Books Read in 2011

List of books read in 2011. Unfortunately, I over-estimated how many I had read (since several are quite long), and I didn't get any of my Summer Reading books done! But at least I still met my goal. We'll Meet Again by Mary Higgins Clark Heading Home With Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality by Laura A Jana & Jennifer Shu The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan Teach Your Baby to Sign by Monica Beyer Your Pregnancy Week by Week by Dr. Glade B. Curtis & Judith Schuler What to Expect when you're expecting by Heidi Murkoff & Sharon Mazel The Proposal by Lori Wick The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan Fires of Heaven by Robert Jordan Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan Twilight by Stephanie Meyer New Moon by Stephanie Meyer Home by Choice by Brenda Hunter

Add me as a friend on Goodreads if you are interested in my thoughts on any of these!

Thoughts on Twilight (the time of day)

OK, I'll admit it, I've strayed a bit from my Summer Reading List and I started the Twilight series. And I love them! But as a Christian, of course, I have to examine why I love them, and whether that's even OK. So here are my thoughts on the books so far, mostly off the top of my head even now as I sit down and write.* First of all, like I said, I am enjoying them so much. In fact, they are bringing out the possessive/obsessive side in me, that only certain books/movies/tv shows do bring out. So much so that I have to take a several week break between each book because otherwise all my free time goes to reading, and all my non-free time goes to thinking (i.e. obsessing) about the story and the characters. And that I do not think is healthy. But like I said, that is not exclusive to the Twilight books, and therefore not an inherent problem with the series.

Another possible problem I have with them is related, in that I get so swept up, I begin to see my own life as boring and mundane. But again, this is a problem with being a hopeless romantic, and not a problem with these particular books.

My mom read the first book as well, and I think she actually did enjoy the story, though she didn't finish the whole series. Her problem with the whole vampire/werewolf story lines is that it is focusing too much on the "darkness", and not on the "light". It makes women, and young girls in particular (the intended audience), yearn for something dark, perhaps even evil; something that is clearly not good for them. I can see this point as well, and is probably why I would not let my young teenage daughter read them. The Bible is very clear about that which we should allow our minds to rest. Perhaps that's why I give myself a break in between them, because I do get so obsess-y about them, and I don't want my mind to linger there too long.

I'm sure there is a whole long list of other reasons why many Christians don't care for these books and think they shouldn't be read, but for the most part, I've touched on the ones that are the most important to me. That being said, I don't think any of these reasons is enough to keep me from finishing books three and four! And by the way, I'm Team Jacob.

*This is completely off the top of my head because I just realized it was an hour before my bedtime on November 30, and I hadn't written anything this month! So I do apologize for the unthought-out nature of this post! Also, the title of this post is in reference to the Justin Long quote on Twilight. 

My Life Verse

If you follow my Twitter account, you will have seen that I finished Anne of Green Gables recently (thanks to Kindle's new "share" feature).  It is a sweet book, and one that I always loved when I was little.  I especially loved it because I really related to Anne and her wild imagination.  And in reading it as an adult, I found that I still do!  In one part in particular, Anne let her imagination run away with her and found herself scared of what she had imagined.  She, fortunately, learned her lesson and decided not to imagine scary things anymore.  I, unfortunately, have never learned that lesson. On any given day, whether I am faced with something sad or not, I find my imagination turning down dark alleys and scaring me, often to the point of tears!  It's perhaps why one of my closest friends calls me "morbid".

I have recently decided on my life verses (Philippians 4:6-8) and I say them to myself when I have let my imagination run away with me, and I find myself worrying.  It's something I struggle with daily, but just saying the verses to myself gets me back on the road to peace.

It also occurred to me just today (which is why I am writing this post) that Philippians 4:8 tells us the type of things on which our minds should dwell, starting with truth.  I think that part was added just for me.  We are told not to dwell on things that are not real, but rather on what is.  I must remember that as I find my mind wandering into untruth.

So, like Anne, I will try to conquer this unhealthy aspect of my imagination, so I don't find myself scared anymore.  I wish Anne had explained how she did it so easily!  But I think I have found the key, and it lies in Philippians 4:6-8:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Harry's Mistake

Originally, this post was supposed to be a simple one, just about my thoughts as I was listening to HP last night.  As I was writing, however, it became an in-depth analysis of cause and effect! It is a sad fact that in order for me to fall asleep at night, I need to be listening to one of my books on tape.  And for me "books on tape" means listening to my Harry Potter CDs.  I am currently in the middle of Book 4 (my favorite): Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  And it occurred to me last night that Harry makes a small mistake with huge consequences!  Here's the situation...

Harry is on his way back to the Gryfindor dormitory late one night after spending a few hours in the prefect's bathroom to figure out his egg clue for the second task.  He checks his Marauder's Map to make sure the coast is clear, but sees something fishy: Bartemious Crouch is in Professor Snape's office!  Harry wonders what he is doing there because he is supposedly too unwell to work or come to any of the tournament events!  His curiosity overtakes him, and he decides to make his way to Snape's office to check it out.  Unfortunately, he doesn't pay attention to what he is doing and he puts his foot onto the trick step and is caught.  He drops his egg (and his map!), which causes a commotion and brings Snape and Filch to the scene.  Harry, while under his invisibility cloak, tries to reach the map with his wand to wipe it clean, but can't reach it from where he stands.  Eventually "Moody" joins as well, and he can see Harry due to his magical eye.  "Moody" sees the map on the step and points to it, mistakenly believing it to be Snape's, at which point Harry is able to sign to "Moody" to not let Snape pick it up.  "Moody" uses a summoning charm and he gets a hold of the map instead.  Harry does not get it back.

Do you see Harry's mistake?  I even added the emphasis to help!  If Harry had only used a summoning charm, instead of just trying to wipe the map clean, the whole course of the books would have changed!  We know that he can perform a summoning charm, as he had just used one very successfully in the first task.  He wouldn't have had to worry about anyone hearing him whisper the spell yet, as Filch had not yet arrived, and the egg was still wailing away anyway!

If Harry had used a summoning charm, grabbed the map, and been able to see it under his cloak while Filch and Snape were talking, he would have seen that the "Moody" who arrives at the scene, was not Moody at all!  It was actually Bartemious Crouch.  He would have been puzzled, sure, but he would not have known at this point that it was actually Barty Crouch, Jr.  He could have pointed it out on the spot to Snape and Filch, but he probably would have waited to discuss it with Ron and Hermione, or even Dumbledore.  In which case, the imposter Moody would have been caught long before he was ever able to send Harry to Voldemort.  Cedric would never have died, and Voldemort could never have used Harry's blood to come back!

It all sounds very good, but perhaps it wasn't a mistake after all.  If Voldemort could not have used Harry's blood to come back, he would have found another "enemy's" blood to use (as Wormtail had suggested).  Harry would never have been able to tell Dumbledore in all certainty that Voldemort was back, and Dumbledore would not have restarted the Order of the Pheonix.  Additionally, Voldemort would not have Harry's blood running through his veins, so in the very end, when Harry gives up his life, he would have been gone for good!

So at first, I really did believe that Harry made a fatal error in not using a summoning charm to retrieve his Marauder's Map.  But after a closer analysis, we can see that perhaps it was all for the best!  It saved Harry's life, leading to him being able to take down Voldemort once and for all.

All from one moment when Harry didn't use a spell.

I am sure if we examined it further, we could continue to trace out more and more effects from Harry's one action (or inaction).  But at this point, I think I'm done with it all!

Books Read in 2010

As has become my tradition at the end of each year, here is my list of books read in 2010 (in chronological order).  I did not finish nearly as many as I would have liked, but I comfort myself in the knowledge that most adults average about two books per year (don't remember where that statistic is from, but I like it and  it makes me feel good about myself, so it must be true).  Also, some of these books were quite long and/or boring, so that makes the list all the more impressive!

  1. The Hawk and the Jewel - a fun "Christian spice" book by Lori Wick.  ("Christian spice" is a term I've adopted from a friend for a Christian romance novel.)
  2. Desert Rose - another "Christian spice", but this one was by Linda Chaikin.  She is one of my favorite Christian authors, because there is always a good mystery and a lot of adventure.  Usually the stories are set at some point in history, as well, so I feel like I'm learning a lot at the same time.
  3. A Clockwork Orange - a dystopia by Anthony Burgess that I only read because it was on my Summer Reading list.  I found it very disturbing and I'm not sure what I gained from it besides being able to cross it off my list and now understand references made to it.
  4. The Briton - another "Christian spice", this one by Catherine Palmer.  Normally, I would not read so many clumped together, but I remember feeling the need to read something uplifting after my previous one.
  5. The Shadow of your Smile - thriller by Mary Higgins Clark.  It was a good story, but I remember thinking it wasn't one of her greatest.
  6. There Goes the Bride - cute Agatha Raisin mystery by M.C. Beaton.
  7. Glory, Glory - romance novel by Linda Lael Miller.  Weirdly I did not even rank this one, so I can't even tell you if I enjoyed it or not!  But my recollection at this point is that I need to just stick to my "Christian spice".
  8. Freefall - I classified this novel by Kristen Heitzmann as "Christian fiction/adventure", so I'm not sure if that includes "spice" or not.  But I gave it an 8.5/10, so I obviously enjoyed it either way!
  9. Reaching for the Invisible God - excellent book by Philip Yancey.  I could probably read his books over and over again and always gain new insight.  I also referenced this book in a post.
  10. Unafraid (Mary) - historical fiction novel by Francine Rivers about the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  This book is part of a series of women in the Bible and they are all amazing.
  11. The Awakening - Christian novel by Angela Hunt.  This book was very different, but sweet once you realize what is going on.  It was the first Angela Hunt I'd read and I'd probably have to read one more to decide how I feel about her writing.
  12. A Stranger is Watching - another thriller by Mary Higgins Clark.  I have zero recollection of this one, so I could probably pick it up again in a couple years and never know I had read it before.  Thankfully, I keep this list!
  13. The Eye of the World - the first of the epic Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan.  I was completely hooked after reading this one.  The books average around 800 pages each, so they are no small task to finish!
  14. The Divine Mentor - a book we read in our church's small group by Wayne Cordeiro.  I appreciated its message, but felt like it used way too many words to get it across (ie, probably could have been in pamphlet form instead).
  15. Breastfeeding Made Simple - an excellent and informative guide on breastfeeding by Nancy Mohrbacher and Kathleen Kendall-tackett.  I really enjoyed this book, actually, and would recommend it to anyone who is planning on nursing.
  16. Madame Bovary - not sure why I decided to read this modern classic by Gustave Flaubert, except that it was on my bookshelf and unread.  I found it very sad, but I suppose that's what he was going for, in a sense.
  17. The Great Hunt - book two in the Wheel of Time series.  Made me so excited to start book three!
  18. Your Pregnancy & Birth - this book comes with an * because I did not read the section on complications.  I worry enough, so I figured it was for the best.
  19. Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief - this is a book for young adults by Rick Riordan, but that doesn't mean I enjoyed it any less.  It was an easy and entertaining read.
  20. A Merry Little Christmas: Unto Us a Child... / Christmas, Don't Be Late - two novellas in one book.  Cute Christmas stories, but they felt a little rushed in the novella form.
  21. Pride and Prejudice - I only read this classic by Jane Austen because it's on my Summer Reading list, but I am so glad I did!  I love the BBC mini-series, which was almost word for word the book, but the book explained so many of the emotions behind the meaningful looks in the movie.  It was incredibly sweet and romantic.

As always, if you have any questions regarding my list or would like further information about specific book, please feel free to email me or check out my “books I’ve read” spreadsheet for every book I’ve read since the summer of 2002 (when I first started it).

Books Read in 2009

The list below is all the books I read in 2009 in chronological order.  I will try to summarize my thoughts on each, but with some my memory is a bit hazy already.  The ones I remember are probably also the best literature (with some exceptions).

  1. The Tales of Beedle the Bard - Very cute book of short stories from the wizarding world, by J.K. Rowling.
  2. Asking for Murder - To be honest, I hardly remember this book by Roberta Isleib.  I gave it a 5.5/10, though, so take from that what you will.
  3. Preaching to the Corpse - Another by Roberta Isleib that I hardly remember.  It also received a 5.5/10.
  4. The Alchemist - A fable by Paulo Coelho that I did not really enjoy.
  5. High Marks for Murder - I was powering through these murder mysteries for a while.  This one is by Rebecca Kent and I gave it a 5.4/10.
  6. The Wind in the Willows - I actually wrote a review of this book by Kenneth Grahame.
  7. Eragon - I really enjoyed this book by Christopher Paolini.  My exact words from my "books I've read" spreadsheet are: "sooo good! can't wait to read the next 3 books; almost made me depressed at how good it is, because this guy was 15 when he wrote it! I wish so much that I could write a fantasy book like this. I love fantasy."
  8. Ringing in Murder - Another that I have no recollection of (how sad is that?), by Kate Kingsbury.  I gave it a 5.3/10.
  9. Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death - I do enjoy M.C. Beaton's books, both the "Agatha Raisin" series and the "Hamish MacBeth" series.  This was the first of all the Agatha books and I gave it a 7/10.
  10. The Last Sin Eater - This was an excellent book by Francine Rivers.  I didn't do a real review of it on the blog, but I did mention and quote from it.
  11. Kissing Christmas Goodbye - Another "Agatha Raisin" book by M.C. Beaton.  I gave this one a 7.5/10 (I have been enjoying her recent ones more than her earlier ones).
  12. Mrs. Pollifax Pursued - To quote from my spreadsheet, "Mrs. Pollifax just seems a rather flat character after reading so many Agatha Raisin books."  The book is by Dorothy Gilman and I gave it a 5/10.
  13. Port Royal - This is the first in "The Buccaneers" series by Linda Chaikin.  If you like Christian Spice (which I do), these books are for you.
  14. The Pirate and His Lady - The second in "The Buccaneers" series.  If you follow the link to the Amazon page, please ignore the cover art for these books.
  15. Jamaican Sunset - The last book in "The Buccaneers" series.  I gave these books a 9.1/10, 9.2/10, and 9/10, consecutively and I'm not ashamed to admit that.  I found them to be both entertaining and uplifting.  My comments from my spreadsheet: "loved this series; writing is very good, especially for a Christian author: she does her research very well as her settings are usually historical; also thumbs up for the bit of romance =)"
  16. The Bachelor's Bargain - Another Christian Spice book by Catherine Palmer.  I gave it a 8.9/10.
  17. Anna Karenina - It may look like I was reading a lot of Christian Spice there for a while, but I was taking breaks from reading Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy, which I found depressing.  I did, however, give it a 7/10 and my comments were: "Every time I read a classic, I realize again how inadequate my rating system is. Most of the time I rank on pure enjoyment, but I can't really say I enjoyed this book (except the parts with AK, who I identified with, and that scared me), and I know I would probably appreciate it more with the proper studying of it, but I think a 7 rating shows a combination of the enjoyment factor as well as good literature factor (see ratings for 1984 and Little Women)."
  18. The Secret Adversary - This is the first "Tommy and Tuppence" novel written by Agatha Christie.  It was a very good mystery.
  19. A Spoonful of Poison - Another "Agatha Raisin" novel, by M.C. Beaton, that I can't remember for the life of me.  I gave it a 7.8/10, though, so I must have enjoyed it.
  20. N or M? - Another good "Tommy and Tuppence" novel by Agatha Christie.
  21. Postern of Fate - The final "Tommy and Tuppence" novel by Agatha Christie, which was surprisingly boring.  I gave it a 4.2/10, as opposed to the 7's and 8's that the previous "Tommy and Tuppence" books received.
  22. Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist - Yet another M.C. Beaton book.  I gave this one a 7.6/10, although looking back I think that was probably too generous.
  23. The Skeleton in the Closet - Another M.C. Beaton... blah blah blah... 7.7/10.
  24. Silk - First book in "The Heart of India" series by Linda Chaikin.  Another excellent Christian Spice series.
  25. Under Eastern Stars - Second book in "The Heart of India" series.
  26. Kingscote - Final book in "The Heart of India" series.
  27. Eldest - Second book in the "Inheritance" series by Christopher Paolini.  I am really enjoying this series and gave this one a 9.2/10.  My comments from my spreadsheet: "only gave it lower rating than Eragon because I found the parts with Roran to be a bit boring at times. Otherwise excellent and highly engaging."

It was good for me to write this list because I realized how few books are on here that I am actually proud of finishing.  In fact, while many of these books were really good, entertaining, and/or worthwhile for other reasons, the only one I am proud of finishing is Anna Karenina.  Now I know I have to set my standards higher this year.  (That probably won't happen.)

If you have any questions regarding my list or would like further information about specific book, please feel free to email me or check out my "books I've read" spreadsheet for every book I've read since the summer of 2002 (when I first started it).

Movie Review: Star Trek

I am not a Trekkie.  But I am probably one of the few people in the world that wishes I was.  That is because I just saw the new Star Trek movie and really loved it!  It stirred in me a desire to go and watch all the old shows and maybe, just maybe, learn a little Klingon.  Yes, I said it, and I'm not ashamed.  Those of you who know me already know of my love for fantasy fiction, including Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.  And those of you who really, really know me, know my love of games like World of Warcraft.  This show, while perhaps on the border between all-out fantasy and science fiction, seems like it would be just my cup of tea. I don't feel I am in a position to critique the movie, because I am not a Trekkie and therefore don't know if it followed all the rules set forth in the old show.  But I do think I can recommend the movie to others out there who are not Trekkies and are as unfamiliar with the show as I am.  It is an action-filled movie, good casting (ie. I thought the characters all had great chemistry), and highly entertaining.  Go with a date (there are some cuties in it), go with your family (it was family friendly), and enjoy!

I am now off to abandon my study of Elfish and learn some Klingon.

Book Review: The Last Sin Eater

I just finished reading The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers and it was a beautiful and allegorical story.  I am not going to give many details on the book, but I did want to put it out there that I thoroughly recommend it.  I had to read it in only two sittings because I just could not put it down.  It was heartwarming and extremely well-written.  
Francine Rivers is one of the few excellent Christian authors.  There is some "preaching", but it was done tenderly and fitted perfectly into the story, unlike so much of the Christian fiction out there where it seems forced and unnatural.  
Just to give you a taste, here is the Author's Note from the very front of the book: 

  The sin eater was a person who was paid a fee or given food to take upon himself the moral trespasses of the deceased and their consequences in the afterlife.  Sin eaters were common in the early nineteenth century in England, the Lowlands of Scotland, and the Welsh border district.  This custom was carried over by immigrants to the Amercias and practiced in remote areas of the Appalachian Mountains.     This is a purely fictional story of one such person.

Enjoy!

Book Review: The Wind in the Willows

 

I have finally made an ounce of progress in my Summer Reading List (before I finish this list, it will be the end of yet another Summer!) by finishing The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame.  For being a children's book, it took an exorbitantly long time to read!  But I think being a children's book is precisely why.  I just could not get into it!  And it made me sad to think that the childlike part of me is gone that may have appreciated this more and perhaps even my imagination has diminished a little. 

For example, why are these animals living alongside humans?  At first I thought maybe it was a world of just talking animals, Narnia-esque, if you will.  And that would be OK.  But then the animals started interacting with the humans.  First it was just the animals peering in the windows of a human household.  Even this was OK because I thought maybe the book was about the animal world, one that we humans would not normally be able to be a part of, if it were not for this book.  But then the animals and humans started talking with each other!  So now the animals were apparently speaking English, and the humans did not find this odd at all! But then, when Toad was sneaking out of prison, he dressed in a washerwoman's clothes in order to get out undetected, so we are led to believe that not only can the animals talk and are in fact speaking English, but they also are large enough to fit into a woman's clothes, and pass easily as a woman!  This was more than I could take!
  
Why would it have been easier to imagine them living in their own world and speaking some sort of universal animal language and living in cute little homes along the river, rather than large English-speaking, human-interacting animals?  I have no idea.  Maybe because the former is exactly how I actually like to picture animals?  And none of these intelligent species have ever tried to interact with me!  
  
The book in itself probably would make a sweet children's book, although I'm not even sure if today's children would have the patience to wade through it, with the language being quite old-fashioned and the stories rather slow.  It has one overriding tale - Toad, his fascination with cars, eventual arrest, and then aforementioned escape, as well as shorter stories interspersed throughout starring Mole, Otter, Badger, and Water-Rat.  (Another point: why does it seem like there is only one of each species?  Why couldn't they at least have been given a name?)  
  
Overall, I wanted to like this book, but I just couldn't.  I don't blame the book though (although there were many times when I just wanted to slap Mole for being a whiny baby).  I think it's just me, growing up.  I guess it's about time, too.  I am almost 30.

Book Review: 1984

I have just finished the second book off my Summer Reading List and want to share some of my thoughts from reading it.  As with my book review of To Kill a Mockingbird, please note that I have not done any research on this book (although I know it’s been written about by many people) so the observations below are probably very old hat by now.  So pardon my naivety. Also, spoilers.  

I just finished reading the next book on my Summer Reading List: 1984 by George Orwell; I must admit to being slightly disturbed by the end, but I'm sure that's the point.  The book is separated into three distinct chapters, or acts.  In the first act, nothing happened, and everything happened.  I could have stopped there and been familiar with the whole book.  The second act made me happy.  It made me feel like there could be a good ending:  that love would conquer all, that the Brotherhood would overtake the Party and Big Brother.  But then came the third act.  I read all of the third act this morning because I couldn't put the book down.  It was enthralling, but not in a good way.  Everything that act one had said would happen, happened, only with excruciating detail.

Winston Smith is a member of the Outer Party, and therefore above the "Proles", but does not have so much power as the members of the Inner Party.  He knows his every movement is watched, every facial tick examined, and every syllable he utters is overheard.  This isn't because he is special.  It's just how it is.  And he begins to hate it.  He is intelligent enough to know that the Party is re-inventing the past.  It is telling everyone what to think and the people who question the Party are "vaporized". 

The book, especially the first and third acts, is very thought-provoking.  It questions the nature of reality and what makes the past true.  We study history, and for the most part, we believe what we are told.  We are sure that some scientist out there somewhere can provide the evidence we need to know for sure, and that is enough.  We read about current events, and again, believe that the events are actually happening.  But in 1984, the past and the present cannot be taken at the word of a newspaper or book.  "Orthodoxy is unconsciousness." 

The majority of the book is concerned with how the Party achieves the unconsciousness of the masses.  But Winston wonders over and over again why.  Why does the Party do what it does to ensure that it is never wrong by altering the past?  And why does the Party keep the State constantly at war?  He does finally get the answer: power.  The Inner Party members are only concerned with power.  Not even the luxury that power brings, just power in itself.  By being Inner Party members, they have achieved a sort of immortality.  If the Party is all-knowing, never wrong, and will last forever, and they are members of it, then they themselves are immortal.  The Party's aims are to destroy all literature, art, science, even to abolish everyone's belief in God.  In doing so, they are taking away all ways that people try to become immortal, or leave some kind of legacy behind.  Even procreation will be turned into a once-per -year duty, and the resulting children will be taken away immediately.  There is no way to leave a bit of legacy behind, unless through the Party.  And even this is only reserved for Party members.  

In the beginning Winston still has hope.  At one point he says of the Party, "They could not alter your feelings; for that matter, you could not alter them yourself, even if you wanted to."  But he finds in the end that he was wrong.  There is no hope.

Book Review: Agatha Raisin Mysteries

I have just finished reading my ninth book in the past month. This is not a great accomplishment as they were all frivolous little mysteries in the same series. It is the Agatha Raisin series by M. C. Beaton. (She also writes the Hamish MacBeth series, of which I have posted about before.) My enjoyment of the series is mostly due to the characters, who are very real, flawed, funny, and just plain empathizable -- not sure if that's a word (if it's not, I'm coining it now--that's my way of cheating the system).  Enhancing my enjoyment all the more was reading those nine books in order, thereby following the characters' progress in that time. The ones I read were: Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House The Deadly Dance: An Agatha Raisin Mystery The Perfect Paragon: An Agatha Raisin Mystery

The last two were my favorites of them all, which makes me want to move right on to the next one, Love, Lies, and Liquor!  I won't though.  I must continue my Summer Reading List!

On the plus side (the downside being that I've taken such a long break from my aforementioned Summer Reading List), those nine books helped me increase the number of books I've read this year, as opposed to last year, by nine exactly!  See?  If it hadn't been for reading them, I would have felt like I didn't increase productivity at all this year.  And isn't it all about increasing productivity?

Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird

I have just finished the first book off my Summer Reading List* and want to share some of my thoughts from reading it.  Please note that I have not done any research on this book (although I know it's been written about by many people) so the observations below are probably very old hat by now.  So pardon my naivety. Also, spoilers. "Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird," says Atticus to his son, Jem, upon giving him and his sister, Scout, air-rifles.  Miss Maudie, Scout and Jem's kind neighbor, agrees, "Your father's right...  Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy.  They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.  That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."  Hence the title of the famous 1960 novel by Harper Lee.

The story unfolds with Scout remembering when Jem's arm was broken when he was 13 and she only nine.  That climactic moment does not happen until the end of the story, however.  First we hear about Dill, Scout and Jem's childhood friend; Boo Radley, the neighborhood hermit who Dill, Scout and Jem obsess over for several summers; and Tom Robinson, the black man accused of raping a white girl and the man whom Atticus is charged with defending.

Scout is very young during the Robinson case, but she takes it all in even if she doesn't always understand.  The thing about Scout is that she's been taught since she was very young that in order to fully understand, you have to put yourself in someone else's shoes.  Atticus is very good about this, and it's clear that it's something he is trying to pass on to his two children.  "Jem," he says after a particularly nasty incident, "See if you can stand in Bob Ewell's shoes a minute.  I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with.  The man had to have some kind of comeback, his kind always does.  So if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell [the girl who claimed to have been raped] one extra beating, that's something I'll gladly take.  He had to take it out on somebody and I'd rather it be  me than that houseful of children out there.  You understand?"

There are other adult role models for Jem and Scout who also exemplify the art of perspective. Calpurnia, when she takes the children to her own church and they hear her speaking differently than she does at home, is able to explain the situation from her fellow church-goers point-of-view. "It's not necessary to tell all you know.  It's not ladylike - in the second place, folks don't like to have somebody around knowin' more than they do.  It aggravates 'em.  You're not gonna change any of them by talkin' right, they've got to want to learn themselves, and when they don't want to learn there's nothing you can do but keep your mouth shut or talk their language."

Since the book is written from Scout's perspective, we, as the reader, often understand things that she does not.  But we can see her thought process and throughout the book she begins to learn from her father's wise words.  For example, as she is listening to the testimonies of Mayella Ewell and Tom Robinson, she says, "it came to me that Mayella Ewell must have been the loneliest person in the world... Tom Robinson was probably the only person who was ever decent to her."  In trying to see the case from Mayella's perspective, she begins to understand the reasoning behind Mayella's actions.  As I said earlier, however, she is still very young at this point, but she is learning.

At the very end, she has the opportunity to stand almost literally in someone else's shoes by seeing her town from Boo Radley's porch, and in doing so she watches the events from the years gone by from his perspective.  And understanding finally dawns.  "Atticus was right.  One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.  Just standing on the Radley porch was enough."  She walks away from that porch knowing in that moment, she had learned one of the most important lessons of growing up.  "[T]here wasn't much else left for us to learn, except possibly algebra."

Algebra may be hard, but seeing life from a perspective besides your own is a skill that may take a lifetime or more.  In fact, many people never do and are never able to fully understand.  The fullest understanding of anything - life, love, grief - only comes when you are able to see it through another's eyes, or as Atticus says, walk in their shoes.

*Actually, I finished it a while ago and kept forgetting to put up this post!

Book Review: Murder in Mesopotamia

I just finished Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie.  Yes, devotees of this blog will know that I should be working on my Summer Reading List and continuing researching my novel instead, but once in a while I need something trivial!  (By the way, definitely one of her most satisfying mysteries.  And by that I mean, the villain was suitably surprising and wacko!) Anyway, as it was a Poirot novel, who is known for using his "little grey cells" and being quite the judge of character, there is quite a lot of philosophy in the book.  I found the following quote particularly interesting:

"As a matter of fact it wouldn't be safe to tell any man the truth about his wife!  Funnily enough, I'd trust most women with the truth about their husbands.  Women can accept the fact that the man is a rotter, a swindler, a drug-taker, a confirmed liar, and a general swine without batting an eyelash and wishout its impairing their affection for the brute in the least.  Women are wonderful realists."

See?  Agatha Christie seems to know what she's talking about.

Movie Review: Mamma Mia

I actually enjoyed it! I mean, I was expecting to enjoy it, but after hearing the reviews I was nervous. The girl was fabulous, Meryl Streep was not bad, but Pierce Brosnan, though sexy, was laughable! He should never, ever have tried singing! I went with five other women, all of whom were familiar with the Abba songs, so we had a great time singing along in the theater. I'm sure the people behind us enjoyed us too. I mean, we were good. Much better than Pierce and Meryl, so really we were doing them a favor. And who can hear "Mamma Mia" and "Dancing Queen" and not sing along?

Related: Movie Review: Get Smart Movie Review: Sex and the City Movie Review: Wall-E Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Grandparent Movie Review: Wall-E

Grandparent Movie Review: Wall-E

My grandparents, I call them Bumma and Bumpa, went to see Wall-E last night.  Today I had the following conversation with them (it's paraphrased a bit). Bumpa: You know we went to see Wall-E last night, and we walked out half way through! Me: You did?  Why? Bumma (in background): Don't tell her that!  She'll think she has two duds for grandparents! Bumpa (to me): Oh, we just thought there were too many explosions. Me: Explosions?  Are you sure you were in the right theater?  I don't remember any explosions! Bumpa: And we heard people laughing so I laughed the loudest among them, but I didn't know why.

Well, Bumma, don't ever worry about me thinking you two are duds.  In fact, I think this conversation has made you both even more endearing!

Related: Movie Review: Wall-E

Movie Review: Sex and The City

I am almost a little embarrassed to admit that I enjoyed this movie.  Honestly, its massive promotion had made me sick of it before even having seen it!  And the internet rumors had me convinced I would not like the plot or the ending at all! Yes, it had a lot of sex scenes and language.  Yes, it was much too long.  But it actually had a sweet story, and I will admit to loving the fashion!  I came out of it wanting to dress up and put on high heels and do my hair all pretty.  (Fortunately, that soon wore off and I found myself in my sweats, hair tied up in a messy bun, sitting barefoot on my couch.)

I would not recommend this movie for most of the people in my circles, and normally I would not have even recommended it for me.  But once again it shows that I cannot simply go by what critics have to say and to never put any stock in those internet rumors.

Movie Review: Get Smart

I have seen this movie twice already!  I have seen it with a person who never once saw the show (many people don't even realize it used to be a show!) and with a person who was a fan of the show.  They both loved it. Steve Carell reminds me of the old Max (Don Adams) and pulls off all the old lines perfectly: "Missed it by that much" and "The old phone in the shoe trick".  I wasn't as thrilled with Anne Hathaway as Agent 99, but by the end, her "Oh Max"s had convinced me.  All in all, very good casting and a fun movie for everyone, fan of the show or not.

And as someone who used to play Agent 99 in her backyard with her friend, Agent 86, I thought I would be much harder to please.

Movie Review: Wall-E

I will admit that, even after reading all the amazing reviews of Wall-E, I went in still expecting not to like it.  In every review I read, the words "subtle green message" kept appearing.  Now don't get me wrong, I am all for taking care of our planet, but my mind kept returning to the Happy Feet disaster-of-a-movie* and I did not want to repeat that experience. However, after listening to my husband gushing over his Wall-e experience (and hearing his endless imitations of the robot), I consented to see the movie.

I am not going to say I was wrong in my initial thoughts.  Not because I wasn't, but because I do not like to admit being wrong!  But it was a wonderful movie.  Wall-e himself was extremely likeable, even though he could not speak.  And that's part of the magic right there: giving robots without speech a definite personality, that you either like or don't.

As my dad said, after seeing the movie, "It's basically just a love story."  And he was right.

*I don't think I ever wrote a review on Happy Feet, but it's worth a separate post.  Look for one in the days ahead.

      Related: Grandparent Movie Review: Wall-E

Movie Review: Baby Mama

I don't feel like writing a formal review of Baby Mama right now, but I did want to share quickly what I thought!  It was so funny!  I know this movie has created a lot of buzz, as it is one of the very few movies where the two leads are both female.  But they carried it very well.  It stars Tina Fey (former writer of Saturday Night Live; currently stars on NBC's 30 Rock) as a professional woman who has decided she wants a baby, but finds she cannot conceive; and Amy Poehler (current member of Saturday Night Live) as the surrogate mother she hires to carry her child.  The ultimate odd couple, they need to learn to work together during the pregnancy for the good of the baby, with hilarious results, and not to mention a few twists and turns along the way!  Go see it if you like SNL and want a good laugh!  Actually, you don't even need to like SNL.  You'd probably still find the movie funny.

One question I tend to ask myself when evaluating a movie I have just seen is whether my parents would like it and should I recommend it to them.  So I'm thinking that will now be a regular feature of my movie reviews.

My official stance on this movie for parents: Dads may not get it.  Moms will think it's cute.  They will both find it slightly humorous.  Probably not as much as me, however (hence the comment about liking SNL).