Sunday, February 3, 2019

If You Could Read My Mind,...Would You Want To?

I'm taking a quick break from reading to tell you about the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness. So far, I've read (in the order the author suggests) The Knife of Never Letting Go and the short story The New World. I am currently reading The Ask and the Answer, and I am absorbing it like crazy.

I was already a fan of the author, but it takes things to a different level for me when I decide to invest in a series. It's actually something I don't do very often unless the first book is truly excellent. My reading time is valuable, and I believe variety is the spice of life...and of reading. A writer has to really impress me for me to set aside my TBR cart and stick with one author for awhile. And to stick with one author for one storyline...for several books? Yes, it has to rank pretty dang high and give me something unexpected.

So, let's to interest you and not give anything away...

The story revolves around a boy named Todd who lives on a planet, the New World, that has been settled by people who left the Old World for a simple way of life. You know, getting back to basics and living like Little House on the Prairie. The problem is the settlers get infected with something that makes it where everyone can hear what each other is thinking all the time. Out loud. And this is not a good thing.

At the opening of the novel, Todd is about to become a man (he's turning 13), and once that occurs, he will be the last child to become a man in the settlement. You see, there are no other children because there are no women. The infection that made it where men could hear each others' thoughts also killed the women in the settlement, including Todd's mother when he was just a baby.

Then, one day, while Todd is in the forest with his dog - just trying to get away from town and the noise of everyone's thoughts coming at him - he feels a quiet. He feels he is near something unlike anything he's ever known before. And he couldn't be more right.

In a nutshell, it's Shirley Jackson meets Ray Bradbury and directed by the Twilight Zone. 

And it's really good.

I think one of the things I like the most about the first book is I kept thinking I knew where it was going, and I was wrong. It's a very original idea with good twists and turns. I really like the idea, too, of these people who traveled through space to reject technology. Interesting.

Now, it's time for me to get back to my book. I can't wait to see what happens next!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Out Sick, Listen, and Read

Have I mentioned I rang in the new year with sickness? Yes, 2019 has been a struggle for me up until now. This is the first weekend I've felt like myself in the last month. There's no need to go into details about the whole thing, but I will say that when I'm too sick to read, you know it's bad. It's also the reason I didn't blog last Sunday. I'm not a whiner, but I'd felt physically bad for too long and was afraid if I managed to blog at all, I might have a meltdown. I'm one of those "grin and bear it" kind of people, so meltdowns don't go well on the very rare occasions when I have them. Trust me. (See? I spared you all that. You're welcome. ;)

I am also one of those "silver lining" kind of people, so...the good news is that because I wasn't up to reading last weekend, I listened. And I enjoyed everything I heard...

Unfu*k Yourself

I love brutal honesty. If you like it, too, or you just need to hear some, Gary John Bishop's Unfu*k Yourself is a definite Audible winner. Bishop narrates his own book and gives you a good, common sense "talking-to" (as my grandma used to say).

I should tell you, I'm not a self-help book person. At all. But I feel like Bishop's is not a self-help, it's a guide to help you clear your thinking and help you understand the importance of life choices. I agreed with everything he said because I'm at an age where experience has already taught me...the hard way. I wish I'd had his voice in my ear 35 years ago. Would I have listened? I'd like to think so.

In an ever-changing world, where the more ways we have to communicate, the less truly connected we are, people need to learn their own minds. They need to know how to live authentic lives instead of social media ones. Personally, I think everyone would benefit from hearing what Bishop has to say, whether it's to learn...or to confirm.

(Side note: Bishop is Scottish and has a lovely dialect. Listening was a delight.)

Almost Everything

If you don't know Anne Lamott, you're missing out. I fell in love with her words many years ago when I read Bird by Bird. The book had such an impact on me, I wrote in the front of the book when and where I began the journey into her world of words. I think she's quite amazing.

All that being said, I'd never heard her read her own words until last weekend. I was excited to hear her Audible narration of Almost Everything. I knew what to expect, personality wise, because I've read her writing and her deadpan, dry sense of humor comes through in most everything she writes.

Almost Everything is funny and wise and sarcastic and hopeful. Lamott acknowledges the world could end any moment, but she also believes we should live with the hope it won't. I told you I love brutal honesty, and Lamott has plenty of that with a bit of dark humor, but she also believes in kindness and empathy and love.

I have to say that I was more than a bit offended when I read a book review that called this book "new age" stuff, when it isn't at all. (But, you know, ignorant people who limit their exposure to the world around them tend to be...labelists.) Lamott may talk about spirituality in a way that a strick denominationist may not understand, or that a diehard atheist may not care to hear, but that's because they lack the ability to entertain a thought without accepting it and moving on. At no time is Lamott preaching her beliefs, some things simply come out as a reference in a few anecdotes she tells. Labelists don't like it when they have difficulty labeling you, and I assure you Lamott is quite good at avoiding those labels, as she believes in many good things in many different ways. I should also mention I don't agree with everything she says,.. but I'm certainly entertained by it.

To sum it up, in terms you might understand better,...if you enjoy brutal honesty, a sense of humor that's a bit twisted, and a heart full of light and goodness with a Lily Tomlin voice, Anne Lamott is for you.

Sea Creatures

I read Sea Creatures, by Susanna Daniel, this weekend, and I thoroughly enjoyed it as a solid read. By that, I mean it's excellent writing, well-paced, interesting, and thought-provoking about the ordinary things in life. It also makes you wonder what you'd do in the same circumstances if the push in your life came to shove.

The plot revolves around Georgia, our narrator, who moves to Florida with her husband and toddler son. Her business has shutdown and her husband, a professor, had an incident that caused him to lose his job. They buy a used houseboat, park it in her father's boat slip and try to start over. There are two main problems in Georgia's life: her husband's terrible night terrors/sleeping disorder and her three year old son won't talk, won't make a sound. Oh, there are other problems, to be sure, but those are her most difficult ones at the opening of the novel. 

Georgia tells us about her life in fragments, flashbacks, to help us understand who she is as the main story moves along, and it flows well. The author weaves a good story about what makes us who we are, why we make the choices we make, and how loving the people in our lives is a complicated thing that only our own hearts can define.

Good book.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Turtle Warrior

In a world of watered-down contemporary fiction, I certainly notice when a book has bite. The Turtle Warrior, by Mary Relindes Ellis, is definitely the kind of novel that leaves behind teeth marks in your soul.

I found this treasure in a used bookshop in Kailua, Hawaii. It was both the title and the picture on the cover that drew me to it. I saw it was a debut novel (from 2004), and I just knew it needed to go home with me. And I was right.

First, let me say, the writing is excellent. The story is told by different narrators, and it isn't labeled by chapter, or section, who is who. But it isn't confusing at all. The author had confidence in the ability of her writing, and her readers' brains, to make it clear who was speaking. I love the different perspectives and back stories of the characters. Like I said, excellent writing.

Second, I will tell you that it isn't easy to read about the tragedy of some people's lives. Yes, it is fiction, but it is very much realistic fiction. It is everything life is: happy, tragic, disappointing, surprising, euphoric, lonely, and loving.

Third, and last, I will tell you the plot revolves around a boy, Bill, and his life. It begins when he is young and dreams of fighting bad guys with a wooden sword his big brother made him and an old turtle shell for a shield. But life for Bill is harsh on a Wisconsin farm in the 1960s with an alcoholic father, an unbalanced mother, and a beloved older brother who goes off to war and leaves him behind. It's a story about surviving childhood and living with decisions and forgiving and hoping to find a better life.

It's a worthy read. I don't think any synopsis could have prepared me for the incredible story that unfolded in this book. I'm so glad I read it. I hope you will decide to read it one day, too.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

New Year, Same Me

Don't look here if you're looking for my New Year's resolution. I resolved not to do those anymore, and it was absolutely the best New Year's resolution I ever made...and have kept. As the title of this post indicates, while it IS a new year, I am still very much the same me. Of course, in truth,...I am also constantly changing - as, I hope, we all are. But the changing? Yep, that's still the same me. 

I haven't blogged for...quite awhile, in case you hadn't noticed, but it's been a year full of more changes and adjustments than I've ever had to handle. But I have it all handled now. Quite nicely, too, I might add (though it sure didn't feel like it while I was going through it).

In upcoming blogs I will share several stories about a variety of things: my new location, my new job, my goal to finish a novel (something my daughters bug me about on a continuous basis - bless their sadistic hearts), my writing journey, and - as always - my reading journey. 

Barring death or dismemberment, I'll post every Sunday. I may post more often than that, from time to time, but definitely every Sunday. It's when I tend to reflect the best...and have the most quiet. 

Tune in next week to hear about the odd books found (and bought) in a used bookstore in Hawaii, as well as a review on the book I'm currently reading. 

Until then, happy reading! 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Our Stories

I have a favorite quote that has become a bit of a mantra for me. I hear it in my head when people tell me something about themselves. I hear it when I teach students who don't believe in their own abilities to learn and to become whatever they want to be. And I always hear it when my own mind betrays me and tries to tell me something that isn't true about me, which is usually an old echo of something someone else has said to me.

Here's the quote:

"It's like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story." 

~ Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

Powerful words. True words. Believe me, I should know. And I've seldom seen an example of this laid out as clearly as it is in the non-fiction book, Educated, by Tara Westover. It incredible story. She's an incredible person and an excellent writer.

One of the most difficult things to do in life is to rewrite your own story, the one that plays in your head. As children, we grow up believing what our parents tell us. We trust them. And, while that seems like the right thing to do,...what happens if you don't have good parents? Or, what if, your parents think what they're doing is the right thing (because, in their mind, it is), but their version of "normal"...isn't quite normal? When do children, surrounded by the beliefs of others, ever find their own way...and learn to trust their own story? Ask Tara Westover.

Educated is Westover's memoir about her life, growing up in a rural area of Idaho to parents who 'homeschooled' her. By Westover's accounts, "homeschooled" meant she didn't receive schooling at all. In fact, her father pulled their family so far off the grid, his last few children didn't have birth records. To this day, Westover doesn't really know when her actual birthday is. While this may seem normal for someone born a century ago, Tara is currently a woman in her late 20s/early 30s. 

While Tara grew up in a Mormon home, this story is not about religion. In fact, her parents were extremist in many different ways and they often criticized, what they considered, "mainstream" Mormons. Tara's parents kept their family isolated and used their children for labor. All the while, their father preached to them about the horrible ways of the world and how the government was out to get them and brainwash them. Tara's father saw himself as the protector of his family and used the Ruby Ridge tragedy to prove to his family what would happen if they didn't listen to him. You know, terrorism on a "home-sweet-home" scale.

I think everyone should read this book. I worry some people won't because they'll think it's a "teacher book" about education,...when it's really a book about how to survive childhood and discover who you really are.

And here's the best way to truly discover Tara Westover's story: First, read the book. Second, research the author's current life and watch a few interviews. Third, look up her family - her parents. What you discover on this journey will either blow your mind...or confirm what you've always known.

Happy reading!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sexy Vampires? That's a Bloody Lie.

Have you read Bram Stoker's Dracula? No, not watched the movie or television series that claims it is based on Bram Stoker's version. I mean, have you actually read the novel from 1897? If you haven't, it's time you do,...especially if you consider yourself a vampire fan or a fan of popular vampire stories.

Here are just a few of the things I discovered when I decided to read the original version:

No Love

Count Dracula doesn't love. Well, except himself, I suppose. There is no love, or romance, between Dracula and anyone else. He takes everyone by force or by trance, none of them give themselves willingly - least of all Mina. He is an egotistical warlord who has lived so long he has been able to outsmart and outmaneuver mankind for centuries. The characters reveal his history as Vlad the Impaler and come to understand him through analyzing how he has evaded being discovered all this time. The analysis is fascinating. But, love and romance? Nope. There's none of that.

No Sex

There are no sexy seduction scenes or women who can't resist Dracula for his sexual prowess and attraction. In fact, he isn't attractive, he's horrid. Not one character describes him as attractive and, yes, there are physical descriptions of him. He's also evil incarnate. And the scenes where he takes the blood from unwilling women (Mina, in particular) is forcible and brutal. There is nothing sexy about it.

A Heroine I Admire

Mina is a very savvy, highly intelligent woman who helps the heroes find their way to Dracula, more than once, and who is very perspicacious. Van Helsing, Harker, and the rest of the men respect her opinion and credit her with helping them hunt down Dracula. When the men seem to reach a dead end (no pun intended) in the chase, it's Mina who puts herself, and her soul, on the line to try and help them rid the world of Count Dracula. I'd also like to mention that Mina is married to Jonathan Harker in the novel, not his girlfriend or fiancée (as portrayed in the movies to make it seem like she is virginal and desires a sexual encounter with Dracula). She loves and adores her husband very much. It is out of hatred Dracula comes to forcibly drink her blood and take her from her husband. It is a horrible scene.

The Writing Style

The original novel is told in a journal/letter format. You hear the unfolding story from each character, except Dracula. He has no voice in this, which I found quite interesting. You only hear what he says and does from the other characters. You see, he doesn't deserve a voice, he is evil. Think about that. 

Today's Versions

I believe I could write an entire book on the ridiculous point our society has reached about 'paranormal romance' novels versus Stoker's original novel and its intent. I am amazed that what started out as an incredible novel in 1897 that portrays women as intelligent and intuitive (let me point this out again - in 1897!), and portrays men as intelligent beings of science and faith who are fighting for good, has become the second-hand drivel we see in bookstores and movies today. And the vampire? The vampire who was once a monster of evil and destruction and violence against women...has become something young girls fantasize about as being a love interest. 

It's all a bloody lie.

If you don't believe me, just read Bram Stoker's Dracula...

Sunday, April 29, 2018


Sorry, folks, I have nothing for you this week. I didn't even realize that my last post was TWO weeks ago instead of one. Yes, that's how life has been.

I'm off my reading game, and I can't even tell you the last time I sat down long enough to watch something on television...that I didn't fall asleep within thirty minutes. 

Yes, I am reading. I'm reading a class novel with my sixth graders (Touching Spirit Bear), and I am reading a book with my boys' book club (Woods Runner), and I did manage to find a half-finished novel I lost during the move,...and I finished it (The Silent Wife). And I'm sure I'll write about them eventually. Just not tonight.


I finally have my new library set up. And, today, I put a TBR short-stack by my reading couch. I will hit the reset button on my "new normal" on Tuesday. Why Tuesday? Well, that's a story for next Sunday. (By then, I'm sure it'll be okay to tell it.)

Happy reading...