Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Girls's Guide to Witchcraft

I've read so many heavy histories lately that I decided I wanted something lighter from the library. This was a bit of a mistake because I am still in analytical mode. You should never read chick lit when your brain is actually working.

I have a lot of questions about this genre. There are a lot of stereotypes in the few books I have read. They almost feel like a grown up version of Mad Libs. (insert male name) is dreamy with wonderful (insert body part) but he doesn't know (female name) is alive. So, in spite of her previous bad experience with (different boy name) she will (complicated scheme) to make him notice her.

The heroine is always slightly neurotic with a weakness for chocolate. There is usually a best friend who is either a. happily married (causing jealousy and overhigh expectations) or b. similarly lovelorn, but is handling it in a completely different manner, for contrast. I have also notice the high percentage of gay male friends, to help the fashion-helpless girl to change and attract the sought male. Do gay guys get tired of this fashion-forward but frivolous and shallow stereotype? I would think it causes extreme pressure when dressing to go out.

I read these books with the same attitude I use when reading a YA book, entertaining, but I haven't ever really felt that way. Even when I was single I didn't judge a man by the way he filled out his jeans and the first kiss. At 25 I didn't feel myself a failure because I wasn't married and didn't even have a boyfriend (most of the time). Am I out of the mainstream or are these books exaggerations for the sake of comedy? I know that most of my personality and habits are a bit on the unusual side; I'm female and read science fiction, I voluntarily have five children, we don't watch television, just videos, and I don't do idle female chit-chat very well. My sphere of friends is pretty small so I honestly don't know if maybe a lot of women find these books realistic, but funnier than real life? Give me some input here. What are your opinions of "chick lit" type books.

All that being said, I did just check the sequel out the library this morning. They are very funny, if nothing else.

Girl's Guide to Witchcraft. Mindy Klasky. Red Dress Ink. 2006

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Guns of August

I've found that Pulitzer Prize winning histories usually deserve all the praise they get. I worry sometimes about the lens that the author uses to view the past. Most have some sort of bias, due to being human, and a lot of books, especially lately, have a very definite agenda beyond explaining a moment in history. One solution to this problem is to read books from a different historical moment. Whatever agenda someone might have had when they wrote the book is mostly irrelevant after a few years. I really enjoy books that seem to go right for the meat of the topic and don't try to preach to the reader or make comparisons with current events. This book fit my criteria perfectly because it was written in 1962 and won the Pulitzer Prize then was reissued 25 years later as a classic.

A reviewer stated, "It is her conviction that the deadlock of the terrible month of August determined the future course of the war and the terms of the peace, the shape of the inter-war period and the conditions of the Second Round." I think she makes her case and it dovetails nicely with Churchill's comments in the opening of his history, as he recounts the end of WWI and how it directly led to WWII. http://alibraryforme.blogspot.com/2008/02/gathering-storm.html

To open the book, she describes the funeral of King Edward VII of England in 1910. I'm reminded of this bit from Mary Poppins: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZXITCwBdJQ The majesty of the Old World was on display. Since he was related to half of Europe through his mother, Queen Victoria, the procession was unequaled in pomp, circumstance and royalty. In a few short years a number of attending monarchs would be at war, dead or dethroned.

This opening also allows for a quick description of the personalities who would become so very important in a few short years. I especially liked her description of William II of Germany, the Kaiser, "The flashing, inconstant, always freshly inspired Kaiser has a different goal every hour, and practices diplomacy as an exercise in perpetual motion." and later, "Envy of the older nations gnawed at him. . . The same sentiments ran through his whole nation, which suffered, like their emperor, from a terrible need for recognition. Pulsing with energy and ambition, conscious of strength, fed upon Nietzsche and Treitschke, they felt entitled to rule, and felt cheated that the world did not acknowledge their title."

The circumstances that led to open war were not so much mistakes, as inevitable results from Germany and France's decision made years before that war was inevitable. The military directors of both countries had developed elaborate plans of what to do in the event of war, and on both sides the conclusion drawn was get them before they can get us. With the two main belligerents acting under the assumption of future war it would have been nearly impossible to avoid. This must have been a reflection of current events to the author, who was writing at the height of the Cold War. Perhaps we should give more credit to the politicians of those days that there never was a great war between Russia and the United States.

One reason for that moderate restraint in modern times could be the structure of the US military. The President is Commander in Chief and has never shrunk from that role. In every country involved in the beginning of WWI, France, Germany, as well as England and Belgium, the military leaders overwhelmed, ignored and stonewalled the political leaders who wanted to change or postpone the coming offensive. Truman's accomplishment in restraining and finally firing MacArthur becomes a bit more impressive after reading how the heads of every other army ran over the political leaders.

The author manages to describe the intensity of those days with an understated humor that eases the understanding of such a complex topic. In describing British efforts in the Boer War she writes, " Since Britain's record against an untrained opponent lacking modern weapons had on the whole not been brilliant" and describing Henry Wilson, "that marvelous incapacity to admit error that was to make him ultimately a Field Marshall."

Of course errors weren't only British. The sheer number of mistakes makes the mind boggle, especially the scale of some of them. The Russians had few transports, and lacking telegraph wire, transmitted instructions by wireless (radio) in the clear because few officers had access to code manuals. The Germans began to rely on knowing where the Russians were every evening as the broadcasts came in.

The sides were even in aggressiveness and world opinion at the beginning of the war was evenly disgusted with both of them, but as Germany invaded neutral Belgium she began a campaign of terror that horrified the world. Burned and looted villages were the norm for a marauding army, but the systematic and sanctioned destruction of towns and villages retaliation of guerrilla activity by killing hundreds of civilians and the burning of a world famous library in Louvain hardened most who heard of it against the invading "Huns."

The demanding necessity of invasion forced the troops to their very limit. "In the coming battle many Germans prisoners were taken asleep, unable to go another step." The supply trains could not keep up, the men marched forty km for days on end, trying to outmaneuver the opposing army. The casualty rates for this first month were horrifying, 300,000 dead in the Battle of the Frontiers alone. Britain, France and Germany lost the majority of their young men in this war. One young man graduated in a class of 28 in the spring of 1914 and fell ill so he could not go to war. By winter he was the only one left alive. Though the absolute number of casualties were greater in WWII, WWI witnessed the shattering of the Victorian/Edwardian ethos of honor and morality. The social changes brought about by the war brought about a disillusion with the ideal that has continued and worsened through modern times.

The Guns of August. Barbara W. Tuchman. Macmillan. 1988.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Silly Songs with Larry

If you have never heard of Veggie Tales, but did have access to a radio in the 80s you should watch this.http://www.truveo.com/Rock-Monster-%E2%80%93-The-Pirates-Who-Don%E2%80%99t-Do/id/533803802

Thursday, November 20, 2008


I love remaindered books, especially when they are as good as this one was. Not only was this book well written, but I learned an amazing amount of stuff.

Truman came from Jackson, Missouri. His family had been there since before the Civil War and suffered a lot during the war. I knew that there had been a lot of violence in Kansas but I didn't know that the violence in Kansas was in part because of gangs from pro-slavery Missouri came over the border. Then gangs from Kansas retaliated. I had heard the expression "Bloody Kansas" (look it up) but I didn't know that there was an evacuation order for Jackson County, Missouri. The Union was in control of the state and they made everyone in that county leave, with only a few hours notice. Truman's grandmother had many nasty things to say about the Union soldiers and Abraham Lincoln. When, as president, he offered to let her stay in the Lincoln bedroom, she said she would rather sleep on the floor.

He was an amazingly honest man. though he got his political career because of the "bosses" of Kansas City, he refused to play the crony game. He didn't take bribes and refused to change his decisions because of pressure from the guys who thought they were in charge. Oddly, this made him more popular with the gangs and he was respected for his integrity. When he went to the Senate it caused a bit of trouble and he was accused of being corrupt, but he refused to repudiate his old friends.

He didn't get along with Roosevelt and was not in his confidences. Though most people knew he had a good chance of being president being in with Roosevelt wasn't one of the criteria for VP. R. was very ill in 1944 and this knowledge was kept from the public because of the election. Truman had been happy being a senator, and having a moderately useless job like that of Vice-president bothered him. He wasn't happy about the way he became president but he enjoyed having the ability to be in charge and do things the way he thought they should be done.

The thing that impressed me the most about the strength of his character was the way he handled the Korean War. Because of how the Russians had taken over Eastern Europe after WWII, there was a great fear that they would use similar tactics all over the globe. When fighting began in Korea, Americans really worried that if it wasn't stopped, China, and by extension Russia, would take over all of Asia.

As MacArthur became almost insanely aggressive, Truman worked very hard to hold the line; US troops were not to go into China, and, despite MacArthur's urging, they were not going to use the atomic bomb to make a no-man's-land between China and Korea. Though the war resulted in North and South Korea being divided exactly as it had started out, it was Truman's will that kept it from becoming either a huge war with China or letting nuclear weapons become just another tool of war. He felt that this was his greatest achievement while in office.

On a personal note. he didn't marry until he was thirty because he felt he needed to be successful before he could ask his sweetheart to marry him. But she stayed faithful through all the years he was trying, a remarkably patient woman. He wrote letters to her almost every day while they were apart. She was his best friend and he missed her terribly when they were separated. In fact, one of the funniest parts was the little paragraph describing how an embarrassed Mrs. Truman had to ask the staff secretary to get a replacement bed because the old antique one they had been sleeping in had broken "some time during the night." Its nice to know at least one president this century was completely faithful to his wife.

This book gave me some hope about our country. Yes, Harry Truman was a product of a different age, but I think that a lot of people go into politics for the same reasons he did, to help people and get things done the right way. It is statistically impossible for all of them to have been corrupted by the process. I know that there are men of integrity in politics today, I just wish it was easier to identify them.

Truman. David McCullogh. Simon & Schuster. 1992

Monday, November 17, 2008

Alcatraz Vs. the Scrivener's Bones

I realized that I have fallen behind a bit. Though I don't write about all the books I read, I do like to write about ones I really liked, or learned something from. This one falls more in the first category than the second. It is a sequel to Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians, which I talked about before. In fact, if I've talked to you at all about books you know how I feel about Brandon Sanderson. We love his books, and this one was no exception. It was the third of the the books David got me for my birthday, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

We are currently reading it to my boys for their bedtime book and they enjoy it as well. You have to be able to handle a sarcastic teenager first person voice though. If that drives you nuts, then don't bother reading the book. It has been a great way to reach Ryan about unreliable narrators though.

I seem to read a lot of YA fiction. So much adult fiction takes itself so seriously. I read for entertainment. I don't read depressing novels for the same reason I don't go see dramas and depressing movies, except by accident. I still can get choked up if I think about Life is Beautiful too much. That one had me teary eyed for days. So as a remedy for serious, sad fiction, I whole-heartedly recommend this book.

Alcatraz vs the Scrivener's Bones. Brandon Sanderson. Scholastic. 2008

Saturday, November 15, 2008


No this isn't a general post, but a memoir by someone who loves books more than I do. I like books, and buy them and read them as much as I can, but I do have other interests. Larry McMurtry, other the other hand, has lived a life completely obsessed by them. It is funny how short this book is. It is like a lot of little anecdotes about his life buying and selling books, only vaguely chronological. Sort of like a mumbling grandpa trying to tell you what is important in life, but who keeps falling asleep after a few sentences.
I have been thinking about writing a formal essay type things about why and how I read, but the only quiet time I get is late at night, when I should be sleeping. This is not the time my brain works best. Since it is now getting cold and we have no furnace, my fingers don't work very well either. But I have read about 150 books in the last year since I started posting. I didn't post about every book I read, and some of the posts were about other things, or more than one book at a time, so I figure it evens out.
I found a cool site that helps you organize your library and connect with other people who have the same books. http://www.librarything.com/ They have a 250 books in a year challenge. I figure if I count every book I read in a year, even the re-reads and ones I don't admit to reading on this blog (I do have some pride), I can make it.

Books. Larry McMurtry. Simon & Schuster. 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

Closing the Ring

My brain seems to want serious food lately, so I've gone back to the Churchill volumes on WWII. Every time I read these I am amazed at the lack of knowledge I have on the subject. It is so depressing. Especially now that I am honestly trying harder to not read all the time and be more useful in other ways; there are just so many books I want to read and things I want to learn.

This book covers the time from mid-1943 to just before D-Day, June 6, 1944. The amount of planning it took to launch that invasion is incredible. The fact that two different governments, with two separate military bureaucracies, managed to do such a good job is absolutely astounding. And during all this build-up phase they were invading Italy, negotiating with the Russia and and busy with all sorts of things. I was sadly amused to notice that during this time the Greeks had what amounted to a civil war on top of being invaded by the Germans. There were three different factions claiming to be the REAL government in exile. It got so bad an entire battalion of Greek infantry refused to obey any Allied orders unless one group was recognized and a Greek destroyer mutinied. The peaceful resolutions of these difficulties showed a lot of patience on the Allied commanders' part, I thought.

One reason I like reading histories is the applicability to our own times. I read the following quote right around the time of the election, and it seemed to sum up the problems I have with both GW Bush and Obama:

What holds us together is the prosecution of the war. No Socialist or Liberal or Labour man has been in any way asked to give up his convictions. That would be indecent and improper. We are held together by something outside, which rivets all our attention. The principle that we work on is, "Everything for the war, whether controversial or not, and nothing controversial that is not bona fide needed for the war. That is our position." We must also be careful that a pretext is not made of war needs to introduce far-reaching social or political changes by a side-wind.

We have been asked to be on a war footing for a long while, but except for a relatively small number, those sacrifices have been changes in the way we regard our freedoms. The war has been an excuse, not the cause, for a number of non-necessary controversial changes. I now worry that correcting those will also be an excuse, not the reason, for another round of forced changes. That's enough on politics for now. It is one of those things you either say very little or way too much.

Closing the Ring. Winston Churchill. Houghton Mifflin. 1951

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

All Quiet on the Western Front

I must admit, it has been awhile since I read this book, but I was thinking about it today. It was probably the second book I ever read that made me cry. I remember sitting in a friend's house, bawling my eyes out and hoping no one would come in until I got myself under control.

Though I have read other war accounts, both fictional and non, I think no other can equal this one for its grace and beauty as it describes the horror of a war. Grace and beauty aren't the normal adjectives people use for war books, but I think that is why this one is so effective. Gore does make a point, but it also desensitizes the reader. This is where most modern books, and almost ever movie get it wrong, in my opinion. We need less desensitizing and anger and more love, compassion and beauty.

For a more personal look at the "War to End All Wars" (doesn't that phrase make you want to weep in its innocence and hope?) look at this blog. http://wwar1.blogspot.com/ These are the personal letters a British soldier sent home to his family. His grandson has been posting them in chronological order, matching 90 years to the day as much as possible. It is a wonderful project. It makes me wish I had more access to my Grandfather's records of his time in WWII. We don't give these men enough credit for coming home and leading such quiet, unremarkable lives. The struggles of the current veterans show what an amazing accomplishment it is. One day a year to honor them seems insufficient.

All Quiet on the Western Front. Erich Maria Remarque.


A lot of blogs I read have been posting about things they are thankful for. I am also thankful for many things, but I am writing today to talk about the opposite. I have a list for all of you who are commited to the idea of buying me or my family presents in the coming month or two. Because I can never remember anything when I talk to you on the phone, I took the easy way out and made a wishlist on amazon. Please don't take this as written in stone, but as gentle suggestions to ease the shopping process. If you think that I would be interested in your own desires for Christmas, please feel free to reciprocate. Thanks


Monday, November 10, 2008

Dealing With Dragons

I picked up the first of these novels at the library free-book-for-joining-the-summer-reading-program table. My husband read it and liked it so I read it too. These are definitely YA-edging into children's books, but very funny anyway. The irritation an intelligent, non-simpering princess would have with the conventions and expectations of her peers are described in hilarious detail. Having experienced some of that myself, I could relate.
I checked some of the others out of the library. They are short, quick, fun read. Though reading them all at once gets bit boring. There are very few authors you can read several books at a time and not be annoyed by.
Jen, I think Rachel would really like them or any preteen to teenage girl. I think my six year old would like them but they don't have pictures so she isn't interested. I'm working her up to those. We are reading the Magic Treehouse books and Geronimo Stilton right now. She likes GS because certain words are emphasized with color and funny fonts. She reads all of those and the italics and chapter headings. She doesn't think she can read chapter books because she is only in first grade so I am gently showing her how good a reader she is. Peer pressure for a smart girl is difficult, see the above books.

Dealing With Dragons. Patricia Wrede. Scholastic. 1992

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Poisoned Pedigree

I've never read much LDS fiction, for two reasons; one, the library doesn't have much and two, it tends to be too sentimental for my tastes. I prefer histories to historical fiction, a real biography to a fictionalized account. But I saw this at the library and thought I would give it a shot.

It was nice to read a book written from my cultural point of view. To have people react to situations as I would. When a main character is in trouble and her first reaction is to pray it felt like a breath of fresh air. No cursing, no drinking, no excusing sin and wrong choices, no attempt to show wickedness as happiness. It was refreshing to read a book and not spend any time mentally arguing with it. This is one reason I don't read a lot of regular fiction, I spend too much of my time thinking about how much the main characters would benefit from a visit with the missionaries.
From this books rating on Deseret Book I guess I lucked out and got a very good example of LDS mystery for my first experiment. I have avoided the historical LDS books, but maybe I will look into the LDS books in other genres. There is getting to be quite a few YA fantasy novels coming out of Deseret's non-church imprint, Shadow Mountain. The head children's librarian at our library is the RS president in another ward and I think she is partial to them.
I probably will not get in the habit of reading this author though. The library only has one other, and honestly, it was too short. I like great big books because it takes me more than an hour or two to finish them. Though if you have them at your house, could I borrow some?
Poisoned Pedigree. G.G. Vandagriff. Deseret Book. 2002

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

3 Ne 22-26

My turn for the Gospel Doctrine lesson again. And oddly enough again the lesson was primarily from the bible: Isaiah 54 and Malachi 3 & 4.
The thing about these passages that really struck me was the blessings and promises in the passages from the Bible. When you recommend a book you usually think that reading that particular book would be good for the person you are recommending it to. In these sections we have scriptures that the Lord recommended. Why would these passages be so important that he gave them to the people? In fact, they already had Is. 54, so he was giving to them again.

The Nephites had been through a terrible few years. Their entire society had collapsed. There was no government, wars had been rampant, then earthquakes and other disasters had killed a huge number of people. Despite the hope and joy of having the Saviour appear to them, they had to be worried and afraid of the future. So, before he left, the Saviour reminds them of the promises He has made and comforts them.
In Chapter 22, there are many promises of the blessings of the Millennium. The Lord reminds the people that

8 In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer
. This is also the chapter with the wonderful promise,

13 And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace
of thy children.
14 In righteousness shalt thou be established; thou shalt be far from oppression for thou shalt not fear, and from terror for it shall not come near thee.
In Chap. 23 He then reminds the people of the prophecies of Samuel the Lamanite, and how those prophecies were fulfilled.

9 Verily I say unto you, I commanded my servant Samuel, the Lamanite, that he should testify unto this people, that at the day that the Father should glorify his name in me that there were many saints who should arise from the dead, and should appear unto many, and should minister unto them. And he said unto them: Was it not so?
10 And his disciples answered him and said: Yea, Lord, Samuel did prophesy according to thy words, and they were all fulfilled.

When you think of a group of people, standing in the ruins of their city, with who knows how many dead, this reminder of the reality of the Resurrection must have been very comforting.
Then Chapters 24 & 25 are the ones from Malachi. The promise of tithing, and of the Lord's consideration of those who remember him and serve him are some of the most beautiful blessings in the scriptures:
10 Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in my
house; and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open
you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be
room enough to receive it.
11 And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the fields,
saith the Lord of Hosts.
12 And all nations shall call you blessed, for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of Hosts.

16 Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another, and the Lord
hearkened and heard; and a book of remembrance was written before him for
them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.
17 And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.
The promise of Elijah's coming is one of the most quoted in modern day scripture:

5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great
and dreadful day of the Lord;
6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
Here we have some incredible promises, along with the reminder and commandment to search the scriptures. Christ was about to leave the people. He had been with them for three days and then appeared off and on afterwards, but they were going to be on their own, like all other people are. They had a huge job ahead of them. All of the structures of their society were gone. No government, many cities gone, a lot of the cities that were left were destroyed. In these dismal circumstances he could not solve their problems, or stay with them and physically help them, but he leaves the promises of the scriptures. By looking, and searching and pondering the scriptures he could be with them everyday.
In these pages we have His words to us. So many people are afraid today, but the solution to our fears is the same one offered to the Nephites, remember the promises of God. He is mindful of his people and he will not forget us.
It was a beautiful lesson and I was grateful for the chance to teach it. I always feel that I learn a lot more than any of the people in the class. I take it a lot more seriously than they do.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Music --Tag

I haven't been reading much lately, I've been sewing instead and listening to a lot of music. The Halloween costumes turned out great, but the only pictures I have are on film so you will have to wait a few months to see them. I think the MP3 player is one of the best things to happen to music since the phonograph. I love to choose out songs I like and not have to listen to the whole album. So, here's a game, go through your MP3, Ipod, or music list of preference and choose your favorite song for each letter. Duplicate letters allowed, but only to make up for letters that don't have a song, 26 songs only. Then share.

A: And She Was - Talking Heads
B: Blood of Eden - Peter Gabriel
C: Come Dancing - The Kinks
D: Dela - Johnny Clegg
E: Elderly Woman Behind the Counter . . . - Pearl Jam
F: Forever and Ever, Amen - Randy Travis
G: Goodbye Blue Sky - Pink Floyd
H: Healing Hands - Marc Cohn
I: In Your Eyes - Peter Gabriel
J: Jump In the Line - Harry Belafonte
K: Keep Walking - Veggie Tales
L: Long Time Gone - Dixie Chicks
M: Medicine Show - Big Audio Dynamite
N: No One Lives Forever - Oingo Boingo
O: Objection (Tango) - Shakira
P: Pinch Me - Barenaked Ladies
Q: Istanbul not Constantinople - They Might Be Giants
R: Ring of Fire - Elvis Costello
S: Scarborough Fair - Simon & Garfunkel
T: This Woman's Work - Kate Bush
U: True Companion - Marc Cohn
V: Vertigo - U2
W: With or Without You - U2
X: Strong Enough - Sheryl Crow
Y: Yoda - Weird Al
Z: Darkness, Darkness - Solas

And I came across another blog that mentioned a book I liked and recommended, if you would like to see somenone else's opinion: http://www.amazon.com/gp/blog/A36IYNTM3VH0FG/ref=cm_pdp_blog_post_title_1#postRSS_A36IYNTM3VH0FGat1225459069700_0