Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Devil Keeps Showing Up in All These Books I Like..?

I like to think that I'm a reader with a wide variety of tastes. Sometimes I don't think that thats true. I finished a book recently ("The Devil and Miss Prym", more below on that) and got to thinking. For being a religious person, and for not being able to watch scary movies because I will be scared for months if not YEARS; the devil shows up in some books I've really enjoyed. Hmm. Let's examine my psyche further shall we?

Just kidding, we're going to talk about books.


Our story takes place in Castle Rock, Maine (because, it's King). A stranger comes to this small town and opens a store called Needful Things. His name is Leland Gaunt, and he's not just any stranger, as the people of this small town will find out. In his store he holds the thing you want the most (like a Sandy Koufax baseball card) and at first he asks you only for a small, seemingly harmless action in return. And you do it because, you know, you must have this thing! But things get out of control (quickly!) and the town descends into violence and madness and all horrible things. Leland never forces anyone to do anything. There's always a choice.

This was one of my first Stephen King books, and I love it. It showed me that Stephen King doesn't need things like a rabid family pet or a horrifying mist to be monsters. Sometimes the monster is already in us and just needs an excuse to get out. Like I said, Leland never forces anyone to do anything. All the chaos that ensues could have been prevented. 

I love the winding intricate nature of this book, and also the fact that everything is basically batsh*t crazy at the end. It's probably in my Top Ten of All Time! (A hallowed list that changes constantly, haha)


There is a village called Viscos. (In my head it's in Spain, that might not be true). It's far up in the mountains, removed from the world. The villagers know that the village is dying, and they might be the last generation on the mountain. Then a stranger comes to town. He focuses his attention on Chantal Prym, the last young person in the town. Only Berta, an old woman in the village, can see that the Devil walks with the stranger and that the fate of the village could be completely changed in a week, but at what cost?

This book talks about the big topics: Good and Evil. Can we do something terrible if we can justify that it's for the good of many people? Is the murder of an innocent person ever justified? Do guardian angels make mistakes? What I thought that was interesting about this book is that even though it talks about the Devil and angels it's not particularly religious. Like, no one is like well we shouldn't kill this person because that would be a sin. Everyone is like "is this a moral choice?" That probably doesn't make any sense, I'm sorry. Sometimes I'm not a good explainer. Anyway I thought this book was really interesting, tightly written and tense. And short! I think one of the most interesting things in the books was "Ahab's Day of Atonement".


(I've talked about this book before, if it sounds vaguely familiar to you!)
This book takes place in a backwoods Canadian town. Poverty, addiction and violence are pretty common place. The main group of characters is a small group of teenage friends; most of whom are good, and are trying to stay out of trouble. Then the Devil comes to town. (Of course he does). He appears to everyone differently, an in no instance is the pitchfork and tail version. This appearance slowly upends each of the teenagers lives and the people around them due to quite the ripple effect. There is also the matter of the native girls who keep getting kidnapped on the highway....

One of the things that I remember most about reading this book was my reaction to it. I generally don't physically react to books I read but not in this case. There was a lot of horrified gasps, and "eek!" and other noises that I'm sure alarmed my husband. It's not boogeyman/thrasher scary but it is scary. (Also would be a good choice if someone needed something for a diversity read!)

Addendum - I can't believe I forgot to include another favorite: "Your House is on Fire, All Your Children are Gone". The Devil only makes a brief appearance, but it's a dozy, He gets a curious boy to capture and trade the soul of his sister so he can have a peek into actual Hell. That book is ridiculous but I think I talk about it on the blog more than any other book. Sorry Ray Bradbury :( 


Honestly, I think that I just like books that talk about the internal struggle between Good and Evil. It's something that everyone struggles with on a different level. I believe that everyone holds inside of them the capacity to do both wonderful and terrible things.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Book Review: "The Girls at the Kingfisher Club" by Genevieve Valentine and Readathon Wrap up!

Remember how I was kind of on a fairytale retelling kick? I might still be on that. And, just to be a total weirdo about it this book is based on the fairytale of the 12 Dancing Princesses. If that sounds vaguely familiar it's because I read and reviewed ANOTHER retelling of that story called "Entwined". Happily enough, they are very different books.

So this setting is 1920s New York City. In an old townhouse there lives a jerk. He's married to a woman (that we know almost nothing about) that has given him 12 children. But all of them are girls, not the boy that he wants and that he thinks would help him climb the New York City social ladder. So what does this jerk do? He keeps them basically prisoner on the top few floors of the townhouse and has extremely minimal contact. And when I say minimal I mean, he hasn't seen a lot of them since the day they were born. When their mother dies one of the girls finds out by accident and has to tell the others, their dad doesn't even tell them. So when I call him a jerk what I really mean that he is an abusive psycho.

Jo is the oldest of the 12. With the utter lack of any parental support she quickly becomes the sister in charge. Her sisters think she's bossy and a little cold and so they call her the General. She is usually the one who has to brave talking to their father when the time calls for it. (Like when he finally agreed to give them a $4 a month allowance. $4. For 12 girls. Even with "back then" prices that can't have been much).

Jo and 2nd oldest Lou, had had a few tastes of freedom because they were the oldest. They had gotten outside, and even had occasionally snuck out for movies. They would come home and teach the other girls dances that they had seen. Finally, a few years in Lou reaches a breaking point and is about to run away. Jo makes an executive decision. They need a break, they need to get out of that house. The four oldest, sneak out at midnight, find a speakeasy and go dancing. It's basically the best night of their lives. They end up doing this for years. As the younger ones get older, they join in. And towards the middle/end of the book the 12 dancing princesses (no one knows their identities, or even that they are sisters. Except the two sets of twins, kinda obvious). This actually goes off without incident for several years. But theeeeen, not so much.

Also, a few touches of romance along the way!

The book wasn't bad, but it never really hooked me. I'm not sure why. There were a couple of things that kind of irritated me about this book. First, is the sense of time. The girls obviously really range in age and a lot of time passes in the book. At any given point I couldn't tell you how old any of them were. There's talk about Jo having grey hair, but considering the strain she was under in their given situation she could have had greys by 20!  This made it hard to picture in my head and I need to be able to kind of picture things in my head for things to go well.

The second problem is more practical. The girls have no formal education. They occasionally had governesses but when the last of the girls was born Daddy Dearest no longer saw the need. They did have access to the home's library. When freedom comes, none of them have any marketable skills (2 are good seamstresses) or education. That's what makes Jo worried. It's like "uh, I know you needed to get out of that house. But maybe when you weren't dancing you should have maybe really tried to hammer home some book learning because you're going to need an education if you don't want to be a factory girl for the rest of your life". It's not like they didn't have time.

Overall I give it a low 3 out of 5 stars. It was fine, it was kind of interesting, but it couldn't really seal the deal for me.


Did anyone else take part in the Dewey's Readathon; a straight 24 hours of reading and book camaraderie from all around the world? Ironically I did very little reading! I spent most of my time with my co-cheerleaders from Team Jane Eyre, spreading encouragement and emoticons to our readers. It was really fun, even though it was a little bit daunting because there was just so many people to cheer for! We all had a super late night which made for a pretty drowsy Sunday but it was worth it! The next one is in October, which might just give Andi and Heather long enough to recover to plan the next one!

Friday, April 24, 2015

"A Reunion of Ghosts" by Judith Claire Mitchell; a Book I Really Enjoyed but Having Trouble Putting into Words That Make Sense and Dewey's 24 Readathon Preview!

I thought this was such a great book, but I don't really know how to describe it. If you haven't heard of it, here's the description from goodreads:

How do three sisters write a single suicide note? 

In the waning days of 1999, the Alter sisters—Lady, Vee, and Delph—finalize their plans to end their lives. Their reasons are not theirs alone; they are the last in a long line of Alters who have killed themselves, beginning with their great-grandmother, the wife of a Jewish Nobel Prize-winning chemist who developed the first poison gas used in World War I and the lethal agent used in Third Reich gas chambers. The chemist himself, their son Richard, and Richard’s children all followed suit.

The childless sisters also define themselves by their own bad luck. Lady, the oldest, never really resumed living after her divorce. Vee is facing cancer’s return. And Delph, the youngest, is resigned to a spinster’s life of stifled dreams. But despite their pain they love each other fiercely, and share a darkly brilliant sense of humor.

As they gather in the ancestral Upper West Side apartment to close the circle of the Alter curse, an epic story about four generations of one family—inspired in part by the troubled life of German-Jewish Fritz Haber, Nobel Prize winner and inventor of chlorine gas—unfolds. A Reunion of Ghosts is a magnificent tale of fate and blood, sin and absolution; partly a memoir of sisters unified by a singular burden, partly an unflinching eulogy of those who have gone before, and above all a profound commentary on the events of the 20th century

I know how depressing this sounds. There are certainly some sad parts, and some very sad parts. They each have this kind of terrible legacy that hangs over them, at it kind of dictates their lives. We find out so much about these sisters and then farther and farther back in their family which is full of extraordinary characters.

Distant cousin Rudi is my favorite. I'd love a whole spin off book about him.

But these women have this wonderful dry humor, and sometimes a gallows humor. One of them even works at a bookstore!

There's also at least one graphic account of what poisoned gas did too the unsuspecting soldiers that it was unleashed upon. It's horrible.

What makes these people come to life is the really lovely writing and the great sentences that the author crafts.

Like when two people are talking about tragedies in their lives and one is thinking: "I'll see your butchery and raise you my carnage".

Or when they talk about making brightly colored cocktails: "We are,after all, the descendants not only of a mass murderer, but also a dye maker. We, too, like batches of liquid color".

I'm totally rambling, but I'll try to wrap it up with some coherency. This book is love and loss and full of interesting back stories and great writing. If any of that sounds appealing, pick it up. Or at least find a review from someone who can verbalize what makes it so good better than I can. 4 stars out of 5!

The wonderful Katie over at Doing Dewey had a much more put together review than I did. She said that she found the plot a little lacking, and I do agree with her on that. I think the great writing and interesting people make up for it!

Also, this cover! Love!
If you're a book blogger you've probably heard that the 24 hour Readathon is on Saturday! I'm cheer captain for Team Jane Eyre, so I hope that I'm a help and not make things more complicated for anyone! I have books to read, but last year I just cheered the whole time and I think that might be the case again. I don't know if any of it will show up here but I will be super active on the twitter. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Books I want to read that the library doesn't have, the struggle is real.

I'm sure you've all caught on by now that I don't buy many books (the last one I bought was at Ben Winter's book signing!) because I have a great library system in my community that keeps me in the books I need. Mostly. Occasionally there will be a book that I'm really pumped about and it's not in the library, or in one case, it was lost and not replaced.  I know that I can request that they purchase these books, but I feel kind of bad about doing it for some reason. Library budgets are not unlimited after all. Maybe I'll do one every couple months and hope that my list doesn't get longer.

Have you read any of these? Any recommendations on what to request first?









Monday, April 20, 2015

Book Review: "Bel Canto" by Ann Patchett

Mr Hosokawa was having a weird birthday. The head of an important company in Japan, he was invited to a (basically) state dinner thrown in honor of his birthday in a South American country that was struggling to lose its "Wild West/drug running" image and reinvent itself. They invited him hoping that he would become enchanted with their country and decide to build a factory there. (PS In my head this country is Columbia). He declines this invitation several times. But then they sweeten the party pot with an offer he can't refuse, Roxanne Cross will be brought in to sing just for him...

The government officials did their homework, because Hosokawa's great love is opera, and Roxanne, a talented soprano, is one of his most favorites. Suddenly this birthday party got MUCH more tempting...So Mr Hosokawa and his faithful translator Gen find themselves in (fictional) Columbia at the house of the Vice-President.  Hosokawa knows no one at this party except for Gen. The other guests are other foreign businessmen (Russian, French, etc,), their wives, Roxanne and her accompanist, and a priest who loved opera (who was listening from the kitchen, not as an invited guest to the dinner), among others.

All is going pretty well, if not a little bit awkward occasionally, when the lights go out at the end of Roxanne's performance. Suddenly the room is filled with guerilla soldiers and everyone is made to lay down on the floor. A birthday party that was supposed to create opportunities for a struggling country just turned into a hostage situation.

You know what bonds a bunch of former strangers together pretty fast? Teenage guerrillas with twitchy fingers. Throughout the whole hostage situation we learn about the guests, the guerillas (and who they were actually looking for when they stormed the party), courage, faith, love and the unifying language that is music!

The thing that surprised me most about this book was that I wasn't stressed out reading about it. Like sometimes when you're reading a book and scary things are happening and you're all tense? This wasn't like that. It's not to say that there aren't tense parts, or scary parts (or guns) but it wasn't a stressful read. My coworker who read the book said she thought it was kind of elegant for a hostage situation, and it really is! I didn't really have any preconceived notions about how this book would go and it turned out that I thought it was swell. 4 out of 5 stars!

Also, another simple cover I just love!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

"The Porcelain Thief: Searching the Middle Kingdom for Hidden China" by Huan Hsu

Huan Hsu is an ABC (an American born Chinese) in Salt Lake City. He implies that being an ABC, not Mormon in "lily white" SLC made him feel like quite the outsider.  He had (and still has) family in China but never felt the need to go and get in touch with his roots or anything like that. He knew some Chinese from  his parents when he was a child but it fell almost completely from his mind as he aged.

Then he hears a story, about his great-great grandfather that changes that. His ancestor lived in Xingang, a town on the Yangtze river that was invaded by the Japanese in 1938. When he knew the Japanese were coming, this man buried the collection of porcelain and money under their house. There was never the opportunity to come back to retrieve it. Huan begins to wonder what happened to the valuables, and being a journalist, decides that this is something he needs to investigate. Luckily, his uncle owns an incredibly successful business and gets him a job at his company, which is how he gets the visa to stay in country. Huan doesn't actually spend much time working, because he doesn't really know what is job is...which is a problem. He spends his time trying to improve his Chinese and figure out how he will execute his plan of finding this porcelain, and contacting distant relatives who might be able to help him find the land that he needs to dig on.

What I like about this book is that Huan doesn't romanticize his time in China.(Which is not to say that he doesn't really like parts of his experience, because I think he does). He gets pissed about things. Like kids popping in the street, or the little girl peeing in his apartment hallway right by his door. Or the pollution. Or the fact that it seems like all traffic laws are optional. Or the bureaucracy. Or the cultural peculiarities: like if you give a man a green hat it means he's a cuckold.You don't ever gift anyone a pair of shoes.Or you don't wear white or black to a wedding.

Also, the Chinese language is a beast to learn, and Huan even had some background.He talks about homonyms a lot (which I had to look up because I couldn't remember what a homonym was. Wikipedia says its  one of a group of words that share the same spelling and pronunciation but have different meanings). Like, the Chinese word for cockroach is a homonym for "filth wolf". Eek.

One of my favorite parts of the book was hearing the English names that the Chinese workers had picked for themselves. A man in the legal department is named "Superiority" (as someone who works in the legal field I'm just going to let that joke make itself.) There's also people named: Hebrew, Leafy, Vanilla, Quake, Cream, Bison, Ares, Feeling , Bear, Ivy, Kobe, Charming and Hyper. There's so many more. All of them equally great.

You also learn a lot about porcelain. I thought the porcelain hunting part was one of the less interesting parts of the book, even though it was the impetus for the whole thing.

This book also made me realize that I should read a couple books about the Cultural Revolution, Mao, and the Red Guard. I seem to be pretty deficient in knowledge in that area. And what's a couple more books on an endless "to-be-read" list? (Shrugs shoulders.)

I liked this book. I thought that the parts on general Chinese history, and the day to day living in modern China were the most interesting. I give it a high 3 out of 5 stars.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review

Friday, April 17, 2015

Graphic Novel review: "French Milk" by Lucy Knisley

You may have noticed that this is Lucy's second showing on the blog, specifically in my efforts to read more graphic novels. The first one, Relish, can be found here.If you want to find out more about Lucy Knisley and how much Andi From Estella's Revenge loves her, go here.

So Lucy, who is about to graduate college, and her mom, who is about to turn 50, head to Paris for a month. Lucy is having some massive anxiety about her upcoming life milestones: becoming an adult, finding a job and really having to make her own way in the world. Sometimes that gets the better of her in Paris, and she gets really down and emotional (which who can blame her? That jump from college student to adult is a panicky not nice feeling for anyone...unless you have a trust fund or something). The only silver lining about her feeling upset was that sometimes she would draw manatees to feel better, and I do love my manatees.

Lucy and her mom spend their days in Paris dodging rain drops (super rainy in Paris in winter) and exploring. They find several art museums, galleries, churches, comic books stores, cemeteries and restaurants to explore. There's much talk about delicious sounding breads products that made me really hungry as I was reading! Then there was talk about foie gras and veal which made me less hungry. She even had a foie gras flavored cookie which she admitted didn't taste so good. (That got me thinking, like would I ever try a cheeseburger flavored cookie? No. So good for Lucy for being an adventurous eater!)

It's a graphic novel, so obviously all the stories are accompanied by these nice, uncomplicated drawings. Her work is just really approachable and open and I love that. It also has photographs from their time there too. So a universal theme about anxiety at life changes, a beautiful French setting, good drawings. An all around good read for me! 3.5 out of 5 stars! It also reminded me that I need to make good journal entries on my next travels, maybe I can get Lucy to draw them for me!


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Book Review: "The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook" edited by Kate White

I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the delightful publisher, Quirk Books.

One of the things that I love about Quirk is the great variety of books that they put out. Mysteries, kids books, cookbooks, and all great things in between. When this book came up for review I knew it was going to be great, so when Eric Smith (Quirk tweeter, author and corgi puppy have-r) asked if I wanted to review it I knew me and my mediocre cooking skills were in!

If I was to tell you all the recipes that I put a post it note in, this would be a very long review. I will just give you a taste of my favorites:

-Rum Soaked Nutella French Toast. Every word in that name is good. Boozy breakfast food with the world's favorite hazelnut spread? Yes and yes.

-Corn Chowder. Corn chowder is my favorite soup! The problem is that a lot of time people want to put too much other stuff in it (like shrimp corn chowder? No! Get your seafood out of my soup. Be gone!) This recipe has only 3 steps and a not-scary ingredient list. By the time this review goes up I'll probably have already made it a few times. (Update - I've made this twice now and it is delicious! Goes great with really crusty bread. Yum!!)

And then two recipes that's names made me laugh:

-Grandma Maria's Pasta Puttanesca (Pasta a la Whore)

-Male Chauvinist Pigs in a Blanket

There's some recipes that are short and approachable sounding (like Male Chauvinist Pigs in a Blanket, and 3 Egg Omelette) and some that are more fancy and complicated sounding, so it covers a great range of cooking abilities. Each recipe is by a different author: sometimes the recipe is referenced in their books, sometimes they eat it while they are writing, sometimes it's just their favorite recipe! Each recipe has a little story about it (sometimes even a book excerpt) and a short biography of the author. I feel like a lot of them were Edgar winners! There's even some very famous writers like Harlan Cohen, James Patterson and Gillian Flynn. And blog favorite, Ben Winters.

The book is also beautiful and weighty and I love the side of the cover where it's skull and crossbones and a dagger and a fork. Love it! I'm off to put this on my (meager) cookbook shelf, it's certainly going to be the star!


Monday, April 13, 2015

Fun Link Round-Up from Flavorwire and Happy Library Week!

You know what website is really fun? Flavorwire. Here's some fun links from them:

I saw this article  about author's tombstones. I think DH Lawrence's is badass.

I've never given Pride and Prejudice or Jane Austen much of an effort. But I do appreciate a good burn, talked about here.

Literary Moments on TV, I have a feeling there could be a whole list just for The Simpsons! Check it out here.

Sexy villains, who can resist this list!? (Uh Patrick Bateman is scarrrrry. I hate him and that book).

Did you know that some authors like to drink alcohol? I know, it's shocking but here's proof!

Some of the best books are ones that can't quite fit into a genre. Get some reading suggestions here.

If you are celebrating National Library Week at work, or at your favorite place to check out books, have a great one! I put on a littler version at the library at my work, hoping that people attend and enjoy!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Graphic Novel Review - "American Born Chinese" by Gene Luen Yang

It wouldn't really be fair to call this one novel, because it's really 3 separate stories that all kind of tie together at the end.

Story 1: Timmy starts as a third grader at a new school. His parents are both Chinese, and immigrated to America but he was born in the States. He struggles as kids tease him about his name and if he eats dog or not. He kind of reluctantly becomes friends with the one other asian kid in his class who is also new. We follow him as he gets older and struggles with the normal teenage things like liking girls and wanting to fit in.

Story 2: Danny is just trying to be an all american teenage but than his cousin comes to visit. His cousin Chin-Kee is every bad chinese stereotype. Buck teeth, the pyramid shaped bamboo hat, the problem with some word pronunciation ("brockoree" instead of broccoli). He wreaks havoc on Danny's tentative social life, and he starts to ruin everything for Danny, so he says.

Story 3: The Monkey King is (wait for it) king of the monkeys. He studies a lot and has learned to many things making him a powerful king. Than he gets slighted by other gods and goddesses and kings and gets maaaaad. It turns him into a power hungry jerk that "forgets where he came from".

I'm kind of ambivalent about this book. It was fine. I liked the style of the art. I wasn't really all about the 3 story and then tying it together. I'm just very "meh" about it. The best part is the art. I guess a 2.5 out of 5?


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Book Review: "The Undertaker's Daughter" by Kate Mayfield

We are going to start with a moment of honesty. I didn't pay attention to the fact that the author and the girl in the story had the same name. When I sat down to write this I finally saw it and realized that this was an autobiographical type of story. Ohhhh.Well that explains why I liked it because it felt really real and that not everything was tied up in a neat shiny bow at the end with everyone living happily ever after.

Kate's father is an undertaker, but not like a Adams family undertaker. He's a clothes horse and quick to laugh. Kate idolizes her dad and always thinks that watching him work is fascinating. Kate's mother helps run the funeral home by managing the phones and keeping the kids from sneaking down the stairs to spy during visitations and funerals. Mom and dad don't have much of a relationship, and you find out later why. There are also siblings, older brother and sister Thomas and Evelyn, and then eventually a younger sister named Jemma. (One thing that kind of confused me about the book was the spacing of the siblings. Thomas and Evelyn seemed close in age and then it seemed like a decent sized gap, and then Kate and then an even bigger gap and than Jemma. The dynamic between the kids was not always a friendly one and I was curious if age differences made an impact). Thomas is wonderful and studios, Evelyn is volatile, cruel and moody. They reside in Jubilee, Kentucky which is exactly the kind of town you're picturing, sometimes short of anything resembling jubilation.

Our story follows Kate as she grows, especially as a teenager in the 60s and 70s. The older she gets the more she realizes that there is more going on in her family than she realized as a child. She sees evidences of her father's alcoholism, whispers about infidelity (mostly involving church ladies, which, yeesh), and symptoms of what we call PTSD from her WWII vet father. (I thought that the story of his stomach scar was one of the most compelling parts of the story and that doesn't get wrapped up until the very very end, so they made me wait for it!). Mom is also in denial about a lot of this so that doesn't help at all.

This is a stressful life for all involved. Running a family business, being on call 24/7 for a job that is already emotionally taxing, an unhappy marriage, racial tensions, the Vietnam War, and an increasingly violent Evelyn makes Kate want to get out of Jubilee

I appreciate the realness of the story (because it turns out that it's real, come on Wesley). It highlighted a lot of problems that were happening that still go on today (sadly): stigma about mental illness to a point where it goes untreated, war vets not getting the support they need, racism and bigotry. Not everyone gets a happy ending with this story and I think that's what makes it relatable. (I also want a spin off about the Shroud Lady). A high 3.5 stars out of 5!


Monday, April 6, 2015

Author Signing with Erik Larson & Review of "Dead Wake"

So, it's quite the day in Wisconsin today. Brewers opening day and the men's baskebtall team is playing in the championship game tonight. If you're thinking "Gee, I wonder how much beer is going to be drunk in Wisconsin today?", the answer is all of it. We will be completely out of beer by Tuesday. Also a lot of pretty hungover people. As for myself, I will be at work just like any other Monday, because someone has to be! And because we have to talk about Dead Wake! Hooray!

I had built up very big expectations for "Dead Wake". I loved the other works of Larson's that I had read and gobbled his most recent offering down the second my hot little hands got on my library copy. (I had to wait to get my own copy at the signing.) I knew some things about the Lusitania: great loss of life, some cargo was suspect, and that it went down near Kinsale, Ireland. (Though I confess I thought it was journeying from England to American when it sunk, not the other way around; which is what happened in reality).

War was brewing, and though there was some worry (and some cause) about boat travel most people had no trepidation about sailing on the Lusitania. She was a greyhound of the sea, and most people felt comfortable that she could outrun anything the Germans had in their navy. (Which would only work if she saw the threat coming, but that's the thing about U-boats...) And as of April 1915 she's had over 200 successful crossings.

I seriously want to tell you guys everything about this book: the interesting people who were passengers, the acts of heroism & the acts of cowardice in a time of crisis, amazing survival stories, and heartbreaking deaths. There is a passage in the book about people who died putting their life vests on the wrong way and I think it will haunt me forever.

This book is really Larson at his greatest. It's a book that, even though you know the sad ending, has your heart in your throat. I love the little side stories that don't directly deal with the ship, but somehow are connected. It's an easy 4 stars out of 5 for me. Even if you don't pick up this book, pick up an Erik Larson book, you will be happy you did.

And to close the review portion of this post, here is how I feel about submarines now (a tweet from when I was reading):

"Reading Dead Wake is making me scared shitless of submarines. I'm going to start checking for them under my bed if this keeps up."

On to the author event! Mom and I went to Boswell Book Company on the March 24th to see Erik Larson. The books were pre-signed; if we wanted a personalizations we could have stayed afterward but the line would have been at least 45 minutes and Mom and Dad already had to drive an hour home, so we passed. There was at least 300 people at the signing which was a big change from the Ben Winter's signing! They were both fun and good, just very different.  He was promoting his fabulous book "Dead Wake" but also answered questions on his other books too. I took some notes, so I'll bullet point those up for you!

- He joked that he was going to read 28 pages of the book. Then he said that "he would rather have a vasectomy without anesthetic than hear a writer read from their own writing". (He did do some reading from the book but it was not 28 pages, and it was transcripts).

- He loves archives. The researching for his books is "the fun part".

-He says that he doesn't think of himself as a historical writer but a historical animator. He wants to "find the right details that will fire the readers imagination".

-When he's between books and looking for ideas he calls it "the dark country of no ideas". (Sounds like a Bradbury book to me!)

-He doesn't have any desire to write fiction anymore. He has 4 complete novels in his office and "they will never be published because they are terrible".

-He thinks it's great that people want to talk about his books for movies but he doesn't really want to get involved in the making. 

-He never adds or makes up dialogue in his books. Every quote is taken directly from a transcript or a log or some other source. (He was very emphatic on this point)

He did some Q&As, some of which are detailed above. I was totally unprepared but made up a question on the fly and he called on me! Yay! My question was something like "A lot of your material is tragic. When your book is done does it take awhile for you to pull out of it?" (Not a greatly asked question but he got my point.  When he reads about something terrible one part of him is like "Oh thats so awful and tragic!" but another side of him is like "Oh great material for the book!". So he doesn't generally struggle with it. Though when he was writing "Garden of Beasts" he had to do a lot of researching of the Third Reich, which was awful. He said he had a bit of "low grade depression" that his family noticed while writing that one. (Hitler and the Nazis will do that to you!)

There is more but this is already the longest post in the history of ever, so I will leave you with some pictures. (That are all weirdly formatted for some reason)

Book in hand. We were letter "G" for signing.
Made a bookseller take my picture. Wanted to steal this.

Standing so he could see me and answer my question. #short girl problems.
Look between the mom haircuts, he's there!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Holy Week Book Review: "Coffee, Tea, and Holy Water: One Women's Journey to Experience Christianity Around the Globe" by Amanda Hudson

(Thanks for hanging out during Holy Week. We kick off Monday with a review of Dead Wake and talking about my experience at the Erik Larson book signing! Yay!)

*Thanks to Netgalley for the book!*

Amanda Hudson has some questions about Christianity. She identifies herself as a "born again" Christian living in the Southern part of the United States. She mostly has worshiped in the "huge church, praise band with spotlights, big production VBS" kind of churches, but knows that this type of worship and Christianity is not the same kind of worship that is experienced around the world.

She picks 5 countries and goes to experience Christianity and worship like they do: Brazil, Wales, China and Honduras.If I went into extreme detail about each place this would be the longest review ever, so I hope little tidbits will get you interested enough to pick up this book.

First up, the city of Natal in Brazil.

Here's what we learned in Brazil:
-Morning services in the area she visited don't do well in the morning. They usually have one service in the evening.
-80% of Brazil's population live on the eastern coastline of the country.
-Spiritism can be a big component of Brazilian culture and can be really scary in some cases. People seem much more open to have unexplained supernatural religious encounters than we would be here.

Next, Wales. I didn't write down the city but it's in a place nicknamed Mumbles.

I thought this was interesting: there was a survey done in Europe and it asked: Does religion occupy an important place in your life? Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Czech Republic were the top responders who said no. (between 83% and 75% of respondents). The UK was following closely at 71%. Czech republic I kind of get because they were under Communism other oppressive regiems for so long. And the other countries are more well known for not being religious.  But the UK? Fewer countries have a history more shaped by religion than they. (Not always in a good way).

Wales has the lowest church attendance out of the 4 regions of Great Britain. Amanda really dug to try to find out the root cause of this decline of church attendance in a formally really religious part of the world. Her best guess was apathy (CS Lewis also predicted this happening in Great Britain, by the way)

Next, Tanzania. Where the local salary is about $2 a day and the candy bars in grocery stores by the check outs are kept under glass like expensive watches in a department store. She visits and stays with doctors who run the Tanzanian Christian Clinic. The most common maladies are stomach worms, infections and mostly preventable maladies.

The most intersting part of this section had really nothing to do with church  but with 2 schools of thought regarding international aid.

First up, paternalism. This is basically saying "hey, let's build a medical clinic. It needs running water and electricity and air conditioning. It'll kind of be like we have in our developed country that we are coming from."

The other, indigenous. They say "hey, let's build a medical clinic. But we want it to be developed all internally. If the locals live in places with dirt floors and oil lamps, that's what we will make this clinic like because it's more in keeping with what is here and we don't want to bring in too many outside influences."

(This is me COMPLETELY oversimplifying, but the point is still there.)


The most interesting part in this chapter for me is the difference between churches that are registered with the government and house churches.

Registered churches aren't able to openly evangelize (hand out pamphlets, go door to door) but they are allowed to worship with very little government harassment. But some of the churches have to compromise with the government and it's philosophies to keep the harmony (like some churches deny miracles or the virgin birth). Home churches meet in, uh, homes and don't register with the government. They want the ability to teach their theology without compromising it with the government. And they want the ability to spread the gospel to others (even if it's quietly and not in a grandiose fashion) There's also a scene about a Chinese wedding that is so very different than what we do here!

Finally, Honduras.

Amanda joins a medical mission that goes into rural Honduras. Here, like in Tanzania, a lot of the common complaints are things that we could solve easily with some clean water, some tylenol or a quick doctor visit. The thing that would make the most difference to them medicinally would be readily available clean water. The most interesting part of this trip were the people on the trip with her and their stories.

(Sorry Honduras, you're last and this review is long)

I wish she would have talked a little more about how she picked the countries. I think it came down to where there was connections, in the case of Honduras who needed help with their medical mission. I just am curious. Obviously her couple of experiences at a few churches in these countries are not going to be duplicated all over that country. I wish that she could have spent even longer, and experienced even more at each of the countries to get a wider sample. But hey, we are all slaves to budget and time restraints. I get it. I give this book a 3.5 out of 5 stars! Also, I'd like to go to Wales. I always thought this would be a pretty place to visit, and the descriptions seem to confirm!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Holy Week Book Review- "The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears" by Mark Batterson

Welcome to today's Holy Week post, let's get started shall we? I have a feeling that most of this review is going to be quotes and not a lot of reviewing.

The book starts out by telling the story of Honi. He lived in the first century BC, the century before Jesus. His area was going through an incredibly long drought, one that could eventually kill everyone and everything in the area. Honi drew a circle around himself and prayed for rain, but not just any rain. He prayed for enough rain to fill cisterns and wells and  rejuvenate the land. He also asked for God to rain down blessings on the people as well, that they might believe. Honi was bold in his prayers and the book proposes that everyone takes on this bold kind of prayer idea.

(Here's the part where I just start quoting the book)

"You can’t pray for open doors if you aren’t willing accept closed doors, because one leads to the other." You know the popular phrase "Sometimes when one door closes another door opens?" I think that goes for prayer too. Maybe you desperately want something and you pray circles around it and it still doesn't happen. Maybe it doesn't happen because there is something even greater that He has planned for you, and that plan doesn't go through the "door" that you originally wanted, it goes through another one.

"God can recycle our mistakes" Have you made a mistake and feel like you can't come back from it? Or that nothing good possibly could come out of it? God can make even the bad things turn out for our good.

"God can not be bribed or blackmailed. God doesn't do miracles to satisfying our selfish whims....He does miracles for one reason and one reason only: to spell his glory". So if you're praying for a Porsche 911 because you think it'd be a great way to pick up chicks, maaaaybe take a minute to reevaluate. Though if it's a way to pick up chicks and then talk to them about Jesus you might have a little more leeway. I don't know, I'm not the Boss, I don't make the rules.

There was a story about a woman (Lisa) who the author knows who works at a church and outreach center in Birmingham Alabama. As she was walking out the door to go to work she felt this incredibly strong impulse to grab a pair of her warm, woolly socks. She had no idea why, but she put them in her purse because she couldn't shake the feeling. She went to open the church and there was a woman, slumped in the doorway passed out. She brought the woman into the church and Lisa held her until she woke up. They talked for awhile and Lisa asked "If you could have anything, what would it be?" and the woman answered "Woolly socks". Lisa gave her the socks she had felt the strange impulse to grab that morning, they even matched their new owners outfit. (I'm so curious about the rest of this story, but that's all we get!)

In full disclosure, I don't agree with all the author's theological points that he utilizes in the book. I think that's fine. I think that what he says about prayer being powerful and underutilized is absolutely true. I think the important thing is that it made me reexamine my prayer life and to consider all of the ways that I can make it better. 3 out of 5 stars!