Monday, October 29, 2012

It's Monday 10/29! What Are You Reading?

An unusual Monday here, as we wait out Hurricane Sandy aka Frankenstorm.  It is a HUGE storm, with another storm front coming down from the north to meet it, and it is heading straight for us in northern Delaware.  We are a bit inland so don't have to worry about coastal flooding, but the heavy rain and high winds are supposed to last for a few days, at least.  Roads are closed.  Schools were closed for Monday and Tuesday back on Saturday, so we have both kids at home (plus an extra one!).

On the plus side, if we lose power, I will have an excuse for more reading time!  Here's what we have been reading here:
  • I spent the week engrossed in a spooky read by one of my favorite teen/YA authors: Everfound by Neal Schusterman, the conclusion to the Skinjacking trilogy that started with Everlost, about kids caught in a sort of limbo (aka Everlost) in between the worlds of the living and the dead.  Our whole family has loved this series, and the final book is just as good - I just have a few pages to go!
  • Next up for today is another Halloween read, Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian.
  • I am really enjoying the audio book, The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman, about a girl in 1960's Louisiana who time travels back 100 years.  It is excellent so far, though I won't be listening much with the whole family stuck on the house with me this week!
  • My husband, Ken, finished In the Woods by Tana French, and wants to read more of her novels.
  • Next, he read another Neal Schusterman teen/YA novel, Unwholly, the sequel to Unwind, another spooky novel that we all loved!  It's a dystopian series about a future world where parents can choose to "unwind" their children between ages 13 and 18 (but it is considered ethically acceptable because every bit of them is used and transplanted).  Yeah, very creepy!  The first book was about a few teens who managed to escape on their way to being unwound.  Can't wait to read this one - Ken said it was great!
  • Last night, Ken started The Twelve by Justin Cronin, sequel to The Passage.  Both of us are excited to read this one!
  • Jamie, 18, finished City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (for the 3rd time!), but he left book #2 in his dorm room when he came home for the storm!  So, he will have to switch to another series while he is here - that shouldn't be a problem as we just received a bunch of teen/YA books from a publisher.
I didn't write or post much last week because I was sick all week, but I managed two posts late in the week: some exciting news on the adaptation of The Book Thief for stage and screen and a Weekend Cooking Post.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kids/teen version hosted at Teach Mentor Texts.)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Weekend Cooking 10/27

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  I started to participate two weeks ago, since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

It was another sick week here - everyone else was doing better and back to school, but I was in pretty bad shape all week.  So, I stuck to mostly easy cooking and old favorites.  Looking back, I see that we had kind of a maple syrup theme going on!

This was our last weekly pick-up of fresh veggies from our local CSA farm on Monday this week - so sad to see the local growing season end!  So, I did try to incorporate our farm-fresh veggies into our meals this week.

We got some gorgeous Brussels sprouts still on the stalk.  My husband and I love them, but my son doesn't, so I prepared them with bacon and maple syrup (and onion) - I figure you can cook just about anything with bacon and maple syrup and it'll be good, right?  My husband and I loved them, but my son was still not impressed!  With it, I made an old favorite, Maple-Glazed Salmon, my family's favorite salmon recipe (yes, more maple syrup!).

Another night, I roasted a whole chicken (I stuff it with cut-up lemons and cloves of garlic) and prepared another delicious farm-fresh veggie with it: rutabaga (what they called swede in the UK).  I have never cooked or eaten rutabaga before, so I figured I better go with another kid-friendly preparation - yes, you guessed it! - Maple-Glazed Rutabaga.  I also chopped up some carrot and Yukon Gold potatoes to give it more kid appeal.  I absolutely loved it - roasting it caramelized the maple syrup, leaving a yummy glaze on all the veggies.  My husband and son weren't quite as impressed but they ate it.  More for me!

I used the left-over chicken to make Arroz con Pollo, one of my own recipes, and another easy family favorite.

Now, we are hunkering down for Hurricane Sandy aka Frankenstorm which should be starting to reach our area this afternoon.  School has already been cancelled for Monday and Tuesday, so college son is home for the duration (and we may pick up some extra kids along the way today!)  So, tonight I am planning to make a big triple batch of Red Beans and Rice, a very old favorite of ours from our time in New Orleans.  I created this recipe based on a bunch of authentic recipes from Louisiana, lightening it a bit and making it a shorter preparation for busy weeknights.  When my son left for a local college, he said, "Mom, make sure you let me know anytime you make red beans and rice, so I can come home for dinner!"

Hope you are all safe from the storm and enjoying some good weekend cooking of your own!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Saturday Snapshot 10/27

At Home with Books hosts Saturday Snapshot.

Well, the weekend here in the mid-Atlantic is all about preparing for Hurricane Sandy aka Frankenstorm.  The schools - and even my older son's college - have already cancelled classes for Monday, and our phone has been ringing constantly, with messages from the power company, the high school, the college, etc. warning us about the size and severity of this storm.  I'm sure we will be fine here where we are - not too close to the coast and on high ground - but this one sounds like it will be a rough one.

Our neighborhood and back yard have finally been transformed by gorgeous fall colors...and I realized this morning, that all those beautiful leaves will be on the ground by Monday!  So, I will enjoy it while I can...and hope that the storm is fully past by Halloween!

A rainbow of fall colors in our backyard - need to enjoy it while it lasts!

Monday, October 22, 2012

It's Monday 10/22! What Are You Reading?

Ah...Monday morning...quiet house.  I've had kind of a rough week here.  My college son was home sick much of last week, then I caught his cold.  Even a simple virus like this triggers a severe flare-up of our chronic illness (an immune disorder), so it's a double-whammy.  On the plus side, I've had a little more time for reading than usual!  Here's what we read last week:
  • I finished my first spooky read for the month, the teen/YA novel Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, which combines a post-apocalyptic/dystopian setting with a magical plot.  Its engrossing suspense was a great distraction from how I was feeling!
  • Last night, I finished my neighborhood book group's selection for this week's meeting: The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka.  It is a unique novel, written from the perspective of a group of women, rather than individual characters, about so-called picture brides who immigrated to the United States from Japan in the early 1900's, following them for the next 20 years.  It should be fodder for some excellent discussions Wednesday evening!
  • I started a new audio book, The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman, a middle-grade novel about a young girl in Louisiana in 1960 who is transported back in time to 1860.  It is excellent and engaging so far!
  • My husband, Ken, is reading In the Woods by Tana French and enjoying it very much.  He says it is a good mystery with plenty of suspense but also very well-written.
  • Jamie, 18, was home sick from college for 4 days this week.  After catching up on all his favorite TV shows in the first 2 days, he picked up a book and remembered how much he has missed reading since he started college!  He read Relic Master (The Dark City #1) by Catherine Fisher and loved it (Fisher's Incarceron was a family favorite here).
  • City of Lost Souls, Book Five of The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, arrived at our house last week while Jamie was home sick.  Since this is one of his favorite series, Jamie decided to re-read the entire series...for the third time!  So, he is currently reading Book 1, City of Bones, though he is back at school with plenty of make-up work, so I don't know how much reading time he has!
I posted two new reviews last week: Caleb's Crossing, a wonderful historical novel by the talented Geraldine Brooks and Magisterium, a great spooky teen/YA novel by Jeff Hirsch. I also posted my plans for Spooky Halloween Reads this month, and another Weekend Cooking post yesterday.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kids/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Weekend Cooking 10/21

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  I started to participate last week, since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

We got another lovely variety of veggies from our local CSA farm on Monday.  But, with my husband out of town most of the week, and my college-age son home sick, I mostly stuck with old favorites this week rather than experimenting with things like kale or eggplant!  My son, Jamie, said that he enjoyed all the home cooking while he was recuperating.

Well, I did sneak some broccoli rabe in early this week, but I knew everyone would enjoy this soup because I made it last year. I mentioned last week that many of my recipes come from Cooking Light magazine, but this one is a rare exception, from Rachel Ray's magazine.  I don't use a lot of Rachel Ray recipes (far too much cheese, pasta, and bread for someone on a restricted diet!), but this one for Rabe and White Bean Stoup is a favorite at our house.  Jamie loved it, and said the soups at school suck!  I subbed a gluten-free pasta and cooked it separately so it wouldn't get mushy which worked out very well.

In another effort to provide comfort food this week, I baked the boys a small ham and served it with cauliflower from the farm and a sweet potato casserole (we have LOTS of sweet potatoes from the farm).  It's funny - my sons say they don't like sweet potatoes if I just bake them or even make sweet potato fries, but they love this recipe (from Cooking Light, of course)!  I substituted coconut milk for the milk and gluten-free flour for the flour, and it was delicious.  We had the left-overs the next night.

We also got turnips and cabbage from the farm this week, so tonight we are having an old family favorite:  New England Boiled Dinner, a Cooking Light recipe so old (from 1995) that it isn't available online!  It's a basic corned beef and boiled veggies dinner, only at the end, you remove the corned beef, coat with with real maple syrup and finish it in the oven which gives it a nice sweet glaze on top.  We often only have this once a year, on St. Patty's Day, so this will be a treat tonight!

Oh, and we also treated ourselves this homemade donuts and fresh cider from our favorite pumpkin farm.  These donuts are amazing - the highlight of the season for us!

What are you cooking this week?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Saturday Snapshot 10/20

At Home with Books hosts Saturday Snapshot.

Another crazy week here.  Our younger son finally got back to school Monday after his knee surgery three weeks ago...but our older son came home from college sick on Sunday and spent a few days resting at home.  Now, he is back at school, still coughing a bit but feeling better, but my husband, younger son, and I now all have the same sore throat and congestion that started this whole thing for our college son.  It could be a rough weekend here!

I didn't get outside as much as I wanted to this week, but it is finally looking like fall here, my favorite time of the year!  I love the way the late afternoon sunlight filters through the red and yellow leaves in our backyard:

And we are finally starting to see a few leaves drop, too:

 Hope you are enjoying this lovely fall weekend!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fiction Review: Caleb’s Crossing

I have loved every single novel that Geraldine Brooks has written, from the Pulitzer Prize-winning March to Year of Wonders and the brilliant The People of the Book.  Her latest novel, Caleb’s Crossing, is no exception.  She takes her usual approach of starting with historical facts and building a fictional story to fill in the blanks, and the result is just as engrossing as her previous novels.

The amazing bit of truth that Brooks starts with in this case is that Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk was the first Native American to graduate from Harvard, in 1665, one of only 465 graduates in the entire seventeenth century.  Caleb (his English name) was born in 1646 among the Wôpanâak people on the small island that we now call Martha’s Vineyard, which was purchased by a Puritan businessman named Thomas Mayhew in 1641.

From there, Brooks uses her imagination to recreate Caleb’s adolescence and the circumstances that led to his attending and graduating from Harvard.  The narrator of the novel is Bethia, granddaughter of the buyer of the island, who meets Caleb when she is twelve years old.  The two become fast friends and learn a lot from each other but keep their forbidden friendship secret from their families.

Bethia is a spirited young girl, eager to read and learn but stymied by the mores of that time that dictated that only young men were educated beyond the basics women needed to know to run their households.  Here, Bethia’s loving father addresses her yearning for knowledge:

“Bethia, why do you strive so hard to quit the place in which God has set you?” His voice was gentle not angry.  “Your path is not your brother’s, it cannot be.  Women are not made like men. You risk addling your brain by thinking on scholarly matters that need not concern you. I care only for your present health and your future happiness. It is not seemly for a wife to know more than her husband…”

(I know, can you believe it?  It’s a good thing I wasn’t born in the 1600’s – my brain definitely would have been addled!)

Her father, the local minister, believes that the new white settlers should live peaceably and fairly with the Native Americans on the island (though of course, he wants to convert them to Christianity), but not everyone on the island agrees with him.  Conflicts with Caleb’s people lead to he and Bethia being separated for a period of time, though they are reunited as young adults (still not letting on that they knew each other before).

Bethia and Caleb – and their families – are fully drawn, likable characters, and the novel follows the joys and sorrows of both their lives.  And there are plenty of sorrows here – it is, after all, the seventeenth century, with all of its inherent dangers and lack of modern conveniences.  However, I never found the book depressing or maudlin, probably because the story is told from Bethia’s diary, and she is a remarkable, optimistic young woman who is capable of surmounting many challenges.  The story and the characters pulled me fully into their world, and I never wanted it to end.  Everyone in my book club enjoyed it, too.

300 pages, Viking

Penguin Audio

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Spooky Halloween Reads!

One of my favorite book blogs, Girl xoxo written by Tanya, is featuring A Month of Monstrosities for October.  Here's her latest update on her spooky reads this month.  While I'm not all that into vampires and werewolves and zombies, I did think it was a great idea to do some theme reading this month and dive into some spooky reads!

BookPage had more ideas with their list of Top Ten Must-Read Thrillers.  All of these sound enticing!  I just got my husband The Twelve (sequel to The Passage) by Justin Cronin, Into the Woods by Tana French, and Defending Jacob by William Landay.  I can't wait to read all of these thrillers, but I suppose it's only fair to let him read his birthday gifts first!

So, though I've been focused on reading a few books for book groups, I am moving onto some spooky Halloween reads starting this week:
  • Today, I finished Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, a unique dystopian novel with a (dark) magical twist.
  • I just picked up Chris Bohjalian's Night Strangers from the library today.  This spooky novel was last Halloween's favorite creepy read, so I am looking forward to it.
  • And a long-overdue shipment of kid/teen review books arrived today from Simon & Schuster, including two from Neal Schusterman (a family favorite) - Everfound, the final book in the Skinjacker trilogy and The Dark Side of Nowhere (just the title sounds spooky, doesn't it?).  Plus, I have a stack of older review books waiting to be read, but I think Everfound may win as my next teen Halloween read because I love this trilogy...and what's more appropriate for this month than a good ghost story?
So, that's what I have planned to celebrate Halloween reading-style.  How about you?  Are you planning to read any spooky, creepy selections this month?

If you need more ideas, check out my past Top Ten Halloween Reads list and my Top Ten Kids/Teen/YA Books for Halloween list. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

It's Monday 10/15! What Are You Reading?

Monday already?  Wow, where did the weekend go?  Mine was filled with a lot of work (and cooking) and not much fun or relaxing.  I saw lots of blogs participated in a read-a-thon this weekend.  I've never tried one, but it sounds like a wonderful idea!  Might have to wait until the kids have moved out, though!

After 3 solid weeks of pain and exhaustion following his knee surgery, my youngest son finally returned to school today (I know I said he went back LAST Monday, but that only lasted one day!) - hurray!  However, my oldest son is home from college and in bad shape now!  Looks like he has one of the many viruses floating around at school which has triggered a bad flare-up of his chronic illness.  So, he came home for his usual Sunday visit but felt so bad that he decided to stay (still sleeping - shhh!).

Someday I will be alone again for an hour or two...

In the meantime, as always, books provide a mini escape!  Here's what we've been reading this week:
  • I finished Rule Number Two: Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital by Dr. Heidi Squier Kraft just in time for my library's book discussion on Wednesday.  It is a fascinating and engrossing memoir about a young mother's experiences serving as a Navy Psychologist for a group of Marines in Iraq.  We had a great discussion about the emotional and psychological effects of war.
  • After months of listening, I finally finished the middle-grade audio book Young Fredle by Cynthia Voight last week.  My lengthy listen is not due to any fault of the book, just a lack of a CD player in my old car!  It is a warm, wonderful story, wonderfully performed - very deserving of its Odyssey Honor for Excellence in Audiobooks Award.
  • Now I am reading an exciting new teen/YA novel, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch.  It's a very unique story - a blend of dystopian, post-apocalyptic, and magic, all rolled into one!  I could hardly stand to put it down this weekend.
  • My husband, Ken, finished and enjoyed 1NF1N1TY by Rachel Ward, the exciting conclusion to her Num8ers trilogy.
  • Now Ken is reading one of his birthday gifts from me, Into the Woods by Tana French.  I've been hearing such great things about French's suspense novels for years, so I decided to start him off with the first book in this series.  He's loving it so far and says the writing is excellent - he even read a passage aloud to me!
  • Jamie, 18 and an avid reader, is still too busy with his new college life for any reading!  Perhaps he will pick it up again while he is sick this week (though of course, I hope he bounces back quickly and can get back to hanging out with his friends).
  • Craig, 14, has his hands full catching up on 3 weeks' of missed school work, but he did enjoy reading the short story, The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell (a classic!) for his English class.  And, in a burst of inspiration (and an urgent need to get away from the TV!) this week, I set up lounge chairs outside in the sunshine for Craig and I and read aloud to him from Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book.  He was in the mood for something Halloweeny, and I think he enjoyed that little return to when we used to read aloud to the boys every night.  I know I enjoyed it!
I only posted one review last week, of Young Fredle, the middle-grade audio book.  But I also managed a couple of other fun posts:  My September Reading Summary and my first-ever post for Weekend Cooking.  Check it out to learn about my passion for food and cooking, and what I made for my family this weekend.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Weekend Cooking 10/14

Besides books and reading, another of my biggest passions is food and cooking, especially cooking extra-tasty and nutritious meals for my family, so I thought I'd try my own Weekend Cooking post, hosted by Beth Fish Reads (though I realize I am more than a little late this weekend!).

I do enjoy making up my own recipes (my Taste of Mardi Gras recipes were published in the February 2012 issue of Family Fun magazine *), but my main source for recipes is usually Cooking Light magazine.  I have been reading the magazine since 1991 and subscribed for many years, so I have over a decade's worth of issues lined up on a shelf in my kitchen!  And the crazy thing is that I refer to them every single day.  I just love their focus on great flavor while also cooking healthy food.  So, I'm really not much of a cookbook person, despite my love of books.

The other thing you should know about me food-wise is that for the past 2 years, we have been participating in our local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.  That means that each Monday, from June through the end of October, I drive to a local farm a couple of miles away and pick up our share of freshly harvested, organic veggies for the week.  I love this program!  The produce is so amazingly fresh and delicious.  However, it can be a challenge sometimes to figure out what to do with unusual veggies (like the kohlrabi in last week's pick-up!).  You can find a local CSA in your own area at the Local Harvest website.

Oh, I guess there is another thing you should know.  I have a chronic illness, a serious immune system disorder known by the silly misnomer Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).  That means two things with respect to food and cooking.  Although I love to cook, I can't spend a lot of time on my feet, so most of our meals need to be fairly quick and easy.  And my son (who also has CFS) and I are both trying a gluten-free, dairy-free diet on the advice of a specialist, so that makes cooking even more challenging.  I know I need to avoid dairy forever (or until a cure for CFS is found!) because I am actually intolerant to dairy since getting sick, but the gluten avoidance is more of a trial for now.

So, with that background, here is what I cooked for my family this weekend:

Friday night, after shopping in the morning, I needed something super quick and easy, so I made Sausage, Kale, and Bean Soup, a recipe from Cooking Light that I found in their online database, looking for a way to use our CSA kale that my family would actually eat!  I added chopped onion and carrot to the recipe, and I paired it with a loaf of whole wheat sourdough bread from Whole Foods (my one gluten splurge this week!).  It was a perfect dinner for a cool fall evening.  My husband and son did complain a bit about the kale, but overall, everyone enjoyed the soup.

Saturday, looking to use up some of the large volume of butternut squash we have from our CSA, I made one of my all-time favorite soups, Golden Winter Soup, another excellent recipe from Cooking Light.  I subbed coconut milk (the kind in the carton in the milk section of the grocery store, not in the cans in the Indian section) for the half-and-half called for in the recipe, and it was absolutely delicious - so rich and creamy - mmmm!  Since there's not a lot of protein in that soup, I made grilled ham and  cheese sandwiches for my husband and son (using reduced-fat cheddar and whole wheat bread).  For me, I tried making a faux grilled ham and cheese sandwich with gluten-free bread and soy cheese.  Yeah, it was about as bad as it sounds!  Good thing I included ham, mustard, and tomatoes on mine.  As much as I miss cheese, the fake cheese just isn't worth it.

On Sundays, our college-age son comes home to visit so I can refill his weekly medicine containers and give him his weekly B12 shot.  Well, mostly, he comes home for gluten-free/dairy-free pancakes (banana-chocolate chip today) on Sunday mornings!  So, I usually try to make something for Sunday night dinner that I think he will like (which usually means beef in some form).  Still having a surplus of butternut squash in the fridge, I tried Beef Tangine with Butternut Squash, another recipe from Cooking Light (seeing a pattern here?).  My husband and I thought it was absolutely delicious!  My younger son wasn't thrilled with the squash in it, but I served it over noodles (oops - another gluten cheat!) which won him over.  My younger son tasted the spicy seasoning suspiciously and said, "There's a spice in here I don't like - is it ginger?"  sigh...yes, it was ginger...and also cinnamon, which he doesn't like.  Can't put one past him!  Cooking for kids (even grown-up ones who are taller than me!) is a challenge sometimes.

Well, this was fun - I hope you enjoyed hearing about my cooking adventures this weekend.  Now it's time for our gluten-free brownies (Trader Joe's brand is sooo good!) with ice cream for the dairy eaters and Soy Delicious! coconut milk "ice cream" (which really is amazingly delicious) for me.  Hope you had a good weekend!

* Three of my New Orleans recipes published in Family Fun (which also happen to be three of my family's favorite meals!) are available online:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Books Read in September

September was absolutely lovely here - perfect weather with temperatures in the 70's and lots of sunshine and blue skies!  I finally got to spend a little time outside.

Lots of good reading in September, too.  I finished:
  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King, a genre-crossing novel about a man who goes back in time to try to stop JFK's assassination.
  • Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks, a historical novel set in the 1660's about a friendship between a native American boy and a Puritan girl (review to come this week).
  • 1NF1N1TY by Rachel Ward, book 3 in the teen/YA trilogy Num8ers.
  • Brave New World by Aldus Huxley, a classic that is frequently banned.
I also spent a week slogging through The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes for my neighborhood book group but finally gave up about halfway through. 

So, two grown-up historical novels, a teen/YA paranormal thriller, and a classic that defined the genre of dystopian novels.  What a great reading month!  I thoroughly enjoyed every one of these books.  It's hard to choose a favorite (the first two were both excellent), but I guess 11/22/63 would be my top pick for the month, classic King fare - engaging, compelling, and well-written.

 As for My 2012 Challenges, I added a couple of new states to my Where Are You Reading 2012 Challenge:  11/22/63 takes place in both Maine and Texas; and Brave New World takes place mainly in England (600 years in the future), but there are some key scenes that take place in New Mexico, so I counted it because I hadn't read anything set in New Mexico yet this year.  Is that cheating?  No, I don't think so!

I read my 6th dystopian novel for the year (Brave New World); I decided not to categorize 1NF1N1TY as dystopian because there is really no government or society in the book - it is more purely post-apocalyptic (and paranormal).  And I read 2 more books from my overcrowded TBR shelf, 11/22/63 and Caleb's Crossing, toward my 12 in '12 Challenge, bringing my total to 7 - I better focus on that TBR shelf for the last quarter!

All in all, a very good reading month!  What was your favorite book read in September?

Monday, October 08, 2012

It's Monday 10/8! What Are You Reading?

By some miracle, I am alone this Monday morning!  My son has been home for two weeks, recovering from knee surgery.  The pain finally subsided enough that he could manage without prescription pain killers.  He slept 16 hours Friday night and woke up feeling much better!  So, he finally went back to school this morning, and I am enjoying the rare quiet solitude.

I haven't had much time for blogging these past two weeks, but I used the weekend to catch up a bit.

Lots of great reading this week:
  • I finished reading The Chocolate War, a classic teen/YA novel by Robert Cormier, for Banned Books Week.  It's a violent but compelling story that takes place in an all-boys high school.
  • I am now reading Rule Number Two: Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital, a memoir by Dr. Heidi Squier Kraft.  My state's library system is focusing on this real-life look at a psychologist's experiences in Iraq (I am guessing to honor Veteran's Day next month), so I am reading this for this week's book discussion at my local library.  It's very good so far.
  • My husband, Ken, is now reading 1NF1N1TY by Rachel Ward, the exciting conclusion to the teen/YA Num8ers trilogy that I just finished last week!
  • Craig, 14, will be reading the short story, The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell, for his English class this week. Craig doesn't enjoy reading much, but I have told him this is a great story.
I did finally write some blog posts last week:  a Banned Book Week celebration at Book By Book and another post on kids'/teen banned books at Great Books for Kids and Teens.  I also posted reviews of two frequently banned books:  Brave New World and The Chocolate War. And, hopefully, I can get back into a more normal routine this week!

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kids/teen version hosted at Teach Mentor Texts.)

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Fiction Review: Brave New World

When I decided to read a book for Banned Book Week, it was easy to choose which one.  My son’s World Lit class his senior year of high school last year read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and I’ve been wanting to read it ever since.  I read George Orwell’s 1984 in 9th grade but never had a chance to read this classic satiric novel that launched the entire dystopian genre.

Brave New World takes place roughly six centuries in the future, in a world quite unrecognizable from our own.  In this fictional future, Henry Ford sparked a new era when he invented mass production and assembly lines; in fact, the world began an entirely new timeline, naming years AF for After Ford.  This futuristic world has taken the concepts of mass production and, to some degree, communism and applied them to people.  Passion – and anything that might inspire passion – has been abolished so that the world works in a very efficient and effective way.

Here, one of the leaders explains how their world works, in a rare honest moment:

“The world’s stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get. They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill; they’re not afraid of death; they’re blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they’re plagued with no mothers or fathers; they’ve got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they’re so conditioned that they practically can’t help behaving as they ought to behave.  And if anything should go wrong, there’s soma.”

Soma is a feel-good drug that is widely distributed to every citizen, after work, when they want to relax, or anytime they feel the slightest bit stressed.  On the surface, from this description, they’ve created a sort of utopia where everyone’s life is pleasant all the time.  Of course, that lack of distress comes at a price, but most of the world’s citizens are blissfully unaware of what they are missing.

The intricacies of this future world are explored through several main characters.  There is Lenina, an attractive, happy, perfect citizen, and Bernard, an associate of Lenina’s at the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre and her sometime lover, who is seen as strange and aloof by his colleagues.  Secretly, Bernard is unhappy with his life – a condition almost unheard of in his world – and he questions things that are not supposed to be questioned.

Lenina and Bernard take a trip to New Mexico to visit a Savage Reservation, a rare experience in this new world.  A Savage Reservation is, as you might expect, a wild preserve separate from the rest of the world, where Native Americans live as they have lived for centuries.  There, the couple meets John, a young white man who was brought up among the Indians.  The intersection of their very different lives allows the reader even more insight into the conflicts between the old world and the new.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Brave New World; it is incredibly clever, even funny, with a fascinating look into one possible future.  I was continually amazed that Huxley wrote this novel in 1931.  Some of his prophecies are surprisingly accurate, especially in terms of the progression of biological science.  Though we have not yet (and hopefully never will) advanced to the point where children are born out of bottles rather than wombs, he wasn’t too far off in terms of the science that now allows in-vitro fertilization and other modern miracles. 

His world is also populated by the usual futuristic technologies in terms of enormous skyscrapers and personal helicopters instead of cars; it seems a common futuristic theme that we will abandon the roads and take to the skies at some point.  His clever, satirical insight is also apparent in the influence of big corporations and marketing. This new world is thriving because it is driven by consumerism; for instance, the only sports allowed are those that require expensive equipment, like Obstacle Golf.

In other ways, Huxley’s prophecies are way off.  Writing this novel in 1931, he couldn’t have possibly predicted the role that computers and digital technology would play in the future, since they had not been invented yet.  And, his novel is largely a warning against some of the tenets of communism since that was seen as a threat at the time.  Interestingly, he wrote a commentary on his novel called Brave New World Revisited in 1958 that was included in my copy of the book (I haven’t finished that section yet).  Of course, in 1958, communism was seen as even more of a threat to democracy and freedom, and tiny, computerized devices inserted into every aspect of our society were still a long way off.

I have gotten so engrossed in discussing this fascinating, funny novel that I completely forgot to mention its status as a frequently banned book.  It’s easy to see why the censors of our society want to ban this book.  In this efficient future society, love and passion have been eliminated, but casual sex is not only encouraged but required (though there is nothing graphic in the book).  Quite logically, the founders of this society recognized that normal human sex drive is something that could create passion, and, therefore, instability, so they dealt with that hazard by making sex something very ordinary and a conventional part of daily life.  They removed the taboo of sex (and also its procreational aspect) so that it could no longer cause any disturbance in society.

Not only did I enjoy reading Brave New World, but, as you can see from my lengthy review, I was dying to discuss it with other people!  I do wish I had read it for a high school class, since I was one of those freaks who loved discussing novels in my English classes!  This is such a clever and thought-provoking book that it begs to be discussed and analyzed.  I’m so glad I finally got around to reading this dystopian classic!  Hmm….maybe it’s time to go back and re-read 1984 now.

199 words, Harper Perennial


Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Celebrate Banned Books Week

It's Banned Books Week!

Sheila over at Book Journey is hosting a celebration of banned books, with lots of links to other blogs and giveaways, so stop by!  And join in the fun yourself by reading banned books and/or posting about them this week.

I just finished Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and am now reading The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, both commonly banned books.  Look for reviews of those later this week, here and at Great Books for Kids and Teens.

Check out this list of the 100 most frequently banned books (from 1990 - 1999), compiled by the American Library Association (ALA) and this list of most frequently banned and challenged classics.  You will be surprised by some of the titles on these lists.  How many of these naughty books have YOU read??

From these two lists, I have read the following grown-up books (see Great Books for Kids and Teens' Banned Book post for the list of kids/teen/YA books read).  I linked to my reviews where they are available:
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (read for school in 9th grade)
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (read in high school but due for a re-read)
  • Earth's Children series by Jean Auel (must admit, that was a hot one)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (a favorite of mine)
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Cujo by Stephen King (I loved King in high school and read every one of his early horror novels!)
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (assigned to my son's World Lit class; I read last week)
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • The Dead Zone by Stephen King
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  • Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  • Jumper by Stephen Gould (a favorite of mine)
  • Christine by Stephen King
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (read for class in high school)
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (read in 10th grade for school)
  • 1984 by George Orwell (read in 9th grade for school)
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey (read for AP English in 12th grade)
  • The Call of the Wild by Jack London (read for school in 7th grade)
I have been a bad, bad girl!!

I was pleased to see that many of the banned books I have read (on this list and the one at Great Books for Kids and Teens) were assigned for school (mine or my kids'), so kudos to our schools for giving us a broad and unrestricted education!

Check out the lists to see how many banned books you have read...and select one you missed and head to your library!

Monday, October 01, 2012

It's Monday 10/1! What Are You Reading?

Happy October!

My husband and I celebrated our 23rd anniversary yesterday.  We actually managed a nice dinner out on our own Saturday evening and celebrated with a steak dinner at home with the kids yesterday.

We had a pretty rough week.  Our son's recovery from knee surgery has been more difficult than we expected.  He was finally feeling better and able to get by without narcotic pain killers on Saturday, but going to a bonfire party and spending the night at a friend's house knocked him out again.  He's still asleep now, but we are hoping he will be able to get back to school.  We know from experience that getting around on crutches is really exhausting for him.

Oh, and this is Banned Book Week so stay tuned for more on that this week!

We are reading:
  • Last night, I finished Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, in honor of Banned Books Week, and I really enjoyed it.  It was clever, funny, and surprisingly prophetic in some ways, especially for a book written in 1931.  I am still making my way through Brave New World Revisited, an analysis and reconsideration of the novel written by the author in 1958, which was included in my copy of the book.
  • Now I am reading a teen/YA novel for Banned Book Week, The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, another classic I have never read.  It's good so far.
  • I am still listening to Fredle by Cynthia Voight, an award-winning middle-grade audio book - it is very clever and cute, about a house mouse who must learn how to survive outside. 
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading Full Black by Brad Thor, a thriller.
Neither of our sons has had much time for reading, now that school is in session; Craig might have read last week while recovering from surgery (though he was too groggy much of the time), but he rarely reads anymore if not required to for school - whose child is this?

I finally caught up on some reviews last week; I posted a Did Not Finish Review of The Death of Artemio Cruz and a review of 1NF1N1TY, the exciting conclusion to the Num8ers trilogy by Rachel Ward, a favorite of mine.  And you can get a look at our newest family member, Lola, on my Saturday Snapshot!

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kids/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)

23 years and counting!