June 26, 2012

Book Review: Taliesin (Book 1 of the Pendragon Cycle)

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , at 12:07 am by Tamara

Title: Taliesin

Author: Stephen R. Lawhead

Genre: Fantasy, Christian

Star Verdict (out of 5): **

Princess Charis lives in the beautiful land of Atlantis, where peace has reigned for years and (in her opinion) nothing exciting ever happens.  Her boredom is quickly shattered, however, when the country erupts into civil war and a wild prophet arrives, claiming that the end of Atlantis and everything the Atlantians love is at hand.

Far away from lovely Atlantis lies the rough and uncivilized Isle of Britain, where the unlucky heir to one clan’s throne, Elphin, stumbles upon a baby abandoned in a salmon weir.  His luck begins to change from that day forward, and the bards prophesy that the child will be great and herald in a new age.

After tragedy strikes Charis’ family, she begins to believe the prophecy that Atlantis is soon to be destroyed, and begins to try to convince the rest of the Atlantians that they need to flee their home.


I have to say that I really didn’t enjoy this book.  I probably wouldn’t have finished it at all, except that it was recommended to me by several people.  My main complaint about it is that the character development is either non-existent or utterly unbelievable.  Charis, throughout the book, inexplicably changes from a bored little girl to an emotionally dead warrior woman to a fluffy, swooning, docile lover.  I found it very hard to care about a character who, as Atlantis is sinking and “dragging screaming thousands with it…watched it all with cold and ruthless objectivity, feeling nothing” (p. 306).  And then to expect me to believe that she suddenly turns into a love-sick, sweet, sensitive wife was ridiculous.

In another rip-my-hair-out bad character switch, a king is about to have Taliesin’s tongue cut out when Taliesin starts singing, and the king instantly melts into a puddle of remorse, banishes his own priest, and all but hands his kingdom over to Taliesin.  I could go on with several other examples of inexplicable and unbelievable character shifts.

In addition to the dismal lack of believable character development, I found the plot to be jarring and full of too-easy solutions to problems.  It was grating to make the jump back and forth from mythical Atlantis to Britain during the dark ages; it felt like I was reading Hercules and Arthurian legend at the same time, and the two story lines just didn’t combine well.  Also, every problem the characters run into is solved almost instantly.  For example, (spoiler warning:) when Charis and Taliesin begin to fall in love, she first protests that there is no way they can be together because of their different lineages, their responsibilities to their people, she’s not sure she’s in love with him, etc.  Then, suddenly, without any resolution to these issues, they run off together.  With, of course, zero negative consequences.  (End spoiler.)

Last but not least, at least half of the book consists of long descriptions of pagan rituals, including human sacrifice.  I found these to be both disturbing and boring, and do little to advance the plot.

One positive thing I can say is that Lawhead writes beautiful prose.  His scenes are richly described, vivid and often poetic.  If only his plot and character development matched his prose, this could have been a much better book.


June 14, 2012

Book Review: Loving the Little Years–Motherhood in the Trenches

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , at 12:45 pm by Tamara

Title: Loving the Little Years–Motherhood in the Trenches

Author: Rachel Jankovic

Genre: Christian Parenting: Young Children

Star Verdict (out of five): ****

With five children five and under, Rachel Jankovic says that she didn’t write this book because mothering is easy for her; she wrote it because it isn’t!  I had been looking for a book that was applicable to parents of toddlers, and this was recommended to me by several friends.  This is a short book, only 102 pages, and each chapter is only a few pages long (perfect for the few moments you can snatch in the bathroom.  Heh.)

It is not a heavy doctrine book or “parenting manual,” but is simply thoughts, stories, and thought-provoking questions.  The strength of this book is her focus on our attitudes as mothers, as well as creative analogies to help  kids think about their actions and the attitudes behind them.  My favorite by far was one comparing emotions to horses in order to help kids understand that their emotions are a powerful gift from God, but one that needs to be trained and properly handled so our emotions take us in the right direction.  Throughout the book she brings up all-too-common scenarios (like kids bickering over a toy) and puts a perspective on them that made me think “Huh, I’d never thought of it that way.”

Jankovic shows refreshing humility throughout.  It’s easy to “harrumph” over books that were apparently written by mothers with perfect angel children who always respond perfectly to correction.  This book doesn’t fall in that category; Jankovic is quick to point out that she doesn’t have it all together, nor is she so far removed from the years with young children that she only remembers the heartwarming things and has forgotten all about spaghetti smeared all over the couch, carpet, and walls.  She does, however, have a clear desire to show Jesus to her children, and realizes that this has to begin with letting God work in her own hearts as mothers.

On the downside, some chapters are stronger than others, and I wished she would have backed her views up with more Scripture.  The book is not heavy on doctrine or parenting philosophy, and is certainly not a systematic “Twelve Step Plan to Perfect Children.”  Every family is different, so not all her suggestions will be “magic behavior bullets.”  However, if you’re looking for some short shots of encouragement, fresh ways to think about the struggles of parenting, and simple yet profound challenges, it’s excellent.

June 4, 2012

Book Review: Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , at 11:37 am by Tamara

Title: Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

Author: Brian Wansink, Ph.D.

Genre: Non-fiction, food psychology

Star Verdict (out of 5): *****

For: Anyone interested in psychology, healthy eating, marketing, or getting dinner guests to love your dinners and kids to eat their broccoli. Especially for anyone who hates restrictive, pressure-filled diets but wants to eat better.


First off, this is not a diet book.

Okay, now that we have that clarified, let’s talk about what it is!

Each of us makes approximately 200 food-related decisions daily, on everything from whether to have a sandwich or salad for lunch, whether or not to eat a candy (or 10) from the dish on the desk, and what to say to the carton of double fudge oreo chocolate ice cream that has been screaming at us from inside the freezer all afternoon.  The problem is, we make 90% of those decisions without even being aware we’re making them.

Sound unbelievable?  Most of us think we’re pretty aware of what we eat, but research says otherwise.  The studies in the book are both fascinating and hilarious—everything from rigging restaurant soup bowls so they never empty, to feeding movie-goers popcorn that is five days old (but free), to slapping a “North Dakota Vineyard” label on a bottle of wine and seeing how much worse the diners rate the entire dinner because of it.

The food industry pays millions of dollars to figure out how to get us to buy and eat more.  The scary thing is that these mindless choices easily add up to gaining 10-20 pounds A YEAR without us having any idea where the weight came from.  The good thing is that we can turn this mindless eating on its head—to actually lose 10-20 pounds in a year without noticing we’ve made a change.

Wansink maintains (as we’ve often heard), that diets don’t work because when we cut back 800 calories a day, both our bodies and our minds feel deprived.  However, there is a “mindless margin” of 100-200 calories that we can cut out without noticing or feeling deprived.  This doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up to 10-20 pounds LOST in a year, without us even noticing we’re eating less.  The book takes the millions of dollars worth of research the food industry has paid for and gives many suggestions of how we can trick our minds and stomachs into mindlessly eating less, while avoiding the tricks restaurants, grocery stores, and food packages use to try to get us to mindlessly eat more.

Wansink has a Ph.D. from Stanford University, is director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, and has been featured on National Public Radio and in the New York Times.  The book is part psychology, part marketing, and part nutrition, and written in an easy-to-read format with lots of humor but zero guilt or pressure.  It teaches not only how to avoid mindless eating (and weight gain) but how to use mindless eating for your benefit to eat healthier, lose weight, make your dinner guests think dinner is better than it is, and get your kids to enjoy eating “dinosaur trees.”

October 6, 2011

Book Review: No Plot? No Problem!

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , , , , at 11:45 pm by Tamara

Title: No Plot?  No Problem!  A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days

Author: Chris Baty

Genre: Non-Fiction, Writing

Verdict: **** (out of 5)

Written by the founder of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), this is a funny and encouraging guide for NaNoWriMo participants.  The goal of NaNoWriMo is to stop saying “Someday I’m going to write a book” and forcibly  kick it off your bucket list by writing a 50,000 word novel in one month (November).  Hundreds of thousands participate in NaNo every year around the world, and I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys writing but is too much of a perfectionist to just sit down and do it.  NaNo forces you to focus on quantity, not quality, because, as they say, a horrible first draft can be edited, but you can’t do anything with a blank page.  If you’d love to write a book “someday” but the very idea of writing a book in a month makes your perfectionist self want to scream, faint, or huddle in a corner whimpering, this is the book for you!

The first half of the book is tips on preparing for NaNo: imagining your basic plot, fleshing out your characters, choosing a point of view, etc.  The second part is a week-by-week guide for NaNo, offering advice and encouragement for the ups and downs of the month.  This is the perfect book for anyone who dreams of writing a book “someday” but thinks they don’t have the time now, or who finds themselves paralyzed by perfectionism every time they try.  The book is chock full of encouragement to keep writing, ignore your vicious inner critic, and relish the thrill of finishing the month and actually being able to say that you wrote a book!

August 22, 2011

Recipe for an Idyllic Morning

Posted in Water Droplets, Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , , at 1:01 pm by Tamara

Berean and I had a great morning.  Usually my mornings consist of feeding Rean while eating dry cereal with my fingers, drinking from the half-empty water bottle I forgot on the floor the last night, and wondering if Rean will fall asleep again long enough for me to take a frantic shower.  But this morning was particularly blissful, in spite of the fact that I was removed from another blissful state (sleep) a little earlier than I could have wanted. But still, it was rather idyllic, so I thought I’d document:

The first, and most important, ingredient is a happy baby. The recipe will most likely not succeed without it.

The next ingredients are French-pressed caffe verona and vanilla caramel creamer. Oh yum. I almost put the coffee grounds above the press' plunger by accident. Clearly I needed to stay in blissful state #1 a little longer this morning.

Adam brought me strawberry and blueberry mini-scones from Panera. Yum, yum, yum!

Yes...I'm a month behind. Um, plus a year. Heh. Nothing wrong with a 2-year reading plan! The point is to keep reading!

Next, my chronological Bible, complete with an "Emma" bookmark just to make me smile.

I'd probably get more read if Berean didn't make so many distractingly cute faces!

He was making smacking noises and opening and closing his mouth as if to say "Can I try that, Mommy?"

I also might get more read without cute-but-needy doggies. Exhibit A: Lily.

Exhibit B: Knightley. "I want in, I want out, I want food, I want out, I love you! I want in, I want out...."

The distracting view of the messy living room doesn't help, either....

Clearly, the nighttime pick-up routine did not get accomplished last night. Oi.

But, hey! Bible read, yummy breakfast eaten. Progress!

At this point, I listened to my dreams of a long, peaceful shower get cried away as Berean fought his nap.  When I picked him up to try to rock him to sleep on my shoulder he kept pushing back to look into my face as if to say, “Mommy, you are already beautiful and you smell fine to me–no need to shower!  Now, can we forget about this nap thing and go play?”

Oh well, you win some, you lose some. All in all, I think we have the makings of a great morning! Who needs a shower? On with the day! I love my life. :)

Update: as of this posting, I am glad to report that both a clean living room and a shower have been accomplished!  Now, Berean.  About that nap….

August 4, 2011

Book Review: Our Mutual Friend

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , at 12:06 am by Tamara

I’ll admit it: I used to hate Charles Dickens.  I blame it on picking up Great Expectations when I was eleven and being totally disturbed.  That is one weird book.  But, I am very grateful for BBC movies, because without them I might never have read what are now two of my favorite books: Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend.

Our Mutual Friend opens when John Harmon, the heir to an old curmudgeon’s fortune, is found drowned.  Harmon was returning to London to marry a girl he had never met: selfish, petulant Bella Wilfer, who old Mr. Harmon spotted throwing a temper tantrum when she was young and decided on a whim to force his son to marry before he could inherit his fortune.  Bella’s one goal in life is to be rich, and she is incensed and frustrated when John Harmon dies and her hopes are dashed.

Thanks to Harmon’s death, the fortune goes to Mr. Boffin, a kind-hearted, bumbling “dustman” (garbage man) and his sweet wife, who scandalize society with their unsophisticated ways when they set up house in the fashionable district.  The Boffins shock Bella when they express their guilt at how their good fortune has cost her her fortune, and offer to take her under their wing.

Harmon’s body was found by Lizzie Hexam, a poor young woman who loyally takes care of her ill-reputed father, even though he makes his living by dragging bodies out of the Thames (and, rumor has it, helps some of the bodies along to their deaths).  Lizzie’s beauty beguiles a lazy and cynical barrister who is far above her station, as well as a respectable but insecure and deranged teacher.

The tie that connects them all is a mysterious man named John Rokesmith, who happened to appear in London the night John Harmon died, and gradually manages to inch his way into each of the characters’ lives.  He becomes Mr. Boffin’s secretary, and Bella is annoyed and disdainful when she realizes that he seems to be constantly and surreptitiously watching her.

This is quite the motley cast of characters, but this is Dickens, so don’t think for a moment that the fun stops there.  There is also a one-legged man who sells poems and sneaks around the junkyard at night looking for treasures, a man who runs a skeleton shop and is heartbroken that his true love won’t marry him because of his bony occupation, an old lady whose one goal in life is to avoid the workhouse, a down-on-his-luck lawyer who is determined to solve the Harmon murder, an old society broad who calls everyone her lover, a sharp-witted but crippled doll’s dressmaker, a cruel little businessman determined to ruin his wealthy “friends,” a wise and compassionate Jew, a ruthless couple who married each other for money and then found out they were both poor…and seventeen other minor characters (that I counted, I’m sure I’m forgetting some).

As usual, Dickens’ brilliance lies in his ability to spin all these seemingly unrelated lives in their own directions and then suddenly pull a string and tie them all together.  The characters are complex and dark; there are a lot of poor choices made and a lot of character growth.  My favorite part of the book, though, is the ending.  You think you’re really smart and know what’s going on, until you realize that Dickens has just been slyly letting you think that so he could suddenly turn everything on its head, make half the characters different than who you thought they were, and tie it up in one brilliant, neat-as-a-pin conclusion.  Our Mutual Friend was the last book Dickens wrote, and arguably his most complex and profound.  It’s just spectacular, and unfortunately I can’t tell you more about the plot because I would have to give it away.

All I can say is: go read it.  Particularly if, like me, you dislike Dickens’ other more well-known works.  If you’re feeling a little daunted, watch the movie.  The BBC did a great job with it, and it will probably inspire you to read the book.

Five stars, and it makes my list of all-time favorite books.

February 1, 2011

Great (and Awful) Books I Read in 2010

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , at 10:36 pm by Tamara

If you’re my friend on Facebook you probably saw a lot of posts toward the end of last year about my attempt to reach my reading goal.  My goal was to read 55 books from January to December 2010, and I did it!  Not only that, but in writing this post I discovered a few I’d read but forgotten to record, so I actually beat my goal.  I don’t know what goal to set for this year–somehow I doubt I’ll be beating last year’s (unless I get a lot read during bleary-eyed 2am feedings, which I doubt.)

I thought I’d post what I read and some brief reviews of ones I had stronger opinions about (good or bad).  I posted the month/year I finished it, and the stars are out of five: one star meaning I thought the book was awful and five meaning excellent.  I read a lot more fiction this year than I have in the past—probably because I heard so many books recommended at work.  Unfortunately I also feel like I read more duds last year than I have in a while (this list doesn’t even count all the books I started but gave up on).  Still, some were great, and I hope you get some good book ideas!

AND, please leave me a comment with a book you love!!

1)  Voice in the Wind—Francine Rivers 1/10 *****

Set in Rome around 70AD, this is a fantastic book about a Roman family, a Jewish girl who is forced into slavery and a German gladiator.  I’ve lost track of how many times I read this series; it’s one of the best Christian fiction books I’ve read (the sequels are great too).

2)  Sarah’s Key—Tatiana de Rosnay 1/10 ***

  • Set in France during WWII and paralleled in the present, the book follows a journalist as she researches how the French government (and civilians) followed German orders to round up Parisian Jews to be sent to death camps.  The story is well written, starkly riveting and heartbreaking, especially since it’s based on true events.  I finished it with a sad ache of emptiness, however.  Even though a major theme is the main character’s attempts to somehow make restitution, there is little hope or redemption in the story, and I couldn’t help thinking that the author needs the hope and peace of Christ to be able to cope with the brutal sinfulness of humanity.  Still, we can’t forget history, or we’re doomed to repeat it, and some stories are just too awful to have a neat sense of closure at the end.

3)  Amazing Grace—Eric Metaxes 2/10  ****

  • The story of William Wilberforce’s fight to abolish the slave trade in England.  His life is a fascinating, inspiring story; what he accomplished both politically and in the mindsets of the people is incredible.  I can only compare it to what it would be like if someone inspired the majority of Americans, including politicians, to become pro-life and outlaw abortion today.  The author waxes a little too poetical sometimes, almost sounding ridiculous in parts, but the story is incredible.  (The movie version is also wonderful, perhaps even more so, if I dare say it.)

4)  Be the Pack Leader—Cesar Millan 2/10  **

  • Good ideas: dogs need exercise, authority, and structure.  Bad ideas: fixation on new age “energy” concepts.  Verdict: skip the book, watch a few episodes of the show

5)  Sheet Music—Dr. Leman 2/10 ***

  • If you need inspiration for God’s desire for your sex life, read Sacred Sex, by Tim Alan Gardener.  If you need more “technical” inspiration, this one is okay.  I disagree with him on some points, however.

6)  Same Kind of Different As Me—Ron Hall & Denver Moore 2/10 ***

  • A wealthy art dealer and his wife meet a homeless man who grew up in modern-day slavery.  A Christian true story told from both their perspectives

7)  I’m a Stranger Here Myself—Bill Bryson 3/10 ****

  • A hysterical, if a bit cynical, commentary on the idiosyncrasies of American life

8 ) The Prince—Francine Rivers 3/10 ***

  • A novella about Saul’s son Jonathan.  It was okay in and of itself, but a horrible disappointment compared to her incredible early novels.

9)  An Echo in the Darkness—Francine Rivers 3/10 ****

  • The sequel to Voice in the Wind

10)  The Developing Person Through the Lifespan—Kathleen Strassen Berger 3/10

  • Psychology class textbook

11)  The Forgotten Garden—Kate Morton 3/10 ****

  • A spectacularly written page-turner that starts when a four year old girl is abandoned on a dock in 1913.  It follows three generations of women as they try to unravel the mystery of their heritage, sweeping back and forth through plot lines in 1900, 1975, and 2005.  One of the best-written plots I’ve read in a long time, but tainted in parts by some dark family secrets.  Other than that, this is a wonderful, vivid read.  (See review for #50 The Distant Hours, also)

12)  Son of Hamas—Mosab Hassan Yousef 3/10  ***

13)  Redeeming Love—Francine Rivers 4/10 *** ½

  • This is a retelling of the story of Hosea, set in the old West.  Angel was sold into prostitution as a child, and meets Michael Hosea, who is determined to marry her.

14)  City of Thieves—Beniov 4/10 **

  • I picked this up because I love Russian history.  It’s a great portrayal of the horror of the siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) during WWII and the characters are phenomenal, but it’s peppered with explicit dialogue that ruins it.

15)  Start Your Family—Steve & Candice Watters 4/10 ****

16)  Nineteen Eighty Four—George Orwell 4/10 **

  • Orwell was a philosopher trying to be a novelist, and in my opinion he failed at both.  I had to force myself to finish this (mostly I did because I was born in 1984 so I felt obligated to).  The first third of the book is painfully slow and plot-less, in the middle third Orwell gave up on expressing his ideas through plot and had his main character “read a book” about the Big Brother society, and the last third is brutal and depressing.  I think Orwell would have done better to simply write the philosophy book he had his character read and forget about the boring, contrived plot he attempted to create.  Also, sex is such a common metaphor throughout the book that it was practically a fourth main character.
  • The only reason I gave the book two stars is because it made me think about the influence of the Holy Spirit.  Orwell was not a believer, and as such saw the possibility of a future with no morals, no absolutes, and a useless, broken human spirit.  I kept thinking, “Even if society was like this, SOMEONE would still know truth and stand up for it.”  The reason I believe that is because of the Holy Spirit and God’s promise of a remnant.  It is comforting to know that, no matter how bad our world gets, 1) man was still created in God’s image and that image cannot be completely snuffed out, and 2) as long as the Holy Spirit and the church remains, there will always be those who recognize and stand up for truth.  The Bible seems to indicate that the Holy Spirit and the church will someday be removed from the world, and the world of 1984 might not be too far off from what that could look like, except that I think it will be worse.  I would say read the book if you want to ponder that, but it’s so poorly written I say don’t bother–I’m sure you can find something better.

17)  Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent—Fred Burton 5/10 ***

  • This was relatively interesting, but the author comes across as rather narcissistic and trying to impress us too much, and I have a feeling he wasn’t able to share much about the really interesting things he was involved in.

18)  Research Methods in Psychology—Shaughnessy, et al.  5/10 *

19)  The Sunday Philosophy Club—Alexander McCall Smith 5/10 **

  • A mystery with some philosophy thrown in.  It was a light read but failed to engage me and had an annoyingly convenient ending

20)  The Mysterious Benedict Society—Trenton Lee Stewart 6/10 *****

  • I really loved this book.  The characters are engaging and unique, and the way Stewart uses their various talents in the plot is a lot of fun.  It’s a kids book, but it kept me interested from start to finish.  Definitely a good read-aloud book.  The sequels are enjoyable, although not as good as the first (I thought #3 was better than #2, and #1 was the best).

21)  God’s Grace and the Homosexual Next Door—Alan Chambers 6/10 *****

  • What struck me when reading this book was how applicable its concepts are to many areas of life besides homosexuality.  The authors adeptly apply the gospel of grace, challenging us that the heart of the matter is not the individual sins we (all) struggle with, but our need of Christ.  While it pulls no punches about what the Bible says about homosexuality as sin, the authors stress that the point is not to help someone be “straight,” but to be conformed to the image of Christ.  A loving, strong, and doctrinally sound book–highly recommended.

22)  The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey—Trenton Lee Stewart 6/10 ***

23)  The Winter Garden—Kristen Hannah 6/10 ****

24)  The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma—Trenton Lee Stewart 6/10 ****

25)  Theories of Personality—Jess & Gregory Feist 7/10 ***

26)  A Vintage Affair—Isabel Wolff 7/10 ***

  • If you loved playing dress up as a little girl, you’ll enjoy this book, which centers around a woman who opens a vintage designer clothing shop in London.   Phoebe is reeling from a broken engagement and the death of her best friend when she meets an elderly woman who wants to sell her wardrobe of vintage clothing.  The two become friends and Phoebe slowly learns about Mrs. Bell’s experiences growing up in France during WWII.  While the plot is a bit too convenient, I enjoyed it, probably because the protagonist’s love of beautiful old clothes and the lives behind them resonated with me.  (Note: the main character does sleep with her boyfriend, which is not graphic but still annoying.)

27)  Eye of the Red Tzar—Sam Eastland 7/10 ***

28)  A Woman and Her God—Beth Moore, et al 7/10 **  (Shallow)

29)  Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English—Natasha Solomons 7/10 ****

  • This is a sweet, sad, funny, poignant book about a couple who flee Nazi Germany and relocate in England. Jack copes by trying to forget the past and assimilate, going to great lengths to become a proper English gentleman, while Sadie copes by trying to remember and not let go of her memories and loved ones. Jack religiously follows the guidelines in the not-so-helpful “Helpful Information and Friendly Guidance for Every Refugee” pamphlet he’s given when they arrive in England, eventually deciding to add his own copious notes about the British (his observations are hilarious). But one thing Jack discovers is that every proper English gentleman must have membership in a golf club, which he is repeatedly denied because he is Jewish. So, he uproots the family, buys property in the country, and throws everything into a dream of building his own golf course.  I am not remotely interested in golf, but I loved this book. The sweet, funny observations on life in rural England reminded me of a James Harriott book, while the tension between Jack and Sadie’s individual ways of coping is heart-wrenching and yet tender. I rooted for them all the way.

30)  The Bravehearted Gospel—Eric Ludy 7/10 ***

31)  Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast—Robin McKinley 8/10 *****

  • No matter how many times I read this book (I’ve lost count) I always find myself wishing it wouldn’t end.

32)  Rose Daughter—Robin McKinley 8/10 *

  • I adored McKinley’s book Beauty (above) and hoped this would be an expansion of that story (both are retellings of Beauty and the Beast). “Rose Daughter” fell terribly flat in comparison–a boring, unrelatable heroine, a sinister palace instead of the endearing enchanted “breezes” from her first book, and (spoiler warning) the beast stays a beast at the end! Nothing happens in the first half other than Beauty pruning roses and waking up to find her room covered in various creatures (frogs, hedgehogs, etc, which is never explained or given a purpose), and the last part is a confusing mash of three different stories of “what really happened to the beast” before Beauty defeats all the evil sorcerer’s forces by saying “Go away!” (seriously). McKinley’s descriptions in “Beauty” were vivid and creative, whereas “Rose Daughter” flounders with confusing, pointless descriptions that I couldn’t visualize. I am utterly baffled, as “Beauty” is one of my all-time favorite books. As another reviewer said, “Rose Daughter” is just as awful as “Beauty” is wonderful.

33)  Twilight—Stephenie Meyer 8/10 **1/2 (See review under Breaking Dawn)

34)  Terrify No More—Gary Haugen 8/10 *****

  • This is a true story about an undercover operation to rescue young girls from a brothel in Cambodia.  It’s an incredible look into the horrifying world of sex slavery and what we can do about it.

35)  New Moon—Stephenie Meyer 9/10 **

36)  A Tale of Two Cities—Charles Dickens 9/10 ***

  • I felt like Dickens didn’t know where he was going with the plot for the first half of the book, but enjoyed the second half.

37)  Found: God’s Will—John MacArthur 9/10 ***

38)  Eclipse—Stephenie Meyer 9/10***

39)  The Scarlet Pimpernel—Baroness Orczy 9/10 ****

40)  Breaking Dawn—Stephenie Meyer 9/10 *

  • Since I have a heart for ministering to high school/college girls I’m always interested in the latest trends, and these books have had such an overwhelming cultural impact that I finally caved and read them.  I’ve done a fair amount of pondering what makes them so attractive, but that would require a much longer post than this.   Review-wise I can say the plot is sometimes interesting, the “romance” is nauseating, the writing is poor, and the ethical/philosophical issues raised but not addressed are disturbing.  I can’t say I think this series has had a good impact on our society, but if you’re interested in what’s impacting the way girls think, the books are worth the read.

41)  Royal Assassin—Robin Hobb 10/10

  • I’m having a hard time deciding what to say about this one.  This series came so highly recommended that although I didn’t love the first one, I picked this one up on a whim at a used bookstore.  I enjoyed the writing style and the complex plot very much, more so than the first book.  Hobb is excellent at creating vivid characters and keeping all their plotlines moving seamlessly.  What disturbed me about these books was something called “the Skill,” which is a sort of glorified telepathy which reminded me too much of possession.  Granted, that was when it was being abused by the villains, but it still made me uncomfortable.  I think in any fantasy writing you have to tread very lightly with the supernatural, because it only comes from one of two sources.

42)  Speak Through the Wind—Allison Pittman 10/10 **

43)  A Proper Pursuit—Lynn Austin 10/10 ***

  • This was entertaining, if a bit vapid and predictable.  I enjoyed the protagonist’s overactive imagination and laughed out loud a few times.

44)  Core Christianity—Elmer Towns 10/10 ***

45)  Assassin’s Quest—Robin Hobb 10/10

46)  Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy—Gerald Corey ****

47)  Pillars of the Earth—Ken Follett 10/10 **

  • The plot and characters were interesting, but I had to skip several scenes detailing the villain’s sadistic sexual abuses, which ruined the book for me.

48)  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Job

49)  I Samuel, II Samuel, I Chronicles, II Chronicles, Psalms, Joshua

50)  A Christmas Carol—Charles Dickens 11/10 ****

51)  The Distant Hours—Kate Morton 12/10 ****

  • The Distant Hours begins when its narrator learns that her mother was evacuated to a castle outside London during the blitz of WWII.  She is curious about the story and the three sisters who lived in the castle with their father (a famous author) and slowly unravels the mysteries behind her mother’s and the sisters’ past.
  • I really love the way Kate Morton writes—she has a way of describing things that leaves me speechless.  She’ll toss in one-sentence descriptions that are so unique and vivid I find myself  stopping short to read them again.  Honestly I would read her books if only for that.  She is also a master of time and point of view shifts—she unravels the story in a non-linear way that is just brilliant and keeps you guessing and trying to piece together the clues from all the character’s lives.  The Distant Hours was an enjoyable read, and had me particularly riveted at the end, wondering how she was going to tie everything together.  The three sisters have complex, distinct personalities, and Morton slowly lets you get to know them and decide what you think of them (fascination? pity? love? disgust?) The ending had a definite gothic feel (think Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights) that I didn’t particularly enjoy, but, like I said, I adore the way Morton writes so it was well worth the read.

52)  Voyage of the Dawn Treader—C.S. Lewis 12/10 *****

  • This book is tied with A Horse and His Boy for my favorite Narnia book.  It gets more profound every time I read it.

53)  All Creatures Great and Small—James Herriot 12/10 *****

  • This true story about an English country vet is one of my all-time favorite books.  It never ceases to make me laugh out loud.

54)  The Screwtape Letters—C.S. Lewis 12/10 *****

  • This is one of those books I could read a dozen times and still get new insights out of.  Anyone who at all enjoys satire, humor, or psychology should read it—Lewis’ grasp of what makes us tick (for good and bad) is just brilliant.  I don’t agree with all of his doctrinal points, but the book is still wonderful, and (for all its depth) an easy read.

55)  Spiritual Rhythm—Mark Buchanan 12/10 *** ½

56)  The House at Riverton—Kate Morton 5/10 **

  • This was a real disappointment after how much I loved The Forgotten Garden.  It has an almost Gothic, depressing feel and moral-less characters.

56)  Number the Stars—Lois Lowry 12/10 ****

  • This is a great book for introducing children to the Holocaust.  It is honest but not graphic

Note:  All cover images are copyrighted to their respective books

June 19, 2010

True Story in a Bookstore

Posted in Water Droplets tagged , , at 3:46 pm by Tamara

We get all sorts of strange requests at the bookstore I work at, people who saw a book a year ago on the shelf by the window and can’t remember its title or author or what it was about…and want us to find it for them.  Most of the time they’re nice, and it’s a rewarding treasure hunt if we can semi-miraculously find what they’re talking about.  One particular story stands out to me, though.

Right before Christmas I asked a 40-something year old man in a business suit if I could help him find anything.  He rubbed a hand on the back of his neck and hesitated for a second before saying,

“Well, I have kind of a weird request.  I’m looking for a book, and I don’t remember the title of it.  My mom just passed away, and she was reading it.”

I told him I was so sorry, he thanked me and offered a few more details about the book.  “I think the author was a man; it had a picture of a man on the back, and the cover was blue.  I think it was a New York Times Bestseller.”

That was enough information for me to know where to start, so I walked him over to a shelf and picked up a Nicholas Sparks book with a misty blue cover.

“This one, maybe?”

“Oh my goodness,” he said softly, reaching for it.  “That’s it.  She was reading it when she passed away.  I wanted to give a copy to each of my siblings.”

It was then that the title of the book hit me and I couldn’t stop a soft exclamation of “Oh!”  He looked at me as I covered my mouth, not wanting to state the obvious poignancy.  I’d never read the book and had no idea what it was about, but it seemed a surreal book to be reading during your last few days with your family.  He still had a confused look, and at last I managed, “The title….”

He looked down at the book again, and realization dawned.  He breathed a little laugh and shook his head.  “Wow.  That didn’t even occur to me.”   He was quiet for a minute, smiling a soft, sad smile.  “Thank you so much,” he told me.  “This means a lot.  I can’t believe we found it.”

I smiled, told him I was so glad to help, that my husband’s grandmother had just passed away and we were grieving too.   He smiled back and thanked me again, told me again how much it meant, and walked away with five copies in his arms: one for each sibling, a small memento of their mother and her last days.

The book was called The Last Song.

January 23, 2010

Books, books, books!

Posted in Book Reviews, Water Droplets tagged , at 1:26 am by Tamara

One of my overflowing bookshelves

A few years back I started keeping a list of all the books I finished during the year (unfinished/skimmed ones don’t count, sigh). Last year I beat my record and I’ve been itching to post the list along with a brief explanation of what I thought of each one, but haven’t had time to summarize them all. One of the perks of working at a bookstore is that I hear about books all day, so I branched out into some genres that I haven’t read much of in the past. Found some I really enjoyed, and some that just showed me the sad helplessness of life without Christ.

A great website I found this year is “Ten Million Words.” Tim Challis, a Christian author and popular blogger, has committed to read and review every book that makes the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list this year. The NYT bestsellers fascinate me–it’s such an interesting snapshot of where our country is at and what we’re interested in. I can’t read them all myself, but reading his reviews is a great way to stay in touch with books that are impacting our culture.

How about you? What did you read last year? Is there anything that will stay with you for a long time? Anything you hated? What about a favorite book of all time?

July 16, 2009

The Upside

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , , at 5:03 pm by Tamara


I’ve written about a lot of the struggles of my current “blank page between chapters” (as my friend and mentor Natalie called this stage in life). I think I’m drawn to write about struggles because I like wrestling with them and trying to learn from them. But there have been a lot of enjoyable things about being in a time of limbo. Here’s a few (in no particular order):

I commented to my mother-in-law the other day that I’ve never been so available to help out with random things. I think in the midst of all the business and the drive-to-accomplish that I usually thrive on, I’ve lost a lot of my sense of compassion. I’ve learned (pretty well) how to guard my time, “saying no so that I can say yes to other things,” but that’s meant that I’ve said no to a LOT of unexpected, practical needs the people around me have. But suddenly I have very little reason to say no! The result has been helping with a lot of things I usually just wouldn’t have the time (or the compassion?) to help with. Helping several friends pack, clean, paint, move, etc, for example. I’m currently pet-sitting one fish, two birds, and a cat, for another example. I’m surprised I haven’t been babysitting. Anyone need a babysitter?

It’s nice to have so much time to be in the Word and in prayer, and no excuse not to be. Granted, I should probably be spending MORE time in the Word, but I’ve enjoyed having more time than usual. I would think that down time would naturally increase the amount of time I spend with God, but it doesn’t always. Sometimes knowing I have “all day” to get around to Bible study means I never get around to it. But I’ve determined not to let that happen, and it’s been nice. I’ve been reading in the Old Testament, which I don’t do as often as I should. I’ve just felt a drive to understand GOD better—how He works, what He does, how He acts/reacts to things, etc., so that drove me to the Old Testament. Another perk of where I’ve been reading is that they’re stories, which draws me to want to read just one more chapter…. There are so many things God does in those stories that I don’t understand. I want to know Him better.

I get a massive thrill of exhilaration when I see my list of “Books I’ve Read This Year” grow, and there’s been a significant growth spurt lately. I just finished Love That Lasts: When Marriage Meets Grace by the Ricucci’s, Holy Available by Gary Thomas, Emma by Austen and The Enclave by Karen Hancock. Now I’m reading Glocalization by Roberts, Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible by Farah and Braun, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Scazzero, Plot by Dibel and Romans Verse by Verse by Newell. Plenty to keep my head spinning.

I also just accepted an internship at my church! That’s pretty exciting. My job at the moment is to research how to connect and involve women in missions, even if they can’t go overseas themselves. I’m supposed to have a proposal of ideas ready to present to the church in September. It’s a very exciting opportunity! I welcome any practical ideas you might have. How do you help people catch the vision for missions AND get involved in it?

And last but not least, have you noticed my proliferation of blog posts? You may consider that a blessing or a curse. Not sure which….

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