Monday, January 28, 2008
The second book in the Firstborn Series by Karen Kingsbury is appropriately entitled Forgiven. It is a story about forgiving others for what they have done; but, it is also a story about being forgiven and finding peace within one's life.
Dayne and Katy are reunited yet continue to struggle with their feelings for one another. Dayne struggles with finding direction in his life while dealing with the memories of his lost childhood. Tragedy strikes the Christian Kids Theater Group and the teens struggle with their loss and anger while trying to stay focused on their next production. John reaches out to an old friend and shares a confession that has been on his mind for quite some time. And Ashley finds an envelope addressed to Firstborn and learns of a secret that will affect her entire family.
The way back has to start somewhere for all of us. That's what forgiveness was --- a start. (p.478)
The storyline may sound depressing, but it is far from it. The characters make many discoveries about themselves and others which provide comfort and lessons learned throughout their personal struggles. A story that pulls at your heartstrings in so many ways, Forgiven reminds us about the strength of love, prayer and faith, the value of family and friends, and the meaning behind Jesus Christ dying on the cross.
I very much enjoyed this book (even more so than the first book Fame) and look forward to continuing on with the Firstborn Series.
Friday, January 25, 2008
The second novel found in this book is Dual Image. Classic Nora Roberts, it is a story of two typical romance novel characters, a love challenge, and a twist. It was a fluffy read and rather predictable... but then again, what classic romance isn't?
His hand dropped away from her arm. "I don't discuss my private life."
"Maybe that's part of the problem. Is it women in general, or just actresses you detest?"
His eyes narrowed so that she could only see a glint of the anger. It wasn't necessary to see what you could feel. "Don't push me."
"I doubt anyone could." Though she felt the anger was a promising sign. Ariel didn't feel capable of dealing with it, or her own feelings at the moment. "It's a pity," she continued as she turned for the door again. "When whatever's frozen inside you thaws, I think you'll be a remarkable man. In the meantime, I'll stay out of your way." She opened the door, then turned back. "About the part, Booth, please deal with my agent." Quietly, she closed the door behind her. (pp. 300-301)
Ariel Kirkwood is a leading actress in a popular soap opera who reads for an upcoming made for tv movie written by the famous screenwriter Booth DeWitt. The movie is based on his disastrous and failed marriage to an actress that has a cool reputation for using people to get what she wants. Booth has since kept his distance from new relationships. Enter Ariel who is alive with energy, love, and the need to be needed. She falls in love at first sight with Booth and finds a way to work her way into his heart and life. And for the twist, she is also fighting for the custody of her young orphaned nephew, Scott. The challenge of showing Booth who she really is by giving him the gift of love and her struggles with the custody battle because she believes that everyone deserves to be well-loved continue to fire Ariel with the energy she needs to get what she wants and needs... the two men that her heart most desires.
Although not one of my favorite Nora Roberts books, I did enjoy Dual Image. It was a quick, light read that gave me a couple of days of daydreams and romance.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Frank McCourt recounts the years of his childhood in his memorable book Angela's Ashes. At the age of four, McCourt's parents move their family from New York back to their homeland of Ireland. His father Malachy can not hold a job and drinks away the little money that is given to him. His mother Angela does her best to keep the family together, finding food, clothes and shelter by whatever respectable means are necessary. The family lives in squalor conditions and often goes without food or coal due to the lack of income. The descriptions are heart wrenching but McCourt has a sharp wit that had me laughing at several of his recollections. However, he is often hard on himself especially in his lack of ability to do much for his situation.
I talk to St. Francis and tell him about Margaret, Oliver, Eugene, my father singing Roddy McCorley and bringing home no money, my father sending no money from England, Theresa and the green sofa, my terrible sins on Carrigogunnell, why couldn't they hang Hermann Goering for what he did to the little children with shoes scattered around concentration camps, the Christian Brother who closed the door in my face, the time they wouldn't let me be an altar boy, my small brother Michael walking up the lane with the broken shoe clacking, my bad eyes, the tears in Mam's eyes when I slapped her.
Father Gregory says, Would you like to sit and be silent, perhaps pray a few minutes?
His brown robe is rough against my cheek and there's the smell of soap. He looks at St. Francis and the tabernacle and nods and I suppose he's talking to God. Then he tells me kneel, gives me absolution, tells me say three Hail Marys, three Our Fathers, three Glory Bes. He tells me God forgives me and I must forgive myself, that God loves me and I must love myself for only when you love God in yourself can you love all God's creatures. (p.343)
McCourt tries different courses of action to improve the conditions of his life, sometimes with success and sometimes with failure. But eventually he achieves his goal of earning enough money to both help his family and to return to America at the age of nineteen to start a new life.
When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. (p.11)
Angela's Ashes is a great memoir of a miserable childhood that will have its reader thinking, appreciating, understanding, and laughing. I very much enjoyed this book.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
The Company of Men by Jan Ellison is a short story about a trio that spent some time together in Australia and how that relationship and time together impacted one of their lives.
For a few years I had in my possession two rain slickers that smelled of whiskey and cigarettes and aftershave. ... Then when I was about to be married and I wanted to be rid of so many failings, so many unhelpful habits and longings, when I believed the past could no longer inform me, I threw the slickers into the Goodwill pile and lost them forever. Now what was left is a single photo I return to now and then, of two young men in bright red coats hitchhiking under a darkened sky.
During her travels alone after graduating from college, Catherine meets two men in a New Zeeland bar. Ray and Jimmy are backpacking through New Zeeland and Australia, and all three have their personal reasons for their escapes from home after college. They spend a brief evening of drinking before Catherine hops a bus to Sydney for the next part of her trek. While in Sydney, she runs into the two men once again and the trio begin a brief and intense relationship based on alcohol, stories, and their own brand of friendship.
I'd been listening to Ray with my elbows up on the bar and my chin in my hand, with the intensity that can come over you when you've had a lot to drink. His story seemed strange and sad and unforgettable. While Ray talked, Jimmy kept the drinks coming and he let the back of his hand fall against my arm on the bar. He let his thigh rub against my knee beneath it. This seemed to be the arrangement. With the drinks and the roving hands and the sweet eyes and the good looks, Jimmy's role was to draw people to the two of them, and Ray's --- with his stories and his mournful eyes --- was to keep them there.
Catherine reminisces about this time in her life while remembering the loss of her father and also while thinking of her more current life as a wife and mother. The blending of these memories make for an interesting view on Catherine's personal search for love and her place in life.
It was not that I wanted the entrapments that come along with love, or that I would promise to offer it in return. It was that I believed that once a man knew me, he would see how different I was from an everyday girl --- how forthright and clever and secretly kind --- and he would find me indispensable.
Although Catherine feels that the past can no longer inform her as she disposes of the rain slickers, she still reviews that past and sees how it helped shape the person that she has now become.
As I walked, I thought about them hard --- Jimmy and Ray --- going over each episode in my mind, weighing and measuring, considering cause and effect. Not in an effort to shed the loss but to savor it, to shape it, to give it permanence.
I very much enjoyed this short story and found myself caught up in the characters and their time together in Sydney. The friendship between the trio had me thinking about some of the friendships that I have had over my lifetime, especially those in my young adult years. Our journey in life is shaped by many encounters both big and small; but I feel that it is the brief and intense encounters that often bring the most meaning and often the best lessons learned.
"The Company of Men" by Jan Ellison (from New England Review) from The O. Henry Prize Stories 2007 edited by Laura Furman
Sunday, January 13, 2008
In celebration of an author's birthday in January, I read Woman of the Frontier by Zane Grey. I tend not to read westerns very often so I browsed the library shelves and found this title and its cover art intriguing.
Woman of the Frontier is the story of Logan Huett and his life in the Arizona frontier. After his time as an Army scout, he decides to settle down and raise cattle. Through telegrams he arranges to have his childhood sweetheart Lucinda Baker take a train to Flagg, Arizona to marry him and begin a pioneer life in Sycamore Canon. Lucinda, who comes from a life of privilege, becomes a woman of the frontier which proves a difficult challenge at first but eventually becomes the family's saving grace in the end. With plenty of good times and bad, a revengeful act of a hostile Apache, a growing family, a movement of rustlers and new settlers to the land, the many challenges of farming the land and raising cattle, and a world war that affects many families including the Huetts, the story has much to offer. Although I enjoyed the beautiful scenery and vocabulary that Grey includes throughout the story, I found it frustrating to read and a bit of a downer overall.
Nevertheless it was home. And his pang of agony was appalling. He should have lived for his family and not for cattle. His great ambition had been a blunder. His greed had broken him. He had been clubbed down in the prime of his marvelous physical manhood. (p.295)
The Huett family was a strong family, full of love and hard work. I just wish that I could have enjoyed their story more and appreciated all their hard work in trying to make their pioneer dreams come true.
I haven't read anything by Zane Grey since high school, so I was rather looking forward to this book. However, it turned out to be a slow and disappointing read with a depressing turn of events at the end. It was worth finishing but I wish I had asked for recommendations before I made my final choice of title.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Yesterday I received my February 2008 issue of Ladies' Home Journal. After my browsing, I decided to attack this issue in a little different manner. Mini-challenge #6 is to read two articles from any one magazine and review what was read. So I looked over the table of contents with purpose and found three articles I wanted to read. I had two separate moments in time to sit down and read my chosen articles. It was weird breaking my usual reading routine for magazines, but I so enjoyed taking a purposeful opportunity to read these articles.
My first article was an interview with Diane Keaton called Truly Madly Deeply, found on page 102 of LHJ. I have enjoyed several movies that star Diane Keaton, so my interest in her led me to this article. It generally covered the usual topics: kids, love interests, career, and personal insight. It was a brief but fun article to read.
My second article was an excerpt from Kim Sunee's book Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home. The article, Meditations On My Mother: The Forever Mother found on page 66 of LHJ, described Sunee's search for her birth mother who had abandoned her at age three. It is not a sad story but rather an enlightening story of how Sunee felt and grew from the experience. Her use of description made the article very interesting.
My third article (yes, I got excited and found another to read) was part of the feature My Life As Mom. Marion Winik relates her account of being a mother in Motherhood Mayhem found on page 60 of LHJ. I dearly appreciated this article because I have four children ages 9 to 16 and could definitely relate to her story. I laughed and nodded at the words of Winik's recollection of one night last summer that ended the next morning as she "tossed back a couple of Aleves with the last of my coffee and started out on another day of rejuvenation."
Mini-challenge #6 gave me a chance to read my magazine with more interest and appreciation than I have over the past couple of months. Too often the magazines just get tossed aside for later. Why not take the time to read two or three articles right away before tossing it aside? Mmmmm, sounds like a personal challenge to me!
Friday, January 4, 2008
Mitch folded his arms, his expression hard. "Some girl you met at a club, Matthews? Someone you made drunken promises to? Is that what you want me to wait for?"
"No." Dayne held up his hand. "She's the real deal. Give me a chance." (p.22)
I read Karen Kingsbury's Redemption Series last year and fell in love with the Baxter family. Kingsbury now revisits the family in her Firstborn Series, a series based on the unknown firstborn sibling of the Baxter family, Dayne Matthews.
In the first book Fame, Dayne Matthews is back in Hollywood and we are introduced to his world and his friends. He is currently working on a new movie and needs a leading lady. His thoughts keep bringing him back to a woman he met during his very brief visit to Bloomington, Indiana: Katy Hart. But will she want this chance of a lifetime? Or is she satisfied with her new life in Bloomington as the director of CKT, Christian Kids Theater? And will she remember his ten minute appearance at the back of the church when he observed her directing her first production with CKT?
Katy seeks God's wisdom in her decision to audition and then in her decision to take the offered part in the movie. When she arrives in Hollywood, she sees firsthand how fame affects those involved in the movie industry. Katy then needs to make the decision as to whether or not fame and the life that goes with it is right for her. She relies heavily on prayer and her faith while making these life changing decisions.
What I enjoyed most about this book is that it developed a set of characters and stories that will keep the Baxter saga fresh and new. If Fame is any indication of the how this series will continue, I am definitely looking forward to reading the rest of the books!
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
The use of compare and contrast writing creates a great reading and learning experience in Jodi Picoult's book Plain Truth. Set in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the reader enters the world of the Plain Amish that many people do not understand. The storyline is simply a court case that involves two main characters, Ellie and Katie, and the death of a newborn child. But is this truly such a simple story? I don't believe so. The way that Picoult portrays the two worlds, the English and the Amish, is a great avenue for us to evaluate our beliefs of life around us.
"Committing a murder is the most arrogant act there is! To decide you have the power of God, to take some one else's life." He stared at Ellie, his eyes bright as beacons. "People think Plain folks are stupid, that they let the world walk all over them. But Plain folks---they're smart; they just don't know how to be selfish. They're not selfish enough to be greedy, or pushy, or proud. And they're certainly not selfish enough to kill another human being with intent."
"The Amish faith isn't what's on trial, here."
"But it should be," Jacob countered. "My sister could not commit murder, Ms. Hathaway, simply because she's Amish through and through." (p.172)
Diverse characters such as Aaron, Elam, Sarah, Samuel, Mary, and Bishop Ephram enrich the story with interesting views of life from a perspective of which we are not familiar. Add to the mix Cooper, Jacob, Leda, Adam, and George, and you have an assortment of opposing views that create an understanding of how life can be so different for everyone.
Through her characterizations and settings, Picoult creates many layers to this simple story of a court case: self-discovery, family, faith, strength, and commitment. Right down to the last chapter that offers a surprise ending, Plain Truth is a page turner that will have you thinking about acceptance and forgiveness, simple ways of life, and what you will do for your faith and for those that you love.
This is my fourth Jodi Picoult book and I believe it is now my favorite.
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
I have committed myself to nine challenges for the new year. Two actually began in 2007 and seven begin in 2008. I have book lists for seven challenges and will create lists for the other two as I participate.
Casual Reading Challenge
There are no set number of books to read from 10/07 through 10/08.
Celebrate The Author Challenge
One book a month for the year 2008.
In Their Shoes Reading Challenge
Six books from 1/08 to 12/08.
The Mini Challenge 2o08
A Novel Challenge presents twelve mini-challenges from 1/1/08 through 12/31/08.
Reading My Name Challenge
At least two books from 2/1/08 to 5/1/08.
The Romance Reading Challenge
Five books from 1/08 to 12/08.
Reading Firstborn Series (5 books) from 12/1/07 to 5/31/08.
The Short Story Reading Challenge
Option 1: Read ten short stories from 1/1/08 to 12/31/08.
What's In A Name? Reading Challenge
Six books from 1/1/08 to 12/31/08.
I will also continue participating in The Bookworms Reading Group this year as time and titles permit.
It's an ambitious list, but I am very excited to begin a new year of reading!!!