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Archive for the month “July, 2012”

Review: The Elusive Mr. McCoy

 The Elusive Mr. McCoy by Brenda Baker was a surprising tapestry of interconnected lives and stories. They are the lives that surround Mr. McCoy, a man would slipped into a coma in a coffeeshop and is found with two wallets revealing two separate identities- one Eric McCoy, married to Kendra McCoy, the other Dave McCoy married to Lesley McCoy. In one life he is a mysterious and elegant employee of Pentagon, in the second he is a wilderness guide hoping to make a go of organic gardening. And he is married to both women at once.

There are quite a number of characters and factors in this book- McCoy, the wives, his agent, the former police detective Jason who was talking to him when he slipped into a coma, the families of the wives, and Jason’s own complicated family and history. It seems like its almost too many characters for a 300-page book, and yet it works. Each character has there own story, motivation, and secrets of their own.

Baker is an amazing writing. The book contains a bit of suspense, a bit of romance, and a surprising bit of sci-fi, all blended together in a highly readable piece of fiction. Four stars out of five.

Mailbox Madness: July 22-28

These past two weeks I haven’t been posting my usual Library Loot because, I haven’t actually been to the local library. <Insert looks of shock and horror here> But my mailbox has been surprisingly full of new reads. Here’s the madness:

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay”. fictionalizes the 1942 Paris roundups and deportations, in which thousands of Jewish families were arrested, held at the Vélodrome d’Hiver outside the city, then transported to Auschwitz. Forty-five-year-old Julia Jarmond, American by birth, moved to Paris when she was 20 and is married to the arrogant, unfaithful Bertrand Tézac, with whom she has an 11-year-old daughter. Julia writes for an American magazine and her editor assigns her to cover the 60th anniversary of the Vél’ d’Hiv’ roundups. Julia soon learns that the apartment she and Bertrand plan to move into was acquired by Bertrand’s family when its Jewish occupants were dispossessed and deported 60 years before. She resolves to find out what happened to the former occupants: Wladyslaw and Rywka Starzynski, parents of 10-year-old Sarah and four-year-old Michel. The more Julia discovers—especially about Sarah, the only member of the Starzynski family to survive—the more she uncovers about Bertrand’s family, about France and, finally, herself. ” from Amazon.com

This one has been recommended to me several times, and I have picked it up, looked at in the bookstore, and put it back down at least half a dozen times. When it was recommended again more recently, I decided to take a chance and order a copy on Paperbackswap.com.

Tears of the Giraffe (No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Bk. 2) by Alexander McCall Smith. This series came out while I was in grad school, and was wildly popular…but I was just too knee deep in required reading to take a look. My roommate saw the television series developed, and loved it, and wondered what the books were like. Enter the nerdy roommate who will always read the book before watching the movie (me, just in case that’s not obvious), who then decided to read her way through the series. Fortunately, their is Paperbackswap.com.

Reality Check by Karen Tuft is a book I received from a book blog giveaway. It was fun receiving a signed copy shipped directly from the author. The book, a fictional spin on the Bachelor, is about Lucy Kendrick, who finds herself signed up to be a contestant on the reality television show Soulmates, the result of some friends matchmaking mischief. What she doesn’t anticipate is being pursued by millionaire bachelor Ethan Glass. Thanks for the copy Karen, I can’t wait to read it!

The End by Mark Hitchcock was sent to me by the Tyndale Media Network for review. Addressing the Biblical prophecies and the end of days, The End intends to be a comprehensive look at the topic. I will admit, I tend to be rather put off by end times literature. To often, it has been a make or break topic in the theological discussions, and to me, that seems slightly over the top. There are a variety of views on the matter, but its not a make or break issue for the Christian faith.

So why am I reading this? Because I think it will be challenging for me, and possibly for those that read this blog. As its a topic I generally avoid, I don’t actually read much about the subject, nor do I really consider my own theological view on the matter. Hopefully, I’ll learn some things and have a chance for reflection.

My final book is A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain. I love Mark Twain. His writing is witty and insightful, and I’ve had just a taste of this book. Just enough of a taste that I can’t wait to finish it. I was thrilled when I was able to get a copy off of Paperbackswap.com, as I am pretty convinced this is one I want to own.

Wow. That’s alot of books. No guarantees on the timetable for completion, but know that I will be posting reviews as I finish them.

Review: Running for My Life

I started Running for My Life by Lopez Lomong with the intention of reading a bit here and there as a break from the heaviness of Anna Karenina. I thought it would help me gear up for the 2012 Olympics which start tomorrow night.

What I did not anticipate when I started Running for My Life is that I would not be able to put it down. I read straight through, cover to cover, in just a few hours, and I do not regret it in the least. Lomong’s story is truly amazing.

Born in South Sudan, Lomong, born Lopepe Lomong, was abducted one Sunday from church by rebels who kidnapped the boys intending to turn them into child soldiers. Lomong was able to escape from the soldiers camp. After three days of running he, and the boys he escaped with found themselves across the border in Kenya, and soon, a Kenyan refugee camp. It is in the refugee camp that Lomong discovers running and the Olympics.

Lomong’s story is inspiring. Not simply because of the amazing series of events that took place in his life, but because of his attitude. Even when things are difficult, even when he is uncertain, even in victory, Lomong glorifies and praises God. He trusts in God when it seems that he has absolutely no reason. And he gives back, both to his family in South Sudan, and to Sudan through World Vision.

I give Running for My Life five stars. I cannot wait to cheer Lomong on as he runs the 5000m in the 2012 Olympics.

* I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Reading everywhere

I almost always have a book on me. If I am carrying my backpack, I am pretty confident I have several. And I find I read everywhere. At the bus stop, in the doctor’s office, on my lunch break, waiting to pick up a friend, on the train headed into the city, and of course, while waiting for and while on the NYC subway system.

The Underground New York Public Library is an amazingly fun blog that captures images of people reading on the subway. The pictures capture and share images that are common and uncommon at the same time, and to those of us who read, whether we live in New York or elsewhere, understand the sentiment because we often read everywhere.

 

Anna Karenina Read-Along: Parts 5&6

My past for Week Three of our Read Along is both late, and well, somewhat incomplete. This week was somewhat of a mess, and by Saturday I realized I was about a half a section behind in my reading. Did I make that up this weekend? Of course not- that would have made sense! So… I will proceed with what I have read of Parts 5 & 6.

My thoughts: *Spoilers Alert*

Tolstoy isn’t much for portraying the beauty of domestic bliss, is he? Even my favorite couple, Kitty and Levin, seem to have moments of difficulty as marriage and domesticity is not all that they envisioned…and yet, this vision of it seems to be accurate. Marriage is about the coming together of two lives, and its not always this wondrous process. Levin isn’t going to get his beloved solitude in the same way that Kitty will no longer be carefree. I appreciated the section where Kitty insists on coming along with Levin to see Nicolai, and then cares for him more than anyone else does. She shows herself to be a much stronger character than she appeared initially.

Anna and Vronsky seem to be kidding themselves. We’ll, correction. Anna is kidding herself. She really thought society was going to accept her adulterous relationship with Vronsky flaunted in society? Really? It seems like Anna is not only slightly delusional, but manipulative to boot. She is drowning in confusion, and I think to some degree regret, and it’s beginning to strain her relationship with Vronsky. She holds tightly to that which she fears losing, and in doing so, risks losing it anyway.

On the Countess and Karenin…well, they seem like a bit of an odd match.

Discussion Questions and Answers:

1. Discuss the way Kitty and Levin fight. How is their way of communicating different from the way Anna and Vronsky or Stiva and Dolly disagree?

I think the way that Kitty and Levin fight shows just how young Kitty is, and how lost Levin is at times. Whereas Stiva and Dolly disagree about the state of their marriage after Stiva’s affair, Kitty and Levin argue about Levin being out a bit too late, or whether or not it is appropriate to accompany him to see his dying brother. I think some of the drama in Levin and Kitty’s marriage is created simply out of boredom (on Kitty’s part) and youth.

 2. What did you think when Anna and Vronsky took off to live together?  Now that they have, how do you see things between the two of them? 

I couldn’t believe they actually did it to be honest. It seemed like such a slap in the face to Karenin, and honestly, to society as a whole. It just wasn’t done then.

Vronsky seemed to understand the implications for their life socially, both abroad, and in Russia. He took care in mentioning his situation to others and introducing Anna, both for his own sake, and for her’s as well, but she seemed perfectly content to flaunt their status. I think Vronsky is beginning to realize everything he gave up in order to be with Anna, and it seems that to Anna even that isn’t enough. Things between the two of them seem tense and fragile both while they are abroad, and especially in Petersburg.

Anna Karenina, with its vast array of characters and situations is by no means a boring read, even as I round the bend towards the end with sections 5 & 6.

Review: The Fourth Fisherman

Initially, I picked up The Fourth Fisherman by Joe Kissack because the story intrigued me. Three fisherman are stranded at sea for nine months, eating what they can catch, and reading Scripture to sustain them. The story sounded phenomenal.

Intertwined with that story was Kissack’s own story of coming to faith. He had everything, but still found himself lacking something. And eventually, he discovered all he needed in the Scripture.

I admit, both loved this book and found myself confused by it. It made me both irritated and anxious for more at the same time. I am not sure that I completely agree with the assessment of someone from the audience, who heard the stories, and told that Joe that he was, “…telling the story wrong.” (p.188). While both Joe’s story and the story of the fishermen were incredibly powerful, it seemed that combining them into one book weakened both. Both stories in the volume seem so undeveloped.

Without intending to in anyway undermine Kissack’s story, I found his writing to be reflective of the time he spent with therapists, counselors, and pastors. There was such an amazing transformation in his life, but in telling the story, it was bogged down with phrases that come out of guided self reflection. I wasn’t convinced that it was his voice speaking, but rather, it felt like the voice of others.

I would have loved to hear more from the fishermen themselves, even if it was only interviews tucked into an addendum at the end. Do they still think about that time? What was the most difficult part of their time on the open ocean? How did they communicate with their Taiwanese rescuers? So many questions that remain unanswered.

Overall, I found the Fourth Fisherman to be a story of hope, inspiration and faith. I give it three stars.

*Please note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for a fair and honest review.

Weekend Recap: Reading, writing, & resurrecting baking

Friday afternoon turned out to be a bit on the rainy, cold, and slightly yucky side, but that actually worked in my favor. After finishing up some errands  I went home, plopped my laptop on the dining room table, made a pot of tea, and then spent much of the afternoon sending out emails, working with an online survey, and finishing up the remains of a lesson plan for Sunday. After I finished my work for the afternoon, I headed down to the french patisserie downtown and met a friend for coffee.

Saturday was again quiet. I did the normal practical things that are part of a weekend- a bit of cleaning and some laundry, but I spent alot of my day just reading. I wasn’t feeling well, and although it was absolutely beautiful outside, I was reluctant to go out to run errands. Since it was one of the rare occasions when my schedule was blank AND the house was empty, I opted to take a nap on the living room couch, and I found afterwords I felt a ton better.

I felt good enough, in fact, to attempt baking. Now, for a little practical background, you should know that I LOVE to bake. Or I did, until this past September when I was diagnosed with Celiac disease (an inherited autoimmune disease in which eating gluten causes an immune system reaction in the small intestine). When baking became complicated, if not seemingly impossible because of my inability to consume wheat and later, corn, I quit baking.

My family and friends, not completely content with the fact that I’ve just given up have been trying to encourage me to get back into it. And honestly, I miss it. I miss having fresh baked muffins on Sunday morning, and creating something new for dessert when friends are coming for dinner. I miss Christmas baking, and looking for random cookie recipes to try. I miss knowing that I can turn the bananas going bad in the kitchen into banana bread.

So this weekend, armed with a peanut butter cookie recipe containing only three ingredients – peanut butter, sugar, and an egg, I gave baking another shot for the first time in awhile. And I loved it.

The cookies were good, although incredibly rich. And while they may not be my biggest victory, they are certainly an important start on my journey back to baking.

 

Summer Reading Challenge Progress Report

Well, it has been over a month since my post announcing my participation in the Summer Reading Challenge and I thought I should update all of you on my progress to date.

So far, I’ve finished:

6. One Classic All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

8. One New Release Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by AJ Jacobs

And  I am nearly completed with:

10. One Chunkster (A Book That Is Over 400 Pages) Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy 

It’s not a bad start considering one of the books on that list is over 800 pages, but there are still 7 books that remain on the list, and of course, a few of the remaining could fall into the chunkster category as well. I also have quite a stack of books in my to be read pile, as well as, two books from publishers to be finished and reviewed. With this challenge, and that big stack of library books, I’ve decided to suspend my holds for the next few weeks at my local library.

Don’t get me wrong, I am enjoying the challenge because it presents such a wide variety of books, but I have found that one of the things I also desire during the summer is some light reading. So I think my compromise is that I will press on with my Summer Reading Challenge, but I will also weave in some lighter fiction as well, more than likely on weekends when I have more time to read.

If you’ve taken up the challenge with me, what are you reading, and how are you progressing so far?

Mailbox Madness

With my new membership on Paperbackswap.com and two recent purchases on Amazon (something that is incredibly rare for me these days) I have found myself with a mailbox full of books which is, in my humble opinion, a happy problem. (Although I am not sure my roommates would agree, considering the incredibly large pile of books in our living room that are waiting for me to finish re-constructing my bookcase.)

In any case, I’ve had quite a few books come my way recently, and I thought I’d share. Here’s the madness:

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

from Paperbackswap.com

I don’t remember exactly how I discovered Lisa See…but I think it was the suggestion of Shanghai Girls on Amazon that I subsequently purchased and then inhaled before buying the sequel Dreams of Joy. See is a fantastic writer, and reading those two made me want to work through a few more  all of her novels.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

from Paperbackswap.com

I honestly can’t explain my recent obsession with the Lost Generation writers. Maybe its my viewing of Midnight in Paris and the sheer number of literary references I missed. Maybe its my recent brush with World War I literature, and my interest in the way it subsequently shaped the thinking of those impacted by it. Either way, I found myself ordering a few of Hemingway’s novels, and that first that arrived was A Farewell to Arms. I also received a copy of The Sun Also Rises last week.

          Inescapable by Nancy Mehl

from Amazon.com

I read a review of Inescapable over at www.5minutesforbooks.com and found myself curious, however, it was not available at my local library, nor coming soon, so I took a risk and ordered a copy. The premise is interesting: the story is about Lizze Engel and her daughter Charity who return to Lizzie’s hometown of Kingdom after losing her job, hoping to escape a man stalking her. What awaits her in Kingdom is her incredibly strict father, an Old Order Mennonite resistant to change, and a flood of memories. In spite of Kingdom’s off the map status, Lizzie’s stalker manages to track her down.

I must confess: as soon I opened this one I knew I would end up reading it immediately, casting aside the six other books I am reading…and I did. So far, I feel sadly disappointed though. I am about a third of the way through, and it has not been nearly as gripping as I had hoped. I will continue on, however, and let you know what I think.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

from Paperbackswap.com

In case you didn’t believe me about my obsession with writers from the Lost Generation, I present to you further evidence in the form of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I would be a little bit of a liar, however, if I didn’t admit that part of my reason for reading The Great Gatesby which I somehow managed to avoid all the way through middle school and clear through high school, is in anticipation of the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio.  I am curious to see how it would be adapted on screen.

The Elusive Mr. McCoy by Brenda Baker

from Amazon.com

This is another book I just couldn’t help but purchase after I found out it would not be at my local library any time soon. I was fascinated by the double life presented, and by the idea that the “offender” as Jennifer from 5 Minutes for Books refers to him, is decidedly absent from the story as it focuses on his families. I am looking forward to reading and reviewing this one.

As always, I have so much to read and so little time. 🙂

Review: How to Love An American Man

 How to Love An American Man by Kristine Gasbarre was part of my library loot from this past week. I was intrigued when I saw the title, intrigued enough to add it to my reserve items. When I found myself between books this past weekend, I decided to give it a try.

First of all, I’ll be honest. Its not at all what I anticipated, even having read the description. So we’re both on the same page, here is the books description as it appears on Amazon:

“Kristine Gasbarre made a New York career of dating driven, inaccessible men. When she realizes her love life will never result in happiness if she continues on the same path, she makes a big decision—relocating to Italy to discover her roots and find out what defines her adoring grandpa. But upon receiving the news of his sudden passing, she is lured away.

With nowhere left to go, Krissy returns to her small hometown for the first time in a decade to help care for her grandmother—a refined, private matriarch suffering from early dementia along with the loss of her husband. In her reluctant agreement to share the nearly lost love stories and transformative lessons from her rich sixty-year marriage, Krissy’s grandma becomes the one offering comfort as she coaches her granddaughter through the fear of loving. Grandma’s unapologetic femininity and secret giving spirit opens Krissy’s eyes about relationships, teaching her the single most important requisite for loving a man: first a woman has to learn the power of her own inner beauty.”

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting to be honest, but what I found in the memoir, I loved. Krissy’s intimate conversations with her Grandma Glo on love and her grandmother’s life with her grandfather are something to be treasured, and they seem so healing for both of them as they remember the past, and learn from it together.

Krissy transforms in the year she spends with her family. She increasingly comes to rely on her grandmother’s advice and opinions. And she becomes so much more confident.

As a single woman, I think it was also an interesting read, not that I plan on running out and applying each part to my life. But I have certainly been aware of the temptation to change myself to capture the attention of a man, all the while, wanting him to be the one noticing and pursuing me. If Krissy’s Grandma Glo is right, I’ve had things backwards.

The book was a quick read, but a thoughtful and fun memoir. I would definitely recommend it.

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