Sunday, December 30, 2012

My 2013 Reading List

It's nearly a new year and you know what that means: My 2013 Reading List!
To be perfectly honest, I love making lists, but have a hard time sticking to them.
This is especially the case with books because I so easily get distracted by another book.
And another book.
And another book.
And so on.
I'm hoping that this year I will be a little better about it.
For my Summer of the Classics, I did actually read a few of the ones on my list!
I was VERY happy with myself.
So now, I am keeping the books on my summer list that I didn't read, and adding to it for this year.
Since this is a year long list rather than just for summer, maybe I'll actually read most of these!
The first book I really should finish is The Casual Vancancy.

My 2013 Reading List

  • Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray (I am going to start this one over....)
  • House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton
  • Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen
  • Anthony Adverse, by Hervey Allen
  • From the Earth to the Moon, by Jules Verne
  • Now or Never or, The Adventures of Bobby Bright, by Oliver Optic
  • Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins
  • Tess of the d'Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy
  • Quo Vadis: a narrative of the time of Nero, by Henryk Sienkiewicz
  • Ulysses, by James Joyce (Okay, this is more wishful thinking, because I have tried reading this before and just couldn't get into it....but I am so willing to try again!)
  • Utopia, by Thomas More
  • History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, by Henry Fielding
  • Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Bronte
  • Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
  • The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe
  • The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux
  • Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo

  • A Song of Ice and Fire: A Clash of Kings, by George R.R. Martin
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: A Storm of Swords, by George R.R. Martin
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: A Feast for Crows, by George R.R. Martin
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: A Dance with Dragons, by George R.R. Martin
  • Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer
  • The Arctic Incident, by Eoin Colfer
  • The Eternity Code, by Eoin Colfer
  • The Opal Deception, by Eoin Colfer
  • The Lost Colony, by Eoin Colfer
  • The Time Paradox, by Eoin Colfer
  • The Atlantis Complex, by Eoin Colfer
  • The Last Guardian, by Eoin Colfer
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
  • Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
  • The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
  • The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey
  • The Time-Traveling Fashionista, by Bianca Turetsky
  • The Time-Traveling Fashionista at the Palace of Marie Antoinette, by Bianca Turetsky
  • Battle Royale, by Koushun Takami
  • Casino Royale, by Ian Fleming (James Bond)

  • The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester
  • The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin
  • The Science of Star Wars, by Jeanne Cavelos
  • Salt: A World History, by Mark Kurlansky
  • Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis, by Michael Ward
  • The Fire and the Staff: Lutheran Theology in Practice, by Klemet Preus
  • Jane Austen: A Life, by Claire Tomalin
  • Wanderlust: A History of Walking, by Rebecca Solnit
  • Tea: The Drink that Changed the World, by Laura C. Martin
  • The German Genius, by Peter Watson (A continuation of reading...)

Note that I have separated the books out into sections. The top section is classics and old books. The middle is newer fiction, and the bottom is non-fiction. I have challenged myself to read ten non-fiction books in 2013. This will be difficult, because I have a really hard time reading non-fiction. But my list is all things that should really, really interest me.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Legend of Holly Claus

The Legend of Holly Claus (Julie Andrews Collection)

When Christmastime rolls around, I break out what have become my favorite books and movies. I don't know about you, but those old movies get me every time. So good. And then there are those books that I adore reading at this time of year, as well. For obvious reasons, I read the Holy Bible; can't forget the Reason for the season, Jesus Christ.

But beyond that, my two favorites are A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and The Legend of Holly Claus by Brittany Ryan. The first one is for obvious reasons, the second is a book that I discovered while working at the library and I fell in love with it.

In the land of Forever, Santa and Mrs. Claus have no children. After all, this is the land of the Immortals. No children have ever been born there. But then, in Victorian New York, a young boy writes a letter to Santa that changes everything. Soon, Holly is born. A huge celebration ensues. But, alas, not all is joyful. An evil magician/warlock puts a curse on Holly. She, of course, once she learns of this curse, is determined to break it, and to do a good deed that will once and for all earn her her place in the land of Forever.

Okay, so that last bit smacks of works-righteousness. But it's a story. And the land of Forever isn't heaven, no matter what anyone might try to say. The point is that this is a gorgeous book that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside and really want to do good. And that's certainly a good thing. Helping others is a wonderful thing to do.

I re-read this book every single December. Not only do I love the story, but it's set in the Victorian Era, and what with that, Christmas, and magic...well, the only thing that would make this book more perfect would be if part of it took place in London instead of New York City. :)

Monday, December 10, 2012

December Classics Club Meme

The Classics Club monthly meme is another way to bring members of The Classics Club together. The post for the month will go up on the main page of this blog on the 2nd of the month, and you’ll have all month to respond over at your blog.

Q: What is your favorite memory of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? Have you ever read it? If not, will you? Why should others read it rather than relying on the film adaptions?

A: I suppose I ought to say that my favorite memory of A Christmas Carol is actually from many years ago when my aunt and uncle took my sister and me to see the play adaptation in downtown Milwaukee. That is the first big memory I have of the story, at any rate. Since then, I have watched multiple film adaptations and read the book at least once every Christmas. I have also listened to the audiobook. 
Everyone should read the book rather than relying on the film adaptations because the essence of what Charles Dickens is saying tends to be lost on film, especially in the more recent adaptations. Christmas is more than consumerism and stress; it is a time to celebrate family and friends. And of course, the real Reason for the season should never be forgotten.

So this my first time linking up to The Classics Club. I hope it won't be my last and that this helps get more traffic on this blog! :)

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones

Occasionally I read a book simply because it is popular.
More often than not, this is a bad decision.
Such is the case with The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold.


I purchased a copy of this book (not the cover pictured here) at a resale shop much like Goodwill.
The book was maybe $2.50, so I knew it wasn't an irrational purchase.
Besides, it was a book. -shrugs-

When I finally got around to reading it, I had a difficult time getting into it because of the subject matter.
Susie Salmon, fourteen, was raped and murdered in the cornfield behind her house and her body, of course, was not found. Her murderer was one of the men who lived in the neighborhood, but obviously she's dead, she can't tell them that. But what Sebold does is create a kind of heaven where Susie can observe everything going on down on earth; essentially, she receives a special gift in that she can see how her family gets along without her.
Of course, it's hard to see how this is a gift since her family is so obviously heartbroken and they make some horrible decisions because of it, like her mother having an affair with the detective on the case. (Personally, I found that so stupid of a plot line and I almost stopped reading at that point.)


The premise of the story is intriguing. Let's be honest here. Most people probably would love to see how their families and friends get along on earth without them, whether they died naturally or were brutally murdered, or whatever. But that's not what heaven is about. It's quite obvious that Sebold isn't a Christian, but that's not what bothered me the most about this book. I can handle that.

What bothered me the most is basically the fact that this book got published at all. Yeah, that's extreme, but the writing is so appalling and choppy and...oh man, it's bad. Points of view get all jumbled up, there's no clear frame of time in which anything happens, etc. Sebold's descriptions are pretty awful, too. I was mentally editing this book as I was reading it, that's how bad it was.

And by the end of the book, I came to the conclusion that the only purpose for Susie's hanging around in her heaven-that-touched-earth for so long was so that her friends could grow up and Ruth could swap bodies with her so she could sleep with the boy who kissed her shortly before her death. It was super weird and I still don't know how I felt about that. Actually, I do know. It was incredibly shallow and of course shouldn't have surprised me in today's sex-crazed world.


I can't give this book anymore than one star. It was so bad, really. It could have been awesome. It had potential. But no. It sucked majorly. Let me re-write it and then maybe it'd be a little better. :P

Friday, November 2, 2012

Twitter-style book reviews no. 1

Greetings, fellow book lovers!
Because I haven't been on here in kind of awhile, I'm not going to attempt to write full reviews for the books I've read since my last review.
This, unfortunately, may become more of the norm than the exception, just because of priorities.
But, we shall see.

Now, if I can remember the books I've read since my last posting....

Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices, by Frank Viola and George Barna.
    Umm, no. This book was badly researched and not really well-written. I will concede that they have a few good points concerning the practices that arose in the last couple hundred years, but the further back they go they just don't really have it right. Plus, both guys really seem to have a vendetta against the denominations that have structure, and that sickens me for many reasons. One star.

Spring Snow, by Yukio Mishima.
    Four stars. It was a good book, though difficult at times. Set in the 1910s in Japan, it gave me a wonderful insight into the Westernization of Japan.

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.
    This was a re-read. I originally gave it five stars, and I stick with that. It's an excellent beginning to the trilogy.

The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic, by Allan Wolf.
    THIS BOOK. Five stars. Oh, I cried. I'm a sucker for anything Titanic-related, and this was so excellent. It's a novel in poetry, all thoughts from real people who were on the ship. It was sooooo good.

Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami.
    Four stars. Another Japanese novel, this one modern and magical realism. It was quite a ride and a metaphysical one at that. Some weird stuff, too...but it was well-written and I enjoyed the dreamlike quality of the writing.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, by J.K. Rowling.
   I have no idea how many times I've read this. Five stars, as always. I love the beginning of Harry's adventures so much. Such an endearing book. I hope Rowling goes back to children's lit...her adult novel isn't really that great. (I can't review it yet as I haven't finished it, but ugh.)

The Kissing Sailor: The Mystery Behind the Photo that Ended World War II, by Lawrence Verria and George Galdorisi.
    Awesome story, not so awesome writing. Well, okay, the writing was all right. It was written like a research paper. But therein lies the problem. Each chapter read like a separate paper, with no good connections in-between. So much was repeated on almost every page and some things were clearly not in the right place. Two stars, though I would still recommend it for the story.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows.
    I give this adorable little novel four stars. I would give it five, but I generally reserve that for life-changing books. While this novel-in-letters set in 1946 and revolving around the little isle of Guernsey off the coast of France didn't change my life, I absolutely adored it. It was just cute and a feel-good novel in the end, even though there were some details that were horrific (relating, of course, to WWII).


There you have it.
The books I've read recently.

Currently Reading:
1. The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling. (She could have left out MOST of the expletives...)
2. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold. (I don't know who told this woman she could write, because she can't.)
3. Vanity Fair, by Thackeray. (Who would have thought it'd take me over a year to read this...)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Second Breakfast: Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of The Hobbit

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

Many books stand the test of time, and J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit: Or, There and Back Again is most certainly one of them. I remember my mom and my dad reading it to my younger sister and me when we were very little. I can't be too certain, but I think it was in the dead of winter. Not, unfortunately, by the light of a roaring fire. My imagination likes to supply that fact in my memory, but since the only fireplace we had was covered by drywall, it just sadly wasn't true.

I have read and re-read both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings since then, as well as Tolkien's other works. Today marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit. People around the world are marking this momentous occasion with a special Second Breakfast. It was, after all, the beginning of a much beloved tale.

Today, I celebrated by making lembas bread and having a mug of good English tea. The lembas bread is obvious Elvish, but since I unfortunately had to have a lonely second breakfast, I wanted something simple and quick. I found numerous recipes here, and the one I chose to use was the one titled Authentic Lembas Bread by Elanor G. I chose it because it was small and only took about 20 minutes to make.

Lembas Bread (makes 4 small wafers/cookies)

1/4 cup (rounded, not flattened off) of whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp. olive oil (cold-pressed is recommended, but I just used what I had, which wasn't)
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 Tbsp. honey

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix all the ingredients together thoroughly in a bowl; you may want to use your fingers, but a spoon should also work just fine. It will probably be a really gooey mess (don't worry about that), and also not seem like a whole lot, but remember this is a small recipe.
Once everything is thoroughly mixed, add 1 Tbsp. VERY cold water (could even be ice water -- just don't add the ice to the mix!) and mix it up again. The mix should become a little bit more doughy and pastry-like. It'll still be sticky, but that's because of the honey and the olive oil.
Form the dough into wafers that are about 1/4 inch thick and about 2 inches wide; place these on a cookie sheet. The original recipe says 2-4 inches wide, but I just didn't have enough dough for that if I wanted four wafers! Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then turn them over and bake for another 5 minutes. This should ensure that both sides are nicely golden brown.
And voila! You have a version of lembas bread!


The above recipe really only does make four small cookie sized wafers. That's fine if you're going to be alone or with only one other person. Unlike real lembas bread, one bite does NOT fill your stomach! But, it was pretty good. Not sweet, but certainly not bitter. Also delicious dunked in a steaming hot mug of PG Tips tea. And, since Pippin ate four, why can't I? ^_~

Tomorrow is both Bilbo's and Frodo's birthday, so maybe I'll have some sort of celebration for them, too!

(I had pictures to go with this post, but my iPod is being temperamental and won't connect to my computer. I really need to get it checked...)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." ~C.S. Lewis

As I sit here drinking my morning coffee, I think about tea.
Yes, tea.
I adore coffee in all forms (I generally drink it black in the mornings) but sometimes I think I prefer tea.
For one, tea doesn't usually give me a stomachache. >_<
When I am most likely to have tea, I am about to curl up with a book.
Or wind down for the evening.
So I put the kettle on and browse my tea shelf while I wait for the kettle to sing.

Tea and books.

Why is it that the two go together so well?
For me it's because 75% of what I read happens to be British, and they are always drinking tea.
Naturally, I want some.

So, in celebration of the union of tea and books, I present you with some literary teas.
At this point I have not actually tried any of these teas.
I will, of course, but anyway.

Bingley's Teas, Ltd. I found this company last year, and still haven't ordered anything! I really should.... As the name suggests, they have teas that are Jane Austen inspired. The link will take you to their Jane Austen Tea Series, which I think is quite clever. They sell other teas on the site, as well.

Steep Show Teas: Literary Collection I just love the name of this company; how cool! They have a small literary collection with teas inspired by various figures such as Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, and Oscar Wilde. They also sell a mug for each person. I'll definitely be checking these out soon.

Bag Ladies Tea: Novel Tea The Bag Ladies don't have specific teas for literary figures, fictional or otherwise, but they do have this Novel Tea, which is a box of tea bags with literary quotes on the tags. Simple but enjoyable, I'm sure. :)

Harry Potter House Teas I found these on Etsy! They sound delicious and I can't wait to try them.

And as seems common on the interwebs if you know where to look, there are probably many more literary teas out there.
What is your favorite tea to drink?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

It's kind of nice to finish a super long novel and then read one that only takes me a few days.
I probably could have read The Great Gatsby in one sitting, but I had other obligations.
Like putting all my books back on the shelves because we moved all the furniture around in the house...I'm still not done with that.
But it's the weekend so I thought the piles of books could be ignored for a little while.
Besides, I have to arrange them in a semblance of the Dewey Decimal System.
(I'm serious.)

So, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
I thought I read this book while I was in high school, but maybe it was on my reading list and I never got around to it or something, because I honestly didn't recall any of the details. So when I stated in an earlier post that it was going to be a re-read, I guess I wasn't thinking. And thinking back, I didn't read much American literature; it was almost always English.


The thing I like best about Fitzgerald is his excellent lyricism. Some people just have a way with words, and he definitely does.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”

Quotes like that are just absolutely beautiful.

Now on to the story. It isn't all that deep, really. Not at first, anyway. But as you read, learning about Jay Gatsby from Nick Carraway's point of view, you realize that's exactly the way Gatsby intends to be seen -- superficially. He hold these enormous parties to which only a few are ever invited but a myriad shows up. They party all night and, it seems, into the wee hours of the morning.

Nick's friends, Tom and Daisy Buchanan, are a youngish married couple who live across the bay from Gatsby. Little does Tom know that Gatsby only moved to Long Island so that he could be closer to Daisy, whom he has loved for some years now. (Was it six years? I think it was six. Anyway.) And of course, Tom has "another woman" too. I really don't know why so many people had to have affairs...whatever.

Most people have read this book because of high school literature classes, so I won't rehash the plot. I mainly want to state that this is the first book by F. Scott Fitzgerald that I read in its entirety, and I cannot wait to read more. He has a way of appearing to tell a superficial tale, but all of a sudden it gets gritty and real and it's not so superficial and glossed over anymore. And considering the era he was writing about...I think he captured the 1920s beautifully.

I'm not giving it five stars, but I will give it four. I think the reason I won't give it five is that for me it wasn't quite long enough. Upon finishing the book, I felt that there should have been an extra twenty pages or so...for what exactly, I'm not sure. But it seemed like something was missing at the end.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Gone with the Wind

Gone with the Wind, 75th Anniversary Edition

One of my life goals has been fulfilled.
I finally picked up and read Gone with the Wind in its entirety.
All 733 pages of tiny print and barely-there margins.
I'm guessing the book is normally well over 1000 pages, but the edition I own is rather scrunched together for appearance reasons, probably because it is part of the International Collectors Library. Beautiful book, actually. A friend bought it off Ebay with no real intentions of reading it, so I bought it from him. Nice arrangement. (The edition pictured here is not the one I have.)


I don't honestly know what to say about Margaret Mitchell's masterpiece other than that I absolutely adored it, but I will do my best. I think people dismiss it as a romance novel of some sort, but it's so much more than that. Yes, it is first and foremost a love story, but it's not merely the love story between the beautiful and ruthless Scarlett O'Hara and the dashing Rhett Butler; it is the love story of shy and quiet Melanie Hamilton and dreamer Ashley Wilkes (yes, Ashley is a man); it is the love story of Scarlett's father, Gerald O'Hara, and the plantation of Tara; it is these and more.

The title Gone with the Wind evokes something that has disappeared and will never return. To the people of the South in the days during and following the Civil War, they felt that their way of life had "gone with the wind" and they didn't know where to turn. Suddenly the plantation owners could no longer live their lives of leisure and contentment, dwelling safely on the fact that their slaves were tending the cotton and they were free to have barbeques and balls and all kinds of gatherings.

Margaret Mitchell's message is clear: war is wrong, no matter what one is fighting for. She carefully and succinctly illustrates how war changes society, people, and relationships. I realize it seems like she is advocating that the black people stay in slavery, but remember that this is from the point of view of the South. One cannot read this book and attempt to foist 21st century sensibilities and beliefs on it. It doesn't work that way. Gone with the Wind is no more racist than a cookbook; it is simply telling a tale of a time when things were vastly different.

Not all of the political and social history crammed into this book is completely factual, but even that isn't the point. Authors are allowed some poetic license; and besides that, it happens. People have different views, etc, etc. I scanned the reviews on Goodreads and I was appalled at how many people dismissed the book simply because they thought it was racist and politically incorrect. Well, I don't care how politically correct you want to be today (that's your business and not mine), but like I said, different century, different views. It says a lot about one's ignorance when they can't even leave an older novel alone.


As for the characters, I completely and utterly despised Scarlett. I apologize for my French, but she is a bitch. There's really no other way to describe her. But the other emotion I felt for her was pity; she was so strong and refused to truly rely on anyone else for help and in the end, she ended up with nothing because she was entirely too strong-willed and blind to realize that yes, someone did truly love her.

Rhett Butler was a hard one for me to care all that much about, either, until near the end of the book when he finally married Scarlett. But he's such an enigma. And I think it's easy, too, to write him off as a cad and scoundrel incapable of true love. If anyone thinks the same of him by the end of the book, though, they're sadly mistaken. He loved Scarlett from a distance for so long, and even attempted to gain her love by giving her everything she could ask for...and in the end even he gave up, because Scarlett was too blind until it was too late.

Ashley Wilkes sounds like someone I might be able to talk with for hours, since he apparently has a penchant for books and music and fine culture. But once the South fell and Reconstruction began, it was hard to admire him much, since he hadn't the strength to stand on his own. Not a particularly exciting character, but a good one nonetheless.

Melanie Hamilton, who becomes Melanie Wilkes quite early in the story, was probably my favorite character. I think she's the real heroine of the book. She somehow never finds any fault with Scarlett (which Scarlett hates), adores the Cause and the Confederacy for which the men fight, and is such a pillar of strength even when her own body is failing her. Her love for the people around her, her loyalty to Ashley and to Scarlett...she was just a wonderful person all around.

Obviously, there are many more characters in such an encompassing story, but I'll stop there.


Lastly, Margaret Mitchell's writing is amazing. She doesn't even use any super difficult words; it was all just so perfectly descriptive and, for lack of a better term, alive. While reading, I always felt that I was there with the characters, feeling their joy, feeling their pain, feeling the hot Georgia sun mixed with the scent of fear. I have not come across many novels written today that evoke the same emotions and reactions in me that the classics do. It's almost as if our world has lost not only the ability to create and craft such exquisite and intense tales, but most people have lost the ability to appreciate them, too.

I wholeheartedly give Gone with the Wind five stars, and I entreat all of you who read my blog to read it. The movie, though wonderful, does not do this story justice; that's always the case, of course. I know this book is long. I know you may feel that you don't have the time. But try. And if you read it and don't feel emotionally drained upon finishing the last page, I'm not really sure what else to tell you! :)

Monday, August 20, 2012

[reading books that take you out of your comfort zone]

There will be another book review in the next few days; I have less than 200 pages left in Gone with the Wind. Excellent book, by the way.

But I wanted to write a little bit about how and why I choose certain books to read. Maybe not how so much, because it seems to me that it always ends up being more of a "random chance" type of thing than anything systematic. But why I read certain books is important, at least to me.

As all of you know (I hope), I am a Christian. Jesus Christ is the center of my life and I strive to make that obvious daily. Granted, this isn't possible, since no one (and I repeat, no one) is perfect, but because of Jesus, my sins have been and always will be forgiven. But this isn't a post to talk specifically about my faith.

Many Christians I have known in my lifetime will only read the Holy Bible and specifically Christian books, both fiction and non-fiction. Think Francine Rivers or Tim LaHaye or anyone like that.While this isn't necessarily a problem, I believe that we as Christians should not try to keep our world too holy. First of all, you run the risk of becoming arrogant and thinking you're better than everyone who doesn't only read Christian authors. Believe me, I've seen it and been looked down upon for it.

Second, there are "Christian" authors in name only who take the "I lived a bad life and now I'm converting" approach to writing and cram everything illicit and sinful into their novels and then give some miraculous conversion near the end. I've even read a few supposedly Christian books that seemed to think that because the couple was married it was okay to describe their sexual intimacy. In detail. Uh, no. Please don't. Not that I haven't read other books that aren't labeled as inspirational fiction that have sex scenes, but I usually try to skip those parts and I honestly don't want to be reading about sex in a book that I thought was going to be cleaner because it's Christian. Okay. I hope that makes sense.

Third, there are far too many Christian authors who just really can't write any better than most YA authors can. Poor quality writing is so annoyingly prominent today. It's probably partly do to the fact that it's super easy to get certain kids of books published, but still. In these inspirational fiction books I think the only requirement is that it's overly spiritual and inspirational. If you don't know how to make your plot and your characters something other than one-dimensional, then just stop writing. Now.


I'm not saying there aren't good Christian authors out there. I'm not even saying that Francine Rivers and Tim LaHaye are bad writers. (Though I do actually think Tim LaHaye can't really write.) But there are far too many superficial stories with poor writing that are published under Christian labels. And oh so many of them have terrible theology because I'm sure the writers aren't all that trained in certain aspects of the Christian faith.

My point is this: read other books. Even if you never read a contemporary novel, maybe check out the classics. Try Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, or something by Charles Dickens. Try some of the medieval legends about King Arthur. Try some of the children's classics like Alice in Wonderland or The Secret Garden. And if you've already read these (good job!), I can easily recommend more.

Honestly, I can recommend some contemporary novels, too. And if you're at the bookstore or the library and there happens to be a modern novel that isn't in the Inspirational Fiction section and you think that you might like it, try it! Seriously. I'm not kidding. If you think that maybe you'd like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, try it. Yes, that book deals with a lot that is in no way Christian, but you can learn something from it.

So, keep reading inspirational fiction. But check out the classics. And certainly don't dismiss all contemporary fiction. Or even fantasy and sci-fi. There's more good than bad in most of them. And remember this -- branching out in your reading habits can most likely make you a better witness for Christ in our woefully fallen world. My main reason for reading contemporary novels is that then I can see how non-believers look at the world and thus I perhaps understand them just a little bit more. My reasons for reading the classics, old novels that aren't necessarily considered classics, and the fantasy/sci-fi genres are pretty much only that they're generally well-written, well-plotted, and I enjoy reading them.


This may not be the best organized post I've ever made, but I wanted to get it out there. Read something out of your comfort zone once in a while. I'm directing this at Christians specifically, but this goes for other readers, too. I used to be one of those people who only read what I knew I liked. But then I began to branch out and read books that I'd never considered before. And you know what? I liked them!

Go to the library or bookstore and pick out a book that you wouldn't normally read. You just might find that it's your new favorite. (Just please, please, please never have anything to do with Fifty Shades of Gray. I haven't read it, nor will I. I hear that it's the poorest quality of writing, and it's too dirty for anyone to be reading...I don't care how popular it is.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

For a book that deals with a world I am completely unfamiliar with -- sex, drugs, public high school, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show -- I totally fell in love with this book.
It's true.
Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower touched me very deeply.
No, I didn't agree with everything that happened in the book.
But sometimes, that's not the point.
You don't have to absolutely agree with all that the characters do and say to get something profound out of a book.


Charlie, the "wallflower" of the title, tells the story of his freshman year of high school in 1991 by writing letters to an unknown friend. We never learn the name of this friend, but that's not important anyway. What is important is that Charlie is incredibly intelligent for his age, he truly loves his whole family, and he thinks about everything. (See why I like him? I can actually relate/empathize with him because in those ways we are similar.) He is befriended by Patrick and Samantha, two seniors who are step-siblings. They really do take him under their wings and he joins their group of friends.

One of Charlie's teachers is always giving him books to read outside of class. One of these is The Great Gatsby. The rest are other great works of literature. This part of the story I really enjoyed, because, well, he was talking about the books.

In his position as "wallflower" among a group of mostly seniors, Charlie experiences a lot. He goes to his first party, he ends up trying drugs, etc, etc. He grows, he changes. And then the end of the year comes. And while it is the end of his freshman year of high school, most of his friends (particularly Patrick and Sam) are graduating and leaving. The most important part of the book is near the end, but I just can't write it out here because I really don't want to spoil it. Just know that a friend chastises Charlie for not being honest -- and it goes from there.

Because Charlie wasn't being honest, at least not in parts of his life. That's something anyone can learn. Be honest, even if it hurts you and/or the person with you.


I know that's kind of a lame review, but I have such strong feelings about this book and I'm having a hard time translating them into words. What I can say, however, is that this book really isn't appropriate for younger teenagers. I realize that Charlie is 14, but the stuff in this book is not what 14 year olds need to be reading. I am glad I read it now, at age 23, rather than when I was in high school, because it wouldn't have had the same impact on me then. As I said at the beginning of the review, Charlie's world is one I was totally unfamiliar with when I was his age; and I'm still unfamiliar with public high school (though not as much) and drugs (thank God!). And I really do not care much for the Rocky Horror Picture Show, haha. But really, none of that is the point.

Stephen Chbosky, though he riddled his book with sexual situations (both gay and straight...), drugs, cigarettes, a bit of language, and underage drinking, somehow knew how to capture the teenage spirit. At one point, early on in the story, Charlie is riding with Patrick and Sam in Sam's pickup truck. They are heading home from the homecoming dance, and before they go through a tunnel, they stop and Sam climbs in the back, wearing her nice dress. Patrick drives and they turn up the music. And suddenly they are out of the tunnel and they can see the lights of downtown. What Charlie says of that moment is perfect. And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.


So, even with all the situations in this book that I didn't care for, I honestly have to give it five stars. Incredibly well-written, and Charlie was such a deep character. And like I said, Chbosky captures the teenage spirit. I can't recommend it to younger teens, and I grudgingly recommend it to older teens, but if your head and heart are in the right place, you're ready to read this book. Maybe you'll come away from it feeling emotionally drained (like I did), but knowing there was something special about it.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Thirty-nine Steps

The Thirty-Nine Steps

One of my passions other than reading is watching Masterpiece Theatre on PBS.
I usually just watch Masterpiece Classic, though sometimes I watch Mystery.
The modern ones I don't know if I'd like that much.
But I digress.
Last year I watched The Thirty-nine Steps on Masterpiece Classic.
I absolutely loved it and proceeded to look up whether it had been based on a book or not.
What I found was chronicled over on my personal blog in this post.
Unfortunately, two of the photos on there aren't showing up for me, but at least the picture of my book is there.
The edition here from Amazon is not what I own because (and you'll know this from my other post) the one I do own is a First Edition from 1915.
Quite exciting, really.


Richard Hannay is incredibly bored with life. He wishes he had something different to amuse him. One evening a man from one of the upper flats (he says his name is Scudder) desperately wants to speak with Hannay and he wants to be hidden and says that he already happens to be dead. Well, that's intriguing.

Eventually, the man actually is killed, and because of what he has told Hannay concerning an assassination plot that could set off war in Europe, Hannay is afraid that the murderers will come for him next. And of course, it's entirely probable the police will try to pin the murder of Scudder on him. There's nothing for him to do but escape London and attempt to follow through with what (I think) Scudder was up to. Hannay bribes the milkman for his uniform and escapes London quite well.

What follows is a rather amusing and slightly unbelievable adventure throughout the countryside. Richard Hannay always just manages to escape being arrested. It's kind of hilarious in a way; John Buchan has such straightforward writing and there's no nonsense but some of the escapes are crazy.

Really, I can't tell you much more of the story without giving the whole thing away. The title does actually refer to a set of steps, though. That's important. You'll just have to read the book to find out! I wouldn't honestly recommend watching one of the movies first, because (and this is especially true of the 2008 version) there are added characters and stuff that totally change everything. Like, an added love interest.

I am certainly curious about why Buchan wrote the story the way he did. It's almost as if he had certain inside information about WWI, which I thought because of certain dialogue in the book (that I did not address here). Who knows. I found a blog post from 2008 that talks about it in great detail, and since it doesn't really spoil the book, I don't mind including it. (And, so you know, that post is all I read of that blog...I'm not endorsing anything. Just sharing someone's opinion!)


I enjoyed this adventure novel quite a bit. Apparently there are four other novels featuring Richard Hannay, and now that I know this, I of course have to find them. Eventually.

This book gets four stars. Good story, solid dialogue, simple and to-the-point writing, and not really a long read.

The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder

Heroine's Bookshelf, The: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder

It amuses me that the first non-fiction book I review on this blog is a book about books.
Go figure.

Anyway, I did finally pick up a non-fiction book after not reading any for almost a year. I seriously needed a break from books like that after being in college for 4 1/2 years.
But I picked up Erin Blakemore's book at the bookstore some months ago and I finally read it a few weeks ago when I couldn't decide which book on my summer reading list to read next. (That's one of the problems with making a list, but that's a topic for another post.)

Blakemore clearly demonstrates a love for literature in her book. That much I really enjoyed. But what I had a problem with were her ridiculously feministic ideals. Some of them were just not realistic, nor were they actually appropriate to the book she was talking about. But that's just me. I don't like the way the world reinterprets books written 100+ years ago to fit their post-modern philosophies. (Again, a topic for another post, so I won't go into any detail.)


There are twelve books/series and their heroines that Blakemore writes about, each under a specific theme.
1. SELF -- Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. (Favorite.)
2. FAITH -- Janie Crawford from Their Eyes Were Watching God (I haven't read this.)
3. HAPPINESS -- Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables. (Favorite.)
4. DIGNITY -- Celie from The Color Purple. (I absolutely hated this book.)
5. FAMILY TIES -- Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. (I haven't read this.)
6. INDULGENCE -- Claudine from the Claudine novels. (They're French...says a lot. I haven't read them, though.)
7. FIGHT -- Scarlett O'Hara from Gone With the Wind. (Reading this right now!)
8. COMPASSION -- Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. (Favorite.)
9. SIMPLICITY -- Laura Ingalls from specifically The Long Winter.
10. STEADFASTNESS -- Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre. (Favorite.)
11. AMBITION -- Jo March from Little Women. (Favorite.)
12. MAGIC -- Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden. (Favorite.)


As you can see, about half of these are some of my favorite novels. Blakemore gives a lot of author background, which I definitely enjoyed. All of these are written by women, as well, which is another of her points. No male-oriented literature here. And she tells a few very inspiring tales about a few of the authors. Something I learned from this book is that a few of my favorite novels might never have been written if the author had a choice. Funny how that works; some of the most loved books today almost never happened.

It certainly wasn't a bad book, and I went into it expecting some feminist criticism. And it's always interesting to me to see how other people who have a different worldview look at novels that were written in a much more moral time period. (Other than the Claudine novels -- but like I said, they're French.)

I'll give it four stars, because it was well-written and Erin Blakemore makes such a wonderful case for rereading your favorite books once in a while that I can't just ignore her.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

[my summer absence]

I realize I mention my absences from this blog kind of a lot.
And it's not even that I forget about it.
Okay, maybe a little bit.

But seriously, the weather FINALLY cooled down enough to actually enjoy being outside this summer. So that's mostly what I've been doing. That, and a couple of weeks ago my youngest sister stayed with me for a week and so we were busy, busy, busy.

The thing is, I have done a lot of reading since then, and I am behind on reviews!

I've read three books and am halfway through a fourth.

I read The Heroine's Bookshelf, which was basically a book on literary criticism that I picked up at the bookstore earlier this year. I probably could write a whole review on it, and since I don't have any non-fiction reviews yet, I think I will. But the book bugged me because it was SO feminist. More on that later.

I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which I kinda sorta absolutely loved, despite the sex, drugs, and other things. The voice of the narrator, Charlie, is so sweet and it's almost impossible not to love him. I empathized with him because in many ways he's a lot like me. More on that later, too.

I read The Thirty-nine Steps, which was a lot shorter than I expected and was a cleverly written tale of suspense and mystery set at the beginning of World War I (I believe). It was first published in 1915, and guess what, MY COPY IS FROM 1915. Yes, it is a First Edition. More on that later.

I am now reading Gone with the Wind, which I've been meaning to read for years, of course. Isn't this a typical response when someone asks if you've read That Super Long Classic Novel? Well, I'm finally doing it. Actually, for the last 4-5 years, I've been finally reading all those classics that I wanted to read for a long time. And the thing is, this is the best time for me to read them. I have finished college and have a lot of literature-learning behind me. Now I can apply it! Also, for the record, Gone with the Wind isn't really that old. It was published only a few years before they made the movie, so in the 1930s. Once I finish it, I will definitely be writing a long review because I am LOVING it.


So that's what I've been doing.
I might not make it through my summer reading list, but that's okay because it can just as easily be a fall reading list and a winter reading list.

Now I think I will go shower and then take a walk because it's SO NICE out.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Secret Garden

 The Secret Garden

Disclaimer: Obviously, this is a detour from my planned summer reading list. I don't have a good excuse other than I really wanted to read this again. And I know the book photo I have posted here is a link to one of the Kindle editions, but this is the cover of the paperback that I own.


 I don't know how many times I've read The Secret Garden. My parents have a gorgeous hardcover edition with illustrations by Tasha Tudor. As a child, I'm pretty sure my favorite thing about the book was the illustrations. Tasha Tudor's idyllic pictures showed me a world I wish I could have...even at the age of six.

Honestly, I could write an entire blog post on Tudor and why her illustrations and her stories have shaped me into the old-fashioned girl that I am. But I won't do that today!

Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote many books. I've only read a few of them; the other one I can remember at the moment is A Little Princess, which also happens to be a favorite.

Anyway, I won't go into the details of this book, because it's one that almost everyone has read at some point in their life. I just want to state that the theme of resurrection throughout the book is the best part. Mary and Dickon bringing the garden to life...Colin's whole body being healed...all of it is so beautiful.
Granted, I don't know if Burnett was a Christian or not. The inclusion of Magic in this book and her way of looking at nature makes me think maybe not, but it doesn't change the fact that this is a glorious little book and makes one feel very good inside.


Children's literature from the Victorian era is such a happy place. Seriously. I think more children today (and adults, for that matter) ought to read books like this and take note of things. The world was more uptight then, but I don't think that was a bad thing. Obviously, I don't endorse everything about the Victorian era, but it seems to me that we could learn a thing or two about the morals and values they had.

The Secret Garden receives five stars from me, partly for nostalgia, but mostly because it is a well-written and wholesome story.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Go Ask Alice

I've had a copy of Go Ask Alice around for a few years now. It actually belongs to my friend Jenni and I will now finally be able to give it back to her because I finally remembered I had it and read it.

It was a quick read, and an insightful one. It's a book that was relevant when it was first released and is still relevant today, despite the differences in pop culture. The title comes from a song, which is referencing Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I have a big problem with this, though there's nothing I can do about it. Lewis Carroll was not on drugs. End of story.

But the thing is, the effects of drugs are still quite real and according to the descriptions in Go Ask Alice, they can seem like a wonderland while on them. The anonymous teenager who inadvertently ingests LSD at a party suddenly wants more and more of this feeling. She swings back and forth from wanting drugs to not wanting to have anything to do with them. This in the end totally ruins her life, which is the point of the story. There's not even much more to say than that many of the diary entries do truly read like a teenage girl's diary. Some of the things she is concerned about are thing I remember being concerned about at that age. So it's relatable, which makes it a good read for teens, especially girls.


Go Ask Alice isn't a novel.
It isn't even the most well-written book ever.
But it's not supposed to be.
It's supposed to be a published diary of a teenage girl.
Those don't read like novels.
Trust me, I would know.
But the thing is, this anonymous teenager might have been real; her story might have been exactly this; might have been.
But I think it's heavily edited.
It could be nonfiction.
It could be fiction.
But none of that matters.
This is a tale of addiction and hopefully it has done its job of scaring teens (and adults, for that matter) off ever using drugs.
I know I never wanted to before reading this, but now I especially don't want to.


So, I give it four stars. People now may complain it's outdated, with the nonexistent cell phones and the talk about hippies (hey, they still exist...), etc. But the message of the book is timeless, and no one should blow it off.