Thursday, August 31, 2006

Memoir/Travel: 12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time

Browsing through our local used bookstore one day, I spied a tattered copy of a book that's been on my want-to-read list for several years. Despite its poor condition, I bought that copy of 12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time: A Semi-Dysfunctional Family Circumnavigates the Globe, by Mark Jacobson, and am so glad I did.

Jacobson's account of a trip around the world with his wife and three kids, ages nine, twelve, and sixteen, is part family memoir and part travelogue. I love to travel with my family (see our latest trip blog) and I love to read (and write about) family, so how could this book miss?

It's not just the genres that appeal, though. Jacobson, a writer who has contributed to such icons as Rolling Stone and Esquire, has an appealing voice that pulls you in and makes you feel a part of his family. His honesty provides that essential intimate tone of a good memoir, and his talent as a writer keeps you reading.

Their trip was no highbrow tour with stays at five-star hotels but an attempt to recreate the hippies-with-backpacks trip around the world that he and his wife had taken twenty years earlier. I'm sure you can imagine how his three New York City born and bred kids responded to his attempts to show them the Real World. To give you a glimpse of their trip, consider that the phrase "mucky dung-strewn back alleyways" is used in the very first sentence of the book.

Jacobson brings you along as his family travels through India, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, Jordan, Israel, and France. Readers listen in like a fly on the wall to experiences that are sometimes hilarious and sometimes sobering.

Alongside the engaging tales of their trip, Jacobson shares his introspective musings on being a parent, watching his kids grow up, and the effects of travel on their relationships. I found myself frequently nodding and marking passages like this one describing what happens when, as a family, you leave your home and all of your stuff behind to travel together:

"What remained was us. Little us, nuclear us. For the moment, the entropy that inevitably flings things and people apart was suspended. The force field of our own making ruled the day, a most favorable kind of gravity. We were together.

...That's really what this trip was, a grand, somewhat nutty gesture, a tribute to the ephemera of our lives together."

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and have since passed it on to my husband, who's now laughing out loud and saying, "Hey, listen to this..." just as I did to him while I read it. I was sorry when the book ended, just as I am whenever one of our family trips ends. As Jacobson puts it, "The return to normalcy was fast approaching. Trip Time, that little rip in the continuum of Regular Time, was zipping shut."

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Fiction: The Art of Mending

One of my book groups recently read The Art of Mending. This was the second Elizabeth Berg novel I've read, and I was once again pleasantly surprised by this talented writer who kept me reading long past my usual bedtime.

The Art of Mending is a story about family relationships. The narrator, Laura, is a 50-ish woman who is happily married with two teen-aged children. She, her brother, and her sister all head back to their childhood home, as they do every year, to stay with their parents and attend the state fair. This year is different, though, as her younger sister confronts her with stories of a childhood completely different than what Laura remembers, and the entire family tries to deal with an unexpected tragedy. The novel follows Laura's family as they struggle to understand, forgive, and begin to heal.

It's a testament to Berg's skill as a writer that I related so well to Laura, despite the fact that the events in the novel have little relation to my own life. She has a way of giving her characters such depth that you can't help but identify with at least some of their thoughts and feelings. I kept marking passages as I read, sentences and paragraphs that seemed to perfectly reflect my own view of the world, like:
"...No matter what anyone said, it seemed to me that not only can you go home again, you are helpless not to."
"There are random moments...when I feel a wavelike rush of joy. This is my true religion: arbitrary moments of nearly painful happiness for a life I feel privileged to lead."

All of the women in my book group enjoyed this book and had no trouble finishing it in time for our meeting (a rare occurrence with our busy lives!). I, and several others, especially liked the unique way that Berg wove together the past and the present. Throughout the novel are brief descriptions of old family photos, providing insight into literal snapshots of Laura's childhood without the distortion of her memories or current perspectives. In this way, the reader slowly develops an understanding of the siblings' childhood and how it affects each of them today.

The title of the novel refers to Laura's passion for sewing, and especially quilting, and the analogy of mending family relationships:
"As for mending, I think it's good to take the time to fix something rather than throw it away. It's an antidote to wastefulness and the need for immediate gratification.....You'll always notice the fabric scar, of course, but there's an art to mending: If you're careful, the repair can actually add to the beauty of the thing, because it is testimony to its worth."

One woman in my book group remarked that the passages about sewing, fabrics, and quilting were especially compelling for her, since she, her mother,and her grandmother had sustained a long family tradition of quilting. I found this statement interesting, since no one in my family can sew at all (we're more into cooking!), yet I thoroughly enjoyed the book also. This is Elizabeth Berg's talent: to tell an interesting story in a way that makes every reader feel she is speaking to you personally.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Memoir: Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life

One of my book groups selected Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life by Queen Noor this spring. Unfortunately, I missed the group discussion, but I did read the 440-page book and learned a great deal.

Leap of Faith chronicles the life of Queen Noor, an American woman (Lisa Halaby) who married King Hussein of Jordan and became Queen. The book begins with an overview of Lisa's privileged childhood and family history. Her paternal grandfather immigrated from Syria to the United States when he was twelve years old, and Lisa had long been intrigued by her Arab roots (her mother's family was European). After graduating from Princeton with a degree in architecture and urban planning, she worked in the Middle East and met King Hussein, a longtime friend of her father.

She and King Hussein fell in love and married, and Lisa became Queen Noor Al Hussein of Jordan. Queen Noor tells of the joys and challenges of suddenly becoming royalty, raising a family, and gradually taking on personal missions to improve health and education and promote peace.

I found Queen Noor's tone a bit detached and cool, although some of what she shares is quite personal. The book didn't have the sort of "talking to my best friend" confidential tone that makes many memoirs so compelling, probably in part due to Queen Noor's very public life.

Despite this minor flaw, I was fascinated by the book and had no trouble finishing it. While the details and struggles of Queen Noor's personal life were interesting, as is any glimpse into the celebrity world, the book's information and insights into the complicated politics of the Middle East were even more absorbing.

I'm embarrassed to admit how little I knew about the history and culture of this conflict-ridden region. Perhaps I didn't retain much from my school History classes because they focused on dull facts and dates. That wasn't a problem here; it was fascinating to read about the Middle East from the perspective of one of its leaders. Queen Noor's book not only tells of her life but also details her husband's views, priorities, and actions. I was pleasantly surprised to learn of King Hussein's passionate commitment to peace above all else in a region long known for violence and war.

I was also enlightened to read about America and our foreign policies from the point of view of an Arab leader. I remember learning about the Camp David talks and subsequent peace accord while I was in junior high. Here in the United States, President Carter was viewed as a hero for his work with Egypt and Israel. Queen Noor explains how King Hussein was frustrated and dismayed by the Camp David talks because they occurred just as he was on the verge of finally coordinating a peace conference among all nations of the Middle East. By pulling Egypt and Israel out on their own, President Carter actually created a great deal of tension in the Arab world. This was a viewpoint I had never considered.

All in all, I thought Leap of Faith was a very enlightening and thought-provoking book. I learned a lot about this critical region which continues to be in turmoil, gained some new perspectives, and enjoyed the insights into royal life in the public eye.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Middle Grade Fiction: The Roman Mysteries

My 11-year old son, Jamie, was assigned to read a mystery book and an historical fiction book for his 6th grade Reading class. Browsing the shelves of the library, we came across a single series that met both requirements, and we discovered a new household favorite.

Imagine if Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys traveled back in time to Ancient Rome, and you have a sense of
Caroline Lawrence's Roman Mysteries series. The books succeed on two levels. They are fast-paced, suspenseful mysteries that keep you turning the pages way past bedtime, as well as fascinating and accurate accounts of life in ancient Rome.

The first book, The Thieves of Ostia, takes place in 79 AD in the Roman port city of Ostia. Twelve-year old Flavia, the daughter of a sea captain, meets her three new friends in this book: Jonathan, son of a Jewish doctor; Nubia, an African slave girl rescued by Flavia; and Lupus, a mute beggar boy. Yes, it seems like an unlikely group of friends, but it works. Lawrence makes the characters seem real and worthy of our attention.

Like most young sleuths of fiction, the four children encounter new mysteries to solve in each book, from determining who is killing neighborhood dogs in the first book to tracking down kidnappers and missing children in The Pirates of Pompeii to finding the source of a plague in The Enemies of Jupiter.

While the mysteries are exciting, it's just as compelling to read about the children's daily lives. Woven into the books are many details of food, clothing, architecture, and culture. In book #2, Secrets of Vesuvius, we experience the famous volcanic eruption with the children; in The Gladiators of Capua, we witness the games and shows of the new Colosseum. The books also offer a broadening world view as they deal with issues like slavery and religious tolerance.

Lawrence's books have been acclaimed for their accurate historical portrayal. In some cases, this means dealing with issues that are violent or otherwise distasteful to our modern sensibilities, like the realities of slavery or the gory fate of many of the participants at the Colosseum. To counter these sometimes gruesome details, the main characters tend to react in ways that we would today - sickened by mistreatment of slaves or the "games" at the Coliseum, for instance. Some critics have complained that the main characters' actions (and, indeed, their unique friendship) mars the historical accuracy, but I like the way Lawrence deals with the unsavory aspects of the time by providing admirable heroes and heroines that modern kids can relate to and respect.

When we go to the library, Jamie immediately heads to the L's to see if any of Lawrence's books are available (they're often all checked out). He and I have both enjoyed reading this unique series, and Jamie is very excited about studying Ancient Rome in Social Studies now.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Fiction: The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue

Barbara Samuel's enjoyable novel, The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue, weaves together the lives of four very different women, each grappling with issues of career, love, and life. The women, all neighbors on a quiet street in Pueblo, Colorado, grow to be each other's friends and supporters as their lives intersect.

Trudy, the main narrator of the novel, is struggling to put her life back together and rediscover her identity after learning that her husband of twenty-plus years is having an affair. Her next-door neighbor, Roberta, has just lost her beloved husband after sixty-two years of marriage. Roberta's beautiful granddaughter, Jade, turns to boxing as a release from conflicting emotions after divorcing her con-man husband. Shannelle,a young mother and aspiring writer, lives across the street and is trapped between her dreams and financial reality.

Samuel uses unique approaches to invite the reader into each woman's life. She alternates between the four women's perspectives in separate chapters. Roberta's story is told mainly through letters she writes to her sister, and we view Shannelle's struggles through the e-mails she sends to her writing mentor. Trudy's and Jade's voices are heard through more traditional first-person narration. Each chapter is headed by quotes that reflect that character's values: inspirational quotes from Shannelle's writing wall, Roberta's favorite bible passages, facts about women's boxing from Jade, and Trudy's excerpts of Spanish poetry and references to mythical goddesses. While I enjoyed the constant change of perspective, readers who prefer a more traditional narrative may find it a bit distracting.

The interwoven stories and happy endings have an idealistic tendency, but Samuel's warm, well-drawn characterizations made the women seem real. By the end of the book, I felt like the characters were familiar friends and was pleased to see them learn, grow, and unravel the knots of their troubles in their own unique ways. I happen to like happy endings.

(NOTE: My only annoyance with the book was that the cover photo of five same-age thin, white women sharing dessert had absolutely no relevance to the varied ages and races of the characters in the novel.)

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Health/Inspirational: The Anatomy of Hope

Looking for comfort and inspiration during a relapse of my illness this week, I turned to The Anatomy of Hope: How People Prevail in the Face of Illness by Dr. Jerome Groopman. I found just what I needed in this fascinating exploration of hope.

Much of the book reads like a novel, as Dr. Groopman shares stories of his patients and his own 20-year struggle with severe back pain. He tells of a devout Orthodox Jewish woman who was convinced her breast cancer was a punishment from God, of a veteran who refused treatment for a very treatable cancer, and of the miraculous recovery of a pathologist stricken with one of the deadliest cancers known.
Each story sheds light on his growing understanding that hope can be a powerful force in recovery -- something not taught in medical school.

Woven throughout these compelling stories, Dr. Groopman humbly admits to his own shortcomings as a doctor and shows how each patient contributed to his eventual enlightenment as to the power of hope.

This is not one of those new-age books that claims anyone can heal himself if he just thinks positively. Dr. Groopman echoes my own feelings when he points out that this kind of approach often makes patients feel worse because it implies that your illness is your own fault and you could get well if you just tried hard enough. He carefully defines real hope - different from indiscriminate optimism - based on what he learned from his patients:

"Hope is the elevating feeling we experience when we see - in the mind's eye - a path to a better future. Hope acknowledges the significant obstacles and deep pitfalls along that path. True hope has no room for delusion."

Toward the end of the book, Dr. Groopman also takes a look at the scientific side of hope, reviewing what little research exists and recounting his discussions with various experts. Having a scientific background, I appreciated this link to science to further prove that what Dr. Groopman observed in his patients can be backed up by data and isn't just another "think yourself well" platitude. Despite his obvious excitement about the power of hope,he puts it in perspective as just one element that can contribute to wellness and recovery.

The Anatomy of Hope successfully combines compassion and science in a book that is both inspirational and practical. Dr. Groopman's considerable talents as a writer and storyteller wrap these important lessons in an engaging view of the medical world that patients rarely see. Just reading his book makes me feel more in control of my illness and more hopeful for my future.

272 pages, Random House Trade Paperbacks

Random House Audio

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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here, from the introduction, and/or download it from Audible.


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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Memoir: All the Fishes Come Home to Roost

My husband bought me All the Fishes Come Home to Roost: An American Misfit in India by Rachel Manija Brown for Christmas this year. It was one of dozens of books that I'd circled in the Bas Bleu catalog that I left lying around the house in strategic places. He made a good choice in selecting this funny, moving memoir from my overflowing wish list.

Rachel Manija Brown tells the story of her bizarre childhood spent at an ashram in India. Until age seven, her life was relatively normal, growing up in Los Angeles and nurturing her two loves, animals and reading. Then her parents, followers of the Indian guru Meher Baba, decided to move to Ahmednagar, India, to live at a commune with other Baba lovers. Rachel suddenly found herself torn from everything familiar, living an isolated existence among religious fanatics.

There were no other resident children at the ashram, and Rachel's enrollment in the local private school (the only option for an education in English) doesn't help much. "And so, despite being Jewish by birth and a Baba-lover by parental decree, I was sent to Holy Wounds of Jesus Christ the Savior Convent School." Rachel is an outcast at the school as the only foreigner and the only student who doesn't speak Hindi or Marathi, the local language. She also discovers that the nuns and teachers at her new school have a sadistic penchant for corporal punishment.

While many aspects of Rachel's childhood in Ahmednagar are appalling, she tells her story with an endearing wit that highlights her resilient spirit. She has plenty of fodder for her humor, as she describes her bizarre life in a remote area of India. In the first chapter alone, we encounter a gnome-like taxi owner who welds the car engine while her family is sitting in the backseat and the taxi's driver, a man so short that he can't reach the pedals and see over the steering wheel at the same time and doesn't seem to know how to work the clutch, as they take her family on a harrowing trip up a mountain. And these aren't the strangest characters she meets in India, by far.

It's impossible not to compare this book with Augusten Burrough's Running With Scissors. In fact, Rachel herself explains in the last chapter how Burrough's hilarious and horrifying memoir inspired her to write her own. She learned from him that she could recount her more disturbing experiences with plenty of humor to keep from alienating her readers. It's a rare talent, to move readers smoothly from laughter to horror and back to laughter again. Rachel Manija Brown manages this approach handily, pulling it all together with her unique voice into a funny and compelling book.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Science Fiction: Replay

I just finished reading Replay by Ken Grimwood for the third time, and it was just as compelling this time as it was the first two times I read it. This is my favorite book of my 35 years of reading, and I have no doubt I'll be picking up my tattered paperback copy to read again in a few years. Although Replay is officially categorized as science fiction, it transcends its genre incorporating in-depth characterization, suspense, romance, and the timeless question of life's purpose.

The book opens in 1988 with 43-year old Jeff Winston dying suddenly of a heart attack while at the desk of his job as a news radio journalist. Moments later, Jeff wakes up in his freshman dorm room in 1963 in his 18-year old body but retaining his memories of the life he recently left with its disappointing career, financial troubles, and failed marriage. This is a book about second - and third and fourth - chances, as Jeff replays those 25 years of his life again and again. He finds this bizarre situation and his unique foreknowledge to be both a blessing and a curse as he relives his life many times over.

More than anything else, Replay is a book about choices. Jeff makes different choices each time he replays (after all, it would be impossible to relive your life exactly the same once you knew what was coming up) and experiences vastly different outcomes, all the time struggling with questions about what is happening to him, what it means, and what he should do.

The copious pop culture references throughout the book are entertaining, and the plot pulls you in immediately and doesn't let you go. Most of all, though, I love this book because it is so endlessly thought-provoking. Right from the start, you can't help comparing Jeff's experiences to your own life and wondering what you'd do in his situation. Could you just hang out with 18-year olds again, retake all your college courses, go through the motions? Given another shot at life, what would you do differently and how would it turn out?

As Jeff replays these years of his life, making different choices each time, he learns a lot about himself and about what's important to him. Although he stops aging at age 43, he continues to mature with each replay, experiencing many lives' worth of sorrow and joy. Although ostensibly a book about time travel, Replay is really a story of love and despair and hope. When you finally set this book down (after reading it all night), you're left with an appreciation of your own life and a desire to make the most of each of its finite moments.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.

Buy Replay from Amazon or listen to a sample of the audio at the link.

You can buy the book through, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Middle-Grade Fiction: The Underland Chronicles

Life has been especially hectic lately, so I haven't had much time to myself for reading. One thing we always make time for, though, is our nightly ritual of reading to our two boys. At 8 and 11 years old, Craig and Jamie are both proficient readers on their own. In Jamie's case, voracious might be a better descriptor; he devours books in big, hungry bites, one after another. 

Even though both boys can now read independently, my husband and I still read to them at bedtime. Our selections over the years have evolved from Dr. Seuss and Richard Scarry to lengthy chapter books, often infused with adventure and magic. For several months now, all four of us have been thoroughly engrossed in The Underland Chronicles, a four-book series by Suzanne Collins. We have been so taken with this exciting, well-written series that I reviewed it for FamilyFun magazine (look for the review in the May 2006 issue).

In the first book, Gregor the Overlander, Collins introduces us to the series' unlikely hero. Gregor is a typical 11-year old boy until the day that he literally falls into the Underland, a whole world existing underneath New York City. The Underland is populated by pale-skinned, violet-eyed humans, as well as human-sized bats, rats, and cockroaches. I know what you're thinking...if anyone had told me I'd enjoy books filled with enormous creepy-crawlers, I'd have thought they were crazy. Besides having a fabulous imagination, Suzanne Collins is a talented writer, filling her books with suspenseful fast-moving plots, in-depth characters, and enough humor to offset the fright factor. In fact, I not only enjoy these books along with my boys, I've even come to care about many of the oversized critters. Gregor and his two-year old sister, Boots, find themselves pulled into the conflicts of the Underland. 

Along the way, Gregor discovers he is a legendary warrior and joins an unusual team of Underlanders to fulfill a prophecy and find a clue to the mysterious disappearance of his own father. In Book 2, Gregor and the Prophecy of the Bane, Gregor and Boots return to the Underland to help the humans head off a possible coup by the rats. Gregor has his own personal motivation for helping the Underlanders in Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods when a member of his own family is affected by a deadly plague in the Underland. In Gregor and the Marks of Secret (due for release in May 2006), Gregor again fulfills his role in the Underland prophecies by helping the humans defend themselves against attacks by the rats. Through all of the action-packed books, Collins keeps us caring with her realistic portrayal of the young hero and keeps us laughing at Boots' typical toddler antics. At our house, we can't wait for bedtime to find out what happens next.

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.

Listen to a sample of the audiobook of Gregor the Overlander (book one) and/or download it from Audible.


You can buy the book through, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!



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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Middle-Grade Fiction: Peter and the Starcatchers

I just finished reading PETER AND THE STARCATCHERS by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. I had finished my last book and was searching the house for my next conquest. I have a stack of books I want to read on the bookcase in my bedroom but none seemed to fit my mood. I wandered into my son's room to check his bookcase. We receive a lot of middle-grade books to review, so he always has a stack of new arrivals. Actually, he usually plows through each book as soon as it arrives, and I'm usually lagging behind. I ended up ignoring some of the review possibilities to read this one just for fun.

PETER AND THE STARCATCHERS is a prequel to J.M. Barrie's PETER PAN. As the story goes, Ridley Pearson (a popular fiction writer) was reading PETER PAN to his daughter one night, and she asked him how Peter got to be Peter Pan. That got him thinking, and he ended up teaming up with Dave Barry to create their version of how Peter Pan came to be.

The book was just what I was looking for: an enjoyable escape. I loved how the book filled in the gaps of the well-known tale of Peter Pan, explaining why he can fly, how he got to the island, and how he made an enemy of the famed pirate. I thought that Ridley and Barry's imaginative pre-story was just right and fit J.M. Barrie's famous tale well. In fact, reading this book made me want to read the original PETER PAN, as I'm embarrassed to admit I'm only familiar with the Disney and Hollywood versions.

PETER AND THE STARCATCHERS is an excellent book for middle-grade readers (and grown-ups, too!), building on a well-loved character and filled with adventure, magic, and a touch of Dave Barry's signature humor. It was a pleasant and satisfying read.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Memoir: Riding the Bus With My Sister

One of my book groups recently discussed RIDING THE BUS WITH MY SISTER, a memoir by Rachel Simon published in 2002. I had heard a lot about this book - buzz, as they say - over the past couple of years. The book received a lot of critical acclaim and was made into a TV movie starring Rosie O'Donnell. It was especially prominent in the media locally here in Delaware, since the author is from Philadelphia. With all of this attention, I was interested in reading the book but somehow never got around to it - maybe because it had been over-hyped.

There was a good reason for all that hype. RIDING THE BUS WITH MY SISTER was entertaining, compelling, and informative. It met my highest standard - I was sorry to finish the book and didn't want it to end.

Simon's memoir focuses on her relationship with her mentally handicapped sister, Beth. Beth lives in a nearby city and spends her days riding the buses. This odd preoccupation baffles Rachel and the rest of her family. The book begins with Beth asking Rachel to accompany her on the buses periodically for a year. Simon alternates between the present, as she's riding the buses with Beth and learning about her world, and the past, when they and their sister and brother were children. This approach brings great insight to the lives of both Rachel and Beth and connects their past experiences to their present relationship and their different lifestyles.

Besides Beth and Rachel, the bus drivers are the other stars of this memoir. Both Rachel and the reader grow to understand Beth's attraction to the buses as we're introduced to some of her favorite drivers. They're philosophers, teachers, and friends, filled with compassion and insights that are unexpected in the mundane world of bus riding. It's fascinating to see the warm and supportive community that Beth has found among "her" drivers.

I was also fascinated to see a glimpse of the lives of people with mental handicaps. I've never known anyone who's mentally handicapped, and it's a topic rarely discussed in the media. I appreciated the inner look into the world of group homes, social services, and the insider's view of prejudice.

The memoir is not merely a story of riding buses and handicaps, though. Rachel shares her innermost thoughts and feelings, as well as memories of a less-than-ideal childhood, so that we join her on her personal journey of growth as she learns important life lessons from Beth and the drivers. This book reminded me of why I like memoirs so much.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Welcome to My Reading World

I love to read and to write, so I thought I'd enjoy writing about the books that I read.

I've always loved to read, since I first mastered GO, DOG, GO! and devoured NANCY DREW books a few years later. As an adult, though, my reading tastes began to seem somewhat stale to me a few years ago. I read a lot of suspense novels, some popular mainstream fiction that my mother lent me, and not much else. My reading list has expanded considerably in the past couple of years, due to several positive influences.

The most exciting change has been my involvement in two book groups. I love the variety of books I now read as a part of these groups and enjoy discussing what I've read. It's exciting to share wonderful books with other book lovers.

I also have more time to read now than I used to. This is one of the very few positive outcomes of my battle with a debilitating chronic illness these past five years. I need to rest each day now and am unable to do much of anything on the worst days. I used to get depressed when I "crashed" and had to spend the day lying down, but now I try to view these unplanned down days as a chance to lose myself in a good book.

Finally, my freelance writing has taken an unexpected turn this past year as I've begun to write reviews for FAMILY FUN magazine. I review all sorts of family fare - movies, music, toys, and games - but I most enjoy writing reviews of books. My 11-year old son is also an avid reader and is thrilled with my new career. Together, we pore over publisher's catalogs and choose what books we want to test next. We're grooming my 8-year old son into a book lover as well.

So, my reading list is now an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction, with a good dose of middle-grade children's books added in. I read the selections for my two book groups, books that my son has enjoyed that might work for a review, and anything in between that catches my eye. I still throw in an old favorite thriller author here and there as well.

In this blog, I hope to share my thoughts and ideas about the books I'm reading. For starters, here are some of the books I've most enjoyed in the past 6 months:

- RUNNING WITH SCISSORS by Augusten Burroughs - a compelling and astounding memoir
- YA YAS IN BLOOM by Rebecca Wells - the humorous and heart-warming sequel to Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
- THE BOOK OF JOE by Jonathan Tropper - a unique story with memorable characters
- MY SISTER'S KEEPER by Jodi Picoult - a haunting, multi-faceted novel by one of my favorite authors
-THE RELUCTANT TUSCAN by Phil Doran - a humorous and poignant combination travel book, memoir,and love story
- THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coelho - a brief novel that won me over with its insights
- LAUGHING BOY by Oliver La Farge - a 1929 Navajo love story

From now on, I'll add entries to this blog about the books I'm currently reading. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the books I'm reading, as well as books you've loved.