Monday, December 30, 2013

2014 TBR Pile Challenge

For what is most likely my last post of 2013, I found a reading challenge that just makes sense and overlaps with my Chunkster Challenge. It's Roof Beam Reader's 2014 TBR Pile Challenge. The idea is to read books from your TBR pile that you've had on your shelves for a year or longer and have never read. This is easy because I have soooo many books that have been on my shelves for years that I've never read. About half of my top ten reading choices for 2014 applies to this challenge!

Note: Divergent is missing from this pic
because it was borrowed by a friend :)
Here's the list:

1. Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden
2. Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
3. The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien
4. The Pearl, by John Steinbeck
5. Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
6. Divergent, by Veronica Roth
7. The Memory Keeper's Daughter, by Kim Edwards
8. Rise and Shine, by Anna Quindlen
9. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski
10. House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski
11. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, by Maggie O'Farrell
12. The Lit Report, by Sarah N. Harvey

Alternatives: Uglies, by Scott Westerfield
                      Matched, by Ally Condie

I think only one of these is also part of my original Chunkster Challenge, which I set at five, but I think will end up more like ten...because other books I placed on this challenge and my top ten to start 2014 are also chunksters! And, I didn't have to decide my chunksters ahead of time, so if I get to these instead, it still counts! It's going to be an amazing reading year.

*The list was fixed after initial posting because I had only listed ten books plus two alternatives.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Begin the Week with Words

"Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn't rescue the suffering. The converse does. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world."

One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp

Friday, December 27, 2013

Go Big or Go Home


Since 2014 is just around the corner, I figured it's about time I put up a list of books I'd like to read to kick off the new year right! Usually, I make a list of 30 to start with and go from there, but I've noticed I often stray far and wide from that long of a list. So, I decided to make it more focused in hopes that books I really want to read won't get lost among others. Here are the top ten (always subject to change and in no particular order, of course):

1. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. I will begin the new year with this one because it is hot, hot, hot right now; I own it already; and it's a Chunkster, which I love and had chosen to apply to the reading challenge I signed up for this year - the Chunkster Challenge.

2. The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult. I love Jodi Picoult, but haven't really read anything of hers lately. I've heard many say her writing/ideas have gone downhill and that The Storyteller is a major comeback to her usual self. I don't know about all that, but I'm hearing good stuff, so I definitely want to read this one. Plus, at 460 pages, it counts as a Chunkster...yep, another for my reading challenge. I hadn't even put it on my list of possibilities for the Chunkster Challenge because I hadn't realized it fit the rules. Bonus!

3. Death of Bees, by Lisa O'Donnell. This is a newbie to the TBR pile. I've read numerous blog reviews praising both the story and the writing, particularly the book's gripping opening lines.

4. gods at war, by Kyle Idleman. I've read this Christian nonfiction author previously and this book has been on my TBR for the past year. The idea behind the book is that there are many things that fight for your attention, for your heart, for the glory that rightfully belongs to God. This book will be a great piece to carry over my 2013 goal of taking a good look at myself. There's always room for improvement.

5. The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien. This one is taught at my school (not by me) and holds that weighty literary merit feel...I feel like I should've read it by now.

6. The Memory Keeper's Daughter, by Kim Edwards. Numbers one through four on this list have been newer books, but this one comes from a longstanding position on my TBR list. I tried to get around to it in the fall, but didn't. So here it is, up front and ready. 

7. Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides. Meets the Chunkster Challenge, although I didn't realize it, and it's another longstanding TBR book. My secondary challenge is to read from my TBR list as much as possible! Need I say more?

8. One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp. If this book sounds familiar, you're not crazy. This is at least the third time it's been on my blog. It was on my top ten for 2013 and I've decided it will be a New Year reread every year. It has a message I feel is detrimental to my life and I want to make sure I keep it fresh in mind. I may not review it (I did a mini review as part of a series of personal posts in April 2013 - see here), but the topic will come up again whether I do a review or not, I promise.

9, 10, 11. Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant by Veronica Roth. I WILL read Divergent by March when the movie comes out. I've always intended to read this book, but knew I had to wait for all books in the series to come out first. My memory doesn't hold detail well enough to wait a year or so for a new book in a series. I hear there is a fourth book coming in the summer (?), but figure if I spend March reading these three, June isn't that far away. So this is more like an 11 book list. And guess what? All three books meet the Chunkster Challenge Rules. 

This is quite opposite of how I started my reading last year. For 2013, I started with quite a few smaller books to get my count up quickly, kind of motivating myself. Surpassing my reading goal by eight books in 2013 has been motivation enough to up my Goodreads goal and "go big or go home."

Two things I know for sure. This is going to be a great start to my reading for the year. And I've totally miscounted the number of chunksters I typically read (I think I looked to higher page numbers than 450 when I counted this past year's chunksters). But with five books on this list that I didn't expect to be chunksters when I made my original goal, I think I need to up my goal for the Chunkster Challenge! 

What's on your list for the start of 2014?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Charles Dickens Christmas


I tend to read books whenever the fancy hits, which means I don't coincide my holidays with books of a holiday or seasonal topic, etc. However, three weeks ago, in my quest to find fun writing activities to finish off 2013 with my seventh graders, I decided to use A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. At 133 pages (only because of the school edition's bigger font), it would be easy to fit in before Christmas break and give us plenty to talk and write about. I read the entire story aloud to my classes and we discussed along the way. After each stave (chapter), the students completed a project. They wrote about their families' holiday traditions, illustrated a scene from the book, wrote holiday/winter carols, wrote and made holiday greeting cards, and completed a plot summary/opinion of the book overall. We packed a whole lot of work into those three weeks and by the end, even kids who only thought the story was okay said they now understood it better than before.

This made me think about Christmas stories. A Christmas Carol is really the only one I've ever really known, and even that one I'd never actually read until now. The edition of A Christmas Carol I have at home has two other short Dickens stories included: The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth. I decided to read them, really just to say I'd read other holiday based stories. 

The Chimes is reminiscent of A Christmas Carol and was published one year later, in 1844. Main character Trotty Veck is poor, but unlike the easy-to-sympathize-with Cratchit family of A Christmas Carol, he is the "villain" of this story. He is not really a bad guy, per se, but his attitude about life is not right and as Dickens does with Ebenezer Scrooge, Trotty Veck has a near death experience that leads to the redemption of his life and all those whom he touches. 

The Cricket on the Hearth, published in 1845, carries a theme of deceit. Characters deceive others and even themselves throughout the story. Sometimes it is even out of good intention, such as Caleb, who wants his blind daughter to be spared the humiliation of their lives and so leads her to believe everything they have and do is better than it really is. However, she ends up more crushed when things do not happen as they should, given what she understands of her surroundings. Like the previous two stories, supernatural elements intercede, giving the characters an opportunity to "see the light."

There are two more Dickens Christmas shorts out there: The Battle of Life and The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain. Without reading either of them and based on the three I've read above,I'd say A Christmas Carol is still top of the list. It's complexity, beautiful writing, depth of character, and moral compass make it a story for all times.

What is your favorite holiday related story?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Begin the Week with Words

Read A Christmas Carol with my 7th graders the past couple weeks and I realized that having seen so many movie versions we've become accustomed to the meanings to the point of apathy. When Scrooge tells Marley he was just a good business man in life, Marley replies: 

"Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

In the preface Dickens tells the reader he hopes the story will "haunt you pleasantly." So be haunted! Service to others is the point of life year round, not just at Christmas. Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 20, 2013

2013 Top Ten

As of this moment I've read 67 books in 2013 (I may squeeze two more in by year's end). That is seven books over my Goodreads goal for the year! This was also the year I discovered NetGalley and reviewing books for publishers, so you can imagine I got a little carried away with that for a good four months, which also happened to be over the summer. As it turns out, picking my top ten was easy because I reviewed so many books for publishers, that the ones I chose of my own accord were much fewer than usual. And although I enjoyed a good number of books I reviewed through NetGalley, only one of them made my top ten and it was as much for my sentimentality of the topic. So here they are in the order in which I read them throughout the year. 

1. Unglued, by Lisa Terkeurst - Christian nonfiction.
Unglued talks about how and why people lose it, aka become angry. Terkeurst spells out the reasons we become angry and how we deal with our anger. The first step to dealing with something is awareness and this book hit the nail on the head. It has been a game changer. See my previous review here.

2. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy - fiction, classic. 
I reread this book in 2013 because of the movie release late in 2012. My book buddy RD also reread it and we watched the movie together, so that made it even better. The story parallels two characters and how the choices they make effect the ultimate path their lives take. See my previous review here.

3. History of the World According to Facebook, by Wylie Overstreet - fiction.
Readable in an hour, this book is set up to look like the homepage of someone's FB. The idea is a "What if?" scenario. What if FB had existed from the beginning of time? Who would have an account and what would they say, share, comment, and like? Historical (fiction and nonfiction) places, people, things, and events comprise the people of this FB. See my previous review here.

4. One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp - Christian nonfiction.
This rates alongside Unglued...a game changer. Voskamp's book centers on the place of thanksgiving in our lives. Not the holiday, but every day thanksgiving. Thanksgiving in the bad times as well as the good is the key to bringing joy and grace to your life. I can never say it as eloquently and clearly as Voskamp has, so my explanation should not deter anyone from reading One Thousand Gifts. She has a new Christmas book out this year titled The Greatest Gift. She also has a blog called A Holy Experience that regularly blows me away. I dream of having her insight and writing ability. See my previous post here. *Note: this is not the last you'll see of this book on my blog ;)

5. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, by Therese Anne Fowler - historical fiction.
With the new Great Gatsby movie out in 2013, fiction based on the lives of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald the the Jazz Age in general has sky rocketed. With The Great Gatsby as one of my all time favorites, Fowler's researched account of Zelda was a must. What I love about this book is that it aims to tell the truth about the Fitgerald's relationship. See my previous post here.

6. Let's Pretend This Never Happened, by Jenny Lawson
Funny. Lawson's memoir is about trying to give her daughter a different childhood than the one she had with her taxidermy obsessed dad. But she find a herself repeatedly drawn back to the life she had growing up. I finished laughing...funny stories and a sense of belonging to a place.

7. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas - fiction, classic.
Another great classic. Intimidating in size, but easy to read and follow. Dumas draws out stories of all characters and then brings their stories together in this story of revenge...revenge with impunity, as Edgar Allan Poe would say. See my previous post here.

8. Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson - fiction.
Probably the best page turner I read this year. People often think about the chance to go back and start over, make different choices. I was consistently interested in Ursula's lives and where each decision would take her...and how it would change when she started over. I highly recommend this one. See my previous post here.

9. The World's Strongest Librarian, by Josh Hanagarne - memoir.
Hanagarne's memoir is about his life dealing with Tourette's as well as the role his Mormon faith played in the past and present. Truly inspiring is the way in which Hanagarne challenges himself to take control and the humor with which he can look back upon his life. See my previous review here.

10. A Wilder Rose: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and Their Little Houses, by Susan Witting Albert - historical fiction.
As a lifelong fan of The Little House on the Prairie books, I jumped at the chance to receive A Wilder Rose on NetGalley. Honestly, this book's appeal for me was the inside look at Laura Ingalls Wilder through her daughter Rose, neither of whom I read about past the last book in the Little House series. I loved it, but I'm sure a great deal of it was due to sentimental reasons. See my previous post here.

So that's 2013 in a nutshell. Overall it was great and I enjoyed immersing myself in the book blogging community. 2014 brings the Chunkster Challenge, a new reading goal on Goodreads, and more of my own choice reading. Bring it on 2014!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Wilder Rose

Source: eBay
This is the set I own.

I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Laura Ingalls Wilder...doesn't ring a bell? What about Little House on the Prairie...books or TV show? I hope something sounds familiar here! Laura Ingalls Wilder, long revered as the pioneer girl who gave America a glimpse into what it meant to survive on the wild frontier through her series of children's books, had a daughter, Rose Wilder (married name Lane). I've read the Little House books so many times growing up, I couldn't even begin to count. In fourth grade we put on a wax museum and I chose Laura Ingalls Wilder, fervently interrupting the teacher's explanation of the assignment to claim the role before anyone else could. Laura was MY friend and so imagine my surprise when I found the books in my high school library years later and realized all the world knew of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her adventurous life! And recently, I've been hearing more about the life of her daughter, Rose.

A Wilder Rose: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and Their Little Houses, by Susan Wittig Albert, is a researched fictionalization of the lives of the mother and daughter throughout the writing of the Little House books. The story takes place through the 1920s, The Great Depression, and the period of recovery into WWII. Much of the story tells of Lane's travels, lifestyle, writing career, and the point that it's somewhat biographical. 

The real shocker behind the premise of this book - and one reason I very briefly hesitated to read it - is the reality behind the writing of the Little House books. Remember, I considered Laura my childhood friend (as only a book lover could understand), so it was a shock to find she was lying to me all this time. The books were written by her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. Knowing this going in, I was prepared to be angry with Laura (again, only a book lover would understand). However, what I found calmed me a little. The stories are truly Laura's, but Rose held the ability to put details and facts into a story format. Rose definitely did most of the work, but I was happy to see that Laura put herself into them too.

Focusing all my attention on who wrote the books, I didn't think of any other possible disappoints and ran smack into one. Laura Ingalls Wilder was only human. So in love with her my whole life, I suppose she's grown somewhat of a pedestal in my book/character life. Middle-aged/elderly Laura cared very much about keeping up appearances, poking her nose extensively in her adult daughter's life, and keeping her pride intact. Not the kind of person I'd typically admire. However, author Susan Wittig Albert did a good job of keeping things in context. She kept reminding the reader of the time period, the expectations ingrained in Laura from a very young age, and the seclusion and hardship of prairie life. Rose was the absolute opposite of her mother, and as an only child, such differences were likely hard for Laura to deal with.

I really enjoyed this book, even as it took Laura Ingalls Wilder from her pedestal and placed her on a more human level. How can I say I'm a fan of someone or something and be totally blind to the truth behind it all? If you grew up with Laura Ingalls Wilder and like to know everything there is to know about what you love, this is a book for you.

Are there any characters - real or fictional - you've put on a pedestal?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Chunkster Reading Challenge


Thanks to a few Tweets from fellow bloggers, I found the Chunkster Reading Challenge for 2014. The idea, as I understand it, is that you set a number of chunksters you want to read for the year and try to reach that goal.

But what is a chunkster you ask? Best answer comes straight from the Chunkster Reading Challenge site. A chunkster is an adult or YA book, non-fiction or fiction, that’s 450 pages or more. 

Rules for this challenge:

Audio books and e-books are now allowed. You want to listen to a chunkster on audio? Be my guest. 

Essay, short story, and poetry collections are allowed but they have to be read in their entirety to count.

Books may crossover with other challenges.

Anyone can join.

You don’t have to list your book ahead of time.

Graphic novels don’t count. Sorry guys but reading a chunkster graphic novel isn’t the same as reading a non-graphic chunkster.

In one year I read Les Mis, Anna Karenina, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Life After Life. So, I'm going to aim for five this year. I know it's not a big jump above what I did last year, but I'm also upping my Goodreads number for 2014 and the chunksters are going to bite into that challenge as it is! So we'll see.

The chunksters I plan on reading this year (although subject to change) are: The Goldfinch, The Passage, Cloud Atlas, The Grapes of Wrath, and something by Dostoevsky (not sure which I want to try yet). These are all on my TBR already too, so I'm killing three birds with one stone (TBR, Chunkster Challenge, and Goodreads yearly challenge)!

Do you like chunksters or do you prefer a slightly smaller read?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Begin the Week with Words


Again from the life story of Rose Wilder Lane:

"It isn't money that moves the world," she [Rose Lane] wrote to Crane in 1966. "It is faith, conviction, ardor, fanaticism in action."

Wilder Rose: Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Their Little Houses, by Susan Witting Albert

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Silver Linings


I have this obsession with reading a book before its movie. Of course, this only applies to storylines that interest me. If a story isn't as catchy to me or not a genre I typically enjoy, I'll likely watch the movie and never read the book. I learned this the hard way about 15 years ago while going through my Nicholas Sparks stage. Message in a Bottle was on TV and I watched it with my then boyfriend (now husband)'s family...only to find that when I tried to pick up my copy of the book later I just couldn't read it. The story was ruined, even if the movie had changed parts. And it's hard to read a book you already know the story of when there are so many books waiting to be read. But watching a book come to life is altogether another thing.

So, all that to say that I finally read The Silver Linings Playbook, by Matthew Quick, so that I could watch the movie. The previews always looked interesting, but I'd never paid full attention and knew nothing about the story going into it. Needless to say, I was caught off guard, not expecting so much football (okay, playbook, I know, but still, there's lots of football) and mental illness. None of that seemed to come through the previews to me.

The book centers on Pat Peoples as he re-enters civilian life with his parents after living for years in a mental institution he calls "the bad place." Not knowing how he landed there or how long it has been, Pat has trouble adjusting to life due to complications he can't quite put his finger on. His family tiptoes around the touchy parts of the years gone by, even by not telling Pat it has been years since he's been gone! Through living life with his parents, brother, and friends, Pat begins to readjust to relationships and the quirks of his new mindset. Focused on becoming a better person and reuniting with his wife, Pat gives an inside look at how mental illness fights against the best of intentions. Not to mention the shocking way in which he ended up there.

The story flowed easily and well. The only hard part I had a hard time adjusting to is that Pat is 34 years old and his thought process seems to be on the level of a pre-teen. I can see where certain thoughts and behavior are affected by his mental illness and lack of memory, but the overall tone of a younger kid just kept throwing me off. Although this could just be my own ignorance on the subject.

It really threw me off in the movie though because the movie shortens the time Pat had been locked away and he is fully aware of why he was admitted and where his relationship stands for the most part. So his pre-teen behavior really doesn't add up. But, on the other hand, it was funny watching Jennifer Lawrence (as Tiffany) and Bradley Cooper (as Pat) interact as two "crazy" people falling in love. Many, many things were changed in the movie, but at least those two characters coming to life was amusing enough to make the movie worth watching. It makes me anxious to see Serena, where Cooper and Lawrence star as a couple as well. The movie hasn't made it to a U.S. opening as far as I know, but here's my review of the book.

Which book-to-movie didn't come out close enough to the book for you? Was the movie still worth watching?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Catch Me at Book-alicious Mama


Hi! Today I have the pleasure of guest posting over at Book-alicious Mama, with my post titled "Slow Down Christmas." JSmeth was kind enough to invite me for a fun holiday discussion. I'll be talking about how Christmas has changed for me as my kids have gotten older...a walk down memory lane for sure! So join us there and also check out the previous guest posts she's had, reminiscing about the holiday season!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Bookmark Faves

Every bookish person has a favorite reading accessory. I have a few: fleece blankets, lots of pillows to prop myself up in bed, drinks and snacks nearby. But the one I want to talk about today is the bookmark. I have more bookmarks than I could ever use at one time, and yet I don't hesitate to buy another one I fall in love with. So I thought I'd present my favorite/most used bookmarks over the past couple years. 

Oldest bookmark first. I bought the Wicked Witch of the West bookmark because I've always been a fan of The Wizard of Oz. It's always held this interest for me...maybe it's nostalgia because of the numerous times we watched it growing up. Before DVR, DVDs, and even before people started hoarding VHS tapes, The Wizard of Oz played on TV at least once a year and we never missed it. The oddball out that I usually am, my interest was always with the Wicked Witch. And in 2008 I bought and memorized the Wicked soundtrack and then flew off to Chicago for 24 hours just to see the musical. Loved it and found kindred spirits who also love the Wicked Witch like I do. (Not kidding, I have three shirts and a hoodie of her.)

Yes, Team Edward (notice, no icky Bella on this bookmark). Yes, I would've totally fallen for an Edward-esque boyfriend in high school. Yes, that is sad. Yes, I am way over that kinda thing! But, I still liked the Twilight books, saw midnight releases and the whole bit. I'm a sucker for some romance in books because it's not my thing in reality. Edward bookmark has been somewhat retired as of late. One I used often though, so I let him hang around (in my bedside watching me sleep). 

This bird bookmark is my current love. It's a combination of many things. Aesthetically, I love the colors on the birds and the branches. I love birds too. Not as pets or an obsessive decorating theme, just in general. I think they're cute. And these ones are indeed cute! (FYI my favorite bird is the chickadee...I did go through a slight phase with them years ago.) Second, look at that awesome play on words! Who can resist?! "Feather your nest with books." Birds use feathers and what not to put their nests (home) together. People should put their homes together by adding books. And the idea that feathers are soft and comfy...implying (correctly) that books will make a house comfy too. LOVE IT!

This lovely set of four is the newest addition to my bookmark collection. They came in the mail late last week as a gift from my "Secret Elf" (who turned out to be blogger friend JSmeth over at Book-alicious Mama. Check it out)! These bookmarks actually inspired this post. Remember the nostalgia of The Wizard of Oz? Well, it also applies to Disney's The Little Mermaid and Alice in Wonderland. Yes, I own shirts and a purse for this one. And now this beautiful set of personalized bookmarks! Bird bookmark is going to have to take turns. I am especially fond of the little card guy for some reason. So cute!

What does your favorite bookmark have on it?

Begin the Week with Words

This week's quote comes from Wilder Rose: Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Their Little Houses, by Susan Witting Albert. It is a researched fictionalization of the story behind the writing of the Little House on the Prairie series.

"I had yet to recognize how one-sided my relationships with people had always been, how I had always invested more than I'd received in return, expected more than most people could give, or be, or do. I hadn't quite learned that lesson. John was to teach me. But that was to come."

What I love about this quote is that I've learned this about myself recently. I invest more than I should into relationships sometimes and rarely can anyone (or will anyone) do the same for me. And like Rose speaking above, I even had a relationship that taught me this about myself more recently. It was a crushing, but needed, experience. This quote is the essence of what I mean about finding My Life in Books. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Battle of the Books


How important is literacy? Let's put it this way: the prison system bases it's budget planning so many years out on the current year's THIRD GRADE reading scores/abilities. The tie between illiteracy and crime is that tight and it is at third grade when kids who fall behind in reading will most likely stay behind. This is not to say a kid is doomed after that point or that they can't pick up reading is just unlikely that a troubled reader will ever hit grade level if not already there in third grade. 

So literacy is extremely important. It is imperative that kids are given the resources to engage in reading and reading related activities. Especially in poor districts, where families cannot afford extras and the school's have so much on their plates already.

Battle of the Books is a book project run by Ms. Inverarity, the librarian at Turner Middle School in Kansas City, KS. The school district is considered high poverty and in order for them to carry out their project, they will need donations from those who understand the importance of literacy and how it can turn a life around.

A description of the project from the site states: "Students that sign up to compete in Battle of the Books will check out copies of books from the school library so they can prepare. The requested books like Out of My Mind and The Trap cover a range of genres, formats, and reading levels. The competition at the end of the school year requires that teams of four be able to answer questions about all eleven books chosen for this year's competition. The students will be reading quality science fiction, realistic fiction, survival fiction, and sports fiction titles that range from a comfortable to a challenging reading level."

If you can and are willing to support Battle of the Books in any way, you can donate at their site Battle of the Books (2013-2014) on You can also view the list of books and prices the school will be purchasing. As of this posting, they have $573 to go and ten days left. Their deadline is December 15, 2013. Tis the season to help make this happen!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Burial Rites: Based on a True Story


Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is a solemn fictionalization of the last criminal executed in Iceland circa 1828. The story focuses on Agnes Magnusdottir, who has been sentenced to death for the murder of two men, when the book opens. And what an opening! Kent delivers stunning prose from the start through Agnes's first person point of view: "I imagine, then, that we are all candle flames, greasy-bright, fluttering in the darkness and the howl of the wind....They will blow us all out, one by one, until it is only their own light by which they see themselves."

Agnes's first person point of view poetically pursues the emotional thought process of a woman condemned. Half of the story is told through a general third person omniscient narrator who speaks the emotions and thoughts of other characters in-between Agnes's tellings of the story. The third person narrator is markedly different. Emotions and thoughts of various characters can be seen; however, it lacks the poetic raw emotion of Agnes's telling. The result is an effective storyline that does more than tell a story, it draws the reader in and speaks of life.

The story itself follows Agnes through the last days of her life. Forced upon the family of a local, small time politician, she earns her keep working their farm as she awaits her final destination...death. Living with a convicted murderess keeps the family in fear for themselves and their belongings. An absolutely clueless, young priest is also sent in to save her soul before her execution is scheduled. Between the young priest and the women of the family, Agnes comes out of her shell and her story is made known, including the truth of that fateful night. The truth isn't always cut and dry, as Agnes makes clear, but it isn't always what we assume it to be either. Much like stories of the Titanic, you find yourself hoping the end will not happen as you knew it would from the beginning.

Hannah Kent's thorough research provides a strong framework for Agnes's life story and Kent's writing fills it out beautifully. Burial Rites is also in talks for a movie, with Jennifer Lawrence starring as Agnes. This will be something to see!

 Do you have a favorite book that is "based on a true story"?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Begin the Week with Words

(Yes, an hour or so earlier than actual Sunday...figured I'd sneak it in while I was thinking of it!)


"I can turn to that day as though it were a page in a book. It’s written so deeply upon my mind I can almost taste the ink.” 

Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent

This book is full of great quotes. My full review will post Monday 12/2.

Monday, November 25, 2013

We Are Water

My very own signed copy!

I consider Wally Lamb "my" author. I discovered him on my own in my college bookstore in the late 90s. No one had recommended him to me and I'd never heard of him before. So, as I've read his books over the years, I've relished in the fact that he is "mine." (Same with Jodi Picoult! I was reading her before she became crazy popular!)

So picking up We Are Water was a given. And picking up a signed copy from Barnes and Noble was a no-brainer. I never read my signed copies. I wait to get another copy or borrow it from the library. This was an exception...I didn't want to wait.

The best way to describe We Are Water is to think of the domino effect. It's a story of the way in which people's past, experiences, faults, and personalities trickle down to others, causing a domino effect in the lives of all involved. 

Annie Oh, wife of workaholic psychologist Orion Oh and mother of three, finds herself mysteriously drawn to art, as well as having a knack for it herself. Through the narration of multiple narrators, we see Annie's attention consumed by her art, which becomes the venue for releasing pent up anger over her horrid, untold childhood. Her art takes her to the top. But at what cost? Has it solved her anger issues? And what has her intense focus on it done to her children? If you let it, the past can eat you alive.

Although a number of characters narrate, including the entire Oh family, and other characters have pieces of their stories included, I'd argue that Annie is the main character. Most of the other characters' stories connect back to, are a result of, or are the cause of Annie's story, which is always an applaudable feat for any author. So thank you Wally Lamb for another good story.

Which authors do you claim for your own?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Begin the Week with Words

"I imagine, then, that we are all candle flames, greasy-bright, fluttering in the darkness and the howl of the wind....They will blow us all out, one by one, until it is only their own light by which they see themselves."

Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent

Who can resist opening lines like these?! Have a good week! And may the right words come to you at the right time :)