Sunday, August 31, 2014

Four

When I get into a book series, I like to look up the author's website, join their Facebook page, and read interviews with them.  I like exploring the characters in a way closer to how the author really sees them.  I enjoy back stories.  It's my understanding, from reading these interviews, that an author generally these characters living with them all the time, kicking around in their heads, taking charge of a scene without the author really controlling the actions and motivations of these make-believe people.  This fascinates me.  I've written many stories and pieces, but it's all been non-fiction or stories based on real people.  I've tried writing fiction, but I don't have all these characters dancing around in my head.  I enjoy other people's characters, but I don't have any of my own.  I have a lot of respect for a storyteller's ability to spin a tale and create a world.

So is it any surprise that, given Amazon money for my birthday, I jumped at the chance to grab up Four by Veronica Roth?

I've already reviewed the Divergent series.  I'm a fan.  No, it's not Pride and Prejudice or David Copperfield or anything, but not everything has to be high literature.  Wal-Mart shelf fiction is  good too, especially when it's clean and allows you to ponder truths of life.  (Confession: David Copperfield is actually one of two books I "Cliff-noted" in my English 12 AP class.  It was assigned summer reading and I ran out of time.  But I spent so much time the night before the test reviewing the Cliffs Notes that I failed to review the books I HAD read and failed the test anyway.  Ah, lessons learned.)  Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant were fast paced, fun reads.  I enjoyed them all, although Allegiant kinda wandered around.  And the end was...well, let's just say I think she could have made all her points without doing what she did. 

But I digress.

Four is a collection of stories from the world of Divergent, but they are all told from the perspective of Tobias instead of Tris.  The first three stories happen before the events of Divergent while the fourth one overlaps with Tris's experience.  According to the introduction, the Divergent series was actually birthed in Roth's mind through the eyes of Tobias, not Tris.  Over time, Tobias didn't have quite the right tone she wanted, and eventually the right narrator of the story came along in the form of Tris.  However, Tobias's story was always very important to Roth and her development of the story she wanted to tell, so once the trilogy was complete, she went back and told pieces of the story from Tobias's voice. 

First, let me say this.  Read Divergent first.  The whole series. Four will be a much more meaningful experience if you already know what's going on.  I fear that future generations will look at the series and do what they did to the Narnia series and "put them in order."  Yeeech.  Sometimes things are written out of order for a reason.  (Someday I'm sure I will use my blog space for a published-order argument for the Narnia series.  Because doing the other way is STUPID.)  Four is meant to be read after you've finished the trilogy.

However, if you've read the trilogy and enjoyed it, you will absolutely love Four.

One of the draws of the Divergent world is the character development.  If you enjoy the series, you love Tris and Four.  (The same cannot be said for The Hunger Games.  I enjoyed that series for the action, but I spent a lot of time wanting to smack Katniss.)  Tris and Four are one of the best couples I've read.  They are like a younger version of Claire and Jaime for you fellow Outlander fans.  Seeing the events you've read and enjoyed through Tris's eyes turned around and seen through Four's is a lovely literary experience.  Suddenly the experience of reading Divergent becomes richer.  You become much closer to the story.  It feels like you are there in the midst of it all because you know more of the ins and outs.  You begin to see the story the way Veronica Roth see it - intricate and complicated.  One character only gives you a straightforward, 2-D perspective.  Adding another major character's point of view turns it into a 3-D experience.  It's well written, and Tobias's traits and motivations are well explored.  It was a highly satisfying experience.

I enjoy the world of Divergent.  If you enjoy it too, you need to read Four to round out your journey with the factions of dystopian Chicago.  It won't take you long - the book's pretty short - and you'll feel thoroughly satisfied once you've finished, like finishing the dessert of a good meal.



Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Stolen Crown

Sorry about the absence last week, folks - I had a kid in the hospital.  With PNEUMONIA.  Who the heck gets pneumonia in August?  My 8 year old, that's who.  So that's how we spent our last week of summer - sitting in a hospital room watching an IV drip drugs and fluid into my kiddo.  Not so much fun. 

But he is healing and I am back!

Ahem.

Did Richard III kill his nephews in order to seize the throne?
Why did the Duke of Buckingham rebel - unsuccessfully - against Richard?
Was Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville legitimate or bigamy?
Am I a total and complete history geek? 

(The answer to that last one is yes, and I am ok with that.)

If you are an average American, you have never once pondered the top three questions.  However, if you are an Anglophile who reads books about the Wars of the Roses for fun, like me, then they are questions you have seriously wondered about.  This period of English history is a particularly controversial one.  There was so much intrigue at the time that it is hard to determine what was fact and what was slander. 

This makes it a great era for historical fiction writers to take apart and examine. What really happened and why did people do what they did?  We know some things for certain, but the rest is up to which theory you believe.  What really happened before, during, and after the reign of Edward IV in the England of the 15th century?

The Stolen Crown  by Susan Higginbotham takes us back to this period and explores the events of the time through the eyes of two real-life characters - Katherine Woodville Stafford, Duchess of Buckingham, and Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham.  Katherine was the youngest daughter of Elizabeth Woodville, whose secret marriage to Edward IV rocked his government and was the source of yet another rebellion during a time when the crown bounced back and forth between two feuding branches of the same family.  Katherine was married off to Henry at the age of eight, and the two were raised in King Edward's household.  They eventually had four children together, and the Duke went on to be a key member of King Richard III's government after Edward's death.  However, in one of those moments of history that historians cannot agree about, the Duke suddenly turned on Richard and led a rebellion trying to put Henry Tudor on the throne.  The rebellion failed and the Duke was executed...and in an ironic twist of history, Henry Tudor went on to mount another sucessful rebellion and became King Henry VII. 

Did you follow all that?  Probably not.  I had to read, like, eight books on the Wars of the Roses before things started to make sense, and I still get confused.  It doesn't help that every male is named Richard, Henry or Edward, and every female is named Elizabeth, Anne, or Katherine.  It also doesn't help that, due to titles, everyone has about three different names.   

But I digress.

The Stolen Crown was interesting to me because Higginbotham took me to a perspective I'd never read before, that of the Staffords.  I didn't know much about them before reading this book.  The Duke of Buckingham is usually presented in novels about this period as a true bad guy - evil and scheming and such.  This story presented an entirely different perspective on who Henry Stafford might have been.  Since there is no way of knowing, it's fun to read novels that speculate, and this gave an entirely different viewpoint than that I have read before.

I also enjoyed the back-and-forth perspective between Katherine and Henry.  Higginbotham refers to the same event seen through both sets of eyes, and this makes for a fascinating read.  It keeps the story moving and gives the reader much to think about as they read.  It allows for different perspectives on history to be shared and different theories to be offered.

Along those lines, I will say that I do not agree with Ms. Higginbotham's stance that Richard III killed his nephews, the Princes in the Tower.  After doing my own research, I came to my own conclusion years ago that he was innocent of that crime.  This did not, however, keep me from enjoying this novel immensely.  I like reading perspectives that differ from my own.  It's good to challenge your own ideas, even if it's just theories on 15th century mysteries.  It's a good thing for your mind and character to take your own ideas out for a walk and see how they hold up to others.  It can solidify your own stance or help you see things in a new way. 

The Stolen Crown was a good, fun, quick read, a great little break from the non-fiction I have been tackling lately.  For anyone who is a fan of this genre - and really, even if you've never tried it - it's a good solid venture into the tumultuous Wars of the Roses and a fun, different perspective on the lives of the people of those times. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Current Reads

I seem to have hit one of those periods where I have many, many books going at once. I can't seem to settle down into one.  So rather than my usual quick 5 TBR list, I thought I would take a moment to discuss all the books I have going at the moment.  I often read more than one book at once.  Other bookworms will understand.

Here's what I've got going on at the moment:

1. The Civil War, A Narrative, Volume 1 by Shelby Foote.  I recently watched Ken Burns' epic documentary The Civil War and, being the geek that I am, I wanted to find out more about Shelby Foote, the author that is interviewed throughout the series.  I discovered he had written a three volume narrative on The American Civil War, so I checked it out from my library.  And I LOVE IT.  Very easy to read, not at all dry, written in narrative form, it is incredibly intriguing.  Mr. Foote certainly did his research.  I don't know how long it's going to take me to finish it, but I will, eventually.  (It's very, very long.  The Prologue, which I just finished, is 72 pages.)  And then  I will move on to Volume II.

2. Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  Apparently I am on a Civil War kick.  I have started this one so many times, and it is fascinating, I don't know why I can't finish the thing.  But it's coming along, and it's a nice complement to Shelby Foote's narrative.  I'm going to be quite the Civil War expert when I am all done.

3. The Stolen Crown  by Susan Higginbotham.  This is a historical fiction I found in Kindle form for $2.99.  The author is one recommended on the Sharon Kay Penman FB fan page (yes, I follow it, don't judge), so I am giving her a try.  It's about Edward IV's secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville.  So far it's very good.

4. The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  This is actually several books in one, and currently I am working my way though The Return of Sherlock Holmes.  I do love Sherlock, and these are great short stories, which makes for good reads.  They are great for reading in line at the checkout counter at Wal-Mart.  This is another one I am reading on my Kindle.  (I told you I was slowly coming around to the ebook craze.)

5. Lost in Translation by John Klein and Adam Spears.  This book examines the Bible from a Hebrew perspective - which was, after all, how it was actually written in the first place, for the most part.  Absolutely fascinating, and it's shaking up my 33 years of Western Civilation-y interpretation of the Bible.  Which is an EXCELLENT idea, I highly recommend it.  God loves to shake up our preconceived ideas!

6. The Prime Minister's Secret Agent by Susan MacNeal.  This is the next Maggie Hope novel.  It just came out in paperback.  I splurged and ordered it from Amazon.  Should be here this afternoon.  I bet I have it finished in three days.

7. Four Blood Moons by John Hagee.  I actually don't know much about this one, but it has been recommended to me by multiple Christian brothers and sisters that I respect, so I'm reading it soon, it's on the short list.

8.  Cinder by Marissa Meyer.  This is a YA book that I am trying to read because I like to keep up with the books my students are reading.  The premise is intriguing - it's a futuristic telling of Cinderella where Cinderella turns out to be a cyborg.  Unfortunately, I can't seem to get into it.  I'll get through it soon, it's sitting on my nightstand, but I seem to be easily distracted from it by all these other reads.

9. Written in my Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon.  This is book 8 in the Outlander series.  I love the Outlander series.  I have waited for this book for three years.  I am totally pumped to read it...but I keep getting interrupted, and it was annoying me, so I put it down for a bit.  I have a vacation weekend coming up, that will probably be a good time to get going on it.

So there's my to-be-read list.  No wonder my to-be-folded laundry pile is so high...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

In Case You Didn't Notice...

...I quit rating the books by stars.

Why?

Well, to tell the truth...I kind of forgot.

And then, once I remembered, I realized it was kind of stupid anyway.  Our society loves ranking things.  We live by it.  But it's not really necessary.  How can I really  compare one book to another?  Books are written for different purposes and mean different things to different people.  How can I say one's a two-star and one's a four-star?

They are works of art.  They aren't meant to be ranked.  They are meant to be pondered and discussed.

So...that's why I quit.  Maybe I'll start back up.  But in the meantime, I prefer to just discuss.

The Divergent Series

I was glancing over previous posts of mine, and I suddenly realized I had never written a review of a book series that consumed most of my reading time this semester: The Divergent series!  How could I have let this one slip by!  Probably because of the crazy spring semester I had.  Well, time to right the wrong.  The movie came out just a few months ago, so the series is very hot and popular right now.  A good time to put in my two cents.

I picked up Divergent off the bargain shelf at Wal-Mart because I needed a hospital book to read while sitting with my mom in the ICU.  It was a good pick - it's a fast read, keeps the reader enthralled, but it doesn't require too much brainpower to keep up with the story line.  It's pretty straightforward, as are its sequels, Insurgent and Allegiant.  It's definitely the kind of series that kept me up all night reading and calling friends desperate to borrow the next one.  It's that kind of exciting series.

The Divergent series tells the story of Tris, a teenager living in post-apocalyptic Chicago whose society had created a unique way to keep the peace.  When you reach a certain age, you choose which "faction" to belong to, according your aptitude and desire. Your choices are Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Erudite, and Dauntless.   There is a sort of virtual reality test given to indicate which faction you would fit into the best, and the idea is that you live out the rest of your life within this faction, happy to have your place in society.  Each faction contributes in some way to their society, and everyone just lives happily along, locked into the life they have chosen.  That is, of course, unless you wash out of your faction and get rejected, in which case you wind up living with the Factionless, and you are an outcast for life, living on the streets and off the charity of others.    And everyone gets along.  Right?

Well, of course not.  This is dystopian young adult fiction, after all.  There are no happy endings.

Divergent introduces you to Tris's world and the world of the Dauntless, the faction Tris chooses against her family's expectations as they are from Abnegation.  From then on, Tris's life is on a breathless fast-track through danger, suspense, backstabbing (sometimes literally), and love that thankfully manages to be passionate without being explicit.  The story ends in a major cliffhanger, and the next book, Insurgent, picks right up where Divergent left off - and then turns everything upside down.  You begin to realize that nothing you thought you knew was true.  Then Allegiant starts - and you realize that NOTHING YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW WAS TRUE.   It twists, it turns, loyalties are challenged, the factions are blown apart - and Tris ultimately learns the truth about her society.

Honestly, it's all very exciting up to this point.  I liked to storyline better than The Hunger Games trilogy, and I like Tris much better than Katniss.  (I'm not sure you're really supposed to like Katniss.)  Tris is unendingly brave and loyal - to a fault, really.  She is stubborn and independent and willing to do what it takes to save the people she loves.   She's hard, but she's good, and I liked her.

The story itself is good too - it messes with your head and makes you play "what if?" a lot.  What if everything you knew to be true was wrong?  What if all the authority in your society was really about something else?  What's really going on behind the scenes?  Every time you think you are comfortable with how things are progressing, you find out what you thought you knew was wrong.  It kept things very exciting.

However, like most dystopian literature, the ending left me feeling...bereft.  I needed more closure.  It feels like most dystopian novelists write themselves into a corner and then don't know what to do.  So...they just kind of end things.  That's how I felt at the end of The Hunger Games and Matched series, and the feeling was repeated again when I finished Allegiant.  It was highly unsatisfying, and I think the author could have made some of the points about bravery and loyalty without some of the plot turns she chose.  I also wanted to know more about what happened to each character and about what was going on in the rest of the world.  This is an aggravating aspect of most dystopian books today - they tend to focus solely on the United States.  What about the rest of the world?  I live in a very global community.  Why is the future suddenly so only-us focused?

That being said, Divergent is not a bad read at all.  The series goes fast, stays interesting, and gives you a lot to think about while not being too taxiing on the brain.  It's fun and not too draining.

And...in the interest of total honesty...Four, Tris's love interest...is...shall we say...Smokin'.  Hot.  It is not easy to create a character this hot without a visual.  But...yeah.  Veronica Roth pulled it off.

These would make a great summer read.  If this is the genre that interests you, you will enjoy Divergent.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Some Thoughts on Rereading

"If you would tell me the heart of a man, tell me not what he reads, but what he re-reads." - Francois Mauriac 

I love to own books.  My poor husband knew this when when he married me, but I am not sure he knew the extension of my book-owning frenzy.  Do not mistake me - I adore our local library and avail myself of it on a weekly basis.  However, I truly do love owning books.  I love the sight of my full bookshelves and the feeling of my books my in hands.  I love being able to fold the pages if need be, or write notes in the margin.  But my favorite part of owning my own books is a phenomenon known among most hopeless bookworms: rereading!


I am a chronic re-reader.  I read the same books over and over again.  This may seem strange to some readers, but many will know what I am talking about.  To me, the ability to reread a book is the ability to, at any given moment, meet up with a dear old friend and know their deep companionship all over again.  You know the feeling of getting together with one of your dearest friends for coffee and catching up?  That's what picking up an already read book is like.  It's a marvelously comforting thing to be able to do. 

In addition, rereading books is not really reading the same book over and over again.  My sixth grade teacher taught me this.  We were given a choice of two different books to read for a class assignment, and one of the book options was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.  (One of my favorite rereads.)  My father had read this to me when I was about six, so I was going to read the other one, but my teacher - who was very intentional about knowing her students - strongly suggested that I reread it, telling me it would mean something completely different to me know.  She was right.  As a young child, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is just a fantasy story - but if you reread it again and again as you get older, you start to see other themes and messages emerge, and you begin to appreciate the message C.S. Lewis was really trying to communicate.  I never forgot this lesson, and I am eternally grateful to my sixth grade teacher for it.    We change as we grow older.  As we change, the meaning of books change as well.  Although I may know the story line of a book, I see it from a different perspective each time I read it. I am married with children now; that mean one of my favorite books, Up a Family Tree, is far more meaningful now than it was when I first read it as a teenager.  (See my previous review here.)  This phenomenon of books changing as we change happens every time I reread a book.

I reread different books for different reasons.  For example, I probably reread Gone With the Wind two or three times a year.  This book, which I have reviewed here, has been a perennial favorite of mine since middle school.  I know it so well that I can pick up any one of my multiple copies - yes, I have multiple copies - drop it open to any given page, and I am back with my old pals Scarlett, Rhett, Melanie, and that Captain of All Wimps, Ashley.  This is a book I like to reread and play out scenarios in my head.  I can see each scene clearly as if they were being played out on stage in front of me.  Then I like to imagine how I would have reacted in those scenes and how I would really like to sit down all four main characters and knock some sense into their heads.  Rereading Gone With The Wind is a very active experience for me, and it allows the imagination to run wild.

The Mitford series, on the other hand, is a series I reread when I need something soothing.  It is just about as perfect a series as you can possibly find.  There are nine books, which means there is plenty to revisit, but each book (unlike Gone With the Wind) is a manageable size.  You can pick up any of the nine novels and simply pick up the story line.  Father Tim, Cynthia, and the citizens of Mitford are deal old friends of mine.  I don't really play out scenarios or rerun scenes in my mind from this series - each scene is perfect within itself.  You just soak in Mitford.  It isn't controversial and it doesn't get me blood going.  It's just...relaxing.  


And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie is a book that I have not yet reviewed, but I plan to soon.  It is another perennial reread of mine.  This may be the absolute most perfect mystery book ever conceived.  There is nothing to change, nothing to alter.  The plot is something beyond genius.  It is a literary masterpiece.    I can figure out most mystery novels that I read before I get to the end, and then once I finish it, there's not much to revisit, so I don't reread them.  Why reread  a mystery when you know the solution?  Somehow, though, And Then There Were None draws me back again and again.  There are so many details that I forget things from year to year, so there are always surprises.  The summation in the next-to-last chapter, and the grand solution in the end, are my favorite parts, and they are so intricate that it continues to be exciting every time I read it - and I have been reading it since my teen years.  My copy is quite bedraggled.  But it never ceases to be fascinating.

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom is another book I revisit on a regular basis.  This tells the story of Corrie Ten Boom's family in the Netherlands during World War II.  This Christian family risked torture and death under the Nazi regime in order to hide Jews in their home.  Eventually they were caught, and Corrie and her sister were sent to a concentration camp.  This is one of those books I believe everyone should read at some point in their lives.  Corrie's courage and faith is both inspiring and humbling.  Her life is an example of that kind of life I want to have - not necessarily requiring a trip to a concentration camp, but unswerving faith in the face of great horror.  She is one of my heroes, and God has used her story in my life numerous time to teach me lessons about His love for His people.  It is not an easy book to read, but it is a necessary one, and one for which I have a special place in my heart.

There are many, many more books out there that I love to pick up and read again and again, all for different reasons - to live the adventure, to soak in the goodness, to experience a great story, for great inspiration, and more.  This is just a small snapshot of my rereading habits, and this is why my bookshelves are overflowing and only continue to grow.  (Sorry, husband!)  Rereading allows me to meet with the same thrills over and over again.  So my confession for the day is: rereading is one of my favorite pastimes.  If you've never tried revisiting a favorite book, give it a shot.  You will find that your favorites will renew themselves and give you a new meaning all over again.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Hound of the Baskervilles

I am slowly accepting the arrival of the ebook.  I have nothing against them, I just don't prefer them over actual, physical books.  One of the things I like best about books is being able to flip through pages, start here or there, and go hither and yonder among the chapters (if I've read the book already, that is).  I love picking up books off shelves and opening them to any page and re-reading them.  It's like meeting an old friend for coffee.  You  can't do that with an ebook.  When I'm reading a  book for the first time, I like glancing towards the back with satisfaction as to how much I have left.  There just isn't the same amount of satisfaction to be had in that little "46%" in the corner of the screen.  I also love the feel of a book in my hand, the smell of it, the texture of the pages.  It's all part of the reading experience for me. 

I am coming around, however, to reading the occasional book on my Kindle.  I have a Kindle Fire, not so much for reading, but for tablet purposes. I do, however, occasionally download a book onto it, especially if the book is free.  (I also resent paying for books I can't actually see.)  And I will say this - reading on my Kindle has solved my lifelong problem of how to read while cooking.  It is easier to prop up a Kindle and read it while stirring than it is to hold open a book.  I will give you that. 

So I will confess that my most recently finished book, The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was read on my Kindle.  I have the complete set of Sherlock Holmes on my Kindle, and I am working my way through them with great enjoyment.  I still would love to have a hard copy on my shelves.  A lovely leather, or even fake leather, edition of the complete works.  And hey, I have a birthday coming up.  I mean, I'm just putting facts out there in the universe...who knows where they may land...

But I digress.  Back to Sherlock Holmes.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is perhaps the best-known Holmes story.  It is quintessential Sherlock.  it has been adapted for the stage, for TV, and for film numerous times in numerous languages.  Pieces of it are well-known parts of the Sherlock canon.  It is here that the hardcore Sherlock fan finds the Vatican Cameos reference, among others.  It is a timeless story that defines the characters of Holmes and Watson. 

When you read the novel, you realize why. 

The Hound of the Baskervilles is mystery and suspense at its finest.  Intrigue, mistaken identities, false clues, mysterious noises, villains, heroes - all there.  It is suspenseful without being gory or weirdly supernatural, something with which today's writers seem to struggle.  It leads the reader down one path and then expertly pulls them down the other.  The mystery of the unfortunate death of Sir Charles Baskerville, and the fate of his heir Sir Henry, grabs the attention of the reader and does not let it go until the last line.  At the same time, it is a fabulous portrait of Holmes at his finest.  Everything you love about Sherlock is there, and everything you love about his faithful companion Watson is there.  The two of them take on the case with a singular energy and apply both of their skill sets towards sorting it all out - though Holmes, of course, always has the upper hand...being Holmes, after all.

I read The Hound of the Baskervilles in about 48 hours.  It would have taken me less time had I not fallen asleep this afternoon for a much needed nap.  It's a fast read because you can't put it down.  Written over 100 years ago, and yet the modern 21st century reader can't put it down.  That's the sign of true genius in writing.  That's the genius of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and that's what makes it timeless.  (Incidentally, it originally appeared as a serial story in a magazine, stretching from August 1901 to April 1902.  Can you imagine have to wait months and months for the conclusion to your favorite can't-put-it-down novel?  It's like the early 20th century form of torture that Moffat and Gatniss, today's Sherlock creators, are putting us fans through now!)

If you've never read any classic Holmes, check out The Hound of the Baskervilles and experience what read literary genius is like! 

TBR update:
I am still reading Written in my Own Heart's Blood, but it has taken a slight backseat because I am trying to complete my local library's adult reading challenge.  They have a list of 12 genres, and if you read books in six of those genres, you get a prize and you get put in a drawing for the grand prize.  You can enter up to three times.  I am trying to complete the thing by the end of the summer, so I haven't been able to attack Diana Gabaldon with quite the fierceness that I would like.  I have one entry completed and I am halfway through my second entry.  So here are my current TBR, other than her book:

1. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
2. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
3. Maise Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
4. Lost in Translation by Adam Spears and John Kline
5. And...other books.  I need to find a Romance, a Western, an Inspirational Fiction, or a book about Kansas.  Or any mixture of the above.  And I am open to suggestions!