Monday, December 31, 2007

Lord of Hawkfell Island by Catherine Coulter

iconiconAfter finishing Doris Lessing's The Grass is Singing, I felt somewhat caught up in the dark mood of the book, and decided to read something more lighthearted next. Catherine Coulter's Lord of Hawkfell Island was the result of this decision.

This is one of those books I've had on my shelf for years, intending to read it but never quite getting to it. As a result, I no longer read this type of book — "this type" being romance.

(Note: The spine of my copy actually proclaims it a novel, but don't be fooled. This is a "smut book," as we used to call them when I was in high school. It just happens to have a good plot and a bestselling author's name on the cover.)

Lord of Hawkfell Island is definitely a fun, easy read, which is what I wanted. It is also suspenseful, as I seem to remember Coulter's books usually are. However, in reading my first "smut novel" in many years, I realized I'm not as entertained as these as I used to be. For one thing, my feminist sensibilities are more highly developed than they used to be — all the tying the women up, protecting them, etc., doesn't appeal to me, even in the slightest. (In fact, I can't imagine it ever having appealed to me!) The constant fighting between the hero and the heroine — pretty much a given in any romance novel — also fails to entertain. It makes me think of all the bad relationships I had when I was younger, all the fights and passionate make-up scenes. Hmmm, I wonder where I got the idea that that was normal, even expected...

Feminism aside, I think my tastes in literature have simply matured beyond the vapid, formula stories that romance novels provide. (I mean, really, how many romance novels feature a captive woman and her handsome captor falling in love? At least a third of them, I'm sure.) In college and in the years since graduation, I've read plenty of really good literature, and I've developed a taste for nonfiction as well. And while I'm not saying I'll never read another romance novel again, I doubt I'll be tempted very often.

The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing

iconiconI recently finished Doris Lessing's The Grass is Singing, and it was easily one of the darkest and most depressing — and yet most riveting — books I've read lately.

Before Lessing received the Nobel Prize for Literature earlier this year, I don't think I'd even heard of her — a shame, considering my English degree and my appreciation for feminist literature.

I put library holds on several of Doris Lessing's books, and The Grass is Singing was the first I got. It took me a few weeks to get to it, but once I started reading I couldn't stop: I finished the book in just a couple of nights, despite all the holiday activity.

The Grass is Singing is one of those books that sweeps you along, until you find that what was initially not all that compelling suddenly won't let you go until you've seen it through to the end.

Here are my two strongest impressions:

* The book isn't really a love story as the NPR article suggests, rather one of despair. You know from the first paragraph of the first page that the main character, Mary, is murdered. Most of the book is about Mary's slow collapse, a breakdown caused by poverty, solitude, and the downright neglect of her mind. (There's something of the feminist writer in there, too, since it's the shift to confinement from a life of total independence that causes Mary's unhappiness and eventual madness.) It isn't until near the end that the "love affair" comes into play, and even then it doesn't seem like love. In fact, what it seems like is both manipulation and co-dependence existing at the same time, which cannot end except in tragedy — most likely a metaphor for the racist divisions in Rhodesia at the time, actually.

* I've never disliked a main character so much, yet still been so compelled by her story. Being a writer, I know that compelling main characters are flawed. This goes beyond simple flaws, though. Mary is downright distasteful: She is cruel to her native servants, snappish with her husband, and ill-suited for dealing with poverty. Yet at the same time, you are made to understand why she is like this, and to empathize — to a certain extent — with her: She gives up comfort and independence for a poor housewife's life, and then is forced to watch her husband's repeated failures to generate a respectable income. And when you realize you still don't like her, no matter why she is like she is, you also realize that you want to find out how, exactly, she got from this life of despair to being murdered.

This is not a happy or uplifting book. It is dark and somewhat depressing, and if you tend to immerse yourself in a book when you read, you will most definitely be affected by its mood. After finishing The Grass is Singing, I knew I had to read something lighthearted — which I will blog about next.

A Girl and Five Brave Horses by Sonora Carver

iconiconNote: This book is no longer out of print!  The image link will take you to Barnes & Noble, where you can order an inexpensive paperback reprint edition.

Every once in a while, a book comes along that really tests your resolve to read it. That's the way it was with this book.

A Girl and Five Brave Horses is technically the basis for the Disney movie Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken, which is loosely based on the life of Sonora Webster Carver. Unfortunately, the book is out of print, and has been for a very long time — as far as I can tell, the first edition (in 1961) was also the last edition printed. Even many libraries don't have it; I had to order it through an interlibrary loan.

Since the book is hard to find, yet has attracted a bit of a cult following, its value is phenomenal — Amazon's current price of $498.50 being the cheapest I've seen it, and that's for an ex-library copy (which usually devalues a book considerably.) Being a book collector and a horse lover, I would love to own a copy — but being a writer, I needed to find a cheaper (read: free) way of reading it, which is why I settled for checking it out for the library.

I don't really expect that anyone is going to buy a five hundred dollar book, but I'll include the Amazon link anyway, in case anyone wants to look into the book a little more.

Basically, A Girl and Five Brave Horses is the autobiography or memoir of Sonora Webster Carver, one of the most famous (if not the most famous) of the horse diving girls in the 1920s, 1930s, and into the 1940s. Sonora wasn't any ordinary diving girl, though: She was blinded in 1931 after she hit the water with her eyes open, yet she continued diving for 11 more years afterward.

As is typical for Hollywood and Disney, the story as it is told in Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken is very romanticized. Sonora wasn't a runaway; her mother actually suggested she join the diving act in 1923, when she was 19. She and Al didn't have some kind of whirlwind romance; they had been working alongside one another for six years before they married, and even then he had to talk her into it.

One thing the movie did manage to do justice to was Sonora's bravery and spirit. She really was that determined to continue diving after she was blinded. She never wanted to be treated any differently, and as a result, she dove blind for five years before a reporter finally found out.

Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken is a wonderful movie, a (somewhat) true-life Disney fairy tale. However, for anyone who is truly interested in Sonora Carver or her experiences diving horses, I suggest getting your hands on A Girl and Five Brave Horses any way you can.

Other Resources:

* Yahoo diving horses group, an effort to get A Girl and Five Brave Horses republished

* Sonora Webster Carver on Wikipedia

* The Diving Horses of Atlantic City, by Susan MacDonald: descriptions, eye-witness quotes, and pictures

* Article by Mike Cox about Doc Carver (Sonora's father-in-law), the diving horse show, and Sonora

* YouTube video "Last Days of the Steel Pier" — the video of the diving horse, and the two pictures that follow it, are of Red Lips, Sonora's favorite horse; the color picture is of Sonora, and I'm assuming it's her riding Red Lips in both the video and the photograph that follows

* Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of interviews with Allen "Boo" Pergament, a historian and friend of Sonora's, about the Atlantic City Steel Pier

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Green with Envy by Shira Boss

iconiconI heard about Green with Envy when NPR ran a story about Shira Boss back in November. I promptly placed a hold on the book at the library.

The book was a quick read, but very compelling. Boss's writing style is very readable, and she knows how to create just enough interest in tension to keep you reading.

In fact, I would say that she uses the very same aspect of human behavior that she is warning against — a morbid interest in other people's finances — in order to hook her readers.

Regardless of why you want to keep reading, the simple fact is that this book is hard to put down. My husband read it after me, and finished it in about 24 hours — not a frequent occurence for him.

Green with Envy is one of those books that makes you think about your spending habits and your debt. Most of us are not as bad off as the people Boss features in this book, but it reminds us how easy it could be to become them. Running up credit card debt is actually a pretty painless process — it's after you've run up more than you can handle that the pain begins to hit.

I always like reading books (or watching documentaries) about the evils of overspending, as it usually encourages me to be more careful with my finances for a while. (Not that I'm all that bad about it — I don't buy much for myself, actually, but I still need to focus more on paying down my debt.) Unfortunately, the effects of Green with Envy were destined not to stick with me for very long, because I read it just before Christmas — when Christmas shopping was in full swing.

Still, it did galvanize me into creating a game plan for paying off my credit card debt, and following that will be one of my New Year's Resolutions this year.

Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

iconiconNancy Garden's Annie on My Mind is the fourth in a list of books I checked out of the library during Banned Books Week in October. The others were:

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson

I found with some of these — such as Beloved — that simply being a banned book didn't mean I would find them meaningful or inspiring. However, I was really impressed with Annie on My Mind. It was beautifully written... But before I can say more, I need to explain what this book is about.

Annie on My Mind is a story of two high school-age girls who fall in love. As a result, in addition to the normal confusing and overwhelming feelings of first love, the book explores the difficulties of realizing you're gay at this age.

What I found so fascinating is how Nancy Garden made it all so believeable — or maybe "immediate" is a better word. Basically, she wrote the story in such a way that it is easy for a straight person to suspend disbelief, so to speak, and see things from the eyes of a young lesbian.

Which is no doubt why it has been challenged. Goodness knows, there are people out there who refuse to empathize with gays and lesbians, and who definitely don't want anyone else doing so, either.

Another reason I think Annie on My Mind is banned book material is the harsh way it illustrates the prejudices and discrimination gays and lesbians face. There are many appalling examples of discrimination in this book, but again, told in a way that makes the reader see it through the lesbian narrator's eyes. I'm sure right-wing anti-gays see that as very dangerous: Heck no, we don't want to make gays and lesbians seem human or — God forbid — normal!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

iconiconNote: The image links to an inexpensive paperback copy of The War of the Worlds from Barnes & Noble.  If you prefer an ebook edition, you can download it for free from Project Gutenberg.

I read H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds for a book review that is upcoming (I'll link to it when it's live). I'd read The Time Machine earlier this year, so I was eager to read another of his books.

Unfortunately, I found The War of the Worlds much less interesting in the beginning. The Time Machine hooks you early on, because the story is told to the narrator after the time traveler has already returned from his travels — in other words, you already know that he has an exciting story to tell, because of the condition he is in when he returns.

The War of the Worlds is told in a different manner: The narrator tells primarily of his own experiences, with a middle section of the book being about his brother's experiences (though not narrated by his brother). I personally thought the story started off rather slow, though it did pick up about halfway through. Still, there was something about it that always made me drowsy — and it isn't often that it takes me a full week to get through a book that short!

Interestingly, although many of the details of the book were changed in Hollywood's recent version of the movie &mash; for instance, the narrator's wife exchanged for two kids and a bad relationships with an ex — many other details were kept the same. An example that really stood out to me was the similarity of the endings and why the aliens failed in their invasion. The parts of Wells's book that formed the strongest basis for the movie were the meat of the story, which I think speaks highly of the author's ability to create believeable sci-fi.

Principled Profit by Shel Horowitz

iconiconNote: According to the author's website, Principled Profiticon was withdrawn when he published his new book, Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green, which includes 95 percent of the original contents of Principled Profit.  The image link will take you to Barnes & Noble's listing for the new book, but remember that this review is for Principled Profit!

I heard about Shel Horowitz's Principled Profit when I attended his workshop during the Muse Online Writers Conference. Unfortunately, I read this book a little over a month ago, and I'm finding it difficult to recall my impressions.

One thing I do remember is how it galvanized me on the idea of honest marketing. All of us know the annoyance of marketers who just won't go away — whether phone and door-to-door solicitors who won't take no for an answer, or stores with a "used car salesman" approach that makes you forget all about your purchase in favor of running far, far away.

Horowitz takes a totally different approach toward marketing. One thing he talks about is targeting only those folks who are most likely to make a purchase, rather than hitting completely uninterested consumers over the head with your product or services. It benefits both you and them: It saves you time and money, since you're not wasting it on people who simply aren't interested, and it saves the uninterested people the hassle and annoyance of fending off poorly planned marketing attempts.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson

iconiconI'm really behind on my book list, so over the next few days I'm going to try to catch up to where I am right now.

I read Katherine Paterson's The Great Gilly Hopkins way back in November, about a month and a half ago. (Yes, I'm that behind!!) Like In Cold Blood and Beloved, reading this book was my tribute to October's Banned Books Week.

The fact that Gilly Hopkins has been challenged both amuses me and makes me angry. Reading it, the only reason for banning it that I could discern was the fact that it tells the truth about what foster care is like for many kids — and as far as I can tell, Paterson does a pretty good job of getting into the head of a foster child and demonstrating where some of the discipline problems might come from.

But really, we can't have our nation's children — let alone the adults — knowing what foster care is really like. They might actually sympathize with foster children!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Beloved by Toni Morrison

iconiconI read Toni Morrison's Beloved last week — another rather belated attempt to celebrate Banned Books Week by reading a challenged book. (This being an even more belated attempt to write about it!)

It seems to me that most banned or challenged books are also some of the best pieces of literature available for our young people. The writing is usually superb, and the issues are usually tough but worthy. After all, if they weren't very good, no one would read them and they wouldn't be a threat.

In other words, banning a book is usually (to me) one of the highest compliments you can pay the author.

However, I did not enjoy Beloved as much as I'd thought I would. This seems to be one of the rare cases where I did not find the story to be compelling, or the way the issues were addressed to be all that remarkable. Granted, the story told slavery the way it was, which is most likely the reason why it was banned — God forbid our teens learn that rich whites used to do bad things to slaves.

Don't get me wrong — I think it's great that Toni Morrison described the horrors of slavery (and the impact it had on blacks for years afterward), but I just didn't get into the story. However, the idea of a murdered daughter coming back "in the flesh" 18 years later is pretty unique, and I think there are probably plenty of people who would enjoy it much more than I did.

Second Glance by Jodi Picoult

iconiconI read this book a little more than a week ago: Second Glance, by Jodi Picoult. Being a ghost story, the book was quite worthy of the season.

I've always enjoyed novels about ghosts and the supernatural. The idea of the spirits of the dead coming back, on whatever mission, has always fascinated me. And Second Glance didn't disappoint at all. Jodi Picoult is as skilled at writing ghost stories as she is at creating courtroom suspense and compelling characters.

Monday, October 29, 2007

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Truman Capote's In Cold Blood is another book that I checked out of the library in honor of Banned Books Week about a month ago. Thankfully, I have enjoyed this one much more than the last one I read, Beloved.

Although In Cold Blood is a highly researched account of a real murder and trial, it is told in story form. Capote gets you into the killers' heads, which is quite a feat in and of itself. He also weaves real sources into his telling of the story: letters, statements, and other documents. Although he does not say specifically who he interviewed, he also makes a reference in the beginning of the book to certain interviewees, without whom the book could not have been written (or at least, not so completely).

I seem to remember classmates reading this book, possibly even in high school, but somehow I never read it until now. Being a literature major, I'm actually quite shocked that I never did. I have to say that I think this is one of the masterpieces of modern literature, and well worth the time it takes to read it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Girl, Interrupted by Susana Kaysen

iconiconAfter finishing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I was finding it difficult to think of reading anything else, so I deliberately chose a book that was short and would be less involved: Girl, Interrupted by Susana Kaysen, one of my choices for Banned Book Week. (Yes, I'm reading my Banned Book Week books rather late.)

I wasn't disappointed with my choice. Girl, Interrupted is made up of many short essays, some of them only a couple of pages long. While doing an excellent job of illustrating how disjointed her experiences in the hospital were, it also was much less demanding of me as a reader — a good thing after the suspense and high involvement of Harry Potter.

iconiconAlthough the movie Girl, Interrupted was based heavily on Kaysen's book, there was of course a lot of drama added that wasn't present in the book itself. The book is more of a look at the wrongs done by the system: Kaysen was sent to the hospital after a brief (i.e. 20 or 30 minutes) exam by a doctor she had never seen before in her life, diagnosed with a condition that could be applied to 95 percent of teens, and lost nearly two years of her life as a result.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

The last Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is by far my favorite of the seven. I finished Book 6 — which I did end up liking much better than I had the first time, by the way — late Saturday night, and immediately started reading Book 7. By the same time Sunday night, I had finished Deathly Hallows — I just couldn't put it down! I figure I read the entire thing — all seven-hundred-some pages — in about nine hours, tops.

There are a lot of things I could say about Book 7...but knowing that a lot of people probably still haven't read it, I don't want to give too much away. Suffice it to say that it was a perfect ending for the series. J.K. Rowling tied up all the loose ends quite nicely. I especially like Snape's role in the book...though what that is, I won't tell you.

It's hard to put into words how I feel now that Harry Potter has ended. However, this cartoon by Debbie Ridpath Ohi says it better than words ever could.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

When I posted last (about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), I stated that I had been less impressed with the sixth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, when I read it shortly after it came out. This time around, however, I'm liking it quite a lot.

...So much, in fact, that I'm already about halfway through the book. I expect I'll finish in another couple of days, after which I'll start book 7 at last!!!!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

I'm back to reading J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, in the hopes of someday making it to Book 7. I'm sure most people just picked book 7 up and read it cold, without refreshing their memories on the first six. However, it had been six or seven years since I read the first four, and I don't remember 5 or 6 very well either.

In any case, I'm glad I decided to read the entire series before reading the newest (and final) book. I had forgotten how much I loved Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I read this book shortly after it came out, finishing it in about a day and a half, as I remember. Of course, it was summer then, and I was still in college, which meant that I had a couple of days to devote primarily to reading.

I haven't seen the corresponding movie yet — we haven't seen many movies in the theater this year, and we had others (Bourne, Transformers, The Brave One) that were a bit higher on our list of must-sees. However, now that I'm almost finished with Order of the Phoenix, I'm really wanting to see the movie.

Next — and hopefully without any further interruption — I'll be reading Book 6. I seem to remember not being quite as impressed with it as I was with Book 5, so we'll see how they compare when they are read back-to-back.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Main Street: Welcome to Camden Falls by Ann M. Martin

I just finished reading the first book in Ann M. Martin's new Main Street series, Welcome to Camden Falls.

Michael laughed at me when he saw me checking this book out from the library. He knows that I read young adult and children's books from time to time -- in fact, some, such as Tuck Everlasting and The Giver, happen to be among my favorites -- but he said the cover of this particular book just looks so much like a kid's book.

I did read it, though, and I enjoyed it immensely. In some ways, it is very refreshing to see (and read) a children's series book that's not either about a fantasy world or teen drama (the Sweet Valley High series comes to mind). Instead, this book is an honest and sensitive portrayal of two girls, recently orphaned, who have been transplanted to their grandmother's small hometown.

I found out about Main Street through this story on NPR. Ann M. Martin is the author of The Babysitters' Club, a tween series that dates back to my own childhood. In fact, when I was diagnosed as diabetic, practically all I knew about the condition was from The Babysitters' Club. (Unfortunately, that information was also rather outdated, so for the first few days of my hospital visit I thought I'd never be able to eat ice cream again!)

Personally, I think Ms. Martin has outdone herself with Main Street. The characters and the story are much more enduring than those in The Babysitters' Club. In addition, I think the idea of writing a story about small town life -- and not only that, but small town life as seen through the eyes of two "city" girls -- is very appealing. I will probably be reading more of these as they come out!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Practically Perfect in Every Way by Jennifer Niesslein

If you are amused and mildly disgusted by the self-help genre, Jennifer Niesslein's Practically Perfect in Every Way is the perfect book for you.

In Practically Perfect, Niesslein decides that something is missing from her life, and that self-help may hold the key to happiness. To make things more interesting, she decides to write a book chronicling her experiences. The result: lots of sarcastic humor, but also a good, quiet look at why self-help is overrated.

The book focuses mostly on self-help in the areas of the household, relationships, and parenting. (If you think Feng Shui is kind of silly, like I do, you'll especially like the commentary in the first chapter.) As you near the end of the book, Niesslein obviously starts losing steam. She is not as gung-ho in her experiments, but at the same time you start getting more down-to-earth, insightful observations about self-help.

The very last chapter of Practically Perfect is my kind of chapter: Niesslein deals with the issue of The Soul. In doing so, she delves into the world of religion, but she also talks a lot about why she isn't particularly religious — something I can totally understand. It is fitting that this is the last chapter, because by this point Niesslein has decided that taking every one else's advice is a really bad idea.

To conclude, I would like to post a quote from Niesslein's chapter on The Soul, one that pretty much exemplifies her humor and the way she came to view self-help:

Are my morals proof of the existence of God? If anything, they seem to me to be proof of the existence of my mother.

Truer words have never been spoken.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

Michael finally finished The Amber Spyglass, so I was able to finish reading Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy. And I have to say, the third book lived up to -- and perhaps even surpassed -- The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife.

One of the things I like best about this trilogy is how original it is. It's not just a Lord of the Rings or Narnia knock-off. It is completely original fantasy at its finest.

I'm not going to say any more than that, because I don't want to spoil the third book for anyone. All I'm going to say is that I highly recommend reading this book. It is one of the best fantasy trilogies I have ever read, right up there with all-time favorites such as the Tolkien and Lewis's books.

Of course, I dare the Religious Right to find a way to spin this trilogy as a Christian analogy... Hahaha!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Member of the Wedding, by Carson McCullers

I heard about Carson McCullers's The Member of the Wedding thanks to NPR: Another author I have read, Augusten Burroughs, reviewed the book on NPR's website.

The book was short and written in a very different style than I am used to, but it was quite good. The narrative is rather sinuous, almost like the stream-of-consciousness narrative style of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway (but not as annoying, and with more of a plot!). The main events in The Member of the Wedding take place only over a couple of days, but the narrative is constantly meandering into the past and then returning to the present again, pulling in the back story as it goes along, and weaving it all into one seamless piece.

There is also a fair amount of foreshadowing and suspense regarding the main character, a 12-year-old girl named Frankie, and a soldier that she meets. The hints of what was to come surprised me, as did the outcome of her relationship with the soldier, as I didn't expect a novel published in the 1940s to be so explicit -- I usually think of literature from that period as being rather conservative.

The ending was somewhat startling, too, as it demonstrates the degree of change possible in the attitudes and beliefs of a girl that age. The Member of the Wedding is a pretty accurate and poignant story of what it is like for a girl to be on the verge of adolescence, but still a child all the same.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

God's Brothel by Andrea Moore-Emmett

I am currently reading God's Brothel by Andrea Moore-Emmett. I actually ran across this book while I was at the library doing research for a gay parenting article -- this book was on the shelf right above where I was looking, and it happened to catch my eye. My preliminary thought was that it looked interesting, and so I checked it out along with the others.

I started reading God's Brothel last night after finishing Unassisted Childbirth, and I am very glad I checked it out. It is definitely very interesting, not to mention rather disturbing.

God's Brothel is about the polygamist culture of Mormon and Christian fundamentalists. The book starts out with a chapter on the problems of polygamy, from legal issues to the domestic abuse (both physical and sexual) this fundamentalist culture is breeding. After that, the book tells the stories of 18 women who experienced it firsthand -- and managed to escape.

Their stories are horrendous; it's hard to believe that these things go on in our country. I'm only slightly joking when I say that incest jokes should be about Mormon fundamentalists and not Southerners. This book is chalk-full of stories of girls who were beaten, molested, and raped by their male relatives -- and in these communites, practically everyone is a relative. Girls in their mid-teens are forced to marry older stepfathers, uncles, and cousins.

Girls in these fundamentalist Mormon groups are taken out of school by the time they hit puberty, if they ever even go to school at all. As part of their preparation for motherhood, which starts in early adolescence, they are told it is their duty to bear a child a year -- in fact, that their body is intended by God to be worn out through childbirth. It is their only purpose in life.

What is really horrifying is that many of the women attest to the fact that this is the rule, and not the exception. Furthermore, most of them ran into problems getting the legal system to do anything. Even though there are laws about polygamy, most of the time these cults are ignored and allowed to continue mistreating their women and children. It's horrifying.

On the bright side, God's Brothel has inspired me to research and write about the topic myself.

September 9, 2007 -- Update:

This evening I spotted a related article on the New York Times website, about the trial of a polygamist matchmaker named Warren S. Jeffs. Jeffs is on trial for forcing underage girls to enter into polygamist marriages with older men. Although the article goes nowhere near the depth of the issues Andrea Moore-Emmett discusses in her book, it is still an interesting current event, particularly if you have read (or are reading) God's Brothel.

Unassisted Childbirth by Laura Shanley

Recently I ran across an article -- I think it was on WashingtonPost.com -- about "do-it-yourself childbirth." Laura Shanley and her website, Bornfree, were mentioned in the article. As it turns out, Shanley is also the author of a book on the subject, Unassisted Childbirth.

I was immediately interested. As a diabetic woman who is interested in having children someday soon, I have recently become concerned with current medical practices concerning childbirth. Since my women's studies classes in college, I have been interested in natural childbirth, only to find more recently that my diabetes is going to make it hard (if not nearly impossible) to have the type of childbirth I want.

For instance, I don't want an IV, but diabetic mothers are apparently almost always given an insulin/glucose drip -- whether or not they need it. Also, I find the incidence of C-section very alarming -- more than a quarter of babies born in the U.S. are now born by C-section. Unfortunately, as a diabetic woman that apparently makes it even more likely that a doctor will want to perform a C-section on me.

About the time I saw the article on unassisted childbirth (or UC, as it is often referred to), I had recently been told by a midwifery clinic that midwifes were legally prohibited from attending to a diabetic mother at home. While I don't know yet if that is true, I am interested in finding more out about unassisted childbirth as an alternative to having my babies in the hospital.

Being interested in finding out more, I decided to read Laura Shanley's book, Unassisted Childbirth. I found the book highly interesting and extremely readable. Especially informative was the information on how medical intervention can actually endanger the mother and child. In fact, unassisted childbirth is actually just as safe if not safer than hospital birth, because all of the things that doctors and nurses do can actually cause complications. There's so much information that I can't even begin to list it here -- if you are interested in finding out more, I definitely recommend this book!

In addition, the book includes several people's stories of UC. It is also really encouraging to read about people's experiences with it.

All in all, I find the notion of unassisted childbirth intriguing. While I haven't decided yet whether I will go that route, it has definitely impacted what I want out of my childbirth experiences. When it comes time to make a decision, if I do decide to go with a hospital birth it will be armed with information and a fully-constructed birthing plan that will essentially tell the doctors, "I MAKE THE DECISIONS HERE, NOT YOU."

This book has helped to give me the knowledge and the determination to be in charge of my own childbirth. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to find out more about natural childbirth (whether unassisted or not) and the dangers of medical intervention!

Stay tuned for other books on this subject. I have a whole stack of books to read!

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

I just finished reading The Subtle Knife, the second book in Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy. I only recently finished the first book, The Golden Compass, but the second book was shorter and a faster read.

Unfortunately, The Subtle Knife had a cliffhanger ending. The story is obviously waiting until the third book to come to any sort of resolution. I would normally be starting the fourth book right away, but Michael is only about halfway done with it right now.

I guess I'll have to find something else to read in the meantime.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

As you may already know, Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass has been made into a movie, due out this December. Michael loves fantasy and is excited for the movie, so he decided to read the books, as well. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he also managed to rope me into reading them, too.

I used to read Philip Pullman as a teenager, so I'm interested to see if his writing is as good as I remember it to be. (So far it is.) I'm a third or half of the way through The Golden Compass, and so far I'm enjoying it immensely. The book is entirely different from the type of fantasy found in the Harry Potter books (which I've also been reading lately), so it is a nice change.

Essentially, the book is about a little girl, Lyra, who has discovered to be involved in a huge -- and most likely sinister -- mystery. Pullman does an excellent job of giving you only a few details at a time, keeping you wondering what is going on, so unfortunately there is little I can tell you about the premise of the novel.

However, I can tell you that The Golden Compass takes place in a fantasy world, but one that is similar to ours in many ways; that children are disappearing; and that Lyra has something to do with all of this (though she doesn't know what yet). Lyra is a delightful heroine, spunky and defiant and rather wild.

While I read The Golden Compass, Michael is reading The Subtle Knife, which is the second book in the "His Dark Materials" trilogy. We'll be picking up the third one -- The Amber Spyglass -- soon, as Michael is almost done with The Subtle Knife.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Milk Memos by Cate Colburn-Smith and Andrea Serrette

I am currently reading The Milk Memos, by Cate Colburn-Smith and Andrea Serrette. This book was a total impulse buy: Last week, when Michael and I were at Tattered Cover (a local, independent Barnes and Noble-style bookstore that offers free WiFi), I spotted it on the shelf right next to where we were sitting.

How can you resist a book with the title "The Milk Memos," especially when it has wide baby's eyes and an almost-bald baby's head on the cover? I picked it up and started looking at it, and I very quickly became intrigued.

The Milk Memos is part memoir, part how-to for working moms. Basically, the authors were both working at IBM shortly after giving birth, so they were both using the lactation room -- the room the company provided them in order to pump at work. Along with other nursing/working moms, they started keeping a little notebook, where they would all leave messages to each other while they were pumping.

The Milk Memos includes some of those exchanges, divided into specific topics and accompanied by related commentary and how-to information. The focus of the book is helping working moms continue to breastfeed; despite the dramatic health benefits enjoyed by breastfed babies, the task of pumping throughout the day intimidates many new mothers into switching to forumla.

The biggest reason why I bought the book was that it has a chapter for work-at-home moms. Since I am a writer who works from home, I thought the book might have some good tips for when Michael and I have a baby. I know that many of my fellow freelance writers are also work-at-home moms, too, so take note — this book has some good tips!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

I am now reading the fourth of J.K. Rowling's books, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I was worried about not being able to get to the 7th book by the time it was due back at the library, but interestingly enough, the library made a mistake, and the book isn't registered as being checked out to me. In that case, I think I'll keep it out for a week or so longer than would usually be allowed, which should give me enough time to finish the entire series.

I have to admit, I had forgotten how long and involved these books started getting after a while. The Goblet of Fire is rather daunting, and I am an adult! How do kids feel with they see this 800-page doorstop?

It's just a good thing Rowling is so good at writing compelling, suspenseful stories -- otherwise, kids would joke about her books the same as they joke about books like War and Peace.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

Moving right along in my quest to read the entire 7 books of Harry Potter! I am now on the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

It's hard to know what to say when I've read all these before, except to comment about the things that are different about the movie. One thing I definitely have noticed, however, is that J.K. Rowling does an excellent job of dropping clues about what is going on -- except you don't notice it when you're reading the books for the first time.

*** Warning: I'm about to reveal something that may spoil the book (or movie) for you if you haven't read (or seen) it! ***

For instance, in the third book Hermione has enrolled in more classes than she could take in a normal 24-hour day, so she is using a time-travel device to attend them all -- but you don't find that out until the end. However, odd little things are constantly happening, like Hermione suddenly being in class when Ron and Harry didn't see her walk in, or Hermione carrying books for classes she doesn't have that day. If you already know what is going on, you really pick up on these things -- but if you don't know, some of them slip by you.

In other words, J.K. Rowling is a MASTER of subtlety!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

I actually forgot to blog about Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets over the weekend, so I am almost done with it now. In fact, I would have finished it last night if I hadn't've been so tired.

Anyway, like with the first Harry Potter book, I am rereading this one to refresh my memory before I read #7. Once again, I am noticing differences between the book and the movie; they usually surprise me, because I have seen the movie several times but have only read the book once, and that was six years ago!

I'm struck again by what an amazing writer J.K. Rowling is. I've heard people criticize her for using ploys such as cliffhanger endings on paragraphs -- but hey, this is popular fiction, not the Dead White Male literary canon. (And if it were, it certainly would not be encouraging kids to read more.)

My reasons for thinking J.K. Rowling is a good writer include:

1) Strong characterization
2) Complicated plots
3) Believable dialogue (so many writers struggle with this!)
4) Great description
5) A great sense of humor, and an amazing ability to weave it into her writing so that it catches you off guard
6) An understanding of what makes kids tick (and read)

She may not be Shakespeare, but I think J.K. Rowling is just as important in our times as Shakespeare was in his. It might be an ambitious statement, but realistically, I don't think importance is judged by the moralizing content of your work -- after all, Shakespeare's plays were intended to entertain the people then as Harry Potter is now.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone by J.K. Rowling

With the newest (and last) Harry Potter book now out, I decided to re-read the first 6 before I start #7. With some of them, such as Sorceror's Stone, it has been as long as 6 years since I last read them.

I am amazed at how in many cases I remember the movie better than the book. In fact, several times I've noticed places where the action or the dialogue in the book differs significantly from the movie. For instance, when Harry is picking out his wand in the book, the wrong ones don't blow anything up as they do in the movie -- they just don't do anything at all.

Michael is reading the 7th Harry Potter right now, but the way I'm cruising through #1, he'd better hurry up. We got the new one out from the library -- I had put a hold on it more than a year ago, so I was one of the few who was able to get a copy right away -- so I have 3 weeks to read all 7.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

I am now reading Jodi Picoult's newest book, Nineteen Minutes. The basis for this story -- the Columbine shooting -- is close to my heart, as I attended Chatfield, Columbine's sister school. Although I had graduated nearly two years before, I still lived in the area, and my sister was at Chatfield at the time of the shooting. Also, as my dad later pointed out, had we lived in the first house my parents made on offer on when we moved to the area, my sister would have been at Columbine for that shooting.

Having known Columbine students, including members of the so-called Trenchcoat Mafia, and having lived in Littleton for most of my life (including the years following the massacre), I of course was closer to the incident than most people who heard about it on the news. However, my own experiences with bullying and my feeling about public schools -- that they are far too lenient in dealing with it -- has also made me feel more invested in the social outcome following Columbine.

Picoult does a good job of exploring what a crisis such as a school shooting does to a small town or suburb. Although Littleton was not the kind of place where everyone knew everyone else -- as the small town in Picoult's novel is -- it was a sleepy suburb. Our schools were some of the best in the state, certainly in the county. We had soccer moms and straight-A students. No one would ever have dreamed that something as horrible as a school shooting could happen, and therefore the impact of the event created waves that rippled through the community for years afterward.

In Picoult's fictional high school shooting, she makes the shooter someone who has been bullied and virtually friendless all of his life, just like the real shooters in many of these incidents. Although I haven't finished the book yet, so far I think she does a superb job of turning the antagonist into a sympathetic character. I love that about Picoult -- that she can take a crime and put a human face on it, make you see the many facets of the act and the character who committed it.

In Nineteen Minutes, Picoult literally picks you up and drops you into the head of a chronically bullied child. If you haven't dealt with severe bullying on a daily basis, or if you can't understand why school shootings always precipitate an outcry against bullying in schools, you need to read this book -- if only to make you understand what might go through the head of a child bullied past the point of human tolerance.

Perfect Match by Jodi Picoult

I just recently finished reading Perfect Match, by Jodi Picoult. As I've come to expect with her, it was a beautifully crafted novel, with a sudden surprise near the beginning to draw you in, just the right amount of suspense to keep you reading throughout, and several surprise twists along the way (with the biggest one at the end). It wasn't, however, an all-nighter type.

This one is about a lawyer who specializes in prosecuting child molesters, and then finds out that her five-year-old son has been sexually molested. What would you do -- or what would you want to do -- if it happened to you, and you knew firsthand how ineffective the system was at taking care of these things?

As the character, Nina, says herself in the book, she only did what every parents always wants to do in that situation -- but can't quite get up the guts to act on it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Man Who Listens to Horses by Monty Roberts

My current goal is to learn as much as possible about horse training methods and theories -- in about a month, we are moving my horse from the inlaws' place in the country in order to have him nearby. I am very excited, as it has been difficult not to be able to see Panama very often this past year. I want to start working with him, as he has had little to no training, but I need to find out how to start.< The Man Who Listens to Horses is, as it turns out, a great place to start. I've known that I don't want to use any harsh training methods, and Monty Roberts is living proof that I don't have to. His book is very detailed in describing the body language of horses, which he calls "Equus," and how he uses it in order to train them.

Of course, since the book is also told in the style of a memoir, there are plenty to hold one's attention, too. The stories of his childhood, his abusive father, and his early encounters with horses are fascinating. In fact, I stayed up past my bedtime last night because I was so engrossed in the book. :o)

If you are a horse person and have not yet read this book, I highly recommend it. The insights Monty offers are quite valuable for someone who wants to train their horses in a way that fosters a respectful relationship for both parties. And even if you think "gentling" horses instead of breaking them is hokey, you may still find Monty's personal experiences intriguing.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs

I am currently reading Magical Thinking, a collection of essays by Augusten Burroughs. The essays are about various events in his life, but what is most noteworthy is the sense of humor with which he approaches everything. Burroughs is sarcastic and laugh-out-loud funny -- and believe me, it's not often that a book gets me to laugh out loud.

The biggest surprise for me was the discovery, several essays into the book, that Burroughs is gay. He lets the reader know gently, by first talking about how one of his childhood heroes was a transsexual. I totally didn't pick up on the cues at all, so when he started talking about how he had considered getting a sex-change operation, I was shocked.

All in all, the experience was kind of humbling. I write regularly for a GLBT parenting site, so sometimes I start thinking like I've got "them" all figured out. Clearly, that assumption -- including the reference to GLBT people as "them," an other -- stems from some sort of prejudice that I have been socialized with and unknowingly retained. I don't think of myself as prejudiced at all, but this just goes to show that getting rid of socialized prejudice is easier said than done.

But back to the book. My surprise at finding out the author is gay hasn't changed my enjoyment of the book any. In fact, I have to point out that another one of the funniest books I've ever read -- The Kid, by Dan Savage -- was also by a gay writer. I love a sarcastic sense of humor, and both of these guys have got it in spades.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

My new blog template

One of the things that happened while I was too busy to update this blog was that I got a new template for it. (So I guess I was updating it, just not with posts about my newest reads.) Goofy Girl, who created my blog template, is absolutely wonderful, and I highly recommend her to anyone who wants a unique blog template.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult

The newest Jodi Picoult novel that I'm reading is Plain Truth. Although the subject matter and setting of this book is different than her other books, I am starting to notice a pattern.

First of all, Picoult's books almost always involve a crime, or at least a violation against someone's rights. And it almost always goes to trial (Picture Perfect being the only one I read that didn't include a trial). However, Picoult's books are different than most lawyer fiction because she gets to the heart of the issue -- she puts a human face on the crime. So although the court scenes are very suspenseful and do an excellent job of drawing the reader along, they are secondary to the emotional and psychological drama that is taking place both in and out of the courtroom.

But back to Plain Truth... Like I said, this one is a little different -- in a way. It is about an 18-year-old Amish girl who is being accused of neonatacide (killing a baby). The hospital determines that the dead premie in the barn is indeed hers, but the girl is having problems even admitting to herself that she was ever pregnant. Of course, eventually she is able to come to terms with her pregnancy (and the act that got her that way), but the question now is -- how did the baby die?

This book is shaping up to be quite good. It is definitely another book I would recommend -- but then, what Picoult book wouldn't I recommend?

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult

Well, I did it again -- stayed up all night to finish a Jodi Picoult book. This time, though, I was already about 100 pages into Salem Falls when I got in bed to read around 1:30 am last night. I finished the book around 5:30 -- I think -- before finally going to bed.

Basically, Salem Falls is a modern version of The Crucible -- a play that fictionalizes the Salem witch trials, where a group of girls started a witch hunt by pretending to be bewitched and giving false evidence against the women in the community. Whereas the witch trials dealt with the worst crime the residents of Salem could imagine, however, Salem Falls deals with one of the worst crimes imaginable today: sexual assault on a minor.

Although Salem Falls didn't grab me from the first few pages, as My Sister's Keeper did, by the time I was a third of the way through it I couldn't put down. Like her other books, Picoult has a lot of seemingly unrelated side plots going on at the same time, but which all seem to come together in the end. Unlike her other books, Picoult doesn't drop a bombshell within the first ten pages, and then spend the rest of the book exploring the before and after of the crater it makes. Instead, the bombshell comes later in the book -- but that doesn't make it any less compelling, proving that Picoult's skill as a suspense writer comes not from parlor tricks but from pure talent.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult

The last book I read was My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. Since first discovering Picoult's books a couple of weeks ago, I'm devouring them one after another. The one I'm reading now is Vanishing Acts.

Although this one isn't quite as compelling as My Sister's Keeper, which kept me up all night, it's pretty darn good. Basically, the main character suddenly finds out that her supposedly widowed father, who she has lived with alone for as long as she can remember, kidnapped her when she was little.

Of course, this makes her father suddenly into the bad guy. But in her usual fashion, Picoult slowly starts to expose more and more of the story, until you realize that her father is also the good guy. I love how Picoult does that -- puts a human face on people that you would normally label just good or just bad, showing how complicated the truth of the matter usually is.

I expect that this is building up toward a surprise revelation at the very end, which is the way Jodi Picoult's books usually end. I don't have much left of it, so I'll probably go finish reading now -- I want to know what happens! While Vanishing Acts is very good, though, I wouldn't recommend it quite as highly as I would My Sister's Keeper. But I'd still recommend it, as I haven't yet met a Jodi Picoult book I haven't liked.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

In my last post, I said that I was going to catch up on books that I haven't posted. As it turns out, I have something more pressing to write about -- a good book that totally derailed my plans (not to mention my sleep schedule).

But first, a little background. I discovered Jodi Picoult while I was visiting my grandfather. I'll blog later about the first two books of hers that I read, but for the moment it's enough to say that I fell immediately in love with her characters, her writing style, and her amazing ability to get you into her character's heads and their complex lives. In short, Picoult writes the kinds of books I want to write someday.

I started My Sister's Keeper at about midnight tonight, and I finished it five and a half hours later. I literally read the book all in one sitting -- I couldn't put it down, couldn't slow down. I seriously think I only closed the book once, and for less than three minutes.

I loved the other two Picoult books that I read, but My Sister's Keeper is my favorite so far. Picoult takes challenging issues and writes books that closed-minded people would no doubt ban, if she weren't so good at forcing their minds open by making you see through her character's eyes. This particular novel takes a new spin on the stem cell debate by saying, "What if medical miracles were taken not from a lifeless, unwanted embryo, but a living, breathing child with her own life to live? How would it impact that child to know that she is alive for the primary purpose of saving her sister's life?"

Of course, as with all of Picoult's books, this is an extremely simplistic way of describing the story and the questions it poses. Picoult is a master of weaving multiple plotlines together, all of them unique yet irrevocably connected.

I think it's probably unnecessary to say that I highly recommend My Sister's Keeper, but I will anyway. Seriously, read this book. But don't start it unless you have a solid block of reading time -- I don't necessary recommend reading it all in one sitting (I'm tired!!!), but it will be hard to put down.