Thursday, October 31, 2013

We Were Here First

We're packing up to move, and in the process, I keep finding old books that I had forgotten about but that I love.  It makes packing take a long time because I tend to sit down and read the books instead of pack them away.  It's like cleaning up my room when I was a kid all over again.  (Mom, cue in anytime here.) 

Anyway, I found one of my "beside" books when I was packing up my room - you know, one of those books you just leave by the side of the bed to flip through when you're trying to go to sleep.  It's like a coffee table book except more tuned to your personal tastes.  (Yes, I do have one on the history of England.) 

This particular book is a collection of one of my favorite comic strips, Baby BluesBaby Blues has been hilarious to me for years, but - much like Up a Family Tree - it became especially near and dear to my heart after the children arrived.  The parents of the strip, Wanda and Darryl, have three small children.  She stays at home while he works.  The gags of the strip surround their attempts to juggle trying to have an adult life with raising their three small ones. 

With a 7 year old, a 6 year old, and a 3 year old, is it any wonder this is one of my favorite comics?

The collection I found is entitled We Were There First, and it focuses on the trials of "couplehood" when you have small children running around.  Wanda and Darryl are pictured on the cover of the book hiding in the closet with a candle and two wine glasses in a desperate attempt to get some alone time.   While my husband and I have not resorted to this (mostly because we don't have closets and don't like wine), we can definitely identify with trying to have a "couple" life along with a "parental" life.  Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott, the authors of the strip, have always managed to show a real appreciation for the joys and loves of parenting while being able to point out some of the irony and ridiculousness that comes along the way. 

Such as:
- Rejoicing when you finally get to go away for the weekend with your spouse, only to rush into the hotel room in a grand hurry to email the kids, whom you miss terribly
- The wife arguing with the GPS in the mini-van ("who are you going to believe?")
- The conversations you want to have with your spouse but never get around to having because of all the interruptions
- The despair that comes to a household when the washer and dryer kick the bucket
- And the 6 things you learn after having kids ("#3: Free time is anything but that," also known as paying the baby-sitter)

Parenting is an adventure.  It is full of tears, joy, and laughter.  And if you don't learn to laugh, there are far too many tears.  I would not give up my life as a mom for anything - but that doesn't mean it isn't great to flip through a book of comics and laugh, knowing there are others experiencing the same thing you are out there. 

P.S. If you want to read the strip on a daily basis, you can find it on this link.  I read it every day!

Rating:3 out of 5 stars
What I'm Reading Now: Actually, not sure.  There are so many possibilities.  So on to the Top 5.
Top 5 TBR:
1. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
2. Shooting Victoria by Paul Thomas Murphy
3. A Prophetic Calendar by Jill Shannon
4. Forgotten God by Francis Chan
5. The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordian

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Great Tales from English History: The Truth about King Arthur, Lady Godiva, Richard the Lionheart and More

Our family has been under some considerable stress lately.  We are trying to purchase our first house, and the process has been long and grueling.  Sometimes, when you're under pressure and receiving disheartening news at every turn, you turn to the comforts of books that help soothe over the troubled times.

Comfort books are different for everyone.  For some, cheap supermarket novels serve this purpose.  For others, a good mystery, and for still others, anthologies or short stories are a welcome distraction.

For me it's non-fiction stories about medieval England. 

We all have our things, ok? 

I was gratified to be recently notified via that this little book, Great Tales from English History by Robert Lacey, had come up available.  For some reason, it took almost 3 weeks to arrive at my house, but that is simply symptomatic of my life lately - a lot of hurry up and wait.  A book that served as a fun escape from the drudgery and heartache of home-buying should, after all, take forever to get here.  It's quite fitting, really. 

But once it arrived, all was forgiven.  Lacey seeks to take the mystery out of history and tell it like it really was, or at least as close as he can get.  He starts with the Cheddar Man in prehistoric Albion (England) and goes all the way through Richard II and the Peasants' Revolt.  He tells the stories of Richard the Lionheart, Lady Godiva, and other famous English tales with the rose-colored glasses firmly off his face and his tongue planted firmly in his cheek.  He does not take himself, his country, or his country's most beloved tales too seriously, but he tells the tales of England's story with wit and a proper historical perspective.  Most of these stories I have heard before - this is, after all, my favorite period in history.  I know all about Canute, and Boadicea, and King Alfred burning the cakes.  But it's still fun to read, and Lacey tells each story like just that - a story, not a history lesson.  I truly believe many people would find this collection of stories enjoyable - not just the medieval history geeks like me. 

Great Tales from English History was a great distraction from this past week's adventures in housing-land.  It is well-written and tells fun tales of history with a great perspective.  Check it out sometime - you might find yourself enjoying it!'s a series!  He wrote several of these collections!  MORE FUN!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
What I'm Reading Now: Actually, not sure.  There are so many possibilities.  So on to the Top 5.
Top 5 TBR:
1. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
2. Shooting Victoria by Paul Thomas Murphy
3. A Prophetic Calendar by Jill Shannon
4. Forgotten God by Francis Chan
5. The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordian

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Little Princess

Computer is still down, folks, so I'm updating as often as I can!

My recent foray into Victorian England has reminded me of a childhood favorite of mine.  As I am still working on The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, I thought I would stop off at on memory lane and remember that lovely classic by Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess.

Princesses are taking a beating today.  There's an entire culture of mothers that are rioting against the idea of "making our daughters into princess."  I think it's a reaction to the commercialization of the Disney Princesses, making the idea of a princess the one of voluptuous beauty waiting for their prince to come.  Being a "princess" has come to mean that you have to look a certain way and have your life center around whatever guy you happen to be waiting for.  It has become commercialized into something pretty superficial.

There is more, however, to the idea of being a princess. 

A Little Princess is the story of little Sara Crewe who has lived her whole small life as a privileged daughter of the very wealthy Captain Crewe, a well-to-do British officer in India.  In due time, as many children of her age and station were in the Victorian era, she was taken to London and enrolled in a girls' boarding school.  The headmistress of the school, Miss Minchin, does not like Sara from the start because she can sense all the grace and beauty of heart in Sara that she herself never had.  However, Sara's papa is crazy rich and spoils both Sara and the school with gifts and monetary support, so she puts on a good face where her star pupil is concerned.  Sara quickly becomes a quiet leader in the school and a hero among the younger students, spinning stories, helping others in their schoolwork, and defending the outcasts and helpless, even down to the scullery maid, Becky.  However, tragedy befalls little Sara as her papa finds himself involved in some bad investments, loses everything he has, and then dies, leaving Sara a pauper on Miss Minchin's hands.  Miss Minchin responds by turning Sara into a scullery maid herself and treating her cruelly.  Through it all, Sara remains regal in her own way, bearing her burdens with a dignity that comes from way down inside of her and proving that real royalty has nothing to do with birthright or circumstances.  Being Princess Sara means that she looks out for others, finds joy in the midst of despair, and treats her enemies with a respect they do not deserve.  In the end, the story ends like a fairy-tale, and everything comes out just as it should, with surprise delights along the way.  Through it all, ups and downs, Sara remains as she always has - a little princess. 

This is a marvelous story, one that I have enjoyed for many, many years, and one that I can't wait to read to my own daughter one day.  Not only is the story absolutely perfect - the ending is something I go back and read anytime I need my spirits uplifted, there is a scene in which Sara gets to confront Miss Minchin and it is everything you want it to be! - but it is also a story of one young girl facing life with fierce determination and dignity.  The story of Sara Crewe is not a story of trying to look a certain way or falling into the arms of a prince.  Her story is one of courage and perseverance.  She looked life in the eye and said "No matter what you hand me, I will hold my head up high and face it with dignity and grace." 

That is the kind of princess I want me daughter to be!

And everyone loves a story with a magically happy ending.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
What I'm reading now: Great Tales of English History: The Truth about King Arthur, Lady Godiva, Richard the Lionheart, and More by Robert Lacey
Top 5 TBR:
1. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
2. Shooting Victoria by Paul Thomas Murphy
3. A Prophetic Calendar by Jill Shannon
4. Forgotten God by Francis Chan
5. The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordian

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Sign of the Four

My love affair with Sherlock Holmes continues. 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote four full novels about the world's most famous detective, along with anthologies of short stories.  I've already written about the first one, A Study in Scarlet, and my newfound affection for Mr. Holmes.  I recently finished the second full novel, The Sign of the Four, and am now making my way through The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  You may have to put up with the mysteries of Victorian England for a while.  But if you've read my blog for any amount of time, you've learned to put up with a great deal of England anyway, so here we go. 

The Sign of the Four begins with the classic woman in distress who, as all of Holmes' clients, has an unsolvable problem.  Her father has gone missing, and now someone in connection with the disappearance wants to meet her at a specific time and place.  Not knowing what to do, she turns to the original dynamic duo, Holmes and Watson, for help.  (Sorry, kids have been watching a lot of Old School Batman lately.)  So ensues a tale of mystery, treachery, and romance, with Holmes solving what on the surface appears to be an impossible problem - but of course, once he explains it, it's all really quite simple, you know.  

These books are just plain fun.  There's a reason everyone loves Sherlock Holmes.  Who doesn't love seeing an impossible problem solved?  Crime shows are very popular right now.  Sherlock is the original Jethro Gibbs, the original CSI.  The story will twist and turn until finally it all comes together in the final scene.  This book has some additional perks in that we get to see more of a glimspe into Watson and his private life - the end of the story sees him making some major happy life changes, and it's fun when your favorite characters find joy and happiness. 

Once again, there are some dark moments that remind you that you are dealing with 19th century text.  Part of the backstory takes place in India, and the way Doyle describes native Indians is atrocious.  It may have been totally acceptable in the 1800s, but it is simply unaccetable by any modern standard.  Read these parts keeping the context of the story in mind - it's not ok, but that's the way it was in that time and place.  

Sherlock Holmes is easy to read, lots of fun, and a classic for the ages.  If you haven't checked him out yet, you should get on board.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
What I'm reading now: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (Just got The Complete Novels of Jane Austen in the mail via
2. Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert
3. The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George
4. Forgotten God by Francis Chan
5. Crazy Love by Francis Chan

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Top Ten LEAST Favorite Books

Discussing books is fun.  Getting to compare notes on your favorite books is always enjoyable, but what is just as enjoyable is talking about the books you DON’T like.  I’ve done many lists and discussions on this bog about books that I have enjoyed, but it can also be interesting to explore those books that one does not like - books that, dare I say, one even despises.  Yes, I have read a few books over the years that were not my cup of tea, and talking about the whys of hating these books is just as much fun as discussing why I so love Gone With the Wind.  So, in the spirit of all book discussions, I present here my top ten LEAST favorite books.  (I don’t particularly like using the word hate...but in a few of these cases, the word is fairly applicable.)  Feel free to disagree.  That’s what makes it fun!
Now, I should make this disclaimer: I am in no way a fan of banning books.  I am not demanding that NO one read these books.  Many of these books are classics and have been favorites of millions of people of many years.  I don't discount that at all.  These books are simply one I did not enjoy.  It's all open to discussion!
So, here they top ten least favorite books…

1. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
I read this as a required reading in my sophomore English Honors class.  I seem to recall throwing it against the wall on more than one occasion.  This classic is supposed to be an examination of the brutality of the human spirit and a sort of creation allegory.  All I saw was a bunch of bratty British prep school boys marooned on an island that proceeded to become even more grotesquely bratty.  A friend of mine from high school and I decided together that this was the worst book we had ever read.  16 years later, whenever we see each other, we talk about two things: how much we loved marching band and how much we hated this book.  We are often bound together by common hatred as much as common interests.  Lord of the Flies is definitely a common hatred.

2. A Separate Peace by John Knowles

Another required reading during sophomore year.  This is also supposed to reveal something about human nature or some other twaddle.  One of the most boring books I have read in my life.  I could not find one redeeming character in the lot, not one person I was rooting for.  Besides, the big “climatic surprise” is written in the front of almost every English textbook I’ve ever seen.  (Hint: someone dies.)  I could have gone my whole life without reading this one.  Too bad for me.

3. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

My brother’s going to kill me for this one, but I can’t stand Steinbeck.  Of Mice and Men is one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read in my life.  My brother starred in our high school production of it, but that still couldn’t redeem the story to me.  I wound up pretty much hating each and every character, and the ending just left me feeling bereft of any desire to have anything to do with these people ever again.  Read it once.  Never again.

4. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Yeah, I really, really don’t like Steinbeck.  Others see a great American author who captured the mood and spirit of a desolate decade.  Here’s what I remember about The Grapes of Wrath: that stupid turtle.  My mother still remembers me coming downstairs during my junior year with the book in my hand, yelling “when will this blasted turtle ever get to the other side of the road and why should I care?!”  I never got a satisfactory answer to that last question.  What’s more, there was all this mystery about the “controversial” last page...maybe it’s a commentary on my generation, but I found no controversy or anything juicy in the final scene, it just was what it was.  And the whole book was a disappointment.  Bleh.  

(And now I invite my brother to come back at me with whatever scathing review he would like to write of Jane Austen.  Turnabout’s fair play.)

5. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein

I absolutely love The Lord of the Rings movies.  I have seen the extended versions over and over again.  But for some reason, I cannot get into books.  I just can’t.  I managed to force my way through The Hobbit, but I could not find it enjoyable.  I tried, I really did.  I felt  guilty when I got to the end and discovered that I didn’t really like it at all.  But truth is truth, and the truth is, I don’t like this book, and I can’t seem to read the other novels either.  Maybe someday they will get to me.  But not now.  

6. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I did not do much “cliffing” books in high school.  I generally wanted to read the required reading in my English classes.  This is a book that I tried to read, then tried to get by with the Cliffs Notes.  Honestly?  I couldn’t even understand the Cliffs Notes.  I am still not sure what this book was about.  Surely it has some sort of great literary significance.  It has become a classic since it was first published in 1866, and there must be some reason.  Darned if I know what it is.  I can’t even give you a decent summary of it.  

7. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

I have enjoyed other books by Ms. Russell, and this one was supposed to be one of her greats.  It certainly started out promising enough, with an intriguing storyline about a Jesuit-sponsored outer space trip to another planet.  Ok, re-reading that last line makes me think I should have seen the weirdness coming.  At any rate, this book is very promising for quite a while...and then all of a sudden, it takes a violent, weird, shocking turn at the end that somehow ruins the whole rest of the story.  It was really rather interesting right up until that which point I quit recommending it to others.  Right away.  Still gives me shivers to think about it.  There’s plenty of other sci-fi in the world to keep a person busy.  Stick to that.

8. The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown
“Oh great,” you may be thinking “just another Christian hating on Dan Brown.”  Well, yes, Mr. Brown and I have some severe theological and philosophical differences, but what annoys the heck out of me in this book are his pathetic historical inaccuracies.  He just sort of made up history as he went along, and far too many people took it as gospel.  It is a fiction story - way too many people were duped into believing that so much of what he was saying was fact.  All religious differences aside - AND THERE ARE MANY - really, there is no need to change the course of history in order to make a good book.  History is interesting enough, thank you.  And the ending?  He totally “Grisham-ed” the ending.  This is a term my father and I coined years  back to define how John Grisham tends to write himself into a corner, not know what to do with his characters, so he puts them all on planes and sends them home.  His endings are terrible.  So is the ending to The DaVinci Code.  Know where you’re headed with your characters.  Don’t just send them all home in the end.  

9. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Oh boy, now I have done it.  As a girl who grew up in the Midwest, I am supposed to fawn over these books.  They are supposed to be THE defining books of my girlhood.  The truth?  Never made it past the first one.  I struggled through it because, well, I was supposed to, but I never moved on.  Never had any desire to.  The pioneer days are not an era of history that particularly fascinates me, and I never had any interest in continuing on with this series.  I may get kicked out of the girl club, but there is my confession.  

10. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
This book just held no particular interest to me.  None of Jack London’s books do.  Well written, just do not captivate my interest in the least.  I forget the exist simply because I don’t fancy the subject matter.  That’s all there is to it.  

So!  Now that I have opened this can of worms...agree with me?  Yes?  No?  What books have you read over the years that you didn’t enjoy?