Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

February 2012 Book List

3. Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo by Betty White

I'm a sucker for animal stories and a sucker for zoos - and so is Betty White! She learned to love zoos at a young age, as she visited them often with her parents. In 1974, she became a trustee for the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association, a nonprofit support group for the Los Angeles Zoo. Her love for animals shines through as she shares her up-close and personal visits with the zookeepers and their charges. She also shares tidbits of animal trivia here and there, in between the dozens of beautiful color photos of her animal friends.

This book was a pleasant surprise - and a nice, easy read.

4. Zumba by Beto Perez

I first heard about Zumba about 5 years ago, so I was surprised to find out it's been around since the early '90s. I saw a group of fit ladies performing a routine for the grand opening of a fitness center. Watching them, I hated Zumba. They moved too fast and looked too good doing it,and it made me feel extremely uncoordinated and slow. However, I fell in love with Zumba the first time I tried it - last September, in a fitness class for ladies at my church. And I found out I'm a little more coordinated and quick on my feet than I thought!

In my effort to continue with Zumba at home, I searched the library holdings and found this book, complete with an instructional DVD.

Beto Perez goes into interesting detail about his childhood and adolescence, leading up to his creation of Zumba. His descriptions of how Zumba affects the mind and body are spot-on, too. I remember thinking, "That's so true!" about many of the things he said about the workout and its benefits.

The next section of the book highlights the basic dance moves of Zumba: the merengue, the salsa, the cumbia, and the reggaeton. Not only are there descriptions of the moves, but there are photographs of each step to show readers what to do. The steps are also demonstrated on the DVD, slowly, one-at-a-time, then building up. I didn't know any of those dances at the beginning, but now I can do them at the mention of their names. Wow! Also included in the dance section are basic exercises that can be incorporated into the routines, as well as how to put the moves to whatever music you like. It doesn't have to be Latin music, though that does help!

Finally there's the diet portion of the book. Perez provides three different Zumba diet plans for targeting different areas. One is a jump-start weight loss plan; the others target the abs and the thighs. I'm not fond of diets at all. I read through it, but it's not something I want to focus on.

Sprinkled throughout the book are testimonials by people who started out overweight and feeling hopeless. They started exercising with Zumba, lost weight, improved their self-esteem, etc., and many of them went on to become certified Zumba instructors. Very impressive! In fact, it actually got me wondering if that's something I might like to do...

Whether you're a seasoned Zumba fan or someone who's just curious about what it is, I'd recommend reading this book. Be open to trying the different steps. Do it alone or with a good friend - or with a whole group! Don't be worried about how you look. Just enjoy the music and the movement and get yourself into better shape. And enjoy this:

Source: tumblr.com via Ashley on Pinterest



5. A Place Called Wiregrass by Michael Morris

After 30 years of marriage to an abusive husband, Erma Lee Jacobs calls it quits. She leaves the pain and hatefulness of Cross City, LA, behind and, with her teenage granddaughter Cher in tow, settles in Wiregrass, AL. She's just hoping to get away from her past and get by in a place no one knows her. What she finds is love and acceptance and, finally, peace.

A Place Called Wiregrass is a good attempt at a first novel by Michael Morris. Most of the characters are a little two-dimensional, but Erma Lee and her new employer/companion Mrs. Claudia Tyler are more developed. All is not as it seems when their seemingly opposing worlds of redneck-meets-high-society come together. I enjoyed the confidante/mother-daughter relationship that grew between them, especially given the history of Erma Lee's own mother.

There were a few interesting plot twists, but most of them were formulaic. I can't go into detail without spoiling the story... Regardless, it's a good read. It's not gripping or fast; I wasn't brought to tears any during the two weeks it took me to read it. But it's pleasant - and a nice change from what seems to be the current trend of Christian fiction to lean toward Amish- and Quaker-influenced stories. (Yes, I do judge books by their covers sometimes...)

Reading this book also helped fulfill one of my goals for this year: to read some things from my own bookshelf. A secret pal from many years ago gave me this book, along with several others. I moved it, still unread, from the shelf to a stack last fall when I had to clear shelf space for the boys' school books. Now that I've read it, it's time to pass it along to someone else. If you're local (Dallas area) or family and would like it, let me know.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

January 2012 Book List

1. One Call Away by Brenda Warner

Strong. It's the first word that comes to mind when I hear the name Brenda Warner. She's not just physically strong (farm girl, cheerleader, U.S. Marine, mother of 7), she's also emotionally strong and spiritually strong.

I first heard Brenda Warner, wife of former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, speak at a Women of Faith conference in Dallas last August. I was impressed with what she had to say, and once I heard she had written this book, I knew I wanted to read it. As soon as I saw it in the new book section of my public library, I snatched it up. I was hooked before I got to the bottom of the first page, and I was captivated until the very end.

The continual thread of One Call Away is how certain instances in Brenda's life - often coming through phone calls - have changed her and helped shape her into the woman she is now. The book begins with her then-husband Neil calling her at work to tell her their 4-month old son isn't breathing right. She rushes home, then they rush him to a hospital. Her son Zack's brain is swelling for some unknown reason, and Neil keeps reiterating that "he just started breathing funny". Twenty-four hours and multiple tests later, Neil admits that he dropped Zack and accidentally hit his head on the side of the tub while bathing him. Then her nightmare gets worse...

Brenda then takes us back to her childhood and the first phone call that changed her life. From there, she leads us chronologically through her teen years; life in the Marines; marriage, betrayal, and divorce; raising two young children as a single mom; the sudden death of her parents; etc. Her life looks nothing like what she dreamed it would be, but instead of giving up and giving in, she does what she can to make the best of what she has. She learns to rely on God instead of others or herself.

I was brought to tears many times as I read. Some of the things she went through are things I have no experience with - and hope to never have to deal with. I connected with her story the most when she described what it was like to suffer a miscarriage. She felt some of the same emotions - dealt with some of the same inner turmoil - that I had dealt with. Even now, many years after the fact, she comforted and encouraged me.

I hate that I have to return this book to the library. This is definitely one to buy and keep on your shelf to read over and over again. Brenda Warner is an inspiration.

Click here to watch a clip of an interview with Brenda Warner about One Call Away.


2. Create Your Own Blog: 6 Easy Projects to Start Blogging Like a Pro by Tris Hussey

Although I've blogging for more than eight years now, I felt the need to read this book. Not only was I curious about how to make this blog better, I wanted to learn some tips on how to design a blog for my jewelry business.

This book is basically for beginners. The first four chapters explain what blogging is, detail the history of blogging, and lead the reader through the set-up process.

The next section is more of what I was interested in: types of blogs. While I didn't really learn anything I could use for my personal blog, I did learn some valuable tips for creating my jewelry blog. At first I was thinking I should consider it a business blog, which it is, but the tips in that section weren't applicable to me. The business blog chapter is more geared toward writing corporate blogs. Instead, my idea for my jewelry business blog falls more under his "Portfolio Blog for Artists" chapter. Once I get my jewelry blog up and running, I hope to incorporate Hussey's ideas to make my images pop on the screen - and to include writings about my processes, ideas, etc. - but without giving away my "trade secrets" or techniques.

In actuality, I only read about half this book. I skimmed parts I was already familiar with, and I skipped parts I wasn't interested in. Probably my biggest complaint about what I actually did read, though, is the author's bias toward WordPress. He mentions Blogger and other hosting sites briefly, but since he prefers WordPress, he doesn't do much to help those of us who choose to use something else.

Overall, I think it's a helpful book for people who are new to the blogging world and want some great tips for getting started. For a seasoned (though by no means professional) blogger like myself, I would look for something different.

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Every so often I come across a few books that I just can't read, for whatever reason. I've had two of those this month already!

1. I Didn't Ask to Be Born (But I'm Glad I Was) by Bill Cosby

The first chapter was funny. It was based on a YouTube video clip of You Bet Your Life, featuring a lady who was trying to explain to him where North, South Carolina was. I saw that just a few weeks ago, so it was fresh in my mind and made the retelling funnier. The second chapter wasn't quite as funny, and it made me realize I'd rather watch/listen to Billy Cosby than read his book.

2. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen

I really wanted to read this - something to help me get better organized this year. After the first page, I started skimming and looking ahead to see if it got better. It didn't. I dropped it in the return slot of the library on my way out the door. I'll have to see if I can find something else like it, just more interesting.

3. Food Network Star: The Official Insider's Guide to America's Hottest Food Show by Ian Jackman

This isn't so much a reading book as it is a remembering book - if you've followed the show. The book is broken down by season, with each chapter highlighting the contestants, their experiences on the show, and some of their recipes.

Having seen the first six seasons, I was familiar with the contestants throughout most of the book, so I just skimmed it. It was good for jogging my memory about certain contestants and for finding some interesting recipes to try.

The chapter about the seventh season was brief, as the show hadn't been completely edited when the book went to press. I think I would have either waited or left it out altogether. I wasn't particularly interested in seeing the contestants but not knowing much about them. That may also have something to do with the fact that we no longer have cable TV, and that was why I missed watching season seven... Still, it seemed like a weak way to end the book.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2011 Report Card

Last year, I set 6 goals for myself for 2011. Halfway through the year, things weren't looking good. At all. If I were to give myself a grade, I'd have to give myself nearly straight F's. Well, maybe that's being a little too hard on myself, but when I look at the fact that there were only 6 things, well... Instead of dwelling on that, though, let's see how I ended the year.

Goal 1: Bible Study - A
In June, I gave myself a D because I had basically quit having any kind of personal study. I got myself in gear after that and got back to the "Journey Through the Old Testament" that our church had put out at the beginning of 2010. At the end of 2011, I was finishing up the study on a passage from Jonah - which left just 7 passages to study to complete the booklet.

Goal 2: Weight Loss - B
In June, I had given myself a C. Over the 2010 holiday season, I had gotten back into the bad habit of mindless snacking. By the summer, I had gained most of the weight I had lost the previous year! But I had realized it and had gotten back to doing something to get it off. Since then, I've been more mindful of what I eat and I joined a Zumba group at church. I love it! It's helping get me in shape and now I'm 2 pounds less than where I was at this time last year - 10 pounds less that I was at my highest point during the summer. Now if I can just keep it up throughout this year and not slide back again...

Goal 3: Cooking - B
In June, I had given myself an A because I had learned to make some things from scratch - and without relying on recipes. That was great, but I never did take a cooking class at Central Market. Nor did I cook anything from my Now Eat This! cookbook by Rocco DiSpirito. At one point, I was considering signing up for a series of six international cooking classes through Le Cordon Bleu in Dallas, but I've since changed my mind. There are other things I'd rather do with my money...

Goal 4: Photography - F
Wow. As much as I love to take pictures, I hate formatting and filing them. I let it pile up (again) and it got to be too overwhelming. Still, I need to get it done. Yes, 15 months of photos need to be managed now... The monstrosity of all that kept me from participating in Photo Friday and from keeping up with my Project 52. It turned out to be more like Project 3.

Goal 5: Reading - C
My goal was to read 36 books, including one classic a month. The classics just weren't very interesting to me anymore, and reading them slowed me down. I quit after three of them and went back to reading just what I wanted to read. I did read some great books, but several of them were slower reads and cut into my time quite a bit. Then other busyness got in my way. I ended up reading about 25 books this year - slightly more than half of what I read last year.

Goal 6: Blogging - D
Again, busyness got in the way. And Facebook. And then Pinterest. I lost interesting in reading Real Simple magazine each month because a lot of what they promote is either not so simple or it's too expensive to worry with. Then I got behind in reading my issues of Cooking Light. There's also the fact that many of their recipes are complicated and/or have ingredients that aren't very common. I love to cook, but I want easy. I don't want to spend all my time in the kitchen cooking and cleaning up. I want to watch some TV and knit or crochet in the evenings.

Once again, this is showing where my priorities lie. They're on track, but I would like to get these things I love to do a little more balanced in my life. Maybe I can in 2012.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

December 2011 Book List

26. Comfort & Joy by Kristin Hannah

Joy Candellaro is spending her first Christmas as a divorced woman. She always dreams of adventure, but she never goes in search of it - until her sister, who's now living with Joy's ex-husband, hand-delivers a wedding invitation and announces she's pregnant. Joy immediately leaves and finds herself at the airport.

Hope. That looks like just the place to get away from it all. She books a last-minute flight aboard a chartered plane and is on her way.

She never makes it. After the plane goes down, Joy finds herself walking away from the crash site and toward a new adventure. She wanders around until she finds a run-down lodge, run by a sad, lonely man and his young son. She imagines herself becoming a part of their life, and while Bobby seems to cling to her like she's a replacement for his recently deceased mother, Daniel barely notices her existence. As she heals from her heartbreak, she works to help them heal theirs in her limited time there.

I found myself feeling a range of emotions as I read this book. There's a huge plot twist about halfway through the book and I found myself wondering how things could ever be resolved. Unfortunately I can't say more without giving away important plot points...

If you get a chance to read this book, do it. And have some Kleenex handy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

November 2011 Book List

Well, this one is going to be short and sweet. I didn't finish reading anything this month. That doesn't mean I didn't try. In fact I tried two books...

The Man Who Broke into Auschwitz sounded promising, especially since I had recently finished reading Unbroken. I had the hardest time getting into that book! I have a rule for reading: If it hasn't grabbed me by page 50, it's not worth my time. I don't think I even made it to page 50...

Through My Eyes by Tim Tebow looked like it would be good, too. For the most part, it was - but I got bogged down a few times trying to read through the details of his college football games. After the first few games, I started skimming until I got back to "life", but there were just too many of them. By the time I needed to renew the book, someone else had it on hold so I had to turn it in.

For December, I decided to load my library bag with a few Christmas novels, but I've been so busy with things that I haven't had much time to read. I am in the middle of a good one though, so watch for the December book list post coming soon.

Friday, November 25, 2011

October 2011 Book List

24. License to Pawn by Rick Harrison

If you've watched any of Pawn Stars on the History Channel, you know a lot of the day-to-day running of their store, but this book gives more insight into the lives of Rick, Old Man, Big Hoss, and Chumlee.

One of my favorite things from the book was learning how Rick gained his vast wealth of knowledge that makes him so interesting on the show. He may be a high school dropout (for health reasons mostly), but he loves to read and learn things the average person finds difficult.

I also have a new respect for Big Hoss and Chumlee after reading about the difficult lives they led for a while. They have made huge strides to be where they are now, and they're determined to not go back.


25. Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

This was my first experience with a Kristin Hannah novel, and it was a touching one. Firefly Lane follows the lives of two unlikely best friends from junior high school through college and beyond. One girl comes from a traditional family and hates that her mother wants to be involved in her life; the other lives with her drugged-out mother who frequently abandons her. They have their ups and downs, but one betrayal causes a division between them that seems like it'll never be bridged.

My few big complaints with the book were the author's style (run-ons, comma splices, etc.) and the fact that the book seemed to go on too long. A more minor complaint is the author's too-frequent use of dropping pop culture items into the storyline. Sometimes they fit, but after a while, it was annoying. It was kind of like someone name-dropping to impress...

Still, the last quarter of the book had me in tears. I don't mean a trickle here and there; I mean sobs and streams of tears and a running nose. If you read this book, which I highly recommend despite my complaints, have a full box of tissues nearby.

September 2011 Book List

23. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

I can't say enough good things about this book. Hillenbrand did excellent, extensive research in her biographical study of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner-turned WWII airman whose plane crashed in the Pacific Ocean. Weeks later, he and one fellow crewman washed up on a Japanese-controlled beach, where they were taken into captivity and later moved into POW camps. Just when you think things can't get any worse, they do.

While reading this book, I couldn't help thinking about my grandfather, who was a navigator in WWII. He flew missions all over the world. Thankfully, my grandmother plotted all his flights on a map, then later had it framed and displayed on a wall in her house. My daddy has that map now, and he's going to make a copy of it for me. Anyway, I wondered what type of plane he flew in, but I'm not sure anyone knows that. The war just wasn't talked about then like it is now. I never gave it much thought, but they didn't have all the technologically-advanced equipment that we have now. I wish I knew more about it...

It's not a fast read, but it's a good one. In fact, I bought my own copy, which a friend borrowed to read with her husband. They're thinking of getting their own copy as well. I also gave two copies as gifts. Yes, it's that good.

I sort of hope they make a movie about it, but it's going to have to be an extraordinary effort to stay as true to the book as it should be.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

August 2011 Book List

20. American Idol: The Untold Story by Richard Rushfield

As a big American Idol fan, when I saw this book prominently displayed in my library's "new" section, I snatched it right up. I wasn't sure if it was one of those "unofficial" tell-all books or if it was from a truly legitimate source (which it is). Rushfield, as a reporter for The Los Angeles Times, had full access not only to the creators of the hit phenomenon, but to the crew, the stars, and the contestants.

The book begins with a semi-interesting history of American Idol, introducing Simon Fuller, Nigel Lythgoe, and Simon Cowell. From there, the book follows a logical progression of the quickly-thrown-together first season, the second break-out season, all the way through to Simon's final season (season 10) - all the while highlighting the various forms of contestants that paraded through them.

Interviews with Idol semifinalists sheds a lot of light on the rigorous schedules the contestants must face and the bonds they form with their fellow competitors.

There's also a chapter devoted to dealing with the Idol-hater website, Vote for the Worst. Amid cries every year of conspiracies and faulty voting, VFTW also gets its share of the blame for great singers being sent home while the more mediocre one get to stick around week after week.

The judges and host are also highlighted: Simon Cowell's attitude, Randy Jackson's congeniality, and Paula Abdul's. . . incoherence. When Kara DioGuardi was introduced as a new judge, there was quite a rivalry, not just between Paula and Kara, but between the three original judges and the "freshman". After Paula's departure, Ellen Degeneres' stand-in (and stand-up) did nothing to help ratings in Simon's tenth and final season.

There's so much more here, as well. If you're an Idol fan, this is definitely a book worth reading.

21. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

The title of this book intrigued me every time I saw it, but I never picked it up to read the inside cover. After seeing the movie previews on TV, I decided I wanted to read it, but by then I had to wait to get it from the library. When I first put it on hold, I was somewhere in the low 30's in line for it. It was finally ready for me last week. Once I got started, it was extremely hard to put down.

Jacob Jankowski is an old, old man - somewhere in his 90's, but he can't really remember. He's living in a nursing home after falling and breaking a hip, and he's alone. A circus comes to town and sets up next to the nursing home, causing Jacob, a former circus vet, to remember his first stint as a circus worker - and the secret he's been keeping for over 70 years...

He is preparing to graduate from Cornell University with a veterinary science degree when tragedy strikes his family. In a stupor, he leaves school and jumps aboard a train - the Benzini Brothers Circus train. An old man takes pity on him and saves him from being tossed off. Before long, he's placed in charge of the care of the menagerie, a mix of horses, giraffes, big cats, an orangutan, and a chimp, among others. He is immediately drawn to the lovely Marlena, wife of August, a madman. And there the trouble begins...

I'm really looking forward to seeing the movie and seeing if they can do the book justice. It's on my Netflix queue, but they haven't released it into circulation yet. Once they do, it'll go to the top of my list!

22. Jeannie Out of the Bottle by Barbara Eden

I loved watching reruns of I Dream of Jeannie when I was growing up. I wish I could find some now, but we don't have cable and it's not on Netflix streaming. Maybe one day...

Barbara Eden is a breath of fresh air in the whirlwind mess of Hollywood lives. Though she's had plenty of heartache in her life, she's still a beautiful person inside and out. She hasn't become bitter or tried to drown her sorrows in drugs and alcohol. Instead, she tried her best to "rise above it", as her mother often told her when she was a young girl.

She shares her rise to fame before her role as "Jeannie", her work on that series, and how that one role has defined much of her life after the show ended. She doesn't shy away from detailing her romance with first husband Michael Ansara, or the traumatic events that led to their separation and divorce. She's also candid about a marriage she entered with blinders on and how she eventually came to her senses and escaped before something horrible happened. Her only son Matthew, the child she wanted for so long and loved so much, struggled with addiction for much of his life. Yet, through it all, she found a strength to go on - and love with a man who has stood by her during some of her darkest moments.

The thing that bothered me most was her frequent use of the term "Jeannie blink" when she wanted to fast forward or flash back to a different time than what she was writing about. Thankfully that was used mostly during the prologue and only a few other times throughout the book. I honestly don't know if I could've read it if she had kept it going any more. Other than that, it's a great book.

Friday, July 15, 2011

July 2011 Book List

15. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Lily Owens' mom died tragically when Lily was just 4 years old. Now 14 and at the breaking point in her relationship with her father, she leaves town with her caretaker, Rosaleen, who she has sprung from under police guard at the hospital. Guided by a picture of a black Virgin Mary glued to a piece of board with "Tiburon, SC" written on the back, Lily and Rosaleen head out to find out about Lily's mother's past.

This is a wonderful story about love and forgiveness, friendship and family. Though I wasn't sure about it when I decided to read it, I found it hard to put down. I've added the movie to my Netflix queue, and will hopefully get to watch it in a few weeks.

16. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Henry DeTamble has a genetic anomaly that causes him to time travel. That's how he meets Clare, his future wife, when she's just a child of six. When they meet in "real time", Henry hasn't met Clare yet; only his future self has. But Clare knows him and loves him and is thrilled to be "reunited" with him. In spite of the uncertainty of his life, of what may happen to him at any time, they marry and build a life together.

The story is told through alternating "his and hers" viewpoints, but each is clearly indicated, along with the time of each incident and the ages of both Henry and Clare.

This book was really confusing at first. I felt like I needed to take detailed notes in order to follow what was happening, but after I got used to the whole time travel idea, it wasn't so complicated anymore. Even through the initial difficulties, the story was so intriguing that I couldn't put the book down.

It is graphic in some places (a strong R rating, if not X at times), so be warned. But overall, the story is a good one. I've got this movie on my Netflix queue as well. I've heard it's good. My mom even said so, so I'm thinking maybe the movie didn't get quite as "steamy" as the book.

17. The Scarlet Thread by Francine Rivers

Sierra Madrid's world is turned upside down when her husband Alex takes a high-paying job in Los Angeles and moves the family there without any input from her. Holding on to her anger, she refuses to enjoy anything Alex tries to do to help her adjust to their new life. As they grow apart, they begin to hurt each other with their words and their actions. Shortly after a tragedy in Sierra's family, Alex announces that he's moving out and wants a divorce. As she fights him and deals with her hurt and anger, as well as the reactions of her children, she begins to find her way to Christ. Reading a journal written by one of her ancestors, she sees parallels between their distant lives.

At first I was a little disappointed with the book. It seemed to follow a standard Christian romance formula, and the characters seemed too predictable and boring. I stuck with it, though, and after a while, the characters became more real to me - so much so that I cried a few times during the story. It's not one of Rivers' best works, but it's still a good read.

18. The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn

Kathleen Flinn had long dreamed of attending Le Cordon Bleu, but it wasn't until she lost her job in London that she even considered it. Urged on by her boyfriend, she used her life savings to spend a year in Paris and attend the famed culinary school. She shares her life as a student in the Basic, Intermediate, and Superior levels of the school's culinary arts program, as well as her life as an American in Paris. It's masterfully written and hard to put down.

I've loved to cook for as long as I can remember, but when it came time for college, I didn't give culinary school the first thought. I wasn't passionate about it then, but I've toyed with the idea some over the last few years. Reading about Flinn's experiences at Le Cordon Bleu made me realize I don't want to go to a full-fledged culinary school. Not for a degree, anyway. Many of the things she had to do are things I don't want to experience. Also, I don't have the money to put into a full culinary arts degree program since I'm not wanting to make a career of cooking. Still, it made me think, and it gave me an idea...

19. Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

My only knowledge of this book came by seeing it on the "new" shelf at the library. The title and cover caught my eye, and after reading the description inside the book jacket, I stuffed it in my book bag for later.

Kavita, a poor Indian woman, gives birth to her second daughter in secret. Her husband Jasu took their first daughter away to be disposed of because she wasn't born a son. After grieving for her, she vows he will not do the same with her second one, whom she names Usha. With the help of her sister, she secretly travels to an orphanage in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and gives her up, hoping for a better life than she would get otherwise. She finally gives birth to a son, Vijay, and Kavita and Jasu pin their hopes on him.

Somer Thakkar, a pediatrician in California, is devastated after she learns she will never be able to have a child. Her husband Krishnan, an Indian, encourages her to consider adoption from an Indian orphanage his mother has recommended. She eventually agrees and they adopt Asha (Uhsa).

The story focuses on the lives of Kavita, Jasu, Vijay, Somer, Krishnan, Asha, and Krishnan's mother Sarla over a 25-year period as they deal with loss, guilt, uncertainty, anger, and, finally, love and understanding.

This book touched home in many ways. I have friends who are serving as missionaries in India. I have an Indian friend, a missionary, who, with his wife, will be returning to serve there after serving several years in the Philippines. I have friends who are in the adoption process, both domestic and international. Adoption has also played a major role in my own family. It was interesting to see the various perspectives surrounding adoption and to learn about the cultural influences on it.

I also felt some conflicting emotions regarding the characters in this novel. I initially felt like the one American woman was stereotyped as cold, distant, selfish, and weak, while the Indian characters were warm, open, and loving. Of course, things evened out over the course of the story, but it took a while.

Overall, it's a great read, and I can see someone making it into a movie.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mid-Year Review

On January 1 of this year, I blogged about my goals for 2011. As I was thinking about this the other day, I knew I was falling short in most areas, if not all of them. I need to refresh my memory not only with what my goals for the year are but also why they were important to me at one time...

1. Bible Study - D
Sad to say, I've really dropped off here. I was doing well with my own personal study, but I had to change my focus in order to write some articles for a monthly (now bi-monthly, if at all...) e-magazine that a friend of mine was putting out. I'd be so intensely studying for the article that once I finished writing it, I'd "take a break". A lengthy break. A 3-week-long break before starting work on the next one. And now, since I haven't had to turn in an article since late May and I don't know when my next deadline will be, the break has turned into over a month now. I need to return to what I was studying before the magazine articles took my time...

2. Weight Loss - C
Well, the Christmas holidays set me off and I'm just now getting back to losing weight again. Of course, the weight I'm losing now is the 7 pounds I put back on... But it's going well right now. I've lost 5 pounds of that over the last month. I've been exercising more regularly. First it was through 20-minute segments of strength training and cardio, based in part on Jillian Michaels' 30-Day Shred. More recently it's been through swimming laps at the pool a few times each week. I'm noticing a difference! That's encouraging! Now if I can keep it up, I'm on a good track to lose some more. I'm dreading the plateau I always seem to hit, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve this time...

3. Cooking - A
While I haven't tried many recipes yet from Cooking Light or Now Eat This!, I have been more adventurous in my cooking. I chalk that up to a wonderful book called How to Cook Without a Book. Yes, I know. Funny title. But it's such a great book! Basically, you learn cooking techniques. Then you should be able to cook a wealth of recipes without having to rely on a recipe. I now make my own pasta sauce for a lot less than I was paying for jarred sauce - which I always tweaked anyway! I can make a frittata and I know how to vary ingredients based on what I want or what I have. (Of course, since those are baked, they'll be on our fall/winter rotation. I don't like to turn the oven on if I can help it during the spring/summer...) I've also learned about various pasta dishes that are quick, easy, and flavorful - and I can make it any way I like. Bring on the experimentation! Soon I hope to try a pasta/spinach/ricotta dish, maybe with some Italian sausage mixed in for protein and spice. I also want to try my hand at spanakopita (Greek phyllo pies with spinach and feta). I love what I learned and I'm excited to be able to use it! Yes, I'll still use some cookbooks and actual recipes for things, but I'm no longer afraid to jump out on my own and try something new.

4. Photography - F
I have done soooo little with this. I think it's mainly because I'm overwhelmed with photos on my computer that need to be edited, renamed, and filed into iPhoto. I won't say how many months worth, but I will admit that this is the worst I've let it pile up. I thought summer would be a great time to get it under control again, but it seems we're busier now than we were during the school year. Actually, it's just that when I think about it, I'm busy with something else. When I'm not busy and have some time to work on it, I don't think about it. I need to make a list.

5. Reading - C
Earlier this year, my reading started slow. I think a lot of that had to do with reading classics. While they aren't bad, and it's something I wanted to do, they are definitely a slower read for me. And the fact that I spent a lot of time watching six seasons of Grey's Anatomy on Netflix instead of reading makes for slower-growing book lists. I gave up on reading one classic a month in April, I believe. I had started rereading Lord of the Flies, a favorite from high school, but it just wasn't a great as I remembered. Then I got Decision Points from the library and needed to hurry with it because it was a popular book. I had been 11th in line for it when I placed a hold on it. It was a good book, but it took me a while to get through it. When I had the chance to get back to LOTF, I just wasn't interested anymore. Plus I have too many other library books on my shelf that aren't classics that I need to get read - that I want to read more than classics right now. I'll go back to my old habit of picking up a classic every once in a while... This month, I did read four books, though. I think my total for the year is currently 14...? I've got a long way to go to reach my goal of 36, which I still want to achieve. I can do it!

6. Blogging - D
January was good. February and following months, not so much. I still put some blame on Facebook. I've often come up with statuses for FB that would be better suited for a blog post, but I just shorten them and go on with life. I watched - and enjoyed - Biggest Loser and American Idol this year, but I never felt the need to blog about it. I did write about some articles from my current magazine subscriptions, but not many. And I've let my magazine perusing slide, too. I'm a few months back. I've decided to let Real Simple lapse when renewal comes up. I like it, but it's not one I use much. Cooking Light, on the other hand, has some really useful tips throughout, as well as some great-sounding recipes. Of course, I need to try those recipes instead of just looking at them... My 6-month gift subscription from Lindsay runs out with the August issue, but I decided it's one I want to keep around for at least another year. Last week I renewed it. Maybe I'll pick up blogging about some of that again. As for blogging about life, there's a lot I could do right now. But I feel the need to hold back sometimes. Maybe I'll blog and save the entries as drafts for posting a little later when there's some distance between me and the situations... (I tend to not share a lot of things with a lot of people... That's a big admittance right there.)

So, what does this mid-year review show me? Of the things I thought important at the beginning of the year, only some have held true. I need to decide which of these goals are most important and focus on them. The others can hold off a little longer. Priorities change for various reasons, and right now Bible study and health need to take a higher place in my life. And reading has just always been a pleasure I can't let go of. Writing is an important outlet for me that I've let slide. I need it, and I need to get back to it. I'll work in photography when I can, but I won't worry if I don't do all the things with it that I'd like to.

Monday, June 13, 2011

June 2011 Book List

11. Brainiac by Ken Jennings

If you're a fan of Jeopardy! - and maybe even if you aren't - you know who Ken Jennings is. He won 74 straight games in 2004, becoming the biggest winner in the history of the show.

Brainiac isn't just a memoir of Jennings' historical rise to fame. He includes much of the history of trivia (at times getting a little too trivial and long-winded about it), looks at the social world of trivia, and peppers the chapters with questions. (You'll find the answers neatly stated at the end of each chapter.)

While I liked learning some of the history of trivia and finding out about the various degrees of trivia competitions across the U.S., I was more interested in Jennings' preparation for the show and his experience on it. I never imagined the security details in place to prevent another quiz show scandal like the ones in the '50's. It was also interesting to read his take on the way he was treated backstage by his competitors.

Jennings' quirky sense of humor is present throughout the book, and I often found myself chuckling or downright laughing at his jokes and snide comments. He's a guy I'd like to have a conversation with!

This is a must-read for trivia-minded people.

12. With Love and Laughter, John Ritter by Amy Yasbeck

I don't remember which night Eight Simple Rules... came on, but we always watched it. I do remember feeling shocked when I heard that John Ritter had died. And I remember feeling sad when Eight Simple Rules... wrote in his death, then ended. He had always seemed like a fun, happy guy.

Reading about Ritter's life, through the eyes of his widow Amy Yasbeck, confirmed my ideas about him. He grew up loving making people laugh - and he had quite the knack for physical comedy, as was evidenced (though a bit much...) on Three's Company. Two things made a big impression on me. First, because of his love for his family and his desire for them to know that love, he put them first. Sure, there were instances when he did take a little time out from family outings to sign an autograph or pose for a quick photo, but his kids always knew he put them first. Second, regardless of his huge success, he stayed humble. He loved his fans and was always wanting to make people laugh. His ego never took over.

Though I didn't recognize Yasbeck's name, once I read her story, interwoven with Ritter's, I realized I had seen her act in many things. Mel Brooks' Robin Hood: Men in Tights is probably where I knew her best, though she did star opposite Ritter in Problem Child and Problem Child 2, and had a part in Pretty Woman, as well as other movies and TV shows. (She is also well-known for her role on Wings, but I never watched that show. Now that's it's on Netflix, maybe I should give it a try...) Yasbeck's strong Catholic upbringing is evident throughout the book, but I never saw a mention of any religious leanings of Ritter's.

Yasbeck goes into some detail about aortic dissection, which was the cause of Ritter's untimely death in 2003. The media inaccurately portrayed his condition as undetectable. Unfortunately I don't remember hearing much about it after that. Just as others have taken up causes to educate the public about diseases and health conditions that have claimed the lives of loved ones, Yasbeck has made Familial Aortic Aneurysm and Dissection her cause. It has helped save lives, including that of Ritter's younger brother.

This was a quick read - funny and sad, informative on so many levels. And even after 8 years, I find myself still missing him.

13. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I'm somewhat of a Julia Roberts fan, so when I saw she had made this movie, I wanted to read the book first.

While Gilbert and I are not like-minded politically or religiously, I did enjoy her writing style. I liked reading about her time in Italy (somewhere I've always wanted to go, especially since I'm Italian...), India, and Indonesia. My favorite parts were about the people she met.

As for her search for balance and "finding God", I found much of it tedious. I think my least favorite section was on India, where she spent her entire four months in an ashram studying under an absentee guru. At times I was tempted to put the book down and forget it, but I wanted to get on to Indonesia and see what she experienced there, which was more interesting.

Overall it was an okay book. Not one I'd want on my own shelf, and not one that I'd really recommend to anyone - especially someone who isn't a Christian. (I'd hate for them to think I, in any way, condone her search for spirituality.) Then again, I'd find it hard to recommend to a Christian, too, just because so much of what she believes is contradictory.

And now that I've finished the book the movie is no longer streaming on Netflix. (I rarely see movies when they're showing at the theater.) I remember thinking as I was reading that it would be difficult to make this into a great movie. Apparently critics agreed. My youngest sister and my mother-in-law both said they weren't impressed with it. Lindsay only enjoyed seeing all the Italian food; Ginny didn't watch much of the movie at all because she got bored with it. I'm not going to waste my time ordering it from Netflix to watch at home. If they put it on streaming again, I might give it a try, but most likely I won't.

14. Gather Together in my Name by Maya Angelou

Earlier this year, I finally read the highly acclaimed I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, part one of Maya Angelou's autobiography. It left me wanting to know more.

Gather Together in my Name is the second part, covering 3 years - the late teens - of Angelou's life. So much happened during her childhood, and so much more during her late teen years, that it's hard to imagine the full, revered life she would come to have.

This book picks up where Caged Bird left off, with Angelou (then known as "Rita" Johnson) trying to make ends meet for herself and her infant son. She sees herself as big and ugly, and she has such a desire to be loved and taken care of that she falls into bad situations with tough characters. Somehow she always lands on her feet, bruised and scarred, but with a greater determination to make things work out rather than laying down and dying to her dreams.

As Gather Together ends, Angelou is once again at the bottom of the ladder, having made a (hopefully) wise decision to return with her young son to her mother's house, even though it's full of denial and sadness. Now I have an urge to read the third part. I know the end of the story - the fame and success and honor she's attained. The amazing part is her journey there.

I would definitely recommend I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Gather Together in my Name, but be warned that a lot of the content is seedy and, at times, graphic.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

May 2011 Book List

9. Decision Points by George W. Bush

I'd been wanting to read this book ever since I heard it was coming out, so as soon as I knew my library had it, I put it on hold. It took a while before it was finally my turn, but it was definitely worth waiting for.

Decision Points is not a full-scale autobiography, but rather a presidential memoir of the key decision points that shaped George W. Bush's presidency - and the key decisions in his life that led up to it. He shares experiences with his father, former President George H. W. Bush, and with his mother, Barbara - which made me want to read her autobiography as well. (I've started it twice, but it's so long, I ended up putting it down both times. Maybe the third time, whenever that will be..., will be the charm.) He also goes into detail about the importance of family through his relationships with wife Laura, daughters Jenna and Barbara, and others in his extended family. He's quick-witted and humorous, and that comes through in his writing.

It was very timely that I happened to be reading about his war policy toward Afghanistan when news came that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. Reading the background information helped put things into perspective - many years after the fact. Events and reasoning get cloudy and forgotten, but this book cleared things up. I felt immensely proud that George W. Bush had been my president.

At times, I felt a little bogged down by so much information in areas that didn't seem so important to me. Then again, I'm not politically-minded at all, so it's to be expected. It's not a fast read; it took me about 5 weeks to finish it. Overall the book was well-written and informative.

10. Miss Julia Rocks the Cradle by Ann B. Ross

It was time again for another guilty pleasure. I needed a quick, light read, and Miss Julia books always fit that bill.

This time, Miss Julie is taking care of Hazel Marie, waiting for her to give birth to her twins. In the meantime, she's promised Sam that she won't get involved in anyone else's business - which always gets her into some crazy predicament. Unfortunately a dead body is found in a neighbor's toolshed - with a blank check of Miss Julia's in his pocket. Now it's her business too, and with Sam and Mr. Pickens out of town, she decides it's time to take matters into her own hands. And to complicate matters, Hazel Marie goes into labor during a blizzard and it's up to Miss Julia, Lillian, and Etta Mae to deliver the babies. The usual Miss Julia hilarity follows, complete with hair-brained schemes, misunderstandings, and happy endings.

When I read these books, I like to picture the characters as if they're being played in a movie. Here's my cast: Miss Julia - Shirley McClaine; Sam Murdoch - Hal Holbrook; Lillian - Cicely Tyson; Hazel Marie - Rene Zellwegger. I'm not fixed on the others yet, but if you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Lost: Inspiration

One of my goals for this year was to blog more about life in general instead of playing the meme game so often. I did a little of that, but I seem to have fallen off that horse in March or April. I don't know why. Life didn't get any busier than normal. I think I just lost my inspiration.

I've also dropped off quite a bit in my reading. By this time last year, I had read more than 20 books. I'm currently reading book #9. It was Lord of the Flies, my classic for April. But I got George W. Bush's Decision Points from the waiting list at the library, so I had to focus on it. I put LOTF away, lost interest, and returned it to the library. I also lost my interest in reading one classic a month. I just want to read what strikes my fancy, when it strikes my fancy. I'm still reading Decision Points. It's a slower read for me than most books - non-fiction usually is - but I'm really enjoying it. I'm also finding it very timely, what with Osama bin Laden's recent death.

Another area I've lost inspiration: photography. I WANT to take pictures, but I just haven't taken the time to do it. What I want to photograph is hard with the boys in tow. I haven't participated in the weekly Photo Friday meme in months. I haven't gotten back to my Project 52 since I rethought my angle two months ago. I found my new angle, but I haven't done anything since. I've also basically quit participating in a Facebook photography challenge group.

Maybe I just need to finish out this school year with the boys. We have just over a week left. Maybe then I can find some new inspiration.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

April 2011 Book List

8. The 13th Hour by Richard Doetsch

Nick Quinn has been wrongfully arrested for the murder of his wife. While he waits in the interrogation room for his lawyer, a mysterious stranger enters and gives him a letter and a pocket watch, with the instructions not to lose either one. He has been given the ability to go back in time, one hour at a time for 12 hours, to save his wife's life.

As he searches for answers to saving his wife' life, he learns that time is a precious gift, not to be wasted. He vows to make the most of every moment with his wife - if he can save her. He also learns that one action can set into motion a chain of events causing devastating consequences for those he loves - and for hundreds of strangers as well. Can he find the answer, or will time run out?

This is such an intriguing story! It kept me on my toes. Just when I thought I had figured something out, I was thrown for a loop with a major plot twist. Doetsch kept me guessing to the end - and left open the possibility of a sequel.

One thing that drew me to this book was that it ties in with what our small group from church discussed one night: If you could go back and change one particular thing in your life, would you? And if so, what would it be? What consequences would it have erased, and what would it have possibly caused? Although it's not a possibility, it does make you think.

I've added this to my list of 5-star books for when friends ask me for recommendations.

---------------------------------

Currently Reading:
9. Lord of the Flies by William Golding Decision Points by George W. Bush

Monday, March 21, 2011

March 2011 Book List

5. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Married, but with an absent husband, Hester Prynne finds passion with another man, resulting in the birth of a baby girl, Pearl. Shortly after Pearl's birth, Hester stands in front of the townspeople, with a bold letter A embroidered on her bodice to shame her for her part in adultery. As she looks out at the crowd, she sees her husband. He meets with her later in the prison and tells her he's changed his name and won't interfere with her life anymore. However he is curious and makes it his mission to discover the man she refuses to name as her lover. For seven long years, Hester, always wearing her scarlet letter, and Pearl are ostracized. Her husband has discovered the secret offender, and he secretly torments him. Finally Hester realizes what's going on and vows to put an end to things, but they don't turn out the way she planned.

This book was easier to read than Emma (from January), but it was still difficult because of the language. I found myself mentally summarizing what each chapter was about, based on a technique I read about several years ago in The Well-Educated Mind. Of course, since the chapters had titles instead of just numbers, it was easier to recall what happened in each one.

I enjoyed this book and often found it hard to put down. Earlier I saw a recent novel exploring a current author's creation of Hester's earlier life. I might see if I can find it again and add it to my ever-growing stack of books.

6. Wally's World: Life With Wally the Wonder Dog by Marsha Boulton

Yes, another animal book. I'm a sucker for a good animal story, and this one was superb. The start was a little slow, with the author going into detail about all the dogs she had previously owned, from childhood until she got Wally. I kept wondering if she'd ever get to him. Once she did, though, the story flowed beautifully. Wally led quite a life, full of love, play, and pain. From his experiences living on a farm to staying in 4-star hotels, and everything in between, Wally's world was fun. He made sure of it.

While I do rate this book highly, I was able to put it down for days at a time to do or read something else, especially in the beginning. But I always came back to it because I wanted to know what Wally was up to next - and there was always something to laugh about.

7. Quesadillas by Donna Kelly

Yes, I read a cookbook. Actually I peruse cookbooks frequently, but this is one I actually read from cover to cover.

I make quesadillas often, but they're usually the same: black beans with corn and a few other varying ingredients, based on what I have on hand. This book inspired me to put all sorts of things between flour tortillas and "glue" them together with various cheeses. Then there was the dessert section... YUM!

While it's not a cookbook I feel I need to have on my shelf, it did serve as a springboard for all sorts of creative ideas. I made BBQ chicken quesadillas, and BLT quesadillas are not far away. I really want to try a few of the dessert ones, too, but I feel like I need to justify eating them. I'm trying to watch my fat and sugar intake (again!), and tasty desserts aren't conducive to success in that area...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Who's on your Bookshelf?

According to my cyber friend Cindy, she found the following meme through me. It's been so long ago, I don't remember it! I guess that means I need to play again. :o)

This is how this meme works: copy this list, delete the names of the authors you don't have on your home library shelves, and replace them with names of authors you do have. Bold the replacements. Then link to me.

Danielle Steel
Louisa May Alcott
Jane Austen
Agatha Christie
J. R. R. Tolkien
Charles Swindoll
Ted Dekker
James Herriot
C.S. Lewis

That's quite an assortment! Everything from classic authors to mainstream, from romance to mystery to biography, from both Christian and secular viewpoints. I must say, however, that my shelf space is limited. While those I listed are on my own bookshelves, I have one shelf dedicated to library books and that's where the majority of my reading these days comes from.

Thanks for reposting and playing, Cindy!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

February 2011 Book List

3. 703: How I Lost More than a Quarter Ton and Gained a Life" by Nancy Makin

Nancy Makin struggled with weight from adolescence. Though not pin-pointed by Makin as the starting point of her obsession with eating, she does admit to stealing food during her stay at a Catholic commune in Canada, where food for the residents was sparse and tasteless. After leaving the commune (twice), she responded by gorging herself, enjoying tastes she had desperately missed.

She equated food with self-esteem. When she was happy and fulfilled, she was able to manage her weight and keep herself occupied. When things took a downturn, she ate. As she got bigger, her self-esteem shrank - which led to more eating. Embarrassed by her appearance, she stayed in her apartment, rarely leaving for anything - and then only if the chances of her being seen were little to none.

At her worst, she weighed 703 pounds. Still that wasn't enough to turn her around.

Her sister had bought her a used computer for her birthday. It sat for months before she finally turned it on. When she finally started using it, she got so involved in building online relationships that she stopped eating from boredom and depression and began losing weight.

Her journey to morbid obesity and back is inspiring. She learned a lot about herself and what triggers her eating - as well as how to fight back. Now an inspirational speaker, Makin works to encourage other obese people to find themselves and take back their lives.

While I gave some of the bare bones of Makin's story, there's much more in the book you need to read for yourself. Her story is amazing.

4. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I read this as both my (modern) classic book of the month as well as in honor of Black History Month.

Born Marguerite Johnson, Maya (nicknamed by her older brother Bailey) spent most of her childhood years growing up under the watchful eye of Momma, her paternal grandmother, in Stamps, Arkansas. She and Bailey lived a short time in St. Louis with their mother and her family before Maya's personal tragedy led them back to Stamps, where they lived with Momma again until their early teens. By then, their mother had moved to San Francisco, and Maya and Bailey moved to live with her again.

Considering the life Maya lived during her formative years, it's a wonder she has turned out to be the woman she is today. It's nothing short of a miracle. The language she uses in this first part of her autobiographical story is beautiful, contrasting sharply with her state of life.

Unfortunately the book ends when Maya is 17, just three weeks after giving birth to a baby boy. I am left wanting to know more, so before long I'll read Gather Together in My Name, which covers the next four years of her life, and hope the many questions in my head are answered. If not, I'll go on to the third, fourth, and fifth parts.

Friday, January 21, 2011

January 2011 Book List

And so begins another year of reading...

I enjoyed keeping up with the books I read last year. It's nice to be able to look back at what I read - since I often forget - and see what the books were about and what I thought about them. I'm going to continue that tradition this year. I do have a new "guideline" for my personal reading this year: read one classic each month. I wonder what 12 I'll read...

1. Outwitting Housework by Nancy Rosenberg

I'm interested in organizing things in my life right now, making things simpler, smoother. When I saw this on the library shelf, I knew I couldn't pass it up. And what better time to get this under control than the beginning of the year?

I don't recall anything really ground-breaking for me in this book, but it was a great reminder of some things I know but don't always do. And it's also nice to know that some of things I am doing are also being done by someone who has her housework ducks in a nice, neat row.

The basic idea of the book is to find your trouble spots and pare them down. Too much clutter? Rosenberg provides several options for getting rid of it. Too little time? She gives short lists of quick room pick-ups to help freshen things up when you're in a hurry. She covers everything from maintaining the different rooms in your house (garage included!) to yardwork, from pet care - and wear and tear - to being ready to entertain for any occasion. She even includes tips on keeping holiday stress to a minimum, from decorating and parties to gift-giving.

While it's not a book I'd want to take up space on my own bookshelf, it's good to know where I can find it if I need a refresher course.

2. Emma by Jane Austen

In keeping with my reading goal of one classic per month, I'm happy to say I completed this one with a few days to spare. For a while I thought maybe I should have chosen something a little less daunting. Reading early 18th century British English can be a little time-consuming. Several times I had to read a line or a passage two or three times to grasp the meaning. Still, I love the story, having become familiar with it through various viewings of Emma and, in a sense, Clueless.

Most of the major characters were so well-written, I could picture them in my head. Some of them truly got on my nerves, most notably Miss Bates and her insufferable rambling chatter about nothing and everything. Mr. Woodhouse made me feel tired with all his worrying about the general health of himself and everyone around him. And Frank Churchill, trying to cover his great secret with Miss Fairfax, seemed over-the-top silly at times.

Knowing how Mr. Knightley wins in the end, I couldn't help pulling for him right from the beginning. Still, when he finally declared his feelings for Emma, and she declared hers, I was on the edge of my seat.

I think I'll choose something a little shorter for next month, as I'm already behind on getting my third book for January read. Maybe I'll even revisit an old favorite from my high school days like Lord of the Flies or Silas Marner. The Scarlet Letter is on my must-read list, but it's a little lengthy so I'll save it for later on.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

December 2010 Book List

40. Oogy by Larry Levin

Once again, another animal book caught my eye - and stole my heart. When Oogy was just a few months old, he was used as a bait dog for dog fights. He was found abandoned in a cage in an old building, half dead, his face torn, bones broken. The police took him to an animal emergency hospital where he was patched up and left alone. One of the nurses there found him a few days later, fell in love with him, and insisted that her veterinarian friend do everything he could to save his life.

The Levins met Oogy when they had taken their dying cat in to be euthanized. A vet tech was taking Oogy outside for a bit, but when he saw the Levins, he rushed over and loved them like they were old friends. Thus began Oogy's new life. The Levins adopted Oogy into their family, where he now thrives. (Larry Levin gave Oogy his name, a play on "ugly", which aptly describes Oogy's lopsided appearance.)

41. The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog by Dave Barry

Every year around Christmas, I like to find a few short holiday novellas to read. Time is short, so I need something quick - and this was one of the quickest I've ever read!

Doug Barnes, a junior high student in the early 1960s, humorously recounts how his family came to get Walter, a dog to "replace" their recently deceased dog Frank, who died on Christmas Eve, right before their church Christmas pageant.

It's fun light reading with a few laugh-out-loud moments.

42. The Paper Bag Christmas by Kevin Alan Milne

When I picked up this book, I wasn't sure what I was getting. I read part of the inside flap and thought it looked interesting. It turned out to be one of those rare holiday books that has quite an impact. It's not fluff. This one is hearty and it will stay with you for a long time.

Molar, who tells the story, and his older brother Aaron are taken to the mall the day after Thanksgiving to meet the new Santa - a friend of their father's who tells them he's going to give them the best Christmas present they never wanted. The catch is they have to help him on the oncology ward at a local children's hospital, where "Santa" is a doctor.

The boys come to know and love the children in the oncology ward, becoming fast friends with some of the patients. Molar and Aaron are given the special task of reaching out to two children in particular: Madhu, an Indian boy with a failing liver, and Katrina, a lonely girl who wears a paper bag over her head to hide the effects of a brain tumor.

I won't give away any more of the story, but the boys do indeed get something beyond their wildest dreams for Christmas - as well as seeing the Christmas wishes of Madhu, Katrina, and a few others come true.

This story could be true, and I often wonder how much of it is based on someone's actual experience. It's heartwarming and will bring tears to your eyes. This is a book to own and reread every year.

43. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

Dr. David Henry delivers his wife Norah's twins in the middle of a snow storm. Paul is perfect; Phoebe has Down syndrome. He gives Phoebe to his nurse Caroline Gill to take to an institution, then tells Norah she died. Caroline decides to raise Phoebe as her own daughter and leaves town. And so begins a series of lies that drives a wedge between everyone involved.

Norah, caught in the midst of depression, changes her life in ways no one expects. Caroline, secretly in love with David, keeps him informed of Phoebe's development. David, wanting to spare his wife further pain, keeps knowledge of Phoebe's life with Caroline to himself. Paul, aware of the growing distance between his parents, feels things are his fault.

Plot twists throughout the book kept me from guessing what would happen next. Just when I thought I "knew" what was coming, something totally unexpected would happen.

The story is sad and beautiful. Inspiring and eye-opening. Even though it's not one of my favorite books, I had a hard time putting it down.

44. Have a New Kid by Friday by Dr. Kevin Leman

I had seen this book before, but I decided I needed to read it after we started school this year. Jacob started throwing fits before science and history each day. I was tired of dealing with it, and I thought Dr. Leman might have some suggestions. Boy, did he!

Basically, I had to look in the mirror and see if Jacob was emulating my actions (albeit magnified). Was I treating him with respect, or was I demanding that he do what I said when I said it? Was I being responsive to him in a positive or a negative way? Dr. Leman doesn't believe in coddling kids and catering to their every whim. Rather he believes in reality discipline - but I have to look at myself first and change what needs changing. Then I can start to work on my sons. (Yes, they both need some attitude adjustments here and there...)

The text of the 5-day "program" is short, easy to read. After that follows suggestions on various trouble areas families encounter and how to tackle them. Like I said earlier - reality discipline. I've been threatening and reminding, doing nothing to help my sons grow responsibly. Instead, I need to let reality be their teacher. If I say for them to do something and they don't, they need to learn from the consequences of their actions.

It's hard to do sometimes. Sometimes I just want to move on from the problem onto something else - but then they aren't learning anything and I'm just reinforcing bad behavior. (No, they aren't that bad, but there's room for improvement.)

Thankfully I have a lot of these suggestions in another Leman book, Making Your Child Mind Without Losing Yours. Great book! Now I can return this one to the library. I'm sure there are some other parents out there who need to read it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November 2010 Book List

37. God, the Devil, and Harry Potter by John Killinger

I initially chose this book because I thought it would give me insight into how Christians who like the Harry Potter books view the series. It started out nicely, though there were numerous summaries of some of the plot lines of the books. That led me to believe it would be a good book for Christians who are curious about Harry Potter but don't feel inclined to read the books. The further I read, the more I realized that Killinger often mixes his Christian perspective with a worldly one. It didn't bother me that he points out similarities between Rowling's characters and those of the mythology of different regions. What concerned me was he not only quotes from the Bible, but he also relies heavily on other gospels as well as the Apocrypha. To evangelical Christians, that's a huge red flag, and that would put off many Christians who question the series.

I don't recommend this book to evangelical Christians who want to know more about the Harry Potter series, but I'm sure there is a book out there written by an evangelical - for evangelicals.

38. Making Rounds with Oscar by Dr. David Dosa

I'm a sucker for a good cat story, and this one was a gem! Dr. Dosa is a geriatrician who makes rounds on the dementia floor of a large Rhode Island nursing home. Rumor was that Oscar was always present for residents' final hours of life. Dosa was skeptical and began a quest to find out just what Oscar's "gift" is - how does he know when it's a patient's final hours, and how is he always right?

As Dosa talked with past patients' families about their experiences on the floor and with Oscar, he began to realize Oscar's importance to both the patients and their families. Generally aloof, Oscar would curl up on the bed beside a dying patient, would purr and allow himself to be petted by grieving family members. More than one family member called him a comfort. Dosa's appreciation of Oscar grew, as did his understanding of what his patients' families needed. He learned how the medical community was failing families of patients with dementia, how families felt a range of emotions but had no help, and how he could be a better doctor in bridging those gaps.

Dosa never really found answers to his questions about how Oscar "knows" the end is near. There have been scientific explanations about a "sweet smell of death" and animals having a keener sense of smell than humans, but none of those explain why only Oscar makes his rounds. He does realize the importance of animal therapy for the elderly, especially those with dementia. There's something about animals (and music, as he also learned) that reach into the deepest parts of a person.

Life Without Limits by Nick Vujicic

I can't count this book because I didn't finish it. It's good, but not what I want to read right now. I was expecting an autobiography with some inspiration thrown in, but it turned out to be quite the opposite. It's a Christian "self-help" book with short biographical highlights included every so often. Needless to say, I was disappointed.

39. Family Organizing Handbook by Amy Knapp

The subtitle is "314 Mom-Tested Super Tips, Tricks and Secrets to Take Care of Everything with Time Left for What Really Matters". (An older version has only 312 tips.) Quite a mouthful, but an overall quick read.

I don't think each numbered tip should've been a tip unto itself, since many of them piggy-backed on a previous one. Still, there were some good ideas here. The biggest thing that was emphasized for me was the importance of two things: calendars and lists. I already knew that, but this just drove the point home a little more, especially where lists are concerned.