Marine who finds a picture of a woman while serving in the war and it becomes his good luck charm, so he sets out to find her.
This is the first Sparks novel I've read since visiting North Carolina last year, and it was fun to read about a place where I've now been. Specifically, they go to Wilmington in the book, which is where I visited for an office visit for work. (And got to see where my favorite movie was filmed - Empire Records.) That helped make the novel more real to me. I definitely recommend it if you're a fan of his, or if you're just looking for an easy-to-read, entertaining story.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History

I love The Simpsons, so I was super excited when I saw The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History by John Ortved at the library. We have all 12 seasons that are out on DVD. The book is told in a unique way, consisting mainly of bits of interviews with people connected with the show, interspersed with commentary from the author. As a result, it doesn't read like a typical nonfiction book, which is a bit disconcerting at first but works really well overall for this book. Even if you're not a fan of the Simpsons, the book is a great commentary on the 90s and TV history during that time, and how creating an animated TV shows works.
The most surprising thing to me is how little Matt Groening has to do with the actual show. He created the concept and original sketches, but others really ran with it and fine tuned it, and did all of the actual writing. There was a lot of information about the writers. As a writer, that fascinated me, how the brainstorming and writing process works when you're working on a show and having to share writing duties. I also didn't realize that Conan O'Brien wrote for the show from 1991-1993. I guess that is actually the most interesting thing! He was the main writer for Marge vs. the Monorail and a few other episodes. That cracks me up. Ortved interviewed some of the people who worked with him at the time, and they talked about how shocked they were when he was chosen to do the Late Show since he was a writer. They all thought he'd be great because he was always entertaining them, but still. It's fun to think of him as a writer. And he named Selma's iguana Jub Jub. He used to make up silly commercials for a product called Jub, and they ended up naming the iguana after that in tribute to Conan. I was also surprised that most of the original writers all went to Harvard. I guess that's why a lot of the jokes are so smart in the first several seasons.
I loved that book talked so much about the 90s. For example, in 1990 the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, New Kids on the Block, and The Simpsons were the three biggest merchandising product brands! I loved all of those back in the day. I was shocked that at one point, Bart t-shirts sold "at the rate of a million per day in North America." What? That's crazy! But remember when those Butterfinger commercials ran every commercial break and Bart was everywhere? I'd kind of forgotten just how popular he was.
It's also amazing to think about how many people have made guest appearances over the years. The writers talk about meeting Michael Jackson, and how weird that was, and how they were all trying not to look at his nose. And Tom Wolfe talks about he didn't even know about his first appearance. His son was watching the episode, and yelled to him that he was on TV. I oddly happened to watch that episode today. Lisa goes to a book festival and he's there in a white suit, and it gets sprayed with mustard and he rips it off to reveal another white suit right underneath. How weird would that be?
Also, apparently Nancy Cartwright, aka Bart's voice, is a Scientologist. She donated more money than Tom Cruise in 2007. It's weird to think of Bart's voice being a Scientologist.
It was also neat to read about how Fox was just a fledgling network in 1989, when the show launched. It wasn't even in all U.S. markets until the mid-90s. The Simpsons, along with Married...with Children, grew the network. They also pointed out that the financial success of The Simpsons probably gave Rupert Murdoch the money he needed to launch Fox News. Which since I like Fox News is a good think for me, but it's funny to think that.
Finally, it talked about South Park and Family Guy, (along with the other successors to The Simpsons). It referred to South Park as libertarian, even conservative, which I thought was hilarious. Really? Libertarian, yes, but conservative? Not sure where that came from. I haven't watched South Park since high school, but I'm not really seeing that connection. It did make me want to watch Family Guy though. I may have to borrow the DVDs from my aunt since I seem to always catch the same reruns.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley wasn't what I expected, but in a good way. I first saw something about it Bookmarks magazine and liked the title and cover. I had made a note of it at the time, but then forgot about it until I was at the library a few weeks ago. I grabbed it without really looking at it. I finally picked it up to read this weekend, and cracked up reading the back: "[E]leven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison". Uh, what? Why has this been sitting on my couch for a week?
I immediately dove in and loved it. It's a mystery, with Flavia as the main character and detective. It's set in England in the 1950s. It's part Agatha Christie, part Lemony Snicket, and part something else wonderful. Flavia is hilarious, and I can't want for more of her. This is supposed to be the first in a series. The plot was fresh and entertaining, Flavia was wonderful, and it has that same quality that A Series of Unfortunate Events does, where everything is of this world, yet has a somewhat other worldly feel, where children are brilliant at solving crimes and having adventures. People who like mysteries or Lemony Snicket will like this, but I would say if you like anything quirky and funny, give this one a try!
This also counts toward the Countdown Challenge (for 2009) and the Four Month Challenge (read a book by a Canadian author).

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Man Who Invented Christmas

The Man Who Invented Christmas by Les Standiford was not what I had expected. I did get some information I enjoyed from it, but I was disappointed overall. The subtitle is How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits. I expected the whole book to be about that - what happened after A Christmas Carol came out and how it affected Dickens and our society. But the first third of the book was a general biography of Dickens. I understand giving some basic info as a background for the rest of the story, but a third of the book? That just seemed odd. Then, we finally get to A Christmas Carol, and get another third that's really more about publishing. It focused on how Dickens had to publish it himself, and had a lot of details about how that worked and his relationship with his publishers and how all of that worked back then. The the last third is when we finally get info on how people responded to it, the lasting impacts, and how it changed Dickens's career. That part was interesting, but it just took so long to get too. If you read this, check it out from the library (like I did) and then just start about two-thirds in, or just know what you'll be getting with the first part.
I did learn (or was reminded of) a few fun facts in the first part of the book. Oliver Twist can be considered the first Victorian novel and it's also the first novel with a child as the main character. Also, Dickens was selling his books to about 1/4 to 1/5 of the reading public! That's amazing. Issues of his serials sometimes sold 100,000 copies, which is what most of the NY Times best seller average.
Once we finally get to the Christmas section, Standiford tells us how Dickens created the tradition of turkey for Christmas dinner and ruined the goose industry. Prior to A Christmas Carol, most people had goose at Christmas dinner, but Scrooge buys a turkey for the Cratchits and it's been the most popular choice ever since. It was also interesting how prior to the Victorian age, Christmas wasn't widely celebrated. Easter was the big Christian holiday, since the day of Christ's birth wasn't (and still isn't) known. Christians took over the holiday in hopes of turning the pagan celebration of Saturnalia into something more pure. It grew during the Victorian times through both Dickens and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Albert was German, and made the tradition of the Christmas tree popular in England. So, I learned a few things, but overall was a little disappointed. It would have been better if it had a different title so you weren't expecting something else.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

100+ Books Challenge

My goal for 2010 is to read 180 books, so I should definately complete the 100+ book challenge, although I'm not 100% confident I'll hit 180. I will keep a running list of all books I read in 2010 here though, which will help me keep count without having to count blog posts or something.

1. The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde
2. French Milk by Lucy Knisley
3. The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers by Brion McClanahan
4. High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly by Donald Spoto
5. Biblioholism by Tom Raabe
6. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
7. One Fifth Avenue by Candace Bushnell
8. The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James
9. Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
10. Summer by Edith Wharton
11. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
12. Made in the U.S.A. by Billie Letts
13. Maybe Baby edited by Lori Leibovich
14. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
15. Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman
16. Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby
17. Plum Bun by Jessie Redmon Fauset
18. Enchantment by Donald Spoto
19. The Black Tower by Louis Bayard
20. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
21. 100 Worst Bosses by Jim Stovall
22. A Marriage Most Scandalous by Johanna Lindsey
23. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
24. La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith 
25. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
26. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
27. Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris
28. No Choice But Seduction by Johanna Lindsay
29. House Rules by Jodi Piccoult
30. Nanny Returns by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
31. Not My Daughter by Barbara Delinsky
32. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
33. The Ladies' Paradise by Emile Zola
34. Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
35. Big Boned by Meg Cabot
36. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
37. Love the One You're With by Emily Giffin
38. Club Dead by Charlaine Harris
39. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
40. Unclutter Your Life in One Week by Erin Doland
41. The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley
42. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
43. The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano
44. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
45. The Good Fairies of New York
46. Shopaholic Takes Manhattan by Sophie Kinsella
47. The Cricket in Times Square
48. The Complete Idiot's Guide to New York City
49. The Lonely Planet - NYC Guide
50. National Geographic New York
51. 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith
52. American Nerd by Ben Nugent
53. Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
54. Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume edited by Jennifer O'Connell
55. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
56. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume
57. Intimations of Austen by Jane Greensmith
58. How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen
59. The Language of Secrets by Dianne Dixon
60. Fall to Pieces by Mary Forsberg Weiland
61. Heart of the Matter by Emily Griffin
62. Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
63. The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks
64. The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell
65. Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro
66. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
67. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
68. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
69. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
70. Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon by Jane Austen
71. How to Read a Novel by John Sutherland
72. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
73. Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith
74. On Mystic Lake by Kristin Hannah
75. Jemima J by Jane Green
76. The Wedding Girl by Madeleine Wickham
77. Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen
78. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson
79. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Steig Larsson
80. The Help by Kathryn Stockett

A Christmas Carol

It's time for my annual rereading of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. One of the things that stood out to me this year was how he mentions other books such as Hamlet and Robinson Crusoe. It's fun to me that I've read some of the same stuff Dickens did, even though he lived a long time before me.
I'm jealous that people in Dickens' time actually got to hear him read A Christmas Carol. He'd do performances every Christmas. I knew this, but since I recently read The Last Dickens and watched a Doctor Who episode that featured him doing that, it just struck me that those people got to watch him do that. How cool would that have been? And it's amazing to me that 166 years later there's yet another movie made based on it. I wonder what it would have been like to read it that first year, before you knew anything about it. Now, we're usually very familiar with the story before we ever read it, if we ever read it. We all watch Mickey's A Christmas Carol and know the story from that. (I'm not knocking Mickey, I love that version!) But then when we read it, it's not as surprising as it must have been back then. I checked out a book from the library called The Man Who Invented Christmas, which is about Dickens, so I'm interested in what it has to say about that. Look for that review soon.
Also, I'm jealous that Dickens wrote this when he was just 31. That makes me feel like I really need to get on the ball with some sort of lasting accomplishment. I need to write a masterpiece in the next three years!
I usually try to post a picture of the copy of the exact book I have, but I couldn't find one for the one I have (not that I looked too hard though). It's from 1984 and is a signet classic, and they've updated covers since then and there are a billion different versions of the book out there, plus all movie stuff comes up even when you put "book" in your search. Oh well.

Bibliophilic Challenge

The Bibliophilic Challenge is about reading books about books, another favorite category of mine. I'm just going to sign up for the bookworm level (three books) to start with and may upgrade later. I have a couple of Harold Bloom books I need to read and I like Jasper Fforde so I should be able to move up but since I've signed up for several other challenges I'm just going to leave it at that level for now.


1. How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen

Our Mutual Read Challenge

I love love love this challenge: Our Mutual Read. I adore the Victorian period. I focused on eighteenth and nineteenth century English literature for my MA, and the Victorians of course fall into the later part of that era. I would like to read other books by some of my favorite authors from that time, so this is great inspiration! I'm going to shoot for the top challenge, 12 books, at least six written during the Victorian time frame, the others can be something that takes place during that time or is written about that time. I'm also going to try the period film mini-challenge.

Books read:
Father Brown - G.K. Chesterton

Here's a starting list:
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Vanity Fair - William Thackeray
Hard Times - Charles Dickens
The Old Curiousity Shop - Charles Dickens
Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
Pendennis - William Thackeray
Shirley - Charlotte Bronte
Agnes Grey - Anne Bronte
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne
Moonstone - Wilkie Collins
Something by Benjamin Disraeli
The Life of Charlotte Bronte - Elizabeth Gaskell
The Mill on the Floss - George Elliot
North and South - Elizabeth Gaskell
The Man Who Was Thursday - G.K. Chesterton

Read the Book, See the Movie Challenge

I thought this was a particularly fun challenge: Read the Book, See the Movie. I like watching movies based on books I've read, so I thought this would be fun. I just signed up for the Saturday Movie Matinee, which is four books/movies. I'm not going to pick my four yet, although looking at my flashback challenge list I see several options there. I've also been meaning to read Snow Falling on Cedars for a long time, so maybe this will inspire me to actually do it.

Science Book Challenge

I saw the Science Book Challenge on Eva's blog and thought that it would help motivate me to actually read the science books I keep thinking about reading instead of actually reading.
I know I'll read the Politically Incorrect Guide to Science because it's been sitting on my shelf for a while, but for the other books for this challenge I think I'm just going to browse the shelves at the library and see what strikes me. I just have to read three books for this challenge by the end of 2010.

Flashback Challenge

Flashback reading challenge For the Flashback challenge, I'm going to do the literati level, which is to reread over six books.

Books read:
A Cricket in Times Square (first read in college, oddly enough)

Here are the books I plan to read:
Wuthering Heights (a book I first read in junior high, then again in college)
Jane Eyre (a book I first read in college)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (a book I first read in high school, then used for part of my thesis in college)
Daphne's Book (a book I first read in elementary school)
Vanity Fair (first read in college)
Heidi (first read in elementary school)
The Secret Garden (first read in elementary school)
The Great Gatsby (first read in high school, then again in college)

I'm sure I'll also reread at least one book by Jane Austen.

This challenge runs through the end of 2010.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Belly Laughs

This is the book I actually meant to read when I read Baby Laughs. I am writing, although I use that term losely since it's more like "I wrote 15 pages and then stopped and am 'researching' for a part of the book I'm not even to yet" than actual writing at that moment. As part of that research that is really just procrastinating, I read Belly Laughs by Jenny McCarthy. Since I've never been pregnant, I wanted some information about it, and I thought McCarthy might share things the more scientific books don't share, things that I would want to include in my book. There are definitely surprises in the book that do not make me any more inclined to go the mommy route myself. It's all quite gross actually. But I love that McCarthy just bares it all (I guess she's used to that! Ba dum bum bum). I do think this would be good for anyone going through pregancy for the first time, to know that what they are experiencing is normal. She's also funny. I do think it's sad though that she's no longer with her husband from the books. Anyway, if you know someone who is expecting or thinking about getting pregnant, this is a great one to recommend.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Twenties Girl

Twenties Girl is Sophie Kinsella's (of Confessions of a Shopaholic fame) latest book. It's a ghost story, oddly enough. Not a creepy ghost story, but a Kinsella-style ghost story that's fun and entertaining.
Lara is a modern, 27-year-old who has to go to a funeral for her great aunt Sadie, who she's never met. At the funeral, Sadie's ghost starts haunting her. The ghost takes the shape and personality of Sadie at 23, who was then a flapper in the roaring '20s. She's hilarious, and the clash between the '20s and modern day is hysterical, especially since Sadie's a lot looser than Lara. It's pretty funny.
I also liked that this story made me think of what my grandmother was like when she was young. She wasn't a flapper or anything, much to young for that, but the relationship between the two girls made me think of my grandmother, who I'm really close to. Lara growing closer to ghost Sadie connected her to her family more and led to other events that helped honor Sadie's life.
So, if you like a good, funny, quick read, pick up Twenties Girl.

Best Friends Forever

I almost turned this back into the library without posting a review. Oops. I picked up Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner when I wanted to read something a little more light-hearted. This ended up having a main character who tragically lost both of her parents, might have cancer, was picked on in school and lost her best friend her last year of high school for trying to defend her, and has a brother who was in a tragic accident that left him brain damaged. So not the best pick for something light and fluffy, but like all of Weiner's books, it was still funny and uplifting. It made me miss my best friend from high school though. We drifted apart after graduating, like most people do. We shared so much when we were younger, she even went on vacation with my family and celebrated Easter with us, and now we barely ever see each other.
I did enjoy this book and I would recommend it to people who like Weiner, but if you haven't read anything of hers I would start with Goodnight Nobody or Little Earthquakes first.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

More Than It Hurts You

More Than It Hurts You by Darin Strauss is a difficult read on two levels: the rhythm and language is just a bit off somehow, and it's about a family where the mother is suspected of Munchhausen by proxy. That topic is more real to me today than it was a few years ago, making the book more believable and sad. There's this guy that I went to church with, and had a giant crush on in like eighth grade when he was like a senior in high school, ended up marrying this girl who had it. She was caught on tape injecting their daughter with feces. I was horrified when I saw that on the news, and even more shocked when I realized I knew the husband. He's a nice, normal person with a good family and an upper-middle class upbringing. You would never expect that to happen to him.
Anyway, the other reason why it was difficult to read is that there was just something odd about the rhythm of the language, and the changing of the narrators. I kept getting thrown out of the story. It's like it kept reminding me that I was reading, not experiencing, so it was harder to stay connected. A little over halfway through I either adjusted or he changed the style some. From then on, I read really quickly and ended up really enjoying it. I think because I enjoyed Chang and Eng so much I expected to love this one right from the start, but it's like they were written by two different people.
I did really like the character of Darlene Stokes, the doctor who suspects Munchhausen by proxy. She seemed real, and I identified with her even though we don't have much in common. Because I identified so strongly with her though, I think it made me like Josh and Dori, the parents of the sick child, even less. I also didn't like the element of the story told through Darlene's father. It was just distracting to me.
Here are some things I did like though:
"She hadn't foreseen the loneliness of the young scholar at an American university, however. Bookishness, hardheaded intellectualism, an affection for time-consuming study, the very qualities for which she'd thought she would've been, at last, rewarded - these things her classmates met with an amused ill will."
That's a quote from Darlene, and is one of the reasons I liked her. I had thought college would be the place where I could finally "come out" as an intellectual, where everyone would love books as much as I do, where we'd stay up late having philosophical debates. Yeah, I married one of the few people I met who actually liked doing those things, and even he doesn't read very much. Most of the people I went to school with didn't know how to think critically and didn't care about anything other than getting a piece of paper with a degree stamped on it and having a good time.
Here's another good Darlene quote:
"Some people's minds just close for business after college. Once Leo graduated, he would never read a challenging book again..."
Sadly, it's seems like that's true of most people. I hate that.
I also liked that Darlene was a successful black doctor, and felt that the book dealt with the racism issue well. She talks about how people assume she's in her position as head of the Pediatric ICU because of affirmative action and how much that stings.
Okay, all of the things I like are about Darlene. Apparently the books should just been about her. Here's another one: "The sexification of kids, the toddlerizing of adults: Everyone in America would look, act, think, and covet like an eleven-year-old before long..." So true. We treat kids like they're capable of making adult decisions, dress little girls in skanky outfits, encourage sex at young ages, abortions for underage girls without parental consent, etc. Yet we treat adults like kids, like there isn't anything called personal responsibility. And then this just made me laugh. Darlene's talking to another parent: We'll have Coldplay CDs at the birthday party," Mrs. Hechler was saying, laying the accent on Coldplay like someone dropping word 'Harvard.'" Mrs. Hechler then talks about how proud she is that her daughter requested that, like she's the brightest kid ever because she likes crappy music that everyone else likes.
Okay, just one more thing about Darlene: "Guilty pleasures have become proud pleasures." We've become proud of what we used to be embarrassed about: adults watching crap like Gossip Girl and reading the Twilight series (lamest ending EVER. EVER. LAME.), having odd sexual interests, sleeping around, not doing our homework, slacking off at work. We brag about these things now.
I'm glad I marked these passages as I went along. Before I start looking at them again, I was having trouble remembering why I liked the book in the end. Now I remember: Darlene is awesome. Read the book for her. You'll have to push through the first few chapters though, they were not very interesting. Push through to page 63 - that's the first time you get Darlene's point of view. It's worth it for her.

More Than It Hurts You also counts for a book from 2008 for the Countdown Challenge.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Only 5408 More Books to Read?

I was reading Rebecca Reid's blog today and she made a comment about if she continues reading at her current pace, she'll only read about 6,000 more books in her lifetime. I decided to see how many I could expect to read. I average two a week, and estimated that I would until I'm 88. Why 88? It's easy to subtract 28 from 88, that's why. That gives me only 6,240 more books to read! This is spinning me into a panic! Especially when you consider that I could have kids some day and may not be able to maintain my two books a week pace when they are younger. Oh no! I need to read four a week! Yikes. I realize that 6,000 is a pretty big number, but considering that I regularly buy over 50 books at once at library book sales and can't escape any bookstore without buying at least 10, plus I check out a stack at the library every two weeks, this seems really low.
So, I'm going to shoot for 3.5 books a week on average for next year, or 15 books per month. That will give me 10,800 books to read until I'm 88. I'm also going to set a goal of reading every book in my personal library next year, except for some of Ryan's stuff from college.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Woman in White

I've been meaning to read The Woman in White for a while now, and finally got around to it due to the Wilkie Collins mini-challenge. I also happened to read it near it's 150-year anniversary, which is rather fun. The Guardian ran a great article on it and how successful it was in it's time, rivaling his friend Dickens. Wouldn't it have been great to live in Victorian England and get to read these stories as they came out, eagerly waiting in anticipation for the next installment? Well, I suppose I wouldn't want to give up all the comforts of modern life, so maybe that doesn't sound so great. On a side note, when I was in the middle of this I started watching the new version of Doctor Who and watched the episode featuring Charles Dickens, which was quite fun. Great show.
Anyway, the point is to write about The Woman in White. I loved this book, but for some reason it took me longer than usual to read it. It might just be that I've been reading a lot of contemporary books the last few months and had to adjust to the massive use of adjectives in Victorian books, but I think it also had to do with the narrators. I think this is the oldest book I've read that used multiple narrators to tell the story in this type of format. I could definitely be wrong about that though. Collins switches from narrator to narrator as they enter and leave the story centering around the mystery of the woman in white. He did a good job of capturing the voices of the different characters, but the problem was that some of them annoyed me and I think that caused me to read slower in their parts.
As I mentioned, the story centers around the woman in white, making it one of the first mystery novels. It has a great story, but it sort of peters out at the end. I'm not sure if he had word count incentives/requirements like Dickens (often had length requirements for his serialized segments) and had to round out the end or what, but I found myself almost skimming the last few pages. Overall though, I really enjoyed and felt like it holds up well and it very readable for a modern audience. I would especially recommend it if you like mysteries or novels that use multiple points of view.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Reading Group

I started The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble a while ago, and tried to read all the books the book club in the book reads along with them. But, I couldn't find all of the books (I could probably have done an ILL or something, but my local library system didn't have some of them) and there were a few duds out of the ones I did read so I gave that up. That also prevented me from enjoying this book as much as I could have, because I'd go a while in between readings since I'd be reading something else in between. I ended up not connecting to any of the characters, although I think that might have happened even if I'd read it all closer together. Something was just off in it for me. Maybe there were too many narrators, so I didn't get to know any one character very well. They were all also just a bit boring, or maybe it was just told in a boring way. The book made me tired usually, like it was putting me to sleep a bit. It was terrible though, or even bad, it just wasn't great. I can see how someone else could like it though, like I said, maybe I didn't give it a fair chance.

I did get to read Heartburn by Nora Ephron because of this book though, and I loved it, so at least there's that. And I made myself read Atonement because of this book, and ended up liking it as well, and would like to read more of his books. So all is definitely not lost.

Flowers in the Attic

I reread Flowers in the Attic for the Four-Months Challenge. I had thought about rereading V.C. Andrews a few months ago, and this reminded me of that. On rereading Flowers in the Attic, I can't believe I read that book when I was 13!!! It's totally inappropriate for a 13-year-old. That's not my parents fault though, I had borrowed it from a friend. Although they were never strict with books anyway. I remember knowing that the book was dirty, and expected lots of sex, and I remember there not actualy being much sex, and I remember being horrified by this book, but I couldn't remember all the details. I think I had actually read it too quickly looking for the dirty bits. Or maybe I was too horrified to finish it, because the ending shocked me and seemed entirely new to me. I remember all of her Landry and Casteel series - especially the Landry one. I can vividly remember the details of the mansion and the bayou in that series, which is funny because Andrews didn't write that series. She had died and left behind outlines and things and another writer began writing under her name at that point.
Anyway, on rereading it, I was absolutely horrified! It turned my stomach. Marrying your half-uncle, sleeping with your brother, it's disgusting. Who does that? Who writes about that? Why buys that? Fortunately, that actually takes up a very small part of the book. I will say that the story itself is really good. It was hard to put down, even though it was hard to read about the children locked in the attic. And the ending was just horrifying. So, it was a great book, a riveting book, just not an easy to stomach book. You hear about stories like this in the news, and the recent story about Jaycee Dugard probably made this harder to read because it's fresh on my mind that terrible things happen to people. This book is all the more horrifying in that the mother and grandmother are committing the evils. But it definitely makes me want to go dig into the Jennifer Weiner novel to recover.

Remember Me?

I actually finished Remember Me by Sophie Kinsella last week, but I've been insanely busy at work and when I've been at home I've wanted to read and watch TV and not sit at a computer so I got a bit behind in my blogging. I love Kinsella's books, and they are perfect for when you're busy at work and want to have just a quick, light-hearted escape for a bit. This one is sort of like Samantha Who? if you watched that show. Which you probably didn't since it didn't last very long, but which I loved. And Ryan would even watch it with me. Probably more to check out Christina Applegate and Jennifer Esposito than anything else, but anyway. The story is about a girl who is in an accident and had amnesia. She's completely blocked out the last three years of her life, and wakes up with a brilliant career, a husband, tons and tons of money, and different friends. She thinks she's still a struggling 25-year-old with a dead-end career and loser boyfriend. It's quite funny watching her try to figure out her new life. It was also funny to me that I read this two weeks after turning 28 and she makes a comment about waking up and being 28 and how freaking old that is. Thanks a lot there, Ms. Kinsella. Anyway, it's a lovely little book and is great for a bit of fun reading. Kinsella wrote the Shopaholic books, which are actually really funny and good despite how the movie looked. My mom and I both love them.

A Gate at the Stairs

I did not enjoy A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore. I really thought I was going to love this book, so I was disappointed. I'll get to it's faults in a minute, but I will say that despite ending up not liking it, there were a few good things. First, I read it all in one day, quickly, so it was obviously interesting enough to keep me from dropping it for something else. Moore's writing style does pull you in and flows well, and you feel like you just dropped in for a year in the life of the main character, Tassie. I also think she does a wonderful job with writing realistic dialogue. Her characters talk over each other, interrupt, miss each others' points, steer the conversations in new directions, repeat themselves. They sound like realy people. I believe that's one of the main reasons why this book was been well reviewed for the most part.

However, the plot holes were astounding! And none of the characters were likable. They weren't just like real people who have faults that you might not like, they were just all-around not likable. It made it hard to care what happens to them.

Part of the reason I didn't like the characters is because they were all liberals, the really stupid kind of liberals. Moore really isn't flattering in describing them, which I found odd since I'm sure she's liberal herself, as are most of the people who review books. For example, one of the main issues in the book is about adoption. It addresses the fact that most white people don't want to adopt black babies. A white couple in the story announces that they don't care about all that and starts the process to adopt a biracial girl, and then they hire Tassie to babysit. The couple starts a group for biracial families. When this group gets together, they sound like a bunch of total idiots and never do anything. Eventually, the couple seems to think it's too much trouble for them to have this biracial daughter, that they shouldn't have done it. This story bothered me on two levels. First, the way adoption was written about in general was very unflattering, enough that if someone read this when they were considering adopting it could easily push them away. Second, it definately made it seem like a bad idea to adopt children of other races, although at the same time it lectures people on wanting to adopt babies from China before they'd adopt a black baby from the same town. It wanted it both ways. You're racist if you don't want the black baby, but then you're doing it wrong if you adopt it and you're white. So you just shouldn't adopt at all? We should just abandon the black babies if there aren't enough black families willing and able to adopt? I'm not sure that's what her point was, but that's how it came across.
It also portrayed liberals as a bunch of snobs, oddly enough: "This was the sort of snobbery I noticed even among the most compassionate Democrats." One of liberals serves endangered species in her restaurant. She justifies this by saying if people want to eat them, they'll try to save them. What kind of sense does that make? And how was she able to serve them up anyway? Shouldn't that be illegal? She also says racist things, such as "Correct subject-verb agreement is best when children are learning language, so be careful what you sing. It's an issue when raising kids of color. A simple grammatical matter can hold them back in life." As though this is only an issue in people of color? They're so stupid that teaching them a silly kids song will stunt them for life, but it's not a issue with white kids?

Okay, about the plot holes. The worst one centers around the family Tassie babysits for. A "shocking" secret is revealed toward the end, but it's completely obvious that they murdered someone from comments made throughout the book, so it's not surprising when you get to it. And what actually happened was so stupid and didn't even make sense, that I found myself laughing at the fact that this was actually printed and not fixed by an editor or something that it wasn't even remotely sad. The couple used have a child, who was driving them crazy in the car one day when he's 4. They stop the car on a toll highway and make him get out. Okay, they scared him, whatever. But then they drive off! First of all, who would do that? Secondly, they immediately panic, but for some reason now can't stop even though they stopped two seconds ago. The wife actually starts yelling at the husband to stop before they even had time to actually move at all. But for some reason now, they can't stop and have to go up forever before they can turn around and come back, and the kid ends up getting hit by a car. How stupid is that? The way it was written didn't even make any sense. I was trying to follow it and make it make sense instead of caring about what was happening. Ugh.
And, one of the other main points in the story is that this all takes place right after 9/11. Yet none of the characters care. When Tassie's brother mentions joining the military, she's all, "well, at least it's peacetime." What? Who thought that in first few months after 9/11? And it's totally shocking to everyone when he dies. Like that's not a possibility when someone goes off to war. I remember that year, and I was the same age as Tassie is in the book - 20. I didn't forget about it two days later. I didn't think it wasn't a big deal when friends and family members joined the military. I was a lot more supportive than her family was, but I didn't act like it didn't matter. And most of the people who joined up that year didn't do so for the college tuition. They did it because of 9/11. Her brother does it because his grades were bad and this will pay for college, and everyone thinks it horrible that he dies because he was just trying to get tuition money. What, do they think the military is just a work study problem? That there should be no risk of dying? What is wrong with these people?
And Tassie's stupid enough during all of this to date this "Brazillian" guy who turns out to be Arab, and probably a terrorist. She's too stupid to realize that he's actually Arabic and that doesn't like her much, and they make jokes about 9/11 and the war and things, jokes that no one I know would have made that soon afterward. And she does nothing when he abruptly sells everything in his apartment and tells her not to tell anyone about him if they ask. There were about a million signs of him being about to do a suicide bombing or something and she does nothing.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Stolen Innocence

Stolen Innocence, an autobiography by Elissa Wall with Lisa Pulitzer, will make you angry. It made me furious. It made me want to do something to protect these girls, although I don't know what that would be.
Stolen Innocence is about Elissa's life in a polygamous sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). It starts off simply odd, with an inside look at growing up in a house with two mothers and two sets of children (eventually a third wife joined them). It details the conflicts and frustrations from such a living arrangement. That's interesting enough, but eventually due to their belief that the world would end on Y2K, the family moves to an FLDS exclusive community. They were secluded before this, but now they have no access to the outside world. The schools, the police, everything is run by the FLDS. As Warren Jeffs taken control of the group, the restrictions on the community become increasingly strict. Elissa's mom and her siblings are reassigned to another man when her father is deemed unable to control them. From that point, this new man is their father. They cannot question anything, or have any worldly influences. There is no TV, no radio, no non-FLDS sanctioned music or books. They are only taught religion in school. They are taught that they will go to hell if they disobey or do not listen to the prophet, who Warren Jeffs is speaking for and later becomes.
Despite these rules, some of the boys do question what is happening. When they do so, they are banished, becoming apostates whom they believers can no longer have any contact with without facing banishment themselves. This ends up happening to all of Elissa's older brothers. They even have to leave one on the side of the highway.
When Elissa is 14, she is forced to marry her 19-year-old cousin. She fights this decision, but no one will listen. Her mother and sister do try to plead her case to Warren, but he refuses and tells them they must encourage Elissa to go through with it or they're putting their own salvation at risk. Elissa considers leaving, but has no money, no real education, no contacts, nothing. She also has been so brainwashed that she believes running away will condemn her to hell. She is forced to go through with it. Until this point, she has never heard words such as "sex" or "rape" and has no idea about anything related to sex or that anything other than sleep happens in a married couples' bed. She has been taught that even the most innocent touching from the opposite sex is wrong and has also worn for concealing clothing. Now suddenly she's married and her husband expects sex. He explains nothing to her, just forces himself on her. She tries to tell her mother what's happening, but she won't help her. She goes to Warren and tells her everything, but he just yells at her for coming to see him without her husband.
There is much, much more to this story, so please don't let this synopsis lead you to believe you know the whole story. Read this book. Learn about Elissa's story. There are many scenes that are difficult to read. Her "husband" repeatedly raping her is awful to read about, especially before she realizes that this is something they're supposed to be doing to create babies. I want to reach out and strangle her mother for sitting back and watching this happen. Elissa is very forgiving to her mother, but I can't be. What kind of mother let's that happen to their child? And she has two younger daughters that the same thing could happen to, and she does nothing. I know that she was brainwashed, but so was Elissa, and she managed to do something about it eventually. I don't understand how at some point you don't question authority, realize that what they're doing is wrong.
And yet, I've seen people act like that on much smaller scales all the time. They don't ask questions. I remember one time at church, during my senior year when we were in between pastors, we had John Carl Davis serve as either an interim pastor. He blatantly misrepresented scripture and took things out of context. He also made this bizarre proclamation that the youth, who usually sat in a group together around the middle of the pews directly in front of the altar, should start sitting in this other section, off to the side. And people just did it! Without asking why or having any sort of basis for this decision. I was shocked. I was the only one who stayed in the original section, refuses to move or sit with my parents. I had people come tell me they couldn't believe my behavior and that I needed to move, lecturing me on my bad behavior. Not one of them could tell me why I needed to move except that Davis said so. Now, one could surely argue that my stubbornness was a sin, and that's fine. But I think everyone else blindly following is far worse, far scarier, far more threatening. What else would the blindly follow without questioning? How real is your faith when you only do what you're told without examining anything for yourself? I know this is a very small example, but I can see how going with the small things for a while can eventually turn into going with the big things, which is what happened with the FLDS.
Always question. Always try to find out the truth. Always ask why. Don't blindly follow someone just because they're in a position of authority. I am moved by Elissa's story and hope that I will always have the courage to stand up for what is right.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Philly Firsts

I bought Philly Firsts by Janice Booker while I was on a business trip to Philadelphia. I went in a day early to sight see, which was wonderful. I loved seeing all of the historical sites. I actually finished this a while ago, but keep forgetting to post about it for some reason. It was a great choice for a souvenir. It talks about all of the many firsts that Philadelphia had.

Here are a few of my favorites:
First U.S. flag (I got to see the outside of the Betsy Ross)
First Mother's Day celebration
First merry-go-round
First fire department
First insurance company
First advertising agency
First marketing college course (so I have Philly in part to think for my job)
First copy of the Declaration of Independence
First book published
First electric TV demonstrated
First hospital
First cancer research
First ice cream in the U.S.
First carbonated beverage
First Girl Scout cookies
First bubble gum
First Baptist church (who oddly enough called themselves Pennypack Baptist Church, not First Baptist Church)
First computer
First discovery of electricity

That's a lot of firsts! And, that's only a few out of the book. Whew! It must be interesting to grow up in a place like that, with so much history right down the street. Can you imagine getting to go on school field trips to see the Liberty Bell or Independence Hall? You don't have a lot of options like that in Oklahoma. I love living here though, don't get me wrong. But it seems I also have Philly to blame for making me fat and lazy. A lot of junk food, books, TV, and the computer. Not good Philly, not good. I'm going to go eat some ice cream in front of the TV now!

Made from Scratch

Sandra Lee's memoir, Made from Scratch, was much more interesting than I thought it would be. She had a very rough childhood. The way she comes off on her TV show, she seems like someone who has also had an easy life. I'm not sure what it is exactly, but she doesn't seem likes she's ever had real problems. That is definately not the case. Up until the time she was about six she was basically raised by her grandmother, who taught her the skills that she would eventually use to survive and then to make millions. Her mother and stepfather took her and her sister back when she was six. Things were never great, but they didn't get horrible until her stepfather left and her mother sank into a depression, and Sandra was left to run the household and take care of four siblings even though she was only 10. She cooked, shopped, cleaned, did laundry, and was a mother to her siblings. Her mother belittled her and insulted her. She eventually went to live with her father, where she encountered a new set of problems and eventually found herself on her own at 17. She took her ability to make crafts to local craft shows, and started raking in money. She developed a product line and ended up making millions by the time she was 25.
The story really teaches the power of hard work, and that if you put your mind to something you can succeed. I think it also spotlighted why there are a lot of famous people who had bad childhoods. They have more desire to succeed, more motivation, no risk in trying because they have nothing to lose. She also didn't have well meaning relatives trying to help by telling her she couldn't make it, parents advising her to take the safe and secure route.
It's not the most well written book in the world, but the story was interesting enough to make up for that. Learning about her background in crafts and home decorating also explains her tablescapes on her TV show. I think they're cute, but I've also thought they were a little odd. I understand now that that is where her passion started, in creating simple, inexpensive ways to decorate, so this is her way of still sharing that info even though she's doing a food show.
This book also served as reading a biography/autobiography for the Four-Month Reading Challenge and as a book from 2007 for the Countdown Challenge.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Guinea Pig Diaries

I adored The Know It All. I loved The Year of Living Biblically. The Guinea Pig Diaries? Not so much. It was disappointing. You can kind of tell he was writing it with three kids in the background wanting his attention. I'm impressed that he's able to write at all with three young boys, but it left the book feeling rushed. Since this book is about a series of experiments instead of one long one, that added to that feeling. Plus he reworked and expanded some of his magazine articles, which I think contributed to that as well.
Also, I had a moment of panic when I hit page 99. He's related to Cass Sunstein? What?!?! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The horror! The horror! I actually let out a scream and that point and yelled "NO! DAMMIT!" Sadly, my husband is used to my talking to books and the TV and didn't ask me what was the matter until I said it a second time. At least Ryan understood why this was a problem. Now, I'm not stupid. I knew A.J. Jacobs was a liberal. Not a whacked out crazy one, but a liberal nonetheless. And I have a few relatives I'd rather not claim. But to be related to Cass Sunstein and be proud of out it? No, no. Not good. For those who don't know, Sunstein is one of Obama's many czars, or the Administrator of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Sunstein wants the government to stop recognizing marriage period. He thinks animals should have legal rights in court. (I'm all for stopping animal cruelty, but that just seems silly.) He thinks we should celebrate tax day. He not only supports gun control, he thinks we should ban hunting. And he thinks the government owns your body once you die and should be able to take your organs at will, unless you specify that you do not want to donate your organs. What?
He also made the gigantic mistake of comparing Obama with George Washington? Really? Washington would be appalled by Obama. He'd be appalled by the Republicans too, so don't just take that as a slam against democrats. His chapter on Washington did make me want to read more about him though. Like Jacobs, I've read a lot more about Franklin and Jefferson than Washington. But it takes an amazing man to turn down power, and he had the opportunity to take on absolute power and walked away. That's impressive.
I did enjoy this quote from the book though: "I'll be aloof and mysterious, like the pope or Willy Wonka."
I would recommend Jacobs other two books if you haven't read them, but skip this one.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Lady Raised High

I'm embarrassed to admit it took me months to finish A Lady Raised High by Laurien Gardner. I think I started it in June. Clearly it was not the most riveting book I've ever read. I think a big part of that was that I've already read a lot of books about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. I'm a little obsessed actually. I've read probably 10 books and have watched several movies about them, along with The Tudors. So, I know the story already. It all started with Phillipa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl (the book was a lot better than the movie, as usual) and I moved on to histories by Alison Weir. So it's not entirely the author's fault I wasn't that interested.
But, I think another reason why I didn't stay interested is that it was told from the rather boring character of Frances, maid to Anne. Frances is plucked out of obscurity by Anne before she becomes queen after protecting her from angry villagers. She's raised high to being one of the Queen's ladies. You're supposed to care about Frances and her love story as well as Anne's, but Frances is stupid, boring, and unfailing devoted to Anne. She can't see Anne's fault and puts her own life in danger needlessly to try to help Anne. Which normally would be brave, but just seemed stupid in her case, because she was so naive about the whole thing and couldn't see that the court wanted to convict Anne.
Overall I would skip this one. Go for the Phillipa Gregory or try Jean Plaidy. Plaidy's writing can be a little harder to get through, but she's historically accurate and still writes a good story. Although, I'm still considering reading Plain Jane by Gardner since I already own it (bought them at a library book sale), so I guess that tells you it wasn't completely terrible. I suppose if I resell both of them to Half-Price Books though, I'll make my $.50 back and it's necessary to read it...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Baby Laughs

No, I'm not pregnant, nor am I going to become pregnant any time soon (or at least I hope not). I picked up Baby Laughs by Jenny McCarthy to research the novel I'm writing. Yes, I'm writing a novel. I'm trying to participate in Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month). I've only got about 5,000 words out of 50,000 though, so I need to hurry up. Anyway, this book is for research. I actually meant to get Belly Laughs, McCarthy's other book, but I grabbed this one instead. Probably because I was embarrassed to be hanging out in this section of the library, even though I know most people probably assume a woman of my age has a child and I have a wedding ring on. Oh well.
Anyway, this book was actually really enjoyable. I read it all in one sitting. It was really funny, as you can imagine being written by Jenny McCarthy. She talks about the first year of mommyhood. She's very honest, whether it's about her baby peeing in her mouth or covering himself in poop or her getting hemmorhoids and not wanting to have sex and feeling like a giant hairy leaky cow. Childbirth is kind of like the great leveler for women. Being rich or famous might get you a better hospital, but it's not going to take away the crappy parts of giving birth. At the same time, she was very clear that it was absolutely worth it and was the best thing she's ever done. I felt like she was actually a lot more persuasive at getting me to consider having children. She doesn't just list the nice stuff and make it sound perfect and easy. She's tells you all the crap and still says it's worth it. That's a lot more powerful to me, because then I didn't really have anything to counter with. When someone talks about the positives, I can whip out my negative list. But she already said all of those reasons, so I was left with no argument. I hope my Mom doesn't read this.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Real Education

Real Education by Charles Murray should be required reading for all education majors and teachers. It addresses some of the fundamental problems with our educational system today. It focuses on the fact that not everyone in going to excel academically, and that we shouldn’t try to force everyone too. People have different areas of strengths and we should encourage students to focus on those areas while learning basic knowledge in other areas. He believes that only the top 10 to 20 percent of students should really go to universities, because they are the only ones who really benefit from because they are the ones who want to excel academically. Other students should be encouraged to attend post-secondary vocational schools or pursue certifications. If you can pass the CPA exam after taking a few classes at a community college, why do you need a four-year degree? If you graduated from Harvard because you took all the easy classes and you can’t pass a certification to become a marketing professional, then that’s too bad. Certification programs would help level the playing ground and keep so many students from drowning in debt to attend college. The top students who would attend universities would be able to learn more because they’d be surrounded by people who want to be there learning, not just partying, and wouldn’t get made fun of for their study habits. And for students who excel at working with their hands or building things, such as mechanics or welders, encourage them to attend vo-tech during high school and let them get to work as soon as they graduate. Don’t treat them like second-class citizens or idiots because they didn’t go to college or don’t want to go to college. Don’t push them in that direction when they’d be happier and actually make more money going in to something like welding. Why do we ridicule these types of positions? Many blue collar workers can pull in $100,000 a year. Why don’t we tell high school students that? Why don’t we encourage them to pursue those fields instead of focusing only on college?
My brother hated school. Hated it. My mom would literally have to sit on him to get him to do his homework. Me, on the other hand, loved school. I’d make up assignments for myself and play school in the summers. In the years when I had crappy teachers, I couldn’t wait to get home to read and teach myself. (Yes, I was a giant nerd and still am because I totally still do that, but that’s not the point of the story.) We are very different people. I attended a great college for my BA and went on to get my MA. My brother took vo-tech classes in high school. He now has a good job, and no college debt. I don’t have college debt either, but I’m a very rare exception, especially because I went to an expensive private school. It would be feasible for me to have more student loan debt than I make in a year. For many of my classmates, that’s true. OBU cost about $16,000 when I went there (I think it’s at least 20 now). That’s $64,000 for four years. Many of my classmates majored in fields such as ministry and education. Not exactly fields known for their large incomes. How long is it going to take them to pay that money back? Was it worth it? They may have loved the experience and liked their classes, but how many of them really learned enough to make that worth it? I know from having classes with these people that it sure didn’t seem like they learned that much. Most of those people end up leaving before graduation, but how much did they spend on freshman year alone? I feel myself getting on my soap box and this post could go on for a long, long time, so I will wrap it up by saying that if you’re interested in education or are an educator or parent, read this book.

They Must Be Stopped

I read Brigette Gabriel’s Because They Hate a few years ago and loved it, and so I picked up They Must Be Stopped at the library. Because They Hate was about her life growing up in Lebanon as a Christian and the Muslim/Christian civil war that destroyed the country and resulted in her eventually coming to the U.S. She provided a lot of information about the background of Islam as well. That book was wonderful, and it was a lot stronger than They Must Be Stopped, probably because it was part memoir, part social commentary. They Must Be Stopped was good, but I felt like I already knew a lot of the information, either from reading her previous book or others books on the topic. I also had the impression that it was supposed to be more of a how-to guide to stopping the spread of Islam, and that was really confined to the last two chapters. It was a good refresher though, and it would be great for those who are unfamiliar with the topic.
Gabriel goes through a little of the history of Islam and it’s call to violence, then goes into it’s spread around the world and their plan for conquering other countries for Islam. That part was interesting, and she goes through what they are doing in specific countries.
One new thought I got from the book was regarding why so many black American men turn to Islam while in prison. I’ve always found that odd, especially since Muslims do not have high regards for blacks. Gabriel points out that in Arabic, the words for black people are the same as the ones for “slaves” and “filth.” (Arabic is Gabriel’s native language, so she’s not misinterpreting something.) Anyway, she pointed out that they target men in prison because then they can target murderers, rapists, and child molesters and say “It’s okay. Mohammed is on your side. Mohammed says that women are here for our pleasure when we want. Mohammed married a six-year-old girl and slept with her when she was nine and he was in his 50s. Islam encourages you to kill in the name of Allah. It’s okay. Join Islam and you can do these things in the name of Allah and be rewarded in Heaven.” What? Who wouldn’t want that message instead of guilt? That was eye-opening to me.
I also thought it was interesting that she gave an example of the U.S. caving to Muslims by installing foot-washing benches in the restrooms in the Kansas City International Airport, even though during her 24 years in the Middle East she never once saw a foot-washing bench in a public restroom, at airports, at universities, or at hospitals. It’s insanity the way we bend over backward for people who are trying to kill us. What is wrong with us?

Other Middle Eastern related books I really like:
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi – memoir about her life in Iran during the revolution and her book club during that time (she was a professor before the revolution), absolutely fascinating, one of the best books I’ve ever read
The Truth About Mohammed by Robert Spencer – it’s about Mohammed life and what he really preached and was like
The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam by Robert Spencer – about Islam in general, gives a great overview and meaty info in a well organized, easy to read manner
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali – a memoir about growing up in Somalia being raised as a Muslim, including being circumcised, and how she escaped to freedom and was amazed at how wonderfully non-Muslims treated her, she was a member of the Dutch parliament who worked on a film about domestic violence in the world of Islam with Theo Van Gogh before he was assassinated

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Chang and Eng

Read this book: Chang and Eng by Darin Strauss. It's one of the best books I've read in a long time. It's about a pair of conjoined twins, the ones from whom the term Siamese twins comes from. It takes place during the 1800s and goes back in forth in time from thier birth and childhood and when they are older and living in North Carolina. It's based on a true story and the main events are true, but it's a fictionalized account of their lives. It's told through the perspective of Eng. It's beautifully written, and I can't believe it was Strauss's first novel. The characters are wonderfully drawn, and he clearly separates the characters of Chang and Eng. He really makes you picture what life would be like with no privacy, to always have someone attached to you. Eng tends to retreat into his mind, I think because that's the one place he can be alone. I found it interesting that a third character seemed to appear between them, the band that connects them. It almost took on a life of it's own, made a third character of Chang-and-Eng in addition to the two separate characters.
Strauss starts with a compelling story. I've always been fascinated by and somewhat repulsed by conjoined twins. I feel bad saying that and I hate that people mistreated conjoined twins as monsters, but it just seems so wrong. I think it's also just something people don't like to think about because we can't imagine having to go through life like that. I was amazed at how strong Eng remained though, although Chang's tendency to turn toward drink is understandable as well.
I thought it was amazing that while the boys were taken by the King of Siam and used as entertainment, and eventually sold to an American to use for shows, they were never actually part of a circus, not for lack of trying on P.T. Barnum's part though. They still have both inner and outer battles over maintaining their dignity as they perform though. The later parts of the book take place against the backdrop of the War of Yankee Agression (I can't believe Strauss referred to it that way!), which highlighted Chang and Eng's own personal civil war against each other later in life. How can you not grow to resent this person who is always there, not just looking over your shoulder but practically attached to it? But as their mom says, how can you fight with someone you're physically attached to? That would be madness.
Eng also has internal battles over marriage and love. He believes it will never happen for them, but then they meet two sisters in North Carolina. The book covers the logistics of the marital bed and how awkward that is when there's a third person literally in bed with you that you're trying to pretend isn't there.
As someone who desparately needs her alone time, I cannot fathom having someone attached to me at all times. It's actually that thought that makes it hard for me to want children. But Strauss did an incredible job of creating this story and making feel like I was Eng for a time. He transported me into the mind of a Siamese conjoined twin man in the 1800s. That's impressive. So, you should absolutely go read this book. I can't wait to pick up his other two books.
Also, this books gets to count for one of my reading challenges! It has a proper name and is worth 5 points in the four-month reading challenge.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Countdown Reading Challenge

Another exciting challenge! This one will force me to read books actually written this century. The past few years I've focused heavily on reading classics. I started reading the classics beginning with the ancient Greeks and worked my way through Beowulf, at which point I switched to British only works and read my way up to Shakespeare. The last few months I've tried to just read normal books for a bit of a break. I want to continue my timeline reading, but I've missed a lot of books over the past few years so this will motivate me to catch up.
So what's the challenge? It's a Countdown Challenge. You read 10 books that come out in 2010, 9 in 2009, 8 in 2008, etc. down to 2001. This will also force me to read new books as they come out instead of buying them and letting them join my ever growing to-be-read (TBR) pile.

Total: 33/55 books

1. The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag - Alan Bradley
2. Not My Daughter - Barbara Delinksky
3. Every Last One - Anna Quindlen
4. The Imperfectionists - Tom Rachman
5. The Language of Secrets - Dianne Dixon
6. Heart of the Matter - Emily Griffin

2009 (Done)
1.The Guinea Pig Diaries - A.J. Jacobs
2. Her Fearful Symmetry – Audrey Niffeneger
3. A Gate at the Stairs - Lorrie Moore
4. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
5. The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History by John Ortved
6. High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly - Donald Spoto
7. The Girl She Used to Be - David Cristofano
8. Fall to Pieces - Mary Forsberg Weiland
9. Unclutter Your Life in One Week - Erin Doland

2008 (Done)
1. Shakespeare Wrote for Money - Nick Hornby
2. Made in the U.S.A. - Billie Letts
3. The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen - Syrie James
4. Stolen Innocence - Elissa Wall with Lisa Pulitzer (done)
5. Remember Me - Sophie Kinsella (done)
6. More Than It Hurts You by Darin Strauss (done)
7. The Man Who Invented Christmas - Les Standiford
8. The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks

1. Made from Scratch - Sandra Lee
2. The Fourth Bear - Jasper Fforde
3. French Milk - Lucy Knisley
4. Everything I Needed to Know about Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume
5. Big Boned - Meg Cabot


1. 44 Scotland Street - Alexander McCall Smith


1. Club Dead - Charlaine Harris

2002 (Done)
1. Living Dead in Dallas
2. Shopaholic Takes Manhattan - Sophie Kinsella

2001 (Done)
1. Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris