Thursday, January 31, 2013

Book Review: The Last Lecture

I'm trying to think whether or not I knew about my younger brother's cancer diagnosis prior to listening to Randy Pausch's last lecture.  Whether before or after, it was still very difficult to listen to the tale of a man about to say farewell to his young family without crying.  This audiobook is more than just the famous last lecture Pausch delivered.  It tells the tale of his life and captures the essence of his desire to urge others to capture their dreams as he managed to capture his.

This is a troubling, yet inspiring memoir.  Randy Pausch was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon when he learned that he had pancreatic cancer and was given months to live [I wanted to write "is" in that sentence to keep the verb tense consistent in this paragraph, but sadly, Randy Pausch has already succumbed to his disease and so he earned this past tense verb usage].  In the tradition of other professors, but with a bit more pertinence and sincerity, Pausch delivers his "last lecture," addressed to students, faculty and, above all, his family.  He wants to encourage others to "achieve the maximum potential."  He wants to leave a part of himself for his small children (all under 6 at the time of his death, I believe).

Although the words often felt cliche, I still found inspiration from this author.  He asserts, "We cannot change the cards we're dealt, just how we play the hand."  He urges listeners to make the most of the time they have because you never know how much time you will be granted.  But most moving to me were his words about persistence (a special message to me as I've been discovering how difficult it is to break into the Christian book market with a young adult book, when Christian publishers are no longer taking YA manuscripts and even agents aren't wanting to represent them).  Pausch reminds me that "Brick walls are there for a reason.  They give us the chance to show how badly we want something."  Moreover, he writes, "Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted."  I think I'm getting a fair amount of experience.

I also appreciated his reminder that the energy we spend in complaining would be better put to use working on solving the problem.  I could spend hours complaining that young people no longer want to purchase or read books, but the energy should really go into honing my manuscripts (and possibly altering them from their Christian perspective into a more secular format so as to appeal to a wider realm of publishing companies and agents).

All in all, I found this book to be quite inspiring.  We all have dreams and we can all benefit from the reminders to chase those dreams with abandon and never give up.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Book Review: I Couldn't Love You More

I almost didn't read this book.  Within the first chapter of I Couldn't Love You More, I found myself thinking, "if I review this book and my mother (a pastor's wife) reads it, she will think I'm off my nutter for reading something filled with smut." I can overlook cursing in a book.  I just skim right past it.  But, it is harder for me to stick with a book when it has gratuitous graphic sexual references.  Why do authors feel the need to include such private scenes?  I'm guessing they want to titillate the reader.  I think this book would have been near perfect if the sexual references and sex scenes had been left out.  Now that I've finished, I'm so glad that I stuck with it and overlooked things because the story redeemed my disturbance with the smut.

The back cover promised "a gripping story that doesn't let up," and "an unbearably suspenseful climax."  Once I got to the half-way point of this novel, I couldn't put it down and when I got towards the end, I couldn't stop weeping.  This novel pulls on your heartstrings and carries you into a situation you hope you never find yourself in, but can't tear yourself away from because you are anxious to know how it resolves and hope so desperately that it resolves the way you'd choose.

Eliot Gordon can't quite commit herself to marriage.  She has been living with her divorced partner for five years, but fears that making a vow would mean getting locked into a situation.  She prefers to choose every day to stay with her man, Grant, and thinks that is the best route (especially given that his first marriage ended so badly).  Grant believes the reason she won't commit is because it would mean (emotionally) moving away from her mother and sisters.  The first scene pulls you into the complicated bond these women share.

But she has other sisters to be concerned with, as well.  Eliot is a fiercely loyal mother to both her two step-daughters, Charlotte (age 14) and Gail (age 7) and her own daughter, Hailey (age 4).  Since her step-daughters' own mother can't really be bothered with them, Eliot holds herself up to very high standards for meeting their needs and being a consistent, loving parent.  The title of the novel refers to her feelings towards these step-daughters.

She's doing a fine job of holding her family together, until her first love, Finn Montgomery, reappears in her life.  Not only does he dredge up memories of great joy and great pain, he sucks Eliot into a stupor where she loses her focus on her family.  All it takes is a moment and things can change dramatically.  It is this pivotal moment that propels the rest of the novel into a vortex of pain and self-reflection.

The novel treats so many common human emotions (love for family, love for children - biological and otherwise, conflict brought on by the false allure of something rendered perfect by faulty memory and perception, feelings of abandonment and questions of parental mistakes, etc.).  When Eliot is eventually forced to make a decision between choosing to save her own daughter or one of her step-daughters, things begin to spiral out of control.  Honesty becomes difficult to maintain, but imperative to fight for.

There were so many moments, towards the end, when the writing resonated with me. Speaking of sisters, Eliot says, "It is impossible to tally up all the ways our sisters exasperate us.  Our memories are too long; our grievances go back too far - some back to before we were born.  Sisters hurt each other in ways they would never hurt anyone else; ways that are too painful, too humiliating, to discuss outside the family... Yet ... I will never be able to give my sister even a modicum of what she has given me, but in some ways it doesn't matter.  Love is not a zero-sum game; there is no even-steven.  There are only acts of grace, large and small, through which we reveal who we are."

Of writing, Eliot's mother (an author) says, "My whole life has been spent chasing down that other book, the one that will prove my value as an author, an artist, a human being.  So even though part of me knows no matter how hard I work, that book will never materialize - it can't, because then what? - I still have to go after it ... rather, I can't not....  I would rather be a failed writer than a successful accountant."  And Eliot reflects, "Haven't you read a story that when you're finished feels exactly right?  As though there were no other way it could've unfolded, even if the ending is completely different from how you first envisioned it?  This is because there's encoding in fiction, just as in life; and very often a story will assume its own predetermined form with its own internal logic despite a writer's best efforts to shape it otherwise.  And in life, just as in fiction, we are each the sum total of all the stories that have preceded us, stories that are in us and of us, however unique our DNA."

This book is about powerful bonds of love and the trials that threaten to unravel those bonds.  It is about good parenting and bad parenting.  It is about rising above the things which might pull us down.  It is about self-reflection and second chances.  I can't explain how much this book moved me.  I agonized over how it would end.  I felt invested in these flawed characters.  I wanted the best to come to them, even when they didn't deserve it. 

Indeed, I'm wishing I had read this book earlier in the month, because I would have rallied for this book instead of Where'd You Go, Bernadette as a book club selection.  It holds far more valuable conversational fodder.  It comes with a list of discussion questions at the back, along with an essay of explanation from the author.  I'll have to remember to suggest this next year when we are making our book club suggestions.  It is an excellent book for a book club discussion.  I highly recommend this book, despite some unsavory aspects to the telling.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Book Review: Scumble

I stumbled upon Ingrid Law's Scumble quite by chance.  After reading in a Diary of a Wimpy Kid book (we seem to be constantly re-reading those to the younger boys) about the scary portrait of Shel Silverstein on the back of his The Giving Tree, I promised to head to the library to check out the book and show them the frightening photo (which they have been holding up to their heads and dancing around with, saying "I'm Shel Silverstein - rawrrr!").  I glanced to the fiction rows behind me and noticed Ingrid Law's outstanding debut novel, Savvy, previously reviewed here.  I was thrilled to see Scumble next to it.

Sadly, I cannot say I feel as strongly about Scumble as I did about Savvy!  It was a good read, but when held up against the previous book, this book fell short.  The writing wasn't as magical. I didn't feel an urge to write passages down. The characters seemed harder to keep track of.  The pacing wasn't as perfect.  I loved Savvy!  I liked Scumble a lot.

As in the first novel, the main character, Ledger Kale, is approaching his thirteenth birthday, when he will discover his own endowed savvy (special talent or ability with a magical charm to it).  He is hoping he will be able to run like the wind because his father wants to win a father-son marathon.  But, like in the other book, savvies aren't predictable and often aren't welcome.  Ledger discovers that his savvy involves destruction.  And when a nosy, innocent bystander, Sarah Jane Cabot (who calls herself a reporter) observes his destruction first-hand, Ledger is scrambling to discern how much she knows and how best to keep his savvy a secret and under control.

The title of the book comes from a painting term where bright colors are muted or "scumbled" to balance out the whole of the picture.  So, Ledger Kale is learning to scumble his savvy before his destruction leaves a heap of people in a mess of trouble.  His other cousins, Rocket (who has an electrical savvy) and Sampson (who has an invisible savvy) are also trying to learn to scumble.

I appreciated the subtle lessons of being yourself and finding your own dreams.  The characters were lively and wholesome. I was surprised that the author was able to turn the talent of destruction into a positive attribute (my boys have this savvy already and it is a bit hard to see the positives, although Trevor does have an artistic mind that takes things apart and reorders them to make something beautiful).   

The story was a rollicking ride.  Since the main character is a boy, I'll be interested to see whether my boys prefer the first or second book.  It must be very hard to follow up a fantastic debut novel. Still, I would give a third book along these lines a shot.  There's something magical about believing in the gift of a special talent and every child will take something positive away from these books. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

On the Cancer Road Again

Although the battle is not my individual one, I have watched many loved ones in the fight against the beast that is cancer. My paternal grandfather's family line was riddled with FAP (familial adenoidal polyposis), which claimed the lives of many of them far too soon. This was passed down to my aunt and her daughter (both of them already deceased).

When I was ten, my close friend was battling cancer. She had lost her hair. We had loads of fun together. I remember a wonderful evening with a trip to McDonalds and then an overnight stay. I also remember learning that she had passed away. It was the first time the disease meant much to me.

It hit closest to home, though, seven years ago, when my brother called to say his two year old daughter, Amelia, had just been diagnosed with leukemia. She bravely fought through it and secured a long chain of beads and tokens for each of the various treatments she endured. I am so grateful to be able to say that she is approaching her five year mark for remission (in April).

Sadly, though, as she approaches a sort of "all clear" (can anyone who has had cancer ever really feel a sense of "all clear"?), her father, my youngest brother, has just been diagnosed with Stage 1 testicular cancer. He has had surgery to remove the tumor and doctors believe they got it all, but still, as a family, they find themselves walking down this road again, with the treatment decisions and the questions looming about the future (will it have spread?). They are on the cancer road again and my heart grieves for them.

I feel especially bad for my sister-in-law, Mary, who is not only dealing with the cancer road of her daughter and husband, but was also saddened to learn of her own mother's uterine cancer not long ago. It seems as if they have been pummeled above and beyond what they should be expected to face. But life isn't guaranteed to be fair and God walks each road with us when we let Him.

I had to keep my middle son home from school yesterday for a sore throat. He was sitting at the computer in our family room, while I was exercising on our mini-trampoline and watching a video I had received for Christmas, starring David Payne and called "An Evening with C.S. Lewis." I was towards the end of the video, where C.S. Lewis described the end of his wife's battle with cancer. He likened it to running away from a giant's castle.  She had cleared the gates and they thought she was in the clear, when the disease struck again and consumed her.  He expressed his anger upon her death. He detailed railing against God for leading them down a path and then pulling the rug out from under them. I could sense Trevor's ears perking up (he knows about my brother's cancer diagnosis). He said, "He shouldn't say that to God." I asked him how he would feel if his mother or father died of cancer. I asked if he would feel angry with God. He admitted that he would. I was pleased that Lewis, in his lines, admitted that it was merely a way of trying to fight back, to say what might be hurtful to God. Then, he went on to explain that he had to remind himself of the gift he had been given in his wife. She was his, on loan, from God. He went into his marriage expecting to have a few months with his wife. In the end, they enjoyed a little over three years together. My young son's heart was taking all this in and pondering it.

Life is a gift. Our loved ones are gifts of the Father. We cannot take them for granted. We have no idea how long they are on loan for. For now, I am thinking of and praying for my brother's family intensely these days. He is in my thoughts constantly. I am grateful for his life. I am grateful for his testimony. I am grateful for God's provision, even though we are on the road again.
Update: 1/31/2013  Through his efforts to raise Childhood Cancer Awareness in Washington last year, Tim met Eric Shanteau, an Olympic medalist who battled the same kind of testicular cancer as Tim is facing.  Shanteau has put Tim in touch with Lance Armstrong's oncologist, the leading doctor in the field of testicular cancer.  We are grateful he will be getting some expert advice on the best course of treatment.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Book Review: A Wreath of Snow

When my library acquired Liz Curtis Higgs' new book, A Wreath of Snow, I put my name on the hold list.  (I remembered the author's name from her other historical fiction novel, Thorn in My Heart, a re-telling of the Biblical story of Rachel and Leah.)  Unfortunately, I didn't get my turn until after the holidays, but it was still a really wonderful read.  I picked it up yesterday and couldn't put it down (staying up, well after I should have, to finish it).

In this little Christmas novella, Margaret Campbell is desperate to get back to her Edinburgh town house.  She has attempted a visit to her childhood home of Stirling, but her brother's bitterness and sour spirits have sent her running back to her own quiet, little home.  When she boards the train, she is unaware that an unexpected delay will throw her directly in the path of the handsome Gordon Shaw, who shares a secret connection from the past. Can this reunion bring forgiveness instead of pain?  Will the characters open their hearts to the power of God to change hearts and lives?

As the front cover declares, this novel "is a tender story of love and forgiveness, wrapped in a celebration of all things Scottish, all things Victorian, and, especially, all things Christmas."  I loved the re-creation of a Victorian Stirling railway scene.  I was drawn into the characters and their dilemma.  I enjoyed the references to Scottish Christmas traditions.  Plus, I couldn't stop saying to myself, "just one more chapter and I'll put it away."  In the end, I didn't "put it away," until there were no more chapters to read.  I would happily pick up another Liz Curtis Higgs novel!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Book Review: The Bridge

Karen Kingsbury is one of my favorite Christian authors.  Her stories are always inspirational and story-driven (as opposed to message-driven).  She knows how to weave characters together in difficulties that orchestrate the love and grace of God.

The Bridge is no exception.  Kingsbury has, once again, provided an endearing story with interesting characters and a heart-warming ending.  Another plus with this book is that it also is a love story about books.  Any book-lover will recognize themselves in the pages of this novel and will root for the happy ending.

Molly Allen and Ryan Kelly enjoyed two sweet college years together, studying at a small bookstore called "The Bridge."  They were supposedly only friends, but each held feelings they were not declaring.  Ryan had a girlfriend back home and Molly was expected to marry the man who would soon run her father's thriving business ventures.  But neither has returned to marry the individual they were destined for and both are still pining for the memories of those shared moments around books at "The Bridge."

It takes a flood (which threatens to close down the bookstore) and an accident (which threatens to take the bookseller) to bring these two back together.  But, even when they reunite, there are mixed messages and misunderstandings.  Will they pull it together enough to salvage the strong love they feel for one another and also help the bookseller to redeem his vision of maintaining the special place called "The Bridge?"

I loved how the love of books was portrayed in these pages.  I loved the references to classics.   I enjoyed the sweet, frustrated romance and the miracle that brings it all together in the end.  It was a sweet tale and an easy, enjoyable read.  I wouldn't rank it as high as her "Red Glove series," but it was still a pleasant, triumphant story.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Book Review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Every January, my book club gathers to select the eleven books we will read together.  Our host prepared a list of all the suggestions, complete with a short blurb describing each book.  Maria Semple's book, Where'd You Go, Bernadette, was on the list and it jumped out at me on the recent acquisitions shelf at our library during my last visit.  So, I started the book before even finding out whether the group would read it or not.

When I attended the selection meeting, I was gushing over how funny (laugh-out-loud funny - really!) the book was.  I was about 150 pages into the book and was finding it delightful.  I wished that I could bring to mind several of the bits where I literally snorted, but couldn't.  My description must have hooked them, though, because it became the February book for our selections.

I must say, I enjoyed the first half of this book so much more than the second half.  By the second half, with the introduction of Bernadette's husband's affair, the book took on more of a ludicrous tone and lost some of its genuine humor.  I don't know if it is just that the affair didn't sit well with me (or even seem logical, given her husband's supportive nature) or that the dialogue (mainly, epistolary - one of my favorite kinds of books) no longer rang true, but I was less impressed with the second half of the book.

Bernadette Fox is a very accomplished mother who has retreated from life to raise her daughter, Bee.  Her husband is an equally accomplished executive with Microsoft and is fiercely busy with his job.  Bee secures a stellar report card and requests a family trip to Antarctica as her reward.  Bernadette has a difficult time with living in Seattle, interacting with the overzealous mothers at her daughter's school, and the prospect of a trip to Antarctica.  On top of that, her neighbor insists on having Bernadette's blackberry vines removed, which leads to a dreadful conclusion and more friction.  Bernadette is on the verge of a break-down and her husband is seeking an intervention, when she suddenly disappears.  Bee is left to unravel her disappearance based on correspondence and other evidence to determine where her mother might have gone.

Bernadette was a completely engaging character.  She is hilarious in her scorn for her present location and for the "gnats" she must deal with at her daughter's school.  The pieces begin to fit together to explain what has driven Bernadette to disappear.  I think Maria Semple did an excellent job creating likeable characters with tremendous wit and sharp intelligence.  Her social satire was dead-on.  Plus, I appreciated her insistance that a creative person must be actively engaged in creating in order to remain true to themselves and even not become a "menace to society."

The story did drive the reader along with the desire to figure out where Bernadette has gone (excellent title).  It was highly readable.  I would read it again just for the laughter the first sections provoked, but still say the last half wasn't as enjoyable.  Still, if you're up for some humor and a bit of a far-fetched story, then this is a delightfully funny read.  I agree with the back cover when it declares this book to be "an ingenious and unabashedly entertaining novel about a family coming to terms with who they are.  It is also a riotous satire of privilege and an unsentimental but powerful story of a daughter's unflinching love for her imperfect mother."  I also agree with Jonathan Evison who writes, "Brilliant, hilarious, endlessly inventive, and compulsively readable, Where'd You Go, Bernadette grabs you by the collar and never lets go.  Semple is ... an astute social critic!"

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Book Review: Don't Waste Your Life

Hard to believe - two John Piper books within two weeks. Just coincidence really. Not a concerted effort. I discovered this little paperback in a new little uber-cheap thrift store nearby (books at .49 cents and a Nike winter jacket for Sean for only $2.70! Yah-rah!) and the title grabbed me. I know I'm not the only stay-at-home mother who sometimes wonders if I'm wasting my life by not really accomplishing more than raising a brood of kids. I wrestle with the grandiose vision of doing something that matters significantly (not to say that I don't put a high premium on the value of being there for my kids and the utmost importance of investing in their lives and futures).

I had never read any John Piper books before this year, although I am familiar with a famous quote by the author: "He [God] is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him." Basically, this book is an affirmation of that concept. We waste our lives when we pursue anything other than the glory of God and, the flip-side, we make our lives count when we are wholly focused on bringing glory to God. This can be done in anything you pursue, whether it be publishing a book which impacts many lives, raising children who love God, or just fulfilling your obligations in a secretarial position where you do your work with an eye on glorifying God.

This book did two things for me. First, it affirmed that I'm not wasting my life because I haven't latched onto a publishing contract yet or done anything the world recognizes as significant. I can make my life count just by focusing on the One who created me. What a freeing concept! But secondly, the book challenged me to make my life count for more than it presently does. During the discussion on the time-waster that television is, I found myself wondering whether my extensive reading might also be seen as a time-waster. Perhaps, there are more valuable ways to spend my time. I don't know. Just a thought. The book also encouraged mission-mindedness (always a valuable endeavor and one I have been blessed with the opportunity to participate in, though not recently).

There were a few quotes (besides his hallmark one) which stood out for me:

"One of the reasons we are not as Christ-centered ... as we should be is that we have not realized that everything ... was purchased by the death of Christ for us. We simply take life and breath and health and friends and everything for granted. We think it is ours by right. But the fact is that it is not ours by right. We are doubly undeserving of it. 1) We are creatures, and our Creator is not bound or obligated to give us anything - not life or health or anything. He gives, he takes, and he does us no injustice (Job 1:21). 2)... we are sinners... Therefore, every breath we take, every time our heart beats, every day that the sun rises, every moment we see with our eyes or hear with our ears or speak with our mouths or walk with our legs is, for now, a free and undeserved gift to sinners who deserve only judgment."

"His beauty shines most brightly when treasured above health and wealth and life itself."

"If we only trust Christ to give us gifts and not himself as the all-satisfying gift, then we do not trust him in a way that honors him as our treasure. We simply honor the gifts. They are what we really want, not him."

I came away challenged to magnify Christ with my one, brief life! In that sense, the book fulfilled its purpose and I suppose John Piper made his life count for God! And now this little book can be placed in my stack of books for the Little Free Library at CBLI, so it may impact another life besides mine.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Book Review: The Double Bind

I'm always on the look-out for a really great read, so when I notice lots of people talking about a particular book, I jot down the title and make plans to pick it up.  Somehow, this one by Chris Bohjalian kept getting pushed down on my lists.  I have been meaning to read it for over a year.  I'm not sure how I feel about it.  It was certainly a book that was hard to put down.  It was immensely readable and the characters were interesting.  I guess it just wasn't as stunning as I had anticipated.

Laurel Estabrook is still recovering from an incident many years in the past when she was attacked while riding her bicycle on a secluded Vermont road.  She has tried to put it behind her, but finds details coming back up as she is presented with a photograph collection belonging to a recently deceased homeless shelter man, Bobbie Crocker.  It turns out Bobbie Crocker was a quite successful photographer and has a collection of photos of famous places and people.  He was obsessed with the photos and thought that someone was determined to take them from him.  Laurel becomes equally obsessed with the photos as she goes about restoring the images in an effort to display them for the homeless shelter's benefit.

There were unexpected twists and turns in the tale.  It was easy to get sucked into the story line.  But, I found myself wondering, throughout, what parts were supposed to be true and what parts were supposed to be fabrication.  Of course, with the ending, those questions were answered.  Although it was a very good novel, I don't think I'll label it as one of my favorites at the end of the year.  I suppose I feel like I'm no better off for having read it.  It didn't really edify me in any way and provided no redemption in the telling.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Book Review: Jumping the Scratch

Another book review blogger I know, Lucy of the Life is a Spasm Who Flow blog, has made a new year's resolution to write her book reviews within two days of finishing the book.  Great resolution.  I'm struggling now because I finished reading this book a week ago.  It was a fine little book.  I just don't remember all that much about it.

I selected this one because it was written by Sarah Weeks, the author of a favorite children's book called So B. It.  I think I enjoyed So B. It more than this one, but it was still a worthwhile read and would be fine for a read-aloud in a grade school classroom of 4th grade or higher.  It does treat the difficult subject of abusive behavior, but handles it delicately and in a vague enough way as to not be too graphic for young readers.

Jamie Reardon is dealing with some unpleasant circumstances.  His father has left, his cat has died, and his aunt Sapphy has had an accident causing her to to be unable to make new memories.  It is like she's playing a record and cannot seem to jump over the scratch where things repeat and repeat.  I found the repetitive conversations humorous (given the fact that I have a relative who tends to repeat the same conversations over and over again).  Jamie does what he can to try to jump-start her memory.  While Sapphy can't remember, Jamie has something he wants to forget.  Somehow Jamie's struggles provide the necessary elements and both Jamie and Sapphy find a way to "jump the scratch."

Saturday, January 12, 2013

It's My 5-Year Blogiversary

Five years ago today, I wrote my first blog post about my middle son's fixation with Bath and Body Works' "Banilla Soap."  Some time during my first year of blogging, one of my real blogging friends (and one who started my wheels churning about starting my own blog) commented that it seemed like I was on a goal to make it to 1000 posts in record time.  I have noticed that, like many other bloggers, the number of posts for each year have steadily declined over the years.  Will I one day open my blog to find I am only posting 50 times a year?  Who knows.  For now, I'm determined to slog on.  I have no grand illusions of blogging every day or of becoming a blogging sensation.  My goals aren't that lofty.  I just want to document the books I read and the boys as they grow.  I want a place to process some of my deeper thoughts.  I want to store the day-to-day, so I can review it (as I did this morning).

I went back over my blog-posts and wrote down the ones which secured the most views.  These aren't my favorite posts.  Perhaps I'll do a post about those some day, but for now, here is a compilation of the book reviews and general posts which were among my most-read (with most popular at the top of each list):


Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw
Dear Author
Who Switched Off My Brain
Chronicles of Narnia Series
Runaway Twin
Whole-Brain Child
Life Without Limits
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Dying to Meet You
Confessions from the Principal's Chair
Hormones: Don't Let Them Ruin Your Life
Sacred Romance

General Posts:

Book Recommendations from a CBLI guest (surprisingly, most popular)
Spurting Spider Cake
Cancer Awareness - Kevin Ballantine
Holiday World and Santa's Lodge
The Menopausal Monster Lurks
Favorite Things Thursday: Colliers Junior Classics
Prayer Request - Janae and Stellan
Boys Will Be Boys
Knock, Knock Joke by Sean
Why, Boys, Why
Scorpion Sucker
Report Card Flashbacks
Favorite Things Thursday: Sprecher's Root Beer

Now, I gleaned these lists from Blogger's stats and I must make this caveat.  There are times in their statistics where they say that nobody has viewed the blog post, yet four people left a comment on it.  Really?  So, who knows, maybe these stats aren't very reliable.  Still, it was fun to see what was most popular as of this point.

Happy Blogiversary to me!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Three Great Movies for the Start of 2013

This past weekend, I watched two beautiful movies with my boys.  The first was "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," one of the Chronicles of Narnia series movies.  Although it had been out for a while, we just got around to seeing it and it was brilliant.  It was such a thrill to watch Trevor completely absorb and articulate what Eustace experienced when Aslan turned him back from a dragon into a boy.  It was that idea of a good hurt, something that is painful while going through it, and something you cannot do for yourself, but despite the pain, brings something wonderful.

The second movie we watched was "Hugo."  It was the perfect sort of movie for Trevor and I to share together.  We thoroughly enjoyed the adventure of it.  As the back cover so eloquently articulates - "When wily and resourceful Hugo discovers a secret left by his father, he unlocks a mystery and embarks on a quest that will transform those around him and lead to a safe and loving place he can call home."  It was magnificent!  I think the strongest lesson Trevor gleaned was that each of us has a purpose and it is our job to find that purpose and fulfill it.  He loved the exploration of old movies, the artistic elements, and the happy ending for Hugo.

Then, as I was jogging this week on our mini-trampoline for exercise, I put in a library find called "Bella."  Made in 2006, this older film is incredibly inspirational and moving.  It was truly a masterpiece.

"An international soccer star (Eduardo Verastegui) is on his way to sign a multimillion dollar contract when a series of events unfold that brings his career to an abrupt end  A beautiful waitress (Tammy Blanchard), struggling to make it in New York City, discovers something about herself that she's unprepared for.  In one irreversible moment, their lives are turned upside down ... until a simple gesture of kindness brings them both together, turning an ordinary day into an unforgettable experience."

I cannot rave about this movie enough.  Be sure to have tissues handy.  It is a tear-jerker.  But, it is also a movie that will make you feel good about life and the choice to live it to its fullest, with grace.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Book Review: The Last Summer (of You & Me)

I think it has been almost a decade since I read Ann Brashares' The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.  I really enjoyed that book, so I decided to give one of her adult novels a try.  While I wasn't disappointed - it was a good read - it didn't fulfill me quite so much as her young adult novel did.

In The Last Summer (of You & Me), we encounter a love triangle.  Riley has always been best-friends with Paul, and her younger sister, Alice, has always felt an attraction to Paul.  The three have grown up spending summers on Fire Island, in neighboring beach houses in the town of Waterby.  Paul has returned, after a three-year absence, and finds himself equally attracted to the now-grown Alice.  As the three begin another summer adventure, the waters of their relationships will be tested by family loyalty, serious illness and deep secrets.

I did enjoy the book.  It was an engrossing read.  The characters were believable and interesting.  The plot line moved at a steady pace.  It just wasn't as brilliant as The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.  Plus, with grown-up lives came grown up sex scenes and I could do without most of that.  I think I'll stick with her young adult books and maybe even re-read the Traveling Pants first installment, so that I can tackle the sequel books as well.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Book Review: Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce

My mother-in-law came for a five day visit, arriving on New Year's Eve.  She brought along this book and urged me to read it.  So, I did.  I think in the years closer to my Master's degree in British history, I would have been a tad bit more interested.  While it was somewhat interesting, it didn't really hold my attention very well.  Still, it was short and an edifying read.

John Piper's brief biography doesn't really provide a chronological outline of Wilberforce's life.  It focuses on two aspects: his dedication to the fight against slavery and his commitment to a true Christianity rather than a nominal Christianity.  The book goes to great lengths to laud his perseverence in the political fight to end slavery.  I suppose I was hoping for more personal information about his life.  I would have enjoyed a bit more discussion about his relationship with his family and with those around him.  Plus, despite the title, there wasn't much discussion about the Lord's grace in the life of William Wilberforce.

I don't think I would have picked this up for myself, but I was happy to oblige my mother-in-law and give it a read.  I think she feels a kinship to me because of my love of history, but her love of history tends towards political history, while my interests tend to lie in cultural history.  In fact, while she was here, John and I went to see the movie, "Lincoln."  I felt the same way about the movie as I did about this book.  I grew tired of the political emphasis and wanted more treatment of the fascinating aspects of the life of a great man.  While others raved about the movie, I think I would have preferred seeing "Les Miserables."  Ah well, the first book and movie of the new year are behind me.  May 2013 provide even better books and movies!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Favorite Reads of 2012

I almost feel embarrassed posting my listing of books read in 2012.  I don't want it to appear that I am trying to impress with the large number of books I read.  This year, I reconnected with an old college roommate, who wondered whether I am reading too many books or reading books as a way of avoiding making relationships.  While I don't think that is the case (indeed, there are plenty of other reasons why I'm not able to form new friendships in this tiny town), I can understand the concern over the intensity of my reading.

Still, if one desires to write, the best way to learn the craft is not only to spend time writing, but also to spend a large amount of time reading.  In that endeavor, I surpassed my goals this year, reading a total of 75 books.  My mother always asks me to write a post where I list them all, so she can print it out for future reference for her own reading.  Thus, here I present the books I read in 2012 and highlight the ones I think stood out above the rest (5 YA or middle-grade books and 10 grown-up books):

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
Shepherds Abiding by Jan Karon
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
A Choice to Cherish by Alan Maki
*  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
A Marriage Carol by Chris Fabry & Gary Chapman
The Christmas Scrapbook by Philip Gulley
The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd
Crunch by Leslie Connor
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Stray Affections by Charlene Ann Baumbich
Any Minute by Joyce Meyer & Deborah Bedford
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Son by Lois Lowry
The Sins of the Father by Jeffrey Archer
Zen and the Art of Faking It by Jordan Sonnenblick
To Heaven and Back by Mary C. Neal, MD
*  Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer
*  Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult
*  In the Bag by Kate Klise
Honeycomb Kids by Anna M. Campbell
Whitethorn Woods by Maeve Binchy
Bloom by Kelle Hampton
Talking Back to Facebook by James P. Steyer
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
*  Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce
The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Father Knows Less by Wendell Jamieson
*  Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Boys Should Be Boys by Meg Meeker, M.D.
Sister by Rosamund Lupton
Chomp by Carl Hiaasen
What if Your Blessings Come Through Raindrops by Laura Story
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper
Take One by Karen Kingsbury
The God Box by Mary Lou Quinlan
Locked Garden by Gloria Whelan
*  Journal of Best Practices by David Finch
The Last Thing I Remember by Andrew Klavan
The Cardturner by Louis Sachar
Perfect Health by Mary-Ann Shearer
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
*  The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew
*  Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
*  Night Road by Kristin Hannah
Far From Here by Nicole Baart
The Soul Tells a Story by Vinita Hampton Wright
Escape by Barbara Delinsky
*  The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
The Sibling Effect by Jeffrey Kluger
The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley
MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche
*  Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
*  Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
*  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Bras & Broomsticks by Sarah Mlynowski
The Road to Forever by Ron Felt
Friendship Bread by Darien Gee
*  La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander MCall Smith
A New Kind of Normal by Carol Kent
When I Lay My Isaac Down by Carol Kent
Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan
Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Breaking the Code by Karen Fisher-Alaniz
The Quest by Sean McDowell and Bob Hostetler
A Perfect Mess by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman
Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos
In the Company of Others by Jan Karon
Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson