Wednesday, June 25, 2008

These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner

I haven't reviewed anything in a while because I've been so busy with my kids home from school for the summer. These Is My Words was first recommended to me by my husband's aunt almost two years ago. Then this January, my sister-in-law borrowed it from the aunt and recommended it as well. I bought the book and put it on my TBR list/A~Z Challenge but had several other books ahead of it in my pile so I put it off. Last week two friends at choir practice were going on and on about it and I decided I couldn't put it off any longer. I came home and the next day I read the book. There is really only one thing I can say:

Dearest Mr. Darcy,

It pains me to have to tell you that I think we need to break up. You and I have had a good run of it and you have always meant a lot to me. I've loved you more than Edward or Jacob. I loved you more than Romeo and Petruchio. Once I had seen the A&E portrayal of you I even loved you more than Gilbert Blithe. But to go on this way would be unfair to you. I've found someone else and now that I know him, you will never again be the literary model of male perfection. I am so sorry to do this in writing but since it is where we first met, I felt it was only fitting. Please know that you will always hold a special place in my heart, but that heart now belongs to the husband of Sarah Agnes Prine.

With love,

The story is based on the family memoirs of the author and takes place in the late 1800's in the Arizona Territory. It is a heart-warming (sometimes heart-wrenching) tale of a family and the struggles of frontier life. It is exciting, interesting, moving, and filling. I felt like I had a comfortable quilt wrapped around me the entire time I was reading it. Once I finished, I wanted to start at the beginning and read it again. This book is the heart of Something More Substantial.

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

In an "Invasion of the Body-Snatchers"-style story, Meyer takes you on an adventure of survival, danger, and desperation as you follow Wanderer and Melanie- two minds sharing one body. The story is well-told, sometimes slow, yet always compelling. I found myself holding my breath many times throughout the book, waiting to see if they would be captured. Meyer does an excellent job of making the reader feel the emotions of the characters. The issues of ethics, trust, loyalty, and what is right are explored. I liked this book overall in spite of the feeling I got that it was a patchwork of dozens of other science fiction plots I have read or watched over the last 20 years. What the story lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in feeling and suspense. Like the Twilight books, The Host is fluffy brain-candy entertainment, but very enjoyable. With uplifting themes and a cast of characters who all fight for what they believe is right, this book is undeniably Something More Substantial.

The Confession of Fitzwilliam Darcy by Mary Street

Let me start by saying that I have always shunned books like these, written about an author's characters after the author's death. It has always seemed to me conceitedly presumptuous to write such a book. That said, when I saw this book on the bargain table at Barnes & Noble, I found it irresistable. The Confession of Fitzwilliam Darcy is the story of Pride and Prejudice as told from Mr. Darcy's point of view. All I can say is that once again I have been shown that sticking to your principles is always the wisest course of action. I did not think it would be possible to take a story I love and turn it into pure drudgery. The story was choppy, and completely lacked imagination. I was sorely disappointed, particularly at the lack of introspection. Here is a character who clearly is both extremely intelligent and very reserved. This would suggest that he spends a lot of time with his own thoughts. You won't find them in this book. I almost feel like saying it is unnecessary since many of you probably accept this as a no-brainer, but skip this one.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

I believe The True Confessions won the Newberry Medal in 1991. I have never felt a book more deserving of that honor. The story examines many themes. Honor, truth, justice, sacrifice, honesty, and the idea that sometimes events change us forever in ways which make it impossible to return to our former lives are a few of these. I LOVED this book. It was exciting, well-written and I couldn't put it down. I read the entire thing in half a day.

The story follows Charlotte, a thirteen year-old girl in the early 19th century, as she makes her way across the Atlantic alone to join her family in America. On the way she encounters dangers, intrigues and adventures which change her outlook on society- and herself- forever. This book is definitely Something More Substantial. READ IT!

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

Cry, the Beloved Country is set in post-WWII South Africa during the prelude to Apartheid. The story is about (Stephen) Kumalo, a pastor who witnesses the destruction of the family, the tribe, and the land around him. As Kumalo works to put the pieces of all these things back together, he learns some of the greatest truths in the world: the more civilized we are the less civilized we become, that defending the family is essential to our success as a people, and that forgiveness- the greatest of all gifts- can bring about miracles in the unlikeliest of places.

The story is very sad for the first two-thirds of the book and you should probably skip this one if you are depressed or have a prodigal in your family. If you are fortunate enough not to be in these circumstances however, I definitely think this book is Something More Substantial. The at-times lyrical writing conveys a beautiful overall message and the ideas about family and community are worth pondering for anyone.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

This novel is a captivating depiction of life as an autisic teenage boy. The story is told through the eyes of the boy as if he is the author of the story. When Christopher John Francis Boone decides to investigate the death of a neighborhood dog, he discovers much more than he sets out to. He sets in motion a series of events that will lead him, not only on an emotional journey, but a journey of great distance as well.

I found this book a fascinating peek into autism and the thought processes of those who have it. It is poignant, thought-provoking, and an easy read. The story doesn't resolve at the end of the book and the book is very sad in some places. Overall, I enjoyed it very much. The book has some profanity in it but most of the characters are, on the whole, good people who you empathize with. I thought this book was Something More Substantial.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Jemima J by Jane Green

Jemima J is a book about being fat and being thin. Actually, it's about being fat and becoming thin. I didn't feel that the author really had any true idea of what it was like to be fat, just that she was spewing psychobabble she had heard on Oprah or whatever is the British equivalent. I thought that the author tried too hard- especially all the passages centered on fate bringing two people together. The writing was on par with a gifted 10th grader, often tedious/redundant. The plot was ridiculous in places, particularly one part of the book where the author tries really hard to imcorporate the literary technique of irony. This involves a rather nauseating description of "chubby chaser"-porn which I found unnecessary.

The book was difficult to relate to because one of the themes in the story is the emergence of this thing they have now called the "internet". The material being so dated was a little distracting. Maybe in 50 or 60 years that part would be interesting for another generation to read. I found it annoying.

There was a LOT of sex- some of it described in detail, and quite a bit of profanity.


Jemima J is a Cinderella story and the fat girl gets the prince (but only when she's thin). I didn't like that she loses the weight by becoming simultaneously unhealthily obsessed with exercise and very nearly anorexic. Then, in spite of this, she is able to keep the weight off when she starts eating again. Even though it is a romantic happily ever after, I didn't like the story, the writing, or the people except for the prince and (most of the time-) Jemima.

I would have to say skip this one.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin

Wow. I finished this book a week ago and was at such a loss for what to say about it that I waited a week to write this review in hopes inspiration would come. I am still reeling, trying to construct coherent thoughts about it. Bridging seemingly incongruous ideas which verge on one another so seamlessly that I am stunned by the breathtaking efficiency and precision of it, Mark Helprin strings delicate beads of mismatched colors until suddenly you are holding a rosary of stars and have not the slightest idea with to do with it. I, like most of the other people who've read this book, have absolutely no idea what it is about. I read all 768 pages and when I finished, I had as much understanding of the book as I did the day I first heard of it. And I LOVED IT. What I have to say about it probably won't make sense, but then neither did the book. Just keep in mind that in deciding what to say about Winter's Tale I have had to scour the deepest corners of my mind to pull together language which can somehow express my thoughts about it at all.

Winter's Tale is what you would get if you poured one part each of-

Romeo and Juliet, Brigadoon, Dickens, the Gaya Hypothesis, Monet's paintings of The Houses of Parliament at Sunset, Einstein's Theory of Relativity, Norman Rockwell, Al Capone, Tennyson, the story of the Tower of Babel, Renoir's color palette, Jules Verne, the characterization of The Simpsons, Robert Frost, Rip Van Winkle, Dorothy Gale, Dowdle Folk Art, Narnia, Brahms' lullaby, Sinclair's Jungle, a fieldtrip to the planetarium and Madeline L'Engle's Wrinkle In Time series-

into a vast lakebed and then watched as the many colors twisted in and around one another until, at last, every part had become one and everything was whole, and the whole was a hole through which you could see the universe and it was beautiful. (See? I told you it wasn't going to make sense.)

For me, the book is about a lot of things. It is about juxtapositions. It is about how everything has its opposite; how justice, balance, and restitution are part of the ultimate destiny of this world and how even though they might be anwered on the tenth generation, they still come to pass. It shows that change is the only thing that stays the same. It is about how time does not exist, how Heaven does, and how Heaven cannot be barged into but may be sometimes right around us, here on this very earth and we just don't see it. It's about how we are not alone. We are all somehow connected in ways that we do not see because the magnitude of these connections is so great that they are beyond our notice at all. They are so all-encompassing that they draw the people whose lives are intertwined to specific places- junctions- over and over again. The book shows that once you are a resident of someplace wonderful, you are always a resident there; no matter where you go or how long you are away. It's about how there is a grand design in place, an enormous machine of a thing, and every person and event and location is an integral part of the plan. The machine is constantly in motion and being part of the design gives us purpose.

What I loved most about this book was that it was beautiful. I don't mean that it was all flying horses and starlit nights and scenes of folk art painted in the loveliest shades from Van Gogh's masterpieces, although those things are there too. I mean the writing is beautiful. Not in the flowery and romantic way, but beautiful in the carefully crafted, hand-carved antique jewelry box way. Every sentence so carefully constructed, every word specifically chosen. The language so smooth you want to run your hand across its face and then open it up to see all the wonderful things therein. The kind of beautiful you want to wrap around you and take a nap in on a cloudy day. Perfect in its descriptions of both beauty and horrors, in its balance between the two. Perfect in its timing- the pace seems to pick up and move along faster and faster- as if you are reading in time with a locomotive steaming down the tracks. Perfect in its Dickensesque, dizzyingly complex, interconnection of characters. Perfect in its descriptive landscapes and portraits. A perfect rendering of perfect moments.

For the sake of a thorough review, I add only that there were a couple sex scenes in the book I was a little uncomfortable with. I think I read the f-word twice. I would highly recommend this book to avid readers. It is not for someone who doesn't read much. It's not for anyone who hates New York City. Most of all, it is not for those who find the feelings of muddled and vague comprehension disconcerting or uncomfortable. For everyone else however, it is truly wonderful. I suggest that when you read it, you read it with somebody because you will wish to have someone with whom to discuss it. Don't bother with what Wikipedia has to say about it. I thought that their article was a gross misinterpretation of all the symbolism in the book. It seemed to me the author wanted to pretend he had found the secret decoder ring. I do not believe for even the smallest instant that the author of the Wikipedia article understood the book any better than every other reviewer who came straight out and said, "I have no idea what this book is about."

I give "Winter's Tale" a heartfelt Something More Substantial.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Austenland by Shannon Hale

I love this one! Austenland is a tale of a woman who can't seem to find a guy to hold on to because none of the men she meets can measure up to Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy (especially as portrayed by Colin Firth). I had a hard time getting into the book. The first couple of chapters didn't exactly grab me. I stuck with it though and I'm glad that I did. Hale does a marvelous job of capturing the flavor of Austen's writing and the essence of Mr. Darcy, all in a modern context. The ending was wonderfully unpredictable and the author manages to write the story in such a way that any of the possible opposing outcomes would be happily accepted by the reader. The book is a wonderful romp through Regency England and an interesting commentary on what life might truly have been like for young women of that period. I recommend this book to lovers of Jane Austen's works- not just Pride and Prejudice, but the rest of her novels as well, and anyone who loves seventeenth century English literature. The book makes frequent reference to Austen's novels and there are also allusions to works from other authors of the time period such as Charlotte and Emily Bronte. In spite of the slow start I give this book a hearty something more substantial.

The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman

The book addresses the idea that each of us has a specific way of expressing love and understanding expressions of love; different "love languages". Often couples do not have the same love language and the result is that although both partners are working hard at showing love to one another, the efforts can often go unnoticed and our need to feel loved is unmet. I thought this book was interesting and I think it would be helpful for people whose relationships are in a difficult patch. I wish that I had read it the second year my husband I were married. I think if I had, a lot of things would have gone a more easily that year, and certain issues would have been resolved much more quickly. Because my marriage is pretty healthy at present however, I didn't find the information in the book very useful in that particular relationship. I did think that the principles I have tried to apply from the book have been somewhat helpful with my children, but I believe that Mr. Chapman has written another book specifically focused on the love languages of children. If improving your understanding of children's needs is what you are seeking, I would probably refer you to that other book.

One more note about this book I would like to make is that the newer edition with the cover pictured here has a love language analysis test to take in the back. The edition I read did not have this. I borrowed a later edition from someone in my book group so my husband and I could take the tests and thought that the tests rendered the information infinitely more useful than just reading the book without them. If you are going to read the book, make sure you get a later edition so you are able to do that exercise. Overall I would rate The Five Love Languages Something More Substantial.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A~Z and TBR Challenges

I heard it from a friend who

heard it from a friend who

heard it from a friend

You been mess- No wait.

I mean I heard about this challenge to read 52 books in a year, the A~Z Challenge. You choose one book title for each letter of the alphabet and one author for each letter of the alphabet. (No doubling up.) Click here for the official site, or just play along at home. My A~Z picks are toward the bottom of the page on the sidebar. If anyone knows a good book starting with the letter "X", PLEASE let me know!!! Apparently the author of the challenge didn't take the serious shortage of such titles into consideration when she launched her idea.

There is also another challenge called the TBR Challenge which you can do instead of, or combine with, the A~Z Challenge. Combining the two is the approach I have chosen. It seemed to render narrowing down the options much easier for the A~Z Challenge in my opinion. Basically, the TBR Challenge is this:

Pick 12 books - one for each month of 2008 - that you've been wanting to read (that have been on your "To Be Read" list) for 6 months or longer, but haven't gotten around to. Read one book from this list each month in 2008.

I have included my 12 in the A~Z lists. They are:

  1. Austenland by Shannon Hale (A Title)

  2. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer (I've been planning to read that since I finished the first three in two days last fall) (B Title)

  3. Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky (C Title)

  4. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (D Title)

  5. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (H Title)

  6. Standing For Something by Gordon B. Hinckley (S Title)

  7. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi (T Title)

  8. Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin (W Title)

  9. Language Shock by Gregory Agar (A Author)

  10. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (C Author)

  11. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (S Author)

  12. Mila 18 by Leon Uris (U Author)

Happy reading!

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey was Jane Austen's first book ever written and last ever published. I believe is was published posthumously and I'm not sure she ever intended for it to be read by an audience (although I have not read anything one way or the other). The book seemed to me to be a study in writing novels. She asked and answered a lot of questions in this book. What makes a heroine or a plot worthy of reading? Which works to take inspiration from, which to completely diverge from? Are novels worthy endeavors? Can one be written about normal people? Will doing so make novels more socially acceptable? Do popular opinions matter on the subject of novels anyway? Jane makes many asides to the audience which I felt were more of a stream of consciousness creative writing exercise than anything else. I especially felt that the book was not intended to be published at the end when she essentially said, "and then they all lived happily ever after, etc., etc. You know all the rest and I can fill it all in later without giving it much thought." It is possible that this was an underdeveloped stylistic choice, especially considering the similar though less abrupt ending of Emma. I think however, that Northanger Abbey was just a practice to help the author decide more precisely on a direction to take her work.

I didn't particularly like this book and I found the asides to the audience on par with political lobbyist soapboxes, of which I am not a fan. I am quite glad I had read a number of other Jane Austens before reading this one. I fear that I would not have picked up any of the much more worthy ones, had I read this one first. I don't think anyone should miss out on Austen but in this case I am going to have to say skip this one, at least until you have read some of her other more wonderful books.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

I read this book cover to cover and for the first two days afterwards I couldn't even tell if I liked it or not.

The book is interesting, creative, and well thought out. I was intrigued by the histories, cultures, religion, and politics of the different ethnicities in Maguire's Oz. I particularly appreciated the way their many folktales offered an explanation for the various and incongruous accounts of the events and characters portrayed in the Baum books. I did not like the people of Maguire's Oz, however. I found them to be a morally bankrupt society on an apocalyptic level. The story was fraught with murder, intrigue, and sexual perversions of every sort. I found it offensive on many levels. It also took me a very long time to get into the story.

Elphaba, a.k.a.- the Wicked Witch of the West- goes through most of her life just trying to do what is right in spite of the wicked world in which she lives. She is constantly helping others and receives only the smallest portion of love from others in return. She is a tragic character and you hope that in the end she will go to some afterlife prepared for the inhabitants of Oz. This is not to be however, since there is no "After" for witches. Perhaps this is best, since it is her hope to cease a painful existance.

If this book were a movie, it would receive an "R"-rating at the very least. I understand that the musical is quite family friendly, so if you are interested in hearing the twist on the tale, I would buy tickets to a production and skip this one altogether.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

The Secret Life of Bees is set in the Civil Rights Era in South Carolina. It's about Lily Owens, a white teenage girl whose mother is killed when she is a child. When her black substitute mother offends a dangerous and racist man, Lily makes the decision to take the woman and escape to a town Lily's mother may have visited in the past. They are taken in by three black women on a honey farm and Lily learns for the first time the meanings of love and family. She courageously faces fear, racism, abuse, and the enigmatic truths about her life. This book has some strange religious themes but I liked the story anyway. It was definitely something more substantial. I would recommend this book to women but probably not to men. It's a little too "Lifetime Original Movie" for a co-ed audience.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

First Two Book Reviews

I posted these first two book reviews on my other blog.

The first was "The Jane Austen Book Club". The short story is that I hated it. For the long story you can go here.

The second was "Love Walked In". Yes it did. I loved this book. Here is my review.

More to come soon!