Monday, December 29, 2008

My Top Picks for 2008

In 2008, I read a total of 67 books for fun! And there's still a couple of days left to 2008 and some half-finished books on my bed, so maybe I'll finish a couple more. Or maybe not. I'm working on a video game that Boomer gave me for Christmas too. Heheh.

Here are my three top picks for 2008 by category. (Click on the title to read my review.)

Book that touched my heart the most- Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Book that inspired me spiritually- Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life

Most enthralling reading experience- The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Happy new year! I hope that 2009 brings much joy, growth, and good books to read!

P.S. If you wouldn't mind sharing, I'd like to hear which books were your favorites in 2008.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

I was wondering what all of the hype was about regarding the Twilight series so I picked the first one up at the library.

Actually, I had to place a Hold on it and wait several weeks until it was available.

Now it seems fitting to make a plug for the local library. You can really find any book you want there even if it means waiting a bit or ordering it through the LINK+ system which connects lots of local and academic libraries in California. So get a library card or dig it out from your wallet and visit your library. It's really amazing. Plus, on winter days, it's warm inside and on hot days, it's cold!

Okay, back to the review. Once I had received an email saying this book was ready for pick-up, I checked it out and read it in two days. It's about Bella who moves to rainy Forks, Washington from sunny Phoenix, Arizona and falls in love with a vampire! And then we hear all about this family of vampires. Interesting, but also pretty two-dimensional and straightforward.

I can see what the hype is about...this one was definitely a page-turner. I've even placed Holds on the remaining three books in the series and am looking forward to reading them. But besides being a page-turner, there's not much else to say. Enjoyable, but it did not offer anything that complicated or deep, nor did it fascinate me in the same way that Harry Potter and the wizarding world of Hogwarts does.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What Now? by Ann Patchett

"...What now is always going to be a work in progress." --Ann Patchett

This is the commencement speech that the author, Ann Patchett, gave to a graduating class at Sarah Lawrence College. She discusses the question "What now?" which is a question that will continually resurface in our lives. She traces her own career path of working as a cook, going to graduate school, waitressing, and finally becoming a writer. A short, sweet book that is a bit different from the typical, super-inspirational carpe diem commencement speeches. Pick this up at the library if you can, it's worth the 30 minutes or so that it takes to read it.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I didn't read anything last week.

Well, that's not entirely true. I did read some of my Bible and my Advent devotional. But I didn't read anything besides those two because I was on a five-day Silent Retreat. I invite you to read about my Silent Retreat experience on my other blog, The Rest of the Story.

Click here to visit my other blog.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lottery by Patricia Wood

Perry L. Crandall is slow, not retarded. In this book we see what his life is like and how his family wants nothing to do with him (excluding his grandma who raises him) until he wins $12 million in the Washington lottery. Then, his relatives are suddenly very interested in getting to know Perry and being involved with his life and finances.

This book is delightful, minus a couple of crude scenes. Perry learns the true meaning of family, love, and what it means to be rich.

Monday, December 8, 2008

I See You Everywhere by Julia Glass

This is an awful, horrible book. Do not read this book.

Unlikable characters, no emotion, flat storyline. There is nothing good about this book. Except for the cover...isn't it pretty?

To the author, Julia Glass:
I really liked your first book, Three Junes! Your last book, The Whole World Over, was okay. But really, your books are getting progressively worse and I don't want them to!

Friday, December 5, 2008

What I'm Reading for Advent:

This is the book that I'm reading during Advent...

Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas with readings by C.S. Lewis, Philip Yancey, Henri Nouwen, and others.

I find that these daily readings slow me down and prepare my heart during this season.

Thanks for the recommendation, Sandra.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

I love Harry Potter.

This is a collection of fables that wizard and witches grow up hearing and it's finally time for us muggles to hear them as well. The fables are translated by Ms Hermione Granger herself! Also included is commentary by the late Albus Dumbledore who left behind notes on each story.

Delightful, but way too short! Again, I love Harry Potter so I'll take whatever J.K. Rowling has to write. It would have been nice though to have included an Introduction written by Hermione about her process of translating the stories.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett

Rose arrives at St. Elizabeth's, a home for pregnant women. But she is different from the other young, unwed women who are staying there. Rose is married. She ran away from home after finding herself pregnant and married to a man she never loved.

This book is beautifully written with great character development. However, I like it when the protagonist changes throughout the book, and Rose never did. The ending was painful and sad, but worth the read. In real life, sometimes people don't change and that is sad too...for them and for those around them who desperately need them to.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

Sarah Dessen is one of my favorite authors. She writes for the young-adult crowd, but the life lessons are applicable to all.

This book takes place during the summer before senior year. Macy is trying to be just "fine" even though she is still grieving the sudden death of her father and also reeling from a break-up with her seemingly perfect boyfriend (he's not!). She falls into a job working for a caterer where she meets a motley, but honest group of friends. Macy learns about telling the truth to herself and to others. She also learns that embracing the messy parts in life might easier than trying to be perfect all of the time.

There is a lot more to this book: thoughts on grief, characters who follow their hearts, tenderness and grace expressed between family members, and challenges to be real.

Some quotes that I liked:

"I am not a spontaneous person. But when you're alone in the world, really alone, you have no choice but to be open to suggestions."

"Maybe that's what you got when you stood over your grief, facing it finally. A sense of its depths, its area, the distance across, and the way over or around it, whichever you chose in the end."

" was okay not to fit in everywhere, as long as you did [fit in] somewhere."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

I'm gonna make this review short since I have four papers due in the next several weeks. Hum, but I somehow found time to start and finish this book so maybe I'm not really feeling the pressure yet.

This book is about 14-year-old Susie Salmon who is murdered by a neighbor. She narrates the book from heaven as she watches how her family and friends deal with their grief.

I found this book to be quite odd. It was definitely a page-turner, but the ending was super weird! My older sister warned me about that so I was prepared. Overall, the book was pretty good, but still, there was something weird about it. This is not a book that I would keep in my library and not one that I would buy. If you have the chance to read it, I would, but I'm warning you that it's weird!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Walking with God by John Eldredge

The Sacred Romance was John Eldredge (along with Brent Curtis) at his best. This book, Walking with God, is John Eldredge as his...less than best. The book basically traces his journey of one year of walking and talking with God. He stresses that yes, God does still talk to us (if only we'll listen and ask him to speak). Eldredge talks about the various struggles and lessons he faces throughout the year and how he talks to God about them.

I appreciate that Eldredge values the heart...listening to it, keeping it alive, following it. To some degree, that point comes out in this book. The rest of the book...well, it's okay and has some encouraging points, but by no means is this quality Eldredge. For that, we need to return to The Sacred Romance or The Journey of Desire (which I see is now being sold as titled simply as Desire).
I have one stylistic note: There are a lot of fragments in this book! I guess as a bestselling author you can start writing like that and you're still paid the big bucks. Sometimes fragments can be effective. However, when there are so many of them that it's distracting, I think that means that there's too many of them.

This is one quote in which I appreciated the content, but not the form:
"And so, whatever else might be the reasons for our disappointments, there is no question that God uses them to draw us to himself. To wean our hearts from every other perceived source of life, so that we might come to find out life in him." --John Eldredge

Monday, October 20, 2008

At First Sight by Nicholas Sparks

Bleh. Predictable with no emotional punch. Not recommended at all.

Why do I keep reading Nicholas Sparks books? Hum. They are usually good for an afternoon read. But after this one, I will be much less inclined to pick another up.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Answering my Fan Mail

Today I will answer a question posted by one of my Faithful Readers (and I think there's five of you out there, okay, well maybe four). This is from Emily aka My Big Sister:

What are the five most important/meaningful books that you would recommend? Your sister, Emily

Dear Emily, Thanks for teaching me how to read! I've been reading ever since you taught me that great word, PET. I wonder if that's why I love animals too. Hum! Now onto your question!

Important books are ones that have somehow changed the way I live or think about life. Here they are:

1. Finding Contentment by Neil Clark Warren
Before founding eharmony, Neil Clark Warren wrote a fantastic book about how finding contentment is based on living out of who you truly are. This book made me more intentional about getting to know myself and making decisions out of who I really am.

2. The Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge
This was John Eldredge at his best - challenging, new, and not quoting movies, but rather the primary texts! This book made me realize that God is after my heart...and not just some of it, but all of it.

3. He's Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tucillo
I include this book not because it changed my life forever, but because it definitely made singleness much more managable and greatly reduced dating angst and anxiety. And if you've ever experienced dating and/or singleness angst (and I know I'm not the only one!), then you know how a little peace in this area of life is priceless.

4. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
A story about being yourself. Hum, a familiar theme...and it might explain why my favorite movie is What A Girl Wants.

5. Take Time for Your Life: A Personal Coach's 7-Step Program for Creating the Life You Want by Cheryl Richardson
In terms of very practical daily living and self-care, this book prompted me to make a lot of changes in my life. It goes through figuring out what's important to you and re-arranging your schedule so that your life and how you spend your time reflects that.

And to my Faithful Readers (all four of you!) out there, would you mind sharing with me which books have been important to you?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken

As a volunteer grief counselor for the last 1 1/2 years, I've been learning how important it is to talk about grief, to experience it, to honor it. I've also learned that grief sometimes does not go away. It may change and shift, but more times than not we need to learn how to live with the loss.

I wish that our American culture recognized this instead of expecting somebody to attend a funeral and go back to work the next day as if getting on with life was the most normal thing to do...when really the world has stopped for you.

This book is the memoir of a mother whose first child is stillborn. It is a beautiful and powerful book.

Sometimes I don't have a lot to say about a book because the book is stupid and isn't worth describing. For this book, I don't have a lot to say because there is nothing else I need to say except that this is an important book and I think everyone would gain from reading it.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

In Constant Prayer by Robert Benson

This is an introduction to the practice of fixed-hour prayer, otherwise known as the daily office. Benson argues that we can't become people of prayer unless we actually start praying. The daily office is a discipline to get us more into the presence of God each day so that God might actually have a chance to speak to us and minister to us and so that we are worshiping him regularly regardless of what is going on. There are books of liturgy and Scripture that make saying the daily office more accessible.

This is one of the least daunting books on prayer that I have read. It is simple, yet inspiring. It not only made me think that I could actually integrate this practice into my life, but it made me want to as well.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Smiles to Go by Jerry Spinelli

I did not like this book at all. It was a scattered, disjointed mess. Bleh. It's not even worth telling you what it was about since I am not recommending it at all. Such a disappointment since I usually enjoy Spinelli's books.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Healing the Purpose of Your Life

Here's another book by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Matthew Linn (same authors as Sleeping with Bread). This one is about discovering who God created us to be so that we can live out of that. Knowing our "sealed orders" from God about what we are here to do and be helps us live a life that is meaningful and life-giving as opposed to life-draining. Knowing our purpose also helps in making decisions because we can make choices based on whether or not they are in line with who we really are and what gives us life.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Crash by Jerry Spinelli

Crash Coogan is a seventh grade jock who boasts about his expensive clothes and athletic abilities. He's also a big-time arrogant jerk. Penn Webb is his dorky but affable neighbor. Penn has been nice to Crash since they first met in the 1st grade, but Crash wants nothing to do with Penn, unless it involves playing practical jokes on him. However,Crash changes over the course of the book and the ending is sweet and redemptive.

Even though this book is in the "young adult" genre, it raises important questions for everyone. Is it important to win at everything? Or are the winners really the ones who are surrounded by good friends? What qualities do we really want to have?

I see this book as a tribute to all of those "nice guys" out there (you know who you are!). Crash initially sees Penn as a loser, but Penn actually turns out to be the most grounded, dynamic, supportive, and generous guy around. What else could you want in someone close to you?

P.S. This book is written by the same author as one of my favorites, Stargirl, which has similar themes.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Getting Near to Baby by Audrey Couloumbis

This is the story of how a family deals with the loss of a baby. The mom is depressed and the middle daughter stops speaking. The aunt takes in the two sisters in order to give the mom some time alone to grieve and heal.

The ending of this book is touching and there are a few great lines. Overall though, this is one of the most boring books I've read in a long time. It is bland and has a cast of one-dimensional characters. There's probably better children's books out there that deal with grief...or at least I hope there are.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill

The full title of this book is How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else. The author is an Ivy League educated, ex-advertising executive who found himself in his 50s without a job or family (he was fired from the company he worked at for 25 years, had an affair and a baby with another woman and divorced his wife, but didn't end up with the new lady either). He ends up with a job at Starbucks, working for a 28-year-old African-American woman who teaches him a thing or two about the value of hard work. Mostly, Gill learns about the importance of respect and humility. His life is totally different, but he is happier than he's ever been.

This is a short, pleasant book to read. The behind-the-scenes look at Starbucks is fun. It's neat how Gill tackles his new job with both fear and courage and how thankful he is for the chance just to be working.

I would not put this on your must-read list...and I would recommend checking it out from the library rather than buying it. But if you get a chance to read it, go ahead! It's a new perspective and has some good lessons.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

This is an ambitious novel chronicling the life of fictional First Lady Alice Blackwell. The author does not try to hide the fact that the main character is based on Laura Bush. However, I'm unsure as to how closely Alice Blackwell resembles Laura Bush since I don't know that much about Mrs Bush.

The story follows Alice from her childhood through her years as First Lady in the White House. Alice grows up in a modest family in a small-town. She's a librarian, a Democrat, and is very thoughtful and intelligent. She meets Charlie Blackwell, a Republican who comes from a wealthy and well-known family. Charlie, although he attended prestigious schools and had a privileged upbringing, is a crude and demeaning goof-off who dapples in politics, but mostly lives off a trust fund. Charlie and Alice end up together, for better or for worse. Charlie winds up as president of the United States (not really because he had any political aspirations, but rather because he could so he did) and Alice, looking back at who she was, who she has become, and what she may have stood by and let happen, is trying to make sense of her life and who she is.

This book consumed me for two days. It is quality writing, not fluff or filler. I was a little disappointed at the end though because the first 500 pages were great and then the book got kind of boring, rambly, and unrealistic in the last 50 pages, as if the author was just trying to finish it up. Also, be forewarned: There are some explicit scenes that are really unnecessary.

The Tiger Rising by Kate Dicamillo

After reading Because of Winn-Dixie and loving it, I checked this little book out by the same author. It's about 12-year-old Rob who finds a caged tiger behind the motel where he and his dad are living. Rob also makes a friend in Sistine, a girl who challenges him to face the truth about his mom's death and his sadness.

This book was a BIG disappointment. It wasn't as nearly as charming or as touching as Because of Winn-Dixie.

So, don't read this Because of Winn-Dixie if you haven't yet!

To read my short, but glowing review of Because of Winn-Dixie, click here!

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

This is a tale full of suspense and fantasy. It features eleven-year-old Lyra, an orphan growing up at Oxford, and her dangerous journey north that begins with her witnessing an attempted murder.

The book was a page-turner, but looking back now, it really was just okay. I found it hard to believe that young Lyra was so intelligent in order to figure out everything that she did. In addition, I didn't find any of the characters endearing like I do in Harry Potter. Also, there was a grisly polar bear fight that was pretty gross.

This is the first book of the His Dark Materials trilogy. This one didn't get me that excited, but the story is good enough for me to continue reading the series. I've already checked out the second book, but I'm not feeling any pressure to read it right away and
I'm not totally sure that I'll finish the series. I'll see how it goes.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

Sarah Dessen is one of my favorite authors and this is her latest book. It's about seventeen-year-old Ruby who finds herself abandoned by her mother. Suddenly, Ruby is thrown into a completely different life when she has to move in with her sister (who is ten years older) and her sister's husband. Ruby learns about letting people get close to her and how to offer and receive help. She also learns what "family" really means.

Dessen's books are always a pleasure to read and this one is no exception. I felt like the cast of characters almost bordered on too many, but I can't really imagine who the story could do without.

Some quotes I liked:

"'s all right to have a little bit of regret every once in a while. It's when you feel it all the time and can't do anything about it...that's when you get into trouble."

"...I kept thinking about this, the idea of distance and accomplishment. The further you go, the more you have to be proud of. At the same time, in order to come a long way, you have to be behind to begin with. In the end, though, maybe it's not how you reach a place that matters. Just that you get there at all."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Not a Genuine Black Man: My Life as an Outsider by Brian Copeland

This is the memoir of Brian Copeland, a local broadcast personality. He writes about his experience growing up in San Leandro during the 1970s. His family was one of the few African-American families living there at the time.

Copeland recounts the discrimination directed towards him and his family in a way that conveys the seriousness and unfairness of it all. However, he tells the stories with humor which makes the book accessible and safe, I would think, for people of all different ethnic backgrounds to read. It made me more aware rather than angry.

This is the 2009 selection of the Silicon Valley Reads program. I am excited that people all over the county will read this book. I think it's an important book. Racism is still alive in many different forms and this book does a great job of opening up a discussion around a sensitive topic.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

This is the story of ten-year-old Opal and her big, scrappy dog named Winn-Dixie. A lot of things happen to Opal because of Winn-Dixie. Opal makes a handful of unlikely friends and also comes to terms with some of the losses she has experienced in her own life.

I loved this book! It is sweet, charming, and touching. I read it in a couple of hours and it has been the best thing about my day so far.

Ask a Librarian!

I went to the library this morning and found a book that I've been wanting to read called Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. I knew it was about a dog because there's a picture of one on the cover. However, I was wondering if the dog dies at the end because right now, I am in no mood to read a sad pet book like Old Yeller or Where the Red Fern Grows.

As I was browsing the other books (I was in the children's section), a librarian came up to ask if I needed help finding anything. This is how our conversation went:

Me: Have you read this book? [I hold up Because of Winn-Dixie.]

Librarian: Yes.

Me: Is Winn-Dixie the dog?

Librarian: Yes.

Me: Does the dog die at the end? Because I don't want to read it if the dog dies.

Librarian: No, I don't remember the dog dying, but let me check. [She takes the book and reads the last few pages.] No, it's okay.

Me: Okay, I'll read it then.

I continue browsing and I hear the librarian go back to the desk and tell another librarian our conversation. And I hear the other librarian say, "Yeah, we don't like books where the dogs die at the end."

Anyway, I share this conversation because 1) it's kinda funny and 2) librarians are a wealth of information and I encourage you to ask them questions!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Shack by William P. Young

I'm not a fan of Christian fiction. Maybe with the exception of Francine Rivers' Mark of the Lion trilogy. Other than those three books, I've stayed away from Christian fiction.

This is Christian fiction. My sister lent me this book, saying that it is all the rage in Christian circles these days. It's the story of Mackenzie Allen Phillips' experience of being invited back to the scene of his six-year-old daughter's murder and how God meets him there.

The feeling I was left with after reading this book was: Suspicion. I read it quickly and there were some truths in it. However, the writing was not that great and the theology seemed a bit questionable. Also, is this a true story? I couldn't figure that out either. Hum. The jury is still out on this one.

Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life

This book by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Matthew Linn is about the spiritual practice of the daily examen. The title of the book, Sleeping with Bread, comes from a story about the thousands of children who were orphaned during World War II that ended up living in refugee camps. These children had trouble sleeping because they were so scared of waking up and not having enough to eat the next day or not having a place to live. Their sleeping troubles were solved when someone began giving each child a piece of bread to hold while they slept. The bread, a reminder that they would be taken care of and that they would have food the next day, gave the children the reassurance and peace they needed in order to fall asleep.

In a similiar way, the daily examen allows us to hold onto what gives us life. Through the daily examen, we identify the moments in the day that gave us the most life and the moments that drained us. The authors write that "the will of God is that we give and receive more love and life." Thus, noting patterns of life-giving and life-draining activities is one way that God can speak to us about who we are and what He might want for us.

Just reading this book was life-giving and inspiring. The daily examen is a practice that I can easily add to my life and already, just over the last few days of reading the book and asking myself the daily examen questions, I have found that it really does give me data about what is encouraging in my life and what isn't. Just being aware of these things is empowering. I can see how, after patterns emerge about what is life-giving/draining in my life, this practice will be helpful in making decisions or changing things so that life will be more abundant and joyful.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Pastures of Heaven by John Steinbeck

This is a collection of short stories about the residents of Las Pasturas del Cielo (The Pastures of Heaven). Each story focuses on a different family or individual living in the community. Some of the stories seem to be interrelated, but mostly not. However, after I finished reading the book and read some other reviews, I learned that it's not until the second, third, or fourth readings that the interrelatedness becomes clear. Also, I read that this book should be read very slowly.

This book ranks among the few that I will keep in my personal library and re-read some time in the future. I think there's details that I missed during this first read, so I'm going to put this back on the shelf and pick it up again later. Overall, this book made for pleasant reading...and I always find Steinbeck's characters fascinating.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell

The premise of this book sounds great: Julie Powell is determined to cook all 524 recipes from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. Sounded interesting to me!

But I am here to tell you to not read this book. It's more about Powell's year of work, friends, and politics than it is about cooking. It's like she just threw in some paragraphs about cooking into the story of her year. And the year was not even that interesting. Powell comes off as a very unpleasant, angsty woman with a potty mouth.

The cover of the book is nice though, isn't it?

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell

This was the 2008 book choice of Silicon Valley Reads, a program that promotes literacy and community by encouraging residents to all read and discuss the same book. My university also chose this book as the Winter 2008 Book of the Quarter. Well, all of the author readings and discussion groups on this book are long over, so I'm a bit late in reading it, but I finally read it.

This is a fictional memoir of a white family living in pre-World War II Shanghai. When the Japanese take over, the narrator and her mother flee to Los Angeles, but the father stays behind thinking that he'll be safe. The story switches between Shanghai and Los Angeles as the family deals with separation, war, betrayal, and heartache.

I found this story to be engrossing, but there were some gaps in the story that made me think, "Huh?" These gaps were distracting and kept the story from being fully believable and cohesive. The reconciliation at the end seemed a bit too sugary and unrealistic. I did appreciate the descriptions of Shanghai and what life might have looked like under Japanese-occupation and later, the Communist government. Overall, a pretty good read, but not a book that I'll re-read or need to keep in my personal library.

I do look forward to seeing what the 2009 Silicon Valley Reads selection will be. I like that whole idea of lots of people reading the same book. =D

Friday, August 15, 2008

Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction by David Sheff

"It is still so easy to forget that addiction is not curable. It is a lifelong disease that can go into remission, that is manageable if the one who is stricken does the hard, hard work, but it is incurable." --David Sheff

This book is the true story of a father dealing with his son's drug addiction. We read about the son's attempts at recovery and his many relapses.

I found myself very engaged in the lives of both the father, David, and son, Nic, and rooting for both of them - that Nic would stay sober, but also that his father would keep his boundaries when Nic relapsed and called for money.

I know very little about drug addiction and the recovery process, but this book gave me a very accessible introduction into the reality of addiction. An intriguing, heartwrenching, and honest book.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

Vianne Rocher and her daughter, Anouk, move to the little French town of Lansquenet and open up a chocolate shop. They are welcomed by some and shunned by others. As villagers begin indulging in the sweets and hot cocoas of Vianne's shop, we learn of their secrets and problems. There is change in the air, and the town is never the same.

This book was magical and whimsical, but I considered it just average. It wasn't so bad that I didn't finish it, but not so good either that I want to rave about it. It was okay. I haven't seen the movie, but I've heard that it is better than the book. Can anyone confirm that for me?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

This is a young adult fiction novel about Annabel who is in her junior year of high school. Annabel is dealing with family issues (her sister's eating disorder and wanting to tell her mom that she no longer wants to work as a model) and friend issues (estrangement from her closest friends, including Sophie, who thinks Annabel slept with Sophie's boyfriend). Annabel starts hanging out with Owen Armstrong who is the loner at school. He encourages her to get in touch with her feelings and to speak the truth about how she feels and what she wants.

I really enjoyed this book. The characters are complex and there's a lot of deeper themes throughout the book. I wish that I had had Dessen's books to read when I was in junior high and high school. I think that they would have helped me put more words to my experiences and opened my mind to other ways of dealing with things. Alas, I still enjoy Dessen's books now because they still speak to me about the importance of being true to myself.

Some quotes from the book:

" the very least, you should tell yourself the truth. If you can't trust yourself, who can you trust?"

"There comes a time in every life when the world gets quiet and the only thing left is your own heart. So you'd better learn to know the sound of it. Otherwise you'll never understand what it's saying."

Sunday, August 3, 2008

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

This is the story of fifteen-year-old Craig Gilson who gets accepted to his dream high school. He thinks that after getting accepted, his life will be great! In other words, he believes that this acceptance is just the prelude to getting into a prestigious university, graduate program, finding an excellent job, and having a happy family.

On the contrary, Craig's life begins to fall apart. Diagnosed with clinical depression, Craig is on antidepressives for awhile and starts to feel better. He then stops taking them and is soon thinking about suicide. He calls a Suicide Hotline and checks himself into a psychiatric hospital where he spends five days.

I found this book to be very readable, quirky, and real. There were a couple of sketchy parts that I could have done without. But overall, I think the book did a good job of tackling depression and raising the question of whether of not the so-called good life is really the life we should all be aiming for.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I Don't Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson

This looks like your typical chic-lit book, but I would suggest that it isn't. First of all, the font size is way smaller than the average chic-lit book. Second of all, there is some depth to the character and her development.

This is the tale of Kate Reddy, hedge fund manager, wife, and mother of two young kids. Her life is crazy, hectic, guilt-ridden, and exhausting. She succeeds at work, but her kids miss her like crazy and her marriage is failing.

A funny, engrossing look into the life of a working mother. The character struggles with who she is and what she wants. This book is worth reading and would be a fun book to read while on vacation.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin

This is a young reader chapter book about Grace, a Taiwanese-American girl growing up in upstate New York. During the year of the dog, Grace is on a quest to find herself. This book follows her throughout the year which is filled with school projects, a play, and friendships.

The little illustrations were the best part about this book. The story was a bit disjointed and even awkward at times.

The author writes on the back cover that "...this was the book I wished I had growing up." I can see how reading this book would be helpful to young Asian-Americans when there aren't many books with Asian-American protagonists. But overall, I didn't find this book to be very satisfying or encouraging at all.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sex and the Soul of a Woman: The Reality of Love & Romance in an Age of Casual Sex by Paula Rinehart

I am taking a summer school class on Human Sexuality. Some of the assigned reading (Bernie Zilbergeld's The New Male Sexuality: The Truth About Men, Sex, and Pleasure along with Lonnie Barbach's For Yourself: The Fulfillment of Female Sexuality) made me seek out a book that might offer a more Biblical view of sexuality.

This book was written by a Christian counselor, Paula Rinehart. She discusses the toll that casual sex and intimacy takes on a woman's heart and soul outside of a marriage relationship. She offers ways of guarding sexuality while still retaining femininity. Rinehart also talks about what to look for in a man and what a man's struggle with masculinity might look like (this chapter seemed plagarized from John Eldredge's Wild At Heart, although she does footnote him once or twice).

I found this book to be a good argument against casual and premarital sex. But who hasn't heard that in high school youth group? Does not having sex until you're married guarantee a lifetime of fulfilling emotional and physical intimacy? According to the research out there and the stories of couples seeking counseling in some of my assigned books, the answer is Not Necessarily. In fact, dis-intimacy in all realms of the marriage relationship seems like it is more of the norm. My readings for class (especially David Schnarch's Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love & Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships) addressed better the various aspects of the relationship as a whole in terms of what affects the expression of sexuality.

And so, this book was okay. It did not offer me the more Biblical supplement to my class readings that I was looking for, but maybe this book was not intended to answer my specific questions. I will keep looking. Any suggestions?

I'd like to add that I have read an excellent book by this same author and her husband called Choices: Finding God's Way in Dating, Sex, Singleness, and Marriage. It was very helpful in thinking about dating and the chapter on Singleness was especially good.

Summer of the Big Bachi by Naomi Hirahara

I joined the Adult Summer Reading Program at my local library. If you read eight books, you can choose a free paperback book. Well, I finished my eight books and chose this book. That was my first mistake. The second mistake was to actually read the entire book.

Please do not read this book. It is awful and the main character is depressing. It's not even worth it for me to write a plot summary for you. This book might have been okay for a plane trip, but I wasn't on a plane when I read it. Why did I even finish reading it? I've already spent too much of my life on this book, so I'm not even going to try and figure that out. I'm just going to move on. Next book, please!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life by Henri Nouwen

Some of my most profound healing has been aided by reading Henri Nouwen (most notably, The Inner Voice of Love). This Nouwen book describes the three movements of the spiritual life:

1) From Loneliness to Solitude
2) From Hostility to Hospitality
3) From Illusion to Prayer

I found this book to be rich and a good addition to my daily Bible reading. It didn't hit me as powerfully as some other Nouwen books have in the past, but it was still helpful and encouraging.

"Being useless and silent in the presence of our God belongs to the core of all prayer. In the beginning we often hear our own unruly inner noises more loudly than God's voice. This is at times very hard to tolerate. But slowly, very slowly, we discover that the silent time makes us quiet and deepens our awareness of ourselves and God."
--Henri Nouwen

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Three Weeks With My Brother by Nicholas Sparks and Micah Sparks

This is written by Nicholas Sparks of The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, etc. fame and his brother, Micah. They took a three-week trip around the world together. This book is part travelogue and part memoir so it alternates between describing the sights on the trip and the story of their childhood and young adulthood.

Reading about their family was touching, sad, and heartfelt. Reading about their travels made me cringe because these men are NOT models of cultural sensitivity. Americans already have a bad reputation abroad. I highly recommend that we don't let these men out of the United States again! Someone, please confiscate their passports.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

On a bleak, snowy night in 1964, Dr. David Henry delivers his own twins while his wife, Norah, is heavily drugged. The first baby is a healthy boy. The second is a girl with Down's Syndrome. Dr. Henry makes a decision, in an effort to protect his wife, to instruct the nurse, Caroline Gill, to take the baby to an institution. However, instead of leaving the baby girl at the institution, Caroline decides to leave town and raise the baby herself. Dr. Henry tells his wife that the baby girl died and she has no reason to not believe him. This story follows each family as the kids grow up, the secret is kept, and how the grief that follows never really leaves.

This book was absorbing and very readable. It was touching and true enough at the end that I had tears running down the sides of my face (I was reading on my back but didn't want to stop reading long enough to get tissue). Highly recommended.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Souvenir: A Daughter Discovers Her Father's War by Louise Steinman

The author's father served in the United States Army during World War II and survived the fighting in northern Luzon in the Philippines. These years of combat changed him forever and he never talked about the war. Years after his death, Steinman finds a trunk containing 474 letters that her father wrote to her mother while serving overseas. These letters chronicle her father's experience during the war. In the trunk, Steinman also finds the souvenir of the book's title: a Japanese soldier's white flag signed by friends, family, and neighbors for good luck. Steinman is determined to return this flag to the Japanese soldier's family and this begins her journey to Japan and to the Philippines to see where her father fought.

This book puts a personal face on war. Behind each "casuality" is a person with dreams, fears, and a family. This book is carefully researched and I learned more about the dynamics of the Southwest Pacific Theater of WWII. This book put me into a more subdued mood as I thought more about loss and war and how many men and women have been and are still being affected by war.

Just over dinner the other night, my friend and I were talking about how both of our fathers, who were both drafted and served in the Vietnam War, hardly ever talk about the war, but still watch documentaries and movies about this war. It makes me wonder what is still being worked out in our fathers' minds and what pain and grief remains unspoken and unresolved.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Runaway by Alice Munro

This is a collection of short stories, all about women of various ages. Well-written and pleasant to read. My favorite story was titled "Tricks." It was heartbreaking and sad, all about the timing of things that happen and don't happen and how it can affect the course of the rest of our lives.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life's True Calling by Diane Dreher

I love reading anything, not just books. Newspapers, magazines, blogs, and yes, I am probably one of the few that actually read prayer newsletters from missionaries. I also like to read things tacked on bulletin boards in public places, especially in downtown Mountain View on Castro Street. The other bulletin boards that I regularly read are on campus. When I am on campus for class, as I walk up to the third floor of the building, I stop on each landing to read the flyers tacked to the bulletin boards. Which is how I found out about this book.

This book is written by a professor at my school and the flyer on the board was announcing her fall class titled Finding Your Calling. This book will be one of the course readings. When I read the flyer, it touched something inside of me. So, I looked around to see if anyone was coming up or down the stairs...and I took the flyer off the bulletin board and put it in my backpack. Yes, I lead a very wild life these days.

I brought the flyer home and stuck it on my own bulletin board above my desk. I ordered the book and when it arrived, I saw that the professor/author was one of my peers in a class I took on Aging last quarter. When I took the class with her, I didn't even know she was a professor, but I did know that she was writing a book. I guess this is what she was working on!

This book is about finding your calling. It combines examples of people from the Renaissance with concepts in the fairly recent field of positive psychology (focusing on what promotes wellness rather than always looking at what goes wrong with us). Twelve steps are covered with exercises throughout (Dreher suggests you keep a "Renaissance Notebook," but I just jotted some thing down in my journal).

Overall, a very inspiring book, making me think about living more intentionally and working toward my dreams. The exercises were helpful in getting to know myself better and also in helping me think of ways to take better care of myself. Some of the examples from the Renaissance were kinda boring and I skimmed them. Also, the font was a bit annoying until I got used to it. However, I would recommend this book, especially if you're going through a transition or just wondering what to do next. I will keep this one in my library since I'll probably want to go through it sometime again in the future.

Here is a list of the twelve chapters. Just the titles inspire me. =D
Discovery: Realizing your joys and talents
Detachment: Clearing the path within
Discernment: Embracing your values, living with heart
Direction: Turning your ideals into action
Faith: Trusting your life and your world
Daily Examen: Staying on course with your dreams
Community: Gaining support from mentors and friends
Contemplation: Finding your inner oasis of peace
Creativity: Making your life a work of art
Reading and Reflection: Exploring new worlds within and around you
Physical Exercise: Building strength and wisdom
Discipline and Dedication: Bringing your dreams to life

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A trilogy by Joan Anderson

There arethree books in this trilogy by Joan Anderson: A Year by the Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman, An Unfinished Marriage, and A Walk on the Beach.

A Year by the Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman describes the year that Anderson took a sabbatical from marriage. Her marriage had grown stale and when her husband re-located for a new job, Anderson didn't go with him. Instead, she stays at the family's Cape Cod cottage for a year and rediscovers who she is after an adulthood of caring for everyone but herself.

A sabbatical from marriage? Sounds pretty strange and unconventional. So the story doesn't end there. In the second book, An Unfinished Marriage, Anderson's husband retires and joins her at the cottage. After a year of his own growth, the two of them begin reworking and healing their relationship. It is hopeful and hard at the same time.

The third book, A Walk on the Beach, goes back to Joan's sabbatical year and talks about the friendship she cultivated with Joan Erikson, wife of the late Erik Erikson (the psychologist who came up with the stages of development). The two Joans hang out, play, talk, and support each other in becoming who they really are as individuals.
I read these three books back-to-back this last week. I'm glad I decided to check them all out at the same time. My favorite was the first one. I'm glad it was followed by the second one because it provided some sort of redemption of the relationship. The last one, although full of wisdom, seemed a bit of a sell-out. However, all of them made for restful, thoughtful reading. They were all an encouragement to examine the expectations we have been living by and to determine our own standards and values.

Some quotes that I wrote down in my journal:

"The great loneliness is that most people don't know who they are." --Joan Erikson

"...all I know is that I have spent the bulk of this year unlearning all the rules, the conditions and goals that were set for me by someone else. Finally I feel mature enough to recover myself - that person I was born to be." --Joan Anderson

Friday, June 13, 2008

Now that the Harry Potter series is over...

From the June 7th Economist in an article about new technologies in book publishing:

"Reading in America, as in many rich countries, is down. A study by the National Endowment for the Arts, an independent federal agency, says leisure reading is declining, especially among the young. Since 1985, books' share of entertainment spending has fallen by seven percentage points."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Choice by Nicholas Sparks

Predictable and sappy, but a perfect book for a warm summer afternoon of reading. I read this in a day and stayed up late finishing it (this is rare for me...usually I get into bed, read two sentences, and I'm out).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Wanted: Book Recommendations

Have you read any good books lately? I have a couple of weeks off before summer school starts and I'd like to read some good books. Preferably fiction and nothing in the self-help/psychology/sociology realm. I get enough of that during school. I would appreciate any of your suggestions!

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

This is the fictional story of Lily and Snow Flower, two ladies in 19th century China. Through a matchmaker, they vow to be lifelong friends. They communicate through writing on a fan in the nu shu characters reserved just for women. This book goes into the lives of Chinese women during this period: footbinding, arranged marriages, social class, and the Taiping rebellion. Through all of this, Lily and Snow Flower remain friends until some miscommunication severs their relationship.

I found this book to be quite engrossing. It consumed the first day of my summer break. The descriptions about footbinding made me squirm. I don't know how accurate the descriptions of social conventions and rituals are, but overall, I thought this story was quite fascinating and also kind of sad.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

How To Be an Adult: A Handbook on Psychological and Spiritual Integration by David Richo

What a great title, huh? It's like we should all get a copy of this on our 18th birthdays.

So most of us didn't receive everything we needed as a child. And now it's time to take responsibility for ourselves and grow up and be adults. Easier said than done, eh? This book tackles what that might look like, including mourning and letting go.

This book starts with a section on Personal Work. The author discusses how our childhood experiences affect our later adult relationships. He also describes the characteristics of a healthy adult whose childhood needs were met. There are chapters on Assertiveness, Fear, Anger, Guilt, and Values.

The second part of the book is on Relationship Issues such as how to maintain personal boundaries and what true intimacy is like.

Lastly, there is a section on flexible integration and wholeness.

This was a very helpful book for me. It's one that I first checked out from the library, read a couple of chapters, and found myself copying lengthy passages in my journal. My hand was getting tired, so I ordered my own copy so I could mark it up instead of copying it all by hand.

"An adult loves to find out where his work really lies, so he can lay it to rest once and for all."

"Old feelings about betrayal, abandonment, and rejection are restimulated by contemporary versions of them. The strong feelings we have now show us where our unmourned issues are."

--David Richo