Thursday, December 17, 2009

Pathetic, I know

This is kind of embarrassing since I did officially quit my blog, but I am signing up for a reading challenge.

It's just a quick fix, that's all.

It fits in with my other goals for 2010, so it's okay.

You see, when I return to school, I'm planning to major in history, and until I can actually get into a local university and finish my last two years, I'm going to take a history class from BYU Independent Study, read a lot of non-fiction history books (yes, this does excite me), and try actually paying attention to current events. (I ♥ NPR).

So those are [a fraction of] my goals for 2010, and then I stumbled upon this:

Details for the challenge here.

This will be a perfect companion to my other reading, and there are a lot of historical fiction selections I'm dying to get to.

It is taking all of my willpower to resist signing up for the "obsessed" option (20 books), but I'm going to practice some moderation and just go for "addicted" (12 books).

I'm not sure yet whether I will post reviews here or not. I'm mostly excited about getting some good ideas from other participants on what to read. I recently read Genghis: Birth of an Empire by Conn Iggulden after reading a post at Beth Fish Reads that highly recommended it and I loved it. I'm looking forward to the other two in the series.

I should go now--my youngest is getting ready for school without my supervision which is always risky. Instead of brushing her teeth, she might be "inventing" some new concoction in the bathroom sink.

FIVE MINUTES LATER...(Seriously, I'm not making this up. Do I know my daughter, or what?)

As I was going with my daughter out the door, she told my that she created a new recipe. . . for her hair. I asked her what was in the recipe, and she said it was a "secret recipe." I asked her to tell me in case I wanted to use it in my own hair. She told me that I probably wouldn't want to because sometimes it makes your head itch!! I still don't know what was in her recipe, but she told me she'd let me know after school. I can't wait!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

ChainReading Farewell

Well, my break has turned into a decision to stop book blogging. It's been a great couple of years, and it definitely fulfilled me in many ways that I needed. It's been wonderful to find out about other "kindred spirits" who also love to read, and share thoughts about books we've read. I'm still amazed that there were people out there who would take time to read my blog. Thank you! It definitely has made me happy to see visitors and comments.

I'm on to other projects--hopefully a productive vegetable garden and going back to college, among other things. I most likely will not be able to resist reading my favorite book blogs. And of course I will still read books, although maybe not as much. I will just keep track of all of that on GoodReads.

I'm not going to delete or close the blog, just in case any of my posts are of interest to anyone at anytime. (I did however make my ChainNotes blog private. I didn't realize it would be a forum for students trying to get me to do their homework for them, and more recently a place to vent with profanity their hatred for certain books.) And, who knows, maybe in a few years I won't be able to resist starting up again!

Happy reading and blogging to all!!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Countdown Challenge Complete

I'm taking a quick little break from my break to list my books read for the Countdown Challenge. I tried to ignore it, but I was so close to being done I had to finish it. I haven't posted about all of them, but here's the final list:


1. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
2. Honolulu by Alan Brennert
3. Perpetual Check by Rich Wallace
4. The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
5. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
6. The Year the Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice
7. Winnie's War by Jenny Moss
8. Charles and Emma: the Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman
9. The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket

1. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
2. Nation by Terry Pratchett
3. The Memorist by M.J. Rose
4. The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson
5. Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke
6. So Brave, Young and Handsome by Leif Enger
7. Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale
8. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

1. Nefertiti by Michelle Moran
2. Zoo Station by David Downing
3. A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban
4. The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs
5. The Shack by William P. Young
6. The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien
7. Extras by Scott Westerfeld

1. Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War by Nathaniel Philbrick
2.The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing Volume I: The Pox Party by M. T. Anderson
3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
4. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
5. Larklight by Philip Reeve
6. The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

1. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
2. The Penderwicks by Jeane Birdsall
3. Inkspell by Cornelia Funke
4. Ireland by Frank Delaney
5. Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway

1. Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
2. Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Schmidt
3. Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
4. Gilgamesh: A New English Version by Stephen Mitchell

1. The Kite Runner
2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
3. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

1. Blessings by Anna Quindlan
2. Shopaholic Takes Manhattan by Sophie Kinsella

1. A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

Thank you 3M of 1MoreChapter for hosting this challenge. I'm looking forward to Countdown 2010, which should start on 9/9/09 and end on 10/10/10!!

Monday, July 20, 2009


There are a few other things demanding my attention right now, so I'm going to take a break from this blog for a few months. I've actually been needing to do this for a while, but keep saying to myself, "When I'm caught up on all my reviews, then I'll take a break," or, "When I complete this challenge or that challenge..." Like that's ever going to happen. Cold turkey is the only way to go.
Having said that, it does cause me a bit of anxiety to leave too many loose ends that may haunt me during my break, so I will take care of a little business before I fall of the face of the blogging world for a time:

I received a couple of awards that I want to say thank you for:

Yvette Kelly of True Crime Book Reviews gave me the Humane Award. Check out her awesome site that (obviously) focuses on true crime books. She has a directory of new books of the genre coming out, directories by author, title and genre, and of course reviews. I think I've mentioned to her before that I'm too much of a baby for most true crime selections, but I still enjoy reading her reviews and getting some ideas for gifts for friends and family who like true crime. Stop by True Crime Book Reviews for a visit, but be careful--if she likes your blog, she will "stalk" you!

Also, Amanda from The Zen Leaf gave me the Kreative Blogger Award. Check out Amanda's experiences at the ALA conference in Chigaco. Let me just say that I am jealous! I'll have to go to the conference someday. Along with this award, I'm supposed to name seven things I love (besides the obvious, my family and reading):

1. Hiking
2. National Parks
3. Homemade Chex mix
4. Steve Carell
5. Brit Lit Chick Flicks
6. Solitude
7. Pudding

A few thoughts about some of the books I've read to date:

The Epic of Gilgamesh, author unknown. I really could do a big, long post on this one so I may come back to it someday. I first listened to the "new English version" by Stephen Mitchell. It was a great way to familiarize myself with the story, which, although very brief, carries with it some universal themes that I found pretty engaging. This audio version includes the reading of an essay by Mitchell (who points out that he did not translate this; he just retells what he gathered from other translations) that digs deeper into the story and brings up a lot of ideas to contemplate.
I then read the Penguin Classics version translated by Andrew George. I loved this version because it pieces together translations from the various tablets the story has been found on, and adds some variations of the epic from different time periods.
One question though: How am I supposed to be frightened by a monster named Humbaba?

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford A quick, sweet read about a Chinese boy who falls in love with a Japanese girl in Seattle during WWII only to be separated by the internment of the Japanese-Americans. This was a great selection for a vacation (especially since I was in Washington at the time). It's somewhat predictable, but sometimes that's what hits the spot. I could see this being a good movie.

Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery It was a big shock for me that I didn't love this one. I felt like I got swept through a few years of Anne's life a little too fast with not enough details of day to day happenings. I was also pretty irritated by Phillipa. She drove me crazy. Anne sees something in her that I don't. Fortunately, the ending makes up for what the beginning lacked. Oh, Gilbert (sigh.)

Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery Back on track with this one. Sure, all of the crotchety old ladies sort of meld into one in my head, and Anne is just too good (how can she actually say she likes the whole Pringle clan who is viciously plotting her downfall?), but I am entertained all the same and it just makes me happy. I do however wonder how there can be so many grumpy characters amidst one of the most beautiful settings in literature. You would think they would all be high on the beauty of Prince Edward Island! But I'm glad for the humor they provide.

Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond I just checked and I took 18 pages of handwritten notes while reading this book. I have to take notes on books like this or it would just go in one ear and out the other. Diamond's main premise (which he drives home again and again, which is great for someone like me) is that history followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among their environments, not because of biological differences among the peoples themselves. He goes into detail about what those environmental factors were, and goes on to show how this occurred in various parts of the world. I don't think I've ever thought that Europeans conquered other societies because they were racially superior, but it was enlightening to read of his theories as to why they were the ones to acquire "guns, germs, and steel." I have no expertise in the subject matter he presents, so I can't really make any critical comments on his theories, but I did find it quite fascinating and readable.

Larklight or, the Revenge of the White Spiders or, To Saturn's Rings and Back by Phillip Reeve The title is quite revealing as far as the tone of this children's book. Quirky, swashbuckling, original, humorous, great fun. My son read it as well, and liked it (once he got past the spiders.) Another series that I would love to continue with, but am not sure if it will be a priority. This would be a fun read-aloud.

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen Every rose has its thorn, and this one has some prickly ones. Of course, one would expect this from a book with accounts of the Holocaust. The twist is the link with the tale of Sleeping Beauty. Did I like the merge? It was powerful and disturbing, definitely original. I'm not sure if I would recommend this to anyone or not. I have such a heavy feeling just thinking about it. I had problems with classification: Fantasy? Young Adult? I don't think this novel fits into either category. It's very real and it's about an adult. (???)

Extras by Scott Westerfeld I was forewarned that this fourth installment of the Uglies series did not have much to do with Tally and David, and it's been a while since I read the other three, so I did not have any issues with a new cast of characters in a new city. I loved (hated?) the idea of a reputation economy in one of the new cities to emerge post-Specials. Asa Fuse is desperate to improve her "face rank" in a society where popularity is everything. All she needs to do is "kick" a good story, and all of her problems will be solved. It lagged a tiny bit in the end, and I had a hard time envisioning the way everything looks. Part of the thrill is the "page-turner" quality, but I would have appreciated a little more description. But then again, maybe it was there and I just skimmed over it in my rush to find out what happens. Good stuff! Want to read everything by him.

I plan to jump in again around Readathon time. I wouldn't miss that for the world. Or calendar issues. Please let it be on a good weekend.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Spice of Life Reading Challenge

About the challenge
Hosted by Rebecca of Rebecca Reads

I have been trying to be self-disciplined and not sign up for more challenges, but when one comes along that's right in line with something I've been thinking about doing already, I allow myself to go for it! This challenge is one of them.

I'm choosing the "Sampler" option of the challenge--choosing four books in four different categories. Here are the categories, and my probable choices:

Cookbooks Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen by Elizabeth Andoh (This is actually part of another project I've joined in on--"Washoku Warriors" hosted by La Fuji Mama, in which we will try a new recipe from the cook book each month.)

Non-fiction I haven't decided this one yet, although I've got my eye on a few.

Memoirs, autobiographies or essays Animal, Vegetable Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver (I've wanted to read this for a while even though I've heard it's preachy. I could probably use a good scolding when it comes to my food consumption)

Fiction: The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister (I received this from a giveaway a few months ago and have heard great reviews.)

As usual, I will keep track of my progress in the right sidebar.

So Brave, Young and Handsome

Author: Leif Enger
Narrated by: Dan Woren
Originally published : 2008 (Random House Audio)
Length: 8.5 hours
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 3.5/5
Amazon Rating: 4/5 (103 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 898 ratings, 3.69 average rating

This is a tough review to write because it is an audio book that I listened to at the beginning of the year and my memory is hazy. I had tried to take notes while listening, but decided that's just too impractical. Audio books are my housework survival tool, and it was difficult to stop and dry soap bubbles off my hands to go and type a chapter summary. (I do have incomplete notes from the first half.) I'll just share my general impressions of the novel.

The story is about Monte Becket, a struggling writer living in Minnesota in the early 1900's. He meets the enigmatic outlaw Glendon Hale, who wants to return to Mexico to make amends with his wife that he left many years before. The restless and frustrated Becket joins him, and they encounter a few adventures along the way.

I neither hated this book nor would wholeheartedly recommend it. While the writing is excellent, the story didn't make a big impression on me. I loved Peace Like a River, which I still think about from time to time. This one has sort of turned to mush in my mind. Monte's personal quest throughout the book kind of reminded me of the movie City Slickers--trying to find that "one thing" that matters. I will anxiously await another book by Enger, because I do enjoy his style of writing and the mood he is able to create. I'm holding out for another one like Peace Like a River. I know it's coming!

Other thoughts:
Book Nook Club
Shelf Love (with a discussion about audio books)
Thoughts of Joy
As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves
Bloggin' 'bout Books

If you have a review that I missed, let me know!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Words of a Reader

I have been hoping my 10-year-old daughter would catch the reading bug eventually. She was a very early reader, and I just assumed that went hand in hand with loving to read--wrong! I do try to be realistic and remember that just because I'm obsessed with reading, my kids won't necessarily be, and that's okay (maybe even good :-)). But she's finally caught it. I loved this note I found on the white board a couple of days ago:

Of course my son had to go in a little later and do some editing:

I'm happy to report that she got the book from school and finished it last night.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

Author: Gary D. Schmidt
Originally published : 2004
Length: 224 pages
Award: Newbery Honor 2005, Printz Honor 2005
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 4.5/5
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5 (37 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 602 ratings, 4.13 average rating

There are some authors that for me are "love at first read." Gary D. Schmidt is one of them. I can't drool over Wednesday Wars enough, and I loved this one almost as much. His strength is in combining poignant depth and satisfying complexity with captivating stories. He even manages to weave in some great literary allusions.

Lizzie Bright is also an excellent piece of historical fiction. It is set in 1912 Maine, where Turner Buckminster is not only the new kid in town--he's also the minister's son. In Phippsburg, Maine, conformity is the name of the game. And money. The town elders plan to force the nearby islanders, a poor community founded by former slaves, out of their homes so that they will have more success with tourism. Turner befriends a young islander, Lizzie, and together they engage in a futile attempt to save the island. It's based on the true story of the descruction of Malaga Island.

As an award winning children's book, I have no idea if kids or teens will like it, but I really could care less. I love it, love Schmidt, and plan to read as much of his stuff that I can get my hands on!

Other reviews:

Bermuda Onion
Beth Fish Reads
Literary Fangirl

Any other reviews out there? Let me know.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Monique and the Mango Rains

Author: Kris Holloway, John Bidwell
Originally published : 2005 (Waveland Press)
Length: 240 pages
Personal Enrichment Rating: 4.5/5
Amazon Rating: 5/5 (61 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 369 ratings, 4.21 average rating

I've spent the last couple of hours reacquainting myself with this powerful book and researching information about and interviews with the author so that I could collect my thoughts for this post, but this video really provides a great introduction to what it's all about:

If you don't have time to watch the video, in a nutshell, it's about a Peace Corp volunteer (Kris Holloway, author) who forms a close friendship with Monique, the midwife of a Mali village. It's very readable, and you feel like you're right there as everything is happening. Halloway respects and absorbs much of the culture, but cannot look upon the violation of the universal rights of women without wanting to make a difference. The telling of her experiences in this book gives her a way to do this, while at the same time sharing the remarkable life of Monique Dembele.

This is definitely the ideal selection for a book club, particularly if it consists of women. Not that male readers would not find it valuable, but there's the potential to feel a connection with women in any place in the world. When it comes to my turn to host book club, I'll share our experience.

Website for Monique and the Mango Rains: Includes author interview, links to NPR interview, reader's guide, and how you can help.

Other reviews:

Books on the Brain (Who I won this from. Thanks, Lisa!)
Devourer of Books
Maw Books Blog

The Bluestocking Society
A Striped Armchair

If you have one to add, let me know.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Author: Frank Delaney
Narrated by: Frank Delaney
Originally published : 2005 (Harper Audio)
Length: 20 hours
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 4/5
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5 (108 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 650 ratings, 4.01 average rating

In the true spirit of storytelling, I listened to this on audio. It was a good choice--the author reads it brilliantly. He weaves Irish folk tales and historical accounts with the events in the life of the O'Mara family. Young Ronan O'Mara hears a traveling storyteller when he is nine, and it begins a quest both to learn the history and tales of Ireland and to find the storyteller himself, who always seems just out of Ronan's reach. Along the way he learns about himself, as well as some surprising things about his family.
I noticed on the back of the book that a couple of reviews resort to lists of adjectives to describe this novel:

"Dramatic, adventurous, heroic, romantic, slyly comic" (Philadelphia Inquirer)
"Gentle, poignant, charming, droll, tragic, triumphant, wise and unforgettable..." (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

It's really hard to resist, because the author manages to include such a wide variety of material. "Sprawling" is the word that comes to my mind.

Try it out an audio. And, just a warning, I needed Kleenex at the end. I won't say if they were happy or sad tears.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Summer Vacation Reading Challenge

Summer's here! Time to join in on Molly's Summer Vacation Reading Challenge. I'm choosing the Globe Trotter option:

Globe Trotter: You will commit to reading 6 pre-selected books during this time frame, but you may substitute up to 3 books due to changes in travel plans. Cross-overs for 5 out of the 6 books are allowed, but ideally one book will be read for this challenge alone.

Since summer is supposed to be full of lazy bliss (unknown here in this household), I'm choosing the books on my TBR List that I feel will be light, fun getaway kind of reads:

1. Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery (Prince Edwards Island, Canada)
2. Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery (Prince Edwards Island, Canada)
3. Extras by Scott Westerfeld (Future?)
4. The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King (Wales)
5. Queens Own Fool by Jane Yolen (Scotland)
6. The Scarlet Pimpernel or The Courts of Love by Jean Plaidy (France)

We'll see if any of my "travel plans" change. It was hard to choose. Enjoy your summer, everyone!

#Bloggiesta End

Probably the biggest shock for me was that it was all fun! I kind of went in with the same attitude I would having studying for a final--grab some snacks, get a few friends to study with, pull an all-nighter, get done what needed to get done, make it as painless as possible. You know, a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. But I really enjoyed myself. It made me wish I could spend a large chunk of time each day on my blog, but that is just impossible right now. Maybe at least I could pick one day a week that is "blog day."

Anyway, enough rambling. As I said before, I'm horrible at the timing thing. I had a little timer so I could keep track, but I would go do something else and forget to turn it off, or when I started again I would forget to turn it on. Plus after 99 minutes it restarts at 0 and that got me all messed up. I'm not real great with numbers in any way, shape, or form. I'm guessing I participated about 16 hours, and my goal was 18. But maybe I did 18--I'll never really know.

Anyway, enough rambling. I mean it this time. Here's what I accomplished, and what I didn't accomplish:

High Priority Reviews
Dear Mr. Henshaw
A Visit to William Blake's Inn
A Gathering of Days
Ginger Pye
Monique and the Mango Rains (to be published Tuesday, June 23)
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (to be published Wednesday June 24)
Ireland (to be published Monday, June 22)
Omnivore's Dilemma
So Brave, Young and Handsome
Briar Rose
(Post reviews on Newbery challenge site)

Lower Priority
Officially sign up for a couple of challenges I've been eying:
Narnia Challenge
Summer Reading Challenge (scheduled to publish Sunday, June 21)
Take a Chance

Update challenges on sidebar

Other reviews:
Sammy Keyes books
Anne of Avonlea
Ten Star Trek episode reviews for 42 Challenge
Exercise DVD review for fitness blog

Change name of book blog?
Figure out how to get the date back on family blog
Change layout of family blog
Update garden blog

Challenges Completed
Clean up your feedreader (Book Lady's Blog)
Grade Your Blog (Bookish Ruth)
Opinions and Lists (Beth Fish Reads)
Go Forth and Comment (Fizzy Thoughts)
Update a key page or post (Devourer of Books)

I don't know if my reviews are coherent. I found myself losing it on spelling as the time went on. I plan to try to do at least one of these each day until they're done.

Thank you Natasha for putting this on. Great idea! It was very organized and I really liked how the challenges were available throughout the whole challenge. Muy bien!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Bloggiesta Update

Well it's Saturday morning, and here are my thoughts halfway through Bloggiesta:

  • I feel good already that I got some reviews done. I've learned that my blog isn't fun anymore when I get too far behind!
  • I'm horrible at keeping track of time. I don't even know how many hours I worked yesterday, maybe 8? I'm just going to focus on my list.
  • I ate too much yesterday. Must watch that today!!!
  • I love a lot of the bloggers out there that spend the time to make their blogs excellent and try to expand their readership. They're awesome! I'm just not one of them. My blog is very casual and that's okay with me. I do love the visitors, comments and followers I get, though. But I think if I had too many, it would stress me out!!!
  • Focusing on my blog so much is much more conducive to responding to comments. I really love to do that, but am often distracted by other things.
So before I begin another day of blog tasks, I'm going to take a shower and try to look decent. (I can often see my reflection in my laptop, and it can be scary at times.)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Spring Reading Thing Complete

Just in the nick of time I have finished the Spring Reading Thing hosted by Callapidder Days. Incidentally, we've had really cloudy weather for a couple of weeks, and now that summer is upon us, the sun has come out. I actually liked the gloomy weather, but what can I do?

Here's what I read for the challenge. I picked out some Newbery Award winners so I could make a dent in that list:

My favorites were A Single Shard and Ginger Pye.
Now I'm off to officially sign up for a summer challenge! The madness never ends!

Ginger Pye

Author: Eleanor Estes
Originally published : 1951 (Harcourt Brace & World)
Length: 306 pages
Awards: Newbery Medal 1952
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 4.5/5
Amazon Rating: 4/5 (74 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 690 ratings, 3.87 average rating

If I give a short description of this book from Goodreads--

"Meet Ginger Pye, the smartest dog you'll ever know. Jerry Pye and his sister, Rachel, feel pretty smart themselves for buying Ginger. It was the best dollar they ever spent. Ginger steals everybody's heart . . . until someone steals him!--

you might think what I thought: "Why would I want to read a dog story?" I don't really like dog stories. The ones I have read have been either a little boring (Shiloh) or traumatic (Stone Fox-read aloud, big mistake). Or certain movies come to mind that require boxes upon boxes of tissue (Old Yeller, Marley and Me). I just wanted to give this a try because it's stamped with that gold Newbery seal.
Surprisingly, I loved it. It's quirky. It's funny. I loved the story. And the dog isn't really in the story that much because, well, he gets stolen. That sounds heartless, I know. But I think with the whole mood of the story you know that everything will be okay in the end. It is not without its tragic moments, but I think that's what makes it into a great book rather than just a good one. It was refreshing to read a Newbery that was just simply a wonderful story written wonderfully well.

A Gathering of Days

Author: Joan W. Blos
Originally published : 1979 (Prentice Hall)
Length: 144 pages
Awards: Newbery Medal 1980
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 3/5
Amazon Rating: 3/5 (40 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 253 ratings, 3.64 average rating

This Newbery winner is exactly what the title suggests--a gathering of journal entries throughout the course of over a year in the life of a fourteen-year-old New Hampshire girl named Catherine. Because it has the feel of an authentic diary of the time period, this would be great in an educational sense to give students a picture of life in the 1830's. Details about the food, traditions, household chores, etc. were interesting. As a story, however, it seemed rather flat. I kept expecting the story to take off in certain directions (like more about the "mysterious phantom" that Catherine leaves the quilt for) and then being disappointed when I realized that wasn't what the story was about! But I don't think that's what the author intended. From the author's note at the end I gather that she primarily wanted to provide a close-up view of life back then. And if the story is a little boring, well, so is life more often than not.

Dear Mr. Henshaw

Author: Beverly Cleary
Originally published : 1983 (Harper Collins)
Length: 144 pages
Awards: Newbery Medal 1984
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 4/5
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5 (158 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 2,831 ratings, 3.74 average rating

Leigh Botts is the new kid in school, his parents have recently divorced, and he has to deal with a mysterious thief who is taking all the yummy stuff out of his lunch. How will he cope? He has been writing to his favorite author since second grade, and finds help in getting his feelings and frustrations down on paper--first directly to the author, and then eventually in his diary.

From laugh-out-loud moments to heart-rending ones, this book really captured my heart. I think I was a little surprised at that. It was very honest and poignant, with a realistic but happy ending. In the end I think Leigh learns that life is complicated, but he can handle it. All and all, I "licked" it. (You have to have read the book to get that and not think I'm totally disgusting.)

A Visit to William Blake's Inn

Author: Nancy Willard
Originally published : 1981 (Harcourt Brace, & Co.)
Length: 45 pages
Awards: Newbery Medal 1982
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 3/5
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5 (15 Customer Reviews
GoodReads Rating: 96 ratings, 4.26 average rating

Inspired by her love for William Blake's poetry, Willard has written a collection of fanciful poems about an imaginary inn that Blake runs that is visited by some unusual characters, mostly animals.

These are meant to be read aloud, but I didn't. An appreciation for William Blake may enhance a reader's enjoyment, but I don't have one (yet). I did love the words and the rhythm of the poetry, but I must admit it was hard to focus on the subject of each poem. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be "The Marmalade Man Makes a Dance to Mend Us," in which the animals are encouraged to come together because "Dancing starts where fighting ends." I could definitely sense the author's talent, but I didn't necessarily enjoy it. I do feel that a poem needs to be read multiple times to really get to the heart of it (flashbacks of AP English test prep), but I don't see myself taking the time, and I don't see children taking the time either. But they may simply enjoy the sound and rhythm of each poem, and that will be enough.
My recommendation: This collection is worth a peek if only to see if you like it. It's quick to read through, but I would definitely suggest reading it out loud.

Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge

I'm signing up for this challenge hosted by Carrie of Reading to Know because I have been reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to my two youngest, and I'm hoping we might be able to get to one more. Even though I read several of the books to my two oldest, they never really got into them, so I'm trying to see if I have any luck with the other two. There's no reason any of them have to love Narnia, but it was just such a big part of my own childhood, I guess I'm trying to somehow relive my life through them. My girls are loving it so far!
This challenge wraps up on July 17, while we're on vacation, so I'm not sure how successful I will be at a wrap up post, but I'll try.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

Author: Michael Pollan
Narrated by: Scott Brick
Originally published : 2006 (Penguin Audiobooks)
Length: 16 hours
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 4/5
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5 (515 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 18,391 ratings, 4.39 average rating

It has been a while since I listened to this, and the book is so dang popular I can never get it from the library to skim over to review. But I figured this seven-word review would cover the basics of what I thought about it:

Corn: Fascinating
Grass: Interesting
Hunting/gathering: Boring

My interest level sort of went downhill throughout the course of the book. Nevertheless, I would love to reread this and take notes someday. If you don't think you're bound to take the time to read it, consider watching King Corn, a very entertaining documentary that I believe was inspired by Pollan's chapters on corn.

Bloggiesta Goals

The Bloggiesta begins! My goal is to participate for 18 hours over the next couple of days. I think my brain may be fried by the end. I'm mostly focusing on getting reviews done (I don't even understand half of the other ideas listed, maybe I'll spend some time learning some new blogging/social networking vocabulary). I'm just going to cross off tasks as I finish them on this post:

High Priority Reviews
Dear Mr. Henshaw
A Visit to William Blake's Inn
A Gathering of Days
Ginger Pye
Monique and the Mango Rains (to be published Tuesday, June 23)
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (to be published Wednesday June 24)
Ireland (to be published Monday, June 22)
Omnivore's Dilemma
So Brave, Young and Handsome
Briar Rose
(Post reviews on Newbery challenge site)

Lower Priority
Officially sign up for a couple of challenges I've been eying:
Narnia Challenge
Summer Reading Challenge (scheduled to publish Sunday, June 21)
Take a Chance

Update challenges on sidebar

Other reviews:
Sammy Keyes books
Anne of Avonlea
Ten Star Trek episode reviews for 42 Challenge
Exercise DVD review for fitness blog

Change name of book blog?
Figure out how to get the date back on family blog
Change layout of family blog
Update garden blog

Challenges Completed
Clean up your feedreader (Book Lady's Blog)
Grade Your Blog (Bookish Ruth)
Opinions and Lists (Beth Fish Reads)
Go Forth and Comment (Fizzy Thoughts)
Update a key page or post (Devourer of Books)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Bloggiesta Ole! Event

Natasha at Maw Books is hosting this timely event aimed at catching up on things or improving your blogs, social network profiles etc. Check out the challenge post for details on the many things you can do with this. It's very open ended, and will run this coming weekend, starting Friday at 8 a.m. and ending Sunday at 8 a.m. (your time). The idea is to work 18-24 hours sometime within the 48 hour time frame.
My blog is pretty much all review posts (I use that term very loosely), and things have been so busy I'm very much behind on reviews, so I'm going to focus on catching up on those. I'm so happy that I don't have a lot going on this weekend, I just need to make sure I'm prepared for Father's Day before it starts. It nearly killed me to not to participate in MotherReader's 48-Hour-Readathon. I had literal pain in my gut every time I read someone's update post who was doing it. (Maybe that's a warning sign of blog addiction?)
I will make a to-do list at the beginning of the event, and cross off things as I go.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Once Upon a Time III Challenge Complete!

What I read (nice short ones, or else I may not have finished):

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
High Druid of Shannara by Terry Brooks
The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien

My favorite was The Graveyard Book.

Also, a part of Quest the Third was to read Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. I just read it yesterday and found it laugh-out-loud entertaining. It was the easiest Shakespearean play I've read (I've only read five or six, so that might not be saying much.) I loved the set of "actors" and their interpretations of their play. I couldn't help but picture Steve Carell as Bottom, with his word choice mistakes and skewed perception of his talents. It had Michael Scott written all over it. I've got the 1999 movie coming from Netflix soon that I'm excited to see.

Thank you Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings for hosting this challenge!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Award and Spotlight on The Zen Leaf

Yay! I got another award! I'm going to cheat again and just spotlight the super nice blogger that sent it to me, Amanda from The Zen Leaf.

You may be familiar with Amanda from the group blog 5-Squared. She recently decided to go it solo with The Zen Leaf, which is already organized with all of her reviews of the past couple of years. This is the place you want to go if you really want the scoop on a book! As I state on my blog, I'm pretty easy to please and like most anything. Amanda, on the other hand, is much more discriminating, and really delves into the good, the bad and the ugly of the novels she reads. I'm always enlightened and get a perspective I wouldn't have gotten otherwise.

I am in awe, and a bit jealous, of her reading list thus far this year. Check out her Books Read in 2009 list and see if you've read any of the same ones. I know some of my favorites are on there.

Thanks for the award, Amanda!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Heartfelt Award

I'm so excited to have gotten an award despite my lack of posts for a couple of weeks! We all get busy don't we? I was determined to take an official blog vacation for about a month to get some other projects done, but so far haven't been able to commit to such extreme measures. Mostly this is because I wanted to catch up on all my reviews, but I haven't managed to do that yet. "The best laid plans of mice and men" and all that.

But I was excited to get the Heartfelt Award from Jeane of Dog Ear Diary. Like Jeane, I didn't have any success getting the cute graphic to upload, but if you want a peek, check out The Book Resort. I may just be motivated enough to sneak in another review in the next couple of days.

I really had good intentions to pass this award along to nine others, but when I looked at my list there were just too many. So I'm just going to tell you what I like about Dog Ear Diary! If you check out the list of books by genre in Jeane's sidebar, you will notice the variety and the many books about animals. There are some books that I will probably never read, so I like to learn a little bit from her reviews. But she also has a lot of Sci-Fi/Fantasy which I love, so it's fun to read about her perspective on those. As an added bonus, there are often giveaways for beautiful bookmarks that she creates. And if you love cats, there's a cute picture of a new kitten, Numa. If you aren't already familiar with Dog Ear Diary, check it out!

Thanks for the award, Jeane!

Monday, May 11, 2009

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Author: Alexander McCall Smith
Originally published : 1998 (Polygon)
Length: 256 pages
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 4.5/5
Amazon Rating: 4/5 (419 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 14,927 ratings, 3.67 average rating

I'll admit up front that my memory of this book is a bit of a blur because I read it during the 24-hour Readathon. I was excessively tired from the get-go that day, but I know that I LOVED this book. I have had it on my shelf for several years now and just ignored it. Little did I know I was missing out.
Precious Romatswe--an intelligent, intuitive and determined woman, decides to open her own detective agency in her beloved country, Botswana. Things start out a bit slow for the agency, but eventually she receives some cases where she proves her ability to unravel a few mysteries. As she goes about cleverly solving cases, we learn about her life that has not always been easy, and the values she embraces.
What made this book move beyond good to great for me was how inspirational of a character Precious is. She is independent and determined, and even though she experiences things that could jade her a bit, she maintains a love for life and people and it infuses her with energy and purpose. I also loved the descriptions of the land. I have always been in love with Africa (from afar unfortunately), and enjoyed this brief (and somewhat hazy)visit.

No notes for this one, which I regret because it is part of a series.

Prude-ometer (subjective content assessment): A brief date rape scene. I don't remember if there was bad language or not.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Wizard of Earthsea

Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Originally published : 1968
Length: 205 pages
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 4/5
Amazon Rating: 4/5 (410 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 5,728 ratings, 4.00 average rating

I have wanted to read this book for a long time, it being heralded as a must-read classic of fantasy. I had super high expectations, and while I wasn't disappointed, it wasn't at all the experience I was expecting.
It's a simple story powerfully told. When Ged is a young boy, he discovers he has magical powers. He eventually attends a school for wizards, where his pride leads him to attempting a spell that will bring the dead back to life. The spell doesn't work right, and brings into the world a shadow that aims to hunt Ged down and overpower him. Ged's remorse is intense, and the remainder of the story tells of his effort to flee from the shadow, until he comes to realize that he must hunt the shadow to conquer it.
I didn't find this to be a page-turner, like I expected, but each page was worth reading, if that makes any sense. The storytelling was great--I could really feel Ged's regret and pain when he realizes the mistakes he has made, I could picture the landscape of the islands he travels to. The themes were satisfying. It reminded me a bit of The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad--the idea that you have to acknowledge your dark side in order to conquer it.
My only dissatisfaction comes from wishing that it was either a more compact short story, or a longer more, detailed novel. It seemed like it was in a no-man's land in between the two. Maybe the rest of the series will give me what I felt was missing. I definitely want to read more of Le Guin. Any recommendations on what to try next?

A Single Shard

Author: Linda Sue Park
Originally published : 2001 (Clarion Books)
Length: 152 pages
Awards: Newbery Medal 2002,
ALA Best Book for Young Adults 2002
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 4/5
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5 (145 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 1,885 ratings, 3.99 average rating

12-year-old Tree Ear, an orphan who lives under a bridge with the crippled Crane-man, enjoys watching the master potter of his Korean village when he's not scavenging for food to eat. When he breaks one of the potter's creations, he must work to pay off his debt. While he dreams of eventually learning to use the potter's wheel, his responsibilities increase, until he is given the honor of taking the potter's finest work to the city to present to the royal court. His journey does not always go as planned, but he is committed to fulfilling his assignment not matter what.

There's so much to love about this Newbery winner: lovable characters with great names, meaningful and humorous relationships, a picture of life and pottery in 12th-century Korea, important life lessons learned, and a compelling story. Readers of all ages can enjoy it, making it a great read-aloud selection. I laughed, I cried, and I will not soon forget Tree Ear and his adventures and perserverence.

Friday, May 8, 2009

I, Juan de Pareja

Author: Elizabeth Borton de Trevino
Originally published : 1965
Length: 192 pages
Award: Newbery Medal 1965
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 3/5
Amazon Rating: 4/5 (33 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 156 ratings, 3.76 average rating

"I, Juan de Pareja, was born into slavery early in the seventeenth century." Trevino has taken what little is known of the lives of the Spanish painter Diego Velazquez and his slave, Juan, and created an inspiring story of courage and persistence. After a childhood filled with tragedy and abuse, Juan is inherited by Velasquez, and works in his studio preparing materials. Juan soon begins to paint but does so in secret, because slaves are forbidden to learn the arts. Although he feels guilty keeping his painting from his master, he feels compelled to fulfill his need to paint. Eventually he knows he will have to confess to Valasquez, who believes in painting things as they really are--to innacurately "beautify" a painting would be wrong.
While this was an interesting and somewhat educational children's novel, I certainly didn't find it to be a page-turner. I had a hard time imagining a child finding it at all engaging, and thought it was peculiar that the main character is an adult for a very large portion of the book. There's a lot of death, which I'm sure was quite realistic for that time period, but it got to be pretty depressing. I was reading this while camping and I would gasp and say "Oh, no!" When my kids asked what was wrong, I would say, "Someone died." After a few times of this, they would say, "Someone else died, didn't they?" It does end on a positive note though, and I felt like it was a good book, just not a great one.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Little Skink's Tail by Janet Halfmann

I don't usually review picture books, but I won an autographed copy of Little Skink's Tail from Shelly of Write for a Reader this last month, and my daughters just love it! My seven-year-old has read it on her own at least 20 times now. And as a parent, I found myself enjoying the story as well. It's one that won't drive you nuts after reading it for the umpteenth time. Little Skink gets his tail swiped by an owl, and imagines what he would look like with the tails of his fellow creatures. In some instances, this is pretty humorous as well as educational.

My daughter's comments:
"I like how the skink looks--he has a blue tail and a brown body. My favorite part is the picture of him with the squirrel tail and the squirrel looking at him funny."

The book has beautiful illustrations and a couple of activity pages in the back. Highly recommended for younger readers!

Thank you Janet Halfmann and Shelly B. for the giveaway!

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Shack

Author: William P. Young
Originally published : 2007
Length: 256
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 3/5
Amazon Rating: 4/5 (3,020 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 14,847 ratings, 3.75 average rating

When I was younger, in my teens and much of my twenties, I would staunchly avoid anything that was "in." If everyone was watching it, reading it, wearing it, I was not. Sadly, this meant no Simpsons. Now that I have realized the error of my ways, it's really difficult to catch up on twenty seasons of a brilliant show. All in the name of nonconformity.
As I've gotten old(er), I still don't wear anything even remotely stylish, but I do have more of a desire to share in some of the popular shows and books that ten years ago I would have snubbed. I've actually watched a few seasons of Survivor, cheered for contestants on American Idol (but never voted), and voraciously read The DaVinci Code in less than 24 hours. At jury duty recently, a conversation about Twilight came up among a group of women, and after a couple of hours, we were practically BFF's! In a society where individuals have become increasingly isolated, I think this is pretty cool. These things have the potential to bring us together, rather than tear us apart (unless there arises an Edward/Jacob debate, of course.)
All of this rambling is just a pretext to explain my desire to read The Shack. I saw it as No. 1 on the bestseller list. It caught my eye browsing at Sam's Club. Reviews popped up on blogs. I wanted in on the action! And so did the members of my book club.
As the back cover notes, "The Shack wrestles with the timeless question: "Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?" Mack has experienced that pain--his young daughter is kidnapped during a camping trip, and all that is found of her is a bloody dress in an abandoned shack. How could God let this happen? Well, Mack receives a note in his mailbox inviting him to the shack to "get together" with Papa (his wife's name for God) and find out the answer to that question.
I only gave myself a day to read this, but I still found myself stopping to ponder for several minutes at a time. While I felt pretty involved in the story, I didn't necessarily agree with everything he said. One member of the book club mentioned that she thought whether a reader liked the book or not depended on whether the ideas put forth "rang true" for the individual. For a couple of people there, it did not ring true at all. I felt like certain parts were very powerful (Chapter 11-Here Come Da Judge) and others just interesting perspectives. The Godhead is presented in such an unusual way. I think those of conservative faiths may find it somewhat sacrilegious, and those without much religious faith may find it silly.
I didn't know the background of the publication of this book until I read an article on Wikipedia. Young originally wrote it as a Christmas gift for his children to share with them his beliefs, and had no intention of publishing it. This makes me appreciate the book a little more, because you don't get the idea that he's trying to push his way of thinking on anyone; he's just sharing his own treasured beliefs and obviously a lot of time spent pondering.

I usually try to keep my posts short, but this has been an incredibly long and rambling post . If you've actually read all of it, I think you deserve an award! I'm just going to post it without looking too closely at it, or else I might end up erasing it all and writing a seven-word review.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Graveyard Book

Author: Neil Gaiman
Originally published : 2008
Length: 320
Awards: Newbery Medal
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 4.5/5
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5 (194 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 6,792 ratings, 4.26 average rating

When I first heard about the premise of this book--a toddler who is orphaned after his family is murdered spends his childhood being raised in a cemetery by the dearly departed--it sounded a bit off the wall to me, and I wasn't sure if I would like it. I had read Stardust and Coraline by Gaiman, and I liked the two, but wasn't completely blown away, but impressed enough to want to read more of his works. After a long wait, I finally managed to get a copy from the library. (Oh, if only I had grabbed it before it won the Newbery!)
After being completely terrified reading the first few pages, I got carried away by this tale of Nobody Owens and the various individuals--whether alive, dead, or somewhere in between--who care for him and teach him about the realities of life and death. For me it is mostly a story about compassion, made even more powerful by the contrasting evil elements throughout. I loved the perfect balance between humor and darkness. The narrative takes some unexpected turns that I did find "off the wall," but they didn't detract from my enjoyment and satisfaction. There are a few unanswered questions in the end, but this usually doesn't bother me. I suppose I should just spit it out: I LOVED IT!
I have to confess that I was completely ignorant that Gaiman was inspired by Kipling's The Jungle Book until after reading it. I would like to read it again with that in mind. It may give me a whole new perspective. I have read that the audio, narrated by Gaiman himself, is excellent.

More reviews:
1More Chapter
The Hidden Side of a Leaf
My Two Blessings
Maw Books Blog
Bookshelves of Doom
Rob Around Books
Stainless Steel Droppings
Fyrefly's Book Blog
Bart's Bookshelf
As usual, I need more bookshelves
The Movieholic and Bibliophile's Blog
Penny's Pages
Biblio Addict

I know I have read some great reviews about The Graveyard Book other than these that I can't find right now. Please send me a link if you have a review!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Children of Hurin

Author: J.R.R. Tolkien
Edited by: Christopher Tolkien
Originally published : 2007
Length: 320 pages
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 4/5
Amazon Rating: 4/5 (288 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 2,480 ratings, 3.78 average rating

In the past I've experimented with four-word reviews and seven-word reviews. Well, a two-word review kept popping into my head while I read this one:

Fate sucks.

Just ask Turin and Nienor, the children of the the stalwart Hurin, who refuses to submit when captured by the evil Morgoth. Morgoth answers Hurin's mockery with a curse upon his offspring: "The shadow of my thought shall lie upon them wherever they go, and my hate shall pursue them to the ends of the world." Wherever they go, evil will arise. . .

And that's what the story is about--the dark fate that Turin cannot escape, no matter how many times he changes his name (which is, like, six times.) His inability to avoid hurting those he loves the most. His efforts to avenge his missing father, only to play right into the hands of Morgoth. A tragedy worthy of the Greeks, The Children of Hurin is the antithesis of the "feel-good" novel.

The big question concerning this posthumous work of Tolkien's is of course whether or not you need to be a fan of The Lord of the Rings to appreciate it. As a fan of both the series and movies, I would say yes. The experience of getting another glimpse of Middle Earth, aided by the stunning illustrations of Stan Lee, carried me through sometimes stiff writing, and the excess of names, place-names and foreboding adages. I can't imagine finding much satisfaction without having been a part of Tolkien's world before, and having a desire to "escape" there if only for a brief time. I do get the impression from the introductory commentary that I would have appreciated it even more if I had read The Silmarillion. Another one to add to my TBR list.

My notes, mostly just chapter summaries, can be found here.

Other thoughts:
Book Nook Club
The Wertzone
Stainless Steel Droppings
Jule's Book Reviews

If you've reviewed this, let me know and I'll add the link!