Thursday, December 31, 2015

It Said WHAAT?! Part II

My friends and family read my blogs, but seldom post. They prefer to just talk to me about what I've written. (Do you see where this is going? No? Well, look at the title and think about what I just wrote.)

Can you guess what I've been asked about my previous post on December 23rd?

"Have you told anyone at your school about this book?!"
 
"Have you tried to get the book removed from your school library?!"

The answer to both those questions is, "No. Absolutely not." The "why" part of it is a bit more involved, and I should have added it in when I wrote the original blog about the book Proxy. Forgive me, and allow me to explain it here:

Children are drawn to what's forbidden (which is why I question if labeling would be a mistake). Don't mention it, and they don't notice it. Sadly, there are many children who walk around my school with a big book in their hand, and they have no intentions of reading it. It's just for show. Sad, isn't it? And, yes, it's important I notice such things. It's my job. You thought I was a reading and writing teacher? Oh, that's just a very small part of it. I'm also a detective, a snoop, an observer, a fake-finder, and a lie detector. I'm quite good at it. I consider myself a stealth and lethal fighter in the war against illiteracy. And I fight the good fight, all in the name of growing better readers.

Now, I know that of all the sixth grade children who have checked out Proxy from our library, maybe five of them have actually read the whole novel. Maybe. And, truthfully, that may be a high estimate. If you knew the number of children who have checked out the Harry Potter books and claimed to have read it, you'd be astonished. They've seen the movies, not read the books. It takes very little observation and questioning to figure this out.

I said in my original blog, about all this, that I do not like censorship. I don't believe in it. I'm aware that many of my students are exposed to far worse things than anything that book exposes them to. I'm also aware that most students who actually read the entire novel are students who are good readers and have read other good books for comparison. They will have a more mature way of handling the contents of the book because reading exposes you to a variety of worlds. They are usually more empathetic young people, as well. Like the student I referred to previously, they may not like what they read - may not like the book, but they will dismiss it and go on.

Now, if I make a big deal about the book, it becomes a big deal. Students who might have ignored the book before may be intrigued as to why it was taken from our library's shelf. And God help us if some well-meaning, uninformed adults go running rampant through our hallways with their cries of concern. Students who aren't avid readers may choose this one to get curious about because of all the ruckus and not be prepared for what they encounter. Not to mention, if a struggling reader finally takes an interest in a book for the wrong reasons and doesn't like it, it may be a very long time before they try again - if they ever make a genuine effort to try again at all.

So, what, if anything DID I do?

Well, my students saw that I was reading the book and tabbing it. I model for my students when we read silently in class (what we call SSR - silent, sustained reading time), and they see me do what good readers should do by interacting with the text as I read. When I was done with the book, I purposely left it on my desk with the tabs on it. When my students asked me if I liked it, I told them the truth. I said it was weak. I told them it was, in fact, a weak and watered-down version of some great original books. I told them what those original books were and encouraged them to check those out.

That's it. That's all I did. That's all I needed to do.

Censor? Nah.

Teach? Absolutely.

 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Different Debut

Let's just jump right in, shall we?

    "Carolyn, blood-drenched and barefoot, walked alone down the two-lane stretch of blacktop that the Americans called Highway 78. Most of the librarians, Carolyn included, had come to think of this road as the Path of Tacos, so-called in honor of a Mexican joint they snuck out to sometimes. The guacamole, she remembered, is really good. Her stomach rumbled. Oak leaves, reddish-orange and delightfully crunchy, crackled underfoot as she walked. Her breath puffed white in the pre-dawn air. The obsidian knife she had used to murder Detective Miner lay nestled in the small of her back, sharp and secret.
     She was smiling."

How does that grab you?! It certainly grabbed me! Wow!

Actually, let me back up a minute, the first thing that grabbed me was the title: The Library at Mount Char. I just liked it. Then, I saw the cover of the book and loved it (still do). After that, I noticed it's a debut novel by the author, Scott Hawkins. I love to read debut novels! So far, this book was hitting on all my favorite things. Needless to say, when I opened it up to the first page and read what you just read, I was completely in and moved it to the top of my holiday reading stack.

While I liked the book, it is not one I would recommend to just anyone. It's dark and more than a bit warped. It is a fantasy with a different spin on gods and how the universe works. There is death and destruction and abuse, but those kinds of things are often at the center of any tales involving gods. If you're a fan of Greek and Roman mythology, you may not find this novel quite so warped as other readers may.

The premise of the novel is that there is someone called "Father" who is raising twelve orphan children to be librarians,...but not like the librarians we think of. Each child is being trained to be an expert in a particular field or "catalog" - and they are not allowed to learn outside their catalog. Carolyn, for instance, is required to know all the languages in the universe. She should be able to communicate with anyone or any thing. Father is harsh and abusive in his training, but claims it is necessary so they are all completely prepared for what they must do to help run the world. I guess you could say Father is head god, and the children are gods.

When we meet Carolyn, on page one, she is already grown. There appears to be a situation of some sort, and she's trying to get back to the library. That is what you begin with. As the story unfolds, you learn more about how they all were raised and trained in Father's library. The story moves forward as you get pieces of the backstory a little at a time. I thought the author did a good job, and he tied up all the loose ends in the end.

This is a bit of a complex story, so I wouldn't suggest you read it in bits and pieces. You'll lose the thread of thought if you put it down for too long. I read it over three days. Of course, there's no need to read it that quickly, you just have to keep with it. Don't let it gather dust on a shelf between chapters. Of course, to be honest with you, I had a hard time putting it down. I wanted to see where the story was going. Yes, it lulled in a couple of places, but not for too long. I realized, at the end, the little lulls were there on purpose.

This wasn't a book I was crazy about, but I did like it. I liked it because it was different. I like an author who takes a risk and shows me something I didn't expect. Hawkins does that. He's also good at descriptive writing and paints vivid pictures in your mind. The difficult part is when he's describing something that's horrible, something you may not want to picture. I believe that's why some people might struggle with the darker side of the novel.

One last thing, I'd like to defend the author a bit against a few bad reviews I read today. I read reviews that claimed the pieces didn't fit. For instance, they said if Carolyn was supposed to know all the languages, why didn't she know a round piece of bread with cheese on it was called a pizza? They claimed it just didn't ring true to the story. Obviously, these people have never taught English as a Second Language, or ever tried to learn a language that was not their native tongue. Just because you learn a language from a book (which is how Carolyn learned) doesn't mean you understand it completely in practice.

I will say again, I don't think this book is for everyone. If reading about death and dark things brings you down, then don't read it. I said it was dark and warped and it is, but it also holds a few precious jewels of thought I won't soon forget. If you like mythology and fantasy, I definitely think you'd find this interesting. And if you're like me, and welcome trying a bit of anything new and unusual, I say go for it!

Happy reading!
 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

It said WHAAT?!

Censorship.

It's not a word I like, to be honest. I never have. Especially when it comes to books. I don't believe in it for adults at all. For children, however? I think one of my sixth grade students put how I feel about it best when he said, "My parents believe I can read anything I'm interested in, as long as they know what I'm reading. Sometimes they read the same book so they can talk to me about it and answer any questions I might have."

It's a lovely thought, isn't it? I would love to think every parent is that interested in what their children are reading and would be there to help if they had any questions about the content of the books they read. Sadly, I've found that isn't usually the case.

Why do I think this is a problem? Well, I've questioned a few young adult (YA) books in the past, but not to the extent I am now. I'm starting to feel like authors who can't make it on the bestseller list for adult books have decided to try their hand at young adult books for a fan following (I actually read an few interview where one author admitted it). It's either that, or they are a best selling author and hope to be the next J.K. Rowling to make more money merchandising and movie making than from book writing. Trouble is, I don't think what they're writing about belongs in the hands of middle school students. And I definitely feel it doesn't belong in the hands of my sixth grade students (who are 10 and 11 when they enter sixth grade).

We're not talking about blood and guts and horror here (although I'm not crazy about too much of that, personally). I'm talking about sex and sexual feelings and sexual innuendos. Society is already over-sexualizing everything children see. Is there now no escape from it - even in books?

I believe the trend started with that "paranormal romance" series about the stupid girl who wrapped her whole life up in a dead vampire (oh, except for when she couldn't decide between the vampire and the werewolf. Seriously?) even though there was no actual "sex" until they were married.  I refuse to name the series. I didn't like it then, I don't like it now. It's poorly written, and I'm embarrassed for the author. She, however, will be reaping the financial benefits for the rest of her life, while an entire generation of young people think what they read in her books is good literature. (I shiver and get nauseous just thinking about it...)

Were there books about teenage romance before that? Absolutely. And better written. It was the marketing that propelled the book series, not the great writing. It reminds of the "boy band formula" that sucks in teens every time. It just breaks my heart that now there seems to be a "tweener/teen formula" for lukewarm novel writing. And I'm being generous using the term "lukewarm" when referring to the overabundance of "romance" books in the YA section of bookstores. Ugh.

Sorry. I got sidetracked. Tis the season. ;)

Back to my target (and, yes, I have one)...

I had a former student of mine (currently in eighth grade) to tell me about a book I just "have to read" and that I'd love it. I took a photo of the book she handed me so I would remember it and told her I would read it for my next book. A few days later, I saw that one of my sixth grade readers was toting around the same book. I asked how he liked it. He said, "So far, so good. I'll let you know when I'm done if it's really good or not."

I read the book in one day, on a Saturday, a couple of weeks ago. I didn't blog about it right away because...I was marinating. I didn't want to be reactive. I did a little research. I asked a few trustworthy adults what they thought about some of the passages. I marinated in it some more. I asked myself what I found offensive about it. I still don't know if this will come out right, but here goes:

The book Proxy by Alex London is supposed to be a modern, sci-fi, dystopian novel that is a new take on The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman. London even quotes Fleischman's book on the page before the first chapter. The comparison is even touted in the book trailers I've seen for Proxy. I've read The Whipping Boy numerous times. I understood the premise of the book.

As an adult, I see nothing wrong with the book...other than the fact I don't find it very original. I enjoyed the story, but I also enjoyed reading The Hunger Games, Ender's Game, The Whipping Boy, and watching the movie "Mad Max" (starring a very young Mel Gibson...back in...1981..at the midnight movies). I could name a few others, but those instantly came to my mind as I was reading Proxy.


 (Now, this is the difficult part...)

Reading through the eyes of my sixth graders, however, I have a big problem with the overt sexual banter and bullying between characters and the offensive thoughts expressed by the 16 year old "prince," or spoiled rich kid character, Knox. Not only does he objectify women, and can't even remember the name of the one he is with in the very first chapter because he's been with so many, he doesn't even try to hide it. And it almost seems to become one of his 'endearing' qualities later on. In other words, 'at least he's up front and honest about how he is and admits it'. Really? Really.

The 16 year old "whipping boy," or proxy who is punished for any and all of Knox's sins and mistakes, is Syd and he is a homosexual. He hasn't actually put into practice what he's been thinking about, but he's known for some time how he feels and who he is attracted to. Readers know his thoughts and feelings on the matter. I don't have a problem with Syd's sexual preferences (to each his or her own), I do have a problem with the slang terms and bullying words and labels used in the book against Syd.  I'm concerned young people will start using them. My first thought when I saw what one character said to Syd was that I hoped I never heard a student say that to another student. My second thought was about how offended I was that even Syd's heterosexual friends make strong innuendos and double-meaning phrases to tease him.

I read about the author after I read the book (which is how I usually do my research). He is one of several authors who is heralded as stepping out to write books for the young adults in the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community. I use "LGBT" because that's the label used in the interviews and articles I read about the author and the book. As I said, I don't have a problem with characters having sexual thoughts and feelings about their preferences, I just don't think the topic of sexual preferences of ANY kind belongs in a book for sixth graders.

Now, what age do I think this book would be appropriate for? That's a good question. I am really good at knowing sixth graders, but I've not taught other ages. To answer this question, I went to the best source I know: a student.

Remember the student whose parents let him read anything he wants? And remember the sixth grade student who was reading Proxy? It is the same student. He is a voracious reader and a well-spoken young man. When he finished the book, I simply asked for his opinion of it.

First, he asked me if I'd read the book, and I told him I had. This enabled him to talk about certain characters by name. He told me about a certain scene he really liked (the one that was very Mad Max like), and he liked the technology angle (like Ender's Game), and he thought the two main ideas of the novel were interesting (the same ones from The Whipping Boy and The Hunger Games). I asked him if there was anything else about it he liked. He said, "That's about it." This is a young man who can go on and on and on about a book he loves. The review was too brief and uncharacteristic.

Yellows mark my, "WHAAT?!" moments.
Purples are great passages/adds to novel.
Blues are high vocabulary words.
So, I had to casually ask...

"Was there anything you didn't like about the novel?"

My student looked uncomfortable and said, "Well,...I really didn't like all the...kissing and stuff."

"I want you to know I value your opinion as a good reader. Do you think this is an appropriate book for sixth graders?"

"No," he said, "I think maybe high school...or...maybe eighth grade? I don't know what eighth grade is like yet, but maybe it's okay for them? I definitely don't think it's for sixth graders."

Censorship?

Maybe not, but...perhaps a content/ratings label on anything promoted and sold as YA?

I don't know...

All I do know is that I host a movie club for sixth and eighth grade girls at my school once a week. I am not allowed to show anything over PG - that means no PG-13. Do you know what is in many of the PG-13 movies that causes that '13' to show up at the end and prohibits them being shown at my school? Sexual innuendo and a couple of cuss words.

Just something to think about. That's all.

 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Disturbing Treasure

I read a book, not too long ago, that I did not write a review for. Not because it wasn't good, but because I wasn't sure how to describe it or how to describe how it made me feel. The book has stuck with me for some time now, haunting me in the oddest ways. Most recently, I took a little vacation to a nearby town, and I kept thinking about passages from the book and the characters in the story. Please allow me to explain.

If you read my blog, you know I love to find random books I've never heard of. In one of my treasure hunts through a bookstore, I came across The Turtle Catcher by Nicole Helget. I loved the cover (because I am a cover lover), and the title of the book seemed odd when compared to the picture. It pulled me in, and I read the back cover. The hook was complete.

I don't usually do this, but I'd like to just quote the back of the book...

"In the tumultuous days after World War I, Herman Richter returns from the front to find his only sister, Liesel, allied with Lester Sutter, the "slow" son of a rival clan who spends his days expertly trapping lake turtles. Liesel has sought Lester's friendship in the wake of her parents' deaths and in the shadow of a dark secret of her own. But what begins as a yearning for something of a human touch quickly unwinds into a shocking, suspenseful tragedy that haunts New Germany, Minnesota, for generations. The Turtle Catcher is a lyrical, vibrant, beautifully wrought look at a fascinating piece of American history - and the echoing dangers of family secrets."

I couldn't say it better myself...without giving something away. It is a story you need to unfold for yourself. I won't lie, there are parts that show the horror of many things: war, betrayal, cruelty, secrets. There were times I found my hand covering my mouth in disbelief, as I shook my head from side to side, to think such things could happen. And they did. Yes, it's fiction, but it's also realistic - particularly for that time in history.

The book played out even more vividly in my mind when I took a little vacation to Fredericksburg, Texas, for a couple of days over Thanksgiving holidays. The small town is rich in history. It was founded by Germans in 1846 and their culture is everywhere. I didn't mean to associate it with the book I had read, it just happened. In my mind, the town was very much like the one described in the novel. As I walked up and down the main street in town, I could imagine what it would have been like in the days after World War I.

While I warn you that parts of the novel will disturb you, as the reality of human cruelty is always disturbing, the novel is very worthy of your reading time. It is well-written, interesting, and pulls you in from the very beginning.

It also does what is most important for a book to do: it makes you think.
 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

HIGH

When I review a book, I usually try to say something positive. I also try not to judge too harshly because I am aware we all experience books in our own ways, from our own perspectives. That being said, I'm going to make a bold statement here:

If you've been thinking about reading The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, I would suggest you give your valuable reading time to another book. I hear the Amazon series, based on the novel, is really good. Why don't you go for that? I can't say how good the series is for myself because I haven't watched it yet, but...I'm thinking it must be better than the book. (Did I just say that out loud? Yes. Yes, I did.)


First, let me say, I thought the concept of the novel was a good one. I knew, going in, it was supposed to give the reader an alternate ending to World War II (a topic I am continually fascinated by). I understood I was going to be given a view on what the world might be like if the Axis Powers had won the war. What I need you to understand is I wanted to like this book, I was looking forward to it. My gosh, I gave it part of my Thanksgiving Break (prime reading time for a teacher, in case you didn't know)!

I was disappointed. It wasn't horrible, needless to say, it just wasn't...great. I hate giving reviews like this, but I have to share my personal opinion of "HIGH," which is what I've come to call it. If you ever read the novel, you'll know why - but, hey, it's the holidays, let me save you the trouble.

  1. It is painfully obvious the author has a very HIGH opinion of himself. And, yes, I could tell it from reading the novel. In fact, I left a tab on page 133 that says, "PKD is an egomaniac!"
  2. I feel sure the author was HIGH when he wrote, at least, some of the book.
  3. After I read the book, I kept trying to find excuses why it received the Hugo Award in 1963. Perhaps,...there was no good sci-fi back then? I've decided it must be because the awards people were HIGH.
  4. Then I thought, perhaps, the Hugo Award committee had never read a novel before about alternate universes or alternate endings or, maybe,...they'd never seen episodes of "The Twilight Zone" before?  If that was the case, I could understand why they gave more credence to the novel than it deserved. I decided to test my theory and looked up the Hugo Awards for 1963 and found that "The Twilight Zone" actually received the Hugo Award that year for Best Dramatic Presentation! Okaaaaay, so...I'm back to thinking the committee must have been HIGH to slobber over this novel. (And, yes, I took into consideration that World War II had not been over very long for that generation, but still...)
  5. And, finally, the interesting viewpoint that the novel reveals is that if the Germans and the Japanese had won World War II, it would have been acceptable to smoke marijuana to relax (as common as a cigarette, comes in brands, and is carried around by your average businessman). This only loops back to another reason why I will forever refer to this work of fiction as HIGH and helps to support my suspicions about the author (see point #2).

To sum it all up, I'm glad I read it as a reference, but my time would have been better spent reading one of the numerous books on my "to read" list, all of which I set aside to read this novel because I wanted to read it before watching the series I've heard so much about. So, for those of you who are avid readers beating yourselves up because you fell in love with the show before reading the book, let yourself off the hook. Enjoy the series. Leave the novel on the shelf...in the bookstore.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Good Problem

I'm sitting here grinning to myself. I am a very happy girl today, and...I guess I just wanted to share my giddiness with you!

I woke up with a wonderful, delightful dilemma this morning, and I have yet to solve it. I've been working on the problem all morning. It's now noon here, and I have yet to make a decision,...but I have wallowed in the joy of the problem. 

I need a new book to read, and I can't decide what I want to read next.

You see, I just finished my book club's book choice yesterday afternoon, and we met last night to have dinner and discuss the book. I spent the evening talking about the book we read, but also talking about other books we're interested in or have heard about. I thought I knew what book I wanted to read next until I got up this morning with all those conversations floating in my head.

I've spent this entire morning looking over all the books on my bookshelves. I've read every title I own (except for picture books and young adult fiction - I keep those on separate shelves). In my search for something good to read, I have pulled some old friends from the shelves to remind myself how much I enjoyed reading them. I've smiled at some of them, run my hand over more than a few book jackets, and - yes - even kissed one (or two) and hugged it close to my heart. For a brief moment, I even considered what it would be like to spread out all my books on the floor of my library and just roll around in them, but...I would never risk damaging a book that way. Still, the thought did occur to me.


I love my books, and I have a fondness for them that I don't reserve for anything else. I'm not a materialistic person, I never have been, but...to me...books aren't things. Books are people's thoughts on paper, they contain the minds and emotions of others. I love words, and books contain words that are strung together in the most amazing ways (if they're not amazing, they don't stay in my home). I have to love a book to keep it.

In my treasure hunt this morning, I did find a couple of weeds among the roses, and I threw them away. Yes, threw away. No, I won't sell them to the second hand book store. I won't be responsible for passing on bad literature to others, even at a discount price. I did find a few other books that aren't quite me. They were gifts, once upon a time, but it's time to re-gift them. They weren't bad books, just...not my style. I also realized I have more than one copy of a couple of good books, so I'll be happy to give those away to someone I know would enjoy them.

Am I any closer to choosing my next book? Actually, I am. I've narrowed it down to three. One made me laugh out loud in the introduction (I'm leaning heavily towards that one), one is a beloved book I'd like to re-read (whose words are so beautiful I know I'll read much of it aloud), and the other is a random pick I bought from a bookstore some time ago (but I have a really good instinct for picking good ones). I can read more than one book at a time, and I do from time to time, but I prefer to give one book all of my attention. I feel I enjoy it more that way.

Hmmm,...which one shall it be? I don't know for sure, but it's a good problem to have.

Happy reading!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Seeing Red

There's no place quite like middle school, eh? I've mentioned before I love what I do, and I love that I teach sixth graders. I'd just like to give you an example of why middle school students are just too funny.

There are two seventh grade boys, who are former students of mine, that are like sons to me. They come downstairs to visit me, now and then, between classes to say hello and to tell my sixth graders they better be good to me. The boys also come down to let me know how they're doing in certain subjects or to talk about their sports and invite me to games, which I enjoy attending when I can.

One of their favorite things to do, when they visit in the hallway with me, is what I like to call, "You didn't do that with us!" Now, the way this goes is the boys will look in my classroom to see what my students are doing this year. If they see anything different, that looks like the students are doing something they didn't get to do in class last year, they turn to me and say, (yes, you guessed it) "You didn't do that with us!" It's absolutely hilarious! When I try to explain I don't do everything the same every year, they just give me sad faces and tell me I should have done that with their class. At this point, I usually remind them of something fun we did last year, and it makes them smile. They are both gracious gentlemen, so they usually end our conversation by telling me I should do that something for this year's class, too, because it was fun.

I thought I'd heard it all from their appraisals of my lessons this year. I didn't think they could surprise me with anything they observed or said, but...

I was wrong.

Today, the two boys came down to see me during their passing periods. They both stopped dead in their tracks when they saw me. "Whaaaat have you done?!" one said, his mouth hanging open. I looked very innocent because, in truth, I wasn't sure what he was talking about or what they were staring at.

They both walked up to me and one reached out to touch my hair. "Your hair! What did you do to your hair? I mean,...I like it! I do like it!" It was then that I realized they had not seen me since I dyed my hair a dark red last week, a big change from my usual blonde.

Both the boys recovered after a few moments, and then one of the boys looked at the other and grinned before turning to me and saying, "Honestly, it looks great, but...but...you didn't do that with us last year!"
 
Ah, my middle schoolers... :)

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Decadent

How on earth did I manage to get another day off from the world? How is it even possible?! I mean, last weekend I was desperate for a little peace and quiet, and now...I'm enjoying a second Sunday of reprieve! I feel like I've won the personal time lottery!

So,...what to do with my free Sunday?

The first thing I did this morning was pick up my Kate Morton book, The Lake House, to finish it. I opened up to my bookmarked page the minute after I hit the start button on the coffeemaker and settled in for a good read on the couch in my library. I took a brief intermission once the coffee was ready, to fix my cup just right, before completely immersing myself into the novel.

I just finished the book and,...I loved every single minute of my journey. I love Kate Morton's books! They're the kind of books I can lose myself in and see things through the eyes of her characters. Her books always center around generations and time-hops. Her stories emphasize how one, sometimes seemingly minor, event can change the course of generations to come. Her novels are always about mysteries and secrets, as well, with a good dose of faerie tales and folklore mixed in for good measure.

Up until now, The Forgotten Garden has been my favorite Morton book. I believe The Lake House runs a very close second to it now. I enjoyed the time-hops, understanding that what goes on in present day is haunted by the past. The truth it brings out that, no matter how far we go in our lives, people are all a product of what they come from, what stories they've been told, what perspective they had when they were young, good or bad. It's the kind of book that begs an answer to the age-old question about what people might do differently if they knew the chain reaction their small part plays in a bigger picture. Ah,...so much to ponder when the book is done! Just the way I like it.

As usual, Morton brings many stories into one. The timeline goes from 1911 to 2003, through both World War I and World War II. The novel primarily takes place in both London and Cornwall in England and surrounds the mysterious disappearance of a member of the Edevane family one summer in 1933. This novel has a little bit of everything in it and defines the many layers of love in its own way, a way I very much approve of. And, for fans of Morton's other books, she has a nice, little gem hidden in the pages of this book. I was both surprised and pleased by it.

I'm glad I finished the book first thing this morning, as it has set the stage for a perfect Sunday. Oh, I'm  not sure what all I'm going to do today, but for the moment? I'm still sitting on the couch in my library, quite comfortably, and I have the most ridiculous smile on my face. I just can't help it. To think, I was desperate for alone time last weekend and today I feel absolutely, delightfully decadent!

And, isn't that the way life should be (at least, once in awhile)? ;)

Happy reading!

 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Missing Me

I love being alone.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy being around other people, too,...but it's a real luxury these days to be alone with just myself. This weekend is the first time I've have quiet solitude in over a month (and I wasn't getting very much of it even before then). I define 'quiet solitude' as being alone with nothing that has to be done and no place I have to be.

For this weekend, I left all my work at work and promised myself I would not think about my job after I walked out of the building on Friday. I made sure I did not commit any of my weekend time to social activities. And, while I love my family, I let them know I needed time to myself. They understand, they know how I am. Outside noise and activities begin to collide with the noise inside my head, and it all just gets to be too much. Quite frankly, I was desperate to shut the world out for awhile.

I'm happy to say Mother Nature has given me the perfect weather for my quiet weekend. It's been raining, soft and steady, since Friday morning. The world of sound has been muffled for awhile, blanketed by autumn rain. There is a slight chill in the air, perfect weather for curling up with a quilt beneath the shelter of the patio and reading a good book while I enjoy a hot cup of coffee. What more could a girl want?

Why do I like being alone?

I miss me. You know, the real me. The me who isn't busy being what someone else wants or needs. I like being able to hear my own thoughts without interruptions or distractions. I like to do what I want with no one paying attention. I enjoy my own company. Some people think it's odd to want  to spend time alone. I think it's odd for someone to always want to be around other people. To each her/his own, I always say. I only know that, occasionally, reclusiveness is something I need in order to keep my sanity.

What do I do when I'm all alone?

I read, of course, but I do other things, too. I listen to music, dance around the house, take long bubble baths, enjoy a good wine, write, go on long walks, and...I tend to talk to myself now and then. Yes, out loud. I also read out loud to myself, from time to time, if what I'm reading tempts me to do so,...which reminds me to tell you about the book I'm reading that tempted me from the start.

I'm currently reading Kate Morton's new novel The Lake House. So far, I'm really enjoying it. I'm not quite sure if it's because of the book itself or because I'm just so happy to have time to read. Or maybe it's a little of both? Either way, I'm a happy girl. I love the way Morton's characters describe how they feel and  describe their surroundings. This novel takes place in Cornwall, a place I've visited and love, which makes the book even more interesting to me. I'll review the book properly when I finish it.

I have to go for now. Kate's book awaits, along with a few other relaxing things I have planned for myself before the weekend is over. Once it ends, I will happily rejoin the world and be a much better human being. I will be refreshed, renewed, restored, and ready for the next round of whatever life brings me.

I hope this post finds you well and enjoying your own weekend. I also hope you're treating your brain to a really good book.

Happy reading! 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

I wish...

I wish we were all the things I once thought we were. I wish I could rely on the things I should be able to rely on. I wish I didn't take disappointment in stride because I've gotten so used to it.

I wish many things that will never come true.

And,...I guess I've gotten used to that, too.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

My Busiest Season EVER

I am still alive and breathing. Barely.

School started back up in August, and I have been swamped with work and with preparing for my middle daughter's wedding. Needless to say, I've not had as much reading time as I would like. I do have a couple of books I could review for you, but - quite frankly - I don't have the time or patience to do so. Please accept my sincere apology.

You see, when I have a bit of free time, I only want to do one of three things: read a book, take a walk, or spend time with my family. Truth is, I rarely have time for anything these days (you wouldn't believe how chaotic my life is right now), and I'm becoming a bit frayed at the ends because of it.

I promise I'll be back around...one day. My sanity should return sometime around Thanksgiving (I hope).

So, until we meet again...

Love fiercely, forgive completely,...and read lots of books. :)

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Going Goth

Goth has been around since the 1700s, so I guess it's about time I jumped on the bandwagon, eh? I am talking about the genre, not the subculture that started in the 1980s (ah, the years of my youth...). It isn't that I didn't have an appreciation for gothic literature before now, I just didn't read it in regular rotation with other genres.

Most of my experience with gothic literature has been the classics: Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, Henry James, Charles Baudelaire, and Washington Irving. I didn't really delve into modern goth until a few years ago when I became entranced by Dean Koontz's Frankenstein books. I highly recommend them, I enjoyed them immensely, but I know those types of books aren't for everyone. I wouldn't have thought they were for me, but I couldn't get enough of the series. I was not a Dean Koontz fan until I read those and, truth be told, I haven't read any others by him since. Too many other authors to read and experience, and there's just too little time, you know. Reading Koontz's series, though, gave me a renewed taste for gothic literature, and I began to seek out more novels in this genre,...which leads me to talk about the book The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson.


Doesn't look like a ghost story, eh?

 
I was first drawn to this book because of the cover, which showed an old house in a huge field of lavender. There is a place in France I long to visit and see those fields of lavender, so when I found this to be the very setting of the novel, I was interested enough to preview the book a little more. I also have to admit that I can be a sucker for books with a deckle edge (uneven pages at the edge). What I see and touch affects my attraction to things and my desire to possess them. This explains why I love real books more than ebooks. Ebooks are for convenience and instant gratification, while real books are treasures.

The Lantern is about a woman who meets a man, falls in love hard and fast, and gets married. Simple enough, right? Not quite. Once they buy a house in France, and the honeymoon period is over, she begins to wonder if the man she married isn't all he appears to be. She begins to suspect there's something sinister lurking beneath this gentleman's charm and odd things begin to happen.

This novel also has more than one story going on. While the married couple is in the present with their problems, there is another story (with more problems) from the past that occurred in that same house in France. Both stories are intriguing and both are mysteries that are slowly unraveling. The author does a good job of telling both stories and making connections between what is going on in the present and what happened in the past.

I only have one complaint about this book: the title. Is there a tie-in to the title in the book? Yes. But it's almost like the author had to find a way to stick it in there. In other words, in the big scheme of things, I just didn't think the lantern was that big of a deal. It would be like calling Hitchcock's movie "The Shower Curtain" instead of "Psycho." Was there a shower curtain in the movie? Yes. Did it play a role in a major scene? Yes. Should the curtain get top billing in the title? No. (You get my point.)

OK, enough about bad title choices.

I enjoyed the book, and it gets a good bit of respect from me because I couldn't figure out the end by the time I was halfway through it. I liked the characters, it kept me interested, ...and I did hear a few things go bump in the night while I was reading it.


 I thought I should show you the other book cover for the novel. I didn't know this one existed until after I'd read the book. As book covers go, this one would not have attracted me and, with the lame title, I might have passed it by. I'm so glad I didn't.

I do actually LOVE that neither of the covers look gothic or scary or creepy. It just goes to show you, things aren't always what they seem...

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Flight of Fancy

I have a thing for Neil Gaiman. I can't exactly explain what it is, but it's there. Now, this does not compare to the deep, unending, and (sometimes) irrational thing I have for Patrick Rothfuss,...but I can't deny there is something special in my heart for Neil's art, for his way of seeing things, and for his lovely, lovely storytelling.

I became a fan of Gaiman's when I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It is a most unusual tale, a cross between a delightful faerie tale and a Grimm Brothers' nightmare. I loved it and reviewed that book in an earlier blog. Since reading that first book, I've sought out and read various books by Gaiman. Each one, so far, has been different than the others, but I've liked them all. I do have a thing for first loves, though, so my heart pulls most towards The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Most recently, though, I became enamored with Gaiman's novel Stardust. It's a delightful romp in a magical forest. It's about bringing together all the things that make fantasy fiction so much fun for me. There's lovely maidens, evil plots, handsome heroes, magical kingdoms, witches, faeries, ghosts, falling stars, magic spells, flying ships, unicorns, and...well,...love. What's a good story without that? Oh, you can have a good story without it, don't get me wrong, but it isn't usually the kind of story that leaves you with a big, goofy grin on your face.

There is a part of me that would like to compare Stardust to William Goldman's The Princess Bride, but that's difficult for me to do because that particular book and movie have been near and dear to my heart for a very long time. I am a bit biased. Stardust does, however, glimmer with the same kind of magic, wit, fun, and good storytelling that is appealing in The Princess Bride. And, like The Princess Bride, Stardust was also made into a movie.

OK, OK,...wait. My brain keeps repeating how I actually DO compare The Princess Bride to Stardust, but I didn't want to write it...just in case it might dissuade you from reading Stardust (and I do think you should read it). Oh, I'm going to go ahead and write it, anyway...

Stardust is like the plain cousin of The Princess Bride. Not unattractive, but attractive in a different way. She's less complex, much shorter, a bit naughty, and not quite as witty, but she's a fun date and can dance a jig as well as most. Best of all, she will leave you with a warm smile at the end of the evening and, while she'll never be her cousin, she is worthy in her own right and deserves to be courted.

There. I said it.

Now, if you want a real book lovers' treat, you should buy the book with illustrations by Charles Vess. I ordered mine after I'd read the book on my Kindle. Once I read it, I knew this was a book I would read again and wanted to own (yes, I'm one of those kind of people). When I looked it up on Amazon and saw there was an option to get the illustrated version, I was thrilled! The pictures remind me of the kind I used to see in old faerie tale books when I was a little girl. They are really lovely and a bit scary - just as any good, illustrated fantasy book should be. :)

So, do yourself a favor and read Stardust. After that, watch the movie. Then read The Princess Bride and watch that movie again (It is 'again,' isn't it? Surely, you've watched it?). You will enjoy both, but you'll understand what I mean. Both are lovely flights of fancy, one is just a little fancier than the other. :)

Happy reading (and movie watching)!!

 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Mystery and Mania

I will be brief about this next novel because there are some books you should say very little about, especially when it's a mystery. I wouldn't want to risk giving anything away.

When I read The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, I had no preconceived notions about it. I didn't even know what it was about. A friend of mine had read it, couldn't put it down, and recommended it to me without telling me the premise of the novel. I trust her judgment, so I picked up a copy and read it. No preview, just dove right in. It's great when you have friends that are avid readers, and they know you well enough to know what you'll like and what you won't like.

I enjoyed reading The Girl on the Train, but here is what you might want to know before you decide to jump on the train for this reading journey...

The book begins with making you aware that something bad has happened to someone. The rest unfolds in pieces and, at times, you may feel a bit unsure of what is going on. This is on purpose. Much like what Kate Williams did in her novel, The Pleasures of Men, Hawkins purposely writes to put you in the same mood and the same frame of mind as the protagonist. I think the author does an excellent job of it, but some people don't like having their emotions manipulated to pull them into a story.

So, what does that mean?

It means this is a well-written who-done-it, but it is not a happy book. I've read some reviews that call it depressing. I didn't find it depressing, but - let's face it - crime isn't a joyful kind of thing, now, is it? When you mix that with a protagonist who is not a happy person, the results are a little different than what some people expect. Readers like someone to root for, but this poor woman's life is in a bit of a slump. She's not some shiny heroine that you're cheering for through the whole novel. Her life is real, her problems are real (and she has quite a few of them), and life isn't fun for her at the moment.

My advice? It's a worthy read, but if your life is in a slump these days, save this one for happier times when your head can handle it. I would like to explain more about what I mean, but I fear saying too much. I will say this, it is not a novel you should begin reading in bits and pieces in your spare time. Read it to read it and read all the way to the end. Don't stop halfway through and say you don't like it. You won't know if you like it or not until you finish it. It's just that kind of book.

Enough said.

Until next time,...happy reading!!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Treasure

It's hard for me to explain how I love so many books in so many different ways, just like I love different people in different ways. It's all love, just not the same kind or the same amount or in the exact same way.
 
Now and then (and less often than you might imagine), I find a book I consider a treasure. It's one I know will stay with me and linger in my heart and mind for a very long time. I usually know it's unique before I finish the book. It's this wonderful feeling I get, like,...well,...like realizing you're having a perfect late-night conversation with someone that you wish would never end. Yes, I think that's a perfect comparison...
 
It isn't that a late-night conversation is about how to bring about world peace or debating the value of some crucial moment in history, although those are interesting topics to discuss. It isn't even about the words being just the right ones all the time, in perfect order, or placed in a clear and concise manner. No. It isn't about that at all...
 
It's about having a conversation that makes you want to lean in for more. It's where everything around you ceases to exist for a little while, and you become acutely aware of the cadence in the other person's voice, the nod of their head, the smile you share in agreement or when you both find something amusing. It's the companionship you feel when conversing and sharing a precious, quiet moment in time together,...just enjoying the pause from your normal, busy, everyday hustle and bustle in life.
 
When the conversation ends, you go back to your everyday life more aware of everything. You appreciate the world around you more because you took a break from it for just a little while. You tell yourself you'll remember to slow down, drink more of life in, and be kinder to yourself and to those around you. It makes you see things in a softer, yet brighter, light.
 
Yes, that's it. That's exactly what makes The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister, a novel to be treasured. It gives me that same feeling I get from having a good conversation that warms my heart and makes me smile again and again. It makes me like myself, and the world around me, a little more. What a lovely gift to give to a reader!

The story is built around Lillian, a fabulous cook and restaurateur, who pauses her life one Monday a month to teach a cooking class to eight students. The adult students are different ages and come from different backgrounds and lifestyles. Each character gives voice to the story, and you learn how they came to be there. The students learn much more from Lillian than cooking, they learn about each other and some precious truths about life.
 
I loved it.
 
I also consider this book a treasure for another reason. I found it myself. It wasn't recommended by anyone, I'd never heard of it before, and it was one I was attracted to on a random hunt through a bookstore. (I love when that happens!) I've found I have an odd instinct for choosing great random books. I do seek out new authors and debut novels on purpose because I like to give something new a chance. Goodness knows, I read and appreciate the well-established authors and the classics enough.
 
I liked Bauermeister's style so much that I ordered her other two novels. One is Joy for Beginners and the other is The Art of Mixing, which is the sequel to The School of Essential Ingredients. I don't believe it was originally written to have a sequel, but I'm glad she wrote one. I'm looking forward to finding out what happens to the characters in the next book.  I'll be sure to let you know if the sequel turns out to be a lovely late-night conversation, as well.

Happy reading! :)




 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Odd Duck

First, allow me to apologize that I did not blog last night as I said I would. My husband and I had a long, wonderful day visiting our daughter and her family who live about an hour away from us. We got back much later than I thought we would, and I was very tired and wasn't in the mood to blog when I got home. I'm sorry I did not blog when I said I would, AND I would also like to say that I'm not going to blog about all the books at once. I decided to just do a little at a time for the next few days. Like preparing a good meal, it's easier to write a little at a time, taking my time, and enjoying the process.

I thought it would be fun to start off with a book I find hard to describe rather than one I just loved. The Pleasures of Men by Kate Williams is definitely one of those that is not easily defined. I didn't love the book, but...I didn't hate it either. I found it interesting and thought provoking in ways I did not expect.

The setting of the novel is London in the Summer of 1840. The story revolves around a strange young lady with a dark past who is living with her uncle. There is someone who is killing young women during this long, hot summer, and the protagonist feels a type of connection with the killer in her mind. She thinks she can figure out who the murderer is and why he is killing these women. Think of a mixture between Henry James' Turn of the Screw (with less detail), Jack the Ripper, and a dash of that "Upstairs, Downstairs/Downton Abbey" type thing.

The book kept me reading, I did find it interesting, but - I can't help but point this out - I found some of the relations between some of the characters a bit...shocking? No, "shocking" is too much. Perhaps, I should say, a bit odd? Not because I doubt the validity of such things throughout history, as they have gone on since the beginning of time, but...I guess I never thought of it in the context of Victorian London. I never asked myself about the types of things that went on behind closed ladies' bedroom doors or in servants' quarters. Don't get the wrong idea, the whole book isn't wallowing in it, but when it did pop up, it surprised me. I wasn't expecting it based on what I knew about the novel before I read it. It also makes it a book I wouldn't recommend to every person I know. Some people are open-minded enough to accept things like that as a part of the story, and a fact of life, and go on with it. Other people, well,...they don't handle it so well. I have friends and family on both sides of that literary wall. In other words, while I would have no trouble recommending it to most of my friends, I would not recommend it to my mother. Understand?

And, speaking of recommendations, if you are a fan of historical fiction and murder mysteries, you may enjoy this book. It won't be the best book you ever read, but it is a good book. I'm glad I read it. I wouldn't put it at the top of your list, but maybe in the  middle. However, I should warn  you, if you're a reader who doesn't like shifts in the narration throughout the book, you may want to skip this one. It happens fairly frequently and, to her credit, the author states it was on purpose to make you feel as confused and uncertain as the protagonist. I get that. I even appreciate it. However, I know some of my friends that wouldn't want to read it just for that reason.

Last, but not least, if it helps to say how I feel about this slightly odd duck, I liked it enough to look up some of Kate Williams' other books. The Pleasures of Men was her fictional debut, but she's written other types of books before this one, and she's written some since. In fact, I'm already interested in reading the biography she wrote on Josephine Bonaparte. I guess that says there's something about Williams' style that I like and want to enjoy again.

Happy reading! :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Still Here!

It's been awhile since I've blogged, mostly because I've been busy enjoying my summer break. I have been reading, though, and I've found some odd books and some treasures I want to share with you. I think I'll just write one blog about all of them, giving a brief opinion and general summary (without spoilers) of each.

I'm on my way out the door in a few minutes, but I'll be sure and blog about those books later on tonight,..well,...more like...late tonight, so you might want to check tomorrow. :)

You see, I am enjoying being outdoors a great deal this summer. If it's daylight and the sun is shining, I want to be outside. I've lived in Texas nearly eighteen years now, and I believe this is the mildest summer we've ever had. It has been incredibly wonderful to spend so much time outdoors! It's good for my mind, good for my body, and good for my soul. We've had plenty of rain, which is also unusual, so everything is still green and the flowers around my house are blooming like crazy and make me smile every day. Yes, life is good!

I hope summer is wonderful wherever you are! I look forward to sharing some book reviews and news with you tonight.

Happy reading!!

 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Reflections on a Rainy Day

It's been raining all day today and, while I've thought about many things, I find myself thinking about my big brothers and how blessed I am to have had their love and support throughout my entire life. In fact, they've been there for me since the day I was born.

Me and my big brothers - March 1967

My brothers are two years apart in age from each other, but they are seven and nine years older than I am. I guess that's why I've always worshipped them, and I have done so unabashedly. Growing up, they shared a very small room in our little house. They slept in bunk beds while I, being the only girl, had the bigger bedroom to myself. I've never quite figured out how that was fair, but I never heard them complain about it. I didn't actually think a whole lot about it until I was much older. In fact, I now realize there are quite a few things I've never really reflected on until now...

As long as I have lived (which is almost fifty years now, folks), I have never heard my brothers speak ill of each other. The two of them are as different as they are alike and, while they may not agree on all things, I've never heard the other one say something malicious or mean about the other. Do they tease each other? Pick on each other? Oh, absolutely, without mercy - at times - when they were younger, but that isn't the same thing. When you openly talk and joke about your strengths and weaknesses with your siblings (like the fact that we ALL talk too much, but each claims it's the others who talk more than they do), it isn't the same thing as saying something hurtful or unkind.

Today, I've given my relationship with them more thought and reflection than usual. While I don't see my brothers often anymore, each of us lives in a different state now, I recently had a chance to spend some time with one of them. I suppose that's what prompted my line of thinking today. I actually tried to remember something one of my brothers might have said to me, at any age or stage in our lives, about the other that I would consider hateful or mean-spirited. I could not think of a single example. What a gift that is, what a blessing!

I wish I could say that what I learned from my own siblings is mirrored in other siblings throughout my family, including my own three daughters, but too often "sibling rivalry" is accepted as something that should be there. I disagree. Because of my experience with my brothers, I am always greatly disappointed when other siblings don't get along or aren't honest about their relationships with each other. I'd like to tell them all what I tell my own daughters and have told them their whole lives. So, here is one version of a little "speech" my own girls have heard, at one time or another...or many, when they were too hard on each other or disagreed about something when they were growing up.

Moms and dads will become feeble and pass away someday, your siblings are your bond, your back-up, the people who should be there for you no matter what. And, you know what? Parents may screw-up, they aren't always right, they are human. They mess up. But siblings? Siblings need to stick together through thick and thin, no matter what. They should love you unconditionally and without judgment. Everyone needs someone like that. If you have that with your parents, that's great - but, again, they will grow old and die one day. And, no matter how great your parents are, the relationship with them is not the same as it is with a sibling.

Don't be like so many families that still argue about old problems and old hurts twenty years from now. Don't allow parents or grandparents, or other family members, who may show favoritism (shame on them) to break or harm the bond you should have with your siblings. Those people will be gone one day, but the damage you allow them to bring into the relationship you should have with your brothers and/or sisters will live on for years after those people have left this earth.

If you think I'm talking to you, then I am. Obviously, you already know there is a problem. Stop. It. Now. If you don't, you will regret it later. If you don't make the effort, it is a reflection on you. And, I assure you, there is no greater comfort in your time of need than to have someone you can turn to who has lived in the same family you have all your life and understands so much without you having to say it.

Easter 1971
A few years ago, I had a huge, difficult, heart-wrenching life decision to make. I didn't know what I wanted to do. When I asked my oldest brother, he said words I will never forget. He told me he trusted me with my own decision. He said I didn't need anyone to tell me what to do. His belief in my intelligence, his belief in me, brought me peace in a way that is hard to describe. He also told me I had his full support no matter what I chose to do.

Like I said, we all need someone like that in our lives. Be that someone for your siblings. I am very thankful, and feel doubly blessed, that I have always had two of those someones in my life.