Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Maze Runner - Book Review

Read What I Want Month

My friend raved about James Dashner's dystopian young adult novel The Maze Runner. I've enjoyed several of the other dystopian series that I've read and I was anxious to read Dashner's work. Since it's still September and still "Read What I Want" month, I pulled The Maze Runner off the shelf this week.

Thomas wakes up alone in a dark box. He remembers only his name. Suddenly there are faces looking down at him--faces of teenage boys. Thomas has entered a new world and yet it feels eerily familiar. Each month for the last two years one boy has appeared in the box. The boys have formed a civilization of order and law. Their ultimate goal is to solve the maze that surrounds them and free themselves. But things are changing and the boys must work together more quickly now or die.

The novel is intriguing and mysterious and a little frightening. It fits nicely into the dystopian category while still being unique and very creative. Since it is written for a young audience, I especially appreciate that it is actually appropriate for a young audience. My ten year old is anxious to read it. I won't have any problem letting him do so.

Personally, I didn't enjoy it as much as other dystopian genre series but I do look forward to reading the next book in the series--The Scorch Trials. The third book in the trilogy--The Death Cure will be released in October.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sweet is the Work - Choir for General Relief Society Conference

The Morning Breaks - Choir for General Relief Society Conference

One Small Conference Miracle

I felt so honored and humbled to be invited to sing with the choir at the General Relief Society Conference. We've been practicing for months and the experience has been very exciting and spiritual. Every rehearsal with the beautiful, talented and funny Emily Wadley, our conductor, was a delight.

At first, I was just excited to be one voice blended with so many others who knew how to sing! It was also fun to stretch my own voice and remember how I once sang so much and so often and so high. Now days, the lullabies I sing my babies are in a much lower register.

The week after our first rehearsal I got strep throat. Nice. Still recovering, I spent more time at the second rehearsal listening rather than singing. I was moved by the power of the message in the music and the army of believing women. I thought of the number of children we were teaching in our homes. The service and time we were sharing with our neighbors, schools and communities. I was overwhelmed by the strength of these women and then I was reminded that we were just representatives of the thousands of other strong, believing women in our wards and stakes--just in one small geographic area. And then as I listened to the words of the visiting members of the General Relief Society board and read the first chapters of the new book Daughter of My Kingdom, which shares the history of the marvelous organization of the Relief Society, I remembered that we are not alone, though sometimes I feel that way, but that we are sisters with millions of other women across the world who believe in Jesus Christ and the restoration of his gospel. How absolutely glorious. I felt like singing.

Then, last week, just days before the dress rehearsal at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, I came down with a horrible head cold. I was stuffed up and gross and completely unable to sing. Utah Dad and a neighbor gave me a beautiful Priesthood blessing. His blessing assured me that I would be able to get through the mandatory rehearsal and that I would be able to sing again by the time of the performance.

At the dress rehearsal, I was overwhelmed by a coughing attack that I could not squelch with water or cough drops. I had to leave and watch the rehearsal from the wings where I would cease to bug the choir and not spread my disgusting germs but I could still hear the conductor and the instructions.

I went to the doctor on Monday and got antibiotics for the sinus infection that had developed. As each day went by and I continued to cough excessively and I was just very sick. Even on Friday evening, I was stuffed and coughing so hard by ribs hurt. I was so nervous and worried that I wouldn't be able to participate in the choir, but the words of the Priesthood blessing comforted me and I tried to have faith.
On Saturday morning, I woke up to get ready. I could breathe through my nose but the coughing persisted. My dear sweet children each knelt and said their own sweet and innocent prayers for me. My tiny girls knelt beside me reverently as I said my own fervent prayer. I filled my purse with cough drops and went on pure faith.

It was a miracle. I was able to sing with the choir. I must admit that I didn't hit the highest notes this time. Yet, I was able to sing. I didn't cough once during the entire performance at the General Relief Society Conference. It was beautiful and exciting and a very spiritual experience. Like everyone else, I especially loved President Uchtdorf's message. Glorious.

I am so very grateful for the opportunity and for the brief reprieve from my cold. I've been coughing like crazy ever since.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Like Water for Chocolate - Book Review

"Read What I Want Month"

I devoured Laura Esquirel's novel Like Water for Chocolate--a love song to food. Mouth watering and spell binding, this novel worked it's magic on me and I just could not put it down.

Tita is the youngest daughter and according to tradition, must stay with and care for her abusive mother. Fighting against her fate, Tita falls madly in love with Pedro. She will spend her life yearning for this futile relationship.

The reader gets to know Tita in the kitchen. The smells, tastes, and textures of food are her world. With a touch of mysticism, unknown even to herself, Tita infuses the foods she creates with her strong emotions and infects those who eat of her food with overwhelming feelings.

A lovely and unique novel about the power of love, Esquirel introduces the reader to compelling characters who fight against the odds to determine their own destinies. This sensuous novel was simply entrancing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Wedding Dos and Don'ts on my 15th Anniversary

Utah Dad and I are celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary today. We had hoped to take a cruise this year and tried to plan one with his parents who have been married 60 years on Friday and his sister and her husband who celebrated their 30th anniversary last spring. For lack of funding, most of us backed out. Utah Dad's parents are enjoying a cruise to Alaska in the stormy seas right now.

So, instead Utah Dad and I went out to dinner on Saturday night. Tonight we are enjoying a cozy evening at home. He beat me at The Farming Game.

We've had a mostly wonderful 15 years and I am so grateful to be married to my best friend. If I had to do it over, I would definitely marry him again.

Today, I've been reminiscing about our wedding day and the things that I liked and would do differently. I should say that my wedding and reception were very simple. I like that. We [my parents] spent exactly $2,400 TOTAL. I'm serious.

Things I really liked :
1. I look at my dress now and think "yikes" but it was the 90's and that style was in, so I'm OK with it. I rented it which is so nice because I don't have to store it in the back of my closet or try it on to see if it still fits and feel bad that it doesn't.

2. We got married in the Manti Temple on a Friday afternoon. Our reception was on Saturday. After the wedding and the pictures, we ditched our family and the rest of the day was ours.

3. I loved that we held the reception in my parents' backyard. It's one of my favorite places on earth and my family did a great job setting up. The weather was perfect that September. Just perfect!

4. The cake was beautiful and delicious. I wish we had eaten the top that night though. It didn't taste great a year later.

5. In spite of all the driving required of our guests, I'm still so glad we chose the Manti Temple as the location for our wedding. I am grateful, of course, to be sealed for eternity to my spouse. But there is a special, quiet and calm feeling at the Manti Temple, that I know doesn't exist during the hectic and rushed wedding season at the Salt Lake Temple. Also, my parents and grandparents were married there (later two of my brothers would also get married there).

Things I would do differently :
1. I would definitely hire a professional photographer. It's worth the cost.

2. I would have gotten my hair done by a professional. My hair was fine and hello! that veil-thingy was HUGE but it would have been fun to be pampered. Maybe I would have left my hair down.

3. If you've been to a LDS Temple Wedding, you know that typically the guests gather around the exit to wait expectantly for the bride and groom to make their grand exit. The photographer will be sure to capture this moment on film. You know this, right? Well, I didn't. I hadn't been to a temple wedding before my own. I went to get ready to leave the temple and Utah Dad went to get ready. I felt like I had taken forever and surely men were faster than women, so when I came down to the foyer and didn't see Utah Dad, I figured that he was already outside waiting for me. No one told me that I should wait for him. Not my mom. Not the workers at the temple. When I exited the temple, our families weren't waiting outside. I had to search for them. They were all playing on the hillside lawn. And Utah Dad wasn't with them. He was still inside the temple attempting to put on cuff links and a bow tie by himself. Feeling deserted, he wasn't exactly happy when he finally made his own way outside and found me hanging out with our families who were still playing on the hillside lawn.

If I could do it over, I would definitely make sure our families and the professional photographer were waiting excitedly just outside the temple doors as Utah Dad and I came out TOGETHER.

Since we can't go back, I'm just very grateful that we get be TOGETHER in this life and for all eternity. Fifteen years later, I'm still very grateful.

The Shadow of the Wind - Book Review

I took a little unplanned hiatus from the blog (and pretty much everything else) last week. I got a cold that mutated into a sinus infection. Lovely. Really lovely. Anyway, thanks to dear Utah Dad, I spent Thursday and Friday in bed. I was too sick to read. Seriously! Hard to believe, I know. The really sad thing was that I was right in the middle of a very exciting and mysterious book.

My former co-worker and friend recommended The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and I ordered it immediately. Then it sat on my shelf. You already know this story. But, remember I declared September "Read What You Want Month" just for this book.

The Shadow of the Wind is a dark, richly layered mystery that speaks right to the heart of the book lover. Daniel's father, the owner of a Barcelona book store, takes him one night to a mystical and secret place known as the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Allowed to choose any book as his own to protect and keep, Daniel chooses The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. Entranced by his new book, Daniel sets out to find other works by Carax only to discover that the books are being destroyed. The copy Daniel has may be the last Carax book that exists. As Daniel uncovers the mystery surrounded the author Julian Carax, he puts himself and his friends in danger but also reveals the direction of his own life.

Provocative and dangerous, Zafon writes a fascinating and glorious mystery. Daniel is surrounded by unique and perplexing characters--broken, brutal and haunted. Using just enough foreshadowing of peril and threat to keep the reader absolutely intrigued, the writer is taken deep into the shadows of a city struggling to return to it's pre-war grandeur. The city of Barcelona makes a fabulous Gothic setting and very nearly becomes a character in it's own right.

Zafon is a brilliant story teller. I can't wait to read his other novels.

Monday, September 12, 2011

March - Book Review

I have been lucky enough to have read some great books for reviews lately. Even so, I have a book shelf on the wall opposite my bed filled with books that I have been wanting to read. Some books have been on the shelf for quite awhile. Every now and then, when I'm in the middle of a less-than-enthralling-read, I find myself looking longingly toward that shelf.

I declared the month of September :
 "Read What I Want" month.

This month, I have been pulling books from that shelf in my bedroom. I started with March by Geraldine Brooks. Several years ago, I read Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. I loved it and so I added all her other works (fiction and nonfiction) to my wish list. I discovered March at a used book sale a year ago and it has been waiting on the shelf ever since.

March : A Novel finds Mr. March, the father of the March girls in Little Women, running for his life from the advancing rebels. As iconic literary characters, I loved Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy the first time I read Louisa May Alcott's novel as a young girl. I'm still a little upset that Jo didn't end up with Laurie. The only thing we know about Mr. March from Alcott's writing, is that he was a recently impoverished abolitionist who left his family to go serve with the Union army in the Civil War.

In her novel, Brooks tells Mr. March's story at war. Using journals and information about Louisa May's father Bronson Alcott, Brooks imagines a fascinating and idealist character who strives to further his righteous cause. During the war, Mr. March will encounter people and situations that do not always fit so easily into his ideals. He will also witness the atrocities and horror of war and slavery. He is changed and broken and must eventually rely on his family to help him heal.

Geraldine Brooks is a brilliant writer. Well researched, she takes a minor character in beloved literature and brings him to life. Staying true to Alcott's work, Mr. March is completely believable as the father and husband of the amazing women that inhabit Little Women. The plot is also well developed and Brooks exposes the barbarity of war and slavery. While these are not new themes, Brooks writes of them in a fresh style, showing them through the innocent and optimistic eyes of Mr. March, who as a Transcendentalist in Concord, Massachusetts spent time philosophizing with Emerson and Thoreau.

March, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel is amazing literature in it's own right and will find a place next to Alcott's novel. I might have to dust off my copy of Little Women and read it again. I have no doubt that Brooks' novel will forever change the way I read the classic.

Please "Bless" the Food

On Saturday night, I sat squirming on the hard chair during a marriage enhancement fireside (cleverly disguised as a "date night"). The speaker occasionally reminded us that the refreshments had already been blessed so we were free to get up at any time and sneak to the back for a brownie. I began to wonder why and when we started the tradition of "blessing" the food (clearly my mind was not fully engaged on the actual topic being discussed).

I completely understand why we give thanks for the food we eat. After all, God has blessed us with each morsel and we should be grateful. But I'm curious about the casual words that so many of us (my family especially) use in the blessings on the food--"Please bless the food to be nourishing and strengthening to our bodies." 

I get why we might say something similar to this in the blessings on the daily meals. I guessed that perhaps the practice began in hard days when families didn't have enough and they fervently hoped that the watery cabbage soup would fulfill the needs of their hungry family. To me, this makes sense. Even today, as a mother, I truly hope and pray that the food I provide for my family is healthy and sustaining (although on the occasional nights when I feed them nachos or cold cereal, I might be stretching the limits of possibility).

Turning to the scriptures, I discovered that the practice of blessing our food is actually much older and was set forth in Exodus 23:25 : "And ye shall serve the Lord your God, and he shall bless thy bread, and thy water; and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee."

But why do we bless the brownies? What exactly do we hope to accomplish?

* Please bless this brownie that only a small portion of the calories will turn to permanent fat on my butt.
* Please bless this cookie that it will provide some of the nutrients that I lack because I didn't eat all my vegetables at dinner.
* Please bless this brownie that the chocolate will satisfy some deep and hormonal craving--that my mood or the mood of my spouse will suddenly improve.
* Please bless this cake that, even though I devour three pieces, it will not cause abdominal pain and/or heart burn.
* Please bless these refreshments that they will provide a sugar "buzz" so that the people will return to the next meeting so that they may partake of the promised refreshments.

The audacity. (The brownies were good. I grabbed one as I snuck out early.)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Ago

Utah Dad and I were sleeping in that morning. Utah Dad didn’t have to be to work until 11 o’clock. Neal was just three months old and he had woken up, nursed and gone back to sleep in between us in the bed. The phone rang and since it was on my side of the bed, I answered it. It was Randy’s dad. He asked if we were watching the news. I said no. He told me to turn it on immediately and then he was gone. We had our little old TV in our bedroom then. Utah Dad turned it on and of course we saw live feed from New York City. The second airplane had already struck the buildings, so it was obvious that it wasn’t just an accident. We watched in silent horror. I remember calling my dad. He was at work and didn’t have access to television, but he was listening to the news from somewhere—internet or radio, I don’t know for sure. I was on the phone with him when the first tower fell. I described it to him as it happened. It seemed to me like watching the demolition guys implode an old building. Utah Dad and I couldn’t believe what had just happened. Our horror turned to grief and fear. I cried. I just couldn’t imagine why anyone would do such a thing.

I drove Utah Dad to work in Dover. We listened to the radio all the way. The reporters on the radio seemed to be in panic mode. They were reporting downed airplanes all over the country. We were really scared by then. After I dropped Utah Dad off at work, I drove home in a daze. I can still remember driving up the Spaulding in a thick corridor of trees, listening to the radio and wondering just what was going on.

Neal and I went home and watched the continuous news coverage for the rest of the day. I was glued to the television.

Neal and I went to Relief Society Homemaking that night. It seemed strange—like I was walking around in a dream. Most people seemed too normal. No one really mentioned the events in the morning and I wondered if I was the only one who even knew it had happened. Maybe it was just a dream.

As the days went on and more and more about the events were discovered, Utah Dad and I were dismayed to learn that some of the terrorists had spent the previous night in Portland, Maine. They had driven on the same roads that we frequently drove on. They had passed through our state on their way to Boston to fly out of the airport we frequently used.

Thank goodness, no one we knew was really intimately affected by the tragedy. We had a friend in Cambridge whose husband was flying from Boston to Los Angeles that day. She had several terrifying hours until her husband was able to let her know that he was all right—his flight had been diverted to Detroit. Utah Dad had friends from Chatham, New Jersey who were affected. Some of their lives were miraculously saved that day. But we mourned anyway. We mourned with those who lost family members and we mourned for our country and we mourned for our lost innocence.

Because they traveled extensively for work, I called my friends at Measured Progress, where I had worked, to make sure everyone was safe. They were. One team was grounded in Utah, where they had been working. The men and women rented cars and raced across the country to get home.

Neal and I spent our days watching the continuous coverage. We were proud of President Bush and Mayor Guilliani. We were proud of the people on the United Flight who stood up and saved people while sacrificing their own lives. We were proud of the heroic fire fighters and police officers. We were proud of all the Americans who donated and who rushed to volunteer.

I felt a strong need to be in contact with my family during this period of time. I talked to my mom on the phone at least once a day.

The following Saturday, was really our first day to get out and face the real world again. In some ways, I felt like there was no way we could get back to real life. Another part of me was anxious to return to real life—to prove to the terrorists that their plot to scare me had failed. We dressed Neal in his America t-shirt and enjoyed the perfect autumn weather in New England.

We had another decision to make. We had plans for Neal and me to fly to Utah on September 17th—one week and a day later. We were nervous. For one thing, we weren’t sure the airlines would even be flying yet—they had been grounded. Then, it was announced that the airlines would begin flying again on the 16th. I was anxious to go visit family in Utah. We decided that I should fly. As planned, Utah Dad would join us the next week.

Utah Dad drove Neal and me to the Boston airport the morning of our flight. The airport was surprisingly empty. We watched the armed National Guard walking around the terminal. They were doing extra checks on luggage. I noticed that one old lady had her aerosol hairspray can confiscated. The man at the check-in counter was very kind and even suggested that I take Neal’s car seat on the plane even though I hadn’t purchased him a seat. Once we were on board, it was apparent why. The plane was nearly empty. I was flying on America West to Phoenix and then to Salt Lake City. An older couple boarded the plane but just before we were to leave the terminal they had to get off. He apologized to the flight attendants but said that he just couldn’t fly yet. They were understanding and helped him. Neal and I had our own row during the flight and I was very relieved that he was such a good baby. Several people commented about how good he was after the flight.

The events of that day were very influential on my feelings about moving back to Utah. I loved New Hampshire and wasn’t sure I wanted to leave. But I didn’t like being so disconnected from family and the safety net they provide.

It was a day that effected every person and I will never forget it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Winner of the Amazon Gift Card

The winner of the $15 Amazon Gift Card in the
Back to the Books Give-away Hop is . . .


Congratulations! Please send me an email with your contact information.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Lantern - Book Review

As soon as I read a review that compared The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson to Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, I knew I would have to read The Lantern. I love the psychological thriller Rebecca and looked forward to A newer work with a similar style. The comparison between the two novels is definitely deserved and Lawrenson even pays tribute to Du Maurier by having the main character and narrator of her novel read Rebecca.

While the similarities between the two novels are obvious and numerous, I wanted to enjoy The Lantern for it's own story and tried to divorce my thoughts from the plot in Rebecca. Not only was it possible, Lawrenson succeeded in writing a story that was fresh, riveting and eerie.

The unnamed narrator and the older man she has recently fallen in love with, though she has only known him for a short time, move together to a charming but dilapidated hamlet in France. Not only does she begin to wonder about this man and his former wife, whom he will not talk about, she suspects that the home is haunted by ghosts. Alternately, a second narrator, Benedicte Lincel, the former owner of Les Genevriers, tells of her own haunting experiences.

I love a good ghost story and The Lantern delivers. Lawrenson is adept at building the suspense and moving along the plot at a steady though slower pace, also reminiscent of Rebecca. Lawrenson also paints a lovely picture of the landscape and describes the distinct smells.There are some books that you can very nearly taste. The Lantern is a book with it's own scent. Invoking the senses, the reader easily becomes immersed in the luscious language and the suspicious thoughts of the main character.

I enjoyed the experience of reading The Lantern so much that I was disappointed that it came to an end. It's the type of book that remains on my nightstand for weeks after I've finished it and I'm reluctant to place on the shelf.

I received a copy of The Lantern in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received.