Friday, November 19, 2010

Going Bovine

Bray, Libba. Going Bovine. New York: Delacorte Press, 2009.

Plot Summary
Going Bovine is part mystery, part suspense and part coming of age. It's the story of Cameron and Gonzo and Balder who take a road trip to find Dr. X. This is the only person that can cure Cameron from the disease that made him punch Chet. The story crosses into parallel universes and parallel realities.

My Thoughts
From the opening acknowledgement page, I was laughing. Bray is very observant and describes people and situations with great humor. I liked how she gets around copyright issues by creating similar names for things (e.g., YA! TV, MyNet page, Konstant Kettle, Juicy Cute Bears). To give an example of her humor, she writes, "He smiles, and he caterpillar mustache--the envy of state troopers everywhere, I'm sure" (Bray 41). Another example that relates to my profession is the SPEW tests that the students must take. Yes, state mandated tests are often spew!

As I read, the story became more serious and I wasn't sure how it would end. I was surprised at the ending and a bit disappointed. I was on the road trip with Cameron to find out it Disney World. I think the timing of reading this book was interesting since I visited Disney World this summer. Perhaps all things are connected.

One thing I wish Bray would not have included was the drug use at the beginning of the novel. I guess she's trying to reach an audience and relate to them, but I think the "loner kid" aspect could not involve drugs and still be accurate.

In addition to the product "dis" placement, Bray creates the CESSNAB organization. This part of the book made me laugh! Bray's insight into humanity is, in my opinion, so true. People need to cling to hope, and they can't make decisions. What they wished for may not be what they want.

The most endearing character is Balder. His noble voice and loyalty will make me look at yard gnomes in an entirely different way.

I'm glad I read Going Bovine as I was able to escape for a time and travel with Cameron on his archetypal hero's journey and quest. I think Bray waited until the end to give the moral message (if that's what we can call it) so we'd appreciate it more. "[Life] is a great ride" (Bray 479).

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Decked Out


Jackson, Neta. The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Decked Out. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007.

Plot Summary
This is the last of the Yada Yada Prayer Group series. Twelve diverse women who meet at a Christian women's conference continue their relationship through tragedy, comedy and quite a bit of drama. The narrator is Jodi Baxter. She continually sees how God's provision is exactly right, even when she has serious questions about the timing.

My Thoughts
I was so excited to see another Yada Yada book, but when I finished this one, I was sad to see the author's note that this is indeed the last installment of this series. I've enjoyed being tested with Jodi and experiencing these women's lives. I've felt the bangs of guilt and despair and well as the tears of joy and excitement. I will probably read the next series by Mrs. Jackson as she says my Yada Yada sisters will make appearances in the new series.

This book was set around Christmastime, which becomes an integral part of the story. We read the "Christmas story" from a modern perspective, and it works.

One thing I learned from this book was about the "Watch Night" service held on New Year's Eve. I didn't realize that the Methodists had a hand in promoting this service and that in 1862, African slaves were especially grateful for this service (Jackson 198). I think I will do some research on this service.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Wartime Sarajevo

Filipovic, Zlata. Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Wartime Sarajevo. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.

Plot Summary
Here's the diary of twelve year old Zlata. The first entries in the diary are typical tween musings and concerns about things pre-teens care about and then when war hits Sarajevo, the entries change. Zlata's childhood is robbed by "kids playing war" without regard for the inhabitants of the city. The diary covers two years, one of which is during the war.

My Thoughts
Reading this was interesting to see the point of view from a child of how war affects the family. The diary entries cover two years. They are without electricity or gas, yet they survive. Friends and family are injured or flee the city, yet they survive. The schools are closed and semi-reopened, and they survive. This book shows the reader how life can continue, in spite of the challenges that war brings.

She compares her journal to Anne Frank's. Yet she hopes that her end is not the same as Anne's. She even named her journal because Anne named her's. "Minny" becomes the place that Zlata can deal with what's happening in her life. She doesn't get too deep with her thoughts, which I wondered if that was a translation issue. I was amazed that reporters came to Sarajevo, yet didn't seem to offer the family aid. Could they not? Why was there a was in Sarajevo? What were the "kids" discussing in Geneva that Zlata references often? Zlata begs in her journal for peace.

When the bird is without food, family and friends gather some. Is this a survival tactic? Feeding the bird offers hope?

Zlata, in her youthful innocence, believes that her friend will return, "I want him to come back, and that's why I think he will" (Filipovic 141). He doesn't.

Honestly, after reading entry after entry, I became bored reading this diary. I found myself skimming instead of reading. I don't know the history of why there was fighting, and I didn't learn any more from reading this journal. I appreciate that the editors did not insert their own entries into the diary, and I did get the child's perspective, however I found in spite of the tragedy, Zlata seemed too cheerful.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

South of Broad

Conroy, Pat. South of Broad. New York: Dial Press, 2009.

Plot Summary
Leo King shares the story of his life in Charleston and the many people that he encountered one summer that became his life-long friends.

My Thoughts
The story was compelling, but the last hundred pages seemed a bit...forced. It is like Conroy is trying to include all the cliches (e.g., gay actor with AIDS, pedophile priest, emotionally distant mother). I enjoyed the characters, but question the believability of this group of kids becoming life-long friends, especially friends that literally drop everything for two weeks to help one of the group. I also think it was a bit too convenient for one of the town's businessmen to help Leo so much.

I didn't like how Conroy finished Sheba & Trevor's dad's story. Again, it didn't seem believable to me. Conroy makes references to Broad Street in Charleston and how this is both a physical dividing line of the town as well as a socio-economic one. Haves and have nots, privileged and poor, black and white are all issues described in this book.

Leo, known as Toad, has a nervous breakdown at a very young age. This breakdown is evident throughout the story, yet he seems at times, the most sane and normal of the characters. I enjoyed reading about his paper route, as I once had a route myself. The paper carrier is a great observer of people. Leo eventually leaves the route and becomes a journalist for the paper that of his childhood route. His parents past also become an important piece of Leo's story. Once he learns of his parents' past, Leo begins to understand so many things of his own life.

This was my first read of Pat Conroy. I will probably pick up another of his books because I enjoyed most of this book. I found myself underlining passages in the book because of the way they were written. Conroy's characters are memorable.

Ironically, there is a reference to September 8, which I read on September 8.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Literary Guide to Flannery O'Connor's Georgia

Gordon, Sarah. A Literary Guide to Flannery O'Connor's Georgia. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2008.

Plot Summary
This is not a work of fiction.

My Thoughts
I bought this book at Andalusia, Flannery's farmhouse home, on my first trip there. What a great reference book for me. The next time I go to Georgia, I will try to spend more time in Milledgeville and look around. Reading this book helped me visualize where Flannery spent her time, not only at the house, but points of interest in town (some places not still standing). The text is informative but not dense. The pictures capture more than I was able to collect during my short visit. I'm happy that I picked this book and hope that I remember to take it with me on my return trip.

Side note: I read this coming home from Atlanta. If I'd been paying attention when purchasing the book, I would have realized the tour guide at Andalusia was the consulting editor of this book. D'oh! I missed an autograph opportunity.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Rolling

Jackson, Neta. The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Rolling. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007.

Plot Summary
This is the sixth installment of the story of twelve diverse women who meet at a Christian women's conference because they are assigned to the same prayer group. When tragedy befalls one family, the group acts beyond the limits of the conference to become the Yada Yada prayer group. When tragedy finds the main character Jodi, she realizes just what this sisterhood of prayer partners means to her. She grows in her faith and her own Christian understanding. Not everyone experiences the same life, even if they live in the same town or attend the same church.

My Thoughts
I'm a bit sad reading this book, because I think it's the last in the series. I've grown fond of these women and look forward to seeing what's in store for them next. I am intrigued as to how these women deal with adversity and grow their faith. Jodi questions God, as I often do, but the Voice inside us both says, "My plans are not your plans. Be alert; My Spirit is moving. Think of the possibilities" (Jackson 287). Jodi often goes off trying to do things her way, when she realizes that sometimes it's hard knowing what is the Holy Spirit and what is her own wishes (Jackson 348). Whew! I know about that struggle!

As Avis explains one night, "Each one of us...finds herself in both roles--running the race of faith, and encouraging each other when we falter" (Jackson 372). I do not have an official Yada Yada group, but I do have friends that help my run my race.

I'm going to miss the Yada Yadas.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Amazing Faith of Texas

Spence, Roy. The Amazing Faith of Texas: Common Ground on Higher Ground. Austin: Idea City Press, 2006.

Plot Summary
This is a collection of brief sketches of various Texans discussing their religion/spirituality/faith.

My Thoughts
I enjoyed reading and learning about different religions that exist in my home state. I've never heard of Christian Contemplative or Baja'i before reading this book. The sketches cover a wide variety of people from across the state. The photography is compelling. It is almost like this is an adult picture book. I kept looking at the buildings thinking that I've seen them. They are universal in many ways. Some of the photos did not have a caption of where it was taken (there is an index to tell), so I enjoyed thinking that the building was familiar.

I read this book in less than an hour. The text is limited to one page per person and there are pages without text.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Caught

Jackson, Neta. The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Caught. Nashville: Integrity Publishers, 2006.
Plot Summary
This is the fifth installment of the story of twelve diverse women who meet at a Christian women's conference because they are assigned to the same prayer group. When tragedy befalls one family, the group acts beyond the limits of the conference to become the Yada Yada prayer group. When tragedy finds the main character Jodi, she realizes just what this sisterhood of prayer partners means to her. She grows in her faith and her own Christian understanding. Not everyone experiences the same life, even if they live in the same town or attend the same church.
My thoughts
Once again, Neta Jackson has created a community of women that I can relate to and she steps on my toes a little. As I've read this series, I just get more and more connected to the characters. What's going on with them? What is going to happen next? How are their bonds going to be strengthened and challenged and shredded and strengthened and challenged and... I am finding myself looking up the scriptures referenced instead of just reading over them. In this book, I'm seeing Philippians 4:6 as a recurring note to myself. I need to think about this one more!

One of the biggest events is the merging of two churches into one. What a step and commitment of faith. I kept thinking about my own church and what would I say and think and do if we decided to join with another church (or have another church join with us). I'm glad to see this example and feel its realness.

Here's something that stopped my thoughts: "And then we get tangled up in our own mess. Sometimes God lets us flounder there a while, all tied up until we yell, 'Uncle!'" (Jackson 334). How many times have I been tied up in my own plans and not willing to listen to God's? How many times have I tried to justify my own actions because of my desires and not because I felt it's God's plan? Thankfully, God forgives me EVERY time I do my own thing and then realize it's not HIS thing. I'm also, like Jodi, trying "to learn what it means to use 'spiritual weapons,' but I still fail so often. Forget to pray until things fall apart" (Jackson 365). Reading this series has helped me focus. I'm moving out of prayer kindergarten. I'm learning deeper about having faith in God, "no matter what" (Jackson 372).

Only one more book in the series (I think). What am I going to do when these women aren't in my life anymore? Fiction will become a reality. I will look a little differently at my own circle and friends, remembering the Yada Yada stories. I will put my trust and faith in God and grow.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Tough

Jackson, Neta. The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Tough. Nashville: Integrity, 2005.

Plot Summary
This is the fourth installment of the story of twelve diverse women who meet at a Christian women's conference because they are assigned to the same prayer group. When tragedy befalls one family, the group acts beyond the limits of the conference to become the Yada Yada prayer group. When tragedy finds the main character Jodi, she realizes just what this sisterhood of prayer partners means to her. She grows in her faith and her own Christian understanding. Not everyone experiences the same life, even if they live in the same town or attend the same church.

My Thoughts
I feel like an extra member of this group (which they get in this book with Becky Wallace a.k.a. "Bandanna Woman"). I can identify with the narrator Jodi, but I'm starting to feel like friendships are forming with the others. I am seeing my world differently because of these books. What am I teaching my daughter and my students about diversity? Like Jodi's son, I wonder is there a point in trying? The main story of this book focused on Mark and Nony Smith. I felt the sting (which I wonder if Jackson meant) and almost cried reading this book. I am glad that I finished this book because there is hope, (Jodi sees a cardinal and realizes the bird is an analogy for the Yada Yada group itself) and yes, there is a point in trying (Jackson 24). . Thank you Ms. Jackson for once again stepping on my toes, making me think about tough topics and ultimately creating a world in the fiction that is very real.

One "take away" from this book I thought was a great idea: put an alarm clock outside your room set for curfew time. When the kids come in on time, they turn off the alarm and you get to keep sleeping. If, however, they are late, the alarm goes off, and you will know when they arrived. GOOD IDEA!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Half Broke Horses

Walls, Jeannette. Half Broke Horses. New York: Scribner, 2009.

Plot Summary
This is the story of Lily Casey. She is an Arizona cowgirl/teacher/wife/ that finds herself "penned up" in Phoenix. This book is part biography and part fiction written by her granddaughter, Jeannette Walls. As such, it follows the chronology of Lily's birth until the marriage of her daughter, Rosemary (which might be the metaphorical death of Lily).

My Thoughts
I enjoyed how Walls merged the real Lily Casey Smith with the fictional account because I couldn't tell what might not be true. I also liked the generation separation that Walls shows between Lily, her mother and Lily's daughter, Rosemary (later spelled Rose Mary since it "made for a prettier signature" (Walls 229) .

I believed in Walls' characters. She describes them and puts them in realistic (I think) situations for the time. The believability was a little stretched with Lily traveling four weeks across New Mexico by herself, but then again, it could have happened. I imagine Lily to be quite the tough woman, and she had to be. She literally lives in a man's world. Instead of feeling sorry for herself, she enjoys life. She makes things happen. She is a survivalist. She is also practical, "hope for the best and plan for the worst" (Walls 257). Some members of my book club, however, found her to be selfish and immature. Perhaps.

Late in the book, Rosemary meets Rex. Lily says, "No better way to read a man's character than to watch him play poker" (Walls 254). She is almost as good reading people as she is reading horses. After meeting Rex, she tells Rosemary, "you'll never have any security with him" (Walls 257). I think this is prophecy for the next story The Glass Castle (which I've not read yet) which actually was written first, about Rosemary.

If nothing else, Lily is adventurous. She is always learning (flying a plane, earning her degree, picking up and moving to a new place) and tries to applies her lessons upon her daughter. Of course, much of this backfires.

I found myself underlining and marking passages that I felt were good descriptions of life. Early in the book, we learn from Lily's dad that "horses were never wrong" (Walls 7) and "God deals us different hands How we play 'em is up to us" (Walls 15). This might be why Lily can read a man's character through poker as mentioned earlier. Lily admires people that "never felt sorry for [themselves]" (Walls 11). She tries to instill into her daughter the valuable lesson that, "life's too short to worry what other people think of you" (Walls 198).

I was amused by her teaching experiences. She learned early in her career that "kids were like horses...get their respect from the outset" (Walls 92). She taught in places that no one else would. She got hired and fired and hired again. (I'm glad that I don't share that experience with her). She didn't like teaching in Phoenix because of all the "paperwork for the bureaucracy" (Walls 229). I can imagine what she would say about today's paperwork.

I feel like I've lived on an Arizona ranch for a few days. I want to capture that cowgirl spirit that Walls encompasses in her grandmother's story. If only I knew the stories of my grandmother's early life as well. I think there would be some similarities. I enjoyed traveling to the past through this book. It's worth the read. Giddy up!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Real

Jackson, Neta. The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Real. Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2005.

Plot Summary
This is the third installment of the story of twelve diverse women who meet at a Christian women's conference because they are assigned to the same prayer group. When tragedy befalls one family, the group acts beyond the limits of the conference to become the Yada Yada prayer group. When tragedy finds the main character Jodi, she realizes just what this sisterhood of prayer partners means to her. She grows in her faith and her own Christian understanding. Not everyone experiences the same life, even if they live in the same town or attend the same church.

My Thoughts
Yea, we learn more about Stu in book three. I predicted (hoped) correctly after finishing book two. As I read about this "mysterious" character, I wondered what was her huge secret. Why did she have reservations about attending the church that she left? What I thought was not what happened at all. Jackson dropped clues leading me to believe that Stu's secret was her gender. What happens is really about another character, and how Stu's past is now intertwined with Becky Wallace's son (Becky showed up in book two. Her actions caused the group to become even closer and now they are truly showing how Christians can behave, in spite of the fear they feel). God teaches us that we must trust him, even when we are afraid. The Yada Yadas are experiencing this in book three.

I can relate to how Jodi feels when Stu is around and always "saving the day." Sometimes I feel like Jodi (being upstaged) and sometimes I feel like Stu (always running to the rescue). There were many "points" made during this book that I felt like an "AMEN!" or an "OUCH!" that Jackson shares with us. One such point was Jodi saying that "this diversity business was complicated" (Jackson 98). I find myself conflicted on this very issue often. I am ignorant about so many worldly and cultural things. How would I fit into this group? I am curious about others, but at what point does politeness overstep knowledge or does knowledge overstep politeness? I think that's why I can identify with Jodi so well. We are both curious, but we hesitate behind what we think is the "right" thing to do or say.

Another point is that Yo-Yo has questions...tough questions...about Christianity. Like Jodi, I wonder, "did I really understand all the truths I took for granted about my faith?" (Jackson 117). I often take my own believes for granted and may not know why I believe or act in certain ways. I do believe that if I'm not questioning my faith, I'm not growing in it.

By reading this series, I'm finding so many parallels to my own life. My prayer time is stream of consciousness, but I also use a rote "thank you" list to God. Should I stretch and include scriptures like Nony (and am I familiar enough with God's word to do that?)?

This book is aptly titled "Gets Real." I think that Jackson is peeling away the superficial layers that we often display to get to the core of our beliefs. Thank you, Mrs. Jackson, for making me peel away some of my layers because you've exposed them to me. I want to be like Stu and "have a heart for redeeming lives" (Jackson 363). I know this will take work and faith.

Book Three ends with the entire group being baptized. I am excited to read book four to see how their new birth will shine through their lives.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Spoken from the Heart

Bush, Laura. Spoken from the Heart. New York: Scribner, 2010.

Plot Summary
This autobiography chronicles the life of former First Lady Laura Bush from her childhood in Midland to her now after the White House years.

My Thoughts
I feel like I've just sat down with Laura Bush and listened to her life's story. I liked how the book was written in a conversational style. One anecdote might be folded into a related story and the flashbacks are not distracting. These eight chapters, giving the book over 400 pages and including pictures, fulfills my curiosity about Laura Bush.

I feel like I was in Midland in the 1950s. Bush recalls her childhood stories and how, through time and reflection, she understands the lessons of her early life. Almost apologetically, Bush recounts how things were in some instances (i.e., adults drank and smoke).

I learned about diplomatic relationships and how little touches are a huge planning event. She writes about starting a National Book Festival (She was instrumental in starting the annual event in Texas, which I've been to once and hope to attend again.) in Washington, D.C. and asking various writers to attend. One particular invitee refused because his politics did not match President Bush's. I didn't realize one could actually refuse a White House invitation. However, some writers that initially didn't want to attend found that Laura Bush indeed read widely (Bush 281). I feel as if I've traveled to parts of the world with her and the entourage, learning about other cultures and finding out just how the logistics of that travelling is done.

Mrs. Bush has a keen sense of humor. I don't think the media showed that during the eight years she was First Lady. She also has a great compassion for people.

Mrs. Bush values her friends. She and her closest friends decided to celebrate their 40th birthdays by hiking. This celebration became an annual event. (I think I will steal this idea if I can find some adventurous friends that are willing to hike). Friendship is important to Mrs. Bush, as she often refers to people as "my dear friend" and writes that "friendship is what nurtures us" (Bush 267).

After 9-11, the White House indeed changed. Bush recounts the many threats and constant worry that the staffers held with each plane flying overhead and how the mail basically stopped because of the Anthrax scare. She writes how she and President Bush visited the many families affected most directly by the events of 9-11: the Pentagon employees, the plane in Philadelphia and of course, New Yorkers. Mrs. Bush provides a unique perspective to our post 9-11 world. No other person knows the President like she does. She writes, "I am proud that, as president, George acted on principle, that he put our country first and himself last" (Bush 421).

I giggled when I read how the Bush family named their pets for Texas Rangers baseball players. One of my favorite childhood players is Scott Fletcher. "Spot got her name in honor of the infielder Scott Fletcher, Barbara's favorite" (Bush 167). I'm not sure the connection, other than perhaps Barbara could not pronounce "Scott."

She ends the book with the present and talks about the "little" ranch in Crawford and the gated street in Dallas on which they live. She explains that "just as during the presidency, nearly every minute is accounted for" but there is a more relaxed tone to her life now. I think she's ready for the next adventure.

SIDE NOTE: I wrote more on this book, but I didn't save before trying to view, so much I had to recreate. I don't think this is as good as my original thoughts, but I've learned that auto save is not something I should rely upon to keep my thoughts. HA!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Down

Jackson, Neta. The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Down. Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2004.

Plot Summary

Jodi Baxter left book one with a horrible accident--one that changed her life forever and left another person dead. The twelve women are further connected.

My Thoughts

Each book begins with a foreshadowing of an event that ties in later to the book. When I read this book's prologue, I had no idea what the true connection would be. Book Two is about forgiveness. How do we forgive those who have wronged us, deal with our human emotions, and still seek God's will? How do we forgive the sins of others when we had nothing to do with that sin? As Jackson explains (and shows throughout the book), the Christian life is "complicated and untidy" (369).

By reading this book, I also gained some insight to the Messianic Jew. The Yada Yada group rotates attending church at each other's church (which I think is a fabulous idea. How do we learn about others' beliefs if we don't seek them out to learn?). Ruth invited the group to attend "during [the] 'high holy days' this month" (127). Jodi (and I) learned much at this service.

I also think this books shows us how just one very thin line separates us--as humans, we are so much alike. It is our human trappings that create differences. One event or perception or bias can shape us, however, we are all basically the same.

I'm ready to start book three. I hope I learn more about Stu. It's time to hear from her.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Yada Yada Prayer Group: A Novel

Jackson, Neta. The Yada Yada Prayer Group: A Novel. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003.

Plot Summary
This is the story of twelve diverse women who meet at a Christian women's conference because they are assigned to the same prayer group. When tragedy befalls one family, the group acts beyond the limits of the conference to become the Yada Yada prayer group. When tragedy finds the main character Jodi, she realizes just what this sisterhood of prayer partners means to her. She grows in her faith and her own Christian understanding. Not everyone experiences the same life, even if they live in the same town or attend the same church.

My Thoughts
Oh my! Where to begin? I devoured this book (and have the others in the series waiting to read).
I could identify with the main character of this book. I won't say how here, just that I could identify with her. Even though I am not living in Chicago, I feel how diverse my hometown is when I look around my own church. Where are the Adeles and Flos? Why isn't there more outreach to people like Yo-Yo? I know that within my city limits, there are people that don't look like me. Why aren't they at my church? What can I do to change my "Christian" thinking to really become a Christian?

I'm reading this book and thinking about the many circles of friends I have (how blessed I am!), and how I need each circle for different reasons. Yada Yada fills a need for these twelve characters in the novel. They also fill the reader's need for characters who are real--even when it doesn't seem socially correct. I appreciate that Jackson allows the characters to react and say and think like the reader while also showing some insight of how our instinct is not necessarily God's wisdom.

The name Yada means "perceive, understand, acquire knowledge, know discern" (Jackson 119). I hope that within my own life, I can become more Yada Yada in my daily walk (that like Jodi often gets pushed aside by life) with God.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Boyne, John. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Oxford: David Fickling, 2006.

Plot Summary
This is the story of nine-year-old Bruno and his family's "important work" in the war.

My Thoughts
I've read many things about the Holocaust, but this book was quite different. Told from a child's point of view, the reader is left making inferences about what the real story is and what actually is happening. It is a poignant account of a terrible event in history, showing that no matter what boundaries are drawn, humans are humans and can rise up to show compassion and caring. I don't want to talk much about this book because it truly is one to experience. I read it in one day because I was captivated. There is an unexpected twist in the end that still resonates with me. Terrific read!

Monday, May 3, 2010

When Did I Get Like This?

Wilson, Amy. When Did I Get Like This? : The Screamer, The Worrier, The Dinosaur-Chicken-Nugget Buyer & Other Mothers I Swore I'd Never Be. New York: William Morrow, 2010.

Plot Summary
This is not a work of fiction. This is real life motherhood! Amy Wilson shares her experiences of pregnancies and raising her three favorite productions: Connor, Seamus, and Maggie.

My Thoughts
I laughed so much reading this book. Wilson's writing absolutely resonates with me. I heard Amy speak at the TLA Conference in April. She was hilarious, and I knew I would enjoy reading her book. Her insight into the daily requirements and expectations of motherhood captures the way I feel on any given day. Am I doing what I should? Am I molding my child into the self aware, confident, independent thinker that I want her to be without scarring her with insecurities and negative behavior patterns? "Am I doing what is best for her?" as Wilson explains these guilt missiles are aimed at mothers (4).

Wilson's three children provide the material for the book, but the accounts are universal. I've been there (and am still floundering) and thankfully, have made it through some of the obstacles. Wilson's oldest child is the same age as mine. As I read, I kept thinking that Wilson and I are kindred spirits. We've each learned that the best laid plan does not always matter. I also felt a bit of relief to read that some of my anxieties and reactions are shared.

My favorite parts of the book are when she describes her husband David's "involvement" with the children. These episodes are sprinkled throughout the book and provided me with the most gut splitting, tearing-eyed laughter. I saw these scenes because I occasionally live these scenes.

I think mothers (especially those in the throws of the job currently) will appreciate this book. I would love to purchase a copy for all of my friends, but I'll have to wait for the paperback. Until then, I'll pass my copy around. Maybe my friends can find a few free minutes to kick back, delve in and enjoy some quality "MMOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMYYYYYYYYY" time!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Olive Kitteridge

Strout, Elizabeth. Olive Kitteridge. New York: Random House, 2008.

Plot Summary
This book is a collection of short stories pressed into a novel. Each story could be read separately, but they follow members of one community so they are intertwined. Olive Kitteridge, the title's namesake, makes appearances in almost all of the stories in some way.

My Thoughts
I really don't have much to say about this book. It wasn't bad, but it's not a book that really touched me (or perhaps I'm still thinking about it to figure out how it touches me). I liked that you could read each story on its own, but the common denominator was Olive strung throughout the narrative.

Strout's writing style is not complex, but she does include descriptions of events or people that create an absolute picture of the character or situation. For example, the piano player Angie is described as having "hungry hands" for the keyboard (Strout 51). Strout offers the life philosophy that "People mostly did not know enough when they were living life that they were living it" (162).

As I read, I wondered what my story would read like if other people were telling it, like Olive's story is told.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Shack

Young, Wm. Paul. The Shack. Newbury Park, CA: Windblown, 2007.

Plot Summary
Mack Phillips has endured the most horrible thing a parent could: the murder of his child. Four years after the murder, he receives a note to revisit the shack where he daughter was murdered. What he finds there changes his life forever.

My Thoughts
I appreciate Wm. Paul Young's story. There are questions that he raises and ideas that I've wondered about concerning my faith, and he offers suggestions to the answers. When I began reading the book, I was just into the story. Then I started feeling like certain passages were speaking to me. While reading this book, I watched a movie entitled Amish Grace which seemed to reinforce the idea that Young provides in the book. Another incident happened (a friend providing comforting words to another friend), and I felt like it was The Shack's message coming through again.

I noted some page numbers and put asterisks in my book when I felt God speaking to me or when I thought, "Wow! I need to read this/know this/see this again!" I'm just going to list the page numbers and let the book speak for itself. I don't want to ruin Mack's journey for someone reading the book. 143-144, 147, 150, 165, 173, 175, 176, 180, 183, 193, 199, 206, 207, 209, 225, 226.

This book has become a part of me, like many books do, but this one seems more special. I hope that I can carry out what I learned from Mack's weekend at The Shack.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Shipping News

Proulx, Annie. The Shipping News. New York: Scribner, 1993.

Plot Summary
Quoyle's entire life is a series of bad things happening. He falls in love with a tramp. His parents kill themselves. He is fired and rehired from his job seasonally. He moves to Newfoundland with his children and aunt. Only in this desolate place does life begin changing for Quoyle. This is a profound story of description and characterization.

My Thoughts

I do not like the water, nor do I like to read "water books." However, Annie Proulx captivated me with this novel. I am so impressed with the knowledge she shares of the maritime experience as well as the characterization in this book. By Chapter 3, I wondered what else could happen to this character Quoyle. I kept reading to find out and was not disappointed. The story is believable, tragic, hopeful and significant.

One aspect I enjoyed reading was the life headlines. As events happened to Quoyle, Proulx provides the headline that accompanies the event: i.e., "Stupid Man Does Wrong Thing Once More" (Proulx 89) or "Newspaper Reporter Seems Magnet for Dead Men" (Proulx 210). I thought this tie in to the newspaper world was very clever.

After I read the book, I watched the movie (starring Kevin Spacey? as Quoyle!). As I watched, I thought about how the movie brought events in (and omitted them as well), but I realized that if I hadn't read the book first, I don't think I would have known what the movie was doing. Also, the movie looses the flavorful descriptions that Proulx writes. When describing cousin Nolan, Proulx writes, "The old man held it [picture] in his trembling claw" (Proulx 296).

The very last sentence of the book gives hope to all, "and it may be that love sometimes occurs without pain or misery" (Proulx 337). I say, "Good luck Quoyle!"

Friday, March 5, 2010

My Life in France

Child, Julia. My Life in France. New York: Anchor Books, 2006.

Plot Summary
Julia and her great-grandnephew Alex Prud'homme set out to write the tale of Julia's life in France. The books follows the chronology of the 1950s when Julia and her husband Paul lived in France, and it continues into the 1970s. The reader sees what obstacles Julia faced and how she overcame them to learn how to perfect French cookery.

My Thoughts
My grandmother used to watch Julia's cooking show on television, and I've seen her parodied many times, but THIS book taught me about the love a woman can have. Julia loved her husband, loved France, and loved to cook. I can relate to these three things.

I want to return to France and see this country as Julia saw it. I have always been fascinated by the French (even though many people I know, including my husband, "hate the French"). When I was there in 2001, I just didn't know enough. I got a small sample of French life, so as I read this book, like Julia with her cooking, I read with a focus on the details. I could picture the rented apartments that Julia and Paul shared. I walked the streets of Paris and Marseille with Julia looking for a great meal, or fresh vegetable or another kitchen gadget. I felt her frustration when trying to write the cookbook for Americans. I didn't realize how much thought, experimentation and negotiation went into creating The Book. It took Julia and Simca over eight years to write it.

I loved the infusion of French to the story. I found myself reading out loud just to keep up the practice of speaking French and to hear the language. I was refreshed with sayings that I'd forgotten. I wondered as I read if non French speakers would understand (even though most of the bigger sentences were translated).

The four hundred pages were worth my time, and I loved learning about this iconic chef. The last piece of advice that Julia gives the reader is this: "Learn how to cook--try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!" (Child 407). Thanks, Julia. I will.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Catcher in the Rye

Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1951.

Plot Summary
Does this book have a plot? It seems that Holden Caulfield, the main character, is just killing time between getting kicked out of the latest prep school and going home to tell his family (and face the inevitable punishment). Holden hates phonies. The entire book is his point of view about the people he meets, how these people are phony, and how he believes himself to be true.

My Thoughts
It was my sophomore year in high school the first time I read this book. I had to get parental permission to do so. Perhaps that is why I thought I enjoyed it so much. Reading it now, however, I don't see the allure. When I finished the book, I checked my censorship files to see why it has been challenged. Yes, some "adult language" appears and there is a sexual reference, but I can't imagine controversy over this title today.

Holden is a contradiction. He says one thing and then refutes himself. However, I did enjoy some of his thoughts. For example, he states, "You can't stop a teacher when they want to do something. They just do it (Salinger 11). I chuckled. As a teacher, I'm sure I do things students wish I wouldn't. I agreed with Holden when he says, "What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it (Salinger 18). I sometimes wish when I've finished a book, I could call up the author and discuss the book with them. Sadly, as I was reading this book, and purely by coincidence, J. D. Salinger died (Jan 27, 2010). Not that Salinger, being the recluse that he wanted to be, would have answered the phone to my call, but I do have some questions about this book I wish he could answer. One thing that Holden learns from a former teacher is "the mark of an immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of a the mature man is that he wants to live humble for one" (Salinger 188). Being that Salinger served in WWII and wrote this, I wonder if these were his personal feelings about war.

Like Holden, we sometimes do want to escape from reality and go west to be a mute that doesn't have to have "useless conversations with anybody" (Salinger 198). However, most people do not fulfill this fantasy. Neither did Holden. We see at the end of the book what Holden's reality is and we realize that the entire book has been a "phony." Holden does leave us with some good advice: "Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody" (Salinger 214).

The title reference is on page 115 and 173.

Post Script: I found my original book from high school. Since I usually date my books, I saw that I reread this book one other time since high school (in 2000). I guess Holden just didn't impress me then, either.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Lookadoo, Justin. 97: Random Thoughts about Life, Love & Relationships. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2007.

Plot Summary
This is a non-fiction book, so there's not a plot summary. The content is just exactly what the title offers: 97 random thoughts by Justin, his wife Emily and their friend Brooke (with a quest random thought by Mark Hall of Casting Crowns).

My Thoughts
I want every teenager to read this book! I picked this up because Justin and I went to college together. WOW! I am glad I did. As I read, I tried not to laugh too loud, as I was reading during Sustained Silent Reading (an assignment I give my students weekly). His very witty and clever writing style (not to mention the illustrations) appealed to me, and I know it would appeal to teenagers. It definitely is NOT a textbook! I had to turn the book every which way to read, which I found fun to do. I struggled to read thought #52 (hint: use a mirror!).

The book is based on scripture, but I'm hesitant to tell my students that for fear some won't even open the book. I've made personal suggestions to a few of my kids that I felt like needed to read the book and hope that I am living up to thought # 10. I've also suggested to other students to read it because I know they want to grow in their spiritual journey.

Thought #29 made me think the most. I'm not sure what I would do. I know what I want to say I would do, but if I actually were faced with the decision, I just don't know.

Thanks, Justin for listening and writing and being my Facebook friend. I wouldn't be able to share your thoughts in "My Thoughts" otherwise.

The Help

Stockett, Kathryn. The Help. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2009.

Plot Summary

Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter live in Mississippi in the 1960s. This is a story of how their lives intertwined and how the "help" helped to create a change in this racist community. Skeeter wants to write more than anything, but her job at the local newspaper is not what she had in mind, until this housekeeping tips column leads to an expose on Southern dynamics.

My Thoughts

I really enjoyed reading this book. I felt like I was transported back in time to a place that I did not know. The writer does a great job creating believable characters and situations. I did not like how the book ended, though, because I wanted to know what happened to these women next.

I felt that Skeeter was so courageous, even though she was also very naive about her world. After I finished the book, I read some book club discussion questions. The first question asked, "Who is your favorite character?" I thought my answer would be Skeeter because she was brave. However, after I thought a bit more, Aibileen became my answer. She was so matter of fact and true. I could just picture how she loved the babies and grew weary of how she was forced to live.

I enjoyed the time nuances that Stockett included (the introduction of the zip code p. 249) as well as the literary references (Catcher in the Rye p. 70 and To Kill a Mockingbird p. 351).

As Skeeter's knowledge grew, the depth of her character grew. She was able to dispel the cloud of rosiness about her life as she truly began to understand what the reality of living in Mississippi was.