Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

This book was the January pick for my IRL book club. I have had this book sitting on my shelf for the better part of a year, but had yet to open it. I followed some of the hype that was generated by this book and was deeply saddened to hear that Randy Pausch died on July 25, 2008 leaving behind a wife and three children.

I was not sure going in, if I was going to like this book. I had heard some very mixed reviews and admit I was hesitant. Knowing that this book was written for his children, I started to think of what I would want to leave behind for my children if I knew that my days were very limited and coming to and end quickly. Would my thoughts be profound and have an impact on them when they got older, or would they shrug them off, would they be meaningful, or would they have preferred I spent my time differently... so many thoughts and I don't even have children yet.

I very much enjoyed this book, and hope that as Randy Pausch's children grow up, realize what a wonderful and loving father they were blessed with, who was taken away from them too quickly. There were moments in the book when I was get irritated with his arrogance, or lack of flexibility, but I never once doubted the love he had for his family. His lessons for life were pretty straight forward, but the stories he used to explain them made them great! Easy to understand and also motivational at the same time. It made me think about the things that I do, and why I waste time on the small things sometimes, without looking at the bigger picture.

Realizing that the theme of his book is about achieving your childhood dreams was a little far fetched for me. I think that some of the dreams I had as a child were good for me to have, but to actually do them all seems very unrealistic to me now. I think it's amazing that he was able to do so many of the things he dreamed about as a child. That shows great determination and perserverance.

There were two things that really resonated with me. The first was that he got married later in life. He was ambitious in his career and had just not found the right person yet. I think sometimes there is this untold pressure to marry young and start having children at a certain age and when that doesn't happen, it can cause disappointment and many questions. Not being married yet, I could appreciate his wanting to wait to find the right person, yet while he was waiting for that to happen, took that opportunity to do things for himself. Get himself the jobs he wanted and do some of the things he wanted. He was able to be a good uncle to his sister's children, and take them on small vacations and just spend time with them in general. This was important to me on a personal level, because I had an uncle like this. Who got married later in life, but was there with my brother and I as we were growing up. He was there to play with us, and take us with him to do things, and now that he has passed, we are able to tell his children about him. Which is both sad and a blessing. Like Randy, my uncle was taken early from his children and they may not have very many memories of him, so it is our job to tell them what he was like and share our stories with them. The second thing has to do with his niece and nephew. Right before taking them on vacation with him, Randy's sister was telling them not to spill anything in Randy's new car. Well, while this was happening, Randy turned around and poured a soda all over the backseat, explaining that it was just a car, and that it wasn't a big deal. This turned out to be a great thing, since on the way home, his newphew got really sick and threw up all over the backseat. Another example is when his wife backs into his car in the driveway and he explains that they don't need to get the scratches fixed, it's just a car, that gets you from point A to B and it's not how they claim their social status.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and for those of you who read it, hopefully you are able to connect with one of the many stories that he shares. There were so many great ones that I didn't even mention but connected to. I have a feeling that this book with stay with me for a while.

(224 pages)
January 2009

Echoes by Danielle Steel

This was the first Danielle Steel book that I have read in quite some time. It was recommend to me by a friend, and I have to admit, I loved it! I didn't want to put it down. It's a story about a German Jewish girl, Beata, who falls madly in love with a Catholic French man, Antoine, during World War II. Both of their families banish them when they want to get married. Hoping that as time passes their families will once again accept them, they give in to the strength of their love and decide to get married.

As their lives progress and they have children, they do not tell the children that they are 1/2 Jewish, considering the times and that all their lives they have been Catholic. Beata converted before they were married, and with everyone knowing that Antoine was Catholic, no one ever suspected differently. As the Germans start deporting the Jews, Beata reaches out to her family only to be denied access to them by her father, who said she is dead to them.

Beata's oldest daughter decides to enter the convent and when her mother refuses, she tells her she has been called and knows that is where she belongs. Soon after entering the convent, another sister is moved because she is a well known Jewish activist. She is considered a threat to the Germans and is moved in hopes of protecting the other sisters at the convent.

It is a very touching and heartbreaking story of trying to make it in a time where you religious denomination meant life or death. I have been on quite a war kick lately and this just happened to fit right in. There is also a hint of a love story for those of you who enjoy love stories. I myself love a good love story, but it's not a genre I could read every day.

(464 pages)
January 2009

Witch Hunt by Ian Rankin

What if the only person in the world who could answer the one question you have is a female assassin you have been tracking for years? If and when your paths cross again, will you be given the answer you so desperately desire to have, or will you not have that storybook fairytale ending? So many possibilities for Dominic Elder, who has come out of retirement to help the British police in their latest search for the woman known as "the Witch."

After making herself known to be in the area (blowing up the boat and crew who brought her to shore) all authorities are on alert. With the upcoming summit bringing several Heads of State to London to have dinner with the Queen, everyone is convinced that one of these diplomats is the intended target for the Witch. In the past, she has often followed through with the target she is given, and then once she has enough money, goes after a target of her own. Will this encounter be the same, and is her own personal target going to be Dominic Elder?

Dominic is given a chance to help educate a young and ambitious officer who is tiring of paperwork and ready to be in the field. At the insistance of Elder, the young officer is put into the field and sent on missions to find out any relevant information that was possibly missed. The young officer is greatly appreciative, but does not realize that he is in turn being used by Elder who since having retired from the force no longer has the power and insightes that he once had.

This suspenseful novel by Ian Rankin keeps the readers attention and has you trying to figure out when and where the Witch will strike again. As the story unfolds, twists and turns are presented to keep the reader on their toes and suspenseful awaiting the ending. This was my second book by Ian Rankin and I really enjoyed it.

(512 pages)
January 2009

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Wedding Belles by Haywood Smith

Wedding Belles was a book I picked up at the library for some fun, light-hearted reading and I loved it!! If you are looking for a funny, easy read about love, friendship and family, you should pick this up.

When your daughter tells you that she is getting married, it should be an incredibly happy time for you both, especially in the South! 27 year old Callie is thrilled to have found the love of her life and cannot wait to tie the knot. However, her parents are having a harder time wrapping their heads around the idea since her soon to be groom is her father's best friend.

Back in the day, Wade (the soon to be groom) was a wild man and an alcoholic, and the ladies of the Red Hat Club (Georgia, Teeny, Diane, Linda and Pru) know all about his wild man shenanigans, and conquests of the past, as well as the fact that he is an alcoholic with children who are not too far from Callie's age.

When your in love, does age really matter? How do you explain the connection you feel to someone else? How far will the ladies go to try to stop Callie from going through with this marriage?

The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman

This book was my pick for my IRL Book Club and I have to admit a part of me was really disappointed after I finished. Since around middle school, I have been very fascinated with the Holocaust and World War II. Not because I think what happened was good, but more along the lines of, how could something so incredibly awful happen and go unnoticed for so long. How does someone get away with trying to rid the world of an entire set of human beings because of their religion? I have so many questions and since I did not live during the time this happened, I rely on books, both fictional and non to try to gain more of an understanding to what really went on during this time.

One thing I really enjoyed about this book was the insight into the Polish view point. With the zoo being not far from the Warsaw Ghetto, it gives a different prospective than any other book I have read before. Diane Ackerman does a wonderful job describing the animals in this book giving you a connection to them. Her being a nature writer was great for this part of the story. However, this is also where I found the biggest disappointment to be. Her writing of the actual zoo owners (Jan and Antonina) is very lacking. You feel no emotional connection to the couple and their child as they harbor Jews and other people trying to escape the horrors of the Nazi Germans. Using the zoo as a safe house, was an ingenious idea and also very risky.

The relationship between Antonina and her husband Jan was kind of frustrating. He would go out of the house each day and work in different parts of the town making connections and helping to send signals for those who were needing a place to hide until further transportation was available. However, when Antonina did heroic things and stood in the face of a German and was calm and collected, he has no respect or praise for her. It always felt like he thought he was the only one out there doing anything or sacrificing himself that was so incredibly untrue. Even when Antonia is bed ridden with illness, she is still strong and in charge of the house and zoo where people are hiding.

Using the diaries from Antonina was a wonderful idea, but the information was put forth so harshly that you do not really get much insight into what was going on in their minds or hearts. Every item is just a fact. Don't get me wrong, I love facts and they do help to keep the story accurate, but it just left me feeling cold and disconnected with the story. As things were happening, I felt no connection to the character or what they must have been going through, which is something that I enjoy in books.

So, as a whole, the story in itself is a very powerful one. This family risked their lives to help others on their way to safety from the Germans during a time when being caught meant death. They knowingly sacrificed themselves for the greater good of others and that is a very admirable thing. All the lives that were saved because of people like them is wonderful.

Closing up the Book on 2008

Well, here I am 10 days into the new year and I'm finally ready to close the book on 2008. Getting sick is never fun, but when it happens over the holidays is can really be a bummer. I was sick through both Thanksgiving and Christmas, which in turn caused me to become delinquent with my library books. I cannot even remember the last time I had to pay a library fine.

2008 was a very big year for me in my book reading. I started blogging and actually made it through the whole year keeping a list of all the books I read. However, I did not write a review for each and every book, but will try to in 09 even if it's a short little blurb. I had always been curious how many books I read during a year, and this year was a big one. I ended 2008 with a total of 93 books. As much as I love reading, this kind of got to me. I was actually embarrassed to tell anyone how many books I had actually read. I have vowed this year to continue to read (because I love it), but to also make sure that I get out more and do more things with friends and family. For me, reading has always been a pleasure. It is relaxing and I love getting caught up in the descriptions and stories that are being told to me. Just something about turning the pages of a book that I love.

There are still a few books that I would like to review from 2008 that I thought were great reads. But for now, here is my list of book from 2008... all 93 of them!

1. P.S. I Love You by Cecelia Ahern
2. If You Could See Me Now by Cecelia Ahern
3. Rosie Dunne by Ceceila Ahern
4. Missing Persons by Stephen White
5. Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters
6. Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk
7. Five Things I Can't Live Without by Holly Shumas
8. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
9. Hello, Darkness by Sandra Brown
10. Rhett Butler's People by Donald McCaig
11. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
12. Interview With the Devil by Clay Jacobsen
13. The Dive From Clausen's Pier by Ann Packer
14. Dead Watch by John Sandford
15. Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed by Patricia Cornwell
16. Trace by Patricia Cornwell
17. The Last Precinct by Patricia Cornwell
18. Blow Fly by Patricia Cornwell
19. A Brother's Blood by Michael C. White
20. Blinded by Stephen White
21. Songs Without Words by Ann Packer
22. Something Blue by Emily Giffin
23. At Risk by Patricia Cornwell
24. Predator by Patricia Cornwell
25. Hornet's Nest by Patricia Cornwell
26. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
27. You Have to Kiss a Lot of Frogs by Laurie Graff
28. Black Notice by Patrica Cornwell
29. From Potter's Field by Patricia Cornwell
30. Fame (Series of 5 by Karen Kingsbury) *Part 2 (which I accidentally read first)
31. Forgiven
32. Found
33. Family
34. Forever
35. Redemption (Series of 5 by Karen Kingsbury) *Part 1
36. Remember
37. Return
38. Rejoice
39. Reunion
40. Unnatural Exposure by Patricia Cornwell
41. The Mephisto Club by Tess Gerritsen
42. Dry Ice by Stephen White
43. The Winds of War by Herman Wouk
44. All That Remains by Patrica Cornwell
45. War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk
46. Without Warning by Eugenia Lovett West
47. The Choice by Nicholas Sparks
48. The Inner Sanctum by Stephen W. Frey
49. Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk
50. Fresh Disasters by Stuart Woods
51. Tell No Lies by Julie Compton
52. True Evil by Greg Iles
53. Where Yesterday Lives by Karen Kingsbury
54. Between Sundays by Karen Kingsbury
55. Playing for Pizza by John Grisham
56. Final Betrayal by Elaine Taylor
57. You've Been Warned by James Patterson
58. The First Patient by Michael Palmer
59. 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper
60. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
61. The Celestial Bed by Irving Wallace
62. Fatal by Michael Palmer
63. Blacklist by Sara Paretsky
64. Conversations with a Fat Girl by Liza Palmer
65. Silent Treatment by Michael Palmer
66. My Enemy's Cradle by Sara Young
67. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
68. On Every Side by Karen Kingsbury
69. Bitter Medicine by Sara Paretsky
70. Miracle Cure by Micahel Palmer
71. Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult
72. Sala's Gift: My Mother's Holocaust Story by Ann Kirschner
73. Ride the Wind by Lucia St Clair Robson
74. The Fifth Vial by Michael Palmer
75. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
76. The Hot House - Life Inside Leavenworth Prison by Pete Earley
77. Nothing Lasts Forever by Sidney Sheldon
78. Stone Cold by David Baldacci
79. Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie
80. Book of the Dead by Patricia Cornwell
81. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
82. A Vengeful Longing by Roger Morris
83. The Wolves at the Door the True Story of America's Greatest Female Spy by Judith L. Pearson
84. The Christmas Train by David Baldacci
85. A Good Hanging by Ian Rankin
86. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
87. The Keepsake by Tess Gerritsen
88. Simple Genius by David Baldacci
89. The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman
90. Wedding Belles by Haywood Smith
91. The Collectors by David Baldacci
92. Dead Time by Stephen White
93. Hour Game by David Baldacci

There you have it folks! My list of books from 2008!! There are some really great ones in this list that you should pick up if you haven't had the chance! My bookshelves are overflowing with many more to recommend and hopefully 2009 will be just as great of a reading year as 2008 was.

So long 2008!