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...

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Solving the Problem

Have you ever asked yourself what's wrong with a story? Well, Vivian Vande Velde did, and I (as well as my students) have thoroughly enjoyed the results of her ponderings. I found this small book purely by accident when I was in the library one day. I was looking for a short story to read aloud to my sixth graders in honor of "National Tell a Fairy Tale Day," when I came across this treasure. I previewed the book quickly, and the author hooked me from the very beginning.

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde is the author's attempt to explain how a girl ends up sitting in a room trying to spin straw into gold and why anyone would believe that she could. I mean, when  you think about the story, it doesn't quite make sense how someone could end up in that kind of predicament and end up making deals with Rumpelstiltskin.

The book is actually six different stories, or alternate explanations, of how the whole story came to be. In other words, nothing is as it truly seems in the fairy tale we've been told all this time. Velde creates six completely different versions of how that maiden ended up in the tower with the straw and Rumplestiltskin. I enjoyed all of the explanations. I chose two of my favorites to read aloud to my sixth gradeers over a few days. They loved them!

So, you know how we often say, "Don't judge a book by its cover"? Well, we really shouldn't judge them by their size, either. While this is not a big book, it is a worthy read. I also think it makes for a great writing lesson to students. They can see how you take the same players in a story, but change their circumstances, their motives, and their reactions with a humorous result. 

If you like fairy tales, as I do, you should definitely read this one, matter what age you are. It's good for a laugh and written quite well.

I hope to be back in my regular reading mode soon. Life is going by much too quickly for me lately, and I am barely keeping up. Hopefully, life will be back to normal (or close to it) in another week or so. I'm anxious to start on my next Jo Nesbo book, that I've unpacked almost all the moving boxes and found it! 

Happy reading!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Coming Out of Chaos

Something tells me I should have blogged about all that this move has put me through. I'm sure I'll laugh about it someday. Ha. Ha. Ha. (Okay, maybe not...)

I apologize for being gone from my blog for so long. If you've ever made a major move in your life, I know you understand. If you've never done it, I wish you well if you ever decide to do so. It's been quite a challenge in more ways than I realized when it began. Still, it was the right move for us. We are in our new home now, but things are still being sorted, decorated, hung, rearranged, and purged. 

There are other major changes occurring in my life, which I'll talk about in the near future,...but for now? I'll be happy just to finish a good book and write a review this weekend. 

Please check back on Sunday evening, as I hope to have a decent book blog posted by then. I hope all is well with you and yours, and I sure hope you've had more free time for reading than I've had lately.

Happy reading!! :) 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Dramatic Changes

My life has been in a chaotic state lately, which is why I haven't posted. I went from peacefully living in the same home I've loved for two suddenly selling my precious home (which contains my most beloved library room) and trying to find a new house. All the changes are for the better,...just unexpected and rushed. All is well, though, except for my nerves, my frustration level, and my half emptied home where I can't seem to find anything. And, to make matters even worse, half of my library is already packed up...somewhere. I wasn't at home when it was packed, so I have no idea where anything is. Arrrrrgh!


Okay, enough of my personal drama. Let's move on to some fabulous book drama! 

Jo Nesbo! Do you know Jo?! He is the talented writer of the Inspector Harry Hole Series. But I didn't know it was a series when I read The Snowman (which is #7). It didn't hurt the story that I read it out of order because each novel is a different case for the inspector, but I wish I'd started at the first. I also didn't know it was a current movie when I read it. After I read it, though, it made me want to read all of them. I now own the first three in the series and have almost finished the first novel, The Bat, and - while it's not as scary or as intense as The Snowman - it's just as well-written and intriguing.

The Snowman gave me the creeps in a good way. In other words, this genre is not really my typical read, but I was drawn into the mystery and horror of it all. Nesbo is a good author who writes Harry as a very flawed, but likeable, character. This novel is about Harry tracking down a serial killer who only kills certain types of women in horrific kinds of ways. I didn't want to put it down, buuuut...if I was home alone and it was dark outside? I didn't read it, if you know what I mean.

After I read the book, I decided to watch the movie. I was actually curious how they were going to re-create some of the scenes in the book. To say I was disappointed would be a huge understatement. I approved of the actor choices they made for the characters, no complaints there, but they changed an important element of the story and completely changed the ending...and not for the better. Those scenes I wanted to see played out? They didn't do them. At all. I was very disappointed, and I told my husband (who only saw the movie) that the movie was definitely not the book story. He had heard me go on and on about it, and he wasn't impressed with the movie. It was just...okay.

Yes, I know, I know,...the book is always better than the movie, but this movie just left too much out that would've helped the audience understand what was really going on. The web the author wove so perfectly, in writing, was no longer in tact in the movie. So, as usual, please don't judge the book by the movie. In fact, don't see the movie at all. Just read the book.

As I said before, I'm almost done with The Bat, and I can't wait to read Cockroaches, Book #2,...if I can ever find which box it's stored in. And I hope to one day meet Mr. Nesbo and shake his hand. I'm not easily creeped out, and it is a testament to his writing skills that he was able to pull me into a genre I've previously snubbed, for the most part. I think my previous experiences must have been with writers of a lesser caliber. Mr. Nesbo's writing suits me well. And, after reading the first in this series, I trust I will enjoy all the books between the first and the seventh. :)

Happy reading!

(And please forgive any errors in this post. I'm doing this 'on the fly' in the midst of moving turmoil.)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Trying Game

I don't like to write a book review too harshly, especially when it is written by an author I like. It's why I've hesitated, several times, in writing this review. I do believe in being honest with my opinions, though, even when it makes me uncomfortable to do so.

All that being said, I tried to love The Lying Game by Ruth Ware. I swear I tried. I enjoyed her other novels In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10. I was looking forward to The Lying Game, and I am the one who suggested it as a book club read. But, try as I might, I found myself a bit annoyed with the novel...and, thus, a bit annoyed with the author. Please allow me to explain.

I am a patient reader and not quick to judge until I've read an entire novel. Even then, I'm not quick to critique. I like to 'mull over' the story for awhile. I'm also used to novels dragging at some point, or the details becoming a bit more than I prefer, but I take that in stride. I can even break out what I don't like and set it aside to consider the rest of the novel. In other words, to use an old idiom, "I don't throw out the baby with the bath water" when it comes to novels.

For example, I love The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. For me, it is one of the  most well-written novels I've ever experienced. I fell more in love with the art of writing from that novel that anything else I've ever read. However, when he wrote the next novel in the series, The Wise Man's Fear, I felt he jumped the track a bit. I saw where it could've been better. It was, once again, a fabulous novel,...but I would have taken out about 75 pages that really didn't need to be in there. Now, there could be a reason for those extraneous pages, and it may reveal itself  in some kind of 'tie in' to the third novel, then no one cares. Including me. And, again (for the record), I think Rothfuss' writing is genius,...but no one is perfect.

With all of THAT being said (Do you see how I'm trying to justify what I'm about to say about The Lying Game? I don't like saying it, but it has to be said.), here's what was blatantly wrong with Ware's latest novel, in my opinion...

First, let me say what The Lying Game is about. The narrator in the novel is a woman in her 30s who is sent a text message one day by an old school friend. The same message is sent to two other women, also old school friends. These women attended the same girls' boarding school when they were 15 - 16 years old, and they became fast friends,...but have had little to no contact for numerous years. The mystery, of course, is why do all three of the women drop their lives to go running to the one who sent the text? The short answer, without revealing anything, is they all shared a part in 'The Lying Game' and the lies have finally come home to roost. What will they do next? (I'll tell you what they don't do next. They don't act like intelligent, educated 30something-year-old women. And that's part of the problem.)

At its core, when you strip away the unnecessary parts that bog down the tale, it's a good story. But as I read, I felt like Ware had a book contract with a 'minimum pages required' clause. There are elaborate descriptions that go on too long, but that wouldn't be so bad if they weren't repeated over and over again. By the end of the novel, I could perfectly describe Thea's legs, Fatima's hair and hijab, Kate's flat stomach, how a grown woman feels like a 16-year-old hormonal teenager, how a baby smells and coos and cries and smiles, and how to breastfeed. 

Now, if those were the only problems with the novel, I might not complain...too much. I would have just skimmed the repetitious parts. Sadly, those are not the only problems. The narrator, Isa, is ridiculous. Now, to me, this is not the same thing as being "an unreliable narrator," as I enjoy those types of novels. Isa's thoughts are ridiculous, yes, but that's believable because we all have absurd thoughts sometimes. It is how her actions play out that I found myself shaking my head again and again at how the author expected me to believe this is how a human being would behave, especially one as obsessed with her baby as Isa seems to be. It's just not believable. And, in realistic fiction, I should believe it. For me, it was distracting how unbelievable some of the novel's scenes played out. I found myself just wanting to "get through" the novel, and I didn't care about the characters anymore. And that's never a good sign.

Will I ever read another Ruth Ware novel? Yes, of course, I will. And while some people may not agree with this review, I have to wonder if they read her other novels. By comparison, the first two were much better. Even Goodreads reviewers show the other two rank higher in star ratings.

I'm going to mark it up as a 'life happens and writers aren't perfect' and hope Ware's next novel will be better. I believe in second chances. If the next one, though, disappoints me, I won't be trying again. One 'off' novel, I understand. I just hope there isn't another 'off' one after this. I'm good for two tries,...but not three. Life is too short, and my precious reading time is even shorter.

Happy reading!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Steampunk Fiction

Book Review

The first time I remember hearing the word "steampunk" was when Will Smith and the gang came out with the new "Wild, Wild West" movie back in 1999. Wow, that was...almost twenty years ago! Even though the trend was started some time ago, it continues to flourish in a variety of ways. I have quite a few students who really like reading steampunk young adult fiction. I had never tried it, however, until recently.

One of my students, who has heard me say I'm an open-minded reader and will try anything once, gave me a well-worn (well-loved) copy of The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson. I asked what kind of book it was, and she told me it was a fiction mix of steampunk and fantasy. She had heard me say that I've experienced steampunk in movies and music videos and fashion, but I didn't recall ever reading a young adult novel in that genre. My student wanted to make sure she bridged that gap in my education, for which I am grateful.

The Mark of the Dragonfly is about an orphan girl, Piper, who lives alone in an old, dangerous, poor, steampunk-type world. She is a strong, likable character who doesn't take crap from anyone and has a bit of a sarcastic streak (two of my favorite characteristics in a girl). Piper has a talent for understanding mechanical things and has the tools and ability to fix them. This, of course, makes her very valuable in a worn-out world where new things can't be bought, and all things must be repaired.

One day, while trying to help a friend who is mining in the junk fields, she sees a caravan get hit by something falling from the sky. She manages to help rescue a couple of people from the wreckage, which ends up changing her life and forcing her into an adventure she was not prepared for. She makes some new friends along the way,...but she makes some new enemies, as well.

I enjoyed the novel, and I could understand why my student loves it. She had a another student, a boy, to read it before it reached my hands. She wanted to 'make sure guys would like it, too', and he did. Since I've read it and returned it, she's passed it on to others. All of the readers enjoyed it and gave it good reviews.

On a Personal Note

I do apologize for not posting much since the beginning of the new year. Life took a couple of unexpected turns.

First, I was pretty sick - which is very unusual for me (the last time I had to take time off from work for sickness was 2009). I won't go into all the details, but I caught one of the horrid viruses going around here and, even after I recovered, I had trouble getting my body completely back to normal. Thankfully, I'm fine now.

Second, we've unexpectedly decided to sell our home. We weren't looking to do so, but the timing is right, apparently. It's a good opportunity for us and all that, but...I'm still not quite used to the idea. It seems exciting sometimes, but other times it feels quite overwhelming. And there's so much to do! It's like wanting to sing out loud one minute...and wanting to throw-up the next. I'll let you know how it all pans out in the end. Let's hope I'll be singing! :)

That's all for now, see y'all next Sunday! Happy reading!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Happy February!

Yes, I know I haven't posted in awhile. Let me assure you, I have been reading,...just not posting. My life has taken a pretty dramatic change (all for the better, though). Please be patient with me. I promise to post this weekend...on Sunday. I'll give you a good book review and explain my absence. Hang in there with me. 

Happy reading! :)