Thursday, July 30, 2009

These Is My Words

These Is My Words These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner

Book 84 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge
Book 2 of 5 for the Book Awards III Challenge
Awards: Arizona Author Award, Willa Cather Literary Award finalist

Series: Book 1 of 3 (Sarah Prine)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't re-read books very often. But, since this is one of my all-time favorites and my in-person book club read chose this one for July, I was excited to see if it still stands the test of time for me.

These Is My Words is a work of historical fiction that explores the life of a young woman in the Arizona Territory through her diary. Sarah Prine faces heart-breaking trials with courage and determination, experiences joy she never thought possible, and lives her life to the full as she follows her dreams. The author based Sarah's character on her real great-grandmother, and you can almost imagine Sarah is an actual person. She's not perfect, and there are things about her that I just relate to, even though our life experiences are so very different. I loved the relationships between Sarah and her family, and the romantic side of this book is just perfect.

I could go on forever, but it boils down to this:
  1. I still love it.
  2. It still makes me cry.
  3. If you haven't read it, do.
Some quotes:
"Our children weigh hard on my heart, and thinking about them growing up honest and healthy, or just living to grow up at all, makes a load in my chest that is bigger than the safe at the bank, and more valuable to me than all the gold inside it."

"I think my Mama and Savannah must be special people in the Lord's eyes, as they have gone about doing generous and loving things without even a second thought. For me, it seems like the only thing that comes natural is aggravation and hard work."

"I know all these people are so busy because they love each other and me. We are a noisy crowd of love."

"Mama told me to make a special point to remember the best times of my life. There are so many hard things to live through, and latching on to the good things will give you strength to endure, she says. So I must remember this day. It is beautiful and this seems like the best time to live and the best place."

"...I might like to have someone courting me. But it would have to be someone who is a square shooter and who has a train load of courage. And it would have to be someone who doesn't have to talk down to folks to feel good, or to tell a person they are worthless if they just made a mistake. And he'd have to be not too thin. Why, I remember hugging [my brother] Ernest was like wrapping your arms around a fence post, and I love Ernest, but I want a man who can hold me down in a wind. Maybe he'd have to be pretty stubborn. I don't have any use for a man that isn't stubborn. Likely a stubborn fellow will stay with you through thick and thin, and a spineless one will take off, or let his heart wander."

"Some people sense is wasted on and that's purely a fact."

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I Am a Mother

I Am a Mother I Am a Mother by Jane Clayson Johnson

Book 83 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge
Book 17 of 50 for the New Author Challenge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jane Clayson Johnson is a former co-host of The Early Show on CBS with Bryant Gumbel. She gave up her amazing career when she had her first child. She realized that women everywhere degrade themselves by telling others: I'm just a mom. So, she wrote a book to remind women that being a mother is one of the most wonderful things you'll ever do, and you should be proud of it.

I'll be honest, I liked this book a whole lot better than I was expecting to. I thought it was going to be cheesy and sappy, and although there was some of that, it was also very real. She doesn't gloss over the hard things or act like it doesn't matter. Jane is relate-able and honest, and I enjoyed the glimpses into her life.

The overall message of the book isn't new. There's a lot of quotes from scripture and LDS leaders. It's just a good reminder about the value of women and mothers. I think the way she presented the ideas that there are seasons in our lives and the importance of not judging each other's choices were especially well-done.

I cried a bunch.

And I think I'll be better about holding my head high and saying:
I am a mother.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Along for the Ride

Along for the Ride Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

Book 82 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This latest release from Sarah Dessen will not disappoint her fans. This is a fun summer read about a girl who finds herself on a quest to do all the things she missed out on in childhood--having a boyfriend, giggling with girlfriends, missing curfew, and riding a bike.

Auden is about ready to embark on her life as a college student. As the daughter of divorced professors, her whole existence has been about striving for academic excellence. But when she finds herself desperate for a change of pace, she heads to the beach to live with her dad and his new family for the summer. She gets much more than she bargained for--a colicky new half-sister, a step-mom she doesn't really know, and a job working in a boutique. But her chronic insomnia is what leads her to discover the biggest changes within herself. As it turns out, the cute boy from the bike shop isn't sleeping either.

Having read five of Dessen's nine books, I can say that I definitely like her later works better. This book certainly reminded me of her other books, and I think Dessen has a great ability to deal with serious issues teens identify with in a way that isn't heavy-handed. I also appreciated the swearing was much more muted in this book compared to This Lullaby.

I don't think any of Dessen's books will replace The Truth About Forever as my favorite, probably because it was my first. But, this is an enjoyable read that would be perfect at the beach.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Glenn Beck's Common Sense

Glenn Beck's Common Sense: The Evolution of Thomas Paine's Revolution Glenn Beck's Common Sense by Glenn Beck

Book 16 of 50 for the New Author Challenge
Book 81 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not a Glenn Beck groupie, although I do occasionally tune into his show or check his Fox website. I agree with a lot of what he says, and he has a way of making me think about things in a new way that I like. He's a little bit much for me, if you know what I mean. But, when a friend recommended this book to me, I decided that reading Glenn Beck might be more relaxing than watching him.

I was wrong. This book got me fired up.

Currently, this book is the #1 paperback non-fiction book on the NYTimes Best-Seller list. I'm happy about that because I hope it furthers the discussion in this country about how we have been drifting away from the ideals of the Founding Fathers. And more importantly, what we should do about it.

Beck does not advocate that our problems would be solved by supporting one political party or the other. In fact, he spreads the blame around equally and suggests that we all register as independents. Beck really goes after those pushing the Progressive agenda on both sides of the aisle.

I read this book out loud to my husband during a long car trip. It's fairly short, very readable, and there is a lot to discuss. I made notes in the back of my copy as we thought of things that we can do as individuals, parents and a family to improve the political process and direction of the country.

There is definitely a Glenn Beck-intense feel about the book, and at times he got a little carried away. But, this book is great food for thought that I definitely recommend.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Chosen One

The Chosen One The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

Book 15 of 50 for the New Author Challenge
Book 80 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kyra is a 13-year old who is a member of The Chosen Ones. She lives in a polygamist compound, and is the daughter of a third wife. She loves her family and is fiercely loyal to them. But she has secrets from them too: She loves books. And, she loves Joshua.

When the Prophet decrees that Kyra is to become the seventh wife of her 62-year old uncle, she must choose between her faith, her family, and what she truly loves and values.

This book is beautiful and sparsely written. There is so much packed into the words, and so much to read between the lines. I think it is important to remember while reading this book, that it is a fictional polygamist group, and no sect or denomination is implied. But, Williams does not shy away from the tough topics including abuse, jealousy and forced submission.

This is a harrowing yet compelling read that I won't soon forget.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Still Alice

Still Alice Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Book 14 of 50 for the New Author Challenge
Book 79 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge
Book 1 of 5 for the Book Awards III Challenge

Awards: 2008 Bronte Prize

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a poignant journey through early-onset Alzheimer's with Alice Howland, a professor at Harvard. While fiction, this book is very factual in how the disease is diagnosed and how it affects the cognitive functions of the sufferer. What's unique about this book, is how it focuses much more on the impact of the disease for Alice rather than her caregivers.

I decided to read this book because it not only has received rave reviews, but my grandmother is currently living with Alzheimer's. Part of me feels like I owe it to her to try and understand her, to step in her shoes for a moment. I was humbled as I read, and my love and compassion for my grandmother grew even more. I wish I lived closer to her to get to know her at this time in her life. This book should be required reading for anyone who has a family member afflicted with this terrible disease.

Lisa Genova, the author, has a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard. Her grandmother also suffered from Alzheimer's and she felt like she wanted to give Alzheimer's patients a voice. She does so beautifully, I was moved to tears more than once. And yet, even though there is currently no good outcome for those with this disease, the book is infused with hope as friends and family offer Alice their unconditional love.

This book is great storytelling with an important message. I would recommend it for anyone and I think it would make a great book club pick.

Watch Lisa Genova talk about her book here:

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Bride in the Bargain

A Bride in the Bargain A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist

Book 78 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really liked the Seattle setting of this historical romance set in the 1860s. It was a time when women were scarce in the West, but plentiful in the East in the aftermath of the Civil War. One enterprising man decided to go to the East to buy brides for the men in the West. Some of the potential brides, however, had no idea the men were expecting to marry. They thought they were joining on to be cooks, nannies, or teachers.

And thus we have the story of Joe Denton and Anna Ivey. He needs a bride, but she needs to escape from her life in Massachusetts. She was firmly decided she would never marry because everyone she got close to died. But if Joe doesn't get a legal bride quickly, he will lose half of the land that supports his life as a lumberjack.

Gist does a good job with the sexual tension between the characters. The book is very clean, although there are less religious elements in this book than her others. But the two main characters came up with the most ridiculous and immature reasons as to why they shouldn't be together. They just started to get on my nerves and I had a hard time finding parts of it believable. It also could have ended about 2/3 of the way through, and I would have been perfectly satisfied.

It was good light and fluffy read, but not great. I would recommend The Measure of a Lady and Deep in the Heart of Trouble before this one.

You can read the first two chapters here.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Sugar Queen

The Sugar Queen The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

Book 2 of 3 for the Southern Reading Challenge
Book 77 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was just what I needed. Brain candy. (And yes, that's a pun on the title, but it totally works.) Nothing too deep and somewhat predictable, but just a nice and sweet read that I very much enjoyed. (Yikes, there's another one.)

The Sugar Queen is set in the fall in a North Carolina mountain town. The story revolves around three women about to embark on major life changes. Della Lee Baker has just run away from her abusive boyfriend and ends up in Josey Cirrini's closet. Josey is the 27-year old daughter of the town's most wealthy and prominent citizens and has never left home. She is basically her mother's personal slave, but she's getting restless. (She reminded me some of Valency in The Blue Castle.) Chloe Finley has just found out that the love of her life has cheated on her and she doesn't know how to react. The lives of these three women intersect in ways that will change them forever.

I felt the characters were well-developed and the plot moved along at a good pace that kept me turning pages. The authors signature use of magical realism adds just the right sparkle to this enchanting book. It's fun, it's romantic, and it's great escapist literature.

I really enjoyed Garden Spells when I read it earlier this year. And I'm looking forward to Sarah Addison Allen's next book coming out in early 2010.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Southern Ladies and Gentlemen

Southern Ladies & Gentlemen Southern Ladies & Gentlemen by Florence King

Book 1 of 3 for the Southern Reading Challenge
Book 13 of 50 for the New Author Challenge
Book 76 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Oh, this book was such a disappointment to me. I thought it would be more like something that Celia Rivenbark would produce. But no. This book should have been titled Southern Ladies and Gentlemen Have Sex. Under normal circumstances, I would never have finished it. But once I decided that I really didn't like it, I was too committed to finishing it for the Southern Reading Challenge (where I'm playing catch up).

Summing this book up, I would say I found it dated (it was originally published in 1975), irreverent, and trashy. I realize that the modern-day Charlotte I live in is nothing like the rural South of yesterday. But really. The society King portrays in this book is so caricatured and stereotyped and borrows so heavily from Gone With the Wind, I found it neither funny nor true-to-life. Of course, Florence King bemoans the arrival of people like me to the South with some not very flattering words, so I'm sure that didn't help. Nor did King's very colorful language.

But, I'll leave you with the most oft-quoted passage in the book. I was actually amused by this passage and thought it signaled a book that would really delve into the culture of the South. Unfortunately, this book and I just didn't get along.
The Southern woman is required to be frigid, passionate, sweet, bitchy, stoic and scatterbrained--all at the same time. Her problems spring from the fact that she succeeds.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Two Mrs. Abbotts

The Two Mrs Abbotts The Two Mrs Abbotts by Dorothy Emily Stevenson

Book 75 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge
Series: Book 3 of 3 (Miss Buncle)

rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wasn't planning on reading this one so soon. But, it turns out that my library system doesn't have this book and my mom's does. Since I'm currently on vacation at my mom's house I decided to take advantage of the chance to read this delightful book.

I was thoroughly engrossed in this authentic wartime story, which was both written and set during WWII. A number of years have passed since Miss Buncle Married, and the countryside has been impacted by the war. In Wandlebury, many men have enlisted, there is a regiment staying in town, the women are learning to make do on rations, and although it is still a happy place, there is an subtle fear of the Jerrys.

There were a lot of characters to keep track of, but I enjoyed getting to know characters from the previous novels even better. I felt like D.E. Stevenson was a little bolder and more feisty in her writing and I enjoyed the a cute romance. I'm sad that the series is technically over because I feel like I was left with a number of loose ends. I understand there is some crossover between this series and The Four Graces, so I will definitely be picking that one up, hoping for some resolution of a few things.

This is such a fun series and I recommend trying to get a hold of the books any way you can.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Great Divorce

The Great Divorce The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

Book 74 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge
Book 3 for the Classics Challenge

Book 7 of 10 for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge
(Northern Ireland)

rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every once in awhile, I finally read one of those books that makes me wonder why I had put off reading it for so long. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis is one of those books.

I thought this book would be a quick read, at just 125 pages. I couldn't have been more wrong. I wanted to savor the words on the page, chew on their meanings, and figure out how to apply them in my life. I wanted to push myself to decide how I felt, to decide if I agreed with the ideas presented or not, and then identify why I felt the way I did.

In a stand against moral relativism, this work is about the separation of heaven and hell and why the two cannot co-exist. The story begins as the narrator, presumably C.S. Lewis himself, finds that he on a bus journey with people from hell who are headed to heaven. Once they arrive on the cusp of heaven, someone they knew in life greets them and encourages them to come to heaven. But there is some definite resistance. As C.S. Lewis wanders around, he is privy to the conversations where the spirits determine whether or not they will make the choice to come to heaven. Some think it will be too hard to get to heaven, some refuse to forgive others who have made it to heaven, some feel they will miss the opportunities in hell too much, and others refuse to believe they are actually in hell in the first place.

I thought this book was fabulously thought-provoking and it would make an excellent book club choice. I think this work is an amazing exploration of human nature and our freedom to choose. I will definitely read this again with a highlighter in hand. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

This Lullaby

This Lullaby This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

Book 73 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge
Awards: VOYA: The Perfect Tens; Publishers Weekly Best Book; NY Public Library Best Books for the Teen Age; YALSA Best Books for YA

rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Remy's mom is marrying her fifth husband, and growing up, Remy has seen first-hand that love never lasts. The great irony is that Remy's mom is a romance novelist and her characters always find perfect happiness at the end. Remy is tired of putting on weddings for her mother, and as a consequence of her upbringing, Remy has never had a boyfriend for longer than about six weeks. She gets out before things have a chance to get too personal and complicated.

But right before Remy leaves for college she meets Dexter. For some reason, none of her normal rules seem to apply to him. He should just be her regular summer love, but something about him is different. He's in a band for starters. (Remy has a "no band" rule because her father was a musician, and he was the first man to leave her.) Dexter is also clumsy and unkempt, two things Remy cannot stand. She's compulsively clean and orderly, controlling her life in the only way she knows how.

This is a book about developing faith in love and accepting that true love, even if it causes heartache and pain, is better than no love at all. I did like the overall message and I enjoyed watching Remy's character grow, although I wish I had seen that process continue on further. However, the real star for me was Dexter. He's confident and he doesn't apologize for being himself. Remy was only so-so for me and I honestly wasn't totally sure why Dexter liked her.

This book seemed to have a lot more swearing than the other Dessen books I've read. Teen drinking, sex, and smoking are also kind of seen as a given. These detractors make me hesitant to recommend this one wholesale. But I did really enjoy the story and I find Dessen's books to be delightfully readable.

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