Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Look Me In The Eye

In a day when a cure is expected for nearly every ailment, flaw or disorder, I was struck by John Elder Robinson's assertion that those with Asperger's Syndrome, a neurobiological disorder on the autism spectrum that the author lived with undiagnosed until he was forty, needs no cure - only understanding.

Robinson starts his story with his earliest memories -a failed attempt to make friends in a sandbox - and meanders through his shame at being called a deviant and a psychopath because he avoided eye contact (although his explanation about how he still doesn't understand most people's need to stare at somebody's eyeball while speaking to them is hilarious), leaving home in the middle of his teenage years, finding himself as part of the 70s rock scene and creating flaming guitars for KISS, faking his way through a job interview for a position as an engineer and getting it by reading and memorizing books about the subject, his parallel struggle to "be a team player" through out his career, until he finally arrives at understanding and acceptance for both his gifts and oddities.

Although this book contains many fascinating stories that stem from his dysfunctional childhood rather than his Asperger's Syndrome, Robinson's experiences and viewpoint sheds a great deal of light on an "Aspergian's" way of thinking. I have a nephew who has been diagnosed with Asperger's and a brother and sister-in-law who constantly seek balance between his way of seeing things and their own understanding. I found myself asking my sister-in-law the question, "Do you think he needs a cure?" Who is to say? Robinson made clear in his book that while he has learned a great deal about appropriate social responses through trial and error, he still finds them unnatural and really, more to the point, unnecessary. What is normal? How much of life's successes are social? What parts of our own personalities should be fixed? I mean, I can't imagine an enjoyable existence where we are all the same.

But, if Asperger's Syndrome falls on the Autism Spectrum, and we observe those with the kinds of autism that render them completely unable to connect to the outside world, certainly we feel they miss out on opportunities for relationships and meaningful experiences. Certainly we would choose a cure, if there was one to be found. So at what point of the spectrum do we intercede?

These are simply the questions that I had after reading this book. You may or may not have similar kinds. However, if you get a chance to read this illuminating book, you will definitely have a glimpse into a colorful and fascinating life.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


I just got an email telling me I won the Good Read's April Good Review's contest in the category of Fiction for my review of A Thousand Splendid Suns. I didn't even know there was a contest! In fact, I just wrote that review for my blog and then cut and pasted it into GoodReads. The whole first two paragraphs about how I bought the book in Taiwan and didn't feel like reading it and yada, yada, yada seem so....superfluous. I feel a little like I just got caught on Candid Camera and, thankfully, didn't do anything really embarrassing. I mean, it's totally flattering. I am flattered. But...now...I mean...now...I know the camera may be on and I feel a bit like I should look the part of a book reviewer. You know...not write book reviews in my pajamas. I at least need a pencil behind my ear.

I thought this was funny considering what my last post was about. Add "may unknowingly win an award on the world wide web" to my commercial about writing book reviews.

They gave me $20 at Amazon.com.

Dream big, people, dream big.

How And Why

People often ask me, "How do you read so many books?"

I understand that anyone who asks this already knows the answer: I spend a lot of time reading. Ta-da!

I'm left wondering what they really want to know. Are they asking if I ignore my children (sometimes) or if I have a really messy house (not extremely...but I admit that the Queen of Clean does not feel her crown is threatened by me)? Are they asking me if I have some sort of superpower (of course) or if I only skim the books I review (very rarely...because what's the point of reading if you don't care about the details)?

I also understand why they are asking. I ask the same question all the time to other people. Only I ask about different things. How do you stay so organized? How do you manage to be so thin? How do you always have the perfect piece of jewelry for every outfit?

I think we all want to hear that this person has more hours in the day, more money, more support, more....anything...than we personally do because then we could justify why we can't or don't do it too.

But, I believe the answer to all of these questions is....we do it because it's something that's important to us.

Reading, and being a reader, is important to me.

There are times I wish I had others' priorities. I wish I cared more about my body. I wish I couldn't sit still until my bed was made and my sink sparkling. I wish every time I had a reason to dress up, I had the perfect pair of shoes to match a fabulous necklace.

I wish....but, instead...I read. It's my hobby. And I've come to terms that it's an o.k. hobby, flabby stomach and all purpose black sandals notwithstanding.

Looking back, I've always been a reader and throughout my adolescence, enjoyed spending many of my free Saturdays and Sundays reading all day. I have memories of wearing my super stylish green sweatpants and coming upstairs for the first time late in the day after reading in my bedroom for five or six straight hours.

Additionally, I am fortunate to be blessed with a gift...a wonderful gift. A gift that limits its benefits to me only. I enjoy the gift of being able to become completely absorbed by a good book. I don't hear someone talking to (or shouting at) me. I don't hear the phone ring. I don't get sleepy or bored or feel the need to stretch and walk around for a bit. This gift limits itself to a good novel, mind you. My gifts seem to evaporate when I attempt non-fiction or poetry. I'm as handicapped as the rest of the world when it comes to those.

When I started blogging and first posted my book reviews, I immediately discovered the bonus of writing about what I read.

To begin with, writing book reviews turned a hobby into a goal. During my first year of blogging, I set a goal to read fifty books in a year. Nine and a half months later, I finished my fiftieth book and immediately began the next year's goal of reading seventy-five books.

Having a set number mattered to me. That magical number of fifty or seventy-five always kept me reading but more importantly, it kept me reading better books. As I knew I'd be writing about each book, I've been much better at choosing a wider variety of literature, including much more non-fiction than I would normally read, and staying away from an abundance of chick lit, beach reads, mysteries and tawdry romances. I still read them...occasionally...but having a person or two looking over my shoulder at what I'm reading makes for much more deliberate decision making.

Another bonus is that I can remember what I've read for much longer if I've written down what I thought about it. I've enjoyed developing the talent of writing a book review. Some of my reviews are much better than others, but like any talent, I feel I've gotten better the more I've practiced. With some books, now, I can see parts of my review while I'm reading. In other words, sometimes, I know what I'll get out of it even as I'm getting it.

Amazingly, I can vividly remember books I've read almost two years ago, mostly because the two or three paragraphs I took the time to jot down afterwards jogs my memories much more than reading what somebody else wrote about it on amazon.com. Really, this ability to talk about a book or character from a book I've read in the past, has made me appear much more educated and in the know than I really am. It's a super party trick.

Lastly, like anyone, I feel good when I accomplish a goal. I have until the 10th of May to get to book 75 and as of today, I have read 81. It took dedication to read 81 books in a little more than eleven months. Many times, I chose to read over watching T.V. or renting a movie. Although, I admit it also helps that our social life has been dramatically reduced by the fact that we have no couple friends besides family and many of our weekends begin with the question, "Do you want to watch a movie or would you rather read?" Jay and I sure know how to par-tay.

So, if you want to know how I read as much as I do...this is how.

I read almost every night.
I read a lot on Sundays.
I stay up late to finish a book.
Sometimes, I'll read during the day.
I shop only when necessity dictates that I have to.
I don't craft.
I don't mind if I don't go anywhere most days.
I like to travel and can get much reading done on a plane.
I'm not much of a phone talker.
I don't believe my primary role as a mother is to entertain my children. Teach, guide, cuddle with, listen to and nurture...yes. Entertain...no.
I (usually) pick books that interest me so that I actually want to read them.
I can read fast.

There you go. That's how and why I read as much as I do. If, per chance, you've asked me this question in the past, please don't feel like I wish you hadn't. Honestly, it's been good for me to discover the roots of my motivation. If I sound defensive, I'm not. Well...maybe I am a little. But, I try not to be because I do understand that it's easiest to spend our time doing the things we're good at. The trick, I think, is to spend our time doing things we should be good at.

Thankfully, that's not my area of expertise.

Blind Spot

There is a table, smack dab in the middle of the library I go to, promoting over twenty "reader's choice" books. You read, you vote, and if you read enough your name is entered into a drawing for a prize. I first noticed the table when Shannon Hale's Austenland was displayed but hadn't heard of any of the other titles or authors before. Thinking to myself that I liked Austenland so, perhaps I would like the others as well.

This is not a good table for me. Karma Girl, which was my first selection from the table, seems to have only brought bad reading Karma. None of these books are horrible, just none very good either. And I can't help wondering why libraries are promoting "just o.k" books. Aren't they supposed to be professionals?

Blind Spot is about a female FBI detective, Bernadette St. Clair, who has been able to "see" what killers see ever since her twin was killed by a drunk driver. The FBI, embarrassed by her, but unwilling to dismiss her gift, moves her around from town to town to solve difficult homicide cases. The trouble is, since she can only see what the killer sees, she doesn't usually know what the killer looks like, unless he or she happens to look in a mirror. In addition, she doesn't know when her visions are occurring, as in real time, or not. As a result, she has made mistakes in cases before, making her crime solving skills a liability.

All this I can handle. The premise is interesting enough. What makes this book subpar is that the author goes a step too far in making odd Bernadette into a crazy, ridiculous, way-too-unlikely-to-be-real character. Besides that, the reader knows who the killer is very early on in the book, so the chapters describing her visions are unnecessary - the narrator already took us there.

Anti climatic with a far fetched ending, I can't recommend this one.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Franny and Zooey

More of a play than a novel, Salinger creates two dissatisfied intellectuals and their fall out with convention resulting from their unorthodox education and childhood.

The book is divided into two parts: Franny's shorter section and a much longer section devoted to her older brother, Zooey.

Franny Glass, the youngest child of the fictional upper class New York family, breaks down after spending the weekend with her pretentious boyfriend, Lane. Lane seems to be the face of everything she decides to be wrong with life. Pretense, insincerity, knowledge without wisdom, and ego, ego, ego contrast drastically with a book she stumbled upon in her brother Seymour's room about a pilgrim who discovers how to pray unceasingly. With her own exposure to world religions at an early age, the book's idea takes hold of her and she ends up at her parent's home, crying and muttering to herself.

Zooey Glass, a somewhat successful actor with contradictions of his own, talks his way through helping Franny. Through his monologues, the reader is able to understand the trouble with knowing so much and trying to reconcile it all in order to successfully function in society. The conclusion he reaches isn't exactly tidy or startling, but the arguments that get both of them there are entertaining and provide much to discuss.

Unconventional with its sparse narrative and long-winded conversations, I was surprised by how much I liked this.

If Life Is A Bowl Of Cherries, What Am I Doing In The Pits?

I think I want to be Erma Bombeck. I can't believe she didn't start writing until she was 37. I loved her opinions about motherhood and amusing antidotes about being a woman.

While some chapters of this book are outdated, like the chapter devoted to game shows (very 70s), some are timeless and supplied me with funny fuel for some of my longer days.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Alchemist's Daughter

Very hard to get into, but worth the effort. The story is made difficult with lots of ancient scientific theory about alchemy and discussions about the various philosophies propagated in the 18th century about air and fire. That kind of discussion doesn't make for easy reading, but if you can manage to get through it, the underlying story about innocence, nature vs. nurture, death and redemption are all very interesting. Throw in a heart wrenching romance and I found that I quite liked it.

The Rule Of Four

This book wasn't anything it claimed to be. It muddled through the mystery, which tried a little to be like The Da Vinci Code - without that thrill or urgency. It muddled through the characters (four of them so the title could have multiple meanings, although two of the characters were purely sidenotes). Ultimately, it muddled through its great reveal. I still don't understand the actual rule of four, which was a code used to discover a secret text in an ancient book called the Hynerotromachia Poliphili.

Difficult to read, wordy, and ultimately not interesting enough for a 400 page book. But, it had its moments of interest...not many, but some (I learned quite a bit about Princeton).

The Simeon Solution

This book had two strikes against it before I even started to read it. First, my husband brought it home from the library and told me, "You should read this." The author is a radiologist he works with whose name I have heard and seen on his many radiology textbooks. Unfortunately, we have rather different tastes when it comes to book choices and both of us have been burned by this seemingly harmless advice. When I read its description on the inside jacket, my inner ump cried, Strike Two! It's a non-fiction, inspirational church book.

Why that's a strike, I have no idea. I only know I have a hard time getting through books like this. They invariably seem redundant and turn into a really long relief society lesson in my mind. Always a good message, but rarely anything I haven't heard before, or even thought of before. Yes, it's always good to have reminders, but when it comes to reading, I'm usually in too much of a hurry to trudge through a message book. I know. I have a serious failing here.

This book was in no danger of striking out, however, after I read the first two pages of the introduction. Anne Osborn Poelman's voice is clear, intelligent, interesting, funny and honest. I was completely drawn into her story and finished this short book within a couple of hours. Very, very enjoyable. Oh...I'll just add one more very. Very!

While this book was published 13 years ago, I wish it were more well known amid reading circles today. How applicable this book is to my generation! Or to any church member of any age. The thing I admired most about it was the fact that a highly intelligent professional woman didn't intellectualize her faith. In fact, she explains incredibly reasonably how she lives by an almost opposite principle, which she calls The Simeon Solution. Simeon was a High Priest briefly mentioned in the New Testament who had been promised by the Holy Ghost that he would meet the Messiah. Much later in life, he is prompted to go to the temple and sees Joseph and Mary there with the Christ child, knows that the promise was fulfilled. (Luke 2:29-32) By this time, he was very old, and must have lived an entire lifetime on that brief bit of knowledge or inspiration he had earlier in life. How easy it would have been to doubt his faith after years and years of waiting. Most of his peers did. Many ridiculed anyone who believed in something that they certainly did not know "for sure" would ever happen - the coming of a Messiah. But Simeon remembered the promise he had from the Lord, and recognized its fulfillment. Similarly, Anne Osborn Poelman realized her faith was much like Simeon's. During a lively discussion of faith at a dinner party, questions were directed to her wondering how she justified being a member of a sexist faith that "withholds" the priesthood from women. Her answer, with support from another guest at the party who helped explain how she felt into a concrete idea, is the basis of the book. So simple, yet so easy to dismiss. It's about having a testimony that the Lord fulfills his promises.

Osborn Poelman uses her own conversion, which happened DURING medical school, and her later trials that came with being a new member, a single sister, a world famous radiologist, and a married-later-in-life to a general authority woman. I don't think this book will disappoint anyone. It's perfect for those who are looking for more than a pat on the back but simple and clear enough for those who are looking for encouragement in an increasingly intellectual literary crowd.

The Double Bind

While this book was cleverly written and startled me by its end, (hey...I did have it figured out about 7/8ths of the way through. Yes...I'm quite the sleuth.) I was left unsatisfied by the big reveal and don't believe it brought the book the resolution it needed.

The Double Bind weaves the classic The Great Gatsby into the tragic story of a girl trying to recover mentally and physically after she was brutally attacked by two men while on a bicycle ride through a forest in Vermont. When a homeless man dies at the shelter she works at and leaves a box of photographs of the rich and famous from earlier decades, she becomes obsessed with figuring out the mystery of who he was, especially as some of the photographs have links to her own childhood and one mysteriously of the day of her attack.

As she loses herself in this homeless man's mental illness and history, she starts to lose her own frail grasp of reality in her tightly controlled world of work, love and friendship.

I wish I had the energy to go back and see if the author is really consistent with his story. My memory doubts that he could be, and I have lots of "but what about"s rolling around in my head. But, I have to hand it to him, he got me.

This reminded me of The Thirteenth Tale in its rhythmic uncovering of the past and surprise ending, but it's much more brutal and much less polished. I loved rediscovering the classic Gatsby and this book made me want to read Fitzgerald's masterpiece all over again.

This is a very suitable choice for a spirited book club discussion.

A Room With A View

I found myself in the rare situation of reading a book after I've watched the movie. Unfortunately, my mind was forced to conform to the images of the actors and actresses playing the parts of George and Lucy and Cecil. Thankfully, they were good images and I was comforted to know that a movie I loved was as good as the book it stemmed from.

Kind of a quirky book for period literature, but I like it all the more because of it. It's funny and honest and satisfying. If you're not up to reading it, rent the movie. It's a fair copy.

Interpreter of Maladies

A book comprising multiple short stories all containing Lahiri's haunting mix of Indian/American blend. If it's true that an author can only write what she knows, the Lahiri must know loneliness, because she writes it so beautifully.

While you might not be up for a party after reading this, you will be in the mood for some quiet reflection. She really captures human emotion in her words.

Karma Girl

This was on a table at my library because it is in the running for a reader's choice award. Gak! No, no, no! If this qualifies for any award, then the criteria for nomination needs to be seriously looked at.

Here's what I wish for: A funny book. A really funny book. That isn't stupid...isn't raunchy...isn't pathetically unimportant. Is that too much to ask? I can tell the author is trying to be witty and interesting. But the result is embarrassing.

Karma Girl follows a jilted woman who discovers her finance is really a superhero having an affair with his nemesis and her best friend. Hurt, she decides to "out" all of the local superheros. But, as superheroes surround her, she finds herself caught up in their world and falling for another masked man.

Obviously, this is a parody or satire of the comic book world, and the author spends ample amount of time and space describing spandex and bad monologues. But it's all too juvenile to be entertaining. I've seen The Incredibles and it's 1000 times more funny.

If anyone knows some really great comedic literature that won't leave me feeling stupider at the end, please let me know. I hope I'm providing a likewise favor by suggesting you avoid wasting time with this book.

Gone For Good

I've decided Harlan Coben is my perfect airplane author. Now that I've finished four of his books, I can say that, like most authors, his books are a bit formulaic, but I like his formula. Likable, clueless guy caught up in a dangerous game that involve his loved ones. Usually turns out sad, but o.k. too. I can deal with that. Especially in the confined space of an airline seat.

Not as good as Into the Woods or Tell No One, but an interesting thriller with plenty of twists.

She May Not Leave

Stupid book. I really should be more willing to put a book down. Unfortunately, there have been just enough that have made it worth it to get to the end that like a rat in a laboratory, I feel like I must finish to see if there is a reward.

No reward here. I have nothing good to say about it. Read this if you're really curious. I can't spend any more time with this book.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bound On Earth

When I finished the first chapter, I loved this book. Beth is struggling through Thanksgiving with her family after just leaving her husband who suffers from Bipolar disorder and quit taking his medication. By its middle, I had changed my mind. Tina seemed to be every character in a Jack Weyland novel. She does bad things and bad things happen to her. As I turned the last page, I loved it again. Wait a minute. This is it. These are the stories of families trying. Some of their tales are quite extraordinary.

I don't generally read much LDS fiction. I find the stories usually a bit too tidy and my most important qualifier for really good literature is that it be honest. A lot of time, LDS fiction can be fluffy. Yes, there is usually some necessary conflict that involves the bad character doing bad things. By its end, however, the punishment usually fits the crime and when a miracle is in order, it rarely fails to show up.

I saw a recommendation for this book on Blog Segullah and it got such rave reviews from some seemingly picky readers that I requested it from my library. It's brand new and I was the very first person to check it out. If you consider where I live and what kind of book it is, you'll agree that it was a special moment.

At just under 200 pages, this is the kind of book you can easily read in a day or two. I started it last night and have had a hard time putting it down. Bound on Earth follows the Palmer family through many generations, though not chronologically. The chapters bounce around in time and between family members, a writing technique I'm not always super fond of. Part of me thinks it's a shortcut, to eliminate the tricky transitions that progress a plot. But I also admit that as a reader, it can work well to experience multiple first hand narratives; it makes it much easier to get the "BIG" picture. And this is a book that is all about the big picture.

What is marriage? What is family? How do they survive? Do our trials break us apart or bind us together? Hallstrom doesn't cut corners with heartache. The situations she puts her characters in are vividly real, so real that I felt like I knew these people. I do know them. They just have different names.

If you're wary of LDS literature, give this a try. If you are looking for a great book to read with your ward bookgroup, this is your book. Or if you simply want to discover some great characters that you feel sad to part with at the end...read it. It's legitimately good.

Princess Academy

I enjoyed this so much more than I was expecting to. Shannon Hale keeps surprising me and I think this the best of all her books I've read. Of course, Austenland has a different target audience, so...really, I can only say that this outranks Goose Girl.

I hate the title. It reminds me of a Disney movie that stars Amanda Bynes or Anne Hathaway or somebody that little girls want to grow up to be like. The title actually kept me from reading this earlier. It sounded silly. In reality, however, the title is completely appropriate (I certainly can't think of a better one) and a great book for girls and their moms (sorry guys, but I don't think you'd enjoy it).

Mira is a fourteen year old Danlaner who lives on Mt Eskel with other mountain village families. When the prince's representatives come and announce that the prince will choose a bride from Mt. Eskel, each girl between the ages of 13 and 18 are forced to leave their families and attend the "princess academy" where they learned to read and write and learn the basics in commerce, poise, conversation and dance. After a years time, they meet the prince but Mira also realizes how much more enlightened she is with her education - princess-to-be or not. She uses her knowledge to better her village, defend her family and figure out the secret of "quarry-speaking".

Part fantasy, part romance, part coming of age, part fairy tale, I enjoyed this quick read.

The Maytrees

For a book about love, it's kind of a downer. There are too many exquisite lines to put this into a "waste of time" category, but as a whole, I can't claim this to be a favorite.

What I enjoyed was Dillard's ability to put a unique feel to common experiences. For instance, when Maytree looked at his wife, she wrote, "After their first year or so, Lou's beauty no longer surprised him. He never stopped looking, because her face was his eyes' home."

"That he did not possess her childhood drove him wild. Who was this impostor she sang with in college -- how dare he?"

Here's a good one:
"A woman's forgiveness weakened a man's arms and back. So did its sob sister, pity. It would not stand up to fight. Who could prevail against it?"

This one is my favorite:
"Often she missed infant Petie now gone -- his random gapes, his bizarre buttocks. How besotted they gazed at each other nose-on-nose. He fit her arms as if they two had invented how to carry a baby.....She imagined joining picnic tables outside by the beach and setting them for 22 Peties and Petes, or 122, or however greedy she was that day and however divisible Pete. Together the sons at every age and size -- scented with diaper, formula on rubber nipples, bike grease, wax crayon...waited for dinner. Who else knew what each liked? It was a hell of a long table. She gave herself a minute to watch them -- Petie after Petie barefoot near his future self and past. They pinched and teased or shoved one another. What mother would not want to see her kids again?"

Now normally I do not give a lot of quotes for a book review. I can't really explain why I did with this particular book, other than I liked these individual lines better than the book as a whole. I confess that I've always had a slight prejudice against east coasters. I don't know exactly why. Again, I like almost all of the individuals I've met, but as a whole, there is a superiority they perceive in themselves in regards to their intellect, experience and perspective that I find irritating. These characters and their beachfront way of life irritated me. Their attitudes towards marriage, parenting, etc. frustrated me. I don't know if it was the author's own bias that tainted them, or if it really was isolated to these particular characters, but the choices they made did not match the consequences I felt each choice deserved.

But who am I to say what should befall the fallen? All I can say is I felt unsatisfied at the end. And a little bit like none of it mattered.

Wow. This was a really bad book review. Sorry.

Joan Of Arc

First of all, how embarrassed am I that I didn't really know the story of Joan of Arc? I thought it was about a girl soldier that was burned at the stake because she dressed up like a man.

This story is so much more complicated than that. This is a story about faith, courage, revelation, miracles, pride, power, corruption, martyrdom and enduring to the end. This is a story that is so astonishing that most should be thoroughly schooled in its details. It is very inspiring. In short, Joan of Arc's story could easily be found in any set of scriptures.

I find it interesting that Mark Twain wrote this book. He, a man of little to no faith and disdain for those who practiced it, clearly loved and admired Joan. Twain's familiar wit and satirical prose are all but absent within these pages. Instead, he writes as a man named de Conte, the fictional page and scribe of Joan, thus allowing himself to write with his own adoring perspective, without having to actually be Mark Twain. He called this the "best of all his books" and no doubt felt that way after a result of twelve years of research. As there is plenty of historical data available about Joan's life, including the full transcript of her trial, I have little doubt that this is a very accurate representation of her life.

On one hand, I like his choice in narration. As Joan's friend and scribe, Twain's de Conte manages to allow the reader to witness Joan's life from his own memory, a memory that included first hand accounts of most of Joan's life. And although his biting wit is extremely toned down, little glimpses are seen here and there through the telling of personal side notes.

On the other hand, the narration allowed the book to frequently become overly sentimental. Louis de Conte oft wandered away from the main story line to regale a story of the Paladin, or La Hire or his attraction towards Catherine de Boucher. In addition, I lost track of how many paragraphs were lent to remind the reader, once again, about Joan's saintliness. I feel it was unnecessary and writing it, over and over again, gave the book a "dumbed down" feel (which really is quite silly because this is NOT an easy read - I should have been grateful for any dumbing down). I think the caliber of her person, as well as her righteousness, were made obvious by her very actions, by her charity and by her speech. To point it out so often was overdoing it and eventually wore down my good opinion. I have a hard time loving a book that bored me at times.

That being said, this is an incredible book about an even more incredible historical figure. I could write and write about how much I loved Joan and her goodness, about her persecution and how much her story reminded me of Joseph Smith's. There are striking similarities, down to the resigned knowledge of their own endings. But they knew what they knew, they knew God knew what they knew, and they could not deny it. With their knowledge, they accomplished great works and forever changed the course of history. Read for yourself and become smitten with the power of a seventeen year old girl who became commander in chief of all the armies in France...because God told her to do it.

Thank you, Amy. I am so much more enlightened because you sent this to me. I can walk around with confidence knowing all I now know about the life of Joan of Arc.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs Of A Boy Soldier

Heartbreaking. I can't believe people have life experiences like Ishmael Beah. Ishmael, a 27 year-old refugee from Sierra Leone now living in New York City, left his home with his brother and some friends to practice a new rap routine in a neighboring village. He was twelve years old. He never saw his home or his parents again. Rebel forces attacked his village, killing most, and causing the rest to flee.

Without a home to return to, he and his peers managed to spend several months wandering from village to village but eventually, as they were old enough to be mistaken as soldiers themselves, they became objects of fear. Left starving and hiding in the forests, Ishmael and his group were eventually captured and forced to become soldiers.

A boy whose favorite thing was to perform rap songs for people was suddenly cutting throats and shooting anyone that moved. He became a drug addict, as higher ups encouraged the boys to swallow white capsules and sniff cocaine to "give them more energy".

Years later, he was fortunate to be chosen by his lieutenant and UNICEF workers and was enrolled in a rehabilitation unit. It took him eight months to fight the drugs out of his system and to turn into a child again. His agony and nightmares about what he had done are intense. He was only fifteen years old.

When the fighting moved from the villages into the city, Ishamel knew that he could not become a soldier again. Earlier in the year, after he had completed his rehabilitation, he traveled to New York to represent UNICEF and the youth in Sierre Leone at the UN. From this experience, he contacted one of the women he had met in New York to ask if she would be willing to allow him to stay with her if he could get out of his country. Amazingly, he managed, got to New York and has since graduated from the UN's International School and graduated from a university.

What amazes me when I read books like this, because I don't really enjoy them, is how deplorable certain areas of our world really are. We are often told of the blessings we enjoy from living where we live: freedom, prosperity, security. We worry about losing zero percent interest for credit cards and avoiding trans fat, while other people in the world literally watch their best friends get blown up. Certainly our problems and worries are real, but when put into perspective, they are molehills compared to mountains.

I'm grateful this boy got another chance. I'm horrified that most do not.


I am a Pride and Prejudice snob. I only like the BBC version, with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett. While there are parts of the newer, shorter, harried, and nuance free Hollywood version I enjoy, like the supposed-to-be-prettiest-sister Jane, who is actually much prettier than the actress in the BBC version, every time I've watched it (which, I grant, is only twice), I feel angry afterwards. First, Kiera Knightly is NOT Elizabeth Bennett. Elizabeth Bennett does not smile a ridiculous smile showing her bottom teeth all the time. And she is not flat chested. I mean, come on....we're talking about the girl who woos Mr. Darcy. With those low-cut gowns in style, I'm guessing there was a little bit of oomph necessary to catch his eye. That and a pair of "fine eyes". Mostly, though, the entire movie is rushed. The actors spit out their lines in Gilmore Girls fashion, important scenes are entirely cut out, and then two minutes are devoted to watching Kiera Knightly spin on a swing. Frustrating.

Anyways, my point is (and I do have one), that there is only one good movie adaptation...and it's six hours long and only strays (and not really even strays, just leaves out a few minor details) slightly from the book. So, when the main character in Austenland, Jane, loved this movie as much as me, I knew I could appreciate her.

32 year-old Jane, single and relationship challenged, is obsessed with Mr. Darcy...the dreamy Colin Firth who walks across his magnificent grounds in a wet shirt after diving into a pond (you know the scene). The Colin Firth...I mean Mr. Darcy, who beams at Elizabeth while she's turning pages for his sister, Georgiana, at the piano (you know this scene too). After her rich great aunt comes to visit her, and subsequently finds her two-disc DVDs hidden behind a houseplant, Jane is surprised when she receives a call following her aunt's death from the probate attorney. Instead of money, her aunt leaves her an all expense paid for trip to an exclusive British resort, where Jane will spend three weeks living the Regency period lifestyle in an attempt to fulfill, and also hopefully expunge, her Darcy obsession.

I found the beginning of this book to be annoying. Jane is too nervous and melodramatic and not all that likable. For starters, I have no idea why anyone would be ashamed of owning Pride and Prejudice. Houseplants? Please. I'm thinking of fashioning my set up with a chain and wearing it around my neck. See? I'm a true fan.

However, the three weeks she spends at Pembrook Park, a Netherfield/Pemberly-esque manor with servants who can't speak to her, empire wasted gowns, gentleman that are actors (or are they?), turns about the room, walks on the grounds and a ball are simply fantastic. The situations are entertaining, the plot pleasantly twisty and the ending satisfying.

Shannon Hale writes a light-hearted fantasy romance that is sure to please even the snobbiest Jane Austen fans. As a warning, do not expect a Jane Austen book. While Hale does a fair job mimicking some of the dialogue, the novel is thoroughly modern and much less subtle. It is a romance...therefore extremely unlikely to be true. Regardless, when I turned the last page, I had a smile on my face and said, out loud, "That was fun!"

A Lantern In Her Hand

I need to get this book out of my head. I think it's partly to blame for this heavy blanket of melancholy I've been feeling since Friday.

Originally published in 1928, Beth Streeter Aldrich uses this novel to create a fantastic female character, Abbie Deal. Abbie's story begins in 1854, when she is eight years old and at the start of a three week journey, traveling with her family by wagon from Illinois to Iowa. The fact that I grew up listening to pioneer stories from this era made her voyage very vivid in my mind. I could see the sacks of flour falling out of the wagon and floating in the river and the oxen slowly pulling all the families' possessions along a bumpy buffalo trail. The story ends in 1926 with Abbie's death at the age of 80. The face of America changed dramatically between those years, and Abbie's life changed alongside it.

Part pioneer story, part pride of Nebraska lesson, part farming tutorial, part commentary about marriage - Aldrich ultimately uses Abbie Deal to explain the choices and sacrifices that faced a 19th century woman, or more specifically, a mother.

Perhaps Abbie Deal's selfless mothering is the source of my distress. I've always felt I've lacked in this arena and while I've tried really hard not to compare myself to my friends' and siblings' styles of mothering, I found myself forlorn with the realization that I was no Abbie Deal. Abbie was a natural mother. She postponed her dreams of becoming a singer and learning how to paint the prairie's sunset to follow her husband, Will, to Nebraska at the end of the Civil War.

Originally, she postponed these dreams for the sake of her husband, who needed to carve his own way in life away from his father. Later she postponed them because there was no money or opportunity and every ounce of her energy went into building their home and farm and caring for her young children. Later yet, she postponed them because her children grew and had dreams of their own that required any extra time or money she had saved. Finally, she abandoned them altogether because her talents had left her. Her voice had faded from non-use and her fingers were gnarled and knobby from years of work. In the end, all she was left with was her good name and the pride she had in her children's accomplishments.

Thus started the deep, stabbing pain in my chest. This kind of story, really...the universal story of motherhood, always leaves me feeling a little "damned if you do, damned if you don't". Abbie gave up everything of her own...her talents, her time, her figure (I can really relate to this), her life...for her children. The feminist in me resists....even feels slightly miserable that we women are expected and praised for being noble and altruistic, but void of personal achievement. The mother in me, however, wipes away a tear as I watch life from back stage instead of front and center, but wholly gets that my family is THE point. I get to clap and cheer and know that my efforts made this grand production possible.

Throughout the book, Abbie does women a great service by allowing herself to wonder "what if". What if she had married that other boy who wanted her but who she didn't quite love, the one whose wife now wears all those fine clothes? What if she and Will hadn't moved to Nebraska and avoided suffering through drought and grasshoppers and blizzards? What if she had kept at her singing...developed the talent that everyone acknowledged she had? What if, what if, what if? What if I had? What then? Is the prize for the correct choice happiness?

The fun in discussing this book would be hearing the strong arguments that defend the choices made at either end of the spectrum, and all the shades in between. Today, we lucky women get to choose whatever shade we like. Do we like how we look? Does it match our souls?

Abbie Deal chose motherhood but the story did not romanticize her choice. Abbie's story included every distracted husband, every sick child, every annoying friend and every moody child. And yet, in the end, Abbie sat as an old woman and felt satisfied that her five children were a fine product of her life's work.

I recommend this book to every woman out there who enjoys tales of pioneer life or more importantly, empathizes with the difficult decisions made by women everywhere...always.

The Life Of Our Lord

A very quick read (I read it in less than an hour last night), this contains a personal narrative of the life of Jesus Christ given by Charles Dickens to his children. The language is informal and written so that his children could follow and understand.

While there is nothing contained within the pages that those familiar with the Bible haven't already heard, to read it so condensed, so casually and with such love is refreshing. This isn't a history lesson, nor is it a sermon. It is simply the testimony of an important author about the man he knew was his Lord.

You'll hear no complaints from me.

The Book Thief

Here it is, only February, and I don't know if I'll be lucky enough to read a better book this year.

I only recently heard about The Book Thief when Jill mentioned it on her blog. She and several others gave it such a strong review that I looked it up on Goodreads. I was a little dismayed when I learned it was set in Nazi Germany, because, well...I wasn't sure what else could be written about that time that hadn't already been said, and said well by many different authors.

I'm so glad I didn't let that thought stop me. This is a quirky book. The narrator is Death, and death isn't a very typical story teller. There are these abrupt bold statements centered throughout the pages when Death feels further information is necessary. They bothered me at first because I couldn't get into my normal rhythm. And, sometimes, his little side comments seemed slightly irreverent. Wait, books don't do this. Not books about the holocaust and Nazi Germany. But this book did, and once I got used to it, I loved Death's little insights.

My favorite thing about this book is it's fairness about one of the most unfair times in human history. The unbelievably complicated situation that the German people were in, their motives, their fear, even their ignorance is not necessarily defended, but explained. Their story is told through Liesel, a young girl who watches her brother die on a train as she is being taken to live with foster parents. After her brother is buried, she snatches a book left in the snow called, The Gravediggers Handbook. Unable to read, she hides the book in her bed until her gentle and loving foster father finds it and uses it to teach her how.

It isn't really about the Germans and the Jews....it's about our human instincts to survive and our race towards death. Death has a really interesting perspective, which lends itself to many quote worthy statements.. His viewpoint (and I'm just assigning gender to him, I'm not sure he actually does) is a troubling one, a compassionate one, an irreverent one and one that left me sobbing tears onto the pages at its end.

While I think this book is suitable for every reader, those easily offended might be troubled by some German profanity. However, in my opinion, not only is it necessary and relevant to the character's communication, it's in a foreign language...which doesn't really count.

I'm grateful this book crossed my path. It touched me.

The Witch Of Blackbird Pond

I know this is a classic. A Newberry award winner for juvenile fiction, I can hardly criticize such a loved book. Sadly, I did not read this when it was meant to be read, as a youth struggling to know it's more important to do the right thing than to fit in with what everybody else is doing.

Important, worthy lesson, but after reading two young adult novels this week with very similar themes (does this happen to anyone else? I always seem to inadvertently read books in "themes"), I feel there is something lacking when an adult reads young adult literature. Innocence, perhaps. It's too simple. The protagonists don't fit inside the story. They are almost always ahead of their times and privy to understanding that their peers don't seem to have access to. Where did Kit come from? Barbados, yes...but possibly from the 20th century as well? As modern readers, we have the hindsight to see and learn from the foibles of our ancestors and their limited understanding, but the author gave this sort of vision to Kit immediately.

I don't know if this is ever argued (and why am I arguing, didn't I promise not to?) but part of me feels like there is an anti-obedience theme in this book. Kit is almost always disobedient, and her disobedience always turned out to be the right thing to do. Because it's young adult literature, everything turns out fine in the end, but there is a difference in doing the right thing and doing what you want to. This is a much deeper discussion to be typed out here, and I won't blaspheme this good book any more. I know it's a favorite.

The Raging Quiet

A novel for young adults, this story highlights the struggle of an ahead-of-her-times girl, Marmie, and her new deaf friend, Raven, who is believed by all of the rest of the ignorant townspeople to be a madman.

Marmie meets Raven when she is brought to the town as a young bride on her wedding day, married to Isake, a lord more than twice her age. She notices Raven being beaten by townspeople as she and her husband ride into town on their wagon. While waiting for her new husband to finish getting drunk in a tavern outside in the rain, Raven approaches her bleeding, hungry and scared. Not at all intimidated, she offers him food and their unusual friendship begins.

Fortunately for her, after two days of not quite so wedded bliss, her husband falls from the thatched roof he is repairing and is killed. This leaves her free to develop her friendship with Raven, discover that he cannot hear, and begins her quest to teach him how to communicate by using signs. I found this troubling. Surely he was not the first deaf person in all of Europe. I didn't know why they found him so scary.

Set in medieval Europe, when witchcraft was feared and those with birth defects were considered evil, Marnie saintly and stubbornly teaches the young man "hand talk". When the townspeople (apparently all uncharitable and bad) see her using hand signals to him, they are convinced she is a witch and has put him under her spell.

I understand why these books are written. Yes, I suppose I can apply the moral of the story to our own day and recognize the universal lesson that just because people are different doesn't mean they are bad. Unfortunately, I think I'm too cynical for some young adult fiction.

This book was too simple and the characters entirely too boxed in. Marmie, is always selfless, always determined, always fearless and always right. The other characters were ignorant, mean and sneaky. I just don't enjoy the lack of subtlety. Few characters should so easily fall into a good or bad category as every single one is (or should be) flawed.

I think there are better books out there that tell this story better. But maybe not for young people. I don't think I'm the best judge.

The Parent's Guide to Speech and Language Problems

This is so not my style of book. That being said, it was important for me to read. I had eureka moments as I read about different diagnoses. Laugh out loud moments as I read about complementary therapies (fish oil and horseback riding) and inspiring moments as I got some really good advice for things I can be doing at home with Henry.

As I am just at the very start of this journey, and not entirely sure if it's going to be a 20 mile jaunt across town or an around-the-world odyssey, I didn't absorb this book with the desperation that perhaps a parent of an older, or more severely disable child might have. But, I believe it lays a good foundation for me as I meet with a therapist next week; knowing which questions to ask and understanding the jargon and code a little better.

And, for the record, I'm not anti complementary therapy. I just wasn't expecting the advice that, perhaps, Henry might improve upon riding a horse. That was, most definitely, new information.

My Thirteenth Winter

This book was a complete surprise for me. A few weeks ago, my mother sent me an email which included a beautiful quote from this book. It was about being a writer, and my mother was paying a compliment to me in regards to my dedication to blogging. Interested in reading the book where the quote came from, I found myself reading about a very bright girl whose world collapsed around her as she struggled through her elementary school years with an undiagnosed learning disability.

Samantha Abeel was a bright, precocious and highly confident young child. Her memories of Kindergarten and first grade are of being in the top of her class and proudly so. She knew she was known as one of the smart kids and did her best to live up to her reputation, even as she inwardly began to realize that sometimes, particularly during math time, she had to fake it.

As her school years progressed, and she couldn't keep up with her peers in math, and she couldn't admit that she had no idea how to tell time, she turned inward in humiliation and depression, while secretly praying that the difference was merely because she was special and wise, and not at all slow.

After many unfortunate delays and misdiagnoses, Abeel was finally diagnosed with a math and sequencing learning disability known as dyscalculia. Throughout her schooling, Abeel realized that although she couldn't understand the rules of grammar and had a hard time spelling, she had a gift for words and poetry and channeled her gift into a skill of writing. As a ninth grader, she, with help from several teachers and artists, published a book whose name was later changed to Reach For the Moon. While it gave her confidence and success, she still drifted into social isolation and depression throughout high school and later, college.

Reading about her change, her isolation and fear, made my heart pound as I thought about the possibility of any of my own children suffering in this way. Particularly Henry, as we continue to worry about whether or not his speech will come or if it will be a continual battle for him throughout his life.

The faults I have with this book lies in its slow, repetitive pace. As the story begins with her memories as a kindergartener and ends with her graduating from college, it's got more than enough "space" for her memoir, the sort of book usually reserved for a later time in life. Additionally, Abeel frequently transitions the style of writing from autobiography to memoir, which sometimes works but often times feels incredibly jarring. It's like she's a narrator to her own memories, but without first giving a warning to the reader to "fade to screen".

Aside from that, I think this would be a valuable and worthwhile book to discuss. From our current education model to the causes of depression and its treatment, I think many women, mothers and friends could relate to its material. I also think it would be a good book to recommend for older children with learning disabilities or their peers.

And, now, for the quote that started it all, which is actually quite relevant to her own story, but also a beautiful passage for anyone who enjoys writing.

For an admissions essay to Mount Holyoke College, she writes:

Sometimes on winter mornings, I try to see myself in gathered wrinkles, my dark hair forsaking me to silver. I try to see my hands traced by blue veins and my eyes in vintage brown. I try to see myself a little bent, a little withered. I close my eyes and see me all in white, all in gray, draped in the webs of age.

Oh, I will ache a little and have one of those chronic coughs. I will sit in my chair and pull at curtains that reveal a window etched with white doves of frost. Then, maybe just then, I will know what I was and who I am. I will know all that I took and all that I gave.

It is here that I want to be a messenger, a courier of everything I've gathered. I want to tell my grandchildren of the games my friends and I would play. I want to pass on the legends that creep around us. I want to tell them of the sand dunes and of the lakes. I want to tell them of the many ghosts that look fondly upon them. I want to say that I have made a difference. I want to give them the world through my eyes.

However, for now, my center, my sense of self, my purpose is yet unclear to me. I see it like one sees a fish in a river, only silvery flashes of fin and tail. Never seeing all of it at once. The journey to discover these things lies ahead. When I am in the November of my life maybe then I will understand my June. I do know that I want desperately to understand what I don't, and give the understanding of what I do to others.

Perhaps one day, after I have sunken into the shadows, my granddaughter will read one of my poems to her daughter, or show her a book that I collected, maybe even pass on one of the stories that I told. Then, there in that moment, is all that we can ever hope to be. That one little niche in time, when what we gave, or passed on, is given again.

I could never say it quite so well, but this is what I hope too.

The Book Of Mormon

My mother has told me for years that I should try reading the Book of Mormon like I do novels - straight through and quickly. I always thought, "Yes, yes...that would be great." but never really thought much more about it. After all, I'm not involved with a Young Men/Young Women super overnighter group read, or a convert from the 1800s reading by candlelight in a haybarn.

When Calamity Jane posted her goal and experience, I was reminded again of this idea - to consume the Book of Mormon like a book. I never, ever, ever take a year to read a book. Ever. I don't even take a month. I read it in a timely manner or I don't read it at all. Which is why I've never looked at scriptures as "books". I wish I could say I was a regular reader of them, but the truth is, I'm not. I go in spurts and have never really developed a daily habit of reading.

I began reading at around 11:00 am on Monday morning. I had just come back from the gym and was feeling very goal-oriented. I posted a blog post and, afterwards, sat in my blue, leather Lazy-Boy recliner in the living room, opened a replica copy of the first edition Book of Mormon (which makes for much, much easier speed reading as it is in the traditional block paragraph format) and read "I, Nephi". Familiarity hit me and my body physically resisted. Almost immediately, I was tired. I read maybe twenty pages and fell asleep. Asleep asleep, not just shutting my eyes.

First of all, I don't nap. I'm not a good napper (I wake up more grouchy than ever) and I need dark and quiet, two things I'm not prone to find in the middle of the day. Moreover, reading doesn't make me sleepy. Usually. Unless, of course, the paragraph begins with, "I, Nephi."

After my first pathetic attempt failed miserably, I decided to pull out the guns. I filled the bathtub with hot water and got a Diet Dr. Pepper from the fridge to keep me company. I really do some of my best reading in the bathtub. While this format is usually reserved for my evening solitude when no food demands or poopy diaper can disturb my soak, I recognized the need for an earlier intervention.

"What are your kids doing?" you might be asking. Coming in and out of my bedroom, but playing together handsomely and, overall, doing quite well. My parenting style of benign neglect came in quite handy for this current project.

The bathtub proved worse than the comfy reclining chair and I found myself dozing again! I was only forty pages into the book and my goal of a hundred pages per day seemed insurmountable. I felt like I'd already been reading, or trying to read, for the better part of the day and I hadn't made the kind of progress I anticipated making. I got out, got dressed and changed gears by talking to a few people on the phone. Later, I tried again and forcibly made myself read one-hundred pages. It wasn't enjoyable, or uplifting, and I found myself annoyed with Nephi and his goody-goodness. I get Laman and Lemuel's grievance. He sort of bugs.

I went about the rest of my day, picking Seth up from school, tidying up the more noticeable disasters in the house, and making dinner. After dinner, I noticed my sad little pedometer on my hip and it displayed a measly 2,500 steps for the day. A lofty reading goal doesn't jive well with being more active. With a sigh, I asked Jay if he minded if I went to the gym to walk on the treadmill for a while to get my steps in. He turned into Jillian- the-trainer and sent me off, telling me "No excuses." and I found myself in the very rare situation of being at a gym in the evening hours.

Thinking if I got ahead, maybe I would have a better experience the next day, I started walking at 3.8 mph and turned to page 101. I don't know what made the difference, but my entire experience changed from this point on. The book energized my walking or the walking energized my reading because sixty minutes and three and a half miles later, I was sixty more pages into the book and wishing I didn't have to stop. I went home, crawled into bed and read sixty more. I got my first glimpse of what would become obvious two days later, that like like any good book, this book was centered on conflict. I don't think I'd really known that before. Or at least I thought there was more of a balance between the good times and the bad. But there really isn't. It's mostly about the bad times.

The next two days were spent reading whenever possible. I made good use of my new gym membership and spent over an hour each day walking briskly while reading. I found my best reading to be done while walking. It was the only time I averaged a page a minute. If the day care would have allowed it, I might have spent all day there - walking and reading. I read in the car while I was waiting for Seth. I read while I ate. I read in bed before falling asleep. I just keep reading. I knew I could finish in three days and changed my goal to just that. I finished last night at 11:43 pm.

While certainly not comprehensive, here are some of my observations:

  • Nephi is hard for the proud to like. If this sounds sacrilege, and you've never had this thought before, congratulations...you're probably not proud. But, pride is something I struggle with so his, "Why can't you all just be more like me?" attitude can be a stumbling block. But the thing to remember is, he was called of God, and although his personality might make me less wont to invite him to a party, his righteousness is absolute. And, ultimately, those who are called to be our leaders are meant to be followed. This means that the relief society president, who drives me batty (not my current one), still has the mantle of leadership, and it is my responsibility to adjust my pride so that I can learn the gospel. Laman and Lemuel, while probably slightly justified in finding their younger brother too much to take, allowed their pride to turn to sin, which resulted in the loss of the spirit. And thus, the second promise of the Lord is fulfilled, that "inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence. They didn't and they were.
  • the word "durst" is used quite frequently.
  • The lineage of authorship foreshadows the later-day church established by Joseph Smith. Nephi gives the small plates to his brother, Jacob, not to any of his own children. Sort of similar to how Hyrum's children were later leaders for the LDS church but not Joseph's own. I found that interesting. I wonder if there was an ancient RLDS church out there.
  • The allegory of the Lord in the Vineyard found in Jacob is profound and deeply relevant to our day.
  • There were some slackers that were handed the plates.
  • Race does not matter. The line between Nephite and Lamanite was so blurred throughout their history that it wasn't a matter of race. The distinction was between those who were lived the commandments of God and those who ignored them. The Nephites who turned "bad" were the worst of all. Those were some scary dudes.
  • I've often wondered why there are so many details of the wars. I'm sure there are multiple and deeper reasons, but I'm leaning towards Mormon just being really interested in it. After all, he was in charge of the entire Nephite army when he was only 16. I can imagine him looking through all the old plates and scrolls and loving all the details Captain Moroni, Teancum, Helaman and Moronihah left. It's a manly book. If only their wives could have been bloggers.
  • Sadly, the history is dictated by which war was in what year. I don't think their history differed from that of any other civilization. We mark time by our skirmishes and conquests. The peace and love that existed while Christ visited, and the effect his visit had for generations to come, stands in stark contrast.
  • The sacrament is sacred. Jay and I had a discussion a couple of weeks ago where he pointed out that taking the sacrament is symbolic of partaking of the tree of life. After reading Christ's words to his disciples, I absolutely agree. I think we endanger our spirits when we partake unworthily or even absentmindedly.
  • It truly matters who our leaders are. I found this discovery extremely apropos with the current change in leadership of this church, as well as the leadership of our country. It takes a wise, humble, and righteous person to effectively lead his people in peace and prosperity whereas a corrupt leader inevitably leads those who follow to destruction. Every time.
  • Being rich isn't the point of being prosperous. I think a great stewardship comes with becoming rich. It's almost a test to see how you handle it. I've been feeling covetous lately for a large home. You see these monster homes being built everywhere around here and it's gotten into my head that I must have one. Nothing less than 5,000 square feet will do! It's pretty clear throughout the book that those the Lord blesses with prosperity doesn't entitle them to get caught up with their money and belongings. The outcome is never good when this happens. So, I'm going to nip this feeling in the bud and hopefully do it before the riches come. (by the way, I don't think having a 5,000 square foot house is bad. But coveting one before you need it or can afford it certainly is).
  • Moroni was totally improvising at the end. He didn't know when he'd die so he just kept adding stuff at the end. And there is some really good stuff at the end!
  • The moral of the story seems to be repentance. The theme throughout is "keep my commandments and you will prosper in the land." but as no one does that perfectly, except my good friend Nephi (who, really I'm just envious of because he never seems to stumble...and who doesn't stumble???) the only way to do it is to repent...continually.
The best part of this experience has been today. There is a certain famous verse, although when I read it, it wasn't a verse but merely part of the second to last page, where Moroni challenges the reader to pray with a sincere heart to discover the truth of the book. My greatest fear while reading was that I would feel exactly the same afterwards. I wanted to feel more, and an inner voice sounded off a worry about what I'd think if I didn't.

There were times I felt more. When Enos prayed, I felt power and love for that man.

I was again moved when Alma and the sons of Mosiah meet up again after more than a decade of missionary work and when Captain Moroni rides around with his Title of Liberty (although I really had to work hard to shake off a Mel Gibson with facepaint image I had in my head).

There was definitely a feeling of more when Christ blessed the little children. It is such a tender moment in time.

I didn't know if I'd get the burning bosom. I wanted it, but knew I couldn't force it so I decided to fast the entire day and made arrangements with my sister, Maureen, to have her watch Sam and Henry while I went to the temple. It was while I was driving to her high school to drop them off, and after I switched the CD playing from a So You Think You Can Dance mix to a Mormon Tabernacle Choir recording (I knew no burning would come from listening to Timbaland) that it came. Peace like a River started to play while I was going through the drive through at Carl's Jr. to get lunch for my boys and the melody and words "peace like a river", " faith like a river" "hope like a river", "love like a river" and I felt overwhelmed with such a spirit of joy and love for my Savior.

That's it! That's it. There are wars, and rumors of wars, and corruption and sin and secret combinations and even total destruction. But with Christ, there is peace. And hope. And charity. The Book of Mormon boldly teaches us the commandments of God, and of His plan so that the faith, hope and peace can be felt.

This book is true. It is not written by a genius of manipulation. By their fruits ye shall know them, and this is good fruit. It testifies of Christ and because it does, it uplifts the soul.

I found this quote on my friend, Alisa's, blog. How appropriate that it comes from President Hinckley. He says, "Love is the only force that can erase the differences between people..." The Book of Mormon proves this is true. Not through regime change. Not through indoctrination. I feel like shouting out to the world, and particularly to the candidates for president who keep promising unity. It's not about the economy, stupid,...it's about love!

I've been writing for a while now, and feeling a little bit like Moroni in that I don't know how to end this. I'm really hungry, but happy that I've made it until 5:50 without succumbing to my natural man, who most definitely likes to feel full.

I've been asked if certain books I review would be appropriate for church or enrichment style book groups. This would be a good one! I actually think it'd be fun to discuss in a book group setting. Of course, there's Sunday School, which is already set up for that, but I'm not usually a participant in that arena. Either way, I give it a thumbs up....five stars....highly recommended.

Thank you, President Hinckley, for inspiring this event in my life. It changed my week from mediocre to meaningful.

A Thousand Splendid Suns

For the last two months I have been putting off reading this book. For starters, I bought the book at an airport in Taiwan, which meant it didn't have a due date which meant it took a backseat to many books that I didn't have the luxury of reading whenever.

Additionally, because I've heard so much about this book already, I almost didn't want to read it at all. I've heard that it's depressing, that it's not as good as The Kite Runner, and that it's basically a novel about the brutal treatment of women in Afghanistan.

You know when you read a book or see a film that has had great reviews and you finish feeling disappointed because it didn't live up to the hype? My experience reading this book was the complete opposite. I loved it. I didn't feel the message of the book was one of brutality or depression, but of hope and the toughness of the human spirit.

There are plenty of awful scenes to lend credence to its reputation. While the story's time frame spans thirty years, the main focus of the novel are two woman, a generation apart, whose lives cross as they become the wives of the same man, Rasheed. The elder, Mariam, was born to a servant woman out of wedlock and is raised in banishment, ignorance and eventual rejection during the years the Afghani government was controlled by the communists. She finds herself forced to marry a much older man after her mother commits suicide. Laila, fifteen years younger and raised by intellectual parents, enters the marriage under much different circumstances. Alone after a bomb destroys her home and kills her parents, and pregnant by her childhood love who has fled the country, she marries Rasheed in a desperate attempt to save her unborn child.

The writing engrossed me. Much like the Kite Runner, Hosseini magically puts the reader in the city, neighborhood and house of his characters. Much to his credit, I found myself torn between wanting to yell at Laila to hush up, so that she'd avoid another beating, and kicking Rasheed myself, because he is a despicable brute.

Mariam, one of the most tragic characters in literature, makes this book what it is; a story of love and strenghth. She, who didn't have an easy day in her life, allows herself to be touched by the love of Laila and her children. In return, she performs the ultimate act of love and saves a family.

I appreciate Hosseini's portrayal of a part of the world that is under so much scrutiny lately. Afghanistan, and the city of Kabul where the story takes place, have a long history of wars and occupations which result in a great chasm between different ethnic tribes, Islam, economic classes and gender. Hosseini uses this novel to tell the story of Afghani women and the hardships that face them with each regime change.

As a woman, I feel blessed to have been given confidence and opportunities. I truly cannot imagine what it would be like to live under the conditions the women in this book live under. I am grateful to be born to the family I was born to and in a country which allows me to live the kind of life I choose.

Miram and Laila didn't have the opportunities or support that I have. And yet they survived. They endured and they reached out to others, despite their circumstances. In this, Hosseini redeems all of Afghanistan by showing these two women's humanity. He shows that in a place whose beauty was written about in a 17th century poem, where "One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs and the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls" is a city that can become illuminated once again.

What Came Before He Shot Her

I could write A LOT about this book. Mainly, how much I disliked it. Elizabeth George is probably my favorite crime novelist. I love her Inspector Lynley/Havers books. The first tragic flaw of this book is that neither characters are in the book.

In a nutshell, George takes her last book, With No One As A Witness, and writes a very, very long book with all the background for the criminal in that book. Yes, it humanizes the criminal. Yes, it paints a stark and awful background to the horrors of poverty and neighborhoods that breed crime. But the book becomes part of the horror as it goes on and on in its detail about the ugly.

In the end, there is no beauty to save it. I was just glad to be done with it. It was a hard book for me to read and I feel a little betrayed by George. If you like her too and haven't read this book - don't. Spare yourself the torture.

Mrs. Mike

This wasn't on my list of scheduled reads but while I was in a bookstore last month to purchase a book for a Christmas exchange, I saw Mrs. Mike on the shelves and felt compelled to buy this much beloved book.

I'm often asked what my favorite book is. I always answer that I don't have one; there are many books I love but they are too different to say one is superior to another.

I have changed my mind. Mrs. Mike is my favorite book.

A coming of age story set in the Canadian North in the year 1907, Katherine Mary O'Fallon, a young woman of 16, goes to live with her uncle somewhere north of Calgary as treatment for her pleurisy. There she meets Sergeant Mike Flannigan, a Mountie who has "eyes so blue she could swim in them." They are eventually married after a brief (but fantastically romantic) courtship and she follows him by dog sled to the arctic wilderness to live among the fur traders and Indians.

I love this book for many reasons. Most importantly, as a book, it's my first love. Mrs. Mike was the book that made me realized how much a book could move and stick with me for years. I rarely re-read a book, but I believe I've read Mrs. Mike five times now. Each time, my stomach swoons when Kathy and Mike fall in love, I laugh when Kathy covers her daughter and Mike spanks Kathy instead, I cry when the unimaginable happens and I sigh as I close the book, thinking the line at the very end is one of the best ever written.

Another reason I love this book is that it's based on a real woman's life who the authors met before writing the book. I'm sure it's juiced from the reality, but even the skeleton of the story is moving.

I can't claim that it's the best written book. It is simple in structure, dialogue and description, but as I've read more and more over the years, and compare it to other literature, I believe the style matches the story perfectly.

It's the kind of book I can't help but promise that anyone who reads it will love it. But I also know that with our diverse personalities and preferences, it wouldn't be true. Like a biased mother who adores her baby, I don't think I'd enjoy anyone pointing out the flaws of this book. Perhaps its eyes are too close together and the head oddly-shaped, but it's my baby, and I think it's the most beautiful thing in the world.

The Emporer's Children

Taken from the title of a book one of the character writes called The Emperor's Children Wear No Clothes, this book undresses three thirty-year old friends in New York. Marina Thwaite - the beautiful and well-to-do "it" girl who is once again living with her parents, Danielle Minkoff - a smart and somewhat successful TV producer who has an affair with Marina's father and Julius - a gay man with extremely complicated motives, are friends from college who have the advantages that graduating from an elite Ivy League university, as well has knowing influential and important people give them. They live the enviable life of having made it in New York.

The "emperor" seems to be the intellectual elite played by Marina's father, Murray Thwaite: a respected, liberal, and wealthy man who has spent the majority of his life writing "truth". This truth is applauded, awarded and revered by most, as he a champion to the poor, the honest and the brave. It isn't until two men come to town, his own nephew, Fred "Bootie" Tubbs, and Ludovic Seely, an ambitious Australian aiming to launch a new magazine, that his title of truth-teller is challenged.

I didn't think the book jacket's description adequately described the book. The story is complicated and at times, parts of it seem irrelevant to the whole - particularly Julius's part. In fact, as I read this immediately after Plainsong, I couldn't help but think it was the same story only in a much glitzier city with much glitzier characters. The book matters only so far as the characters matter.

At its end is New York's and America's tragic 9/11. Most of the character's trajectories are altered by this event. Except, perhaps, Murray Thwaite - the actual emperor - whose existence remains mostly unchanged.

The subject matter can be ugly, the characters pompous and infuriating, but the book still sparkles because Clare Messud writes the satire so convincingly. Claire Messud is the person in the crowd (although you have to assume this is her own crowd she's shouting at) watching the parade declaring, "But they're not wearing any clothes!"


The first page of this book has a definition of the word plainsong. It is:

"any simple and unadorned melody or air."

I appreciated this book more than I liked it. The author, Kent Haruf, writes with a vividly clear but simple prose about a small town in northeastern Colorado, a couple of hours from Denver, whose occupants struggle with their choices, their relationships and their opportunities.

Kind of a universal story, honestly, but in this setting - so sparse and empty - Haruf managed to develop characters that I felt like I knew. Perhaps it's growing up in Montana, where there are small towns to spare, but his book had a realness to it that felt uncomfortable to me. I had teachers like Tom Guthrie. Men who taught because it was a job, not because they were particularly suited for the profession. I was aware of girls like Victoria Roubideaux, young and troubled (in this case pregnant), misfits from the small town core.

There are many characters throughout the book, some better developed than others. Tom Guthries' sons, Bobby and Ike, who want more than either of their parents are able to give them. The McPherson brothers, old bachelors who live alone on a farm. The teenage redhead, who frightens me and makes me angry until I realize he mirrors the attitudes and behaviors of his own parents. Maggie Jones, who is the poorest developed and thus the most likable. As the book approaches its halfway point, their lives start to intersect rather than orbit. Even as the intersections begin, lives aren't drastically changed or made better. There is some growth and a hint at tenderness, particularly when the old McPherson brothers take in Victoria, who is alone and pregnant at 17.

When I finished the book, I snapped it shut and shouted, "Why do I read stuff like this?!" Days later, I still feel melancholy about Holt, Colorado and its inhabitants who seem to have so little going for them.

As frustrated as I was by the end, because there was no resolution of conflict, no great triumph or lesson learned or bridges crossed, I can quietly nod "well done" to the author for staying true to the apparent purpose of his book. This is a story of "what is" more than "what happened."

It is a plainsong.


I rarely buy books. This is true for several reasons, but if I'm ever missing, you'd have a much better chance at finding me by looking in library rather than a bookstore.

However, last month, for Blogger Bookclub, we had a book exchange and I found myself in a bookstore perusing the shelves. First of all, I could quickly change my borrowing ways if I were forced to walk through a bookstore every day. I loved it! So many rectangular shapes that wanted to be slid off shelves and bent open. I found myself off task and reading the jackets of many a book.

Which is precisely how I found this gem. Booksellers tend to pimp their bestsellers by displaying their front covers as opposed to the binding, making it easier to catch the buyer's eye. Right at my eye level was the book Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. I surmised that it was about the plague and while that wasn't the type of story I was looking for, placed right next to it was Brooks's second, and equally acclaimed book: March, a 2006 Pulitzer Prize winner.

It is the story of Peter March, the absent father of Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth of Little Women. Much more up my alley, I replaced Year of Wonder back on the shelf and walked around with March until, ultimately I found an altogether different book and placed March back on the shelf too (I ended up walking out with The Emporer's Children, which I have yet to read.)

Not forgetting about my interest for March, I used my old-faithful-tried-and-true method of attaining books and placed a hold for the book from the library.

I think I should have bought it. It's a great book. Clever, poignant, informative, inspiring, heartbreaking, interesting and historical, Brooks takes Louisa May Alcott's famous Little Women, and writes a parallel story about their father's experience during the same year. Little snippets are taken from Little Women, and it's as though you can see that famous play happening in the background in each scene. Sort of like Wicked and The Wizard of Oz, only more serious and important. After all, Peter March wasn't out flying on a broom, he was trying to serve the Union troops in the United States own Civil War.

Brooks bases Peter on Alcott's own father's journals, just as Alcott based her Little Women on herself and her sisters. Bronson Alcott, and his fictional representative, Peter March, are part of the intellectual elite who reside in Concord Massachusetts alongside their contemporaries, Walden, Thoreau, Hawthorn and Brown, who each make an appearance in the story. Idealistic abolutionists with Quaker leanings, March leaves his family to support the union's cause to end slavery and finds great conflict between his inner values and his outward actions.

Brooks writes exclusively in the first person and as a result, I, the reader, was able to understand Peter March as he was, as he wanted to be and as he failed to be. He is a fantastic character. My only complaint with the book is that she abandoned Peter for a few chapters and wrote as Marmee, his wife, when he lay sick with fever. She eventually returns to Peter's voice, which gives the story the resolution it needs, and while Marmees' thoughts are equally moving and necessary, it made the ending a little choppy.

Despite that lack of continuity, I enthusiastically recommend March. It will force you to examine your own viewpoints about war, education, race, marriage, courage, pride and love.