Saturday, December 19, 2009

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, America's Beloved Poet by Bonnie L. Lukes

In early December I sang (with my choir) at the temple visitors' center lighting ceremonies. It's kind of a big deal; there's a big sign out front that says, "Tonight's Program is for Invited Guests Only," and the guests consist of ambassadors and diplomats from all over the world, a few LDS senators and representatives, and members of the seventy. Elder Marriot is always there (he has sponsored the event for 32 years), and Salt Lake always sends someone to speak. Last year it was Neil L. Andersen, who was called a few months later to become an apostle. This year we heard Elder Jay E. Jensen speak. He talked about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, quoting several excerpts from his journals and poetry. It was fascinating and moving. I love early American history, biography, and literature, so this was right up my alley. Anyway, Elder Jensen's talk prompted me to get a few books from the library on Longfellow. I visited the exterior of his house when I was in Boston in March, but it was closed for tours for the winter.

America's Beloved Poet was nice in that it gave a good overview of Longfellow's life and his work. It was short; I read it in one sitting over the course of about two hours. I thought it was a nice introduction. It included several stories about his tragedies and triumphs, and painted a very nice picture of this wonderful man. I would have enjoyed a lot more integration of his journals and letters. It adds so much to hear his voice. It did include several photographs. It made no mention of the poem that became the hymn I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, which Elder Jensen's talk centered on. Overall, it was a good book that makes me want to read more in-depth about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's life.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Gone-Away World

The Gone-Away World The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I wish I could give this 3.5 stars. This book was part Matrix, part Fight Club, part Catch-22, but mostly it's own thing; really original.

Good: I liked the characters, I didn't see the twist coming and was completely baffled and a little bit unsettled by it. It was interesting and thought provoking. Well, I knew there was a twist coming, I just didn't know what it was going to be. And, the writing is really good. I mean, who else can think of calling someone a "geosynchronous shrew." What does that even mean?

Bad: There is A LOT of swearing in it. Like, a lot, a lot. To be honest, I only kept reading it because I was too sick to go to the library to pick up something else. And, the first chapter is in medias res, which is exciting, and then it goes back for 150 pages of sort of boring and seemingly pointless exposition and the only thing that kept me reading was the promise made in chapter 1 of a good story, and that I was sick and had nothing else to read.

But, I don't really regret it. After those almost painful 150 pages, it picks up quite nicely and sails right to the end.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling Graceling by Kristin Cashore

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I read this book in 1.5 days, much to the dismay of my family. I think Bridget said it best (although she was talking about a different book):
The point here is that Catching Fire is one of those lovely, delicious books that sucks you into its world and makes you want to ignore every other responsibility in your life, every other engagement, commitment, or member of your family, even the tiny helpless ones, and just READ. As much as I love reading, this particular kind of book doesn't come around very often (the Twilight series and some of the Shannon Hale books come to mind as other examples...)

This book did remind me a lot of Goose Girl in style and the mythical world milieu but edgier and it didn't end quite how I wanted it to end. But, I couldn't put it down, and will probably read the companion prequel, even though the review says it has dragons in it, and I usually draw the line at dragons. And Fairies.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas

Another fly-by find from the library, this book is made great by both the characters and the mode of storytelling. Conn is the first person narrator, but in between each chapter you get a page or two of notes or letters from the wizard Nevery, so the change in perspective helps further along the plot. Loved all the characters. Loved Conn's strong stubbornness and innate trust in himself. Loved his matter-of-fact approach to life. Loved the way the relationships developed. I recommend this book for a quick getaway (sometimes I just want to escape from my life for a little while, don't you?). Highly enjoyable.

I'm utterly useless with pictures tonight. Blame the nasty cold complete with sinus headache. Here's a link.

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

A friend of mine recommended the movie to me, which I was surprised to learn is an anime movie that was nominated for an Academy Award in 2005 (lost to Wallace and Grommet, which I find creepy but my kids love). I have yet to see the movie, but I found the sequel to this book in the library during a fly-by and was thus reminded to check out the book. Sorry, long intro.

The basic premise is that Sophie gets turned into an old woman by a witch and goes out to seek her fortune and try to get her own figure back. Along the way she strikes a bargain with a fire demon and becomes housekeeper to the wizard Howl. It was a pretty good story. Not fantastic, but I did enjoy it. There was a little too much description of the scenery for my taste.

The sequel, written some 22 years later, I found much more compelling. It's called House of Many Ways. It has a different main character and a different setting, but Sophie and Howl and the fire demon get wrapped up in the plot, as well. The author employs a very imaginative use of magic (bending time and space).

Apparently there's another one called Castle in the Air. I think they all stand on their own and are only sequels in that some of the characters overlap.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

The Witch of Blackbird Pond The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If I read this book as a child, I don't remember it. But, that didn't matter at all because I really liked this book. It was a quick read and it had just the right amounts of suspense and love story and happy feelings.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Alphabet Juice by Roy Blount Jr.

Alphabet Juice: The Energies, Gists, and Spirits of Letters, Words, and Combinations Thereof; Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths, Pips, and Secret Parts, ... With Examples of Their Usage Foul and Savory Alphabet Juice: The Energies, Gists, and Spirits of Letters, Words, and Combinations Thereof; Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths, Pips, and Secret Parts, ... With Examples of Their Usage Foul and Savory by Roy Blount Jr.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a book about words; the subtitle sums it up very nicely. Roy Blount Jr. is one of my favorite panelists on Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me, so I thought I'd try out one of his books. I liked this book because I really like words. Not just reading them, but saying them and learning about them. If you are not interested in reading this book, I offer three highlights:

tmesis- inserting a word into another word for an intensifying effect. Example from my life: Tyler was trying to come up with a mnemonic (which word is also treated by RBJ) for the first three letters of our new license plate, AFZ. What he came up with - Ari-frickin-zona. RBJ points out that, ironically enough, the word tmesis looks like it should have something stuck in the middle of it, an apostrophe (t'mesis) or some vowels (tamesis).

level- the most even word in the English language. Just look at it.

portmanteau- "a British term for a suitcase that opens out into two halves. Portmanteau words are inspired combinations such as guestimate from guess and estimate." Personally I find this delicious and I can see in my minds eye guess and estimate as the two sides of a suitcase getting closed up into guestimate.

The cons of this book are as follows. 1. It was kind of long for what it was, 364 pages about words. 2. RBJ is sort of a rambly and I often found it hard to follow where he was going. 3. There are all sorts of references to movies that were made 50 years before I was born and actresses and other famous people that I've never heard of, so I didn't get a lot of the jokes, I guess you could call them... puns, humor?

This is the third book I've read that was organized into 26 alphabetical chapters and it blows Reading the OED: One Man One Year 21 730 Pages out of the water, but does nothing to touch The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest To Become The Smartest Person In The World. So, if you're going to read one book like this, read that one. If you are going to read two, read that one, and then this one.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

I think the measure of how much I like a book could be how much I hide from my children in order to read it. And, if I have too many more days like yesterday, CPS might come and take my children away.

Flavia de Luce is 11 and when she finds a body in the cucumber patch, she's determined to solve the mystery of who he is and what he's doing there.

The writing is very good, and it's a lot like Harry Potter in that it's technically for children or young adults, but it makes no attempt to dumb anything down (I kept a list of words I had to look up, and it numbered well over 30); except one time. The word was "hesternal." I attempted to look it up but it wasn't in the dictionary. As I kept reading, Flavia says something like, "I remembered that hesternal means 'pertaining to yesterday.'"

You know a book is good when you want to start right over on page one as soon as you finish to pick up everything you missed the first time around.

The only thing I found unrealistic was Flavia's age. After being put in primary, I've met a few 11-year olds, and there is no way even the most sophisticated of them could walk/talk/think/act like Flavia. Oh well.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Lost City of Z by David Grann

I read about this book in TIME magazine and thought it sounded interesting. It's a biography of Percy H. Fawcett, a Victorian-era explorer who was obsessed with finding the lost city of Z, or El Dorado, in the Amazon. He led several expeditions into the Amazon, and disappeared there in 1925.

It's pretty interesting, I especially liked the parts about how the Indians have adapted to live in the rain forest which, it seems, is actively trying to kill all it's inhabitants. My favorite bit was when they talked about how certain Indians could whistle worms out of your skin, like a really gross snake charmer.

In finding the image of the book, I stumbled upon a website that told me they were making it into a movie with Brad Pitt starring as Colonel Fawcett.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Intense. This book, if made into a movie, would probably be rated 'R' for strong thematic elements and sexuality. This is number 3 in my attempt to read more... I was going to say 'adult books' but that sounds inappropriate. How about 'grown-up books'?

On the back of the book, one of the reviews compares it to some sort of Grey's Anatomy season finale, but better. I've never seen that show, but I think that's probably a good analysis. Marion Praise Stone and his twin brother Shiva are born to a nurse-nun living in Ethopia, sired by the head surgeon at the hospital, who abandons the children. The book follows Marion and Shiva as they grow up, mess up, and then figure it out. A lot of the book deals with their teen aged years, which, I'm pretty sure, were drastically different than my own, morally speaking. There's also a hefty dose of civil war.

If you choose to read this book, I want to give one spoiler: Shiva survives birth. The author hints that this is the case, but as Dr. Stone was poised to crush his skull when he was stuck in the birth canal, I got really really nervous.

In all, I can see why this book was recommended by NPR, the writing was really good, it was witty at parts, touching at others, but it had too much sex for me.

And, I'm still not 100% sure what the phrase "cutting for stone" means. I get that it's some sort of saying or maxim and that by using it as the title, the author is playing on the fact that the dad is a surgeon and his last name is Stone... but the pithiness of it is lost on me.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Host by Stephanie Meyer

Or - Mom's Eye Book as Lillian renamed it.

Am I the only one who's read this? I liked it better than the Twilight series, but I did think it had a Stranger than Fiction ending, which I'm not sure I liked. I think it was written that way to set it up for a sequel. (Sorry if that ruins it for you) Which is another thing: what's with the sequels? Time was a story could be contained within 250-300 pages or so. Now, probably because of J.K. Rowling, authors think they can keep the story going for books and books and books. Look, I've got better things to do than stress over your characters. Especially, if I thought I was going to say goodbye to them two novels ago.

Sometimes, I like it. Actually, most times, if I liked the story, I'm happy that I can keep living it in another form. But maybe, in some twisted way, I don't like it for the characters; I have anxiety for them. They've already had 300 pages of conflict and resolution, why put them through any more? Why not just let them have their happily ever after already?

Don't worry, Tyler's already pointed out that I don't actually have to read these sequels. Oh, but I do. He doesn't get it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Girl Who Could Fly by Victorial Forester

This was recommended to me by one Stephanie Meyer on her website. I don't usually read her website, but she was the one who recommended The Hunger Games, so I thought maybe her other recommendations would be worth looking in to. The book is what Meyer calls a mix of Little House on the Prairie and X-Men. A farm girl from middle America discovers she can fly, after she shows off her talent, she's taken away to a secret learning facility.

I liked the book, mostly. It was suspenseful, and exciting, and funny, and feel-good. It's juvenile fiction, not that there's anything wrong with that... I just found it sort of... simple. And, there were some parts where I found myself saying, "I've read this before, except it was a movie, and it was called X-Men." But, the plot took some interesting twists, so it ended up being it's own story.

The verdict: A good read for a plane ride or something. I finished it in about 5 hours.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Both of these books are delightful. They are short (around 130 pages) and full of laugh-out-loud events. I can't recommend them enough. I read the first one a while ago, so I don't remember it as well, but the sequel I just read on the flight home from Utah. It was great. I give it two thumbs up. I thought about reading it to Tristan, but some of the humor he might not "get" for a few years. By the time I explained why parts were funny... it would take a long time. I want someone else to read it so we can say, "Wasn't that a funny book?" "Yeah... it was."

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

I stayed up till 12:15 last night reading this book. It was very naughty of me because I'm really tired today, but worth it because this book is so great.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner


I'm really not lying when I say that this book made me laugh and cry. I started this book before moving and between putting things away and cleaning, I didn't have much time to pick it up. I started it in earnest yesterday and read almost straight through. (Why can I not be moderate in my reading?) Last night, I was hiding my face in the couch pillows and giggling like a little girl, and this morning, I was distressing Lillian to an extreme degree with all my crying.

The book is a fictional diary of a woman named Sarah Agnes Prine whose family moves to Tucson in the 1880's. The fact that I live in Tucson didn't really influence my love for this book, if you were wondering, although it was interesting to have heard of the places that they visit and talk about.

Her diary chronicles her late teens through her twenties, her courting and marriage, and her struggles with small children. This is probably why I like it so much. There's a scene much like the one in Little Women where she's had a heck of a time with her toddler and baby and is standing covered in vomit with two screaming kids trying to cook and clean up a broken jar all at the same time when her husband comes home with company and asks for a haircut. She simply takes off her apron and announces she is going to bed. This scene has played out in my home as well.

Oh, I loved this book.

Another part I thought was wonderful, (maybe read this after you read to book if you don't want me to give too much away) was when after she has a few kids and she sees her brother go off to college and she is beset upon by a longing and a sadness. She feels sort of shackled to her children and home and is conflicted about wanting a bigger life and attend college too and wanting to be a mother to her children. A Yavapai Indian that she's friends with tells her wisdom is not a journey, it is a tree. She can grow up and out in many directions and there are many more ways to increase in intelligence than can be studied in a classroom.

I have never felt closer to a fictional character before. And, I realize it is fiction, but I just love that even though I've never had to shoot anybody to protect my family, or carry my belongings in a covered wagon, or watch my close family members die, I am a mother and that has been the same forever. The struggles I have with my kids not sleeping or crying or driving me crazy or the worries I have over them or how much I love them are the same with every mother from the beginning of time.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

American Buffalo by Stephen Rinella

For fun, I made a list of all the books I read last year. After I was done, I looked it over and realized that 95% of it was juvenile fiction with the other 5% being popular adult fiction. My friend Bridget did the same and she had her's categorized. One of her categories was "NPR-type books" and it had 12 books in it. Good grief. I looked at my list, and then looked at her list, I thought, "It's no wonder my mind is turning to oatmeal."

So, I decided to read some books that I heard about on NPR, the first of which being American Buffalo. The author is an extreme mountain man (who reminded me a lot of Brian) who has been fascinated with buffalo from a young age. He enters a lottery for the opportunity to go hunt a wild buffalo in Alaska. The book is about his experiences hunting the buffalo and intertwined with the narrative is the entire history of buffalo in North America.

The parts about him hunting are not that interesting and border on gross during the parts where he actually kills and butchers the animal. But the history of the buffalo is, well, fascinating. To Tyler's chagrin, I had the word vomit about it. For example, I thought it was interesting that the reason the buffalo were killed off so fast is that there was an advancement in the tanning process that allowed the winter coats to be processed. Previous to that, only summer coats could be processed allowing the buffalo to be able to regenerate their numbers during the winter/spring. I also thought it was interesting when the author makes the point that the Indians used every part of the buffalo, but they didn't use every part of every buffalo. They used what they needed at the time and left the rest.

I didn't think I liked this book, and I guess I complained a lot about how it wasn't over yet when Tyler said, "for a book you dislike so much, you sure talk about it a lot." So, maybe I did like it after all.

the latest

Since I perforated my eardrum and the kids and I got the flu, I've done a lot of reading. A lot. Half of it was recommended here, so I don't need to go into it, except to say that:

* I loved The Hunger Games
* I'm on the fourth Percy Jackson book
* Hattie Big Sky reminded me of a book I love called Tisha, about a woman who goes out into the Alaskan wilderness and faces the same kind of harsh weather and racism, etc. I don't know if it's still in print but it's by Robert Specht. It's good.

I read The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch for book club. I was the only one who thought it was just okay. Perhaps I'm the arrogant one, but it seems to me that anyone can write an anecdotal, this-is-what's-important-before-I-die type of legacy. He has some funny stories and good advice, but maybe the fact that he was way too into his career is what turned me off. He was a really accomplished guy with a positive attitude and I've heard that if you actually watch his "last lecture" online that he comes across as much more human and likable.

Since reading all the Jane Austen novels and watching lots of Jane Austen movies, including Becoming Jane with Anne Hathaway, I decided to check out some Jane Austen biographies. Jane Austen by Carol Shields, at less than 200 pages, is highly readable. She offers valuable insight as an author of fiction herself.

I'm reading another Austen biography (all with the same title; I tell you, there's no creativity here) by Claire Tomalin which is longer and more tedious but apparently the new authority, so we'll see.

When I was still searching for something to read I found a book called The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa, about a brilliant mathematician whose short-term memory only lasts for 80 minutes because of an accident. He's obsessed with math, the beauty of numbers, etc. The housekeeper has a son who forms a special relationship with the professor. I found it pretty boring. Probably there's something I'm not getting.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

This book was recommended to me by a friend who said it was so good, she read it out loud to her husband who actually requested that they stay up late to finish it (I guess that never happens). Perhaps because of this glowing review, I was expecting something great (and the fact that it's a Newbury Honor book), but I was a little disappointed.

The story is set in a made up version of ancient Greece, so the names are Grecian sounding and they have a pantheon of gods similar to the Greek gods. It follows a professional thief who steals things for the various kings and queens on the island. It's interesting and exciting and I read the other two books in the series (The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia) which I thought were much, much better than the first.

Here's the problem, I think the author's mind eye works differently than mine. For example, in the last book, she describes a scene that takes place on a rooftop and I couldn't figure out how the characters were standing in relation to each other or what the geography of the roof looked like. I had to re-read the section to understand what was happening. I thought this confusion was just a product of my mind turning to applesauce from watching too many episodes of Handy Manny, but my friend Bridget, who, I think, is much smarter than I am, read them as well, and she had the same problem.

So, to sum up: the story is great and interesting and worth your time, but the writing is a little confusing, especially for juvenile fiction.

Monday, February 16, 2009

In a Sunburned Country

This book gives you a real sense for what it is like going Down Under without even leaving your house. I read this on the way to Sydney--well not the whole thing in one sitting, but if you've ever wondered about the Aussies this book is for you.

To whoever wants to post

If you want to be able to post here, just email me with your gmail address, or whatever address you use to access blogger, and I'll add you.


I don't know who has the controls of this, but Anne would like to be able to post.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

You must read this book. That's all there is to it.

It's science fiction, sort of. I'm going to very cautious compare it to the Twilight series, but it's not really the same at all. It's got the same sort of vibe: juvenile fiction, can't put it down but don't know why, the main character is a girl. But there are no vampires or a *real love story. (*There is a love story, but it is tangential to the plot. We don't have to hear about his marble chest and fruity breath every page for 400 pages.)

Tyler read it in a few days and I read it in one sitting when I was really sick last week.

Read this book, you won't be sorry.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

random review

I have officially read all of Jane Austen's novels (over a period of many years). I like them, but I have to be in the right mood to get into it. Pride and Prejudice was my favorite. I think it helped that I watched the movie first, the one with Keira Knightley. I wouldn't usually say that about a book made into a movie, but I think in this case it helps you get a feel for the setting with the costumes and the period music, etc. Persuasion was also good, and I liked the movie of that as well. Austin calls them 'bonnet' movies. I like that they stick really closely to the plot and the text of the books.

I randomly read a book called The King's Daughter by Sandra Worth, which I read about on curled up with a good book. It was a little more romance-novel-ish than I was expecting, so I wouldn't really recommend it, but it did give me a greater interest in the period. It's about Elizabeth of York who ends up marrying Henry Tudor and becoming the first Tudor queen. It is a novel, but "meticulously researched" so has good historical detail.

Also, the Fablehaven books are pretty good, by Brandon Mull. I read the first in the hospital while Austin and Andrew were in surgery. Jules had it with her. I just read the second and third in January. I think they age well. I just hope it doesn't go on and on like the Tennis Shoes among the Nephites series, where by the six and seventh books they end in the middle of the story, completely unresolved. How can you end a novel on a cliffhanger? That's annoying. I haven't heard if Fablehaven will end at a certain point, but the fourth book is coming out in March, for all you fantasy lovers (mostly just me, I think).

I started The Hunchback of Notre Dame but haven't been able to get into it yet. What else have y'all been reading? Let's hear it.

Sorry for no pics. You're smart, though, you can look it up if you really want to see the covers. =)

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Fountainhead - Read by Chad

This was my second time through The Fountainhead. Caitlin and I first read it together while on our honeymoon. Romantic, I know.
In The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand explains her theories of the glorification of man embodied in her main character, Howard Roark. According to Rand, true happiness can only be obtained by a strict adherence to one's purest desires. In other words, complete selfishness.
Howard Roark is an architect in the early 20th century who's genius could earn him a fortune if he could only forfeit his own desires to design buildings according to the ideas and desires of others. To do that, he would have to forgo his desires which he can not do. Instead, he lives a meager but happy life, designing the type of structures that satisfy his desires, regardless if the client(s) likes them or not. Some recognize his genius and support him. Other's recognize it, and try to extinguish it.
While I don't agree with all of Rand's ideas, there is something to be said for those who find happiness in doing that which they truly want to do, regardless if that thing brings them success (according to a worldly standard) or not. Happiness is success according to Rand. And one can never find happiness down someone else's path. That is, except for the Savior's path but I guess Rand had never heard about the Church.
In conclusion, this is one of my favorite books. I highly recommend it.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

I really liked this book. This book, and The Tipping Point both remind me of Freakonomics. The author has a way of coming at problems and questions sideways so you don't anticipate where he's going and then, bam! there's a connection that you never thought of before. Every chapter is insanely well researched, to the point where you think "how would you ever think to look up something like that?"

The book is about our ability to make decisions without thinking or considering options. How we can look at a situation and just 'know' something right away. A good example of this kind of thinking from the book goes something like this: A man and his father are in a car wreck. The father is killed. The man is rushed to the ER and the doctor sees him and shouts, "This is my son!" Who is the doctor? The doctor is the man's mother. You don't have to think about it, the answer just comes, bam. The book talks about how this kind of thought process affects every aspect of our life and the decisions we make. It's really interesting stuff.