Year of the Bookwormz: 2011

52 weeks. 2 friends. 1 challenge.

Book #49: LibraryLove November 28, 2010

The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June by Robin Benway

Book description~ I hugged my sisters and they fit against my sides like two jigsaw pieces that would never fit anywhere else. I couldn’t imagine ever letting them go again, like releasing them would be to surrender the best parts of myself. Three sisters share a magical, unshakeable bond in this witty high-concept novel from the critically acclaimed author of Audrey, Wait! Around the time of their parents’ divorce, sisters April, May, and June recover special powers from childhood—powers that come in handy navigating the hell that is high school. Powers that help them cope with the hardest year of their lives. But could they have a greater purpose? April, the oldest and a bit of a worrier, can see the future. Middle-child May can literally disappear. And baby June reads minds—everyone’s but her own. When April gets a vision of disaster, the girls come together to save the day and reconcile their strained family. They realize that no matter what happens, powers or no powers, they’ll always have each other. Because there’s one thing stronger than magic: sisterhood.

Phew. After FOUR, yes, FOUR Thanksgivings meals shared with both family and friends over the last few days, I finally had this morning and afternoon COMPLETELY unscheduled and uninterrupted to read, read, read like the wind! Although I enjoyed every moment of spending time with friends, families, and babies this weekend, I’ve felt the pressure of this challenge now more than ever. Back in the summer, I was inundated with books to read and review and unfortunately didn’t get to them all. This book fell by the wayside and I finally got around to it this week. Special thanks to Penguin Books and Young Adult (YA) author Robin Benway for sending me this galley copy of April, May & June to review. What a fun and unexpected read! Although I do enjoy the YA genre from time to time, this story was really well-written and could be enjoyed by adults and not just young readers.

“No thanks. I know smoking kills and all that but also, you get these really weird pucker lines around your mouth. And I haven’t been using moisturizer every night since I was ten for no reason. “

The story is focused around the three sisters, named sequentially after the months in which they were each born, each with unique abilities (think Jedi mind tricks!). Dealing with the emotions of being a teenager is more than enough for these three girls. Add on to that a painful divorce for the girls’ mother and you have yourself the starting threads for this fun, suspenseful tale of love, sisterhood, and teen angst. The girls are trying to navigate through high school while missing their father, who now lives states away. The girls’ mother starts to date and so too, do the girls. However, as I was trying to sink my teeth into this quick read, my main criticism is that the mysterious and suspenseful juicy rising action of the plot line didn’t unfurl until almost 200 pages in, then the book suddenly halts and leaves the reader wanting more. I loved April & her love interest Julian’s storyline; I would have much preferred more of them than some of the other extraneous half-developed characters. What is it with most YA novels these days? YOUNG kids are reading 600+ pages of Harry Potter and/or Lord of the Rings; why can’t YA books go a little more in-depth too??

This was a fun and for the most part lighthearted book. Although rated as Young Adult, many of the “party scenes” in this book, to me, wouldn’t be what I’d want my teenager reading. Alright, off I go to enjoy the afternoon with my hubby and puppies in front of the fireplace and excited to crack open of my friends’ suggested reading of The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Off I go….stay tuned!

3/5 stars

49 down, 3 to go!

xoxo,

LibraryLove


 

Book #45: Fabookulous November 26, 2010

The Grace Awakening by Charles Swindoll

Book description:

“Bound and shackled by legalists’ lists of do’s and don’ts, intimidated and immobilized by others’ demands and expectations, far too many in God’s family merely exist in the tight radius of bondage, dictated by those who have appointed themselves our judge and jury.”-Chuck Swindoll [from the Introduction]

The Grace Awakening calls all Christians to wake up and reject living in such legalistic, performance-oriented bondage. The God of the universe has given us an amazing, revolutionary gift of grace and freedom. This freedom and grace set us apart from every other “religion” on the face of the earth.

In this best-selling classic, Charles Swindoll urges you not to miss living a grace-filled life. Freedom and joy-not lists and demands and duties-await all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

With his characteristic style and gentle authority, Swindoll disarms the counter-attack of all those who would not preach grace-filled living and who would claim that focusing on grace would fill our churches with wild, undisciplined people with no godliness in evidence. Yes, Swindoll says, teaching and preaching grace is risky. Some may push the limits and misuse their freedom. But grace is the message of the gospel…the good news of salvation. As Christians, we sing about God’s amazing grace. We understand that we are saved by grace. Let’s learn to live by grace! Discover how in The Grace Awakening.

While Christian non-fiction tends to be my favorite genre, an audiobook of that genre feels like a very long sermon. Which is okay, but just needs to be taken in a little at a time. Which is why I took almost a week to get through this audiobook. I love Charles Swindoll’s books and have been making my way through his Great Lives series. This is the first book of his I’ve read (er, listened to) out of that series; he certainly has a lot to offer in the way of Biblical teaching!

Swindoll shares some valuable insights regarding grace and our ability to abuse it or misuse it. While it is offered freely to us, we tend to abuse that privilege and view it as a right or as permission to keep doing what we want. But what I appreciated most from this book is the discussion on legalism in Christianity. So many Christians follow a list of rules or regulations and then stand in judgment of others who do not do the same. (This isn’t even necessarily restricted to Christians) I love a good discussion on legalism in the Christian faith because among the many denominations, folks really do get caught up in the rules of it all. Swindoll gently reminds us (in a nutshell) to do as we see fit and allow others the same freedom. Isn’t it all about freedom anyway? Why do we put ourselves in a box most of the time and limit our ability? Ah yes–because rules are restrictive.

Swindoll is a mature and seasoned Christian who offers wonderful insight and wisdom. I will probably want to read the rest of his books rather than listen to them and save my audiobook experiences for fiction. But I think I got enough take away from this one to make it worth it anyway!

4/5 stars

Fabookulous

 

Book #44: Fabookulous

Good Dog. Stay. by Anna Quindlen

Book description:

“The life of a good dog is like the life of a good person, only shorter and more compressed,” writes Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anna Quindlen about her beloved black Labrador retriever, Beau. With her trademark wisdom and humor, Quindlen reflects on how her life has unfolded in tandem with Beau’s, and on the lessons she’s learned by watching him: to roll with the punches, to take things as they come, to measure herself not in terms of the past or the future but of the present, to raise her nose in the air from time to time and, at least metaphorically, holler, “I smell bacon!”

Of the dog that once possessed a catcher’s mitt of a mouth, Quindlen reminisces, “There came a time when a scrap thrown in his direction usually bounced unseen off his head. Yet put a pork roast in the oven, and the guy still breathed as audibly as an obscene caller. The eyes and ears may have gone, but the nose was eternal. And the tail. The tail still wagged, albeit at half-staff. When it stops, I thought more than once, then we’ll know.”

Heartening and bittersweet, Good Dog. Stay. honors the life of a cherished and loyal friend and offers us a valuable lesson on our four-legged family members: Sometimes an old dog can teach us new tricks.

Earlier this week, while at a lunch with co-workers, someone asked how many books I had left in this year’s 52-book challenge. When I told them and said I needed short books so I could read a few during the long holiday weekend (in between the turkey-induced naps), two of them said Good Dog. Stay. by Anna Quindlen. The next day, I was lent a copy and it jumped to the top of my “power mode finish” for the year.

I was excited to read this book, and if I’m completely honest, it was for the sole reason that it was a quick read. I’ve realized over this year that you tend to get what you expect when it comes to books. I don’t know if it’s because you’ve already made up your mind or what, but this one was exactly what I expected: a short book.

I’ve read memoirs on dogs before, as well as fiction about dogs and their meaning to our lives, and they’ve all left me satisfied and smiling. While I’m sure Beau was a very special dog, it’s not displayed often in this short read. The book is full of pictures (they are all very cute!) but when reading about a dog, one can appreciate him more when one can read about the dog’s special personality. (Think Oogy or A Dog’s Purpose)

That being said, this was cute, VERY quick to read (think one-sitting actually) yet left me wanting so much more.

2.5/5 stars

Fabookulous

 

Book #43: Fabookulous November 24, 2010

The Christmas Bus by Melody Carlson

Book description:

It’s only two weeks before Christmas, and Edith Ryan is disappointed to learn that none of her children are coming home for the holidays. Her large house, which doubles as The Shepherd’s Inn the rest of the year, will feel so empty without them. And it’s too late to open the inn for Christmas reservations-surely everyone else has their plans made by now. In a town where Christmas is a way of life all year long, going through the holidays alone is just about enough to bring her to tears.

Suddently Edith knows what she has to do- she’ll invite strangers to book those rooms usually reserved for family during the week of Christmas. When the guest list shapes up to include a cantankerous old woman and a mysterious young couple with a broken-down hippie bus and a baby on the way, Edith wonders if she made the right choice. Will it blow up in her face? Or could she be entertaining angels unaware?

During the Christmas season my mom reads a lot of Christmas themed books. She just loves a good Christmas story. Years ago she bought The Christmas Bus and thought of my paternal grandmother, who drove a school bus. After passing it around the family, it’s been sitting on my desk for a while waiting for me to get to it. And I’m glad I finally did; it is such a cozy little read!

This is a quick read, but it’s a great kick off to the holiday season! With Thanksgiving tomorrow, Christmas is just around the corner and it’s that time of year to watch Christmas movies and read the stories and just smile and be thankful. The Christmas Bus offers valuable lessons about how we treat others during the frenzied holiday season. Things aren’t always what they seem, and while a predictable story, this was still a good book. Simple and to the point, the reader doesn’t feel overwhelmed with the details of several side stories.

When the bus rolls into town, folks in the small town setting get riled up about it’s taking up space in the streets. Lonely widows, young couples, new moms, and a crotchety older woman are among the strangers that Edith invites to the inn for Christmas. Grab a cup of hot cocoa, a fuzzy blanket, and read this short novel as we begin to prepare for the most wonderful time of year!

4/5 stars

Fabookulous

 

Book #48: LibraryLove

The Fabulous Girl’s Guide to Decorum by Kim Izzo and Ceri Marsh

Book description~ Etiquette is In. A new generation of FGs (Fabulous Girls) are coming up with a personal style that includes grace under fire and consideration for others. This detailed guide includes modern advice on timeless situations (birthdays, marriage, funerals) as well as more contemporary conundrums, such as office gossip and living together.

With the holiday season in full swing, I have even LESS time to devote to reading than I would like. I’ve come too far and I simply will not rest until I’ve met my goal of 52 books. This review will be short and sweet because I need to jump right in to the next book.

I stumbled upon this title at a little tea shop I visited with friends months ago. In sorting through my books to find the most manageable (no chunksters!), I decided it was short and just what I needed. I put down the 600+ pager5 I was reading and will save that for January because I’m in the homestretch!

“People are rude and inconsiderate to each other every day and in every circumstance, and what’s worse, they don’t seem to realize it. Perhaps they just don’t know any better. As every well-mannered person knows, to correct someone else’s breach of etiquette is itself an infraction. Manners are an integral part of good citizenship. Consideration for others and not only for one’s own wants and needs is necessary if a person is to be a valuable member of her world. When people of varying cultures and economic brackets must, increasingly, live side by side, etiquette becomes a modern requisite. Pleasant manners are just plain more appealing than bad manners. Behaving in a thoughtful way helps both morally and aesthetically to make the world a better place.”

Watch out Miss Manners, Izzo and Marsh are your Canadian competition! Cornering the ‘etiquette market’ with their series of fun and funky books, Izzo and Marsh have a great thing going! What perfect timing to brush up on your manners, as the party and social landscape ramps up for another holiday season. The holidays mean traveling or attending gatherings with inlaws, mixed families, friends, co-workers, and a possible run-in with someone you aren’t so fond of. With alcohol usually a factor, things can get a bit dicey at times if you aren’t on your best behavior. No better time to head into this year’s party season with this quick reference guide. A wonderfully cheeky and light-hearted palette-cleaner,  Decorum is a fun read that definitely puts you in the spirit of socializing, even if just to observe others’ manners or even lack therof!

Miss Manners is still a classic, but Izzo and Marsh do a great job of bringing the idea of navigating the social and professional landscape to our generation’s more modern sensibility. The book is quite broad in scope, covering the following general topics, just to name a few: society, friendship, couples, intimacy, weddings, divorce, home, entertaining. The book then goes into more detail on such areas as coping with an office backstabber, taxi and door-holding protocol, hosting the perfect dinner party, top 10 things to always carry in your purse, and saving face when a male buddy has become too attached. Sure, most of these things apply more to a bit younger of an audience, ladies who are just getting themselves out there and starting to date as adults. But, we can all use a little Manners 101. Rudeness is everywhere and wouldn’t it be nice to make a little effort to try and be a little nicer, especially to strangers? Or if you’re out holiday shopping with crowds and long lines? It’s easy to get pressurized and be short or snub the salesperson while on your phone chatting. But if the roles were reversed, wouldn’t you appreciate someone giving you 2 minutes of their attention while cashing out at a store? I know I would and now it’s one of the things I always make sure I do, end my phone call before I get inline at a store.

One criticism is that I wish they’d come out with an updated edition, as many things that plague our social scene now were left out. How rude is it to see a couple at a romantic dinner and one of them is on their crackberry the entire time? Or when someone comes to talk to you at your desk, and you continue to click away typing an email giving them only half your attention? Maybe including a chapter on etiquette in using technology would be nice to see in the next edition. But, I’m loving these girls’ wit and charm and hope to get my hands on the other books in their series, entitled The Fabulous Girl’s Guide to Life and The Fabulous Girl’s Code Red: Grace Under Pressure

 

 

4/5 stars

Feeling the pressure….48 down 4 to go!

In progress, The Extraodinary Secrets of April, May & June

xo♥xo,

LibraryLove


 

Author Spotlight:: Donna Chrobot-Mason November 19, 2010

Who wouldn’t want to learn how to become a more effective leader in both their life and work? For the last 5 days, I was given the privilege of attending the Center for Creative Leaderships’ Leadership Development Workshop. With 25 hand-picked powerful career professionals from all over the world, we were psychoanalyzed by ourselves, our peers, our leadership life coaches, and spent the most powerful days together.  I can truly say my life is forever changed in the 27 new friendships I’ve made over my week at CCL by the people I met and the stories I heard. I hope to see each of the people again someday.

Among the participants,  I had the privilege of getting to know Donna Chrobot-Mason, professor  the University of Cincinnati and author of Boundary Spanning Leadership. The insights Donna offered throughout our week together  will stay with me for a lifetime. Her kindness, gentle demeanor and spunky laugh make me want to share her work with all of you.

 

Here we are down in front in the group photo:

At the end of the week, Donna was sweet enough to sign my copy of her book. I cannot wait to sink my teeth into this labor of love, to continue my development as a leader both in the workplace and as a woman balancing all the facets of life. Stay tuned for my review of her latest book!

From the CCL website, here is some background on Donna:

“Donna Chrobot-Mason has been teaching, consulting, writing, and researching issues around leadership and diversity for fifteen years.  She is committed to helping both scholars and practitioners better understand the challenges and opportunities that exist in leading a diverse workforce.

Donna is an associate professor in psychology at the University of Cincinnati.  She has taught courses in organizational psychology, diversity, leadership, and research methods to undergraduate and master’s level students.  Recently, Donna became the Director of the Center for Organizational Leadership at the University of Cincinnati.  As center director, she spanned boundaries to create and lead a cross-disciplinary research team that examines leadership from a variety of theoretical and methodological perspectives.

As a researcher, Donna has presented at nearly 50 conferences, coauthored five book chapters, and published 12 peer-reviewed articles in journals such as Human Relations, International Journal of Human Resource Management, Journal of Organizational Behavior, and Group and Organization Management. She is co-author of the book, Boundary Spanning Leadership: Six Practices for Solving Problems, Driving Innovation, and Transforming Organizations (McGraw-Hill Professional). Donna also serves on three editorial review boards for leading management journals.

Donna began her career as a practitioner in human resources at the Xerox Corporation. She also consulted with numerous organizations to evaluate diversity climate and develop training programs. Her skill as a diversity scholar and passion for applied research landed her an invitation to join the Leadership Across Differences project at CCL, eventually leading to the partnership that created this book.

Donna has a Ph.D. in applied psychology from the University of Georgia.  She lives near Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband, son, daughter, and two cats. When not working, Donna enjoys spending time outdoors with her family and water-skiing at the lake.”

LibraryLove

 

Book #47: LibraryLove

Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Book description~ Jason Blake is an autistic 12-year-old living in a neurotypical world. Most days it’s just a matter of time before something goes wrong. But Jason finds a glimmer of understanding when he comes across PhoenixBird, who posts stories to the same online site as he does. Jason can be himself when he writes and he thinks that PhoneixBird-her name is Rebecca-could be his first real friend. But as desperate as Jason is to met her, he’s terrified that if they do meet, Rebecca wil only see his autism and not who Jason really is. By acclaimed writer Nora Raleigh Baskin, this is the breathtaking depiction of an autistic boy’s struggles-and a story for anyone who has ever worried about fitting in…

As if the teenage-angst years weren’t hard enough, imagine how frustrated and confused you’d feel if you struggled with Asperger’s Syndrome as well as being a typical teenager? For Jason, his life is “Anything But Typical”. If you may recall from my earlier review of House Rules by Jodi Picoult, we met a teenage boy with the same disease, a mild form on the autism spectrum that affects social behaviors and the way you view and articulate your world. In Typical, Baskin’s latest novel, the main character and budding young teen author Jason Blake, also struggles with Asperger’s, living in a wo rld that is a confusing one that he can’t quite seem to grip. His two major outlets- writing and surfing the online writer’s forum he joins, help him make sense of the world as he knows it.

“There are only seven plots in the whole world: Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Man, Man vs. Environment, Man vs. Machine, Man vs The Supernatural, Man vs Self, Man vs Religion”.

Jason uses writing as an outlet for his creativity and along the way builds his confidence independently while having other members of the online writer’s forum critique his works. One day a girl named “PhoenixBird” stumbles upon his writing. Through providing feedback to each other, they develop a friendship where they correspond through email about writing.

“I click on one from PhoenixBird, the one I was saving until I got home. Now I am home. [“I feel I could have written your story. It is so beautiful. I have to go to cheerleading practice but I can’t wait for your next story”.] I think this girl has just said something nice to me.”

As the rising action develops, a writer’s convention comes up in a nearby town. As a surprise, Jason’s mom springs him with tickets to the convention. He and PhoenixBird have a chance to meet but of course, Jason is so socially awkward, the story unfolds into a heartwarming, sad, and uplifting tale about coming of age and acceptance.  Teen angst mixed with more social awkwardness than any one teenager should bear, and you’ll finish this book in a day or two. It brings me back to that “interesting time” where as teens, we overanalyzed every action and reaction, word, movement, etc.

“Truthfully, language arts is my best class, but not because I have a good grade in it. I like it because there are no right answers, even if the teachers says there are. Even when they mark something wrong on your test or book report, it’s really just their opinion and in my opinion they could be wrong. It’s like when you read the directions on the back of a package of brownie mix. Chewy or cake like? There is not wrong answers. Books are like brownies. “

I haven’t read a young adult novel in a while, but to quote Jason in the phrase above, one of my favorites from the book,  sums up why I just love the genre. Thanks to Sarrina for recommending I pick up this book from my library. I couldn’t put it down. I laughed and cried and wanted to give Jason a hug. He dreams of meeting his mother’s expectations, but by the end of the novel, Jason’s mother realizes how much he actually teaches her every day.

I would have liked to see another 100 pages fleshed out of this story, but as a young adult novel, I have to keep the author’s audience in mind….but dang you, oh good book for making me want more!

I would write more, but I’m exhausted from a recent week-long business trip and I need to move on to the next book which is quite a chunkster, at 600+ pages! The year is almost over. Eeek!

4/5 stars

Happy Thanksgiving one and all 🙂

47 down 5 to go!

In progress- True Colors

xo♥xo,

LibraryLove