Monthly Archives: December 2013

Book Review: “A Christmas Carol”

Well, it has been quite the busy week. I missed my initial posting about this week’s reading, and instead spent a few days entertaining my family, who came out to visit for Christmas. We had a great Christmas, and the kids got a visit from Santa (he actually came to our house!). After the family left, I caught a bought of the flu, and have been battling a fever for the past few days. I have had plenty of time for reading, being stuck on the couch in my (new) heating blanket (thanks, honey!) for the last few days.

This week, I kept with the “Month of Holidays” theme for December, and tackled Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic A Christmas Carol.

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I had never read this book before this week, although (like most people) I know the story very well, having seen various movie adaptations over the years. One of my favorites was the one with Patrick Stewart, although my family has been watching a lot of A Muppet Christmas Carol recently.

I really enjoyed this book! Although I know the story, it was beautiful reading Dickens’ words. The story is a quick read, and very entertaining. It’s interesting to read the book and know what had been changed in the various movie adaptations, as well as what was kept the same (most of the dialogue). Ebenezer Scrooge is truly a loathsome character in the beginning of the novel, who experiences a sort of redemption though a supernatural experience. But was it ghosts, or was it simply a dream?

It’s amazing what a giant story Dickens manages to tell in a short 100 pages. All of his characters – from Scrooge to Fred, to the three ghosts – are all well developed, and a reader feels connected to them throughout the story. The book is just five brief chapters – the introduction, the visit from the first ghost, the visit from the second ghost, the visit from the third ghost, and the resolution – but those five chapters tell such an important story. It’s no wonder this book has stood the test of time, and become a permanent part of the Christmas season.

I’m sure you’ve seen a movie, but have you ever read A Christmas Carol? For me, this book inspired feelings of nostalgia remembering all the Christmases I’ve watched various movie adaptations with my family. Reading this book made me feel connected to something larger than my little Christmas gathering, and helped me remember that there are millions of people celebrating this time of year – many who have a special place in their heart for this story.

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Book Review: “Hot Chocolate for the Mystical Soul”

This week’s reading selection kept to our “Month of Holiday” theme for the month of December, but approached it in a pretty different way. The book for this week was a collection of stories addressing a more mystical side of life (and Hot Chocolate is totally appropriate for this month’s theme), and is entitled Hot Chocolate for the Mystical Soul by Arielle Ford.

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Okay – I’m not one for being inspired by the “inspiring” stories of others. I read ONE Chicken Soup for the Soul book, and it was not really my cup of tea. I have a hard time finding any kind of inspiration from other people’s experiences, and it leaves me rather empty. I’d rather spend my time reading some great historical fiction. This book, however, piqued my interest.

Hot Chocolate for the Mystical Soul includes 101 stories from people of different backgrounds, religions, races, countries, and upbringings, who have all had experiences with the otherworldly. This book included some pretty amazing stories – some unbelievable, some really heartwarming, and still some rather touching! My favorite story was one of a man who had a 4 year old girl who was interested in Egypt. He received an invitation to do a guest speech in Egypt, and was told to bring his family. He was given a business sponsor who also had a young daughter (5). When the two girls saw each other, they ran into each others’ arms, hugged, and both said, “I’m so happy to see you again.” These young girls had never met.

This story inspired some really poignant feelings in my heart and soul, because I believe in soul mates, and I don’t think they are necessarily romantic soul mates, simply people who have been in your past life, and who are now present in this life. This book was full of these kids of amazing experiences, which kept me reading into the late hours of the night.

My favorite aspect of this book was that you could never really get bored – each story was only a page long (maybe 5 tops), and every one was different! It was wonderful to hear from people from different countries who all had different belief systems, and yet they all had these otherworldly experience. For me, this shows how we are all cosmically connected, regardless of our backgrounds, distances, or beliefs!

I would recommend this book for anyone with an open mind. I will probably be passing this one on to my mom, who I know will appreciate it. It’s good for some light reading, and interesting even if you only have a few minutes at a time to read (because you can fit in one or two stories at a time). I probably won’t be picking up many more “inspiring” books, but I’m glad I read this one. That was the point of this book challenge – to expand my reading horizons!

Are you a fan of these kinds of “personal inspiring stories” books? Do you believe in otherworldly experiences? Have you ever had an otherworldly experience?

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Week 16 Reading: “Hot Chocolate for the Mystical Soul”

So sorry for the late post. My family and I had a VERY BIG weekend. Friday my husband and I went to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Saturday I went with my family and my friend Anna (and her family) to a beautiful Christmas event at a historic home (the Royal Governor’s mansion in North Carolina – Tryon Palace), and Sunday my two little girls had a Christmas recital. They are such great little ballerinas, and I was such a proud mom.

With all that excitement, I forgot to write about this week’s reading, which is the 16th of our “52 Books in 52 Weeks” challenge.

This week, we are keeping with December’s “Month of Holiday” theme by picking up something a little out of the ordinary. The selection is Hot Chocolate for the Mystical Soul: 101 True Stories of Angels, Miracles, and Healings by Arielle Ford.

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This book is a collection of stories about… well… angels, miracles, and healings. I found it in the “New Age” section of my local used book store, when trying to find something about how Yule (this Saturday!) inspired Christmas traditions, but no such luck. As I said at the beginning of this month, there was a woefully small amount of books embracing any other religion besides Christianity in this town (but what should I expect, here in the Bible Belt), and I had a hard time finding any “Holiday” related books that weren’t about Christmas.

I saw this book, and thought “Hot Chocolate is holiday related,” and that thought – coupled by my desire to at least attempt to acknowledge there are other holiday celebrations going on this time of year – lead to me buying this one. The $4.88 price tag didn’t hurt, either.

I’m not really one for the …For the Soul books. I never really feel all that inspired to read other people’s inspiring stories, but this one kind of piqued my interest in that it involves the mystical soul. Besides… hot chocolate is a lot more enticing than chicken soup (in my opinion)

I hope you’ll read along with me as we tackle this interesting book. Listen – it could be a MAJOR flop… it could be boring as can be, but I’m excited to give it a chance!

Happy reading!

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Book Review: “‘Twas the Night After Christmas”

This week we finished our second book of December’s “Month of Holiday” themed books, with Sabrina Jeffries’s paperback romance novel, ‘Twas the Night After Christmas.

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Okay, as I’ve said before, I am NOT a fan of romance novels. I find them tedious, ridiculous, and poorly written. I think trashy romance novels are a waste of reading time – why would I read a book with a cast of poorly-developed characters, who have a lot of sexual tension that boils over into a very brief, very disappointing sex scene? Why? For that very brief, very disappointing sex scene, I guess.

‘Twas the Night After Christmas was a story about a British earl during the last 18th Century who has been estranged – by suspicious circumstances – from his mother. He receives a letter that his mother is gravely ill, and decided to visit her before her death. When he arrives, he realizes it was just a clever rouse from his mother’s companion, the stereotypical “lonely widow with a child, who doesn’t understand how beautiful she is, and has, despite her previous marriage, never gotten in touch with her passionate, sexual side.” The two have an instant sexual attraction, despite the fact that they hate each other (… who possibly would have guessed?). They both need to overcome their fatal flaws – the Earl, his pride, the widow, her lack of self esteem – to realize that their attraction goes beyond the sexual. Blah, blah, blah.

I don’t know if you can tell, but I really wasn’t too impressed by this book. The characters are generic – attractive sex-god with a chip on his shoulder, virginal woman who doesn’t know her self worth, meddling old woman who wants to see everyone happy – and the “romance” is pretty basic. I did enjoy a few of the little twists Jeffries included in the plot, and I liked her few references to historical moments that were taking place at the time of this book (the publication of Twas the Night Before Christmas, for example).

Maybe I’m being too harsh on paperback romances. I tend to stay away from them because I feel like I’m looking for MORE out of my reading time than a generic plot, and two disappointing sex scenes. As pointed out by my lovely friend Alyssa (who is a big romance novel fan), that’s kind of the point of these books. They are light, they are easy to read, they have enough romance to live vicariously through without overwhelming our lives…

If you’re a fan of romance novels, you’ll like this book. Jeffries is a pretty decent writer (as if I could judge… I’m a reader, not a writer), and she has a way of making you stay involved in the story, even if you’re not too fond of it. If you’re looking for something “hot and steamy” this holiday season, I would recommend this book. The story is predictable, but Jeffries throws in enough “supporting” plot twists to keep you interested. This one was not for me, and this book will be making its way into a package to my friend Alyssa (meaning: I’m not keeping it on my shelf, or reading it again).

What do you think? Am I being too harsh on the genre as a whole? Have you read this book, and think you can defend its honor?

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Week 15 Reading: “‘Twas the Night After Christmas”

This week we are keeping with our Holiday theme, but picking up something a bit more… risque… then the normal, fluffy, sparkly Christmas stuff. For our 15th book for the “One Book Per Week For a Year” challenge, we are picking up a “paperback romance novel” called ‘Twas the Night After Christmas.

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This book by Sabrina Jeffries was a fun pick for me. My husband and I were cruising around Target at 9:30pm, and happened to wander in to their (shamefully limited) book section. There was an entire shelf full of romance books – everything from “harlequin” to Christian romance – and a HUGE selection of them were Christmas themed books. We had fun opening them up and reading random sections, blushing in the middle of the store, but enjoying the laugh. I mean, is anything cheesier than a paperback romance?

We settled on this one because it is a “period piece” (1850s), and the people on the cover had the least amount of clothing on of any of the books (that has to be good, right?).

I’ll be honest. I’m not a fan of romance novels. They are generally not very well written, the plots are usually just “fillers” between raunchy sex scenes, and the characters are generally unbelievable. Virginal woman seduced by a sex god, and somehow she breaks down his tough exterior and teaches him how to love… tell me that isn’t the plot of 95% of these trashy romance novels?

BUT – the point of this challenge was to expand my literary horizons, and I am doing just that. And who knows, maybe it will add a bit of heat in this cold season!

I hope you’re reading along! This book can be found at pretty much any book store, and you might be able to find it at your local library! Happy reading!

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Book Review: “Holidays on Ice”

Somehow I managed to get through my three major essays due this week! It was a rough one, but as always, I looked to a book to help motivate me! This week’s reading was perfectly up to that task! Our 14th book of the challenge, this week I picked up Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris.

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This book contains a collection of short stories – some truthful, some fictional – from Sedaris about the holidays. The first story, “Santaland,” is uproariously hilarious. I could hardly breathe for laughing so hard, and had a hard time reading out loud to my husband, who got quite the kick out of Sedaris’s story about working as an elf in SantaLand in Macy’s. Sedaris’s honest observations about the obsession with Christmas shows (in a very funny way) how silly we can all be at the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

Listen – this book is a winner! It’s intensely funny! Sedaris has a way of writing from the heart (and the funny bone). His writing style is easy to read, and his observations are astute. I had so much fun reading this book, and could not put it down.

This book would make a great holiday related read for anyone on your list this year – it’s a little bit naughty, and a little bit nice. I dare you to try to read this one out loud without laughing hysterically! I would recommend this book to anyone (over the age of 18) who needs a smile this holiday season, and desperately needs to escape the sugary coating we give to live this time of year!

Did anyone else read Holiday’s on Ice this week (or ever before)? Have you ever read anything by Sedaris before?

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I <3 Books

Just a little bit of reading motivation for today. I always feel guilty for the vast collection of books I have bought, that sit on my shelves unopened. I have all intentions of making my way to them one day, but for now, they just sit as “intellectual wallpaper” on my bookshelves. I used to see them as broken promises – promises I made to the author, the characters, the book, myself, when I bought the book. Now I see them as endless worlds I will one day be able to delve into.

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Week 14 Reading: “Holidays on Ice”

Well I’m super excited about this week’s book! It is the first of December’s “Month of Holiday” books! A comedy and a memoir from a very funny man, David Sedaris, who’s books I really enjoy reading! This week’s book is “Holiday’s on Ice.”

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The book is a group of short stories by Sedaris, memories about his holidays growing up. It is bound to be funny, and the artwork on the cover (a lovely glass of something alcoholic) hints that Sedaris had interesting family experiences during the holiday! I am really looking forward to getting some laughs from this book!

If you chose to read along and pick up this VERY skinny book, please don’t persecute me! It is finals week and I have three MAJOR essays due! I’ll be writing approximately 20 pages of research paper for my classes, and I purposely chose a small book so I could focus on my papers instead of on trying to make my way through a huge novel. I also chose this book specifically because I think it will provide some much needed comic relief from my hectic and stressful week.

It wouldn’t be the holidays without being hectic or stressful, now would it?!

I hope you’ll join me this week to enjoy the comedic stories by Sedaris! I have previously read (well, listened to on an Audio Book) his book Me Talk Pretty One Day, and my husband and I were laughing out loud hearing Sedaris himself read his very funny book! I can’t wait to pick this one up, and I hope we can be laughing out loud together!

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Book Review: “The Sea Shall Embrace Them”

So sorry for the delay in releasing this week’s book review. My family (husband and two children) and I spent our entire day (16 hours) in the car, making our way from my in-laws in Arkansas to our home in coastal North Carolina. It was a long drive, but we’re home safe, and ready to get the holiday season kicked off properly by putting up all our holiday decorations this afternoon.

This week was challenging for me to get all my reading done. Not only did I have a novel’s worth of reading for this challenge, I had a novel to read for my 17th and 18th Century British Literature course, Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews. I could very well have “doubled up” again this week (and would have if I knew a month ago what I know now), because Joseph Andrews was not only a story of a young man traveling from the busy city of London to a home in the countryside, but a coming of age story (which is travel in it’s most important form). 

Without further ado…

This week, the final of the November “Month of Travel” reading, and the 13th book of our challenge, we tackled David W. Shaw’s historical novel The Sea Shall Embrace Them: The Tragic Story of the Steamship Arctic.

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This novel came as a recommendation from my stepfather (hi Grant!) for my husband (the man-boy who doesn’t read… at all). It’s a dramatized telling of a very true story that takes place in 1854, and tells of the tragic collision between two steamships. Shaw and the reader follow the steamship Arctic from its beginning to its destruction, and tells a harrowing tale of the lives lost in the cold Atlantic ocean.

What a sad, sad story! It is truly heart wrenching to read this story. Shaw introduces a cast of characters who were easy to relate with, and hard to say goodbye to. I found myself having moments of anxiety, sorrow, shock and heartbreak while reading this story! Much like watching Titanic, this book tells of a massive destruction and really puts into perspective the loss of life – and how so many people can come to a watery grave in a matter of hours.

I found it shocking to read about the death toll – 400 people were killed in hours, plunged into the cold sea, or dragged down by the sinking ship. Of the survivors (86 in total) only 33 were passengers, and not one woman or child made their way onto the lifeboats. It was so sad to read about men – sailors at that – pushing women and children out of the way (and into the water) to gain a spot in the lifeboat. The resolute Captain Lace fought for the women and children, but was overcome by the desperation of the crew.

While the story was terrific, the writing was brilliant! Shaw really sucks you into the story, making his characters seem like people you have always known, and making the setting feel like you’re there along side the captain, crew and passengers. Shaw did spend a bit of time in the first quarter of the book describing the history of steamships, the Collins line (the company that owned the Arctic) as well as the history of the captain and the ship herself. I felt this was all pretty unnecessary to the story, but it provided a good foundation for the reader to build upon and truly understand the massive devastation the collision caused on both a personal and business level.

I really enjoyed this book, and found the roller coaster of emotions were heightened by the realization of “This story is true! These people all experienced the fear and anxiety and acceptance of their fates!” How terrifying! I am hoping I can convince my husband to pick it up at some point – like me, he is a fan of history, and nautical and military history are his areas of interest.

Did you enjoy the book? What part did you find particularly interesting?

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