All posts in Books

Novel Notes: The Cuckoo’s Calling

Kindle Gazer by Mike Licht

One of my favorite gifts from Christmas this year was the Kindle Fire my husband got for me…I was totally surprised, especially considering I broke the last Kindle he got me! Whoops. As much as I totally love a good, real, hold-in-your-hand, turn-paper-pages book…and I TOTALLY do…sometime the portability and speed of reading the Kindle provides is really, well, awesome.

So as soon as I got the Kindle fired up and ready to go, I was struck with the, “what should I read??” question. I mean, my to-read list is probably a mile long, but I wanted something that would be easy to pick up and a relatively quick read, while still being well written. And so I settled on The Cuckoo’s Calling written by J.K. Rowling under the pen name Robert Galbraith.

The Cuckoo's CallingI know this isn’t a brand new book, but then I’m not always the best about picking up the latest in Fiction, tending more toward the classics, but I’m glad I clicked “buy” on this one. It’s a murder mystery that follows a would-be gumshoe Robin and Cormoran Strike, the private detective she ends up temping for just as he lands the case that will save, or destroy, his business and personal life. The beautiful, young model Lula Landry turns up dead after what was ruled a suicidal jump from her luxury apartment’s balcony…but not everyone is satisfied with the police investigation. Her brother, a wealthy lawyer, is sure she was murdered and hires Strike to get to the bottom of it.

The story takes many twists and turns and moves along at a pretty good clip and I found myself not wanting to put the book down because I couldn’t stop thinking about what could’ve happened and who could have done it. By the time I was about halfway through I was on a mission and spent the next two days totally wrapped up in the story. I have to also say that one of the things I really appreciated about the book was that the characters were well-developed. So often, especially with murder-mysteries, the author relies on overwrought plot turns to drive the story forward without spending much time developing the characters and their motivations. The result leaves the reader feeling like the story was a little hollow and unfulfilling. I found myself relating to each character and the end of the story is much more believable because you did see the motivation and characters develop along the way.

Reading this book has set me on a mystery book reading tear. I’ve got two more on the docket to share with you soon. Do you have any good mystery recommendations? Did you make a resolution to read more in 2014? This is a good book to start with! It’ll keep you engaged and you’ll remember how you can truly be transported by a story.

Top image by Mike Licht

Only For Today

The Happiness Project 2012 Desktop Calendar

Have you read, or heard of, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Ruben? I read it a year or two ago and thought it had some good takeaways, but by no means have I done any sort of large-scale implementation in my life or anything.  But last Christmas I did receive the coordinating 2012 desktop calendar and I have to say, I didn’t expect much–aren’t those things full of fairly useless crap most of the time?- but I’ve really been pleased with how many good little nuggets there have been over the course of the last year.  I say all of that because today’s post is 100% thanks to the little calendar on my desk. It’s such a good reminder that we have to take life one day at a time, and that it is important to make time for the things that feed our soul.  So forgive me for regurgitating information you can get elsewhere, but I thought this would be a great way to start the week with all the holiday madness that has taken hold of the country.  Pope John XXIII wrote a daily decalogue for himself (psst…a decalogue is a basic set of rules carrying binding authority and also another word for the Ten Comandments…so these were his personal commandments to follow daily) and it really is such an interesting way to approach the day. Without further ado, from my calendar:

Pope John XXIII’s Daily Decalogue

Pope John XXIII (pope 1958-1963), know as “The Good Pope” wrote his Daily Decalogue:

  1. Only for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.
  2. Only for today, I will take the greatest care of my appearance: I will dress modestly; I will not raise my voice; I will be courteous in my behaviour; I will not criticize anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.
  3. Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one.
  4. Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.
  5. Only for today, I will devote 10 minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.

I think number five is my personal favorite.  What things are you striving to do, to be, to remember today? Do you have personal commandments that help keep your day, week, life on course and in appropriate perspective? I’ve never personally written out a decalogue for myself, but I like the idea of this.  Perhaps I will have to work on one for 2013! Who wants to join me?

Novel Notes: My Antonia

First published in 1918, Willa Cather’s My Antonia is the story of the struggles of poor immigrants in rural Nebraska, and the coming of age of the town’s children.  It is widely considered her greatest work.

Now, before we get too far, I must confess I was pronouncing the name of this book wrong the ENTIRE time I was reading it.  It was only until I was talking to a woman from Nebraska, telling her how I was reading the book, that I learned the correct pronunciation as she kindly, subtly corrected my mistake. Oh the embarrassment! Just in case I’m not the only person in the world who was confused, it is not An-TONY-a (like Melissa Gorga’s daughter on RHONJ—I can’t believe I just used her as an example her…more shame)…it is pronounced ANT-o-knee-ya. Just so we are all clear. *wink*

This book started slow for me.  I had a hard time getting into it at first, but once I spent a little time with it, it really started to grab me.  I think the beauty of this book is that Cather tells the story in a way that tells us just enough to know who the characters are and the moments that shape them, but much of it is left to us to fill in the blanks. She tells the story in a way that the story’s drama isn’t prolonged, intense and overwhelming…instead it crops up and then calms down almost as quickly.  Just like a person’s memory of a life lived would read.  In fact, that’s exactly what we are reading.  The book opens with Jim, the story’s narrator, wanting his friend to write the story of Antonia but instead ends up writing it himself, from his perspective.  The result is a story so genuine and real it’s easy to imagine that this is the story of many of the immigrants of the late 1800s.  Even without laborious descriptions of everything happening, it seems so easy to picture the Nebraska country, the people, the homes, the town…you can feel it too.

“Things will be easy for you. But they will be hard for us.”
  – Antonia, My Antonia by Willa Cather

As we follow Jim, Antonia and the other townspeople, we begin to understand what made this country so great. It wasn’t easy, but these people put their everything into not only surviving, but creating the life they desired.

I highly recommend picking up this read and taking yourself back to a time that seems all but forgotten in today’s fast paced, over stimulated world. The quiet you will find in this book, even in the struggles, is calming in a way that was unexpected for me.  And now, I want to visit Nebraska.

Photo by Shannon Ramos

The Reading Season

 

In high school summer was always full of summer reading projects that I undoubtedly waited until the last possible moment to finish and rarely enjoyed doing.  But as I’ve grown older I really cherish the time I get to spend reading and, to me, Fall has become the reading season.  Doesn’t this home seem like the perfect place to curl up with a book and enjoy the changing weather?

There is nothing quite as sweet as the crisp air of fall making its arrival. Fall ushers in the desire to bundle up and head outside to enjoy lazy hours getting lost in a book. The skies aren’t quite as bright, so the light streaming through the clouds seems more magical. And you can truly be transported into another time and place.  Since fall officially starts this coming weekend, here are a  few of my fall reading essentials for you as you head out to dive into a book.  I’ll leave the book selection up to you…

 

fall reading nook needs

1. Honeycrisp Apples | 2. Hot Apple Cider | 3. and 4. Piles of pillows

5. Cozy scarf | 6. Warm Quilt | 7. Books

What are some of your fall reading essentials? Do you have a favorite reading spot?

top photo by Sharon Mollerus

Fashion & Words

So you might have heard there is a little something called Fashion’s Night Out going on tonight all around the country. I mean, in Dallas alone we have countless FNO events to choose from (here’s a good list if you want to see your options). And through all the excitement of said events, I somehow missed the memo that today is something else as well…

Chanel‘s Karl Lagerfeld in his Paris home | photo by Piotr Stoklosa for VIVA Magazine

Today is National Read a Book Day!

I truly love fashion, truly (it’s art, it’s a vision, it’s a voice), BUT I love books a little bit more. I only wish books got the attention that fashion does. So many media outlets are focused on who is wearing what, and what is on the runway, and who has great street style that sometimes it feels like our society is downright obsessed with keeping up with trends and a little like we’ve all but forgotten the importance of the more intellectual side of things. Have we failed to see how the intellect can influence the design? And I don’t say that because I think fashion design is not intellectual. Quite the opposite.

In fact, someone who might appreciate books even more than I do (if that’s possible) is the great fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. His home is absolutely covered in books…it is essentially a library he lives in (it is said that he has over 300,000 books in his home!).

“Books are a hard-bound drug with no danger of an overdose. I am the happy victim of books.”            

-Karl Lagerfeld

So while I plan on partaking in a few Fashion’s Night Out festivities, I’ll be secretly eager to scoot out of the hustle and bustle of all that to get home a curl up with my book. How about you?

Back to School

Back to School

Today is the first day back to school for most kids here in Texas. My social media streams have been inundated with pictures of all of my friends who are sending their kids off to their first day of school and I just love it! (P.S. When did everyone start having kids?! And SCHOOL AGE kids!!)

I secretly miss the excitement and anticipation that comes with a new school year. Every year held new possibilities and opportunities–new things to learn and, hopefully, excel at, new friends to be made, and new teachers to learn from.

And while I wish I could tell you that I loved reading and learning in school as much as I do now, that isn’t completely honest. I did love reading, but the pressure of getting books read in a certain amount of time, often two books at a time, and trying to consciously study the literature while I read it was a daunting process, but I think it was an important foundation for the appreciation I now have for those classic works.  Now I can’t get enough and I’m always looking for ways to expand my knowledge in any number of things. I think I will always be someone who enjoys learning and being in class. If only I’d taken the time to enjoy it more while I was there (and it was free!).

So best wishes to everyone starting classes today, and all the parents sending their kiddos off for another year of growth and development. Oh to be once again stepping foot onto a school campus….one can dream…

photo by Michael

Novel Notes: Atlas Shrugged

For some reason, honestly unknown to me, I decided  a couple of months ago that I would take on one of the classics that had always seemed rather daunting to me, Ayn Rand‘s Atlas Shrugged. For someone who loves literature like I do, I knew embarrassingly little about what I was jumping into and had a very vague idea about the subject matter.

I must say that it was a fascinating read, especially given our current political and economic climate. There were many passages that jumped out at me as noteworthy, and much of what was written seemed at times to echo many of the arguments we hear in the elevated political rhetoric that comes with the seemingly endless election season.

Atlas Shrugged is widely regarded as Rand’s greatest work, her magnum opus. Published in 1957, it has sold over 7 Million copies and each year the Ayn Rand Institute donates 400,000 copies of the books to schools. To say that this book hasn’t had a profound impact on the thinking of our society would be ludicrous.  In it, Rand lays out for us her personal philosophy, Objectivism, which says that we are all purely rational individuals whose moral code is determined by our choices and our value based on what we produce and create.

I will admit I initially got swept up in the idea that, yes, if I just produce to the best of my ability and only worry about myself, that the rest will fall into place. That my value will be determined by what I can offer.  It sounds nice…

“Wealth is the product of man’s capacity to think.” —Francisco d’Anconia, Atlas Shrugged (Part 1, Chapter 1)

“You do not have to depend on any material possessions, they depend on you, you create them, you own the one and only tool of production.” —Dagny TaggartAtlas Shrugged (Part 2, Chapter 8)

“Any man who’s afraid of hiring the best ability he can find, is a cheat who’s in a business where he doesn’t belong.” –Ken Danagger, Atlas Shrugged (Part 3, Chapter 1)

…But it also sounds incredibly simplistic. What Rand does not take into account is that humans are, in fact, humans. We are rational beings, but we are also emotional beings and have morals based on more than just our ability to produce and think.  The idea that we could just walk away from our current lives because society is not properly valuing our contributions, and go to this utopia where we are only responsible to ourselves  seems to take away the very essence of what it means to be human.

While I do think we all need to be responsible for ourselves and our decisions, and we have become increasingly passive in allowing people to shirk their responsibilities and giving them a free pass, I also think we have an important responsibility to our fellow beings. Rand neglects to take into account the world we do live in and instead chooses to over simplify and downplays the value of our non-rational characteristics.

While doing more research on Rand and her body of work I stumbled upon an interesting lecture by Donald DeMarco given to the Lumen Christi at the University of Chicago entitled “A Critical Look at Ayn Rand.” In his lecture, DeMarco gives us a look into Rand and her motivations, but also the searing critiques of her works. One of his most interesting points focused on Rand’s philosophy of Objectivity, describing for us how she, incorrectly, believed that because communism and Marxism were wrong, radical individualism must therefore be right. Well, as DeMarco explains to us through Aristotle’s logic, just because one thing is wrong, does not mean that another is not wrong as well.

Communism and Radical Individualism are neither 100 percent wrong, nor 100 percent right. Part of both are true. We are part of the collective whole, but not exclusively; we are individuals to be sure, but again, not exclusive of the collective whole.

It’s funny, I never fancied myself much of a philosophy fan, but there is something very interesting about how people come to their conclusions, don’t you think?

All of that said, I do think Atlas Shrugged is an important book to read as there as so many references to in throughout our society and culture.  Even just as I was driving through Dallas the other day I spotted the Atlas Metal Works. If that’s not a literary reference I don’t know what is. I enjoyed reading this and took a lot away from it. If nothing else, it gave my critical thinking skills a good workout.

Have you read Atlas Shrugged? If not, will you?

Conviction

Do you ever see something, read something, hear something that just really stops you and makes you take stock of everything you are and everything you have been doing?

I’ve had a couple of these instances lately, one of which came while reading Francis Chan’s amazing book Crazy Love. I’ll write more about this book’s impact on me and my perspective in an upcoming post. But as a Christ follower, I truly believe this book has something for all of us who call ourselves believers.  Pick up this book! It’s hard to read because it is so convicting, but it is such a gift as well. I have a loooong way to go before I consider myself even on the right track in my walk, but it has altered the way I look at everything in my life.  I can’t encourage you enough to pick this book up.

The other came when I first saw this video posted on Facebook.  I’m sure most of you have seen it by now, but for those of you who haven’t, take a few minutes to watch this, and the subsequent video on love and marriage.  I can’t speak for you, but I can tell you I found myself, once again, standing convicted.  And hopeful.

So much of what has called me out lately also gives me hope that we as Christians are capable of making this world a better place.  At times it seems as though we are so lost, as a country, as a planet, and I think, by and large, we are.  But as long as there are people out there sharing the gospel, encouraging others to share the good news, and introducing those who don’t yet know Him to Christ, I believe we are capable of making the world better than it is now.

We have lost sight of the fact that God tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:13 “And now these three remain, faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  If we, would stop persecuting everyone around us and start loving them, I think the other two will follow close behind.  Can we work on that together? We don’t know what others around us are going through, but we do know, as human beings, that we all need love. And maybe we can give that love to someone who has never felt it before and subsequently be positive force in the world around us. Let’s live God’s love.

photo by Leland  Francisco and Luis Argerich.

The Joy of Books

My friend Taryn posted this video to my Facebook page after seeing my profession of love for the special medium of books.  It is just too cool not to share! There is just something about it that really captures the magic of the many worlds held within the shelves of bookstores, and the magic that they bring to life.

 

Pretty neat, huh?

I think it would be the most amazing thing in the world to own an independent bookstore.  Oh to dream…

Introducing…

Last night was the official first meeting of the Lit Flicks Book Club and I couldn’t be more excited! We kicked things off with discussion of our first book, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. The book recounts an old man’s memories of his time spent in a depression-era circus and the love he finds there on circuit.  My sister, Sara, was our host for the evening and put together a great circus-themed spread with mini corn dogs, popcorn, peanuts and adult lemonade (inspired by the book).  I only wish I’d taken a few pictures of everything!                                         

I must admit I was pleasantly surprised with the discussion unfolded. You never know how groups like these will work themselves out and anytime you get a group of women together, you run the risk of things dissolving into little more than a gab fest. Not that there wasn’t plenty of chit-chat, because there was, and it was wonderful! But there is nothing better than digging in and having deeper conversations with intelligent peers.  As we were sitting there discussing the book, I just kept thinking how blessed I am to be able to sit with a room full of smart, articulate, thoughtful women! It was truly inspiring, thought-provoking conversation. 

Initially my enthusiasm about this book selection was a little, well, lacking BUT I’m so glad we read it.  It was a quick and entertaining read that I would recommend to anyone looking for such a book.  On the surface, it seems a little “light” but, as we peeled back more and more layers, I must say my appreciation for the story grew and it made me look at things in my own life with fresh perspective.  There was some great commentary on how we treat the elderly in this country, what little credence we give to what they’ve lived through, the history they’ve witnessed firsthand. We also looked at our society’s approach to business and how, so often, people do become little more than expendable commodities to companies. But the overarching theme was loyalty and love and how those elements really play a role in the path each of us travels down.   

As I said, we had some great discussion! And out of that discussion came an interesting talking point. Most of us had not yet seen the recent movie adaptation of the book, starring Reese Witherspoon and that guy from Twilight, so we were SHOCKED to hear how one of the key story points had been changed in the film.  To us, it seemed like such a grotesque modification to the story’s meaning and key character developments.  That led us to reflect on how many books have been made into movies, and how often the stories are significantly altered. 

And thus, our book club focus was born.  Our plan is to read novels that have subsequently inspired film adaptations and, in addition to discussing the book itself, also adding dialogue about how the book and movie stack up to each other. With that, we decided our next novel endeavor will be….drum roll please…

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The timing couldn’t be better with the upcoming film due out in mid August. We’ll plan a discussion and movie night around the movie’s opening.  From what I’ve heard, this book is a must-read.  Want to join the club? Shoot me an email and I can give you details on our next meeting.  Happy reading!

Novel Notes: Look At My Eyes

I am so excited to get to share this with you all today.  This is a little outside the genre I would usually cover here in Novel Notes, but I absolutely believe this is a book we should all pick up and read.  Look At  My Eyes is the product of one couple’s journey to find treatment, support and coverage for their son William, who was diagnosed with Autism at an early age.

Written by Melanie Fowler, the book is full of insights and narratives from her experiences navigating the healthcare and insurance systems as well as observations from a father’s perspective from her husband Seth.

I had the great pleasure of getting to know The Fowlers, along with so many other incredibly inspiring families, during my time at the Child Study Center in Fort Worth.  From the moment Melanie and Seth walked into my office, I knew they were people who would get things done. And I was right. Working with them both on a number of committees, I was always blown away with the passion and commitment they had to getting the word out and raising money for this important cause.  (I have to say, people like the Fowlers are a fundraiser’s dream come true!) I really learned through this family what it meant when people say that nobody’s passion can match that of a parent’s for his/her child.

Melanie and Seth would stop at nothing to help their child as well as other children and families facing the same struggles, and joys.  They are advocates for families not only on the local level, but also regionally and state-wide.  They can regularly be heard expounding on the importance of early diagnosis and intervention, and the need for insurance coverage of these important treatment and therapies.

When I first heard that Melanie had written a book, I immediately though, “Of course she did!” I am convinced there is nothing these two can’t do. 

 Part of what makes the Fowlers’ story so powerful is the honesty with which they share it.  On the Look At My Eyes blog, Seth shares his hopes and his sadness, but most of all his love for his son William.  He puts our struggles, and the simple things in life that we so often take for granted, into such relevant perspective. It’s real.

I must confess I have not yet read Melanie’s book, but I am excited to pick it up tonight at the book’s launch party.  It is a one I truly think we can all benefit from reading. It will certainly provide a valuable roadmap and insight and comfort for families who are wondering where to go and what the next steps should be. And for the rest of us, the co-workers, the friends, the person standing in line next to the child who is having a meltdown, the teachers of these special children, maybe it will give us a little insight into what these courageous parents and siblings and grandparents are facing each and every day; make us a little more compassionate, more considerate, more willing to lend a helping hand, or a caring remark, or calm patience.  After all, we can all use some of that once in a while. 

I encourage you all to pick up Look At My Eyes—and don’t wait! Melanie and Seth are generously donating a portion of the books’ sales to the Child Study Center, another very worthy cause.  For more information on the book, and the mighty Fowler Four, visit lookatmyeyes.com. And for information on Child Study Center, visit cscfw.org

Excerpt from the Book:

Seth Says…

“I’m not saying it’s easy or that the sorrow automatically goes away, because it doesn’t. It will always pain me to think that my son might not ever want to go to see the Texas Longhorns play a football game, or that he might never be able to sit still and be attentive enough to watch Star Wars for the first time. It flat out rips my heart out. But I love my boy. I’m proud of my son. No, he might not be something that I would have chosen, but he’s mine and will always be my boy and my pride and joy. I crave for my expectations to be fulfilled, but some of them might never be. And as soon as I accepted that, as soon as I told myself to get over it, I noticed a difference in my relationship with him.”

Novel Notes: The Widow Clicquot

The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It

By Tilar J. Mazzeo

When I walked by this book in the book store, it immediately caught my attention. The cover is the same golden yellow that is now synonymous with what many belive to be the world’s finest champagne: Veuve Clicquot. A book about champagne? What couldn’t be great about that?! Add to that the story of a woman who built the champagne house into one of the most recognized, prestigious luxury brands today and I knew I had to read it.

Opening a new book is very much like opening a bottle of champagne. There has to be the right blend of storylines, or flavors. Does it pop when you open it? Does it have the right balance of bubble and substance? Is it full-bodied, or does it fall flat?  Does it tickle your senses or leave you feeling like something is missing?  All of these questions come into play when you start a new book.

Clearly, we are fans of champagne.

Mazzeo must have found herself in a bit of a quandary and she worked on the story of the Grande Dame of Champagne. Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin is undoubtably an intriguing character. She lived through a tumultuous period in France’s history and, following the death of her husband, took on the wine business they had dreamed of building together. She saw high times, and low times throughout her life and was a monumental force in the highly competitive champagne wine trade. She revolutionized the way champagne was made and sold and was fearless in the face of danger. She made Veuve Clicquot into one of the most respected, prestigious champagne houses in history.

The trouble is, very little of her personal history has been recorded, and Mazzeo is upfront and open about that right from the get go. With that, however, the Widow’s story often takes on a manufactured quality at the author’s hand. I found myself often questioning how much of the story was based in fact, and how much was legend passed down through the years.  I think we all expect a certain amount of “filling in the gaps” from authors who don’t have much historical documentation to work from. But it’s starts to feel as though there was almost no information available to Mazzeo and that she was trying to create a story that didn’t exist, without straying from the bits and pieces of information she had.

Information is often repeated throughout the book and tends to lack much of a punch. It is a very short book to begin with, under 200 pages, but it really could’ve have been cut down further. Even through the trials and tribulations of Barbe-Nicole’s life and business, I was left feeling little attachment to a story, a woman, I so wanted to feel a connection to. I wanted to be inspired. I wanted to empathise with what she went through to make her business what it is today. I wanted to feel the anxiety she must have felt as she risked everything to get her champagne through barricades and threatening weather in order to give her company a fighting chance. But somewhere along the way Mazzeo lost sight of the woman, the person, she was writing about. Instead, we are forced to recount needless details, but in no depth, over and over again.

 

Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin

I find myself in another sort of quandary now. I do think there is much inspiration and information to be gleaned from the woman who was the Veuve (widow) Clicquot. And seeing as few have written her story (perhaps because of the issues that ultimately were the undoing of this attempt) I hate to discourage you from picking up this book. So I will say this with a disclaimer: Read The Widow Clicquot, but go into it knowing you will be left wanting more body, and less froth, from the story of the woman who built an empire, much like you would want from a good bottle of champagne.

Cheers, my dears.

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