Five Favorite Books Lately

I’m going to review them ultra quick.  Blink and you’ll miss it.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.  A beautifully written page turner.  So many elements in common with Patchett’s Bel Canto: South America, dramatic beginning, characters stuck waiting in stressful situations and separated from their cell phones, opera.  But still a completely new and original story.  Really enjoyed it.

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen . Middle schooler turns to 1950s teen popularity manual and writers about the results.  Funny and heartwarming.  Anyone else wonder if a fourteen-year-old actually wrote this?  I don’t really doubt it, but this little part of me wonders.

The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the LongestDan Buettner: Investigation of lifestyles in areas with unusually high number of people living to be 100 (topic addressed here).  Easy to read, although I think it could have been written better.  Also, his conclusion is that our life expectancy and quality of life are within our control.  I think his studies suggest the opposite, as most of the centenarians he profiles were just living the life customary to their particular culture.  They aren’t countercultural, as we would have to be to imitate them.

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, audiobook read by Cherry Jones: We all finally listened to the whole thing on our last car trip.  Really enjoyed it, especially hearing her sing the songs with a fiddle accompaniment.  Only qualm is that Ms. Jones reads Pa’s lines with a Southern accent.  Charles Ingalls was born in New York and spent most of his life in the Midwest.  Seriously?  All the same, looking forward to getting the next in the series.

Ramona’s World by Beverly Cleary: Girl 1 is having us read certain chapters over and over.  I can’t complain.  I just love this series.

Started but not yet finished:

Pioneer Girl, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the newly released annotated version of Wilder’s original, never-before-published autobiography.  All the footnotes are fascinating but it makes for slow reading.

Reed of God by Caryll Houselander: There are parts I like about this book, but for the most part it’s not my style.  Everyone I know who has read it loves it.  I’m going to persevere.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead  by Brene Brown: I’m disappointed by this book so far, although I plan to at least skim the rest of it.  It has some great ideas but is written in such generalities that I skim over a lot of it.  Not the page-turner I’d hoped.

Princes at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britain’s Royal Family in the Darkest Days of WWII by Deborah Cadbury: Well-written look at the English monarchy during WWII.  Previously all I really knew was what I saw from the movie, The King’s Speech (just realized the movie is based on a book by the same name).  I never manage to finish history books, though, and this time it won’t be any different.

I’m linking up with Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy, and tomorrow with Jenna for Five Favorites.IMG_8474

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Seven Quick Takes 2.27.15

1. The girls and I listened to Kids Songs Jubilee in the van today.  I grew up listening to the Kids Songs tapes by Nancy Cassidy.  Now Girl 1 sits on the couch, reading the songs to herself and singing them.  I love hearing her sing.  And both girls listen to the tape together, singing and dancing around the living room.  Love it.

This is the only clips I can find on YouTube (speaking of which, did you know YouTube has one billion viewers but no profit?):

2. Per Kelly’s prompt, this was my first post.  Random thought off the top of my head.  Nothing much has changed.

3. My most-viewed post is Style & the Stay at Home Mom: A Quest.  By far.

4. My least-viewed post is this (no surprise).  You can read its follow-up here (oooh, exciting!).

5. This post today might end up down at the bottom of the list too, because it’s one of those days . . .

6. where I’m just . . .

7. not inspired.

Oh here’s a thought: how many years off Purgatory should I get for letting my kid “help” me paint?  I’m thinking lots and lots.

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Oh, and my new living room arrangement I showed you last week?  These are “before” shots (or a halfway-there shots).  Oh, this house . . . .

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Click back to This Ain’t the Lyceum for something worthwhile to read.  😉  Happy weekend folks!

Quick Lit: Castles, Lost Creatures & a Canary in a Coal Mine

Real quick-like, here are summaries of a few books I’ve read lately (I went on another reading bender).  I’m linking up with Jenna for Five Favorites and with Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit.

 

So, quickly here, in no particular order:

1. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead: About a ballet dancer, her son, her husband, and her former lover.  I didn’t really like any of the characters (except possibly one, and things don’t turn out so well for him). Somehow, though, the author kept me interested in them, at least until about 2/3 of the way through. Just as I was losing interest, a surprise twist at the end hooked me back in. I like the way the author describes certain experiences and relationships in one generation being echoed in the next. Worth reading.

2. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett:  I kept hearing about this author.  The descriptions of her novels didn’t draw me in, but I started one anyway, and I’m glad I did.  A captivating tale about–I think–the power of beauty through music.  One Goodreads reviewer remarked the book could have been titled, The Lighter Side of Stockholm Syndrome.  This is true.

3. Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl: On its jacket, this book is billed as “a book as frothy and fizzy and light as a champagne cocktail- think I Capture the Castle meets Pride and Prejudice!”  This drives me nuts because Pride and Prejudice is not frothy, frizzy, or light.  Neither is I Capture the Castle. But, this book is pretty similar to Georgette Heyer’s regency romances, which are sort of Jane Austen lite.  This book is sort of Georgette Heyer lite.  I liked it.

4. Julia’s House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke:  This is such a charming picture book.  The illustrations are detailed and lively.  I can’t wait to give my girls the (autographed!) copy I bought for them for Christmas.

 

5. Where’d You Go Bernadette by Marie Semple:  I already wrote a little bit about this slightly wacky, chick-lit style whodunit here.  I’ve since had one more thought about why I like this book: one character is a stereotypical hypocritical, backstabbing, judgmental, proselytizing “Christian.”  The book even mentions that her middle name is “Faith.”  So, you expect her to be the bad guy throughout the book.  I read a theater review by Terry Teachout recently, which hits the nail on the head:

Christianity is the great blind spot of American theater [and, I would posit, most modern literature].  Most Americans believe in the resurrection of Jesus and the existence of heaven and hell–but in most American plays, these beliefs are treated either as proofs of invincible ignorance or as signs of blackhearted villainy.

The Christian character has a change of heart and becomes a good person later in the book.  It’s after she goes through a 12-step program, so maybe she left Christianity in favor of “being spiritual” and “calling on a higher power.”  Maybe.  But.  The book doesn’t specify.  Anyway, it was nice to see a book written from a secular perspective have a card-carrying Christian this is neither invincibly ignorant nor a black-hearted villain.

Also read recently (but not favorites):

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham: There’s nothing worthwhile about reading this book except that Dunham is a canary in our cultural coalmine.  As her t.v. character put it, “I think I may be the voice of my generation. . .  Or at least, a voice of a generation.”  She may in fact be the voice of her generation, and if so, we’re in deep sh*t.  Dude.

Mindless Eating:Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink: Some interesting studies, but the tips the author gives aren’t especially original.  I’m looking for a way to lose weight with no exercise of willpower whatsoever.  Can’t someone help a girl out?  Somebody??

 

Okay, back to you Ann and Jenna.

 

Movies I’ve watched, sneakers I’ve ordered, and what I’ve been into

1. Here are some movies I’ve watched over the past month (or so):

I Don’t Know How She Does It:  This was worth the $2.99 to watch it on Amazon.  Not as good as the book, but an entertaining, feel-good-in-the-end story of a stressed-out working mom.  I read the book back when I was working a lot more hours (litigating, at that), and it stressed me out because it was a bit too close to home.  But now the movie just makes me laugh.

Better Off Dead: I had to buy a used VHS copy of this movie, but I finally saw it.  Really funny!  Over the top but not stupid.  To be honest, I liked it but Pat really liked it.  It had that badass-underdog-has-his-day-gets-the-girl theme (like Ferris Bueller).

How To Marry A Millionaire: This was fun.  Material for lost of cultural commentary (basically, we’ve lost all our class; also, does golddigging even work nowadays, with everyone giving it away for free?  To a limited extent, see e.g. Anna Nicole Smith, but boy has the game changed).  Mainly though, it was fun.

The Bling Ring: Fascinating real-life crime caper about a bunch of bratty high schoolers who burglarized celebrity homes.  It has the same dreamy feel of Sofia Coppola’s other movies, Marie Antoinette (which I liked) and Lost In Translation (which I didn’t).  The Bling Ring is only about an hour and a half, which is the perfect movie length to me.

Now and Then: This was okay.  I remember when it came out way back whenever and finally watched it.  Lots of fun late 60s pop tunes.  I had to listen to “Knock Three Times” over and over the next day.

O: Supposedly based on Shakespeare’s Othello.  Mostly about high schoolers having sex and playing basketball.  Couldn’t make it past the first fifteen minutes or so.

Thanks For Sharing: A movie about sex addiction that was funny but still had the appropriate gravitas.  Really.  A few scenes I skipped but overall a good movie, I thought (in contrast to most critics, apparently).

(All of the above are on Amazon Prime, as best I recall, except Better Off Dead and Now and Then.)

I want to watch They Came Together, a spoof on romantic comedies.  I planned to watch Mom’s Night Out, but I saw a trailer and it looked sooooo dumb.  I couldn’t do it, Daily Connoisseur recommendation or no.

2. Today Girl 2 and I noticed a rip in her dress.  She said, “Uh Oh!  Like in Little House!”  (Pronounced “Wiwl Howse.”)  She remembered seeing this picture in Little House in the Big Woods, and the summary I gave her, several days ago:

photo (2)

 

Is she brilliant or is she brilliant?  Girl 2 needs a post of her own here someday soon.  She is wonderful (and terribly two).  She takes up just as much of my time and attention as Girl 1 (actually, more).  She just doesn’t confound me as much, so she doesn’t get as much virtual ink.  I think she is ISFJ.  She’s definitely more IS and J to Girl 1’s ENFP personality

3. I think I found THE ONES!  (I’ve been searching for just the right casual cold-weather, non-boot shoe.)

Puma’s Caroline wedge sneakers.  Cute right?

They’re on super sale right now at a lot of online stores.  I guess they were hot last year and are washed up this year but who cares.  I just ordered them to try out in two sizes.  They got iffy reviews on comfort, so I’m apprehensive.  Update to come when they arrive.

4. We were so very into Halloween around here.  It’s not my favorite holiday, but Girl 1 was very taken by the elaborate decorations in a yard down the street.  She wanted us to keep up with the Joneses.  We didn’t, not by a long shot, but not for lack of her trying.

 

I got the Charlie Brown Halloween movie (the one about the Great Pumpkin) from the library for the girls to watch.  They’ve learned all sorts of great things from those classic Charlie Brown movies: words like “stupid” and “blockhead” and sayings like “never walk into a pile of leaves with a wet sucker.”  Girl 1 kept saying “wet sucker, wet sucker” over and over again and cracking up.  How does she know the most inappropriate things to say?

Somehow I’m not sorry.  I love Charlie Brown.

5. Amazon Prime music!  It exists!  Why did I not find this out until a few weeks before it’s time to cancel our Prime subscription?  I made the sorry old mistake of signing up for a 30-day Prime membership trial and then didn’t cancel it in time.  Our year is up this month, when I’ll cancel it and go back to Netflix.  But I’ll miss Prime music.

6. Modern Mrs. Darcy wrote a good post about what makes a good book club read.  It reminded me of a post I wrote a little while back for Mary’s blog, about five of my favorite non-conventional book club reads.  Check it out!

7. Happy weekend everyone!  I’m linking up with Jen for 7 Quick Takes and (very late) with Leigh for What I’m Into .

 

 

What I’m Reading, Twitterature Style

Oh the pain–the pain!!–of being a grammar snob and then realizing you titled a past post, “Book reports in 140 characters or less.”  Fewer, Laura, fewer.  “140 characters or fewer.”  **So embarrassed**

Soldiering on, here are a few more very brief thoughts–with letter grades–on books I’ve read in the past few months.

Fiction:

  • Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
    • Outlaws, a mystic, wild West, workings of Grace, power of a (The?) Father’s Love.  Not my usual type but WOW.  Starts slow finishes strong.   A+
  • The Story of a Soul, Therese of Lisieux
    • Is St. Therese INFP?  I have trouble relating.  Still glad I reread it after many yrs.  Better not grade a Dr of the Church?
  • Cherries and Cherry Pits, by Vera Williams
    • Luscious illustrations and a sweet story.  I remember this from my childhood and now enjoy reading it with my kids.  A
  • The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway
    • O Ernest how I admire your prose.  O Ernest how this story bores me.  2 dull, didn’t finish.

Linking up with Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy for Twitterature  (on Monday) and (next week) with Jessica at Housewifespice for What We’re Reading Wednesday.  Happy reading!

 

What I’m Reading: Book reports in 140 characters or less

Here are my very brief thoughts–with letter grades–on books I’ve read in the past few months.

Fiction:

  • The Expats by Chris Pavone
    • A sort-of spy novel. Page-turner. Takes place in Luxembourg. Narrative jumps around from before, during, and after. Clumsy ending. B-

Non-Fiction:

For Kids:

Linking up with Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy for Twitterature (once it’s up) and with Jessica at Housewifespice for What We’re Reading Wednesday.  Happy reading!

And–how annoying is this?–I’m going to name my five favorites of these books and link up with Heather for Five Favorites:

1. Please Look After Mom

2. Grace for the Good Girl

3. Girls On the Edge

4. Seven Silly Eaters

5. Promises I Can Keep

Five Favorite Children’s Authors & Illustrators

1.  My girls have been loving the Penny books by Kevin Henkes.  I find his stories and illustrations just charming.

Illustration by Kevin Henkes

Reading these got me thinking about other author/illustrators of children’s books we love.  They include:

2. James Mayhew:  My girls love the Ella Bella Ballerina books.

3. Ben Hatke:  I’ve followed his artwork on his blog for a long time, and it is just delightful (as are Ben and his wife and daughters, whom I have the pleasure to know).  Truth be told, I haven’t read the Zita books to my girls yet; I think Girl 1 is just now getting to the point where she could follow it.  My 9-year-old brother really enjoyed them, and I’m looking forward to reading them to my kids.

Zita the Spacegirl

Did you know books have trailers nowadays?  Check out the Zita spacegirl trailer.

4.  Arnold Lobel: His Frog and Toad books are favorites from my childhood that I’m rediscovering with my girls.  I love his wry little observations on life.

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Also, I’m realizing my marriage works because, although I’m like Toad, my husband is like Frog.  (Inside joke, sorry.  You’ll have to read the books.)

A delightful claymation series was made out of the Frog and Toad books a few decades ago.  You can watch them on You Tube.  So cute.  (They’re included on this Curious George DVD.)  I think my girls are put off by Toad’s gravelly voice, but I love it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhYh1eZh1Ew

5.  Richard Scarry: Another favorite from my childhood.  Beware the newer spin-off’s.  Not as good. Go for the originals, like the Please and Thank You Book.  It made me the joy and pleasure I am to be with today.  😉

The only downside is that his books are sooooo long.  But they’re worth it.

Linking up with Hallie for Five Favorites and Jessica for What We’re Reading Wednesday.  Thanks ladies!

Five Favorites: More Books

Here are some of my bookish favorites of late:

1. Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres.

I just finished this for book club. Highly, highly recommended.

This book is historical fiction, it’s a romance, take your pick. When trying to describe this book, I fall into clichés because it’s just that great: sweeping, poignant, epic, character-driven . . . magnificent. It’s the story of Greece’s occupation during World War II and the civil war and strife caused by its own Communist thugs afterward. It’s told through a love story between a Greek doctor’s daughter and a captain in the occupying Italian forces.

I’ve taken my fair share of history courses, but I never internalize history so well as when I learn about it in a novel. This one is long but it’s worthwhile. It’s broken up into short chapters and written in pithy language and filled with life-like characters. Please don’t be prejudiced by the movie version. I haven’t seen it, but Nicholas Cage plays the romantic male lead, so . . . *shudder.*

2. If you need something lighter, check out Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns), by Mindy Kaling.

Ms. Kaling plays the airheaded Kelly Kapoor on The Office, but she also co-writes, directs, and produces the show. I love, love reading funny, smart-as-a-whip women who don’t take themselves too seriously (bonus points for those whose minds are not stuck in the gutter). Among other topics, Ms. Kaling recounts her deliciously awkward childhood and reflects on being as a normal-sized woman in Hollywood:

Since I am not model-skinny, but also not super-fat and fabulously owning my hugeness, I fall into that nebulous, ‘Normal American Woman Size’ that legions of fashion stylists detest. For the record, I’m a size 8 (this week anyway). Many stylists hate that size because, I think, to them, I lack the self-discipline to be an aesthetic, or the sassy confidence to be a total fatty hedonist. They’re like ‘Pick a lane.’

She also expresses surprisingly traditional views on love and marriage, coming from a completely secular point of view, which makes me love her even more.

3. BOB Books by Bobby Lynn Maslen:

Girl 1 is starting to read, and it is so exciting! I’ve never wanted to homeschool but I always thought it would be nice to teach my kids to read. I taught swimming lessons back in the day, and teaching a child a new, life-changing skill is so satisfying. As it happens, Girl 1’s reading moment came this summer, so I guess I can say I taught her. Any suggestions for other beginning level readers for us to read with her at home?

4. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Everyone reads this in high school. Everyone should re-read it at least ten years later, as I recently did for book club. It takes on a whole new significance once you’ve lived long enough that each character reminds you, at least a bit, of someone you’ve met in real life. And it’s quite the jolt when one realizes Myrtle Wilson might very well look like oneself.

Has anyone seen the new movie version? I can’t wait for it to come to DVD. Leonardo DiCaprio has a lot of haters but I don’t really mind him. I started watching the 1970s Robert Redford version, but it bored me, and Jack McCoy as Nick Carraway was just too weird.

5. Goodreads: Not a book but an online book listing/reviewing/sharing social network of sorts. I love it! I never find myself wandering around the library anymore, wondering what to read next. (Sometimes that sort of wandering leads to an Evelyn Waugh kick, which isn’t so bad. But sometimes it leads to really horrible mistakes and other choices you’re not proud of later.)

Every time I come across a book I want to read, I add it to my “to-read” list so I won’t forget. I have enough books on my “to-read” list now to last me the next ten years, and it’s kind of a luxurious feeling. And I love seeing what my friends are reading.

Does anyone know of a similar site for movies? I often hear about movies that I want to see, but I never remember them when Pat and I sit down to watch Netflix or go to Redbox.

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I’m doing double triple duty today, linking up with Hallie at Moxie Wife for her weekly Five Favorites and with Jessica at Housewifespice for What We’re Reading Wednesday and with Modern Mrs. Darcy for her Twitterature link-up, which I just discovered (a monthly link-up of short, informal book reviews: my favorite kind). Thank you ladies!

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Five Favorites: Literary Edition

Wow, it’s been a busy few days.  I missed What I Wore Sunday and Menu Plan Monday (*sniff*), but I’m happy to be joining up now with Hallie at Moxie Wife for her weekly link up.   Today I thought I’d do a book-themed Five Favorites post.  The books aren’t really all-time favorites, but they’re some favorites of things I’ve read recently.  So:

1. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business

This book examines both personal and institutional habits and is written in a very readable style (unlike other psychological/sociological books I’ve tried to read lately).  The chapter on Target is particularly interesting in a scary way: they are so good at analyzing their customers’ spending habits that they might know you’re pregnant before you tell your husband!  Also, the author has a you-are-the-master-of-your-fate point of view, which I like.

Here’s the book summary from Amazon:

In The Power of Habit, award-winning New York Times business reporter Charles Duhigg . . . brings to life a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential for transformation.

Along the way we learn why some people and companies struggle to change, despite years of trying, while others seem to remake themselves overnight. We visit laboratories where neuroscientists explore how habits work and where, exactly, they reside in our brains. We discover how the right habits were crucial to the success of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, and civil-rights hero Martin Luther King, Jr. We go inside Procter & Gamble, Target superstores, Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, NFL locker rooms, and the nation’s largest hospitals and see how implementing so-called keystone habits can earn billions and mean the difference between failure and success, life and death. . . .  Habits aren’t destiny. As Charles Duhigg shows, by harnessing this new science, we can transform our businesses, our communities, and our lives.

2. The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

If you’re looking for something short and easy-to-read yet still substantial (maybe for vacation reading?), consider this.

On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.”   With this celebrated sentence, Thornton Wilder begins The Bridge of San Luis Rey, one of the towering achievements in American fiction and a novel read throughout the world.

By chance, a monk witnesses the tragedy. Brother Juniper seeks to prove that it was divine intervention rather than chance that led to the deaths of those who perished in the tragedy. His study leads to his own death — and to the author’s timeless investigation into the nature of love and the meaning of the human condition.

I would add that this book also is an investigation into the working of Divine Providence . . . and whether it’s even wise to investigate it.  Engaging characters, thought-provoking themes . . . but still short!  A winner (Pulitzer Prize winner, to be exact).

 3. The Princess and the Peas and Carrots by Harriet Ziefert.

Our four year-old loves this book and has memorized it word for word.  I think it has helped us all see the humor in our finicky little princess’s demanding ways.

4. Paperback Swap:  Not a book but a great way to get books.  I always go here if there’s a book I want that isn’t available at the library.

You list books you are willing to give away, and you ship them when another user requests them.   The sender pays shipping, but it’s usually only about $3.  The website make it easy to print the mailing label from home, too.  Then if a book is posted that you want, you can request it and get it sent to you for free!  Newer books usually have a long waiting list, but I’ve had good luck getting books that have been out at least a few years.

5. My husband: 

(When discussing which movie to watch)

Me: “We could watch this . . . but it’s kinda long.”

Pat: (glances at cover)

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Pat: “. . .  It looks long.”

Okay, not a book, but a conversation about a movie about a book, so that counts right?  😉

Thanks for hosting the link-up, Hallie!

7 Quick Takes: More Books

For my quick takes this week, here are some short reviews on books I’ve read lately.  Please forgive the uneven font size.  ‘Can’t figure out how to fix it.

— 1 —

The Spear by Louis DeWohl:

This panoramic novel of the last days of Christ ranges from the palaces of imperial Rome to the strife-torn hills of Judea-where the conflict of love and betrayal, revenge and redemption, reaches a mighty climax in the drama of the Crucifixion. For this is the full story of the world’s most dramatic execution, as it affected one of its least-known participants-the man who hurled his spear into Christ on the Cross.

This book gives a lot of insight into the political and sectarian circumstances surrounding Jesus’ life.  Fictionalized but (I think) historically plausible.  A real page turner.

— 2 —

Biting the Dust: The Joys of Housework by Margaret Horsfield:

 Horsfield, a reporter for BBC, CBC, the Guardian and the Independent, uses her journalistic skills to investigate not only how, but why, we clean. Using historical, literary, psychological and personal sources, she traces the long and tangled evolution. . . . In the late 19th century, the germ theory of disease scared women onto a new plane of anxiety about the cleanliness of their households. With the introduction of soap around the same time, the media turned method to madness by establishing standards of cleanliness that were suffocating, imprisoning and impossible to live up to. Bringing her subject up to the present, Horsfield blames people like Martha Stewart for perpetuating a kind of “domestic pornography” that encourages women to fight a losing battle by creating yet another impossible, media-fueled ideal. Horsfield couldn’t take a more ordinary subject and make it more interesting.

This book came to mind when I attended recentsales parties for Arbonne cosmetics and Norwex house-cleaning products.  I’m sure these products are fine in themselves.  I do question their marketing messages, which rely on vague but alarming statements about the dangers of “chemicals.”

In centuries past, people believed that sickness was caused by bad air, hence the old warning against letting in the night air.  Those notions went by the wayside as germ theory developed.  Later on, triclosan was added to anything and everything.  Now we realize that killing any and all germs and bacteria isn’t such a good idea.

I wonder, then: are “chemicals” just the current boogeymen that we’ll laugh at decades later.  Surely, some are bad for you.  Dousing the earth in DDT in the mid-20th century turned out to be not such a hot idea.  But some chemicals are naturally occurring.  Some are harmless.  Many are harmful only in small quantities.  I’m certainly no expert.  But do we think about these nuances before paying a pretty penny for products claiming to be “green” or “chemical-free?”

— 3 —

Splendors of the Rosary: A Celebration of the Mysteries of The Rosary through Art and Meditation, from Magnificat Press.  A really beautiful collection of artwork and meditations for each mystery of the Rosary.  I imagine this would be great for older children; it certainly is for adults.  (Gift from my mom–thanks Mom!)

— 4 —

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith:

. . . tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Here she strives, over six turbulent months, to hone her writing skills. She fills three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries. Her journals candidly chronicle the great changes that take place within the castle’s walls, and her own first descent into love. By the time she pens her final entry, she has “captured the castle”–and the heart of the reader–in one of literature’s most enchanting entertainments.

Beautifully written.  Sad, but ends on a hopeful note.  Hard to believe it was out of print for many years.

What is it about these coming-of-age, first-love stories that leave me a mushy, sentimental mess? It’s like this:

True ‘dat.

— 5 —

Left To Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, by Immaculée Ilibagiza with Steve Erwin:

Immaculée shares her miraculous story of how she survived during the Rwanda genocide in 1994 when she and seven other women huddled silently together in the cramped bathroom of a local pastor’s house for 91 days! In this captivating and inspiring book, Immaculée shows us how to embrace the power of prayer, forge a profound and lasting relationship with God, and discover the importance of forgiveness and the meaning of truly unconditional love and understanding—through our darkest hours.

It took me a while to get to this.  It’s rare that I wake up in the morning thinking, “What I really want to do today is read about genocide.”  But this book isn’t really about genocide, although of course that’s the central event.  The book is about hope, forgiveness, and God’s miraculous sparing of the author’s life.

It’s interesting to read how specific the author’s hope is, as opposed to a cautious, “I’m sure God will work everything out somehow.”  It’s inspiring and yet, is this bordering a bit on the “name it and claim it” prosperity Gospel line of thought?  Also interesting is this book’s description of the powerful role of the media in furthering the Rwandan genocide.

— 6 —

Strengthsfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath:

Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?  Chances are, you don’t. All too often, our natural talents go untapped. From the cradle to the cubicle, we devote more time to fixing our shortcomings than to developing our strengths.

Okay, I actually haven’t read all of this.  I got a used copy from Paperback swap.  Turns out the book is mainly a discussion of various “strengths” but you have to take an online test to see what your individual strengths are.  Each copy of the book has a unique code that only can be used once.  Because I got my copy used, the code doesn’t work any more.  Bummer.  The introduction does have some interesting ideas about the benefits of building on our individual strengths rather than focusing on our weaknesses.

Just reading the introduction, though, got me thinking: what about strength-based parenting?  How can I help my children develop their unique strengths and avoid fixating on overcoming their weaknesses?  Does anyone know any good books on this subject?

— 7 —

Speaking of children, my four-year old girl has been loving these ballet books lately:

Happy reading!

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