Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Heard about a Book...

Once again NPR's Terry Gross on Fresh Air has interviewed another fascinating writer, Judith Shulevitz author of The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time. I would never have picked up this book off the bookstore table, but Shulevitz's views on religion, religious ritual, and modern Judaism were very interesting.

From the publisher's website:

“Everyone curls up inside a Sabbath at some point or other. Religion need not be involved.”

The Sabbath is not just the holy day of rest. It’s also a utopian idea about a less pressured, more sociable, purer world. Where did this notion come from? Is there value in withdrawing from the world one day in seven, despite its obvious inconvenience in an age of convenience? And what will be lost if the Sabbath goes away?

In this erudite, elegantly written book, critic Judith Shulevitz weaves together histories of the Jewish and Christian sabbaths, speculations on the nature of time, and a rueful account of her personal struggle with the day. Shulevitz has found insights into the Sabbath in both cultural and contemporary sources—the Torah, the Gospels, the Talmud, and the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, as well as in the poetry of William Wordsworth, the life of Sigmund Freud, and the science of neuropsychology. She tells stories of martyrdom by Jews who died en masse rather than fight on the Sabbath and describes the feverish Sabbatarianism of the American Puritans. And she counterposes the tyranny of religious law with the equally oppressive tyranny of the clock. Can we really flourish under the yoke of communal discipline, as preachers and rabbis like to tell us? What about being free to live as we please? Can we preserve what the Sabbath gives us—a time outside time—without following its rules?

Whatever our faith or lack thereof, this rich and resonant meditation on the day of rest will remind us of the danger of letting time drive us heedlessly forward without ever stopping to reflect.

Just Started...

Zach reports that he is reading Blue Blood by Edward Conlon. "It's an ex-cop's account of being a police officer in the NYPD. It's very entertaining and a very insightful look into the gears and machinery that make the NYPD run. It even talks about corruption in the days of prohibition because he comes from a family of cops. So far it's been a great read."

Blue Blood:

An insider story of the author's career in the NYPD force. Part memoir, part action, and set in the Bronx starting in the mid-1990s, it lets us follow the author's rise within the force, from rookie beat cop through a stint in the narcotics division to finally achieving gold-shield detective status.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Just Started...

RobinB just started the 9th installment in Harlan Coben's Myron Bolitar series, Long Lost. "So far so good. Standard, fast who-done-it."

From the author's website:

Myron Bolitar hasn’t heard from Terese Collins since their torrid affair ended ten years ago, so her desperate phone call from Paris catches him completely off guard. In a shattering admission, Terese reveals the tragic story behind her disappearance—her struggles to get pregnant, the greatest moment of her life when her baby was born…and the fatal accident that robbed her of it all: her marriage, her happiness and her beloved only daughter.

Now a suspect in the murder of her ex-husband in Paris, Terese has nowhere else to turn for help. Myron heeds the call. But then a startling piece of evidence turns the entire case upside down, laying bare Terese’s long-buried family secrets…and the very real possibility that her daughter may still be alive.

In grave danger from unknown assailants in a country where nothing is as it seems, Myron and Terese race to stay a step ahead of Homeland Security, Interpol, and Mossad. Soon they are working at breakneck pace, not only to learn what really happened to Terese’s long-lost little girl—but to uncover a sinister plot with shocking global implications.

Reading List...

From Pat and Steve, besides recent reads of Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross (see February 22) and Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay (see February 14th), Pat recommends:

And Pat is currently reading Finn by John Clinch. She says, "Keep a dictionary handy!"

About Lottery from the author's website:

Perry’s IQ is only 76, but he’s not stupid. His grandmother taught him everything he needs to know to survive: She taught him to write things down so he won’t forget them. She taught him to play the lottery every week. And, most important, she taught him whom to trust. When Gram dies, Perry is left orphaned and bereft at the age of thirty-one. Then his weekly Washington State Lottery ticket wins him 12 million dollars, and he finds he has more family than he knows what to do with. Peopled with characters both wicked and heroic who leap off the pages, Lottery is a deeply satisfying, gorgeously rendered novel about trust, loyalty, and what distinguishes us as capable.

About Finn from the author's website:

Finn takes us on a journey into the history and heart of one of American literature’s most brutal and mysterious figures: Huckleberry Finn’s father. The result is a deeply original tour de force that springs from Twain’s classic novel but takes on a fully realized life of its own.

Just Finished...

From a recommendation at Rainy Day Books, Paul just finished The Tenderness of Wolves: A Novel by Stef Penney. "It was a good book, especially if you like the cold, death and the simple life of trappers."


The year is 1867. Winter has just tightened its grip on Dove River, a tiny isolated settlement in the Northern Territory, when a man is brutally murdered. Laurent Jammett had been a voyageur for the Hudson Bay Company before an accident lamed him four years earlier. The same accident afforded him the little parcel of land in Dove River, land that the locals called unlucky due to the untimely death of the previous owner.

A local woman, Mrs. Ross, stumbles upon the crime scene and sees the tracks leading from the dead man's cabin north toward the forest and the tundra beyond. It is Mrs. Ross's knock on the door of the largest house in Caulfield that launches the investigation. Within hours she will regret that knock with a mother's love—for soon she makes another discovery: her seventeen-year-old son Francis has disappeared and is now considered a prime suspect.

In the wake of such violence, people are drawn to the crime and to the township—Andrew Knox, Dove River's elder statesman; Thomas Sturrock, a wily American itinerant trader; Donald Moody, the clumsy young Company representative; William Parker, a half-breed Native American and trapper who was briefly detained for Jammett's murder before becoming Mrs. Ross's guide. But the question remains: do these men want to solve the crime or exploit it?

One by one, the searchers set out from Dove River following the tracks across a desolate landscape—home to only wild animals, madmen, and fugitives -- variously seeking a murderer, a son, two sisters missing for seventeen years, and a forgotten Native American culture before the snows settle and cover the tracks of the past for good.

In an astonishingly assured debut, Stef Penney deftly weaves adventure, suspense, revelation, and humor into an exhilarating thriller; a panoramic historical romance; a gripping murder mystery; and, ultimately, with the sheer scope and quality of her storytelling, an epic for the ages.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Just Started...

Paul has started a classic that comes highly recommended by RobinB, John Steinbeck's East of Eden. I read it almost 30 years ago (when I was three!), but now that I'm reminded of it, I just may read it again...


East of Eden, John Steinbeck's passionate and exhilarating epic, re-creates the seminal stories of Genesis through the intertwined lives of two American families. The result is a purely American saga set in Steinbeck's own childhood home, the Salinas Valley of northern California. The valley is a new world both idyllic and harsh, and Steinbeck sings to it with a personal nostalgia that is clouded by the knowledge that this valley-as all human dwellings-is the location for as much tragedy as triumph.

The first family whose story is told in this novel is the Hamiltons, led by the charismatic poet-patriarch Samuel Hamilton, an Irish immigrant who raises a large and boisterous family on a mean and unyielding plot of land through charm, ingenuity, and adaptability. The Hamiltons are penniless, but Samuel and Liza's strong and traditional marriage yields nine children of every type and talent who brim with affection and potential. The children act out the numerous possibilities of American life, some making money in business and advertising, some seeking love and home life, others failing utterly in their struggle to find meaning and clarity in the chaotic possibility of a new century.

The second family, the Trasks, is introduced to us as a Connecticut father-a false war hero with a fortune of mysterious origin-his used-up wives, and his two sons: the murderous Charles and the sensitive, searching Adam. After a stint in the army and aimless years as a hobo, Adam falls in love and migrates to Salinas, intending to create his own Garden of Eden. There he presides over a fractured home, raising twin sons Caleb and Aron alone after the dissolution of his marriage to the unfathomable, treacherous Catherine Ames. Catherine herself-later known as Kate-represents the potential for evil in the world. Her life in the valley is the antithesis of that which the Trasks and Hamiltons seek to achieve, as she sinks into a limited life of meanness.

The Trasks are what Steinbeck called his "symbol people," and their story reenacts the saga of Cain and Abel, for Steinbeck one of the world's greatest stories of love, rejection, jealousy, and redemption. But Adam and his sons are held together as a family by the Chinese-American philosopher-servant Lee, who offers wisdom in the face of painful circumstances. Together the characters try to formulate personal paradises that can withstand the inevitable challenges of human existence, battling the contradiction between the desire to submit to God and tradition and the human need for self-realization and fulfillment. Much as the United States itself had to resolve its roots in Europe as it absorbed the labor of immigrants from around the world in the creation of a new nation, East of Eden's path-breaking Americans seek to free themselves from the chains of the past and achieve personal freedom.

A brilliant novel of ideas, East of Eden is far-reaching in its effort to explicate the most fundamental trials of mankind. Brutally realistic-and sometimes fatalistic-about people's ability to harm themselves and those around them, it is also a celebration of perseverance, enduring love, and the noble yearning to better oneself. And it is a work of profound optimism about the capacity of humans to triumph over adversity and determine their own fates. In prose both evanescent and dignified, Steinbeck creates in these characters and for the reader "a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed."

Just Finished...

Bailey has just finished the fourth Lighting Thief novel, The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 4) by Rick Riordan, and is now waiting for book five to come out in paperback.

From the author's website:

Percy Jackson isn’t expecting freshman orientation to be any fun, but when a mysterious mortal acquaintance appears, pursued by demon cheerleaders, things quickly go from bad to worse.

Time is running out for Percy. War between the gods and the Titans is drawing near. Even Camp Half-Blood isn’t safe, as Kronos’s army prepares to invade its once impenetrable borders. To stop them, Percy and his friends must set out on a quest through the Labyrinth — a sprawling underground world with surprises and danger at every turn.

Along the way Percy will confront powerful enemies, find out the truth about the lost god Pan, and face the Titan lord Kronos’s most terrible secret. The final war begins . . . with the Battle of the Labyrinth.

Just Started...

Jack is reading Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare by Darren Shan, the first novel in "The Saga of Darren Shan" series; A Living Nightmare is part of the "Vampire Blood Trilogy", which comprises the first three of the 12 book saga. (With me so far?). The books in the series are:

1. A Living Nightmare (originally title just Cirque du Freak in the UK)
2. The Vampire's Assistant
3. Tunnels of Blood
4. Vampire Mountain
5. Trials of Death
6. The Vampire Prince
7. Hunters of the Dusk
8. Allies of the Night
9. Killers of the Dawn
10. The Lake of Souls
11. Lord of the Shadows
12. Sons of Destiny

Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare:

In the tradition of Stephen King's
Salem's Lot, Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare is the frightening saga of a young boy whose visit to a mysterious freak show leads him on a journey into a dark world of vampires. Darren and his friend Steve are mesmerized by the fantastic and disturbing Cirque du Freak show, but when they get caught up in a deadly trap, Darren must make a deal with the only person who can save him. And that person is not human and only deals in blood... A Living Nightmare is the compelling saga of a young boy's journey into a dark world of vampires. Filled with grotesque creatures, murderous vampires, and an unexpected ending, Cirque du Freak will chill, thrill and leave readers begging for more.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Our Favorite Children's Books...

One of our favorite children's books is Island Boy by Barbara Cooney. We read to Zach countless times...

About Island Boy: The coming-of-age tale of a 19th-century boy, Matthias, the youngest of 12 children, who left his Tibbetts Island home off the coast of Maine, to sail around the world and seek his fortune as a sailor, before returning to the island to marry and settle down. It's a beautifully illustrated tribute to the solace of a country home.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Heard about a Book...

We enjoyed Beside A Burning Sea so much (see March 17th) and we've heard such good things about Beneath a Marble Sky (see March 24), both by John Shors, that we looked up his latest novel, Dragon House. It looks like a good one!

From the author's website:

Set in modern-day Vietnam,
Dragon House tells the tale of Iris and Noah—two Americans who, as a way of healing their own painful pasts, open a center to house and educate Vietnamese street children.

Iris and Noah find themselves reborn in an exotic land filled with corruption and chaos, sacrifice and beauty. Inspired by the street children she meets, Iris walks in the footsteps of her father, a man whom Vietnam both shattered and saved. Meanwhile, Noah slowly rediscovers himself through the eyes of an unexpected companion.

Resounding with powerful themes of suffering, sacrifice, friendship, and love,
Dragon House brings together East and West, war and peace; and celebrates the resilience of the human spirit.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Heard about a Book...

Heard an NPR Fresh Air interview with Maryn McKenna, author of Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). I'm not sure I want to read this whole book, but the interview was fascinating, and you non-fiction science types will want to take a read.

From the publisher's website:

Lurking in our homes, hospitals, schools, and farms is a terrifying pathogen that is evolving faster than the medical community can track it or drug developers can create antibiotics to quell it. That pathogen is MRSA—methicillin-resistant Staphyloccocus aureus—and
Superbug is the first book to tell the story of its shocking spread and the alarming danger it poses to us all.


From To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee:

I willed myself to stay awake, but the rain was so soft and the room was so warm and his voice was so deep and his knee was so snug that I slept.

Seconds later, it seemed, his shoe was gently nudging my ribs. He lifted me to my feet and walked me to my room. "Heard every word you said," I mutter. "...wasn't sleep at all, 's about a ship an' Three-Fingered Fred 'n' Stoner's Boy..."

He unhooked my overalls, leaned me against him, and pulled them off. He held me up with one hand and reached for my pajamas with the other.

"Yeah, an' they all thought it was Stoner Boy's messin' up their clubhouse an' throwin' ink all over it an'..."

He guided me to the bed and sat me down. He lifted my legs and put me under the covers.

"An' they chased him 'n' never could catch him 'cause they didn't know what he looked like, an' Atticus, when they finally saw him, why he hadn't done any of those things...Atticus, he was real nice..."

His hands were under my chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me.

"Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them."

He turned out the light and went into Jem's room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Reading List...

We haven't had a reading list in a while. From RobinB:

"One I will mention from years ago that it one of my all time favorites is
The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. It is an incredible book about a little boy being raised in South Africa—incredibly well written.

"My standard favorites list includes:

"She's Come Undone and I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb. I can't go through a toll booth without thinking of the first of these...

"Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand...whom I regard as a nut job aside from writing these good books.

"And I loved Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (though I hated his first one, Virgin Suicides)."

About The Power of One from the author's website:

First with your head and then with your heart...

So says Hoppie Groenewald, boxing champion, to a seven-year-old boy who dreams of being the welterweight champion of the world. For the young Peekay, it is a piece of advice he will carry with him throughout his life.

Born in a South Africa divided by racism and hatred, young Peekay will come to lead all the tribes of Africa. Through enduring friendships, he gains the strength he needs to win out. And in a final conflict with his childhood enemy, Peekay will fight to the death for justice...

Just Finished...

I just finished Beside A Burning Sea by John Shors (see March 17th)—great read!—an exciting climax—I raced to the end! Now I am anxious to read his first novel Beneath a Marble Sky.

About Beneath a Marble Sky from the author's website:

In 1632, the
Emperor of Hindustan, Shah Jahan, consumed by grief over the death of his empress, Mumtaz Mahal, ordered the building of a grand mausoleum to symbolize the greatness of their love. Against scenes of unimaginable wealth and power, murderous sibling rivalries, and cruel despotism, Princess Jahanara tells the extraordinary story of how the Taj Mahal came to be, describing her own life as an agent in its creation and as a witness to the fateful events surrounding its completion.

To escape
a brutal arranged marriage, Jahanara must become the court liaison to Isa, architect of the Taj Mahal. She is soon caught between her duty to her mother's memory, the rigid strictures imposed upon women, and a new, though forbidden, love. With exceptional courage, Jahanara dares to challenge the bigotry and blindness at court in an effort to spare the empire from civil war, and to save her father from his bellicose son, Aurangzeb, a man whose hatred would extinguish the Islamic enlightenment from the Mughal Empire. To do so she must enlist her Hindu friend, Ladli, and her guardian, Nizam, as spies, and urge her brother, Dara, the designated heir to the throne, down from the ivory tower of his philosophical inquiries. The stakes become ever greater when Jahanara must deceive her husband as to the true father of her child, and must protect those closest to her from her enemies' retaliation.

As a princess and a mother, as a sister and a daughter, Jahanara will find herself faced time and again with impossible choices, and will discover the real meaning of her regal birthright. In Beneath a Marble Sky John Shors recreates an historical Hindustan brimming with breathtaking intrigue and containing the secret truth of the Taj Mahal for a world still in awe of its enduring majesty.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Just Finished...

From another new contributor to our blog, Leslie spent the month of February reading the Sookie Stackhouse novels, aka the Southern Vampire Series by Charlaine Harris. These are the stories upon which the HBO series True Blood is based. So far there are 10 books in the series: Dead Until Dark (1), Living Dead in Dallas (2), Club Dead (3), Dead to the World (4), Dead as a Doornail (5), Definitely Dead (6), All Together Dead (7), From Dead To Worse (8), Dead and Gone (9), Dead in the Family (10 - due in May 2010). But according to the author's website, she is not done: "I am not finished with the series. I don’t know how many more books I will write about Sookie. The next one will be out in May."

About the Sookie Stackhouse novels from Wikipedia:

The Southern Vampire Mysteries/Sookie Stackhouse novels is a series of books written by The New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris, first published in 2001. In the series, Harris has developed a detailed mythology, an alternate history that assumes that the supernatural is real and that as of the beginning of the series, vampires have only been public knowledge for a couple of years. Other supernatural beings such as shapeshifters, werewolves, etc., exist but do not go public until later in the series. Its history has otherwise unfolded so closely to that of the real world that the series contains occasional references to popular culture.

The series is narrated in first person perspective by Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress and telepath in the fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. The first book in the series, Dead Until Dark, won the Anthony Award for Best Paperback Mystery in 2001.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Just Finished...

A new contributor, RobinB reports, "I recently read Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls. It was a prequel of sorts to her memoir The Glass Castle which was the story of her trainwreck of a childhood. I enjoyed Castles more. I like reading about people who are more messed up than I am.

"I very much enjoyed
The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Interesting diary-style book written by characters who were all black servants to rich white folk in the south in the 60s.

"I am reading
The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell right now (see February 18th). I thought I would love it because of the similarity to the Millennium Series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)...but I only like it and am ready for it to be over."

Half Broke Horses from

"Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did." So begins the story of Lily Casey Smith in Jeannette Walls's magnificent, true-life novel based on her no-nonsense, resourceful, hard working, and spectacularly compelling grandmother. By age six Lily was helping her father break horses. At fifteen she left home to teach in a frontier town—riding five hundred miles on her pony, all alone, to get to her job. She learned to drive a car ("I loved cars even more than I loved horses. They didn't need to be fed if they weren't working, and they didn't leave big piles of manure all over the place") and fly a plane, and with her husband, ran a vast ranch in Arizona. She raised two children, one of whom is Jeannette's memorable mother, Rosemary Smith Walls, unforgettably portrayed in The Glass Castle.

Lily survived tornadoes, droughts, floods, the Great Depression, and the most heartbreaking personal tragedy. She bristled at prejudice of all kinds—against women, Native Americans, and anyone else who didn't fit the mold. Half Broke Horses is Laura Ingalls Wilder for adults, as riveting and dramatic as Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa or Beryl Markham's West with the Night. It will transfix readers everywhere.

About The Help from the author's website:

Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Heard about a Book...

I read about a book on another blog and did a little searchin' around to discover this is a well-reviewed novel that sounded very interesting - Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin. It's gong to be published in the U.S. in April (it was released in the U.K. in February).

From the publisher's website:

Fifteen-year-old Charley Thompson wants a home, food on the table, and a high school he can attend for more than part of a year. But as the son of a single father working in warehouses across the Pacific Northwest, Charley's been pretty much on his own. When tragic events leave him homeless weeks after their move to Portland, Oregon, Charley seeks refuge in the tack room of a run-down horse track. Charley's only comforts are his friendship with a failing racehorse named Lean on Pete and a photograph of his only known relative. In an increasingly desperate circumstance, Charley will head east, hoping to find his aunt who had once lived a thousand miles away in Wyoming—but the journey to find her will be a perilous one.

In Vlautin's third novel,
Lean on Pete, he reveals the lives and choices of American youth like Charley Thompson who were failed by those meant to protect them and who were never allowed the chance to just be a kid.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Just Started...

I just started Beside A Burning Sea by John Shors. So far it is a compelling read, intense with WWII drama in the Pacific. I think it's going to be good...

About the novel from the author's website:

One moment, the World War Two hospital ship Benevolence is patrolling the South Pacific on a mission of mercy. The next, it’s split in two by a torpedo. A small band of survivors, including an injured Japanese soldier and a young American nurse, makes it to the deserted shore of a nearby island, never expecting the experiences awaiting them…

Akira has suffered five years of bloodshed and horror fighting for the Japanese empire. Now, surrounded by enemies he is supposed to hate, he instead finds solace in their company—and rediscovers his love of poetry. While sharing the mystery and beauty of this passion with Annie, the captivating but troubled woman he rescued, Akira grapples with the pain of his past while helping Annie uncover the promise of her future. Meanwhile, the remaining castaways endure a world not of their making—a world as barbaric as it is beautiful, as hateful as it is loving, as forbidden as it is seductive...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


From A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean:

Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now of course I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn’t. Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Our Favorite Children's Books...

"I-think-I-can, I-think-I-can." One of the classic children's stories we love is The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper, though Watty Piper really wasn't a person, but the publishing house Platt & Munk that published a version in 1930 of The Pony Engine that originally appeared in 1910. There is an interesting history explained at Wikipedia:

The Little Engine That Could is a moralistic children's story that is used to teach children the value of optimism and hard work. In the tale, a long train must be pulled over a high mountain. Various larger engines are asked to pull the train; for various reasons they refuse. The request is sent to a small engine, who agrees to try. The engine succeeds in pulling the train over the mountain while repeating its motto: "I-think-I-can".

The tale with its easy-to-grasp moral has become a classic children's story and has been told and retold many times. The underlying theme however is the same - a stranded train is unable to find an engine willing to take it on over difficult terrain to its destination. Only the little blue engine is willing to try, and while repeating the mantra "I-think-I-can, I-think-I-can" overcomes a seemingly impossible task.

Just Finished...

Bailey just finished two books. Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff and So B. It by Sara Weeks. Bailey said So B. It was my favorite.

So B. It from

You couldn't really tell about Mama's brain just from looking at her, but it was obvious as soon as she spoke. She had a high voice, like a little girl's, and she only knew twenty-three words. I know this for a fact, because we kept a list of the things Mama said tacked to the inside of the kitchen cabinet. Most of the words were common ones, like good and more and hot, but there was one word only my mother said, soof.

Although she lives an unconventional lifestyle with her mentally disabled mother and their doting neighbor, Bernadette, Heidi has a lucky streak that has a way of pointing her in the right direction. When a mysterious word in her mother's vocabulary begins to haunt her, Heidi's thirst for the truth leads her on a cross-country journey in search of the secrets of her past.

Now Bailey is reading the classic
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, written in 1877.

Black Beauty from

Black Beauty, first published in 1877, is a realistic animal story that focuses on the animal itself, not on a child’s interaction with an animal like so many other animal tales. Also unique is the presentation of the story using a horse as the first-person narrator; in other words, as if the horse wrote the story. The original title page for the novel read: Black Beauty: The Autobiography of a Horse, translated from the original equine, by Anna Sewell. The genre of animal autobiography had been seen in a limited fashion before, but Black Beauty is considered the first novel of this type. The style of presenting an animal as an animal rather than giving it human traits has been followed by similar stories such as Beautiful Joe, The Incredible Journey, and Bambi. Further, Sewell’s novel has been an influence on animal stories of all kinds, including those of popular modern writers such as Beatrix Potter and Kenneth Grahame.

Sewell’s intention in writing the book was to promote the humane treatment of horses. Called the “Uncle Tom’s Cabin of the Horse,”
Black Beauty is credited with having the greatest effect on the treatment of animals of any publication in history. The book resulted in legislation protecting horses and a changed public attitude about animal pain and the traditional and fashionable practices that caused suffering for horses.

Black Beauty was the only book that Sewell wrote, and she sold the manuscript for only twenty pounds. It is still one of the most widely read books in the world, with numerous translations and multiple media versions. Barely a year goes by without a new print edition being published, thus continuing the life of this timeless classic.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Heard about a Book...

We were in The Raven Book Store and saw a new children's book by one of our favorite author/illustrators, Jan BrettThe Easter Egg. If you aren't familiar with her books, you need to check them out. Every one of her stories is a keepsake!

From the author's website:

Time for rabbits to decorate eggs for the Easter Rabbit. This year Hoppi is old enough to join in, and if he can just make the winning egg, he will be the one to help the Easter Rabbit on Easter. But Hoppi hasn't decided what kind of egg to make. And as he hops along and sees one fantastic egg after another, he begins to wonder how he can compete.

Hoppi goes into the woods to think about his egg, and just when he figures out that he only has to make the best egg he can, his plans take a most unexpected turn.

Jan Brett's lovable bunny hero and her remarkable Easter Rabbit will enchant readers as the pore over exquisite illustrations filled with dazzling eggs and their gifted makers - Flora Bunny, Aunt Sassyfrass, Hans Vanderabbit and others.

An unforgettable Easter story for all ages!

Just Started...

Miss Sally reports she has started The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff. And her husband Bob reports he's still working on his first one...

From the the novel's website:

It is 1875, and Ann Eliza Young has recently separated from her powerful husband, Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. Expelled and an outcast, Ann Eliza embarks on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. A rich account of a family’s polygamous history is revealed, including how a young woman became a plural wife.

Soon after Ann Eliza’s story begins, a second exquisite narrative unfolds—a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah. Jordan Scott, a young man who was thrown out of his fundamentalist sect years earlier, must reenter the world that cast him aside in order to discover the truth behind his father’s death.

And as Ann Eliza’s narrative intertwines with that of Jordan’s search, readers are pulled deeper into the mysteries of love and faith.

The 19th Wife is a finalist for the Utah Book Award, the Galaxy British Book Award, the Ferro-Grumley Award. Citing Ebershoff's heritage and themes, True West magazine has named David Ebershoff the best western fiction writer in America.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Heard about a Book...

We read an article in today's paper about Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. On Thursday the book won the National Book Critics Circle prize for fiction. Last year it won The Man Booker Prize in the UK. It looks like a very good book. It caught our eye because it is about Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell, and we've been watching The Tudors on Showtime.


"Lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning," says Thomas More, "and when you come back that night he'll be sitting on a plush cushion eating larks' tongues, and all the gaolers will owe him money." England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey's clerk, and later his successor. Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events. Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages. From one of our finest living writers, Wolf Hall is that very rare thing: a truly great English novel, one that explores the intersection of individual psychology and wider politics. With a vast array of characters, and richly overflowing with incident, it peels back history to show us Tudor England as a half-made society, molding itself with great passion and suffering and courage.


From Plainsong by Kent Haruf (see February 9th):

Now the wind started up in the trees, high up, moving the high branches.

The barn swallows came out and began to hunt leaf-bugs and lacewinged flies in the dusk.

The air grew soft.

The old dog came out from its rug in the garage and wandered into the fenced yard and sniffed the boys' pantslegs and sniffed the baby and licked its hot red tongue across the baby's forehead, and then it scuttled up to the women on the porch and looked up at them, and looked all around and turned in a circle and lay down, flopping its matted tail in the dirt.

The two women stood letting the breeze blow coolly on their faces, and they opened the fronts of their blouses a little to let it play on their breasts and under their arms.

And soon, very soon now, they would call them in to supper. But not just yet. They stood on the porch a while longer in the evening air seventeen miles out south of Holt at the very end of May.

Great Book!

I need to tell you about two excellent books by Canadian authors that we read last year. No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod and The Long Stretch by Linden MacIntyre.

About No Great Mischief from

Alistair MacLeod musters all of the skill and grace that have won him an international following to give us No Great Mischief, the story of a fiercely loyal family and the tradition that drives it.

Generations after their forebears went into exile, the MacDonalds still face seemingly unmitigated hardships and cruelties of life. Alexander, orphaned as a child by a horrific tragedy, has nevertheless gained some success in the world. Even his older brother, Calum, a nearly destitute alcoholic living on Toronto's skid row, has been scarred by another tragedy. But, like all his clansman, Alexander is sustained by a family history that seems to run through his veins. And through these lovingly recounted stories-wildly comic or heartbreakingly tragic-we discover the hope against hope upon which every family must sometimes rely.

About The Long Stretch from the
publisher's website:

From a gifted storyteller and one of Canada’s most respected journalists, The Long Stretch is a saga of love and war, the story of those who have "gone away" and those who are compelled to stay.

In one apocalyptic night, John Gillis and his estranged cousin Sextus confront a half century of half-truths and suppositions that have shaped and scarred their lives, their families and their insular Cape Breton community. Telling stories that unravel a host of secrets, they begin to realize that they were damaged before they were born, their fathers and a close friend forming an unholy trilogy in a tragic moment of war. Among the roots of a complex and painful relationship, they uncover the truth of a fateful day John has spent 20 years trying to forget.

Taut and brilliantly paced, etched with quiet humour and crafted with fiery dialogue, The Long Stretch is a mesmerizing novel in the tradition of Alistair MacLeod, David Adams Richards and Ann-Marie MacDonald.

Just Finished...

Jim just finished Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese and said it is a "great book!"

From the author's website:

The story is a riveting saga of twin brothers, Marion and Shiva Stone, born of a tragic union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa. Orphaned by their mother's death in childbirth and their father's disappearance, and bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. But it's love, not politics—their passion for the same woman—that will tear them apart and force Marion to flee his homeland and make his way to America, finding refuge in his work at an underfunded, overcrowded New York City hospital. When the past catches up to him, wreaking havoc and destruction, Marion has to entrust his life to the two men he has trusted least in the world: the surgeon father who abandoned him and the brother who betrayed him.

Just Finished...

Miss Sally just finished Raney by Clyde Edgerton and said, "This is a really funny book about a southern marriage."

From the author's website:

The story of the first two years, two months, and two days of a modern southern marriage. Raney is a Free Will Baptist. Charles is an Episcopalian. Raney’s views—on sex, race relations, child rearing—are. . . um, conservative. Charles’s are a little more liberal. Can this marriage be saved?

Friday, March 12, 2010


Zach is reading some classics. "I read The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway last week. I always remember seeing it in our collection of books at home and a mate of mine highly recommended it. I can see why Earnest Hemingway is so distinguished! Great, short read. That same friend is having me read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. It seems pretty crazy already and I'm not even a full chapter in, so I'm excited to see how it turns out."

About The Old Man and the Sea:

The Old Man and the Sea is a novella by Ernest Hemingway, written in Cuba in 1951 and published in 1952. It was the last major work of fiction to be produced by Hemingway and published in his lifetime. One of his most famous works, it centers on Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman who struggles with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream.

The Old Man and the Sea recounts an epic battle of wills between an old, experienced fisherman and a giant marlin said to be the largest catch of his life. It opens by explaining that the fisherman, who is named Santiago, has gone 84 days without catching any fish at all. He is apparently so unlucky that his young apprentice, Manolin, has been forbidden by his parents to sail with the old man and been ordered to fish with more successful fishermen. Still dedicated to the old man, however, the boy visits Santiago's shack each night, hauling back his fishing gear, feeding him and discussing American baseball—most notably Santiago's idol, Joe DiMaggio. Santiago tells Manolin that on the next day, he will venture far out into the Gulf to fish, confident that his unlucky streak is near its end.

Thus on the eighty-fifth day, Santiago sets out alone, taking his skiff far onto the Gulf. He sets his lines and, by noon of the first day, a big fish that he is sure is a marlin takes his bait. Unable to pull in the great marlin, Santiago instead finds the fish pulling his skiff. Two days and two nights pass in this manner, during which the old man bears the tension of the line with his body. Though he is wounded by the struggle and in pain, Santiago expresses a compassionate appreciation for his adversary, often referring to him as a brother. He also determines that because of the fish's great dignity, no one will be worthy of eating the marlin.

On the third day of the ordeal, the fish begins to circle the skiff, indicating his tiredness to the old man. Santiago, now completely worn out and almost in delirium, uses all the strength he has left to pull the fish onto its side and stab the marlin with a harpoon, ending the long battle between the old man and the tenacious fish.

Santiago straps the marlin to the side of his skiff and heads home, thinking about the high price the fish will bring him at the market and how many people he will feed.

While Santiago continues his journey back to the shore, sharks are attracted to the trail of blood left by the marlin in the water. The first, a great mako shark, Santiago kills with his harpoon, losing that weapon in the process. He makes a new harpoon by strapping his knife to the end of an oar to help ward off the next shark attack; in total, five sharks are slain and many others are driven away. But the sharks keep coming, and by nightfall the sharks have almost devoured the marlin's entire carcass, leaving a skeleton consisting mostly of its backbone, its tail and its head, the latter still bearing the giant spear. Finally reaching the shore before dawn on the next day, he struggles on the way to his shack, carrying the heavy mast on his shoulder. Once home, he slumps onto his bed and enters a very deep sleep.

A group of fishermen gather the next day around the boat where the fish's skeleton is still attached. One of the fishermen measures it to be eighteen feet from nose to tail. Tourists at the nearby cafĂ© mistakenly take it for a shark. Manolin, worried during the old man's endeavor, cries upon finding him safe asleep. The boy brings him newspapers and coffee. When the old man wakes, they promise to fish together once again. Upon his return to sleep, Santiago dreams of his youth—of white lions on an African beach.

Just Finished...

Mare reports, "I finished the Graceling by Kristen Cashore, which I really enjoyed. It had a great lead female character who managed to be strong and kick-ass without being completely two-dimensional. And it was set in an interesting world where people had interesting abilities.

"I am currently reading the fifth book in the Cal Leandros series, Roadkill by Rob Thurman. Since I love the rest of the series, I'm assuming I will love this."

About Graceling from the publisher's website:

Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.

She never expects to fall in love with beautiful Prince Po.

She never expects to learn the truth behind her Grace—or the terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

With elegant, evocative prose and a cast of unforgettable characters, debut author Kristin Cashore creates a mesmerizing world, a death-defying adventure, and a heart-racing romance that will consume you, hold you captive, and leave you wanting more.
by Rob Thurman. Since I love the rest of the series, I'm assuming I will love this."