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Library Loot: January 2 to 8

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky found at The Captive Reader. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

In my post just yesterday, I mentioned that  I would be limiting myself to two library books per visit. Well, dear reader, I have missed that goal completely in my very first visit to the library….but only by one.

Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez has been on my to-read list for quite some time. After a rather complex procedure that involved picking the books off my Goodreads list that most interested me and crosschecking it against availability at my local library, I decided on the Kabul Beauty School.

Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni jumped out at me as I scanned the biographies shelf this evening, so I decided to give it a try.

Trespassers Will be Baptized by Elizabeth Emerson Hancock is the third memoir on the list. This one I found while scanning the shelves in the religion section. My hope is that it is a more an encouraging remembrance of faith with some amusing anecdotes and less a bitter memory of the religion of childhood…but I guess I’ll have to wait and see.



Throwing another dart…

imagesWhen I began this blog in June, I had some rather ambitious goals. I really thought I could read and review books a few times a week, as well as post on other rather bookish topics on the days in between. This is not at all what happened, however. I missed that mark by so many days I began to lose count, making me feel like quite the blogging failure. By December, I was ready to scrap the blog and move on.

But its a New Year, all fresh and clean, and maybe before I throw in the towel I need to try again.  So, as of today, I’ve got a new look, and a few new goals for 2013 to try and make this blog a success.

What stays the same?

  • It’s still primarily a book blog. I love reading and I love sharing what I read. That hasn’t changed over the last six months, even if my schedule has.
  • Library Loot– I’ll keep posting what books I take out, even if I decide not to review them.
  • It’ll still be nerdy. This much hasn’t changed. 😉

What will change?

  • Weekend Recaps– These will be categorized as Life and Things. Friends and family living far away check in here occasionally, and  I want to be able to share what’s happening. Besides, as I started sharing my weekends I realized how genuinely boring my life is.
  • I’m not accepting books to review. I tried accepting books to review and found I could not meet the time constraints. It just doesn’t work for me. If you want to recommend a book, I’m all for it, but please, no ARC’s.
  • Library Loot will shrink. I’m limiting myself to one to two books each library visit. It will keep me from racking up fines for books I haven’t read, and it will help me focus on picking up books I actually read.
  • Any Reading Challenges must be started by March…and if I’m not enjoying it, its okay to scrap it. Blogging is more a fun side hobby than a part time job.

With these changes in mind, here are my more modest goals:

  1. To post once a week. Book Reviews, Randomly bookish topics, Library Loot, Quotes, and Life and Things Updates all count as posts.
  2. To take pictures for the blog and stop using images from the web. I credit them, but it would still be nice to start using my own images. Guess I will be purchasing a camera…. 😉
  3. To enjoy blogging a bit more. I love reading and I really do love writing. So maybe if there is a little less pressure to post, it will be fun again.

Happy New Year readers! Here’s to hoping 2013 means a bit more success on the blogging front!

The Books that Shape Us

In my wanderings today, I came across this post by Nathan Harden “Five Classic Books Every Smart Person Should Read” on the Huff Post blog. I am not going to lie, I felt like it took some audacity on Harden’s part to title it as he did and I almost didn’t read on that basis alone…but I was too curious to see his list to not finish the post.

For those curious, Harden’s list includes:

1. Homer’s Oddessy

2. Plutarch’s Lives

3. The Bible

4. Dante’s Divine Comedy

5. Shakespeare’s The Tempest

What I appreciated about the article is that Harden advocated that individuals read these books not because they were his favorites, or because you should have read them as one of  the elite, but because they have shaped our intellectual and moral history. He pointed out that these books are no longer required reading, and that, “Consequently, we are less likely than ever to understand where our political and moral ideas come from.” Often, we are willing to read books that agree with our moral, intellectual, and political ideals, but we don’t fully explore where those ideals originated from. Americans especially seem to disconnect from history, aside from our own.

I will confess, I have not read the bulk of this short list, the exceptions being The Bible and Dante’s Divine Comedy, but I am curious to pick up each of the books mentioned, and to consider them for what they have been- books that shaped the intellectual history of generations.

What about you- have you read any of Harden’s list? Would you add any to this list, and why?

Review: A Love That Multiplies

I am not sure why I picked up A Love That Multiplies by Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar. Up until Tuesday, when I caught a 19 Kids and Counting marathon on TLC, I’ve never watched the show before, nor read their previous books. But their philosophies on children and child-rearing and their faith intrigued me, so I picked this book up.

The book is not so much a memoir, as an up-close, conversational look at the Duggar family’s daily life, and the events surrounding young Josie’s birth. Topics range from managing the home and packing for trips, to homeschooling such a large group, to taking care of bad behavior from young ones at the first incident. Interspersed between each section and story is a favorite recipe, a list of snacks, or general home management tips.

They talk a lot about their faith, which is a very central part of their lives, and I can appreciate the way that it is really shaped their decisions as a family. Michelle and Jim Bob do not just say that children are a gift from the Lord, they live their lives as a testament to that as they arrange their days to teach their children and to spend time with them. Based on this book, it would appear that although the Duggar children may have some pretty strict rules on internet usage, and they may not own the latest and greatest gadgets, the Duggar children develop practical life skills and conflict resolutions skills from incredibly early age, making them more mature than their peers.

The writing was okay, more conversational in nature which doesn’t always translate well to the page. There was also the assumption that the reader had both watched 19 Kids and Counting or read their previous book, as they made many references to the show, or referred to things they had shared in their previous book. While I can appreciate that they didn’t want to bore readers with repeated information, it tended to make things feel choppy and incomplete.

Overall, I liked the book, and I really appreciate the Duggar family and their commitment to their faith. I would recommend the book to young parents, or to those looking to a non-traditional story of those choosing to live out their faith. I give A Love That Multiplies three stars.

Review: Anna Karenina

I originally started Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy in 2004 when it was taken up by Oprah’s Book Club. It was the only book I ever picked up for Oprah’s Book Club, and I didn’t get far before I decided it would be better to quit. Anna Karenina moved with me from my parent’s house, to my first apartment in Baltimore, back to their house, and later, to New York where it would be packed and unpacked, all the while collecting dust between moves. Until this summer when I decided I needed to finish it.

When I stumbled onto Five Alarm Book Reviews Anna Karenina Read Along for July, I decided I had found the perfect solution, something to keep me motivated, and an opportunity to discuss the rather thick tome. What I did not anticipate, however, is how easy it would be to fall behind. Mid-July I got behind on my reading, and never recovered, but these last  two weeks, I found myself determined to finish.

Tolstoy is a story teller, and a wildly ambitious one. The Russian novelist creates an obscene number of characters for his eight part epic novel, all with overlapping lives, and formal and informal names. It was necessary for the first half of the book to pay close attention to character names and nicknames.

The novel begins,

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

It is an appropriate opening line, as Tolstoy unfolds the story of three families, each unhappy in its own unique way- Dolly and Stiva as they deal with his infidelity, Anna and Karenin as they deal with her unfaithfulness and her continued relationship with Vronsky, and Kitty and Levin, as they navigate what was a difficult start for both of them as they seem surrounded by infidelity. The backdrop of this magnificently complicated series of stories is the changing political climate of Russia, Tolstoy’s own thoughts on religion, and Europe’s art and culture scene.

In spite of it all, I found myself drawn into Tolstoy’s storytelling, wanting to see how things played out in each of the character’s lives. Would Karenin allow the divorce? Would Anna continue to manipulate Vronsky, and everyone around her? Would Levin and Kitty live happily ever after? I had to know. And though I found myself bored at times, such as when the perspective would turn to Levin whose primary internal monologue involved farming, or when the political discussions took on too many references that I was unfamiliar with, I still read on.

Tolstoy draws the reader in with his narrative arc and complex characters. He changes the perspective and internal monologues the reader observes, giving a fuller picture of the characters relationships and interactions. And he builds the novel to such a climax and holds it that you really start to wonder if anything is going to happen. When Anna does finally take action, it was nearly impossible to believe.

Although I may not have always enjoyed the characters and found myself bored as Tolstoy sought to make a point I really didn’t care about, Anna Karenina is without an amazing piece of literature. I admire Tolstoy’s boldness and his use of narrative and change in perspective in adding depth to the story and characters.

Review: On Hitler’s Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood

As I was preparing my Summer Reading Challenge list, one of the books that I had seen listed on another blog was On Hitler’s Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood by Irmgard Hunt. I found myself intrigued by the title, and added it to my list, and this past weekend, I had the opportunity to finish it.

According to Goodreads, “Growing up in the beautiful mountains of Berchtesgaden — just steps from Adolf Hitler’s alpine retreat — Irmgard Hunt had a seemingly happy, simple childhood. In her powerful, illuminating, and sometimes frightening memoir, Hunt recounts a youth lived under an evil but persuasive leader. As she grew older, the harsh reality of war — and a few brave adults who opposed the Nazi regime — aroused in her skepticism of National Socialist ideology and the Nazi propaganda she was taught to believe in.

In May 1945, an eleven-year-old Hunt watched American troops occupy Hitler’s mountain retreat, signaling the end of the Nazi dictatorship and World War II. As the Nazi crimes began to be accounted for, many Germans tried to deny the truth of what had occurred; Hunt, in contrast, was determined to know and face the facts of her country’s criminal past.”

Hunt’s memoir goes beyond simply a recollection of the events of her childhood, it also attempts to analyze and reconcile them, as well as distance the person she is from the atrocities of war. Raised in a home where both parents had seen and experienced in the devastation of World War I, her parents eagerly embraced the ideology of Hitler. Hunt joined the Bund Deutscher Mädel (The League of German Girls) and supported the war effort. She and her family went hungry, were forced to loot and scrounge for food, and feared the oppression of the U.S. Troops as they rolled in.
As the atrocities of war came out, Hunt found herself uncomfortable with the acts that had been committed, and was appalled by the acceptance of some and denial by others.

This theme- her reactions to the horrors of World War II committed by Germany, carries through to the end of the book. She is clear that while she was raised in Nazi Germany, she does not support the atrocities committed, nor the ideologies behind them.

Its the first time I’ve ever read a memoir of World War II from the perspective of a German who was not persecuted by the Nazi Regime, and it was certainly an interesting change of perspective. I think what struck me, particularly at the end, was how hard Hunt was working to convince her readers that she was not a Nazi for having grown up in Germany during the war. Her memoir is powerful, but instead of allowing her memories to speak for themselves, she felt the need to defend them. To some extent I understand, but it also seemed to take away from all that she said, which is why I give the book three stars.

Review: Reality Check

Reality Check by Karen Tufts is a bit a of light reading, something fun after the heaviness of some of the classics I’ve been reading. It tells the story of Lucy, who returned home from college and found herself entered to be a contestant on the show “Soulmates” by her best friends. She wrestled with the decision, being from a devout Mormon family, but ultimately decides to be a contestant. What she doesn’t expect, however, is that she will fall for the handsome Ethan Glass, or what will stop them from being together.

Although maybe not the most realistic story, it was actually a pretty good read. Tufts does a good job of presenting a realistic look behind the scenes of a reality show that is familiar to many, and for the most part, she creates incredibly believable characters.

That being said, I had a few reservations about the book. The first is how the storyline played out. Would Lucy really have been able to forgive her friends for betrayal like that? I am not so sure. I feel like she too easily moved past her feelings toward Grace and Allie without really processing them. Her best friends, people she had known her entire life, sold her out. They judged her for her faith, they revealed their own feelings about decision she had made to the public instead of to her, and really, Allie didn’t even apologize. It doesn’t seem fully believable that she would be able to forgive them.

The second aspect that I had some reservations about is the faith aspect of the book. Lucy is a Mormon, and her faith plays a big role in her life, and she hopes it will play a big role in her future spouses life. In addition to describing LDS services, there is also a more detailed discussion of conversion to the LDS faith. While I understand how Lucy’s faith makes an impact on her decisions, and made her a rather unwelcome target for treachery, I was surprised at how much the Mormon faith and conversion experience became central in the plot.  Was it completely necessary element to the story? Maybe, but not quite to the extent it was included.

Overall, I give Reality Check two stars. I loved the concept, I just wasn’t fully satisfied with the way it played out.


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.

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.

Mailbox Madness

With my new membership on 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


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


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


I read a review of Inescapable over at 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


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


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. 🙂

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