Thursday, December 15, 2011

Column No. 8 December 15, 2011

 More Christmas Book Ideas

This is my last chance of the year to tell you about Christmas stories, so I am going to take advantage of that. “Klaus,” by a multi-award-winning local author, Michelle Erickson, is a fun, romantic story about Santa Claus and his wife.
            What a joy it was to read a fun, clean, romantic story that gives answers to all of the questions we may have about Santa, from why his reindeer fly to why his suit is red. It explains why he lives in the North Pole and what made him decide to make toys.
            There are many creatures in this story, including elves, sprites, and abominable snow monsters, and I was enchanted by all of them. Eralee, who is part Dryad and part water nymph, is Klaus’s one true love, but she is immortal and Klaus is mortal. Immortals are forbidden to even associate with humans, let alone marry them. Bring in the Snow Witch, who also is vying for Klaus’s affections, and you have a great conflict.
            Erickson will be doing a book signing at the BYU-Idaho Bookstore today from 12-2 p.m. She will have 3 of her books featured. She is an independent author who has released 12 books in 12 months. Support her writing efforts and check out her books! They are available on in paperback form as well as e-book form for the Kindle.
            Another Christmas story is “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry. This classic piece of short fiction tells of a young couple in turn–of-the-century New York with few material possessions, and how they give up their own precious items to get gifts for one another. It is a cherished tale that shows the true meaning of giving at this time of year.
            The basis of this story is the foundation and inspiration for countless stories based on the idea that the desire to give the gift of love outweighs our desires for material things. If you have not read it, I suggest you find a version that will please your family. Whether it be the Muppets, Mickey Mouse, or the original version by O. Henry, this story should not go unread this Christmas season.
            The picture book we read every Christmas Eve is “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore, illustrated by Jan Brett. This famous Christmas poem is a staple in our home every year. This version is full of beautiful illustrations and is just the kind of classic Christmas book that makes our children bounce off the walls even more than do the gobs of sugar they have consumed.
            Another book that we don’t read every year, but that we enjoy with regularity at Christmas time is “Santa’s Twin” by Dean Koontz. A fun spin on “The Night Before Christmas,” “Santa’s Twin” is about Bob Claus, Santa’s brother who wants to ruin Christmas. Instead of toys and candy canes, Bob delivers spiders, spinach, and Brussels sprouts candy. This is a great holiday book for children ages 8-12. And also for husbands who are 8 years old at heart!
            Now I have given you some books for the season,
                        don’t you forget that there’s an important reason…
            To celebrate at this time of year,
                        and start new traditions that you will hold dear.
            Now off to the library I expect you to go,
                        to find some great books, some books you now know.
            Stories for families that bring joy and great cheer,
                        and I’ll get more books ready to ring in the new year!


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Column No. 7 December 1, 2011

            “I too find that far too great a percent of my taxes go toward supporting the indolent. Free housing! Free food! No wonder they don’t go out and work. With the comforts, they are inclined to just live upon our generosity rather than their own industry.”
            This sounds like a quote from the immortal mouth of Ebenezer Scrooge. They could very easily be his words. But they are the words of his mentor and partner Jacob T. Marley, uttered when he first meets Scrooge, before Scrooge has lost most of his humanity.
            “Jacob T. Marley,” a recently published book by R. William Bennett, is meant to be read as a companion to Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Written in a voice similar to the Dickens classic, “Jacob T. Marley” explores the life of Marley and how he has influenced Scrooge to become such an unsavory person.   
            Beginning before Scrooge and Marley become partners, this short novel shows us the character of Jacob Marley and how he is the negative influence that causes Scrooge to dislike everyone around him. On his deathbed, Marley is repentant. The book speculates about whether or not Marley is given the same opportunity that Scrooge was given to change his life.
            At his death, Marley looks for sympathy from Scrooge and finds none. “‘What a wretched man,’ Marley thought. ‘Whatever in the world made him? . . . I did’ were his own words that came to him. ‘I did. I made Ebenezer Scrooge.’”
            When Marley recognizes his life’s mistake, he wants to change what he has done. But he cannot alter the past. The only thing he can do is to try to change the future. It is when his mortal life is over that his atonement begins. It is time for Marley to help the only person he could have called “friend” to turn his life around—the way Marley never had a chance to do.
            Every year, my husband reads a story to the family during the Christmas season. I think this one will definitely be on the list for this year! It is only 200 pages, so that makes it the perfect length for the 24 days of December leading up to Christmas.
            This tale of remorse, repentance, and redemption is a sure bet to become a Christmas classic. 
            Just some ideas for other Christmas books we have read in the past as a family:
            —“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” by Barbara Robinson. We read this about three years ago when the oldest was 9 and the youngest was 1. All three of the kids were riveted every night. I think they were most fascinated by the silly toilet humor.
            —“A Little House Christmas: Holiday Stories From the Little House Books,” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. This was a great book of stories from the Little House on the Prairie series. We are big fans of the Little House books in our family, so this was the perfect book for our family tradition.
            If you haven’t started yet, today is December 1st—the perfect time to start your family reading tradition. Find a book of stories about Christmas, or a chapter book about the holiday season. Get your family involved in a book this year!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Column No. 6 November 17, 2011

            Until recently, my only experience with the author Gail Carson Levine was having seen the movie version of her book “Ella Enchanted.” I love this movie, and I thought it was mostly because I really like Anne Hathaway.
            However, at a recent visit to “The Rexburg Readers” book group, I was drawn in by their discussion of Levine’s books. The club’s founder, Leslie Hansen, gave me a copy of “Fairest,” and I was excited to delve into the land of ogres, princesses ,and evil queens. “Fairest” is a junior fiction book, which makes it great for all ages.
            Aza is a teenage girl who is very self-conscious. She is not a pretty girl. In fact, she considers herself to be quite unattractive. But her voice is beyond compare. She soon discovers her talent for throwing her voice and mimicking other voices and sounds. She ends up befriending a prince, who loves her for who she is; becoming a lady-in-waiting for a selfish queen who only wants to use her; and basically getting into a lot of trouble in the process.
            The message is kind of “hit you over the head”—that you should be happy with who you are. But the story was told so well, with wit and fun, that it did not bother me that I was being preached to. I am definitely going to make my daughter read this book. Apparently she read another book by Levine last year and loved it, “The Two Princesses of Bamarre.” I told her I would read that book if she would take a look at “Fairest.” She agreed.
            Another fairy tale that I am really excited to read is called “Dragon Slippers,” by Jessica Day George. This is a story about girl power. I am so happy that a lot of these books put girls in the position to be heroines. It gives me hope that my daughter will grow up to be empowered and feel like she can do anything.
            These books really encourage girls to be who they are. They encourage girls to use the gifts they have been given to “save the day,” so to speak. Many of these girls are described as awkward and not particularly pretty, which is a great way to emphasize that physical characteristics are not as important as other aspects of your personality.
            I was very awkward as a preteen, with huge braces on my huge teeth, and unruly, curly hair that would never get as big as the cool girls in my school. I also wasn’t skinny and willowy like the ideal girls were. I look at my preteen daughter and want her to have the confidence that I didn’t have, and I am sure that these books will show her that it is okay to be who she is.
            As a side note, Jessica Day George, the author of “Dragon Slippers,” is going to be at the library tonight! Thursday November 17th at 7:00 p.m., she will be at the library to discuss her work and her latest book. She is the author of a number of novels for young adults, including “Princess of the Midnight Ball” and “Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow.” She is from right here in Rexburg!
            If you haven't read a fairy tale in a while, it is time to dig in. Fairy tales are all the rage right now. With the television shows “Once Upon a Time” and “Grimm,” as well as two movies about Little Red Riding Hood coming out soon, it is time for us to return to our childhood roots. Find out who has been eating the porridge, what kinds of gifts fairies give for weddings, and how to become that princess or prince you have always wanted to be!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Column No. 5 November 3, 2011

“The Paris Wife”

I’ve never been much of a Hemingway fan. In fact, I have never liked Hemingway. I have tried on numerous occasions to read some of his novels and have never gotten very far. I know that makes me some kind of pariah in the world of readers, but there are a lot of writers out there that I SHOULD like but just can’t enjoy.
            Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, is the subject of the novel “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain. When I saw the synopsis of “The Paris Wife,” I wanted to know what kind of woman would have married a man like Hemingway. Apparently many women, as he was married four times, but I wanted to know who was the first in that line of “life partners.”
            Hadley Richardson was in her late twenties when she met Hemingway, who was a young, philandering, broke writer in Chicago. She came from money and had a small trust that they lived off of for most of their marriage.
            Soon after they were married, Ernest and Hadley moved to Paris so that Hemingway could be inspired in his writing. They ran with a crowd of eccentric expatriates boasting the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein.
            Jazz era Paris was not the Paris that one sees in the movies today. It was gritty, dirty, and unfashionable. But these modernist writers made it what it would become just by being there.
            For a short time Hemingway tried his hand at playing the provider, through small journalistic assignments that took him out of the country and away from Hadley, in more ways than one. But these assignments were not his passion, and he soon decided to focus on his fiction writing.
            It took a long time before Hemingway became a successful writer, financially. Hadley stayed by his side the entire time. She was the ideal supportive wife—keeping house, saving money wherever she could, and going without comforts and necessities so that her husband could live his dream.
             Hemingway became obsessed with bullfights in Spain and took yearly trips with Hadley and their Paris friends to participate in the exciting world of fiesta brava. These trips became the inspiration for his novel “The Sun Also Rises.” Hadley stayed beside him through his obsession, even when she feared he was having affairs with their traveling companions.
            Hadley forgave Hemingway his eccentricities and indiscretions until his ultimate betrayal of their marriage. This became the deception that led to the unraveling of the marriage that everyone thought would last. 
            Although this is a fictional account of the marriage between Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway, the events are true. There is no doubt about the love that existed between these two ill-matched people. And I have read numerous times that Hadley was ultimately the love of Ernest’s life and his one regret.
            This book kept me interested. It kept me angry. It kept me intrigued. I felt sympathy for this woman who just wanted a typical marriage and family with this atypical man. This book made me want to attempt to read Hemingway’s works again. I want to see if I can find some of the people that I read about in this story. I don’t know if I will ever get around to it. But it did pique my interest in a writer in whom I had no previous interest whatsoever.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Buddah In the Attic

I am appalled at the fact that our country had internment camps for the Japanese in during World War II. It is shocking to me. To be honest, I did not even know about these camps until I read a book called The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. That was the book that introduced me to this ridiculous chapter in America. I had never heard about these camps in school. Growing up on the East Coast, I don't know if they just didn't teach it to us, or between being shuffled from Philadelphia to North Carolina, I just missed that lesson. But I do know that had I known about it as a young person, there is no way I could have forgotten it. Did Doc Vi teach it to me in American History in 11th grade? Honestly I cannot recall ever hearing about this.
In the beginning of the twentieth century, women were brought to the United States to marry men they had never met. These men were Japanese, had money to send for the women, and needed wives for companionship, to make families, or to become legalized slaves. Women from the ages of 10 and up, (so really some of them weren't really women,) were brought to this country with a vision of something better for themselves than what their mothers had. In Japan, many of the women ended up doing labor day and night. In the fields. They ate little more than rice. Their children were mostly neglected, through no fault of their own, until they were old enough to work as well. When the opportunity came for them to send their daughters to be married to men in America, they thought for sure it was for something better. They were wrong.
When the women got here, they discovered that many of the men who had sent for them had lied. They were no better off than the families in Japan. They wanted the women to work just as hard or harder than the mothers in Japan had worked, in the fields. Living conditions were not much better, either.
As the years progressed, things did get a little better. The children of these women grew up knowing English. They got an education. They were able to read and write. The women felt that they had moved to this country for a reason. Maybe not to better themselves, but to better their progeny.
And then the bombing of Pearl Harbor occurred. The people who had become their neighbors, their friends, their employers, their customers, were afraid of them. That was when the men started disappearing. They were taken in the night. Gone without a trace. The women were fearful without their husbands, the children were fearful without their fathers. But at least the white Americans could relax. But I guess the Government did not think that it was enough to take just the men. They had to take the women and children too, because heaven only knows what secrets they were holding.
The federal and state governments told the people that the Japanese were taken away to some where safe. Where they could be safe. They did not tell the people that they had them in camps, like prisoners in the Rocky Mountain West. The children missed their playmates. The adults missed their employees, their grocers, their florists, their neighbors. All because the government was scared.
I am terrified that this could happen again. Maybe not to a race of people, but what about Mormons? People could decide that they don't like my religion and want to round us all up and put us somewhere that we can't "brainwash" them. Or maybe it will be the Muslims. People were awfully afraid of Muslims after 9/11. I like to think that we are more evolved than that. I like to think that we, as Americans would never treat people like animals.
This book opened my eyes and made me a little fearful. But it also gave me hope. I know that this is part of our past, but I hope it is never part of our future.                                              

Column No. 4

Capote, the American Icon

            Truman Capote was an iconic American writer of many genres. Reading his short stories, his fiction and his non-fiction causes me to marvel at his diversity and his ability to engage the reader on so many different levels.
            “A Christmas Memory” is a short story about his life as a child and his experience one Christmas with a much older cousin, a woman with developmental disabilities. Capote’s friendship with her was an enduring one, and their innocence is captured flawlessly in this autobiographical recollection of Truman Capote’s boyhood in rural Alabama. This was my introduction to Truman Capote.
            I was fascinated by Capote and his writing, which led me to next read “In Cold Blood.” This groundbreaking novel, the first of the true-crime genre, turned my world upside down. The writing was so beautiful and transcended traditional prose. The content was shocking, but as a young college student it did not affect me in the way it would many years later when I re-read the novel.
            Capote recounts the events that occurred on and around November 15, 1959 in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas. With no apparent motive for the crime, four family members were murdered in their home. Capote reconstructs the crime, the investigation, the capture of the murderers, the trial and the execution.
            Even though I already knew the outcome of the crime, I could not help but be swept up in the story. It shocked me, it mesmerized me, it made my gut clench. The characters are real men with seemingly no moral compass. They are so depraved and lacking in compassion that I had no trouble disliking the murderers instantly.
            But Capote spent five years researching this crime. He met with the men who committed the crime. He interviewed them, and became involved with them, creating a sort of friendship.
            While the verdict is cut and dried, and you know without a doubt that these men are guilty, the way that Capote writes their story almost makes the reader sympathize with them on some unfathomable level. Capote claimed to have written this with an unbiased perspective, but it is obvious on each page that he had a personal connection to the characters in this story.
            Immediately after reading the novel, I went to the internet to do research about the crime. Every aspect of the story, the characters and the setting had penetrated my psyche.
            While the story is disturbing, the prose is decidedly poetic. There is no profanity to speak of, and while the violence is shocking, it is in no way gratuitous.
            Capote is an American writer who transcended the typical genres of American fiction. He created the new genre of non-fiction novel which others have attempted to replicate numerous times, with much less success.
This book changed the way I look at literature—fiction and non-fiction—as well as how I perceive crime in this world of ever-deteriorating morals.
Don’t be afraid to try Capote’s work. Start with his short stories. Once you read his lyrical prose, you will want to read every word he has ever written.

Column No. 3

       A light read for the Halloween Season

Fall is my favorite time of year. I love to dive into my storage boxes and pull out my comfy sweaters, wool socks and fuzzy slippers. It is the time of year that I get out the knitting projects that I did not finish last winter. I bake cookies, cakes and pies. I love the smell in the air of apples and wood smoke. One of my favorite things about fall is the array of book choices!
            I love to read books that are about Salem, Massachusetts. They usually revolve around witches and the history of witches. This week’s book is perfect for this time of year. October is for Halloween and Halloween means witches!
            The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is the kind of book that lets me delve into the world of the supernatural and learn some history as well. The author, Katherine Howe, is an actual descendent of two women who were connected to the Salem witch trials of 1692—Elizabeth Proctor, who survived the witch hunts, and Elizabeth Howe, who did not.            
            Taking a page from the author’s own life, the main character of her book also has roots in that intriguing period of Salem’s history. Connie Goodwin is working hard on finishing her PhD, mastering the scholarship around the Salem witch trials. When she is preparing her deceased grandmother’s home for sale, Connie finds bottles filled with some interesting liquids and powders, a cat who has been in residence for years and a slip of paper with the words “Deliverance Dane” tucked inside a 300-year-old family Bible. Her curiosity piqued, Connie cannot stop until she uncovers the significance of these words.
            When Connie discovers that Deliverance Dane is a woman—an ancestor—she has to unearth the story behind the name, which leads her to a “physick” book of spells and recipes for healing potions. With the help of a new friend, Sam, Connie not only finds the story of Deliverance Dane, but she finds out about part of her heritage that she never knew existed.
            The book alternates between Connie’s modern-day story and the historically based narrative of Deliverance Dane. The historical fiction interspersed throughout the main storyline gives the reader an idea of what things were like for the women accused of witchcraft in the latter part of the seventeenth century.
            With the plot twists, the little mysteries and the wonderful historical background that tells us about what may have really happened during the witch hunt of 1692, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is a book that kept me hooked from the very beginning. It is a light read that does not take a lot of energy to get through. Although the writing is sometimes a little flat, the engaging plot makes up for the lack of eloquence.
            It is the first novel by Howe, and while I would not suggest the book for a book group to discuss, it is definitely a fun read for this time of year.
            I also want to mention a really cool website that I found this week while I was looking for some books. is a great site dedicated to making the most of your book club. You can register your book club and receive monthly newsletters about new books that would be a good fit for your group. They also have archives of their old newsletters from the past three years. The newsletters not only have great book choices, but also articles about new authors, different types of book clubs, (have you ever skyped a book club?) and a spotlight on a book club of the month. This is a great source for book clubs and single bookies alike!
            Don’t forget to find me on to see what I am reading now!

Column No. 2 Sept 15, 2011

      Mystery is my genre of choice. If I ever need a pick-me-up read, I know I can always find a mystery to breeze through. For me, mysteries are like bags of peanut butter M&M’s. They rarely last more than one sitting. Because of this, I have an extensive list of favorite authors I can always count on for a quick read.
        Diane Mott Davidson is a great mystery writer. She writes the Goldy Bear mysteries about a caterer in Colorado who solves mysteries on the side. I am always surprised by how many murders there are in her tiny little town, but I am willing to overlook that because they are so much fun! Her books are serial, so you will want to start with the first, which is Catering to Nobody.
        If you like more historical writers, Charles Todd is a great author to take a look at. He has two series that are most popular. The first is about Inspector Ian Rutledge and the second is Bess Crawford. Bess is my preference because she is a nurse in World War I who is kind of a busybody. She is quite the investigator and is always in the right place at the right time to find clues. The first in her series is A Duty to the Dead.
        One of my current favorites is Terri Reid. She is a self-published author you can only find in e-books right now. If you have an e-reader such as a Nook or Kindle, you can download her books very inexpensively. The first book in Reid’s series is Loose Ends about an ex-cop named Mary Reilly who can see and talk to ghosts. She solves mysteries and helps ghosts to resolve any unfinished business. Love her! I was a big fan of Ghost Whisperer, and this has the same feel.
        Another great mystery is Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, the first of three novels (and counting) about the charming 11-year-old Flavia de Luce, who has a penchant for chemistry and a habit of getting into trouble. The book is written in the voice of Flavia, which gives it such an endearing quality that, with or without the murder mystery, I would want to keep reading the book. My book club read this book several months ago and the consensus was that everyone loved it.
            The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie was also the topic for discussion at this week’s meeting of A Close Knit Community at the Madison Library. If you are wondering about A Close Knit Community, they are a group of mostly women who meet at the library Tuesday evenings at 6:00 to discuss knitting, books, and various other topics. They discuss specific books on the second Tuesday of each month. For October they will be reading Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book—appropriate for the month of Halloween. You need not be a knitter to participate.
        Another great event coming to the library this Friday night at 7:00 is Story Time for Grownups. For six weeks the library is reading and discussing the children’s books of Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are. The discussion will center on themes in the books that adult readers may not be aware of.
        Find a new mystery author today. If you have never read a mystery, now is the time to try it out. A good mystery is like a sorbet; it will cleanse your palate for another course of meatier literature later on.
            P.S. Don’t forget to invite me to your book club!

Column No. 1

New Blog

I want to start a new blog dedicated to just my book reviews. I want people to be able to look at my book reviews without getting dosed with pictures of my family and whatnot. So this is it! Please invite your friends and your friends' friends! I am really excited about this and I will be posting more book reviews than just what appears in the newspaper every two weeks.