Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Decatur Book Festival Highlight: Who I'm Going With

If you haven't noticed yet, I'm pretty excited about Decatur Book Festival this weekend.  I've already shown you all my books, so today I want to tell you about how I'm actually twice as excited about the people I'm going with.  Hard to believe, but true.  I'm having the chance to meet some of the girls from my internet book club (NBC Shoutout!) who I never actually thought I'd get the chance to meet along with some of my other "internet" best friends, who have become real life best friends.  And of course I'm bringing along Luke and Bestie.  Luke and Bestie don't have blogs though, so you'll have to be satisfied with links to the blogs of the girls I can't wait to meet (and Crystal and Heather who I've already met!)

You guys have heard me gush about Crystal on here before - she only lives a few hours from me and we first met up in real life about a year and half ago.  And she is awesome - she recently raised a TON of mony for tornado victims in AL with All 4 Alabama, which was a huge success.  And I count her among my personal best friends ever.  Her blog is Life, Love, and Literature.

I also got to meet Heather, of See Heather Right, about a year ago.  She is also amazing and she went with me and Crystal and two other Nesties to DBF last year.  I haven't had a chance to see her in many months and I cannot wait to hang out with her again.

Also, remember how I'm always gushing about Jacki at Lovely Little Shelf?  She's coming!  I'm so excited that we're finally going to get to meet in real life - her blog is one of my all time favorites.  I actually tried like six times to nominate her for a Book Bloggers Appreciation Week award and could never get the nomination form to work.  Sorry Jacki - but I really did try and more than once!

Another favorite blogger is Jennie at Life Is Short, Read Fast.  Jennie just redid her home library with her books organized by color and it looks amazing - obviously great minds think alike (Jacki's are also organized by color in case you were wondering - we're all cool like that).  Also Jennie and Jacki both are from the midwest and I can't wait to hear them say "pop" instead of "coke".  And force feed them real grits (I mean what?  No, I'd never...)

Tameka (Imperfection Is The New Pink) is another awesome blogger I'll get to meet for the first time and a Nestie friend from way back.  We haven't met yet, but guys Tameka just makes me happy.  I feel like she radiates happiness - when I was thinking of how to describe her on here it's the first word that came to mind.  Also, she sent me Zombies vs. Unicorns AND Anna and the French Kiss - what's not to love?

And, the cherry on the pie of my DBF experience is that Ashley from That's Life is coming.  All the way from Canada.  What?  I know.  I'm not sure what Canadians say for coke, but I totally intend to find out.  Ashley is another NBC friend I've "known" online for several years and she's one of the sweetest, most real people I know. 

So there you have it.  Who I'm going to DBF with - in my post-DBF summaries I'll be linking up to them again and of course posting tons of pictures (if I'm not having too much fun to take them).

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book Review: The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard

I'm normally pretty into the whole family secrets type book, so this is one that I immediately marked on my TBR list on Goodreads.  It's about two girls who are born on the same day at the same hospital in the 1960's.  The girls have very little in common, but their lives are connected as they grow up and into adulthood through various family ties and one big family secret.  Unfortunately, this one really didn't work for me.

Nothing spectacular.  No issues with sentence structure, grammr, typos, etc, but the plot itself just wasn't that interesting.  Throughout the book I had an idea of where the build up to the big secret was headed, but I kept telling myself no.  The ending I saw coming was way too cliche, too improbable, too predictable, etc.  And yet, that was the ending the author chose.  So I felt like the build up through the entire book to the revelation of this secret was not all that successful. 

Entertainment Value
Also disappointing.  The secret that is used to draw us into the book is a little bit deceptive - the book is very much character driven as opposed to plot driven.  This can work very well, especially in women's literature, but only if the reader cares about the characters.  Unfortunately, I didn't really care about anyone in this book.  So reading lots of small stories about the two main characters growing up and coming of age really wasn't all that interesting because I didn't especially like either of them.  In a weird, oxymoronical way it made for a slow fast read.  Fast read because it wasn't challenging intellectually so I read it in just a few hours.  Slow because while I was reading I was bored.  Those few hours felt like days.

Overall, disappointing.  I hate to say so because it was sent to me by Trish from TLC and I LOVE Trish and TLC Tours, but this one just wasn't for me.  If you're looking for a good family secret/ women's lit novel, I recommend The Distant Hours by Kate Morton (for a more gothic take) and The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen (for a lighter take).

Monday, August 29, 2011

Decatur Book Festival Highlight: What I'm bringing

I've been putting together my collection of books that I'll be taking with me to DBF this year and I've come up with quite a stack.  Two trips to McKays and quite a bit of online shopping, plus rounding up what I already owned and here's what I've come up with:

All of Joshilyn Jackson's books: The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, Gods in Alabama, Backseat Saints, and Between Georgia.  I actually have two copies of Gods in Alabama, so maybe I'll get them both signed and give one away here!  Maybe.  Or I might just hoard them all.
Seriously Funny, a collection of poems edited by Barbara Hambry and David Kirby.  Neither of them will be at the festival this year, but I'm fairly certain some of the poets in the anthology will be - maybe I should double check that...

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins and Hourglass by Myra McEntire

Teach Me by R.A. Nelson and Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Sweetly by Jackson Pearce and Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

Geektastic (stories by Libba Bray) and The Bermudez Triangle (because there are rumors that Maureen Johnson will be there, so I'm coming prepared)

Swamplandia by Karen Russell and Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh

Zombies Vs. Unicorns, stories by Libba Bray and Maureen Johnson
Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff and Coming Up For Air by Patti Callahan Henry

Everything by Mary Kay Andrews I could get my hands on: Hissy Fit, Little Bitty Lies, Blue Christmas, Savannah Blues (two copies, I have to decide which I like more)

And here it is all together.  I'm still waiting for at least one more in the mail - Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

In My Mailbox (22)

It's late and I'm reading a good book so tonight is going to have to be a quick post and run.  Here's what I've received/bought over the past two or three weeks:

For Review:

40 Love by Madeleine Wickham from LibraryThing's early reviewer program

Bought at McKays

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven by Sherman Alexie
Hater by David Moody

Shopping In Space: Essays On America's Blank Generation in Fiction

I've actually bought quite a few others recently as well, but I'll be posting those tomorrow in my "I can't wait for DBF" post.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Book Review: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Reader Friends, I have good news.  As of today, Luke and I are the proud owners of a new and working air conditioner.  We even have a fancy digital thermostat now.  True, we will be eating ramen noodles and Cheerios for the next six months, but the important thing is that our indoor temperatures will not be approaching ninety by 9 AM (yes, that really happened today).  So now that I am A) not suffering from heat stroke just from walking up the stairs and B) not dreading the misery of another night on the fold out basement couch with the dogs, I feel like blogging again.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion is an amazing meditation on grief, written after a particularly devastating year in Didion's life.  While her daughter was in the hospital in a coma after suffering from a sudden onset of flu, which became a full body infection that threatened her life, Didion's husband had a heart attack and died suddenly and unexpectedly in their home.  Didion's daughter recovered, only to have a massive hematoma months later.  Again, she almost died and spent months recovering.  The Year of Magical Thinking is a re-examination of this year by Didion, with thoughts and feelings on grief and mourning.

Beautiful.  So, so beautiful.  I've read some reviews that mention the repetition of certain words and phrases throughout the book as a negative, but I thought they really pulled it all together - and fit the theme of grief so well.  There are phrases and thoughts and senses that repeat themselves endlessly as people grieve and I think Didion captures this with her use of repetition in the book.  It also addressed a topic that, as Didion mentions in the book, isn't frequently written about.  There are lots of "how to" type books dealing with grief, but books that anthologize grief or just chronicle what it means to lose are few and far between.  The examples Didion gives - the poetry of W.H. Auden, A Grief Observed, etc - are all excellent selections and I would add her own book to that list of literary meditations on death.

Entertainment Value
I'm not really sure how to describe the entertainment value of a meditation on death.  It's kind of like saying a Holocaust documentary was really entertaining.  It's moving and touching, but it's not a pleasure read.  It's not a thriller or a comedy or something light and easy to skim through.  I had to listen to it piece by piece.  I almost stopped at the beginning - of course I couldn't help but wonder how I would react to losing Luke and the thought is overwhelming.  I stuck with it though, just limited my time listening to it.  It took a while longer, but it helped me enjoy it a lot more than I think I would have otherwise.

A lot of the reviews I've read on GoodReads really bothered me.  I felt like reviewers who described Didion as "cold" and "detached" didn't understand the purpose of the book.  The book is a literary examination of grief and, as such, it totally succeeds.  I cried, but I can see why other people didn't.It's not meant to be a tear-jerker.  If you want to read a book with moving romantic speeches and last moment declarations of love, go read a Nicholas Sparks novel.  If you want to read ten steps to dealing with grief, this is also not the book for you.  If you want to read a personal examination grief and mourning from a literary point of view, this one is ideal.

Other reviewers complain that Didion name-drops or that she writes about living a luxurious lifestyle.  Guess what children?  Rich people and famous people experience loss too.  It's not just the middle and lower classes who lose husbands and children.  So don't get all high and mighty about how she has a plane to fly her daughter cross country after she comes out of a coma.  Yes, she is rich.  Yes, famous people speak at her husband's funeral.  She is Joan Didion and she was married to John Dunne.  She's allowed to experience and chronicle her grief the way it happened and I'm willing to bet that she would trade all the money and all the famous friends in the world to have her husband back.  Her life circumstances don't dictate her ability to chronicle grief - and I think accusing her of name-dropping or trying to show off her lifestyle is just plain tacky.

I don't think they could have picked a better narrator than Barbara Caruso.  I loved her voice and the way she read the book fit perfectly with the purpose of the book.  It was appropriately intimate and thoughtful and I could picture the narrator as Didion herself speaking to me.  I highly recommend the audio version of this one, but I also won't be giving up my print copy.  It's good enough that I want it displayed on my shelf and kept around for a reread.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Review-a-Thon Fail

I was so close to success at Jacki's Review-a-Thon, but I just didn't quite make it Reader Friends.  Saturday was the last day and I never posted my seventh review.  You're probably wondering why I didn't just post something, anything, and I will tell you because I know you are fascinated by the minutiae of my life.

My worst nightmare came true.  Ok, not my worst nightmare (the one where I'm babysitting for one of the Chipettes and she falls into a fire and it's all my fault or the one with the spider or the one with the serial killer) but something that makes me want to curl up into a little ball and cry until I have no tears left.  Our air conditioner broke (yes I know, very first world problem, but let me have my angst).

By the time we got home and realized it was broken on Friday night, it was over 85 in our upstairs and the humidity was suffocating.  Thankfully, our downstairs unit is separate from our upstairs unit so the basement was bearable.  And by bearable, I mean I have for some time now given it over to the devil  dogs and it is disgusting.  Also, because of the little devils  sweet puppies, it is stinky and set up with garage sale furniture that is quite possibly older than me.  So Friday night was lovely - we slept on the million year old fold out couch with a matress about a half inch thick and listened to the little angels snore all night.  But it was better than dying of heat stroke which is what would have happened had we slept upstairs. 

So Saturday was basically spent doing two things: laying on the fold out couch watching awful tv shows in my underwear and feeling sorry for myself and dealing with the air conditioning man.  It turns out that our 11 year old system isn't made anymore so the parts we need to repair it are also no longer made.  So this week we will be getting an brand new system that is going to cost an absolutely ungodly amount.  I could get another college degree for the amoung of money we are having to spend here. 

Obviously, with no air upstairs and the temperature of the upstairs around 90 for a large portion of the day, I did not go up to use the computer.  So no review.  Our new unit is getting installed tomorrow and they were able to put a part on that is allowing our AC to function for now, so we can actually use the bathroom and cook food and sleep in the bed again.  But this is still not cool at all.  Oh and our garbage disposal randomly stopped working too.

All of that long story to say, I don't have a post for today either.  My brain is exhausted from the pity party it has been throwing since Friday night.  The good news is that our downstairs is now spotlessly clean.  I even cleaned the baseboards.  Let me just say, if you want a nice, clean basement/media room, don't keep two dane puppies in it.  On the other hand, I feel fully prepared for the disgusting messes that will come with parenthood - I figure that our 250 lbs worth of combined dane can poop, destroy, and cause more havoc than any baby.  So there, in a nutshell, is my weekend.  I'll try to come up with something book related for tomorrow unless I have been incinerated by my home or something.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Book Review: You Don't Sweat Much For A Fat Girl by Celia Rivenbark

So it's a well-known fact that I'm a humongous fan of Southern literature and especially Southern humor.  I mean, how can you not love the title of this book of essays from Celia Rivenbark?  I've read Rivenbark's other books (which have equally amazing titles) and have enjoyed her humor for several years now, so I was excited when Tanya at Wunderkind PR offered me a chance to review this one.  And it met and exceeded all of my expectations.  I picked it up last night expecting to read an essay or two before falling asleep and ended up staying up half the night and reading the entire thing.

Writing/Entertainment Value
I've said it before, but it's really hard to judge the writing of humorous essays.  Either you think the writer is funny or you don't - so I combined the sections for this one.  Rivenbark's humor succeeds for me because I find her entertaining.  Whereas a work of fiction can be well-written but dull, if you find humor dull, it's usually because you don't share the author's sense of humor and therefore don't appreciate the writing.  All of that to say that Rivenbark totally shares my sense of humor.  She's sassy and snarky, but with an air of Southern charm that keeps her sarcasm from being too bitter.  She's also smart and irreverent and her jokes are relatable and relevant.  While this is a good example of Southern humor, it's also relatable on all levels, so I don't think it's going to come across as something that only Southerners will get - Rivenbark examines yoga and tweeting and politics and pop culture that are going to appeal to everyone.

If you've got a smart and somewhat snarky sense of humor, you're going to like this one.  There were several points where I actually laughed out loud and then had to go back and explain why I was laughing to Luke because he hates not being in on a joke.  This one just came out this week, but it's reasonably priced online, so I highly recommend going ahead and giving it a try.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Book Review: One Nation Under Dog

I have always and forever considered myself a complete and total cat person.  Sly has, since the 6th grade, been my one true pet love (I know - he's old).  But then we got Dex.  And he was so cute my icy cold kitty only heart melted a little bit.
And then.  Then came the Chief.  And Chief was MY doggy.  Now don't get me wrong.  I'm still a cat person.  I'm serious.  You may not think so what with all the puppy pictures I post and my adoration of this baby, but seriously, look how cute:
ANYWAY, what I'm saying is, I still don't like other people's dogs.  Especially if they are big (I know, hypocritical much?).  I still do not think I'm a dog person - I just happen to be head over heels in love with these two particular dogs.  So I felt like given my sudden interest in all things doggy, I should give this book a try.  I saw it on a friend's GoodReads feed and knew I needed to read about these crazy people who take their dogs to agility classes and buy them ridiculously expensive premium grain-free dog food and don't let them eat rawhide because organic bully sticks are better for them.  Crazy people I say!

So, basically, this book is an exploration of all doggy culture - the dog parks, the leash laws, the puppy clothes (too bad they don't make dane sized rain jackets and stuff or my pups would be decked out), the boutiques, the training, etc. 

Excellent.  The author is easy to read, relatable, and cites his sources.  He doesn't write from a snotty "can you believe these freaks" point of view, although he does highlight some pretty crazy behavior (puppy showers for new pet owners).  He has an "aren't we crazy" tone as opposed to "aren't YOU crazy" tone that I really liked.  And yeah, dog owners (including myself, I will grudgingly admit) can be our own very special breed (terrible pun intended).

Entertainment Value
Again, loved it.  I really want Luke to read it too, but I'm not sure it's his thing.  I was calling him every few minutes as I read to tell him fun facts, though, and we are both crazy about the whole dog parenting thing (yes, we call ourselves mommy and daddy). 

If you have a pet, especially a dog, and especially a pampered dog, you'll love this one.  Even if you don't, I think if you like animals you'll get a lot out of reading it.  It's a great examination of people and current culture too.  And a pretty quick read too!

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time for me to pick my "son" up from doggy day care and take him to dinner at a dog-friendly restaurant before we go to his agility class.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Review: Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman

There are several reasons I really like Ayelet Waldman.  One is that she is married to Michael Chabon, who wrote Wonder Boys, which was then made into one of my favorite movies.  But the real reason I love her is because she's not afraid to say things about motherhood that the mommy police are just waiting to crucify her for.  Bad Mother came from an essay Waldman wrote titled "Modern Love" in which she confessed to loving her husband more than her children.  I remember when the essay was first published and the cries of the mommy police that Waldman was, in fact, a Bad Mother.  I don't have kids yet, but I love that Waldman has the guts to stand up against the breast-feeding Nazis, the child-competing power parents, and the issues surrounding medication for depression while pregnant.  I don't agree with everything Waldman says or all of her ideas, but I did really enjoy reading this one.

Waldman writes in a very personal, confessional style that I think works well for her essays.  She's talking about her own life and so, necessarily, she can come across as self-indulgent.  While I wouldn't appreciate this in academic writing, I think it translates perfectly for essays written by a mother who is trying to do her best when her best often goes against public opinion - or at least the most loudly voiced public opinion.

Entertainment Value
I enjoyed all of the essays, even those expressing opinions I disagreed with.  The major essay that I struggled with was one in which Waldman discusses her decision to abort a child who, had he lived, may have been born with Down Syndrome.  I'm very strongly pro-life and have also known quite a few Down Syndrome adults and children, so this essay really stretched me.  I still disagree strongly, but I could sympathize with Waldman and I found her mixed feelings on the decision to be particularly moving. 

Overall I recommend this one if you can handle the idea that other people might not parent the way you do.  If you are the mommy police, this one is sure to get you all riled up.  If you are able to empathize with people who aren't perfect, though, I think you'll enjoy it, especially if you are a parent and/or you have ideas about parenting that go against the norm.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Book Review: Caught by Harlan Coben

Caught, by Harlan Coben starts out with a really great premise.  In a To Catch A Predator-style television show, a man is accused of being a pedophile.  He claims to have been set up, and is not convicted, but his reputation is ruined.  He comes to the reporter who hosted the tv show claiming to have new information to provide his innocence, but before he can speak to her, he is shot. 

My first experience with Coben was one of his Myron Bolitar books - it was on audio and I hated it.  The writing was just terrible, the story wasn't that interesting, and the narrator was awful.  So of course I went out and got another Harlan Coben on audio and expected it to impress me.  Nope.  The writing was still bad.  The "mystery" was so boring, there were so many plot holes, and the dialogue was abysmal.  When the author's name is a larger font than the book title, I suppose I ought to assume that it's not a good sign for the quality of the writing.

Entertainment Value
The story was about way too many things for it to keep my attention.  We had the whole pedophilia/child porn thing, underage drinking paid for by parents, drunk driving, rappers, reporters, a Judge Judy-esque character, and middle age men who have lost their jobs.  We have a college accident that scarred a woman for life and the person she accused out for revenge.  It's just way too much going on.  If you've read the blurb, let me just assure you that it is nothing like what happens in the book.  I assumed from the blurb that the book was going to take a unique look at shows like To Catch A Predator - but that plays almost no role in the book at all.  Instead we get this bizarre backstory about college and a side story about parents who buy their kids alcohol. 

Maybe it's the narration that is killing these books for me.  After all, I've had people I normally trust tell me they like Coben.  But I do not recommend that you try him on audio.  The narrator's voice is absolutely grating.  And her voices make the horrible dialogue even more stilted and awkward. 

This one gets a big thumbs down from me on all levels. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Book Review: Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog

How great is this cover?  I've always been an animal person.  When we were little, my big brother and I read ZooBooks and Ranger Rick and My Big Back Yard and spent hours classifying and reclassifying David's ZooCards in various orders (species, location, alphabetically, etc).   We also had tons of little plastic animals that we'd line up and play elaborate make believe games with.  It was awesome.  Also, I was a psych minor (major for two years) in college.  So when I read the summary of this book about Anthrozoology, I knew I had to read it.  It was one of those that I frantically emailed TLC about as soon as I saw it was available and then sat on pins and needles waiting to hear that I got to be part of the tour.  And I did - so major thanks to TLC!

Ok, so Anthrozoology - not a common topic of discussion but absolutely fascinating.  It's, obviously, a combination of anthropology (the study of man) with zoology (the study of animals) and, in a very abbreviated description, is all about how we as people think about other species.  Why do we love kittens, hate rats and eat cows?  And why do other people in the world eat things we'd never touch and worship animals we consider pests?  Why is cock fighting viewed as a terrible act of violence, but we think nothing of downing chicken nuggets?  And why do we kill mice in our homes with no guilt but get up in arms over the use of mice in medical or cosmetic research?  Fascinating right?

And the book is SO fascinating.  I wish I had my copy with me right now so I could show you - I've got about a million post its stuck in referencing studies that I want to read (working at a college is finally good for something!  Yay access to Ebsco!) and books I want to look into.  Herzog's reserach is excellent and his book is written in such a way that even those of us who changed our psych major to English because we were afraid of research and statistics can understand what he's talking about.  The citations are flawless, although I do prefer it when there are footnotes, rather than just a list of sources cited at the end of the book - it makes it harder to find a specific reference. 

 If you are at all interested in animals or psychology or what makes people tick, this is a great book to read.  It's well-written but also very readable.  Plus, I think Hal Herzog is amazing.  See the snake wrapped around his wrist?  I'm pretty sure that he and I could be very good friends.  Maybe he could tell me why I'm so disgusted by other people's dogs, when my own dogs can drool all over me and it doesn't bother me a bit!

Book Review: A Feast For Crows by George RR Martin

Before I start my review, I want to tell you, Reader Friends, that I'm participating in Lovely Little Shelf's Review-a-Thon.  From now until August 20th, I'll be posting a review every day.  Because I thought this started today when it actually started yesterday, you'll be getting two reviews from me today!  Check out Jacki's blog (Lovely Little Shelf) to see what everyone else is reviewing!

A Feast For Crows is the fourth book in George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire Series.  I've already reviewed the first three and focused on various aspects of the books.  I've talked about the issue of morality in the books, how much I'm enjoying reading and discussing them with my husband, and the writing.  I haven't discussed plot because there is so very much plot that it is impossible to get into in a blog post.  If you want the basics, I suggest reading about it on Goodreads.  If you're not into the series, you may not get the rest of this post...sorry about that!  I'm honestly kind of running out of things to say about the books other than that they are awesome and addictive and will make you an obsessed crazy person.  Here are some examples:
  • My boss refers to our headquarters as "The Mountain" in a meeting - I spend the entire meeting imagining that we are getting our orders from Gregor Klegane.
  • I read a book about genetics that mentions Gregor Mendel - again, I spend the rest of the book picturing Gregor Klegane nurturing little pea flowers
  • Luke frequently calls me and says nothing but "Moooooon uf my liiiiiife" to which I reply "My sun and stars" and then we hang up.  We also randomly insert "Hodor" into conversation on a fairly regular basis.
  • "Seven bloody hells" is now a part of our vocabulary.
  • We can entertain ourselves for hours discussing who is related to who, who is plotting against who, and who we think secretly fathered who.
  • My emails are clogged with Game of Thrones gifs
  • I find myself describing incredibly complicated relationships and minute plot points to people who are not at all interested - like Sugar Bear.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Women of Faith Imagine Conference

This weekend Sugar Bear and I were able to attend the Women of Faith Imagine event in Atlanta, courtesy of Book Sneeze and our family who let us stay with them on Friday night.  Of course we had an amazing time, and I'm actually hoping to have some future posts featuring books from the speakers (my favorites were Angie Smith and Lisa Harper).  Here's a recap of the weekend:

Of course we got off to a late start, but it really wasn't our faults - Sugar Bear had to work half a day on Friday to make up for time off.  So we missed the first two sessions, but we made it in time for the third and got to hear Sheila Walsh talk about forgiveness.  Then we had a three hour break, so we headed off to Ikea where we were in such awe that we bought almost nothing, but had an amazing time shopping and eating way too many meatballs. 

The next session we attended was Lisa Harper's - she gave a beautiful reimagined telling of the story of the adulterous woman who was brought before Jesus to be stoned - a woman who had been betrayed and abandoned and whose heart was breaking - not just a sinful woman.  But Lisa also pointed out that many of us have stones in our hands ready to throw as well.  It went well with my post below on Small Town Sinners - there are people at the church we left that I have to confess I have been ready to stone - at least verbally.  I think hearing Lisa's message really helped me realize how much I need to lay those stones down. 

After Lisa's talk, there was a concert by Natalie Grant, which I was looking forward to - Natalie Grant is one of my favorite Christian musicians - if you haven't heard her sing "Held", you need to listen immediately.  It's one of my all time favorite songs.  Unfortunately, I had a terrible migraine and we ended up leaving before the concert.  Sugar Bear drove us to our aunt and uncle's house where I pretty much immediately crashed.

Saturday morning we got up bright and early and headed back to Philips Arena.  Angie Smith gave her testimony (which is amazing) and was hilarious.  Sugar Bear and I both loved her message and her personality.  When Angie was pregnant with her third daughter, she was told by doctors that the child was incompatible with life and that the pregnancy should be terminated.  Angie and her husband chose to carry the child anyway.  The baby only lived two and half hours and Angie's testimony of God's presence during that time is amazing. 

We also got to hear from Luci Swindoll, who is wonderful.  She talked about creativity and the arts, which is a topic that I think it's really easy for Christians to forget about.  She also talked about contentment and joy in every moment - I LOVED that!  One of my major problems with women's events is that many times I feel like women get together to talk about how awful being a woman is.  How hard marriage and motherhood and working and life is and how it's so difficult to be a woman.  I don't know about motherhood, but what I want to hear is that life can be good - not that we need to just lean on Christ to make it through each day (although of course that is true) and know that things will be better in heaven (also true) but that things can also be good here on earth and that we can enjoy God's creation.  I want to hear encouragement that being a woman can mean embracing life, not that it's just about suffering through each miserable day as an indentured servant to our husbands and children. 

Saturday also included presentations from Nicole Johnson, who is hilarious, and a concert by Mary Mary.  I'm not gonna lie, Mary Mary isn't typically my thing.  I'm much more of a Natalie Grant fan, but we really enjoyed the concert.  It was amazing to see so many women filling the arena and praising God, dancing, and having a good time.  And while I didn't recognize most of the songs, they did perform the one song that I do love - Shackles (Praise You).

So there you have it - the wonderful sister time Sugar Bear and I got to enjoy, plus some insight into what God's doing in my life right now.  I really encourage you guys to look into the conference locations and check them out if one will be near you!  It made for lots of laughter and some tears and a really good time of spiritual refreshment.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Faith and Fiction Round Table: Small Town Sinners

Small Town Sinners is our latest Faith and Fiction Round Table read.  It's the story of Lacey, a small town Southern pastor's daughter who begins to question her faith as she participates in her church's annual Hell House.  I won't go into a lot of description here, but feel free to check out the full summary on GoodReads.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, a Hell House is a production that some conservative churches produce that are intended to mirror haunted houses, while showing the effects of sin with the intention of bringing them to Christ.  (Side note: I feel like "bringing them to Christ" is a very Christian-ese phrase, but "saving souls" has a negative sound to me and I'm having a hard time coming up with something non-Christian-ese but also not implying some kind of mind-washing attempt)

I live in the South, grew up in a conservative Christian home (my parents were missionaries when I was a child and pastors while I've been an adult), and homeschooled/went to Christian schools.  My friends were all in evangelical denominations and I went to a Baptist college.  I've also always lived in the South - so the concept of a Hell House was not new to me, although I've never been a part of a church that held one.  I have attended at least one that I remember, in 7th grade, and I was so scared I left.  Honestly, while I'm not outraged and offended by them the way some people are, I don't see them as a very positive thing either.  I feel like it takes away from the seriousness and human-ness of the "sins" that are depicted.  The kids who are participating are, as it shows in the book, fighting over who gets to be Abortion Girl or Suicide Boy instead of learning compassion for people who have had abortions or struggled with suicidal thoughts.  Also, I never see Jesus scaring us into loving Him in the Bible.  For the most part, I think they are misguided though, not done with bad intentions.  If you are interested in learning more about or seeing clips of Hell Houses, there is an incredible documentary that is well worth watching.  Click here for more info on it.

There are so many other aspects of this book I could discuss, but I'd really just like to say that I think it's worth reading for the discussion value alone.  And so many of my fellow Faith and Fiction Roundtablers are addressing them, so please check out their blogs.  What struck me the most was how much I identified with Lacey.  Like Lacey, I grew up in a very insular world - and to a large degree I still live in that insular world.  I homeschooled, went to private Christian school and college, married a man from my church, and spend most of my time with other Christians.  I also grew up in a missionary/pastor's family.  And I don't think anyone can truly identify with that unless you grew up the same way.  So many small things about Lacey felt so familiar to me: not being able to complete a conversation with your parents while on church grounds, being known by everyone - even if you don't know them, having your personal life made public, the expectations of everyone and knowing that people are constantly watching. 

Like Lacey, I've also recently dealt with some hard questions in my faith, especially within my church.  I've mentioned since December that Luke and I are looking for a new church, but haven't discussed why.  The church we were attending, that I have known since my childhood, is a beautiful place full of wonderful people.  But as the daughter of the pastor, you don't see just what the pastors want you to see.  You know all of the real life, behind the scenes, ugly things that happen at churches.  And after seeing one of the ugliest examples of what can happen in church leadership, that many church members will never even know, Luke and I left the church, along with the rest of my family.  And for the last six months we (just Luke and I here) haven't gone to church.  I've really questioned the function of the church and church leadership as a whole.  I just can't express to you how damaging an experience like Lacey's can be.  It didn't make me question God, but it has made me question many of the things I've taken for granted as fact about church.

Luke and I just started visiting a new church and we are so happy.  We are really enjoying the community and spending time with other Christians.  I read this book at a great time in my life - not immediately after what happened at our old church, but while I am still hurting from it.  I'm bothered by the fact that the author never led Lacey to any answers to her questions - the book only showed that questions are ok.  I'd love to see more of Lacey's life now that she has learned that it's ok to question your beliefs.  Thankfully, I was raised by parents who encouraged us to question our beliefs, but also taught us how to maintain faith in God despite those questions.  I hope that Lacey continued to learn the same things I'm learning right now...and I'm choosing to believe that while she may not ever have it all figured out, she maintained her faith in Christ and His love, despite the flaws in His followers.  I'd like to think that Lacey goes on to learn to reconcile the mistakes of her leaders with her own human imperfections and discovers, as I am in the process of discovering (please don't think I'm there yet) that none of us deserve grace, but that just as she has received grace, the flawed leaders she sees can receive it too.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Very Short Break

I'm going to post real stuff again ASAP but I have to tell you that it may not be until Sunday.  The thing is that my nephew is here.  You probably already know how obsessed I am with this child, so every non-sleeping, non-working moment will be spent with that precious little boy.  Then on Friday, I leave for the Women of Faith Imagine Conference with my sister in Atlanta.  I'll be live-Tweeting it and will be blogging about it as much as I can, but again, may not have internet access till Sunday.  Wish me lots of happy baby moments over the next few days and see you Sunday!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Discussion: Are you a citation stickler?

Since I finished Dance With Dragons, I've been in a fiction slump.  I just can't seem to get excited about any fiction right now, so I've been reading a lot of non-fiction.  Today on my way to work I was thinking about how one of my most important standards in judging non-fiction is related to citations.  I'm not sure if it's the English major in me or the librarian or if I'm just a stickler for proof, but one of my major pet peeves is non-fiction that isn't well-cited.

The worst to me is when an author cites statistics and then doesn't back them up with any citation.  "X number of women are abused every year" or "X percentage of people claim to have faith in the power of prayer" with no citation about where your statistics are coming means absolutely nothing to me.  And I hate to say it, but one of the sub-genres of non-fiction that I think is the worst about this is Christian non-fiction.  I've read so many excellent Christian books that say "A recent Barna survey shows X".  And then NOTHING.  No citation, no further description of the survey, no proof that what they are saying is in any way backed up by fact.  And it drives me crazy!

I'm ok with anecdotal evidence being used in non-fiction, I really am, as long as it is being presented as anecdotal evidence.  And I'm less obsessive about it in works that aren't intended to be academic.  But I feel like more and more I'm seeing popular non-fiction with absolutely no citations.  And here's one last thought - maybe I want to read more on the subject.  If you cite an interesting study, maybe I, as the reader would like to look that study up and read it myself.  The same goes for quotes: if you're going to quote CS Lewis, tell me where that quote came from, don't just stick it in and say someone said it.  I want to follow up on where they said it!  So let's discuss:

How do you feel about the use of citations in non-fiction?  Do you prefer books where authors write in a more anecdotal fashion, or are you more concerned with facts?  Does it stick out to you when authors use statistics or quote people and don't cite their sources?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Book Review: Bossypants by Tina Fey

Ok, guys, here is a little bit of inside information on me: I do not like Saturday Night Live.  I will admit that a few sketches are funny, but I haven't seen one that really made me laugh in years.  It has devolved from actual comedy to just a bunch of crude, dumb jokes.  When the book first came out, I assumed I wouldn't read it - but it kept coming up.  People who have a similar sense of humor to mind kept recommending it.  And then I read an excerpt posted on a message board and found the book available on audio through my was fate.

Writing/Entertainment Value
I'm combining the two because in a book of humorous essays, if the writer succeeds at being funny, the book will be entertaining.  If the writer isn't funny, the book is boring, and unsuccessful for the author's purposes. 

Hilarious.  I cannot even begin to tell you guys how funny Tina Fey is.  Hearing the book (which is, by the way, narrated by Tina Fey) has made me want to watch 30 Rock, in spite of every commercial I have ever seen for it.  It ALMOST made me want to watch SNL, but I regained my senses (of humor) and realized that even Tina Fey cannot make SNL palatable.  Anyway, back to the book.  It's really aimed more towards women, but anyone and everyone will enjoy it.  This is how funny she is: I finished late at night after a particularly rough day.  I was half asleep and very emotional and also had already taken my sleeping pill.  When I realized it was over, I cried.  I told Luke that nothing in the world would ever be funny again and I meant it.  A few things have been funny since then, but not nearly AS funny.  I'm started to get kind of sad right now thinking about it...

Also, I feel like I should point out that I think Tina Fey has a really good way of equal-opportunity mocking.  She doesn't let her personal political or religious beliefs dictate who she makes fun of.  Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton receive equal treatment.  And the thing is that when a comedian or author laughs with everyone, they don't come across as laughing AT anyone.  I'm totally ok with hearing Tina Fey put Sarah Palin/Hillary Clinton as the butt of some jokes, as long as I don't feel like Tina Fey is using this to make a personal political statement ("I think you should vote Conservative/Liberal").  I also felt like her humor isn't meant to be racy or shocking.  She's not Kathy Griffin, going for shock value bysaying or doing something incredibly tacky and not all that funny to get nervous laughter.  I found her humor to be classy, not politically motivated, and smart, which is key for me.  I'm not going to laugh just because you said a naughty word or told a joke that ends with "penis".  I want something that is clever and makes a statement about reality that I can identify with - and Tina Fey completely succeeds in that respect.

Like I said above, Tina Fey does her own narration which makes the book twice as funny.  Even if you've read it, you MUST listen to it on audio - she is amazing.  If she weren't already totally successful as an actor/writer/all around celebrity, I'd totally tell her to go into audiobook narration.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What I Read in July!

Another July is over, thank goodness!  Have I mentioned to you guys that I DO NOT LIKE summer?  I don't.  I know it's happy, sunny, party time for most people, but not for me.  For me it is so hot you want to curl up under a rock and die time.  My skin does not cope well with sunlight.   And, for all my love of (almost) all things southern, I do not love the heat or humidity.  ALSO, Reader Friends, in addition to being so hot you can barely move, it's light outside all the time.  When it gets dark at 6:00, I feel totally justified in coming home from work, putting on my pjs, and getting in bed to read for the rest of the night.  When it's light outside until 9:30 and I can hear children playing and neighbors grilling, I feel like I ought to be doing something other than laying on the floor with a book and some pets.  But because it's so hot, I can barely make myself put on pants in the morning, much less DO something.  Why can't it be light outside when we have temperatures that make you feel like taking a walk or eating on the porch instead of just taking cold showers and laying under the ceiling fan?

In other words, June and July down, only two more months of extreme heat left.  Then we'll just go to normal heat.  And maybe in December it'll get cold.  Despite the fact that I feel like I should be doing things other than lazing, I've still had an excellent reading month.  Chalk it up to refusing to make plans with anyone because it's too hot to leave my house and my blessed air conditioning.  This month I read:

State of Wonder by Anne Patchett
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
Confessions of a Prep School Mommy Handler by Wade Rouse
Jefferson's Demons by Michael Knox Beran
A Dance With Dragons by George RR Martin
Caught by Harlan Coben
Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman
One Nation Under Dog by Michael Schaffer
Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker
Book of Lies by Mary Horlock
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Total read in July: 12
Total read this year: 63
Total pages read this year: 22,385
Money saved by using the library, reading books I own, and reviewing: $630.19

And now for the family update:

There's not much to tell - we spent a lot of time just hanging around at home this month, which was good for our budget and for our health (have I mentioned how I feel about the weather?).  Dexter finished his first agility class and has now moved on to an intermediate class that focuses on teeters and tilts or something like that.  Our pets?  Spoiled?  Never!  Every dog obviously NEEDS a teeters and tilts class, just ask Luke.  It's for his hips or something like that. 

In sad news, Chief did not pass his first round of testing for CGC and Therapy Dog International.  It had nothing to do with his obedience or his sweetness, though  Here's the thing:  I let Chief get into a habit of sitting in my lap (he puts his back legs in my lap and front feet on the ground).  Since I'm little and he's giant it looks really cute and plus, I love those puppy snuggles.  It's precious right ?(this was back in the spring, he's got another 20 lbs on him now and another inch or two)

But it turns out that sitting in my lap was not Chief's way of saying "I love you mommy" to me, but "This is MY mommy - back off!" to other dogs.  It's never been a problem before, but now that Chief is entering his difficult teen years, it has become an issue.  So Chief took his CGC test and passed and went back to his spot out of the way to let the other dogs have their turns.  And while we were waiting I let him get in my lap...another dog came up and I was petting/playing with the other dog, and Chief barked at him.

Barking at other dogs/reacting to other dogs in any way is an automatic fail if it happens within the testing area.  So even though Chiefey passed on all his obedience and interaction with people, his bark ended up failing him.  He's retaking the class though (and not allowed in my lap around other dogs) and should be back to form by September.  My personal opinion is that if he weren't such a big boy with such a big bark that it would have gone unnoticed, but of course we understand how scary his barks could be to others.  Hopefully, with a little more growing up and no more excuses to be territorial with mommy, he'll be all set to do reading therapy by this fall!