Sunday, December 15, 2013

November Reads

Chaos: I Bring the Fire Part III (A Loki Story) by C. Gockel - 11/1/2013
Good - Fantasy 240 pages - Kindle
The FBI wants Loki captured, Asgard wants Loki dead or alive, and human Amy Lewis wants Loki, or does she?
Well, I read the first couple of these books before NaNoWriMo began, but I couldn't stop! Had to finish! Loki mania!

In the Balance: An I Bring the Fire Novella (IBF 3.5) by C. Gockel - 11/2/2013
Good - Fantasy - 104 pages - Kindle
Amy Lewis is sure she’ll never see Loki again, but when chaos is involved nothing is certain. Called into ADUO’s offices to identify a magical artifact, Amy is taken on a journey beyond the universe itself." Amazon plot summary
And one more! On one hand, I was thankful it was a novella because it meant I would not be distracted from writing anymore. On the other hand, I wanted MORE!

The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner - 11/5/2013
Good - Historical Fiction 416 pages - Audio 9 hrs 47 min
 Third re-read just to listen to Tom Hiddleston reading aloud
Yeah, I know. I'm a basket case.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell - 11/12/2013
Excellent - Classic 395 pages - Audio 18 hours 39 min
Re-read for book club
I wasn't very excited about re-reading this book. I loved the movie first, but the differences between book and movie bothered me the first time through. This time, however, I ADORED the book!

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card - 11/25/2013
Excellent - Science Fiction 352 pages - Audio 11 hrs 19 min
 Aliens have attacked Earth twice and almost destroyed the human species. To make sure humans win the next encounter, the world government has taken to breeding military geniuses -- and then training them in the arts of war... The early training, not surprisingly, takes the form of 'games'... Ender Wiggin is a genius among geniuses; he wins all the games... He is smart enough to know that time is running out. But is he smart enough to save the planet? (Amazon summary)
Have heard a lot of people say this book was one of their favorites. I have never been a sci-fi lover, but I thought I'd give it a try when my friend's book club decided to read it. (I'm kind of a hanger-on at her book club. Two book clubs all the time would totally max me out.) Within the first couple chapters, I wasn't sure I wanted to finish it because I found it distasteful. However, I really really enjoyed it! 

Coriolanus by William Shakespeare - 11/30/2013
Excellent - Classic 128 pages - Audio 3 hr 19 min & etext
Coriolanus is a "military hero of ancient Rome who attempts to shift from his career as a general to become a candidate for public office — a disastrous move that leads to his heading an attack on Rome." (Amazon summary)
OK, you're going to roll your eyes, but I read this play because Tom Hiddleston is playing Coriolanus in London for a two month run at the Donmar Warehouse. I have seen the Fiennes & Butler film and was intrigued by it as well. So, I gave it a shot. Shakespeare plays are not very long compared to many books I read but this one was difficult for me. I did enjoy it, but I think that was mainly the challenge of understanding it. It is a tragedy, after all.

Friday, November 01, 2013

October Reads

Henry IV Part 2 by William Shakespeare 10/1/2013 
Good - Classic 157 pages Audio 
Henry IV dies and Prince Hal becomes Henry V.
This was a book club book and also I wanted to read it because of the Hollow Crown Shakespeare series on PBS (BBC).

Homeschool Open House: Interviews with 55 families by Nancy Lande 10/2/2013 
Good - Non-fiction 495 pages Print 
The book consists of interviews describing the lives of 55 homeschooling families; half are follow-up interviews five years after the author's previous book.
I started reading this years ago and never finished. Pulled it out in August and started reading an interview or two every day. Some of the stories inspired me and some made me mad. LOL I wrote a longer review of this book on Cornerstone Home Learning. 

The ACT for Bad Test Takers by Moshe Ohayon 10/8/2013 
Excellent - Non-fiction 152 pages Kindle 
Offers specific strategies based on analysis of past ACT tests to increase ACT scores.
I highly recommend this. Wish I'd had David read it!

Living Clutter-free with Kids in the House by Mike Burns and Jen Burns 10/8/2013 
Good - Non-fiction 62 pages Kindle 
Philosophy and proper expectations combined with strategies and games to make and keep your home with kids free from clutter.
I gleaned some useful ideas from this book. If you struggle with clutter or organization, check it out.

A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon 10/10/2013 
Excellent - Historical Fiction 980 pages Audio
This was my 3rd time reading ABOSAA, which is the 6th book in the Outlander series. LOVED it even more this time, despite being apprehensive about reading it again due to a traumatic event included in the plot.

Wolves: I Bring the Fire Part I (A Loki Story) by C. Gockel 10/29/2013 
Good - Fantasy 198 pages Kindle 
Amy Lewis, American veterinary student, is rescued by Loki, Asgardian and purported 'god of mischief'. They "join forces to outwit gods, elves, magic sniffing cats, and nosy neighbors." (Amazon blurb)
Well, if you don't already know, I'll tell you. I'm a tad obsessed with Loki currently. I don't even know how I found these books, but the first one was free on Kindle. Before I finished it, I had purchased the remaining two books in the trilogy. Despite my dislike of the present tense storytelling, I found myself very involved with the story and loved how the author integrated the different worlds together. This is not the Marvel universe Loki.

Monster: I Bring the Fire Part II (A Loki Story) by C. Gockel 10/31/2013 
Good Fantasy 198 pages Kindle 
Amy Lewis is now a vet tech by night and an FBI secretary during the day. Her boss, Steve Rogers (no, not THAT Steve Rogers), has to join forces with Loki "to save earth from trolls, wyrms, frost giant invasions, and an old evil growing beneath Chicago’s streets." But Loki's only goal is to destroy Asgard.
As I said, I purchased this on Kindle before I finished Volume 1 and I dove right in as soon as I finished the first book. I found that I got used to the present tense storytelling somewhere in the middle of this book and it no longer bothered me. I enjoyed the new characters and the intricate plot. It's complex enough that I think a second reading will still be very intriguing. 

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

September Reads

Henry IV Part 1 by William Shakespeare 9/18/2013
Good - Classic 96 pages, format: Audio
Wild Prince Hal becomes a war hero.
I watched the Hollow Crown adaptation before reading the play and LOVED it. (Helps that Tom Hiddleston plays Prince Hal.) I love Shakespeare more, the more I read him.

Flashbang: How I Got Over Myself by Mark Steele 9/19/2013
Good - Inspirational 245 pages, Format: Print
"Each story brings Steele closer to the realization that being a Christian is more than just saying you are. In the end, he reveals his secret to living a more meaningful life—how he got over himself." Amazon summary
Someone recommended this, but now I can't recall whom. I alternately loved and hated the content; sometimes it seemed so pretentious, but other times, it was brutally honest and real. I didn't particularly like the format, which was a lot of dialogue between the author and some alternate "self" or even God, as well as a lot of jumping around between stories. However, I will say that it was effective in bringing across the author's points. 

Only two books in September (but I finished two more on October 1st and 2nd! lol)

August Reads

I read a few "new" books from the library in August, knowing that once September arrived, I would be unable to read much at all. 

Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns by Lauren Weisberger 8/4/2013
Good - Chick Lit 381 pages Format: Print
10 years after Andy Sachs quit her job with Miranda Priestley of Runway magazine, she is successful and happy editing her own celebrity bridal magazine, but now Miranda is back in her life.
I didn't remember enough about The Devil Wears Prada to really get into this sequel. It was diverting anyway.

The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls 8/4/2013
Excellent - Fiction 267 pages Format: Print
Liz and Bean's mother abandons them in California so they trek to her hometown in Virginia to stay with their uncle.
Really enjoyed this one - creative and unpredictable, yet uplifting.

Don't Go by Lisa Scottoline 8/14/2013
Excellent - Fiction 374 pages Format: Print
Dr. Mike Scanlon is on the battlefield in Afghanistan when his wife dies alone at home. How can he pick up the pieces of his life and care for his baby girl?
Riveting and interesting.

The Bridegroom Wore Plaid by Grace Burrowes 8/25/2013
Good - Romance 384 pages Format: Kindle
Ian MacGregor is a reluctant Scottish Earl who must marry into money to take care of his family and clan.
Enjoyed this Regency-style Scottish romance.

Unglued: Making wise choices in the midst of raw emotions by Lysa TerKeurst 8/29/2013
Good - Inspirational 199 pages  Format: Print
How to resolve conflict, handle strong emotions,and respond to situations out of your control - all from a Biblical perspective.
Someone mentioned this book to me (can't remember who) and I am glad I read it. Lots of material here. Will have to peruse it again someday.

What are YOU reading?

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Top Twenty Austen Adaptations

Austen adaptations abound! I read this blog post which ranks 21 of them with clever explanations then thought to myself that my own list would look somewhat different. And then someone (yes, you, Austenacious!) asked me HOW my list would shuffle the films. So here I am in the wee hours of the morning, ranking Austen movies instead of sleeping. 

Go read that blog post before reading mine because her comments are far more comical than mine could ever dream of being. Plus mine will make more sense if you look at hers first. 

Two of the movies on her list I haven't seen - Austenland, 2013 since it has yet to open in Michigan and Bride & Prejudice since Bollywood films make my skin crawl. Then I added one that she left out, which is at the bottom of my list.

So, without further ado, I present to you my top twenty Austen film adaptations in reverse order of preference! Ta-dah!

20. Northanger Abbey 1980 - one of THE worst movies I have ever seen. And I even like Peter Firth in MI-5. But this is just wrong wrong wrong.
19. Pride and Prejudice, 1940 - P&P Gone with the Wind-style, complete with 1940's over-acting and a sweet kind Catherine deBourgh
18.  Becoming Jane, 2007 - It was ok. Just remember, it's fiction.
17. Mansfield Park, 2007 (ITV miniseries) - on the plus side - Hayley Atwell and Blake Ritson. Heavily outweighing those advantages would be the bleached blond Fanny Price/Billie Piper. Nope.
16. Emma, 1996 (BBC miniseries) - Mark Strong cannot be a good guy. And that's what's wrong with this.
15. Clueless, 1995 - Dated. Too many drugs. Otherwise fine.
14. Miss Austen Regrets, 2008 (BBC film) - I liked it. Plus Tom Hiddleston. 
13.  The Jane Austen Book Club, 2007 - Grigg.... And it's cool how the Austen stories are mirrored in the plot. The book is better.
Mansfield Park, 1999 - Well, it has Jonny Lee Miller. I don't actually think a modern Mansfield Park film can be successful. Too much of the "action," if you can call it that, is in Fanny's head. And she's just too passive to be a modern heroine.
11. Persuasion, 1995 (BBC adaptation) - This one has the letter scene which I like. But I saw the other one first and I just can't relate to the actors in this version - too stiff and cold.

10. Sense and Sensibility, 1995 - I know I am in the minority but I don't like S&S as much as most of the other Austens. I don't like Emma Thompson at all as Elinor - unpopular opinion, I know. Not a Hugh Grant fan either. But Alan Rickman makes up for it.
9.  Emma, 1996 (feature film) - I think Jeremy Northam is a much better Knightley. Gwyneth is just fine as Emma. 
8. Sense and Sensibility, 2008 (BBC miniseries) - I like how fresh this version appears, but it's still not my favorite Austen. And I miss Rickman.... But it does have the deliciously villainous Dominic Cooper as Willoughby.
Lost in Austen, 2008 (ITV miniseries) - Sets P&P on its ear. Jemima Rooper's hair drives me nuts, but Elliot Cowan's Darcy is very nice and then there's Wickham!!
6.  Pride and Prejudice, 2005 - Speaking of Wickham, here he is Rupert Friend - very tempting. I, like one of the commenters on that other blog, was determined to hate this Darcy, but Matthew Macfadyen's portrayal grew on me gradually and now I can watch it and enjoy.
5. Emma, 2009 (BBC miniseries) - Oh look, it's Jonny Lee again; this time he shines as Mr. Knightley. I love the bright colors of this version and I do think Romola Garai was brilliant in the title role.
4. Persuasion, 2007 (ITV adaptation) - If it weren't for the Bath marathon and the guppy kiss, Rupert Penry-Jones would bring this one into my #2 spot. I don't even mind that they don't go to sea. 
3.  Bridget Jones’s Diary, 2001 - Discovered this just after discovering the 1995 P&P and have watched it countless times. 
2. Northanger Abbey, 2007 (ITV movies) - Tilney is my favorite Austen hero and I find JJ Feild just adorable here. I could watch this over and over. Wait! I have! lol And it's short enough to watch in an evening after work.
1. Pride and Prejudice, 1995 (BBC miniseries) - The grand-daddy of them all. Do I even need to comment?

So, there you go. Which ones have you watched? Which are your favorites? And which ones will you never bother with again?

Now, I need to go to bed. Or should I slide in the Northanger Abbey DVD? It's so watchable!

Thursday, August 01, 2013

July Reads

The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth 7/6/2013
Good - Non-fiction 564 pages Print Large print version
Memoirs of Jennifer Worth who was a National Health nurse-midwife in 1950's East End London. Basis for the PBS series Call the Midwife.
I loved loved loved the TV show although it wrung me out emotionally every week. When I realized the midwife had written her memoirs, I wanted to read them! The writing style was a bit awkward, but the stories were entertaining and emotional. Good read!

The Love Affair of an English Lord by Jillian Hunter 7/7/2013
Fair Romance 361 pages Print
Chloe Boscastle has been sent to her uncle's country house to learn some decorum, but finding an injured man hiding in her boudoir doesn't help her goal at all. Turns out it's the recently deceased (but not quite dead) neighboring lord, Viscount Stratfield, who has survived a murder attempt and wishes everyone to think him dead until he can bring his attacker to justice.
Needed something light and fluffy and this fit the bill. Fairly interesting and rather smutty. :-)

How to Use a Runaway Truck Ramp by Maile Smucker and Shawn Smucker 7/16/2013
Excellent Non-fiction 268 pages Kindle
Adapted from the Smuckers' blogs, this book tells the story of their 4 month RV odyssey around the United States with their 4 children ages 2-9. Structured in short, inspirational chapters, we meet the people the Smuckers met and follow as they learn spiritual truths.
I learned about the Smuckers' blogs from a writer friend and I am always interested in people who have taken their lives on the road. The book follows their itinerary and points out life truths that Maile and Shawn learned through their travels and parenting their four children.

Daddy Love by Joyce Carol Oates 7/16/2013
Poor Fiction 279 pages Print
One of the most depressing books I have ever read. 5yo Robbie is abucted from a mall parking lot and his mother is gravely injured during the abuction. Robbie is held prisoner for years by a sexual deviant/serial murderer.
I don't often wish a book unread, but this one I do. There was nothing redemptive at all about this story. Don't read it.

The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon 7/24/2013
Excellent Historical Fiction 979 pages Audio
Re-read - #5 in Outlander series. Jamie and Claire live on Fraser's Ridge, with Brianna and Roger. The American Revolution is brewing, a secret is uncovered at River Run, and Stephen Bonnet turns up again.
On my third trip "through the Stones," so to speak. I adore the Outlander series and am re-reading in preparation for Book 8 which should be published in Spring 2014.

The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare 7/25/2013
Good Classic 108 pages  Audio
Two upstanding faithful wives decide to teach Falstaff a lesson.
This is our book club selection and we will go see it performed in the park! Short, light Shakespeare comedy.

One Night with a Rock Star by Chana Keefer 7/25/2013
Good Inspirational 412 pages Kindle
Esther meets her idol, rock star Sky, and falls for him. Seems like he fell for her too, but then he leaves and Esther is left to wonder.
Kindle freebie. Fairly predictable Christian romance, but not pedantic. Enjoyable read, if only for the "Mary-Sue" value.

Family Pictures by Jane Green 7/29/2013
Excellent Fiction 344 Print
Two women living on opposite coasts of US find they have a shocking connection.
One of the most suspenseful and heart-wrenching books I've read recently. Read it in less than a day. Can't even hint at the plot though or it will give away the secret.

Titanic Affair by Amanda Grange 7/31/2013
Fair Romance 253 pages Kindle
Emilia is given a ticket on the Titanic and uses it to escape from an unwanted suitor, but finds more danger on board than she anticipated.
I love Amanda Grange's Austen hero diaries; they are some of my favorite books! This is a reprint of one of her older romances. Since I am a fan of anything Titanic-related, I enjoyed it. The story itself was predictable and in many ways it seemed almost a rip-off of the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, except their roles were somewhat reversed. The ending was different though, thankfully! Romance novels are not allowed to end tragically.

9 books this month!

Sunday, July 07, 2013

June Reads

Bleak House by Charles Dickens 6/5/2013

Excellent - Classic 991 pages Audio
Esther Summerson, an orphan, becomes the companion of Ada Clare, one of the wards in the case of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce, a long-running court case in 1820's London.
Our book club selection for both May & June. This is the BEST Dickens novel I have read. Enjoyed it a lot! Tons of characters - no one does great characterizations like Dickens! A romance, a mystery, some humor - it's all in here!

The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner 6/7/2013
Good - Young Adult 416 pages Audio
OK, this time through I paid attention to the story. LOL
This is the audio version narrated by Tom Hiddleston that I listened to last month. Decided to listen again and pay more attention to the plot rather than the narrator's silky voice. Quite a good young adult novel, though a bit on the mystical side. 

Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella 6/13/2013
Good - Chick Lit 446 pages Print
Told in alternating voice between two sisters - Lottie, who is prone to making bad decisions after a breakup, and Felicity (Fliss), who is recovering from a bad divorce and wants to prevent her sister from a bad marriage.
Needed something light and fluffy and Kinsella usually fits the bill. Not my favorite novel by her, but quite entertaining all the same. 

What's It Like to be Married to Me? And Other Dangerous Questions by Linda Dillow 6/21/2013
Good - Inspirational 272 pages Kindle
Asking yourself the hard questions about your marriage
This was a free download on Kindle but I was intrigued by the title. Lots of good stuff in here. 

The Silver Blade by Sally Gardner 6/23/2013
Good - Young Adult 362 pages Print
The sequel to The Red Necklace - Yann Margoza rescues French nobility during the Revolution while Sido is safely in England. But his true identity is still in question and an old enemy haunts him.
I liked The Red Necklace enough to seek out the sequel and actually READ the print version. No Hiddleston within hearing distance! Shades of The Scarlet Pimpernel as the main character rescues French aristocrats and gets them to safety in England. Entertaining!

Dracula by Bram Stoker 6/27/2013
Excellent - Classic 613 pages Print
Count Dracula, a vampire, comes to England to find new blood. The story is told via journals and letters.
I was a bit iffy about our July book club selection, which is a bit different than our normal book club fare. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I really enjoyed this. The storytelling via journals and letters from different viewpoints was interesting and the tale was chilling and thought-provoking.

This is the most print books I've read in a month in quite some time!

Friday, June 07, 2013

May Reads

I only managed two books in May. A busier month I can't remember.

  • Two birthdays - husband and youngest daughter
  • The end of the 2012-13 school year (we homeschool)
  • Mother's Day
  • A spring banquet for my oldest daughter
  • A day at the opera with my oldest child
  • Our quarterly karate test 
  • Our first visit to Motor City Comic Con - hotel stay #1
  • Soccer, soccer, and more soccer (3 kids playing - 2 on travel teams)
  • A soccer tournament out of town - hotel stay #2
  • An all-day planning meeting for our homeschool group
  • Oldest daughter exhibited in an art show
  • The three oldest kids worked several days at a local vineyard
  • Taught an all-day essay writing seminar
  • Worked my regular 20 hours per week every week
  • My son's high school graduation
Whew! I am exhausted all over again!

The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner - 5/11/2013
Good - Young Adult - 416 pages, listened to the Audiobook
Read by Tom Hiddleston - 'nuff said. OK, maybe that's not enough for you. Maybe YOU'RE not a rabid Hiddlestoner. You might not even know who he is! (He is the actor whose most well-known role is probably Loki in The Avengers and Thor.) The Red Necklace is a young adult novel about the French Revolution. I will admit to mainly just listening for the pure pleasure of having Mr. Hiddleston read aloud to me. But actually it's an entertaining novel about a young magician's assistant and the daughter of a French aristocrat. This may be a bit iffy for some of my readers since it is focuses on the mystical (or occult). I enjoyed it enough to want to hear it again for the plot.

Dyslexia Tool Kit for Tutors and Parents: What to Do When Phonics Isn't Enough by Yvonna Graham and Alta Graham - 5/28/2013
Excellent - Non-fiction - 133 pages, read on the Kindle
Collection of over 20 practical techniques to help dyslexic students improve reading skills
Within the last year, I realized that my youngest daughter, now age 11, is probably dyslexic. This led me to believe that my oldest son, now age 18, is probably also dyslexic. I don't see a value in having them tested, but I was on a search for new ways to work with them. This book, referred to me by a good friend, was free on Kindle and I downloaded it. I read it slowly, just taking one technique at a time. I have used several of them with good success for my youngest child. I highly recommend this book, even at full price.

Monday, May 13, 2013

April Reads

Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick - 4/1/2013
Good - Fiction 289 pages, Print
Pat Peoples wants more than anything to reconcile with his wife but after four years in a mental health facility, the outlook is bleak; however Pat believes in the silver lining.
Read this book to see if it is a good candidate for book club. Loved the movie! The book is both similar and dissimilar to the film, but it's enjoyable. We will read it for book club in September.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson - 4/3/2013
Excellent – Classic 151pages, Audio
Jim discovers a treasure map and sets off on a voyage to find riches, but pirates interfere.
This was our April book club selection. I don't know if I've ever read the full version before. LOVED IT!

The Wet Nurse's Tale by Erica Eisdorfer - 4/7/2013

Good - Fiction 304 pages, Print
Susan Rose, a wet nurse, must rescue her own child in Victorian England.
Picked this up at a thrift store, I think, because it intrigued me. Enjoyable story, alternating chapters between the perspective of the wet nurse and the mothers of the babies she nursed. 

Joyful Momma's Guide to Shopping and Cooking Frugally by Kimberly Eddy - 4/29/2013
Good – Non-fiction 145 pages, Kindle
Tips on shopping, nutrition, meal planning, and cooking low-cost and healthy foods.
A local mom wrote this book and I picked it up as a Kindle freebie. Lots in here I already knew, but did glean a few tips. Many recipes will make this a keeper.

March Reads

 Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell - 3/13/2013
Good -  Classic 138 pages, Kindle
The old ladies of Cranford live their lives traditionally and quietly. 
Book club selection for March. I took a while to get into this choice, but eventually liked it. I did find the narration to be uneven; portions of the book moved me to tears, others were skillfully drawn characterizations, but some were just dull.

Heaven for Kids by Randy Alcorn - 3/25/2013
Excellent - Inspirational 224 pages, Kindle
Alcorn answers questions that kids might ask about what heaven will be like. 
Loved this and read aloud it to the kids. The questions are practical and thoughtful and the answers are backed up with Scripture wherever possible. When not backed with Scripture, Alcorn admits it and gives his reasoning. 

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling - 3/29/2013
Excellent - Children's 435 pages, Audio/Print
Re-read of the 3rd Harry Potter book.

The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen by Syrie James - 3/30/2013
Excellent - Chick Lit 414 pages, Print
Samantha finds a long-lost letter written by Jane Austen which hints at an unknown manuscript which had been stolen in 1802.
Won this book in a blog contest. LOVED IT!

February Reads

... then just stay fat. by Shannon Sorrels -2/1/2013
Good - Non-fiction 120 pages, Kindle
A no-nonsense in-your-face guide to the only true way to lose weight - eat less, move more.
Blunt and motivating. Kindle freebie.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling - 2/1/2013
Excellent - Children's 341 pages, Audio
Re-read - In Harry's second year at Hogwarts, someone is turning Hogwarts students to stone. When a friend is accused, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are determined to find out the truth about the Chamber of Secrets.
Yes, I am re-reading the Harry Potter series within a year of my first reading. Since my time is limited, I am listening to the audiobook.

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier - 2/21/2013

Excellent - Historical Fiction 305 pages, Print
Honor Bright, a Quaker, travels to America in 1850 and finds herself enmeshed in the slavery debate. Does she act on her principles and help slaves along the Underground Railroad or does she bow to the wishes of her family and religious community?
I enjoy Chevalier's historical novels and this one was no exception.

The Diet Dropout's Guide to Natural Weight Loss: Find Your Easiest Path to Naturally Thin by Stan Spencer - 2/28/2013
Good - Non-fiction 152 pages, Kindle
Dr. Spencer explains why we gain weight and why the fat lost by dieting almost always comes back. He then presents an array of practical weight loss tools for controlling emotional eating, calming cravings, boosting metabolism, and improving nutrition and exercise. In the final chapter he has you create a natural weight loss plan based on your unique set of needs, abilities, and preferences. Simple recipes are provided for weight loss foods that reduce cravings and prolong satisfaction.  (from
Kindle freebie.

Friday, February 01, 2013

January Reads

What have YOU been reading? TELL ME and I'll tell you what I've been reading. OK, ok, I will tell you anyway. :-)

Keeping track of what I read helps me in quite a few ways. I've been using a spreadsheet to log all the books I've read for about ten years now. For 2013, I've added a couple new categories to the information I save - number of pages which I wish I had done ten years ago and book format which there was no need for ten years ago since everything I read then was a print book. Nowadays I read books on the Kindle (or on my phone) and in print format, as well as listen to lots of audiobooks. 

Number of books finished in January: 4 (1 print, 2 Kindle, 1 audio)
Number of pages read in January: 2,056
Note: this figure is actually number of pages of books FINISHED in January, but more accurate recordkeeping is beyond me at this point. Besides, I also start new books each month that don't get finished, so it will all even out eventually

The Origins of Tolkien's Middle-Earth for Dummies by Greg Harvey (print) 
Thorough and clear explanations of the creatures, languages, geography, and history of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, setting of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and other Tolkien writings including The Silmarillion. Harvey discusses Tolkien's sources and inspirations as well as themes and morality. 
Excellent - I've owned this for a long time and pulled it off the shelf after viewing the new Hobbit movie in December. If you are a Tolkien geek, you should read this! I learned a lot and now I definitely want to finish reading The Silmarillion!

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, translated by Charles E. Wilbour (audio)  
Convict Jean-Valjean struggles to escape his past and reaffirm his humanity in a world brutalized by poverty and ignorance.
(copied from Amazon)
Excellent and Poor - Such wild inconsistency from Victor Hugo. Novels were just written so very differently in the mid-1800's. Whole chapters on Parisian street slang, the battle of Waterloo and the sewers under the streets of Paris contained no action related to the plot at all. After a while, I skimmed through those types of chapters. The story itself is compelling and well-written. I am glad I read it, but I think I'd recommend an abridged version to most readers. This was our January book club selection.

Walking with Bilbo: A Devotional Adventure through the Hobbit by Sarah Arthur (Kindle) 
A devotional book that guides readers through parallels between Bilbo Baggins' adventures in The Hobbit and our own Christian walks. 
Excellent - This was a Kindle freebie but I was really glad to have it to accompany my reading of The Hobbit (December book club choice. Sarah Arthur draws many parallels between the actions of Tolkien's characters and our Christian walk. 

The Freedom Writers' Diary by Erin Gruwell and the Freedom Writers (Kindle) 
New teacher Erin Gruwell ends up teaching the most hopeless students in Long Beach, CA, but motivates them through journal writing and parallels to history, such as Anne Frank's story.
Excellent - My sisters and my mom and I decided to read a book together and have our own "book club" at our annual get-together. The Freedom Writers' Diary was our choice. The book consists of diary entries written by real high school students in California. Struggles, triumphs, difficulties -all spelled out on the page. Ms. Gruwell's English classes originally consisted of low-achieving low-income students that the school had given up on. She challenged them to succeed - and they did! We are going to watch the movie of the same name.

So, go read something! I want to hear all about it!

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Best Non-fiction I Read in 2012

1 - An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis 3/5/2012 -  Excellent - Non-fiction - A short but meaningful and deep book on literary criticism. Wow, this book was deep. I started out disagreeing with him quite a bit, thinking he was a snob. But by the end, I was nodding my head furiously and making plans to purchase this book. It was out of print, but is going to be published again shortly, if not already.
I was able to download three Francis Chan books free for Kindle a few months ago. 2 - Erasing Hell by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle - 7/5/2012 - Excellent - Inspirational;
How could a loving God send people to hell? Will people have a chance after they die to believe in Jesus and go to heaven? With a humble respect for God's Word, Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle address the deepest questions you have about eternal destiny. They've asked the same questions. Like you, sometimes they just don't want to believe in hell. But as they write, "We cannot afford to be wrong on this issue." Downloaded 3 Francis Chan books free for the Kindle (limited offer, I believe) and started with this one. Very good. Highly recommended. (Summary from Chan's website.)3 - Crazy Love by Francis Chan - 7/22/2012 - Excellent - Inspirational; Does something deep inside your heart long to break free from the status quo? Are you hungry for an authentic faith that addresses the problems of our world with tangible, even radical, solutions? God is calling you to a passionate love relationship with Himself. Because the answer to religious complacency isn't working harder at a list of do's and don'ts — it's falling in love with God. And once you encounter His love, as Francis describes it, you will never be the same. Wow, this was a motivating book! Read it! (Summary from Chan's website.)

4 - Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit by Francis Chan and Danae Yankoski - 8/7/2012 - Excellent - Inspirational; Chan contends that we've ignored the Holy Spirit for far too long, and we are reaping the disastrous results. Thorough scriptural support and compelling narrative form Chan's invitation to stop and remember the One we've forgotten, the Spirit of the living God. Loved this book - very challenging!
5 - Harry Potter's Bookshelf by John Granger 8/23/2012 - Excellent - Non-fiction; Examines the literary traditions and elements of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Wow, if you are interested in Harry Potter and how it relates to the literary world at large, try this book on for size. SO much to think about. And I will need to read it again. After I read the HP series again, of course.
6 - Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna - 12/14/2012 Excellent - Non-fiction; The history of church traditions - pagan or Biblical Very interesting. Why do we have a pastor? Take an offering? Have a church building? Dress up to go to church? Have a choir? Do you think these customs are Biblical or chosen by man? I read this little by little over a long period of time.
7 - God's Story, Your Story by Max Lucado - 3/23/2012 - Excellent - Inspirational; See how your day-to-day story intersects with God's grand epic of everlasting redemption. Fit very well with the themes of the prayer book I read twice recently (A Praying Life by Paul Miller). Hadn't read this one by Lucado before but I read many of his about ten years ago or so. 
8 - The Applause of Heaven by Max Lucado 5/26/2012 - Excellent - Inspirational; A study of the Beatitudes with a focus on joy. Been too long since I read Lucado. Going to make it a regular habit!
A notable non-fiction re-read was A Praying Life by Paul Miller. I read this near the end of 2011 and immediately re-read it, finishing it at the end of January 2012. I think I'm about due for another perusal of its pages.
(I apologize for the weird highlighting. I don't have time to fix it today.)

What interesting non-fiction did you read in 2012? Comment and let me know your recommendations.

And check out my post containing my fiction recommendations for 2012. 

Best Fiction I Read in 2012

Here are the best fiction books I read in 2012. This list does not include any re-reads, only books I read for the first time this year.
1. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova - 3/25/2012 Excellent - Historical Fiction; Historians track down the real Dracula. Wow, this was an interesting read! The story was told from several characters' perspectives. It was one of my first Kindle library loans and I didn't finish it in time, but I borrowed it again. Long book, but really really interesting! 

2 - Henry V (with SmartPass commentary) by William Shakespeare - 7/28/2012 Excellent - Classic, Audiobook; Henry V invades France. I have never read any of Shakespeare's history plays, until now. I didn't expect humor and romance! Loved it! Of course, the fact that Tom Hiddleston is playing Henry in an upcoming PBS presentation doesn't hurt at all. I did watch the Branagh version as well. Oh, and I listened to it on audio with a commentary interspersed throughout which made a huge difference in understanding it. 
3 - The Help by Kathryn Stockett - 9/15/2012Excellent - Fiction;  Skeeter Phelan, recent college graduate and 1961 resident of Jackson, MS, decides to interview colored maids about their experiences working for white families. Our book club selection for September - Even better than the movie. Highly recommended! 
4 - Illusion by Frank Peretti - 9/30/2012 Excellent - Suspense;  After a car wreck tragically claims the life of his wife and magic partner, Mandy, Dane Collins finds himself in a quaint coffee shop transfixed by a magician whose illusions even he, a seasoned professional, cannot explain. Even more mysterious is the performer herself. Nineteen-year-old Mandy has never met him, doesn’t know him, is certainly not in love with him, but is in every respect identical to the young beauty he met and married some forty years earlier. They begin a furtive relationship as mentor and protégée, but as Dane tries to figure out who Mandy really is, and she to understand why she is mysteriously drawn to him, she is being watched by those who not only possess all the answers but who also have the power to decide her fate. (from This story was so complex that I had trouble writing a summary, so 'borrowed' one from amazon. Illusion returns to the skillful storytelling that made Peretti a success. Highly recommended! 

5 - El Dorado by Baroness Orczy - 3/6/2012 Excellent - Classic; The Scarlet Pimpernel rescues the Dauphin from the Temple Prison but is captured. This is the second book that my favorite Scarlet Pimpernel movie is based on. Surprised me how much of the movie is straight from the book. Did you know there are about a dozen Scarlet Pimpernel books?

6 - The Harry Potter series (7 books) by J.K. Rowling - I had never read the Harry Potter series until this summer. James (my twelve-year-old) decided he wanted to read them and so I chose to read them with him. He read them MUCH faster than I did, but I did read all seven of them in the summer. I re-read #1 already and do plan to re-read the entire series. If you never have, I do recommend them!
Some notable books that I re-read in 2012 were: Persuasion (Austen), A Study in Scarlet (Conan Doyle), The Scarlet Pimpernel (Orczy), the Hunger Games trilogy (Collins), Drums of Autumn (Gabaldon), and The Hobbit (Tolkien).

What were the best novels you read in 2012? 
Leave me your recommendations. Check out my post on non-fiction books as well.

December Reads

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien - 12/13/2012
Excellent - Children's
A hobbit named Bilbo Baggins joins 13 dwarves and a wizard to reclaim the dwarves' stolen treasure from a dragon.
Our book club selection for December. The newly released movie was our impetus for reading. I'd read The Hobbit before, but not for years. I liked Bilbo a lot more this time through.

The Very Virile Viking by Sandra Hill - 12/1/2012 
Good - Romance (Steamy)
Magnus Ericsson, a 10th century Viking, travels back in time to modern day California, where he meets Angela Abruzzi, upscale realtor and heir to a failing vineyard.
#3 in the Viking time travel series (I skipped #2 because #3 arrived first). I enjoyed it!

Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna - 12/14/2012 
Excellent - Non-fiction
The history of church traditions - pagan or Biblical
Very interesting. Why do we have a pastor? Take an offering? Have a church building? Dress up to go to church? Have a choir? Do you think these customs are Biblical or chosen by man?

Notorious Nineteen by Janet Evanovich - 12/16/2012 
Good - Fiction
Stephanie tries to track down a con man who disappeared from a hospital after surgery while also working for Ranger who has been receiving threatening notes from someone in his past.
As the title may indicate, this is the 19th novel about Stephanie Plum, inept bounty hunter. I enjoyed this installment, which was funnier and more compelling than some of the more recent in the series. 

Timeless Desire by Gwyn Cready - 12/22/2012
Good - Romance (Steamy)
Librarian Panna Kennedy time travels to 1706 via a portal in her library and finds herself in the midst of a border skirmish between the Scottish and the British.
Like I've said before, I'm a sucker for a time travel historical romance. And here we have one with a LIBRARIAN as a main character - even better! I do find that the heavier my main reading, the more light reading I seem to need to balance it. Since I've been plugging away at the interminable Les Miserables (and not done yet!), I have wanted some short and fluffy fiction interspersed throughout.