Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hello, Having a Great Summer!

Galveston, Texas

Kemp Ridley Sea Turtle

Hello!  I just realized I haven't posted on this blog for a month and a half!  Once my daughter finished the school year, somehow the time has flown by.  Where does it go?

She will be at camp this week, so I should be able to write reviews about the last 5 books I have read and write a bit about what I've been writing.

Have also been out of town (several times to Galveston, TX) and have had both sides of the family come and visit (not at the same time - my house isn't that big).  Please enjoy some pictures.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Gulf Oil Disaster

This blog is usually about books in some way, but I thought I would put up this widget about the Gulf Oil Disaster.  We all need to be informed, so we don't do this again.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Lament For A Maker by Michael Innes

Michael Innes, a talented and prolific author of British mystery novels, crafts Lament for a Maker well by dividing it into seven sections from the viewpoints of five different characters (two characters have two sections) who, bit by bit, reveal a haunting, intriguing, and beguiling tale of truth and deceit.

This mystery involves an eccentric old lord-of-the-manor type generally called "Guthrie."  He is the last in a long line of Guthrie's, lesser lords who have reigned over the area around Kinkeig, Scotland since feudal times until today from their Castle Erchany.  The question surrounds the present Guthrie's sudden death from a fall from the magnificent, medieval tower at Erchany in the middle of a relentless snowstorm on Christmas eve.

In the first section, Innes masters, at least according to this American reviewer, a certain local Scottish dialect.  If there is a difficult part of the book to read, this would be it.  However, much like reading a foreign language, I gradually became used to the unfamiliar vocabulary.  Innes has many more teasing plot twists and delicious descriptions after the first narrator, so keep on reading.  I found the journey through the facts and fiction to the finale quite satisfying.  This was my first Inspector Appleby Mystery and I plan to read more.

Title:  Lament For A Maker
Author:  Michael Innes
Publisher:  House of Stratus
Copyright:  2001
ISBN:  1-84232-741-0

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Wannabe Writers #16

Wannabe Writers is a writing group for the un-published and anyone is welcome to join. This meme is sponsored by Sarah Darlington at Confessions of the Un-Published. It's a place where future authors can ask questions, share stories, and get feedback. Click (here) to find more about how it works.  This is my first Wannabe Writer post.  I hope it is helpful and interesting.

Where I am in the writing process:  I just declared myself officially as a writer at the beginning of this month, May 2010.  I have several ideas written down in my writing notebook.  I haven't actually started writing except for a possible first sentence in one project and lots of notes for another.  The notes are coming from research.  I'm writing non-fiction magazine articles for children and hope to write a non-fiction book for kids as well.  As far as novels go, I think that my love of history will lead me to write historical fiction.

Current problems:  I am also a new blogger and am having so much fun getting to know everyone in the reading/writing/reviewing blog world.  I think I need to start spending more time writing yet I'm learning so much through your blogs.  Perhaps I need to find the right balance between the various activities involved in writing such as networking, marketing, brainstorming, researching, note taking, writing, revising, querying, and the list goes on and on.  Does anyone have a handle on this?

Question of the Week:  How to start a story. I've never been very good a writing hooks. Any suggestions? How did you start your story? (Dialogue, description, action, etc.)

I decided to read everyone's Wannabe Writer #16 posts first to help me think.  I started commenting after reading some and came to the conclusion that different writers have different ways of starting a story.  Even the same writer started different stories differently.  Some plan and revise very carefully sometimes and others have the opening come to them sometimes spontaneously although perhaps not unexpectedly.

I like the idea of the "hook."  I've heard journalists are taught the hook from early on.  It seems to make sense that a writer must grab and hold a reader's attention.  The word motivation comes to mind.  A reader must have a compelling motive to want to read on.  How does a writer motivate a reader to keep reading?  One way might be to give the reader some astounding, shocking, or other attention grabbing bit of information, but then hint at the fact there is much more to know and understand, and he/she won't be satisfied or happy in life unless that "more" is discovered.  I think page-turner authors create this forward, catalytic (sp?) motion not just at the beginning but also at other key points in their works.

Teaser Tuesdays - My Other Half

I haven't written a Teaser Tuesday in awhile, so I have a bit of time and thought I would submit one today.  There is a special reason I am quoting My Other Half:  it was written by a sophmore who attends our local high school. 

Teaser Tuesdays is a bookish meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following.
  • Grab your current read
  • Turn to a random page  
  • Share two "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Be careful not to include spoilers that give away something that would ruin the book for others  
  • Share the page, title, and author so that other TT participants can put the book on their TBR list if they like your "teasers"
Please leave a COMMENT here and leave a link to your own Teaser Tuesdays post, or share your 2 "teasers" in a comment here if you don't have a blog. Thanks!

My Teasers:

Her right half of the body shone with unnatural light.
It was made of pure metal, nothing else.

My Other Half by Gracie C. Qu,  p. 1

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I liked The Book Thief: however, I had heard so many good things about it and my expectations had been set so high that when I actually read it,  I was a little disappointed.  I'm not certain whether I would have been let down had I not listened to all the hype.  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.

Without giving too much away, I liked that the main character was bright, female, and strong.  (No, this isn't a book about feminism at all.)  The time is World War II in Nazi Germany, so unless a person towed the party line flawlessly (and even if a person did), strength of character and keen intelligence was essential to survive.

Perhaps, there are two main characters.  The narrator is so everpresent and full of unemotional commentaries that a reader knows he is always there whether remembered or not.  The point of view of the narrator fits the historical context well.  A reader would expect him to be there lurking about.  I would have expected the narrator though to be a bit more aggressive, but he seems lazy and almost bored with his plight doing what he must like someone stuck in one of the levels in Dante's hell.

The perseverance of the secondary characters (who were also prominent in the book so as to be not so secondary) also appealed to me.  The sheer inhumanity of the times brought out the innermost soul of a person, and these characters do not disappoint.  I would have preferred that Zusak had developed some of the characters who were Nazi supporters a little more however.

Definitely this is a book to read.  Expect to be surprised, shocked, and challenged, but is it as great of a work as some that have withstood the test of time like the accolades would lead a reader to believe?  I'm no so sure.  Zusak's book is riveting and intriguing, though, and I don't want to end on a negative note.  I did like the book and would read it again.

The Life and Writings of the Historical Saint Patrick

In The Life and Writings of the Historical Saint Patrick, R. P. C. Hanson has written a detailed, historical Introduction. He has also translated and commented upon the two existing works, The Letter to Coroticus and The Confession, composed by St. Patrick himself.

In the three-part Introduction, Hanson puts St. Patrick's writings in context so a reader can more easily understand the era during which Patrick lived, the importance of his work, and the man himself.  The Letter to Coroticus and The Confession at times speak clearly and at others, a reader wonders about Patrick's meaning.  Hanson's commentaries fill in more historical background of the times, events in Patrick's life, and aspects of Patrick's personality to assist the reader in comprehending the two surviving written documents.

I had read The Letter to Coroticus and The Confession before without commentary.  Much of the writing is straight-forward;  however, the overall context in which Patrick wrote was missing.  Thus, I missed much of the meaning behind the words.  For anyone interested in finding out who St. Patrick really was, as opposed to the legends about him, I recommend reading the two works without comments first, decipher what's possible, and then read them again with contextual commentaries.  R. P. C. Hanson knows what he is talking about as an expert on the history of the Celtic church, as Professor of Theology at the University of Manchester, and as Assistant Bishop of Manchester (at the time of publication).

Title:  The Life and Writings of the Historical Saint Patrick
Primary Source Author: Saint Patrick
Author of Introduction and Translater:  R. P. C. Hanson
Publisher:  The Seabury Press
Copyright: 1983
ISBN #:  0-8164-0523-9

Page a Day Update

This is my first page a day update.  It's the first day I can actually show some of my writing if blogs count.  I hope they do, because I may use some of my Ireland posts from yesterday for a magzine article or perhaps a children's book about St. Patrick.

I hope you enjoy the pictures as well as the words.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pictures and History of the Rock of Cashel (put together by me to tell about more Saint Patrick Legends)

The Rock of Cashel is the plateau of rock under these medieval ruins,
 also known as St. Patrick's Rock
Located in southeast Ireland, Cashel, County Tipperary

Cashel Rock again, Cashel is the anglicized version of an
Irish word meaning "fortress" or "stone fort" which explains why
this plateau of rock is also known as Cashel of the Kings.

Rock of Cashel,  Legend says at this site in 432 A.D., St. Patrick
baptised King Aengus, a King of Munster who became
Ireland's first Christian ruler

During the baptism, legend also has it that St. Patrick used the 3 leafed
shamrock (clover) for the first time to explain the
Christian concept of the Trinity.

Also, it is said that during the baptism, the devil flew over Ireland and
ran into the Slieve Bloom Mountains. 

Then,Satan took an enormous bite
out of the stonypeaks and spat out his massive mouthful and formed
the Rock of Cashel. 
This also explains a gap in the Slieve Bloom Mountains
north of the Rock called the Devil's Bit

The first structure to be built on the Rock of Cashel was
the Tower.  It is 90 feet tall and built after a
King of Munster gave the rock plateau to the church in 1101 A. D.

The second building, Cormac's chapel,
a unique Romanesque church, was finished in 1134
for King Cormac III

St. Patrick's Cathedral was finished in 1270 A. D. on the Rock of Cashel.

Ireland's Saint: The Essential Biography of Saint Patrick

St. Patrick was said to explain the Trinity with a 3 leaf clover.

Hore Abbey, Cashel, Ireland
Many monestaries and abbeys were organized
directly or indirectly because of
St. Patrick's influence.

Kylemore Abbey, County Mayo

Ireland's Saint:  The Essential Biography of St. Patrick was first published in 1905 as The Life of St. Patrick and His Place in History.  The latter was written by John Bagnell Bury, a turn of the century Irish historian.  The book discussed in this review is the former written by J. B. Bury and edited by Jon M. Sweeney.  Sweeny also wrote the Introduction and compiled the annotations.  Ireland's Saint developed into "the most influential study of the saint ever written up until this point,"  according to Sweeney.  He also says Bury went against some scholars' traditional views of St. Patrick, yet is also "sympathetic to the tradition and legends surrounding the saint."  Today's scholars mainly believe, states Sweeney, that the only true sources from which to obtain facts about St. Patrick's life are The Confession and The Letter to Coroticus, the two existing works written by St. Patrick himself.

Bury describes St. Patrick's life very thoroughly.  Bury tells about stories from the legends and then refutes many of them.  A reader might expect Bury's writing to be scholarly.  His biography does contain much analysis, but his words seem fairly clear, though, if not a bit long-winded.  Sweeney inserts updates by more recent scholars throughout the book in columns set beside the text.  He also expands explanations and adds more information to make the work more accessible to any reader.

I would definitely recommend reading this book to start with if interested in St. Patrick.  I would also recommend reading other more recently published biographies.  It might also be interesting to read books that tell St. Patrick's story as the people in the Middle Ages might have known him legends and all.

Title:  Ireland's Saint:  The Essential Biography of St. Patrick
Author:  J. B. Bury
Editor:  Jon M. Sweeney
Publisher:  Paraclete Press
Copyright:  2008
ISBN:  13: 978-1-55725-557-0

How The Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill

Monastery of Clonmacnoise (Cluain Mhic Nois)
meaning Meadow of the Sons of Nos

Founded by Ciaran of Clonmacnoise in 545 A.D.

Located in the central part of today's
Republic of Ireland
South of Athlone on the River Shannon
in County Offaly

High Kings of Tara and Connacht were buried here.
Became Important center of learning during its time

Cross of the Scripture, Clonmacnoise

Thomas Cahill asserts  in How the Irish Saved Civilization that the Irish Christian monks, by sequestering and copying a vast and wide-ranging collection of written works, preseved what became the basis of Western Civiliztion as we know it today.  Without these manuscripts from our Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian heritage, Cahill claims, we would not have experienced the immeasurably strong influence of Aristotle and Plato, Augustine of Hippo and Constantine, Abraham and Moses, Paul and the disciples, and even Jesus in the development of our culture.

Cahill discusses the time between the fall of Rome and the rise of Medeival Europe with flair, flamboyance, and humor.  As the barbarians tribes invaded and conquered the Roman Empire in the early 5th century, they, unfortunately, also also succeeded in destroying many books with which we could have understood our past even better.  Many manuscripts were saved, however, and were hidden in safe places.  The cloisters of the monestaries in Ireland served as these havens, because Ireland was so remote from the continent.  Rome had even thought it not worth the trouble to travel to the northern island to add it to the Roman Empire.

I would highly recommend this book and others by Thomas Cahill.  His views can be controversial, but his ideas are so thought provoking, his descriptions so vivid, and his storytelling so riveting, anyone, not just history buffs, would thoroughly enjoy and deeply ponder all of these aspects. 

The audio recording narrated by Donal Donnelly is also an absolute must to experience.  He makes Cahill's already lively words come alive even more.  With Donnelly's exquisit accent and boundless expressiveness, a listener is convinced she is hearing a Shakespeare play rather than listening to boring old history.  Even laughing out loud is not an uncommon happening while absorbing this recording.

Title:  How the Irish Saved Civilization
Author:  Thomas Cahill
Publisher:  Hodder and Stoughton
Copyright:  1995
ISBN #:  978-0-340-63787-6

Catching Up on Ireland

Today I am catching up with book reviews of the many books I've been reading.  I've fallen a bit behind in the 52 books in 52 weeks challenge, but hope to become current by the end of the afternoon.

Books about Saint Patrick and Ireland have interested me a great deal, and I'm so glad to have finally read some of them.  I still have a few more on my bookshelf to go.

Here are a few photos from various places in Ireland to set the mood.


Beltany Stone Circle

Glengesh Pass

Slieve League Cliffs

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Joined Page A Day Challenge

I've decided to join Swimmer's writing challenge.  You can find her at Books, Writing, and More, Oh My!!

GOAL:  to write one page each day

TIME SPAN:  May 6 - June 30

WHY:  a very reachable goal

WHAT YOU NEED TO DO:  go to Books Writing, and More, Oh My!!  and follow the directions

Hope you can join us too.  My updates will be here periodically and I'll comment on Swimmer's website too.  See you around.

Monday, May 3, 2010

First Day as a Writer

Today, May 3, 2010, is the first day I'm going to officially call myself and be a writer.  I have been published in magazines before; however, I was just writing now and then when it fit my schedule.  Today (did I say for the first time), I'm starting a regular schedule.  On my calendar, it actually says from 10:00am - 2:00pm,  I am going to write.  (Does blogging count?)  Writing this brief announcement blog is what I consider the first step of my wrtiting career. 

I'm also going to spend a few minutes looking for a picture that I would like to include with this writing career announcement post so that I can have an image in mind.  I think this will help me feel like a writer.  (Does psychological or mental preparation count as writing?)

So far I have two writing project ideas.  I know which one I would like to start with.  But, for some reason, my computer won't connect to the Internet.   I'm using my daughter's computer right now.  It just doesn't have a printer attached.  I was going to and hopefully still will do a little background reserach.  (Does researching count as writing?)  My style is to prepare, research, outline, prepare some more and then the actual writing doesn't take that long.

Also, I like to read the reader/writer/agent/editor blogs I've been following to keep up on issues and news in the business.  (Does marketing research count as writing?)

I'd better wind this up quick or I won't even actually "write" one word toward my first project today which is my untimate goal to do by 2:00pm.  Wish me the best.  Here I go.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Three Cities Trilogy: Lourdes, Complete by Emile Zola

Emile Zola wrote Lourdes as the first book of The Three Cities Trilogy in 1894.  The French flock to Lourdes in this story because of their faith in God.  Some travel there as pilgrims to strengthen their faith through the journey and by helping  the sick.  Many more have serious illnesses and go to Lourdes to be miraculously healed by divine intervention. 

Zola is known for his incredibly detailed descriptions and he does not disappoint in Lourdes.  On the white train, the one with the most afflicted of sufferers, Zola writes about the passengers in a few nearby cabins.  He describes the illnesses with exhaustive, uncomfortable scrutiny slowly one by one.  We meet the main patient, Marie, on the first page and begin to understand the unimaginable suffering that existed before modern medicine.  "Then her father helped her lie down again in the narrow box, a kind of wooden gutter, in which she had been living for seven years past."  Another "wretch," M. de Guersaint, describes his ailments, 'I was seized with sharp lightning-like pains, red-hot sword the muscles.'  La Grivotte tells of her pinings endlessly.

The doctors say I have one lung done for, and that the other one is scarcely any better.  There are great big holes you know.  At first I only felt bad between the shoulders and spat up some froth.  And then I got thin, and became a dreadful sight.  And now I am always in a sweat, and cough till I think I'm going to bring my heart up.  And I can no longer spit.  And I haven't the strength to stand, you see.  I can't eat.

The entire story takes place over five days, two on the train and three in Lourdes.  Zola divides the book into five sections, one for each day. Once in Lourdes, patients go from the hospitals to the Grotto, the holy place of healing, at certain times each day to pray and bathe in the healing stream waters.  A miracle is the only hope for many had no other option left but to face imminent death.  Many are healed throughout the weekend.  Others have been there for years in a row and yet, again, receive no cure.  Some die.

The most interesting aspect of this entire story is that it is based on truth.  People still flock to Lourdes for divine healing today.    Scholars see Zola's works including Lourdes as examples of French naturalism and socio-historical documents.  66 healing miracles have apparently been documented in Lourdes since the pilgrimages began in 1858..  Even Pope Benedict XVI traveled to Lourdes as a "messenger" of peace in 2008.  There must be something going on here.  Read the book and find out.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

George the Chinchilla found in daughter's 5th grade science classroom.

I Am The Messenger

Ed is the main character in the young adult novel, I Am The Messenger, by Markus Zusak.  Ed is basically a guy who isn't going anywhere. He drives a cab and has three friends, but they are not that close or perhaps they are.  They just don't talk about anything too deeply or do they?  He is secretly in love with one of them; however, she, Audrey, stops herself from loving anyone because of an abusive childhood.

Ed finds himself face down and then running when he stops a bank from being robbed by shooting the bank robber.  The local paper shows his picture prominently and declares Ed as the one who saved the day.

Shortly after, Ed starts receiving Aces one by one from a deck of cards over several months.  He receives an Ace for each suit with three addresses or hints scrawled on each card about people he must help.  Ed must (and I mean must) decipher each situation in order to figure out who he needs to help and how to help each one.  Then, he must follow through and actually help, or in terms of the title, bring a message to that person.  Some assignments are easy and heart-rendering; others are dangerous and violent.

Ed thinks he's finished after completing the 12 orders.  Then, he recieves one more card and finds out that he may not be a messenger at all.

I Am The Messenger is another best-selling, award-winning book by Markus Zusak, also the author of The Book Thief.  I recommend it for teens and older as a book about finding out who you are and what you really can do in life.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Essentials for Life: Your Back to Basics Guide to What Matters Most

At first glance, Essentials for Life by Marcia Ford is what I would call a daily devotional book with 50 devotions.  But after a closer look, it is a book for thinking through life's most important questions.  Yes there are 50 topics, yet each question could take several days or longer of reading, rereading, thinking, rethinking, praying, and praying again in order to fully determine your true, heartfelt beliefs.

Essentials for Life, published by Thomas Nelson earlier this year, is not just a book to read: it is a book to ponder.  It is a book that leads you to other sources such as the Bible, other books, your heart, and of course, God.  For some readers, grappling with each question will lead to new answers and for others, to the reaffirmation of beliefs.

The book itself feels nice in your hands.  The cover isn't just like a normal paperback's; there is a softness and a sheen to it more like a treasured journal.  The pages inside also feel good on your fingers.  Essentials for Life comes in a handy size that is not too big or thick and would fit easily into a briefcase or purse.

The author uses a specific structure for each subject.  The first and third pages have a Bible verse and a quote or a short paragraph called, "Interesting to Note" in the right or left hand margins.  After the title on the first page, a brief statement of the question or issue appears.  On the second page, the writer includes a quote by an influential Christian, some of whom I have heard and some not.  The third page often has bullet points and the fourth has a box of  "do's" and "don'ts" called, "What's Essential."

Essentials for Life is a well-written, thoughtful, and sincere Christian resource.  I'm not certain I can keep track of 50 essentials.  Most books or articles that use numbers use the number 7 or 10.  Scientists have proved that our mind can contain these numbers of things for a longer period of time such as a phone number with or without the area code.  It's difficult to remember 50 questions let alone the answers.  Perhaps, the author could have boiled down these essentials to a number a human could get their arms around and remember.  It would be critical to go through this book and write all your thoughts and prayers in a journal, so that a reader could go back to what is was they decided, experienced, and believe about each question.

I would recommend this book for someone who has the patience to delve deeply about important issues in our lives and someone who would document his or her journey through the questions in Essentials for Life carefully.  The resulting journal would be valuable for the rest of the reader's life for personal reflection and for teaching any special wisdom found to others.

I received this book from the publishers through booksneeze.  All opinions are my own.
Teaser Tuesdays is a bookish meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.  Anyone can play along!  Just do the following.

  • Grab your current read
  • Turn to a random page
  • Share two "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Be careful not to include spoilers that give away something that would ruin the book for others
  • Share the page, title, and author so that other TT participants can put the book on their TBR list if they like your "teasers"
Please leave a COMMENT here and leave a link to your own Teaser Tuesdays post, or share your 2 "teasers" in a comment here if you don't have a blog. Thanks!

My Teasers:

Of course, I don't 'want' to go inside, but what other
choice do I have?  If someone's in there, there's
nothing I can do about it.

p. 341, I Am The Messenger , by Markus Zusak

Just A Personal Note and Wordless Wednesday (with words a day early)

I haven't ever put a personal note on my blog before, but I wanted to say to anyone who visits my blog in the next few days that this blog is mainly about book reviews and, soon to come, writing experiences.  However, if you look at the last few blogs I've posted, they are all memes.  I do memes for fun and to keep up the conversations with others, you know "network," or I really think of it as making and keeping book loving friends.  I also write memes when I don't have time to do any reviews.  In the past few weeks, I have been a reading fiend.  So come back to this blog in a few days, and you will see hopefully some diverse, interesting reviews.  Also, if you have the time, and want to see book reviews I've done, check out my older posts.  They are not that old since I started blogging in January 2010.  Thanks to anyone in advance who reads my blog. 

Here's a fun picture of Yen, the turtle, who lives in my daughter's 5th grade science class.  I guess it's a day early but a good photo for Wordless Wednesday.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Today's Musing Monday's is a continuation of last week's.  Bloggers made a list of the five best books and then Rebecca at Just One More Page made a list for all of us to see this week.

I was surprised at how many books only received one vote.  I think it's good to know that we have very diverse opinions in the book blogging world about what makes a "best" book.

Please go to Just One More Page to see the list and pop back here to leave a comment if you wish.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays is hosted by Rebecca at Just One More Page.  Today's Musing Mondays is about the "best" book.  How do you define a "best" book? Name your top 5 "best" books and tune in to Just One More Page next week to see the collated list.

PLEAST LEAVE A COMMENT with either the link to your own Musing Mondays post, or share your opinion in a comment here if you don't have a blog.  Thanks.

A book review of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn that I wrote on this blog on Wednesday, March 17, 2010  (see below on this blog in March.)  doesn't answer what a "best" book is exactly, but it's related.  My review is about what makes a book a classic.  I would venture that many of our "best" books are classics.  However, I know not all of them are especially if a classic must stand the test of time.  Many of our favorite books are on the best seller list right now.  Perhaps, a "best" book is often a classic book or going to be a classic book someday.  I think that's what a "best" book is to me.  Really though, the "best" book definition is probably different for each and every person.

My top 5 (not always in the same order)

  1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  2. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
  3. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  4. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
  5. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly, bookish meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.  Anyone can play along.  Just grab your current read, open to a random page, and share 2 sentences from that page. 

Be careful not to give too much away.  Please share the title, author, and page of the quote too. 

Have fun and please leave your comment after this Teaser Tuesday with a link to yours.  Or if you do not have a blog, just put your teaser in your comment.  Thanks!

"Guthrie afraid and Christine afraid - again not perhaps of the same thing.  Here, in a word, is my preoccupation - almost my anxiety - of the moment; here - Diana - is the Mystery of Castle Erchany!"

pp. 96-97, Lament for a Maker, by Michael Innes

Monday, March 29, 2010

Musing Mondays is hosted by Rebecca at Just One More Page.  Today's Musing Mondays post is about multi-tasking.
Do you - or are you even able- to do other things while you read?  Do you knit, hold a conversation, or keep an eye on the TV?  Anything?

I prefer and am often not able to read an intriguing book with anything else going on.  I can scan the newspaper or a magazine with the TV on unless I'm reading a really detailed, long article.  I guess it depends on the complexity of what I am reading.  If the book or article is easy reading, I can have something else going on.  If my reading is full of intricate twists and turns,  I need quiet solitude. 

I can generally ride an exercise bike while I'm reading if there is a rack to put my reading material on.  I can't knit or do anything that requires delicate hand coordination and read.  I would have to keep looking back and forth between the knitting and the reading.  That would be distracting and would eventually give me a headache. 

It's really hard for me to hold any kind of coherent conversation and do much else.  As I said, I really prefer doing some things one at a time such as reading, conversing, swimming, singing, writing.... I have a lot more fun and get more out of whatever it is I'm doing

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Define "Normal"

Little, Brown and Company published the young adult novel Define "Normal" by Julie Anne Peters in 2000.  The American Librarians Association declared Define "Normal" as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults the next year in 2001.  With such a high recommendation from librarians, who dedicate their careers to books, I thought I should read this novel.

The two main charcters, Jasmine (Jazz) and Antonia are eighth graders who attend Oberon Middle School.  That's about all they have in common or so I thought.  Antonia dresses conservatively in skirts and sweaters, the traditional "school-girl" manner, while Jazz enjoys black for just about everything including eyeshadow and lipstick, and she is no stranger to piercings or tatoos.  Antonia works hard, does what she is told, and gets good grades.  On the other hand, Jazz does not fear and, of course, questions authority mercilessly.  She has a bad reputation and hangs out with the wrong people.

Dr. DiLeo, a couselor at the school, invites Antonia to sign up as a "peer couselor" as an honorable thing to do, to help people who are less fortunate.  Not surprisingly, she is paired with Jazz and the drama begins.  Antonia now dreads the weekly hour long meetings.

The first few meetings go badly with Antonia walking out more than once.  Neither one of them is open minded about the other and they both make broad assumptions.  Antonia tries to quit a couple of times, but Dr. DiLeo will not let her claiming that sessions generally go badly at first.

We find out more about Antonia's and Jazz's personal lives as the book continues.  Things are not as they seem.  Both seem to have problems at home and hidden talents yet to discover.  I won't go into much more detail, so anyone can read this book without knowing too much.  The ending is satisfying.  This is a great read for a middle-schooler.

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should  Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

 (This is my first Teaser Tuesday!)

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page  
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
"The pilgrims and patients, closely packed on the hard seats of a third-class carriage, were just finishing the 'Ave maris Stella,' which they had begun to chant on leaving the terminus of the Orleans line, when Marie, slightly raised on her couch of misery and restless with feverish impatience, caught sight of the Paris fortifications through the window of the moving train.

'Ah the fortifications!'"

p.8, "The Three Cities Trilogy:  Lourdes, Complete" by Emile Zola


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith has become a well-respected classic since it was published in 1943 by Harper & Brothers.  Many erudite readers have reviewed A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.  In fact, when I looked at today, there were 582 customer reviews.  Given this intimidating number and in fear of repeating what has already been said, I would like to open up this review to a discussion about what makes a book a classic, and from this review and its comments, determine, according to our humble opinions, whether A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is a classic.  And as a by-product of our classical conversation, perhaps an extended communal review will develop as well.

Of course, what makes a book a classic cannot be precisely defined.  The following thoughts do not by any means exhaust the subject. Also, varying opinions about what makes a classic inevitably exist.  Questions will most likely lead to more questions and answers will lead to more answers.

Originally, a classic work of art meant a creation from the Ancient Greek or Roman eras.  A classic book was written in Greek or Latin.  The concept now includes many other ideas.  Here are some aspects of what makes a work a classic that I have found during this brief morning of considering the topic.  A bullet form list follows rather than prose paragraphs in the interest of covering as many characteristics in a short space and time period.  In addition, it seems not all "classics" will have all the possibilities below.  And one aspect sometimes blends into or leads to another.

  • Universality - univeral truths, ideas of beauty, life, themes, crosscultural
  • Timelessness - enjoyed by more than one generation, people of all eras can relate to the work of art, stands the test of time, continues to influence readers
  • Memorable Characters - "real" people
  • Adaptability to other Media - made into a movie perhaps
  • Re-readability - can the same person read it over and over throughout his or her life and gather new meaning
  • Incredible Quality - beautiful language, artistic quality, poetic, plot, characterization
  • Uniqueness - the first of its kind, truly original, something different about it, novelty
  • Connection to Heritage of Humanity - history of ideas, legacy of literature, myth, speaks to us as humans
  • Moral Lessons - learning values, teachers and professors assign work as part of reading list to learn
  • Instant Classic or Not Recognized in its Time
  • Believabilty - not the question of could this really happen, but is the work real or can it suspend believability without effort
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, according to my reading, has all of the above qualities.  The clearest universal theme centers around growing up, moving from a child into adulthood, or coming of age, all critical times during which a young girls finds out not only what it means to be a woman, but also what it means to be human.  The universal themes lead to the book's timelessness.  An 11 year old girl, a hardworking parent, or an alchoholic person with overwhelming responsibility from many eras could glean meaning from A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.  Another universal theme is growing into old age and the fear that we will do this entirely ungracefullly, a fear that transcends generations, eras, and cultures.

Francie and each member of her family are described in much detail from varying characters' points of view.  The people in her neighborhood such as the shopkeepers are also unforgettable (in the true sense of the word) "characters."  I was surprised that this work was produced as a movie in 1945 only two years after Harper & Brothers published it. Is this a sign of an instant classic in the 1940's?  Perhaps. I found out that the movie is available on DVD.  Netflix here I come.

Betty Smith's attention to detailed descriptions brings vivid images to a reader's mind.  Smith brings Brooklyn to life with language that is beautiful in its directness and accuracy.  She doesn't spend too much time bringing a reader into the scene with overly florid or sentimental phrases.  The language used in the characters' dialogue expresses their personalities, some practical and some dreamy.

The uniqueness of this book appears in its gritty and uncomfortable scenes.  Little Women, another novel/memoir about a young girl coming of age, doesn't delve into the dark side of life as does A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.  Although Little Women was published around 75 years earlier, less than pristine circumstances did exist at that time.  From what I know about the 19th Century, these occurrences just were not discussed openly in literature or society in the mid-1800's.  Louisa May Alcott describes sad and troubled times in Little Women, but no profound experiences with crime, shame, poverty, or sexual scandal.  A Tree Grows In Brooklyn grapples with "dirty," difficult subjects in an unflinching, non-melodramatic manner leading the way for The Diary of Anne Frank, another "frank," realistic memoir of a young girl growing into womanhood published four years later.

From my experience, the reader learns moral values right along with Francie.  I have also heard teachers and professors have included this title as required reading for English courses.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Double Identity

If you have a late elementary to middle school reader who is ready for mystery mixed with a little science fiction, then Double Identity is for you both!  My daughter was so excited about this book.  It was one of the first ones she couldn't put down!  That meant to me that if she liked this book so much, then I just had to read it too.  Now we both want to read other books written by Margaret Peterson Haddix as well.

Bethany is a 12 year old who has become used to her overprotective parents.  She's moved around a lot and doesn't have very close friends, but she is basically a terrific tween-age kid.  Her favorite thing is swimming.  She finds it comforting and quiet under the water and, on the other hand, she loves to compete at meets.

She has also become used to her mother crying at odd times, but she's been worried lately because her mother has been crying all the time.  Without warning, her mom and dad drive her to an aunt's house.  She's never even heard of this aunt before and suddenly her parents just leave her there.

Bethany can't make any sense out of this, and her aunt can't seem to finish any sentences making both of them entirely nervous around one another.  Another weird thing - people in this small town look at her like she is some sort of ghost from the past.  Then, at the next minute, they recover and say something like she looks like someone else they know or knew or something.

Her father frightens her even more by disconnecting all of their cell phones and has left no forwarding number saying don't try to contact me.  Bethany's mother calls and thinks that Bethany is another person  named Elizabeth.  Who is this Elizabeth anyway?  Another time, Bethany answers the phone and all she hears is a click. 

Strange and frightening events continue to happen.  She thinks she's being followed and becomes afraid to go out of her aunt's house.  The mystery unfolds with scientific facts and family history all leading to a surprising conclusion and unexpectedly helping Bethany find out who she really is.

The Road

Cormac McCarthy received the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished fiction by an American author in 2007 for his novel The Road published a year earlier.  The Road was also a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist and a New York Times Notable Book among many other accolades. 

In November 2009, The Road was released as a major motion picture with Viggo Mortensen as the father and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the son.  Both of them and the filmakers have received numerous nominations for awards from film critic associations. Charlize Theron and Robert DuVall also star in this highly acclaimed film.

The story takes place after an apocolyptic event destroys all life on earth other than an unknown, perhaps small, number of humans.   The reader doesn't know exactly whether the devastation of the earth is nuclear or natural in its origin.  All is rubble, dust, and ash.  Everything is mostly grey.  The weather is cold with grey sunlight, with grey rain, or grey snow. Even the water is dark and putrid.

As the book begins, a father and son have already lived a harsh nomadic life, scavenging for unperishable food and any tools and supplies just to survive, for almost a decade.  The boy has known no other life.  The journey continues endlessly from day to day.  The reader wonders what will happen once all the canned goods are gone.

There are good people and bad people divided mainly by their diets.  Danger lurks around every bend in the road existing or non-existing.  The reader is on edge as are the characters not knowing what will happen at any given moment.

The relationship between the father and the son is the only steadily positive force. On the book jacket of the 2006 Alfred A. Knopf edition, a profound summary appears:  "[The Road] is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of:  ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation."

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan

In December 2009, Greg Mortenson followed his 2006 #1 best seller, Three Cups of Tea, with its chronological sequel, Stones into Schools:  Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Stones into Schools picks up in late 2003 where Three Cups of Tea left off and continues into 2009. 

Three Cups of Tea starts with Mortenson's purposeful adventure to climb to the top of K2 in 1992, the second highest mountain in the world, which is located in the Karakoram range in northern Pakistan at its border with China, and claimed to be the most dangerous, to honor his sister.  Mortenson has to abandon his effort before reaching K2's peak and almost loses his life after wandering off alone during his descent.  He ends up in a small village, called Korphe, where the people welcome him and help him find himself in more ways than Mortenson could have imagined.  Mortenson was so moved by his experience that he promised the village leader he would return to build a school for Korphe's children.

By the time Vicking Penguin published Stones into Schools,  Mortenson's nonprofit Central Asia Institute (CAI) had built over 130 schools true to its mission "to promote and support community-based education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan."

Stones into Schools continues with Mortenson's strenuous adventures often with his seemingly superhuman manager, Sarfraz Khan, while they first build relationships and then schools in the northeast corner regions of Afghanistan, Badakshan Province and Wakhan Corridor.  This effort to expand his mission into Afghanistan is interrupted by the catastrophic earthquake in the Azad Kashmir region of eastern Pakistan in October 2005.  By the time CAI returns to Afghanistan in 2007, the organization under the watchful eye and keen intelligence of Khan, has set up tent schools and built a number of earthquake-proof schools in Kashmir.  Back in Afghanistan,  the CAI successfully builds more schools even some in Taliban territory.  By this time, Mortenson develops relationships with US military leaders and men.  Even today, the US military solicits and implements Mortenson's advice and expertise about the diverse cultures found in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I would highly recommend both Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools.  After reading them, I have a greater understanding of the complexities of this area.  Before reading these books, I wouldn't necessarily even understand the names of provinces when hearing the news let alone know where they are located and what the tribal differences might be.  Now, I'm no expert, but am inspired to support CAI and other nonprofit organiztions who promote the education of girls world-wide with donations, time, and energy.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Saint Patrick: Pioneer Missionary to Ireland

Here's an easy read to prepare for and get into the spirit of Saint Patrick's Day coming up on March 17.

Christian Liberty Press published Saint Patrick:  Pioneer Missionary to Ireland by Michael J. McHugh in 1999.  Christian Liberty has been publishing Christian homeschool and school curriculum materials for 25 years as part of the ministry of the Church of Christian Liberty.  Saint Patrick is a supplementary work of historical fiction used to enrich the study of the Ancient History (late 4th to late 5th century AD) by late elementary through middle school students.

If a reader questions the accuracy of a biography written in and published for a Christian community, McHugh states in the Introduction, "I have endeavored, as much as possible, to present only those details which rest upon solid historical records."  This is indeed possible because late in life, St. Patrick wrote the Confessio or what is known today as The Confession of St. Patrick, a brief autobiography describing in detail his life and ministry.  Dr. Paul D. Lindstrom, Superintendent of Christian Liberty Academy Satellite Schools in 1999, wrote "Michael McHugh[ ] has done a masterful job of making Patrick's life come alive so that the younger generation can grasp the significance of the famous missionary."

Although I am not a member of the Church of Christian Liberty,  I found the many references and prayers to God, appearing throughout this description of St Patrick's intriguing and adventurous life, to be quite believable.  No one can know what went on inside an historical figure's mind, but after all, he did convert a once predominantly pagan nation into a devoutly Christian one. It would seem plausible that St. Patrick would think about and pray fervent prayers to God as often as the thoughts and prayers appear in this book.

All in all, I recommend this publication as an exciting and eventful work to start becoming acquainted with St. Patrick and to begin to understand the importance of this man's ministry, not only in Ireland, but to all countries, including the U.S., who have a rich Irish heritage.

For further research and verification to gain information and facts about St. Patrick's life,  I would recommend reading many of the works listed in the bibliography of Saint Patrick:  Pioneer Missionary to Ireland plus the Confessio itself.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

David Wroblewski's debut novel The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, published in 2008 by HarperCollins, is beautifully written. From the beginning, Wroblewski's florid descriptions pull us right into the scene as if we were part of a hologram.

Past the turn he spotted the lantern, a gourd of ruby glass envined in black wire,the flame within a rose that sprang and licked at the throat of the glass, skewing rib-shadows across the door.

If we think this read would just be a chance to experience the peaceful, simple life in the warm hearth of a fertile, Midwestern farm told from the point of view of an innocent, young boy, then we would be sorely disappointed. The farm has a character itself with unknown secrets surrounding its origin and abandonment by the former owner. The boy Edgar, because of his handicap perhaps, is much more keen than anyone might at first think. His mother and father know this and have faith in his hidden capabilities of stealth and observation.

As the plot progresses, we are unsure about what lies around the next corner. The mood becomes progressively more eerie and downright spooky. We don't know whom to trust, if anyone, except maybe the dogs. In my opinion, the twists and turns of thoughts and events become a bit too surreal especially toward the end. Questions that we have as readers throughout the book are left unsatisfyingly unanswered.

If we read this book as aspiring writers, Wroblewski's inventive and reflective way with words make The Story of Edgar Sawtelle worth reading. If we are looking for a tight, meaningful plot with a solid reason to read the tale, we will not find it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Epic of Gilgamesh

I have just finished a Penguin Books 1987 reprint of the 1972 revision of the N. K. Sandars original translation published in 1960 of The Epic of Gilgamesh. Sandars writes an Introduction to The Epic of Gilgamesh that takes up roughly half the book, 59 pages. This prose version of the epic, only 60 pages long, is surprisingly brief. I heard about Gilgamesh years ago, pehaps in middle school history, and just had the impression that the story was longer. After all, the poem as a whole is an "epic" and holds an important place in the development of language and literature of the human race. Sandars claims that Gilgamesh pre-dates Homeric epic literature "by at least one and a half thousand years." He also states, "[i]f Gilgamesh is not the first human hero, he is the first tragic hero of whom anything is known."

In the Introduction, Sanders also discusses the historical background including the discovery of the tablets. He covers the literary background, and the hero, principal gods, structure and events in the story itself. Sanders offers several scholarly studies that strongly support that Gilgamesh actually was a ruler in Uruk during the period between Noah and Abraham.

Sanders also explains in detail why he chose to present the poems of Gilgamesh in prose and how he carefully constucted various ancient versions of the poems into an easily understandable, flowing work. His ultimate goal was to make The Epic of Gilgamesh accessible and readable for an interested reader.

I would like to refrain from giving an opinion as to whether this epic is written well, has fully developed characters, contains a clever plot, or succeeds to accomplish any traditional literary goals. It seems more appropriate to say that everyone should read The Epic of Gilgamesh in order to connect with our early historical, literary, and communicative origins, and to understand more fully what it means to be human.

Half The Sky

Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn wrote Half the Sky, published in 2009, after spending years as New York Times correspondents in Bejing, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. They are the first married couple to win The Pulitzer Prize in journalism for their coverage in China.

The subtitle tells about the main topic of the book in general: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. But inside, the reader will quickly discover that Half the Sky is much more than a surface level work to acquaint us with women's issues in our world. Instead, it describes in detail several specific and horrific atrocities girls and women experience as a matter of course in lands as diverse, however unfortunately somewhat similar, as Africa and Asia.

The authors tell the personal stories, without becoming didactic, of girls and women subjected to sex trafficking, forced prostitution, "honor" killings, and female genital cutting. These frightening sagas with their pain and passion call us to action on the behalf of women and girls around the globe.

On the back cover, George Clooney proclaims, "I think it's impossible to stand by and do nothing after reading Half the Sky." For each reader, Kristof and WuDunn include steps on how to start making the world a better place for the female half of the population. They also provide a comprehensive appendix of organizations supporting women for short and long term commitments.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Door in the Wall

The Door in the Wall written by Marguerite de Angeli in 1949 is a young adult historical fiction novel that takes place in medieval England roughly in the late 1200's through the mid 1300's. The time line is not exact, but historical periods, such as the Scottish Wars, the Black Plague, and the reigns of King Edward I and King Edward II, define the world in which the young protagonist, Robin, lives.

Robin is an unlikely hero even though he is a young noble who is supposed to be trained as a knight. He develops an illness, perhaps the plague itself, as so many around him contract and succumb to the "black death" including his caretakers. Robin's legs eventually become limp and seemingly useless.

A devout friar rescues the abandoned Robin and through thoughtful means helps Robin recover substantially. Robin regains his strength and zest for life even though he continues to need crutches.

After an adventurous and eventful journey to an uncle's castle, Robin finds himself saving the day despite thick fog and dangerous enemies.

To enhance your middle school scholar's understanding of Engand during the early Middle Ages, I would highly recommend this Newberry award-winning book. For an adult interested in historical fiction that takes place during the same time period, I would recommend reading The Traitor's Wife written by Susan Higginbotham, a novel that disgusts and delights its readers at a whirlwind pace.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

First Post: Introduction


My name is Carol Fleserieu-Miller, mother, wife, daughter (not necessarily in that order), reader, writer, singer, swimmer. In secular terms, that pretty much describes who I am and what I do. I won't go into all the details, because this blog is not about me. Instead, I will be reviewing 52 books in the next 52 weeks.

Please forgive me right from the start. This is my first blog ever. Some of my computer skills are definitely in the process of presenting themselves. Here's hoping just the writing itself will be intriguing enough until mastery of the technical aspects of this blog actually occur.

I began reading the books from the beginning of January 2010 and plan to continue until December 31, 2010. The books will range from what my book club is reading, to what my daughter is reading. to my choices for reading. There will be fiction, non-fiction, adult, and young adult literature. I expect the reading list to be eclectic this first year and may or may not develop a genre or a theme. We will see. Perhaps next year, there will be a clear direction in which I am supposed to go.