get your head out of the box

I was reminded again today why generalizations are so dangerous.  It’s something we all do because, I think to some degree, it’s necessary to keep ourselves from going crazy.  There are too many details in this world and if we tried to keep them in mind all the time, nothing would get done.  But life is all about balance and so I think generalizing too much can have detrimental affects and can be so harmful to society.  I try to ignore them when I see them, but I can’t help but react to them, at least a little.

I saw this while scrolling on FB and just had to shake my head.  I work with the welfare population and while there are people who take advantage of the system, there are many more who are utilizing it to improve their lives and get out of a tough spot.  We’re seeing more and more people who have BAs and even MAs come in for aid.  The economy is tough, I don’t think people disagree about that.  What I find unfortunate is ignorant people speaking about issues they know nothing about like they do.  There are a lot of catchy posters and sayings out there, but I think ones that talk about welfare are generally wrong and continue to shame those who need the extra help.  And the amount they receive is laughably small (partially to keep them from relying solely on it).  I’m all for people being independent and not having to rely on taxpayers, but the reality is that not all people have equal access to opportunity.  I was blessed to be born into a family that was supportive and loving; we always had food on the table, and a roof over our heads.  I never had to go without and my parents instilled the importance of education, which got me the jobs that have supported my own family.  I was born into this positive cycle that will hopefully continue on.  Not everyone has that.  Many come from broken homes and/or got pregnant at a young age.  Some haven’t finished high school.  There are too many individual stories to generalize them all into one catchy phrase.  So please stop.

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the Bible and cream puffery

As you probably know if you’ve been reading my blog, I do yearly projects.  They started in 2011 and the inspiration comes from a friend who decided that New Year’s resolutions should be things we enjoy, to encourage us to actually follow through.  And I’ve had a lot of fun with the projects over the years.

This year I’ve decided to do an academic study of the Bible.  I’ve been a Christian all my life, but I feel like I’ve been spoon-fed for most of it.  Over the last few years, my faith has morphed and I’m finding a yearning for more.  I want to have Truth for myself and to do my own research and study for a better understanding.  I think the Bible’s a good place to start and I thought that if I could dig deeper into it, then maybe I can have a more solid foundation to build from.  I want to look at historical and cultural context, the original language, and among other things, find out how it affects me today.

As always, I will be blogging about my project.  The 12 books I’ve decided to study are: Job, James, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy, Philippians, Galatians, Jeremiah, Isaiah, John, Acts, and Revelation.  I might not get to all of them this year, but as faith and it’s deepening should be a life-long journey, I will certainly continue beyond 2015.  I just want to be more intentional about it for this year at least.

Because this is such a broad and vague idea, I’m going to see how it goes as time goes by and make adjustments as needed.  I do plan on studying until I feel like I’m “done” with a book, then I’ll move on to the next.  I hope you’ll take this journey with me and please share any insights you may have.

project read review

I had a blast with this project.  As a kid I read a lot, often staying up through the wee hours of the morning to finish a book.  Since I started college, I didn’t read for pleasure and it took me a long time to get back to my childhood love.  That’s why I decided to focus on reading this year.  It certainly has re-ignited my love for it and I already have a list of books that I would like to read next year (it’ll be nice to not have to write a review after I finish each one).  I thought I would share a few stats from this year’s project.  Thanks to everyone who gave me suggestions and made this so enjoyable.  Your input enriched my year and I appreciate you all!

books read: 104 (average of 2/week)

pages read: 38,783

longest read: The Count of Monte Cristo (at 1,276 pages)

5 stars: 65

4.5 stars: 18

4 stars: 14

3.75 stars: 1

3.5 stars: 1

3 stars: 2

2 stars: 2

1 star: 1

favorite book: World War Z by Max Brooks

What a great year!

neverwhere

title: Neverwhere

author: Neil Gaiman

genre: Fiction, London, Doors, rat-speakers, Floating Market

suggested by: Phil S.

dates read: December 26th – December 28th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Richard Mayhew lives in London, has an okay job, a beautiful fiancée, and is generally happy with life.  Until he saves a wounded girl who seems to appear on the sidewalk through a brick wall.  Her name is Door and she is an “opener,” she can open doors that are locked and create doors where there aren’t any.  Her family has been brutally murdered and she’s on a quest to find out who’s behind it.  But she’s also being chased by Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, who enjoy torturing and killing their prey.  And Richard is unintentionally pulled into the adventure.

personal thoughts: Another unique story by Mr. Gaiman.  I was quickly sucked in and cared very much for Richard and Door.  I was a little unsure of Hunter and the marquis de Carabas but did enjoy the flavor they brought to the story.  The different people they encountered and the nonchalance with which Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar disposed of others furthered the compelling nature of the story.  Another win by Gaiman.

favorite quotes:
“He continued, slowly, by a process of osmosis and white knowledge (which is like white noise, only more useful), to comprehend the city.” p. 9

“Richard had noticed that events were cowards: they didn’t occur singly, but instead they would run in packs and leap out at him all at once.” p. 12

“He had gone beyond the world of metaphor and simile into the place of things that are, and it was changing him.” p. 277

the book of unknown americans

title: The Book of Unknown Americans: A Novel

author: Cristina Henríquez

genre: Fiction, immigration, foreign language, first love

suggested by: Michalle T.

dates read: December 24th – December 25th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Arturo, Alma, and Maribel Rivera have left Mexico to immigrate to America, after Maribel is in an accident that causes brain damage.  Told by her doctors that she has a better chance of recovery in the States, they wait a year to get the papers together and finally make their way to Delaware, where Arturo was able to find an employer that will sponsor their visas.  The building they move into is full of other immigrants, all with different stories of when and why the came to the States, all of them trying to get by and achieve their American Dream.

personal thoughts: I loved the writing style; Henríquez introduces each character in their own voice and then the story progresses through different eyes, sometimes going back a little so the same scene is played from a different perspective.  The difficulty of trying to find their place in a foreign country is (I think) well conveyed in the confusion of learning a new culture, language, and all that comes with uprooting ones family to live somewhere totally new.  The heartbreak of finding that maybe the dream they are all reaching for is further than they think, and the community that is built from their common experience, all brought a richness to the story being told.  I laughed and cried, and once again appreciated the struggle I didn’t have to go through to become a citizen of this crazy, wonderful, awful, beautiful country.

favorite quotes:
“We had all of our dreams pinned on this place, but the pin was thin and delicate and it was too soon to tell whether it was stronger than it looked or whether, in the end, it wasn’t going to hold much of anything at all.” p. 32

“That first day, the words were merely sounds in the air, broken shards of glass, beautiful from a certain angle and jagged from another.” p. 58

“I wasn’t allowed to claim the thing I felt and I didn’t feel the thing I was supposed to claim.” p. 78

“‘Finding is for things that are lost.  You don’t need to find me, Mayor.'” p. 263

“When someone dies, it doesn’t leave a hole, and that’s the agony.” p. 275

zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance

title: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
An Inquiry into Values

author: Robert M. Pirsig

genre: Sort of non-fiction, road trip, philosophical thoughts, Quality, Truth

suggested by: Dad

dates read: December 21st – December 24th

review: 4.5 out of 5 stars

summary: Robert Pirsig is on a roadtrip with his young son.  They are on his motorcycle during summer break.  Throughout their trip, Pirsig shares some of his thoughts on Quality, Truth, and Phaedrus.  In a former life, Pirsig was a English teacher who had a break down and was admitted to a hospital where he underwent shock therapy.  He refers to himself in his former life as “Phaedrus.”  As the narrative progresses, he shares his history and some of the thoughts Phaedrus had, which he still has fragments of.

personal thoughts: Wow.  This was so interesting and intense.  Some of the ideas went right over my head.  But when I got it, I was very intrigued and impressed by his unique perspective.  I’m always pondering things, but when I read things like this, I’m often impressed by the depth of thought and the “out of boxness” that I see.  This will be a book I’ll need to think on and come back to again.

favorite quotes:
“You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other.  In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV.  You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.” p. 12

“where once it was used to get away from it all, the escape has been so successful that now it is the ‘it all’ that the romantics are trying to escape.” p. 76

“The real purpose of scientific method is to make sure Nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you don’t actually know.” p. 108

“posing as piety was an example of the very materialism the church opposed.” p. 149

“What’s wrong with technology is that it’s not connected in any real way with matters of the spirit and of the heart. And so it does blind, ugly things quite by accident and gets hated for that.” p. 168

“To live for some future goal is shallow.  It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top.” p. 204

“The first place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.” p. 297

“Religion isn’t invented by man.  Men are invented by religion.” p. 351

“We always condemn most in others. . .that which we most fear in ourselves.” p. 378

sniper on the eastern front

title: Sniper on the Eastern Front: The Memoirs of Sepp Allerberger, Knights Cross

author: Albrecht Wacker

genre: Non-fiction, WWIII, German sniper

suggested by: Tiril P.

dates read: December 20th – December 21st

review: 4 out of 5 stars

summary: Josef ‘Sepp’ Allerberger was an Austrian with German nationality who became one of the best German snipers in WWII.  Joining before he was even 20 years old, he became indispensable, taking down 257 Russians, and countless more that weren’t recorded.  Coming back home from the war with few physical scars, the affects on his psyche were much more severe.

personal thoughts: The very subject of this book was difficult for me.  Reading about the notches in his gun to keep track of his kills, and the calculated way he took down his enemies (though, to be fair, it was either them or him and he was a sniper, who do need to be calculating in their kills), made it tough to keep going sometimes.  It makes me think of first-person shooter video games, some of the scenes he describes.  The depravity of humanity is highlighted in many of the stories, and I wish again, still, that we lived in a world without war.  The horrors that those in combat face are unfathomable.

favorite quotes:
“Fear, blood, death were the ingredients in the alchemy that intoxicated and drugged its participant; it marked the end of my personal innocence and swept away all visions and dreams of ‘my future’; swept away my life.” Chapter 1

“War is a merciless system of Killing and Being Killed.  In action, sympathy for the enemy is ultimately suicide, for every opponent whom you do not kill can turn the tables and kill you.  Your chances of survival are measured by the yardstick of how you compare in skill and objectivity as against your opponent.” Chapter 2

“A soldier’s chances of survival depend in no small degree on his feeling for what is possible.” Chapter 11

dragon and phoenix

title: Dragon and Phoenix

author: Joanne Bertin

genre: Fiction, dragonlords, truedragons, captivity and freedom

suggested by: Jason S.

dates read: December 14th – December 19th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Maurynna, Linden, Lleld, and Jekkanadar are all dragonlords, humans with the ability to transform into dragons. Well, all of them are able to expect for Maurynna, who was able to once when Linden, her soultwin, was in peril.  Now she seems to have lost the ability and as a result is forbidden from leaving the Dragonskeep as it is too dangerous.  But the reunion of a childhood friend brings with it news that a truedragon is being held in captivity by those in power and the group cannot, and will not, let that stand.

personal thoughts: This is actually the second book in the series so I wonder what I’m missing by not having read the first.  I suspect that some of the memories mentioned in this are what occurred in the first book.  Anyhow, I still really enjoyed this and was able to get into the story and the lives of the characters.  There were some slow parts and characters I didn’t care much for, even outside of the “bad guys.”  Within chapters the perspective would flip between many of the characters and I could easily see this being made into a movie or miniseries.  I did read some of the reviews on “Goodreads” that said the writing wasn’t as good, or they didn’t care about the story or characters as much as the first.  I’m glad that I don’t have that tainting my experience of the book, though I am a little curious to go back and read it.  I would like to see where the story goes next and will have to add it to my books to read next year.

favorite quotes:
“There was no greater tyrant than a faithful servant.” p. 206

“‘don’t get all into a snit that she didn’t follow the story you’d written – not when you didn’t tell her the tale.'” p. 247

“‘An honest enemy. . .is truer than a false friend.'” p. 350

“Like a wayward boat that wouldn’t answer to the helm, her mind continuously drifted back to thoughts of Linden no matter how hard she tried not to think about him.” p. 514

“she felt as though she walked along some border in the dream world where the weight of a sigh would tilt the scales between nightmare and enchantment.” p. 544, 545

thane

title: Thane

author: Travis Daniel Bow

genre: Fiction, betrayal, brothers, espionage

suggested by: Mom

dates read: December 12th – December 14th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Timothy and Robert are not brothers by blood, but they might as well be.  Raised together by their “mother,” unsure which is actually her son, they end up being kidnapped by the Huctans to be part of their army.  They are rescued by Selena, who is part of a rebel group whose goal is fighting the Huctans and saving their country Botan.  Timothy is drawn to the group and immediately joins them, while Robert resists.  As both boys become familiar with the group, it becomes clear that there’s a traitor in their midst.

personal thoughts: Another author I kind of know (he and his wife are friends of my parents)!  So cool.  Anyway, this is the first book in the Everknot Series and I definitely want to continue with the story when the next book (or books) comes out.  I liked how the perspective sometimes changed between the different characters so I got an idea of what is going on elsewhere, or from the perspective of someone else.  Also, I thought the prologue really set up the story nicely, gave it a more back story without getting bogged down in the details.  The training scenes were well done, and I liked the dynamics between the characters.  All in all, an engaging story with likable characters and a series I’m looking forward to continuing.

favorite quotes:
“Pulling the wool over someone’s eyes is a fine art. . .but sometimes all it takes is plain, sheep-headed stubbornness to keep the wool off.” p. 84

“Jesher, whose passion and love for Botan exceeded everyone else’s the way the trees exceeded the grass.” p. 169

the book thief

title: The Book Thief

author: Markus Zusak

genre: Fiction, WWII, Germany, orphan

suggested by: Mom

dates read: December 7th – December 11th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Liesel Meminger’s brother passes away as her small family is on their way to Molching, to the family who will foster them, since their mother is unable to.  One of the gravediggers loses a book, which Liesel picks up and hides away at her foster family’s house.  Rosa and Hans Humbermann are not rich, but they have hearts full of love for Liesel.  Plagued by nightmares every night, Hans and Liesel start a tradition of staying up together in the wee hours of the morning.  Liesel can’t read and Hans left school in fourth grade, so together they use this scared time to learn or improve their reading.  This sparks a love of books for Liesel and begins her career as a book thief.

personal thoughts: I loved Zusak’s interesting use of pronouns.  Nothing happened in the normal way.  There was a beauty to his language that really engaged and moved me.  Of course, any story set in this time period is going to have its tragedies, but the narrator death, was a new twist.  I loved the feisty and innocent nature that Liesel still had, despite her life tragedies.  She and Rudy’s friendship was beautiful and I loved that pairing.  I had seen the movie with my parents and thought it a beautiful story; it did the book justice, I think.

favorite quotes:
“The day was gray, the color of Europe.” p. 27

“Papa’s bread and jam would be half eaten on his plate, curled into the shape of bite marks, and the music would look Liesel in the face.  I know it sounds strange, but that’s who it felt to her.” p. 38

“He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world.
She was the book thief without the words.” p. 80

“is there cowardice in the acknowledgement of fear?  Is there cowardice in being glad you lived?” p. 107

“Rudy put on the extra coat, barely able to contain a grin.  It ran across his face like a skid.” p. 162

“Those who remained were firing into the blank pages in front of them.  Three languages interwove.  The Russian, the bullets, the German.” p. 469

“one thing I envy.  Humans, if nothing else, have the good sense to die.” p. 491

out of the silent planet

title: Out of the Silent Planet

author: C. S. Lewis

genre: Fiction, sci-fi, space travel

suggested by: Sam B.

date read: December 7th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Dr. Elwin Ransom, trying to help a young man return home, finds himself drugged and kidnapped, waking up on a spaceship headed for a distant planet (which turns out to be Mars).  His two captors, Dr. Weston and Dick Devine have been to the planet before and Ransom overhears a conversation which leads him to believe that he is going to be a sacrifice to the beings that inhabit the planet.  After they land, he finds a way to escape and wonders into the wilderness, where he is found by one of the species that live there.  This encounter opens up a while new world for Ransom.

personal thoughts: Sci-fi is always a little sketchy for me, which I think I’ve mentioned in other reviews.  However, I thought this was an interesting story and like Dr. Ransom and the compassion he had for the planet’s inhabitants.  I already love C. S. Lewis and it was cool to read something different by him.  I’m always amazed by people’s imaginations.  I have a vivid imagination, but it’s more grounded in things that could actually happen, rather than coming up with new worlds and species.  It’s especially cool when I can get a clear picture of what is being described, which I felt happened a lot while I was reading this.

favorite quotes:
“you cannot see things till you know roughly what they are.” p. 26

“‘the best pictures are made in the hardest stone.'” p. 75

the things they carried

title: The Things They Carried

author: Tim O’Brien

genre: Fiction, Vietnam war, the power of stories

date read: December 7th

review: 3 out of 5 stars

summary: A collection of stories about a platoon of soldiers in the Vietnam war.  While not a memoir, O’Brien does write about the character Tim O’Brien.  The men struggle with death, missing their loved ones, and the sanctity of life.  The importance of story telling is a major theme of the book, coming back again and again as O’Brien recounts the lives of these men.

personal thoughts: I did not enjoy this.  The “meta-ness” of the book was really distracting and the disjointed stories were confusing.  He retold some of the stories several times and I didn’t care for most of his characters.  Honestly, I really hate it when stories that try to pass themselves off as real but not.  This is the problem I had with Life of Pi (I realize this was actually fiction, but the whole premise is that the character is telling a story that might be real, or it might not be, which made me feel like I just wasted so much time reading the book) and Shantaram.  I know we draw inspiration from life, but at least give your character a different name than your own.  This is obviously a personal pet peeve, so you might love this book.  I just can’t get past this, apparently.

favorite quotes:
“They used a hard vocabulary to contain the terrible softness.  Greased they’d say.  Offed, lit up, zapped while zipping.  It wasn’t cruelty, just stage presence.  They were actors.” p. 19

“Stories are for joining the past to the future.  Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are.  Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.” p. 36

“Courage was not always a matter of yes or now.  Sometimes it came in degrees, like the cold; sometimes you were very brave up to a point and then beyond that point you were not so brave.” p. 141

ready player one

title: Ready Player One

author: Ernest Cline

genre: Fiction, virtual reality, competition, year 2044

suggested by: Phil S.

dates read: December 5th – December 7th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Wade Owen Watts is an orphan in 2044 using the “globally networked virtual reality” OASIS to escape the reality of his life.  Living in the “stacks,” a neighborhood of trailers stacked at least 15 units high, with his aunt and 13 other people, Wade’s life seems pretty bleak.  James Halliday, the videogame designer of OASIS and billionaire passed away at the age of 67, leaving behind no heirs to his mass fortune.  Instead, he created a complex game within OASIS and whoever finishes it first, will inherit his company and fortune.  Wade is one of those competitors and the first to pass the first level of the game.  With that one “small” accomplishment, Wade’s avatar is now globally known and Wade’s life changes forever.

personal thoughts: This really reminded me of Gamer with Gerard Butler, which is a movie I really love, even though it shows the depravity of humanity.  This was not quite as depraved, though it did show the greed humans are capable of.  I might not be as massive a nerd as some who have read this, but I still appreciated all the references that I did understand, from Firefly to Star Trek to Monty Python to PAC-MAN to D&D.  So clever and engaging.  Wade also developed a lot as a character, which added another element to the story.  Well told, and a nice tribute to all things nerdy.

favorite quote:
“I decided whoever Art3mis really was, I was in love with her.  I could feel it, deep in the soft, chewy caramel center of my being.” p. 179

american gods

title: American Gods

author: Neil Gaiman

genre: Fiction, mythology, war

suggested by: David V., Phil S., and Nick H.

dates read: December 3rd – December 5th

review: 4.5 out of 5 stars

summary: Days before Shadow Moon is going to be released from prison after three years, he finds that his wife has died in a car accident.  As a result he is released early.  On his way back home, he meets a man who goes by the name Wednesday.  Wednesday works at convincing Shadow to work for him, and finally Shadow concedes.  He is sucked into the war between the old gods and the modern gods of technology.  The old gods are fading out as those who worship them dwindle.

personal thoughts: First of all, I have to warn any of you considering this as a read that might be sensitive: there is a lot of profanity and some graphic sex scenes.  You’ve been warned.  Anyway, on to the review.  Another original idea by Mr. Gaiman.  I really liked Shadow and the motley crew he works with and meets.  With a somewhat ambiguous ending, I was able to come up with my own “happily ever after,” which suited me just fine.  Some of the above mentioned scenes made me uncomfortable since a majority of them were read while I was at work (not like I was reading out loud or anything, but I think you know what I mean).  But the humanity of the gods was so interesting and their many flaws made for a more dynamic story.

favorite quotes:
“Shadow thought there was a lot to be said for bottling up emotions.  If you did it long enough and deep enough, he suspected, pretty soon you wouldn’t feel anything at all.” p. 57

“‘The quickest way is sometimes the longest.'” p. 123

“Death had vanished from the streets of America, thought Shadow;  now it happened in hospital rooms and in ambulances.  We must not startle the living, thought Shadow.” p. 222

“‘There’s never been a true war that wasn’t fought between two sets of people who were certain they were in the right.  The really dangerous people believe that they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do.  And that is what makes them dangerous.'” p. 233

“Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world.” p. 508

les misérables

title: Les Misérables

author: Victor Hugo

genre: Fiction, French uprising, poverty, ex-convict

dates read: November 25th – December 2nd

review: 4 out of 5 stars

summary: Jean Valjean, in an effort to help his widowed sister and her seven children, steals a loaf of bread. For this he was given five years in prison. After four attempted escapes, which added more time to his sentence, he ends up spending 19 years in prison. On his release, he ends up stealing again but isn’t caught. Taking on a new name and becoming the mayor of a small town, he is beloved by many as a generous and kind man. Discovering that someone else has been caught and is being convicted as him, he goes to the trial, reveals his true identity, and is imprisoned again.

Fantine, left to raise her daughter Cosette alone and unable to do so, leaves Cosette with an inn keeper and his family, thinking that they will treat her well and intending on coming back after six months to get her. She ends up in the same town where Jean Valjean is mayor and begins work at a factory. When it is discovered that she has a daughter out of wedlock, Fantine is fired from the factory and forced to find other means of earning money to send to the inn keeper for caring for Cosette. Before being imprisoned again, Jean Valjean discovers Fantine’s situation and works to unite mother and daughter. Before he is able to do so, he is arrested.

Cosette, in the care of the Thénadiers, is sorely mistreated and made to work for them while they demand more and more money from her mother. When Jean Valjean escapes from prison once again, he finds Cosette and takes her away from her abusers, treating her like a daughter.

personal thoughts: I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it is extremely famous and does have some epic elements to it.   On the other hand, Hugo rambles a lot.   There are whole sections of the book that have pretty much nothing to do with the main story. I’m all for a long novel, as long as it all moves the story along. This is why I’ve never read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I know Tolkien’s tendency to go on and on about nothing. But again, there were parts that really captivated me. I really liked the development of the characters and some of the dynamics that exist between them. The tragedies that all of them had to contend with gave them a more realistic element, even if it was frustrating sometimes.

favorite quotes:
“True or false, that which is said of men often occupies as important a place in their lives, and above all in their destinies, as that which they do.” p. 17

“’Let us never fear robbers nor murderers. Those are dangers from without, petty dangers. Let us fear ourselves. Prejudices are real robbers; vices are real murderers.’” p. 34

“Nature sometimes mingles her effects and her spectacles with our actions with somber and intelligent appropriateness, as though she desired to make us reflect.” p. 83

“The arms of mothers are made of tenderness; in them children sleep profoundly.” p. 113

“One can no more prevent thought from recurring to an idea than one can the sea from returning to the shore; the sailor calls it the tide; the guilty man calls it remorse; God upheaves the soul as he does the ocean.” p. 163

“The peculiar feature of the violence of destiny is, that however polished or cool we may be, they wring human nature from our very bowels, and force it to reappear on the surface.” p. 212

“In his eyes, a priest was a mind, who never makes a mistake; a nun was a creature who never sins; they were souls walled in from this world, with a single door which never opened except to allow the truth to pass through.” p. 212

“’What is there that is cheap now? Everything is dear. There is nothing in the world that is cheap except trouble; you can get that for nothing, the trouble of the world!’” p. 484

“’Courage does not fear crime, and honesty does not fear authority.’” p. 514

“The reduction of the universe to a single being, the expansion of a single being even a God, that is love.” p. 616

“True love is luminous as the dawn and as silent as the tomb.” p. 668

“People re-acquire confidence as foolishly as they lose it; human nature is so constituted.” p. 757

love story

title: Love Story: The Hand that Holds Us From the Garden to the Gate

author: Nichole Nordeman

genre: Non-fiction, biblical stories, retellings, modernization

suggested by: Becca H.

dates read: November 23rd – November 25th

review: 4.5 out of 5 stars

summary: Inspired to take a new look at well worn stories from the Bible and the characters who march across the pages, Nordeman pulls these familiar characters through time and brings them into our modern world as she relates them to everyday life. From Adam and Eve, to Esther, to Jesus and Paul, she finds ways to relate to each of them and some of the struggles and triumphs they encounter, bringing us all into this Love Story with our God.

personal thoughts: Nichole Nordeman is one of my favorite Christian musicians. She writes with candor about her struggles in faith and life in general. She doesn’t have all the answers but joins me in the questions I sometimes encounter understanding aspects of the Bible and the things some of His followers go through. Having been a Christian since I was a child, and growing up in a Christian home, it’s easy to skip over stories I’ve heard time and time again. It’s nice to get a fresh perspective and see things I haven’t before. Seeing it through someone else’s eyes is a great way to see it anew.

favorite quotes:
“I wondered if it might finally put periods where question marks had taken up residence for so long.” p. xviii

“Why bother with every luminous shade of orange on the flimsy wing of a monarch if he knows how the story will end?” p. 3

“Adam and Eve. . .fell – not because they succumbed to some evil lurking in their hearts or because they felt so compelled to defy God’s careful instructions, but perhaps because they fell in love with the poisonous suggestion that they could be who they were never created to be. And in doing so, fell out of true relationship with the only One who could have told them the truth, had they asked.” p. 20

“Some days our lives read like a sonnet, and other days we feel like the misplaced apostrophe in an awkward dangle. But every day, we are woven into each line. And not one of those lines was meant to be crossed off.” p. 66

“honesty is the foundation of intimacy, and they had told God the ugly truth about how they felt about what he had permitted. They realized God could handle it. Actually wanted to handle it.” p. 150

“hearts don’t speak the jargon of appraisal.” p. 177

“This is what I envy sometimes about people who find Jesus later in life. They are so unpolluted by the language of religion that they can only speak in their own native tongue.” p. 196

paddle your own canoe

title: Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living

author: Nick Offerman

genre: Non-fiction, memoir, life story/advice

dates read: November 19th – November 22nd

review: 4.5 out of 5 stars

summary: Nick Offerman, probably best known for his role as Ron Swanson in the TV show Parks & Recreation, writes about his life and the advice he has from living it.  He talks about hobbies, working in theater, loving life, just plain loving, among many other things.  He encourages readers to find what they are passionate about and then try to find a way to get paid for it.  He recounts the difficulty he’s had in the tv and movie business but found a way to do what he loves anyway.

personal thoughts: Let me warn you right off the bat that this is a very irreverent and often times inappropriate book.  Lots of swearing and very liberal views on religion and sex (which, if you’re a fan of him already, you probably aren’t surprised about).  However, I think the core of what he’s saying is wonderful and I love that he’s not afraid to say it in his own style.  Jason and I got to see him live and it was a grand old time.  He believes in living with passion and treating people with respect, and he models it again and again in his own life.  It was fun to understand more of the man Nick Offerman.

favorite quotes:
“I learned thee word nonconformist in fourth grade and immediately announced that I would grow up to become one.” p. xi

“Whatever the adversity, if a man is on hand to provide ease to a lady’s cause, I tink he’s a s***heel if he stands idly by when she could use an umbrella, a handkerchief, or a steady arm.” p. 47

“Pursue decency in all dealings with your fellow man and woman.  Simply put?  Don’t be an asshole.” p. 51

“Choose your favorite spade and dig a small, deep hole, located deep in the forest or a desolate area of the desert or tundra.  Bury your cell phone and then find a hobby.” p. 79

“live theater is loaded with a certain sense of altruism that cannot be found in any other art form.  By engaging in the act of “putting on a show,” a theater is holding up a mirror to our hilarious and tragic human foibles so that we, society, may see ourselves therein and thereby receive a dose of social medicine.” p. 119

“No matter our age, if we always have a project to which we can apply ourselves, then we will wake up every day with an objective, something productive to get done.  This allows us to go to bed at night in the peaceful knowledge that we have done some good, gained some achievement, however small.” p. 168

“if we think of others in our fastidiousness or lack thereof around the toilet, how can we not extrapolate that notion into how we are leaving the rest of the world for the other show will com to use it after us?” p. 169

“Men and women alike, if you think that altering the tip of your nose with surgery will make you happier, I would suggest you alter something much more malleable than your flesh, like your priorities, or your friends.  Quit looking in the mirror so much.” p. 202

“If you think that a doe and a couple of fauns standing a few yards away watching you float by, or a beaver swimming along with a willow branch for its front porch, won’t chill you out and heal the hole that getting too many e-mails is eating in your brain’s ozone layer, then your thinking parts might be in need of repair.” p. 333

prelude to foundation

title: Prelude to Foundation

author: Isaac Asimov

genre: Fiction, futuristic, science, psychohistory

suggested by: Will F.

dates read: November 13th – November 18th

review: 4.5 out of 5 stars

summary: Hari Seldon is a humble and brilliant mathematician from Helicon who is visiting Trantor, The capital of the Galactic Empire. He’s there to present his theory of psychohistory, the ability to predict the future. Emperor Cleon sees the potential of this theory and brings Hari to question him about it. Hari explains that right now it is just a theory and has no practical value and eventually the emperor reluctantly lets him leave.   Waiting for the ship that will take him home to Helicon, Hari meets Chetter Hummin, who warns him that the emperor might have let him go, but he’ll be closely watched to see that his ideas don’t fall into the wrong hands. Chetter convinces Hari to go into hiding, setting Hari off on an adventure and flight for his life around Trantor.

personal thoughts: I loved “I, Robot” and knew that this would be an interesting ride. Though it was, it wasn’t as full of mind bending ideas as “I, Robot.” I loved the twist at the end, though I had suspected it for a while. I thought Hari was a likeable guy and enjoyed the different cultures he came in contact with in his travels. This is the first in a long series of books and I would love to return to it and see where the story leads.

favorite quotes:
“’I have promised to try,’ said Seldon and thought to himself that it was about like promising to try to make a rope out of sand.” p. 71

“’How harmful overspecialization is. It cuts knowledge at a million points and leaves it bleeding.’” p. 89

“’Oddity is in the mind of the receiver.’” p. 188

“the Emperor had had to remember to avoid making commitments of substances, while freely applying the lotion of words without substance.” p. 317

“’If we are always to draw back from change with the thought that the change may be for the worse, then there is no hope at all of every escaping injustice.’” p. 392

the reason i jump

title: The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism

author: Naoki Higashida (translated by KA Yoshida & David Mitchell)

genre: Non-fiction, understanding autism, autistic behaviors

suggested by: Michalle T.

dates read: November 12th – November 13th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: The title says it all. But to further explain, Naoki’s teacher and mother came up with a grid alphabet system that allows him to communicate and now he has a blog (along with this published book). He answers commonly asked questions about autism, why autistic people flap their hands, why they repeat phrases over and over again, why they can’t seem to remember what they’re not supposed to do, and many others. He answers the questions and also shares some of his other writings, including a short story at the end of the book.

personal thoughts: Autism is shrouded is so much mystery, why do people get it, what is going on inside their heads, why do that do those things? Naoki writes with such honestly and because he’s so young, it’s amazing to see how aware he is. He writes with no bitterness, only trying to shed light on what we don’t understand.   Over and over he talks about how angry he gets when he makes mistakes and when others can’t understand him. Instead of being angry that people aren’t more understanding, he simply asks for some grace and patience and tries to explain why he does the things he does. The grace he has for and asks from others is something we could all learn from.

favorite quotes:
“True compassion is about not bruising the other person’s self-respect.” p. 15

“Making sounds with your mouth isn’t the same thing as communication, right?. . .Isn’t there a belief out there that if a person is using verbal language, it follows that the person is saying what they want to say? It’s thanks to this belief that those of us with autism get even more locked up inside ourselves.” p. 19

“to us with people with special needs, nature is as important as our own lives. The reason is that when we look at nature, we receive a short of permission to be alive in this world, and our entire bodies get recharged. However often we’re ignored and pushed away by other people, nature will always give us a good big hug, here inside our hearts.” p. 85

worn stories

title: Worn Stories

author: Emily Spivack

genre: Non-fiction, clothing, memories, history

suggested by: Michalle T.

date read: November 12th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Emily Spivack has complied stories that center around articles of clothing or accessories.  Going from tragic, to heartwarming, to hilarious, everyone shares something that has stuck with them over the years.  Each story is accompanied with a picture of the item that has impacted their life.

personal thoughts: I love this idea.  As I was reading each story I was thinking about all the pieces of clothing/accessories that I could write about and the stories they make me think of.  I buy most of my wardrobe from thrift stores but I keep everything until it is falling apart.  I wish I could find out the significance of my clothing to the previous owners.  One of the stories is just that, telling of someone who gave her shirt to a thrift store in high school and found out that her friend had bought it from that thrift store years ago.  I’ve seen people wearing the clothing I got rid of years ago and I feel a connection with them.  The clothes we wear tell stories about who we are and I think it’s beautiful to celebrate those stories.

favorite quotes:
“The clothes that protect us, that make us laugh, that serve as a uniform, that help us assert our identity or aspirations, that we wear to remember someone – in all of these are encoded the stories of our lives.  We all have a memoir in miniature living in a garment we’ve worn.” p. 7 – Emily Spivack

“I always write in the shirt because it makes me feel like I have a secret.  When you write, it’s good to have a secret because in a way you do.  You have to nurture the secret until other people know about it.” p. 12 – Greta Gerwig

“I think there is a direct relationship between what you pay for an item and how long you hang on to it. . .” p. 27 – David Carr

“I keep the remains of these escapades neatly tucked away in the back of my closet, empty shells of late nights and questionable decisions that evolved into nothing at all.” p. 47 – Laura Jane Kenny

“It takes me a while to recognize beauty; that’s why, as a writer, I edit so compulsively.” p. 75 – Stephen Elliott

the dovekeepers

title: The Dovekeepers

author: Alice Hoffman

genre: Historical fiction, fall of Masada, sisters, daughters

suggested by: Sara R.

dates read: November 5th – November 11th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Yael’s father is an assassin and her mother died giving birth to her, which has set her father against her.  Revka’s husband is murdered before she and the rest of her family flee the town they live in.  Aziza was raised as a boy and taught to live as a warrior.  Shirah was shown the ways of magic and medicine before leaving her mother’s home at the age of 12.  These four women find their lives intertwined as they make a home in Masada, the refuge of 900 Jews during the time of Roman massacres throughout Judea.

personal thoughts: I loved how each woman had a unique voice and the way Hoffman wove their stories together.  Such tragedy but also such strength.  She did not shy away from talking about the difficult stuff, which made for a richer story.  The mystical and fantastical parts of the story reminded me of “Of Bees and Mist,” one of the earlier books I read this year.  I also liked how independent each woman was, how they didn’t need a man to care for them, but had enough tenderness to love.  This was another beautiful story.

favorite quotes:
“The voice that arises out of the silence is something no one can imagine until it is heard.  It roars when it speaks, it lies to you and convinces you, it steals from you and leaves you without a single word of comfort.” p. 4

“The sisters were so close their words were like beads on the same strand of gold.” p. 93

“Anguish such as ours is fed on bones and blood.” p. 182

“Our rest is formed by our waking life and our waking life is formed by our sorrows.” p. 251

“although words were God’s first creation, silence was closer to His divine spirit, and that prayers given in silence were infinitely greater than the thousands of words men might offer up to heaven.” p. 272

the first casualty

title: The First Casualty

author: Ben Elton

genre: Fiction, WWI, murder, mystery, undercover

suggested by: Indy P.

dates read: November 1st – November 4th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Douglas Kingsley is a conscientious objector, but not for religious or moral reasons, he thinks that war is illogical.  For this belief he is imprisoned.  As a former detective he has put many men behind bars and was even instrumental in killing a few.  Popular with no one and seen as a coward, he is placed in a cell with men he convicted, who beat him nearly to death.  While he is in the infirmary another man is murdered, a famous poet and hero of the war.  Douglas is broken out of prison and brought to investigate the murder, but as those who broke him out faked his death, he cannot return to the life he once had.

personal thoughts: This was so interesting and I was captivated from the beginning.  I was quite frustrated at everyone’s reaction to Douglas, since I did see the logic of his reasoning.  He explained that the men he put behind bars or helped kill were people whose lives he had investigated and didn’t feel guilty about ruining.  The people he would have been fighting were strangers to him and he saw the end result as a loss for everyone and thought that everyone had lost too much already.  When he was forced to see the war up close, I think he saw the holes in his logic, but I don’t think he was the coward he was painted to be.  I absolutely hated Captain Shannon, but thought he added a real an interesting element.  Nurse Murray was so likable and I loved her spunk, another interesting character to add to the mix.  Douglas himself was very honorable and I was happy to cheer for him.  Definitely a recommended read.

favorite quotes:
“‘It is intellect that informs a man what is right and conscience that determines if he will act on that information.'” p. 16

“Kingsley was a shrewd judge of human nature and no stranger to the numerous hoops through which a man’s conscience will leap in order to apportion blame to anyone other than himself. . .” p. 41

“A not and a wink were to be his death warrant.” p. 91

“‘The whole world is mad and I am a dead man brought to life to discuss a living man who is about to die.'” p. 188

“‘The woman who does not speak her mind is worse than the man who does not give her credit for having a mind in the first place.'” p. 215

the man in the iron mask

title: The Man in the Iron Mask

author: Alexandre Dumas

genre: Fiction, revenge, kings, power, retired Three Musketeers

dates read: October 28th – November 1st

review: 1 out of 5 stars

summary: The retired Three Musketeers (or really four) are seen in this last installment of Dumas’ d’Artagnan Romances.  Aramis discovers that king Louise XIV has a twin brother,  Philippe, who is locked up in the Bastile and has been there the last 8 years.  Aramis convinces Porthos to help him, though Porthos is unaware of what is really going on.  After successfully switching the brothers out, with Louise now in the Bastile, and Philippe playing the part of the king, Aramis plans on having Louise banished.  When it is discovered that it’s Philippe and not Louise, everyone involved must choose sides.

personal thoughts: I really did not like this.  Maybe it was because I didn’t read the other books in the series, but I really didn’t care for anyone except for maybe Raoul, who is barely in the book.  I felt like everyone was either extremely wishy washy, or they were way too committed to their dumb causes.  I know that Aramis was hoping that Philippe would make him cardinal, but I also think he was putting too much stock in someone he didn’t know at all.  Who’s to say that Philippe wouldn’t choose to do his own thing and be a worse ruler than Louise?  Maybe he is a terrible person who would just make everyone bend to his will and kill anyone who didn’t.  That said, Louise was pretty confusing.  He seemed to want complete control, but then would change his mind and be really merciful.  Not that I’m opposed to mercy, but why the tough act?  Also, Louise is about 23 years old and seems to be really immature (besides just being a normal 23-year-old).  I also have a difficult time with Dumas’ style of giving every character about 5 different names.  It was really difficult for me to keep everyone straight.  I also had a difficult time with the way it would jump back and forth between characters in very different places.  This style can work in some cases, but it made me feel lost a lot of the time.  And lastly, the book is called The Man in the Iron Mask but this man in the iron mask is hardly discussed at all.  He doesn’t make it beyond the first half of the book.  Not saying that it needs to be entirely about him, but at least give the readers an idea of his fate.  Or name it something else.  I know that this was translated into English, so my beef on this point is not with Dumas.  And again, maybe if I read the other books, this title would make more sense.  But as long as I’m being honest, I felt that I needed to include that point.

favorite quotes:
“‘I have the sun, a friend who comes to visit me every day without the permission of the governor or the jailer’s company.'” chapter 1: The Prisoner

“‘I shall have made one human being happy; and Heaven for that will hold me in better account than if I had made one man powerful; the former task is far more difficult.'” chapter 9: The Tempter

“‘The eyes of a woman who loves are not easily deceived.'” chapter 10: Crown and Tiara

‘”A flash of lightning without thunder awakens nobody.'” chapter 21: The King’s Friend

“‘Every one journeys towards happiness by the route he chooses.” chapter 29: Planchet’s Inventory

animal night light diy

Martha Stewart has instructions for these adorable animal night lights and I just had to make them for my nieces and nephew.  They are not babies, but they love animals and I thought it would be a fun gift for them.  As with all projects that I do, I ended up tweaking it to fit what I could find/what I thought made more sense.  I have three nieces and one nephew and rather than making just one or two lights, I decided to make one for each of them.  Good ole Martha only provided a template for two animals, a turtle and an elephant.  I decided to also do a whale and a pig.  I forgot to take pictures of the process with the first three, but one of the balloons popped during the first step so I’m doing a (mostly) step by step photo tutorial of that one.

I found a wire basket at one of our local thrift stores for about $5.  Martha says to use an 8″ diameter round lampshade bottom wire but this was much cheaper.  I had originally tried to just buy a roll of wire but to get it exactly circular and lying flat was not going to happen.  So I used the basket, stripped the plastic off, use a wire cutter to separate each ring, used the file to get the nub down to the ring, and then used the clear nail polish to keep it from rusting.  I learned with the other three that the exposed metal rusts.  Not that it matters in the end.  But we’ll get to that.

Next, I blew up a balloon (from the Dollar Tree) and placed it in a bowl to keep it upright.

DSC_0110-001

Using a towel, I lightly covered the top of the balloon with oil. I placed the metal ring around the balloon so I knew how far to spread the oil

Removing the ring on the balloon, I placed the cheesecloth over the balloon then pressed the cloth over the oil and made sure to smooth out any wrinkles.  Then I placed the ring back over the cheesecloth.

I trimmed the cheesecloth close to the edge of the ring, but left enough to fold over the ring.

I used this cornstarch homemade fabric stiffener and coated the cheesecloth with it, all the way to the ring.  Once it had been completely covered, I folded the edges of the cloth up and over the ring, brushing upwards to secure the cloth.

Then I let it dry for over 24 hours.  I ended up putting it in our bathroom since it’s one of the coolest rooms.  I was afraid that the other one had popped because it had gotten too warm.  This one had no such problems.

Once it was dry, I used this cooked flour homemade paste for the paper mache (PLEASE, make sure to put salt in when making the paste because it might mold, which you can see in the turtle picture below).  Before placing the tissue paper, I lightly coated the mold with the paste.  Tearing off pieces of tissue paper, I layered the mold, making sure that the whole surface was covered, all the way to the edge.  I did several layers so that the cheesecloth couldn’t be seen.

I let that dry another day or so (it took less time than the fabric stiffener).  Once it was ready, I used bias tape to bind and cover the unfinished edge (which is why the rust problem ultimately didn’t matter).  (Make sure to use the double fold, otherwise you’re left with an unfinished edge, which is what happened with the elephant.)

Using a hot glue gun, I went slowly around, overlapping at the end and gluing down the underside as well.

Lastly, I used the hot glue gun to attach the tail and water spout.  I used a sharp knife to poke a slit in the top and then made the slit just long enough to fit the spout through, folding and gluing the extra paper to the underside of the mold.  The tail does have a v slit so that it would curve up and out from the body.  In fact, the head and tail of the turtle and the trunk of the elephant also have this feature (if you look at the template on Martha’s website, you’ll see what I mean).  It allowed me to more easily attach the paper to the rounded side of the mold.

I used the bottom of a paper cup for the pig nose.  I cut slits all around the sides (like a fringe) and folded them inward, putting the hot glue on the concealed flaps.  The cups I got from the Dollar Tree happened to be the exact same color as the base tissue paper (I used a darker shade of pink for the first few layers and then used a lighter shade over that).  I used the paper mache paste to cover the bottom of the cup (which was originally white) and then drew the dots on with a sharpie.  I think it’s pretty obvious that the tail is a pipe cleaner.

Here are the lights I used; I got them at Bed Bath & Beyond.  Martha’s instructions include Popsicle sticks for legs since the lights she uses have a cord.  I found these to be perfect since they are LED and they sit right under the domes.

And here they are in all their lit-up glory.  I’m really happy with the variation in colors.

dark lord of derkholm

title: Dark Lord of Derkholm

author: Diana Wynne Jones

genre: Fiction, fantasy, wizards, magic, dragons, griffins

suggested by: Sam B.

dates read: October 26th – October 27th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Derk is somewhat of a bumbling wizard. He’s good at breeding new animals and creating illusions, but he can’t summon the right demons and he’s not good with the evil stuff. So when he’s chosen to be the Dark Lord for the year’s Pilgrim Parties, he is none too happy. His son Blade is also chosen to be a Wizard Guide for one of the parties. When a misunderstanding with a dragon incapacitates Derk for a few weeks, Blade and his human sister and five griffin siblings take up the task of Dark Lord.

personal thoughts: Another winner by Diana Wynne Jones. I love her ability to jump into the middle of everything but also slowly reveal what’s going on as the story progresses. The goofiness of Derk’s family is endearing and I kept thinking about what a great movie or miniseries this would make. She gives such depth to her characters and makes them loveable, frustrating, and flawed. It was one of those stories that I wish would go on just a little bit longer so I can spend more time with the characters.

favorite quotes:
“it was the ‘while you’re at it’ that was worst. It kept you slaving all day.   Shona was very good at while-you’re-at-it’s. She slid them in at the end of orders like knives to the heart.” p. 56

“’No living creature has the right to claim wisdom. There is always more to find out.’” p. 136

the devious book for cats

title: The Devious Book for Cats: A Parody

author: Fluffy & Bonkers (with help from Joe Garden, Janet Ginsburg, Chris Pauls, Anita Serwacki, and Scott Sherman)

genre: Fiction, cats, cats, and more cats, tongue in cheek

suggested by: Jess J.

dates read: October 24th – October 26th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Fluffy and Bonkers (and all their friends) help to explain the ins and outs of the competitive game of “Shelf Swat,” how to nap, kitty litter, and so much more.  They regale the reader with the history of extraordinary cats (part I, II, and III), and lay down the official legend of the crazy cat lady.  A list of “reasons you meant to do that” highlight the ways that certain cat behaviors might appear to be (to untrained human eyes) a mistake, but was actually something done totally on purpose.  And as the back cover explains: “Fluffy and Bonkers wrote this parody without authorization, because since when did a cat need permission for anything?”

personal thoughts: This was definitely a good laugh.  My sister-in-law gave this to me for my birthday, and I’ve been looking forward to reading it ever since.  I’ve never read The Dangerous Book for Boys or the Daring Book for Girls, but I also don’t have human children, so I guess I’m off the hook for now.  Loved the tongue in cheek humor, the detail to which they went into each subject, and the feline view of everything.  I think one of my favorite sections was about “felinism,” which is trying “to ensure freedom and opportunity across all spheres of cat life.  From the right to claws to equal time outdoors, felinism has forced the Western world to examine its attitudes toward cats and their perceived place in society.” p. 84  Hilarious!

favorite quotes:
“Domesticity has dulled our authority and bored us silly.  Did you know that because of a sedentary lifestyle the average feline today uses a mere two to three of its nine lives?” p. v

“Remember that exciting day when you were a kitten and the first box arrived in your home?  It smelled like different!” p. 10

“As you now know, birds, bugs, and mice make thoughtful gifts, but even if you don’t have time to visit the dead vermin aisle at the local Hallmark store, it’s still possible to hunt for wild game in and around your own home.” p. 62

“Newton’s cat and kitten considered building a hole in the door themselves, but then recalled every physicist’s duty to follow the path of least resistance.  In this case, that meant sharing the equation with Newton so that he’d build the door for them.” p. 93

“Ruling cats kept humans called pharaohs as advisers.” p. 105

“No matter how careful one is, however, sometimes things happen.  Bookcases heave themselves over, curtains careen off rods on their own, and suddenly somebody small, quiet, and fuzzy is in a whole mess of trouble.” p. 125

“Rodents have the terrible habit of not showing up to be devoured at designated meal times.” p. 136

“Use of a squirt bottle…serves to feed humans’ morbid fascination with how fast cats can run.” p. 172

“Our insistence on maximum freshness is a holdover characteristic from the days when we caught and killed everything we ate.  Nowadays, the only thing most of us catch at mealtime is flak for being fusspots. . .” p. 190

treasure island

title: Treasure Island

author: Robert Louis Stevenson

genre: Fiction, pirates, treasure, yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum

dates read: October 21st – October 24th

review: 4 out of 5 stars

summary: Jim Hawkins and his parents run an inn, the Admiral Benbow.  Their lives are unremarkable until they take a seaman as a roomer.  Always drinking, and forever fearful that a man with a wooden leg will come looking for him, his fear infects Jim.  After Jim’s father dies, and the seaman drinks himself to death, Jim and his mother open the locked chest the seaman brought with him.  Inside they find random trinkets, along with some coins and and tied up oilcloth.  When a group of men ransack the inn, Jim finds that the oilcloth is more important than he knew.  So begins his search for lost treasure.

personal thoughts: This is such a classic story, I don’t think there are many who aren’t familiar with some version of it.  However, it wasn’t as compelling as some of the other classics I’ve read.  Something about the writing didn’t draw me in so much.  Some of the pirate-ese was difficult to understand.  What I did like was that often times Jim didn’t understand it either, so then I didn’t feel as bad.  But because it’s such a classic, I enjoyed finally getting the “real” story from the original author.

favorite quotes:
“long after that death yell was still ringing in my brain, silence had re-established its empire, and only the rustle of the redescending birds and the boom of the distant surges disturbed the languor of the afternoon.” p. 71

“Someone was singing, a dull, old, droning sailor’s song, with a droop and a quaver at the end of every verse, and seemingly no end to it at all but the patience of the singer.” p. 119

“and he still lives, a great favorite, thought something of a butt. . .” p. 181

the road

title: The Road

author: Cormac McCarthy

genre: Fiction, post-apocalyptic, survival

dates read: October 20th – October 21st

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: In a world full of ash and gray, a father and son are trying to make it south, where it’s warmer.   The world as we know it has been destroyed by an unknown catastrophe years ago, wiping out most of the population, and those who are left are surviving as best they can. Sometimes that means resorting to unsavory behavior, and as father and son travel, they come across those who would harm them, and those who are shells of their former selves. Most days they sleep with empty stomachs and cold bodies.  They find strength and the will to live in each other.

personal thoughts: Haunting and beautiful. Tragic and real. The writing was so stark, there weren’t even any quotation marks and you never know the name of the father and son. In some cases he didn’t even use apostrophes. The sentences were short and it just lent itself to the bleak, gray world McCarthy was creating. I don’t know what it is about dystopian or post-apocalyptic novels, I’m really drawn to them.  Before I even knew about the book Jason and I bought the movie (with Viggo Mortensen) and discovered this story.    After the disaster of “Winter’s Tale,” I enjoyed a book that wasn’t too wordy and didn’t (I think) try too hard.  Well done, McCarthy.

favorite quotes:
“The gray shape of the city vanished in the night’s onset like an apparition and he lit the little lamp and set it back out of the wind.” p. 9

“Freeze this frame. Now call down your dark and your cold and be damned.” p. 19

“Not all dying words are true and this blessing is no less real for being shorn of its ground.” p. 31

“Where you’ve nothing else construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them.” p. 74

“How much was gone already? The sacred idiom shorn of its referents and so of its reality. Drawing down like something trying to preserve heat. In time to wink out forever.” p. 89

“Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.” p. 130

“He could not construct for the child’s pleasure the world he’d lost without constructing the loss as well and he thought perhaps the child had known this better than he.” p. 153

winter’s tale

title: Winter’s Tale

author: Mark Helprin

genre: Fiction, fantasy, romance, orphan

suggested by: BuzzFeed

dates read: October 13th – October 20th

review: 2 out of 5 stars

summary: As an infant Peter Lake’s parents tried to immigrate to America but are turned away when they are found to have consumption.   Desperate to have their son live a better life, they find a model boat and float him back to shore. He spends the first twelve years of his life being raised by swamp people, The Baymen. After he is forced to leave the swamp, he makes his way into New York City, where he learns to steal, work metal, and falls in love.

personal thoughts: I’ll be honest, I didn’t even finish this. I got about 250 pages in and decided that I had given it a fair shot.   It’s 748 pages long and I had a difficult time getting as far as I did. It was filled with superfluous descriptions and paragraphs that went on and on and on talking about nothing. It was really strange (a flying horse and people coming back from the dead are just a few examples), a lot of the dialogue didn’t make sense and it seemed like it was trying to be philosophical without really doing so.   I’m not a picky reader (or at least I don’t think I am) but I do want a story that is well written without meandering in a way that is nonsensical. I really liked Beverly but (SPOILER) she dies. I also liked Isaac Penn but (ANOTHER SPOILER) he dies too.   I tried going to the end to see if it got any better but, in what I read, the story wanders just as much as the first 250 pages. Sorry, Helprin, not a fan.

favorite quotes:
“one might make the case that New York would not have shown without its legions of contrary devils polishing the lights of goodness with their inexplicable opposition and resistance.” p. 21

“Finally, night and evening were solidly entrenched outside the house and inside wherever bright lamplight fought deep shadow.” p. 97

“He knew that it made everyone perfectly equal, and that the treasures of the earth were movement, courage, laughter, and love.” p. 138

“’The beauty of the truth is that it need not be proclaimed or believed. It skips from soul to soul, changing form each time it touches, but it is what it is, I have seen it, and someday you will too.’” p. 194

the golden compass

title: The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials Book 1

author: Philip Pullman

genre: Fiction, fantasy, dæmons

suggested by: Joey N. (seconded by Jessica L.)

dates read: October 11th – October 13th

review: 4 out of 5 stars

summary: Lyra has spent all her remembered life at Jordan College where she and her dæmon Pantalaimon explore and play with the other children.  One night she sneaks into a room that’s technically forbidden and ends up helping her Uncle Asriel spy on a meeting after she keeps him from ingesting a poisoned drink.  She becomes intrigued by the work her uncle is doing in the Arctic.  Soon the disappearances of children captures her attention, especially when one of her friends suddenly disappears.  Determined to find him and bring him home, she begins a journey that changes everything.

personal thoughts: So this time I waited to read the Goodreads reviews until after I finished.  And it left me confused.  Some people say it portrays religion negatively while others say it supports it.  I actually don’t have a strong opinion either way.  In fact, I kind of liked his take on sin and the soul.  I didn’t especially like Lyra as she was described as a liar and seemed a little contradictory.  In some senses she was really unintelligent, the way she spoke (which I suppose could be due to the children she hung out with, but she was raised in a university setting soyeah) and her impulsiveness (yes, I know she was pre-pubescent); in other senses she was very intelligent, figuring out how to read the compass (which, I still don’t really understand.  I think I might need to watch the movie to get a better idea of this, it seemed like the answers were really detailed for something that only had so many factors to it), and she uses the word “recompense” (for some reason this really stuck out to me).  Also, she is described as being unimaginative but I feel like she proves herself to be imaginative time and time again.  All this said, I really liked all the dæmons and the other characters in the book and I was really intrigued by the story.  Fantasy is sometimes a difficult genre for me to understand and I think that happened a lot here.  I was confused during most of the book by the dæmons and wanted to know their origins and get their “back story.”  After reading more about the book after finishing it (thank you, Wikipedia), I understood them more and it made a lot of things click into place.

favorite quotes:
“‘That’s the duty of the old,’ said the Librarian, ‘to be anxious on behalf of the young.  And the duty of the young is to scorn the anxiety of the old.'” p. 30

“The evening sky was awash with peach, apricot, cream: tender little ice-cream clouds in a wide orange sky.” p. 59

“The idea hovered and shimmered delicately, like a soap bubble, and she dared not even look at it directly in case it burst.  But she was familiar with the way of ideas, and she let it shimmer, looking away, thinking about something else.” p. 330

“with every twitch and shiver, new miracles of light danced across the sky.” p. 386