Tag Archives: Book

Nonfiction November Reading Challenge

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Since nonfiction is one of my favorite reading genres, I have decided to participate in a reading challenge I discovered on YouTube for the month of November. The challenge has become very popular among the YouTube community as well as among Goodreads members. I have picked my four novels for the month based on the challenge categories of the creators, Gemma (whose YouTube channel is Non Fic Books) and Olive (who is known on YouTube as abookolive). They are using #NonfictionNovember2016 as the hashtag to find the tbr of everyone who is participating.

 

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The categories of the challenges, along with my selections for each, are as follows.

1.New: A book on a subject about which you know very little or one that is new to your collection or interest level. For this choice I picked The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer’s Iliad and the Trojan War by Caroline Alexander. I teach part of Homer’s Iliad to my seniors every year, and it has always been one of my favorites, so when I found this recently I bought it immediately and without hesitation. It is brand new to my collection, though it was published in 2009, and finding out more about the actual history surrounding the Trojan War is an exciting prospect for me.

2.Fascinating: A book on a subject in which you are highly interested — one you can’t wait to read on a topic that you love. For this category, I have chosen, and already started reading, The Boston Strangler by Gerold Frank. I am a huge fan of true crime novels, and this is an in-depth look at the evidence and police action during the investigation of a serial killer who, until only recently, had completely mystified the Boston police department since the middle of the last century.

3.Controversial: A book on a topic about which people might have opposing views. For this category, I have chosen A First-Rate MadnessUncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness by Nassir Ghaemi. I have been incredibly excited to read this book since I purchased it a few years ago, but somehow it just kept getting shoved to the back of my tbr time after time. I knew that adding it to this reading challenge would finally push me to get around to this controversial little number, which discusses how some of our most famous and infamous world leaders have all had similar qualities, personality traits, and characteristics verging, unfortunately, on the brink of insanity. Considering the premise, I think this novel would start a number of excellent debates among historians as well as mental health experts.

4.Important: A book you think an educated person should read, which helps people understand the world or others around them. For this choice I selected History’s Worst Crimes and the People Who Investigated Them by Bill Price. This is one in a collection of similar books by the same author, and, as previously noted, I am a true crime fan, so this one in particular is right up my alley. I thought that if I check this off the list, it might encourage me to read the others like it in our personal library. It also seems like it will be a very quick read. It fits the category because it shows that, unfortunately, terrible, baffling crimes occur during all times and all over the world; it is a reality we must face if we hope to prevent them in the future.

Join me in this challenge! I would love to hear your thoughts on the books you choose.

Peace and love.

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Fall Reading List: Stephen King

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Picture this: it’s a dark, chilly September evening, much like tonight. You are curled up on the couch in your comfy sweats and favorite long-sleeved tee, wrapped in a soft, cozy afghan. A cat is napping lazily beside you. An over-sized mug of tea sits steaming gently on the coffee table in front of you. The scent from a “twilight woods” candle wafts subtly about as the light from the flame flickers on the walls. The wind blows noisily outside, and a branch taps gently at your window.

What is missing from the perfect evening described above? The perfect book, which will make your heart race, your pupils dilate, the hair stand up at the back of your neck. Enter Stephen King.

I’ve been a fan of The Master of Horror since I was a little girl. And by “fan,” I mean hardcore, dedicated, the-only-thing-that-makes-my-life-complete-is-owning-every-King-novel-in-hardcover, nonviolent stalker. And by “little girl,” I mean from approximately seven, when I watched, for the first time, a movie based on a King book. It was certainly a mistake for my parents to allow a child to see an R-rated horror film, admittedly, yet one which began a lifelong obsession with “catching the fear” that few authors or even movie directors are able to provide.

Thus, from one professional fear-searcher to another, I bring you my choices for the top scariest Stephen King books. I’ve ordered these novels from “scary enough to make you jump” down to “sleeping in Mom’s bed tonight.”

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12. Pet Sematary: A magical place exists where you are able to bury your loved ones and they return to you. In what condition would you be willing to accept them when they come home? How high is the price you would pay for this ability? Would you sacrifice your reputation, your friends, your sanity? While there is a movie for this popular novel, I read the book in only a few days in college, because I couldn’t put it down. It was one of the first King novels I ever read, and  I remember being simultaneously sad and scared for the majority of the book.

11. Thinner: It seems like a dream come true when a morbidly obese man is told by an aging traveler that he will start to lose weight and it actually happens. (If only, am I right?) However, as is typical of curses placed on those who murder a gypsy’s wife and cover it up without punishment, life soon becomes quite unbearable and the rapidly shrinking man finds himself making difficult and dangerous choices in order to reverse his fate. I’ve read this book four times and have loved it each and every one.

10. Gerald’s Game: This novel could quite convincingly be placed under another author’s name in the bookstore, as it is drastically different from King’s typical style. It is fairly short and more verging on terrifying realism than supernatural terror. I read this in a weekend in college and am still deeply disturbed by it. An abusive husband dies after handcuffing his wife to a bed in a secluded cabin. Her subsequent time dealing with the aftermath of her situation is truly chilling. Furthermore, I loved catching the connections this novel has to others in the King universe.

9. The Tommyknockers: This is the King novel I read most recently, and also one which plays to my inner conspiracy-theorist. Imagine, if you will, your town is suddenly and irrevocably changed by an invasion we are all completely incapable of fighting off. “Late last night and the night before, Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers, knocking at my door.”

8. Delores Claiborne: This monologue is, in effect, a confession by the title character of a murder she committed. While this stylistic choice is commonly reserved for poetry and short stories, it is an underused — though, in this case, highly effective — format for a novel. I found this realistic book to be an exceptionally quick read. It provides an incredibly satisfying tying up of loose ends in Claiborne’s life, as well as a very obvious (and intentional) link to several events described in Gerald’s Game.

7. Night Shift: So many of the short stories in this collection are genuinely disturbing. A few of my favorites are “Sometimes They Come Back,” “Quitters, Inc.,” and “Children of the Corn.” If a full-length King novel seems too much to commit to, try this one out and just read those three first — I promise you’ll want to devour the other stories in the book as fast as possible.

6. ‘Salem’s Lot: I was too scared to sleep in my room in the basement while reading this one summer during college. I remember vividly the anxiety I felt lying alone in the dark, and deciding instead to run up the stairs to sleep on the couch each night. My mom never laughed at this, but instead explained it was a novel by which she, too, had been frightened. The moral of this book is that strangers are dangerous — a valid life lesson, it seems.

5. Needful Things: Few books have left a mark on me the way this one did. I read this in a couple of days, despite its intimidating length. I still grapple with the deep issues raised by the reading. What am I willing to trade to get what I want? Who would I be willing to betray to fulfill my own dreams? Am I strong enough to avoid the temptations to which others would fall prey? Can we truly stand against evil?

4.The Stand: A devastating plague known as “Captain Trips” wipes out most of the world. Those remaining alive must rebuild society but are forced to choose which side to aid: Randall Flagg (a recurring character in King’s novels with a flair for both leadership and destruction) or Mother Abagail, who brought survivors together to begin building “the Free Zone.” This novel is most horrifying in the contemplation of a preventable mistake leading to an unstoppable apocalypse.

3. Misery: A fanatical follower with an untreated mental illness and questionable past captures and cripples the writer of her favorite book series. This story line is literally the biggest hurdle I face when penning my own novel. I just know that some snowy day I’ll crash my car and find myself at the mercy of Kathy Bates.

2. The Shining: The ultimate psychological meets supernatural horror story, this novel has been at the top of my “I must reread this before I die” list since I finished it the first time. Despite its immense size, this book was so engrossing that I finished it over a weekend home from college and actually slept in my mom’s bed because I was so afraid. Allow me to reiterate. I was a grown adult woman in my early twenties who slept in my mom’s bed while Dad was forced to sleep on the living room couch. Apparently, even as a college student, I needed my parents’ protection from a fictional character. Let that sink in.

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1.It: Of course the novel about a supernatural evil entity who takes the form of a murderous clown tops my list. This is the movie I was, for some inexplicable reason, allowed to watch before I’d even turned double-digits. As though that wasn’t bad enough, I had several unfortunate run-ins with a real-life clown that were highly unpleasant. While I may seem a bit biased, this book is hyped for a reason. It really is as good as people make it out to be. This novel is one of King’s longest, yet best written. I owe my phobia of circus freaks as well as my loathing of balloon popping to this story; you owe it to yourself to take the time to read it. Soon. Just make sure your spouse is cool with sleeping with the lights on for a while.

Peace and love.

Book Review: The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

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***Warning: Spoilers Ahead!***

Check out my review of the first two books, The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers.

Summary: This is the last book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It describes the success of Frodo and Sam in making it to the mountain; however, once they arrive, Frodo finds himself unable to cast the ring into the fire. Gollum wrestles for control and bites off Frodo’s finger, obtaining his “precious” moments before slipping into the lava. This effectively ends the seemingly hopeless war that Gandalf, Aragorn, and many others had been waging against Sauron. Thus, Aragorn reclaims the role of king and marries Arwen. They begin setting things right in the land, and the Fellowship officially ends. The Hobbits travel most of the way back to the Shire with Gandalf, who leaves them to their task of rebuilding after Saruman’s minions destroyed it. Gandalf notes that the Hobbits are quite capable of being heroes without him, and his strength is fading because his time in Middle Earth is ending. Eventually, Gandalf, Frodo, Bilbo, and the Elves travel over the sea. They are joined by Legolas, Gimli, and Sam, who bore the ring briefly for Frodo during their time in Mordor. However, the three remaining Hobbits lived long lives after the departure of Frodo and Bilbo, proving that obstacles in life that don’t defeat us truly do make us stronger.

Peace and love.

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Book Review: The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien

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***Warning: Spoilers Ahead!***

Check out my review of the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring

SUMMARY: In a continuation of the journey begun in the first book, this chronicles the travels of Frodo and Sam, now led by Gollum (the previous owner of the ring and one most untrustworthy). It also explains the fall of Orthanc, the tower of Saruman, a wizard overcome by evil and desire. His downfall is accomplished by the Ents, a race of tree-guards, who keep Merry and Pippin safe until the arrival of their friends. They are reunited with Gandalf, who has become “white,” a symbolic transformation occurring as a result of his return from death. Gandalf helps Theoden, king of Rohan, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas defeat Saruman’s attacking army at Helm’s Deep. Frodo and Sam make it to Mordor, only to have Frodo stunned by a giant spider (as per Gollum’s plan) and carried off by Orcs. This leaves Sam to wonder how he may save his master and friend.

REFLECTION: The towers mentioned in the title may have multiple meanings. First, and most obviously, may be that they are symbols for good and evil. Second, they may represent Cirith Ungol (Mordor and home of Sauron) and Orthanc (Isengard and home of Saruman). This is likely, as men are being squeezed on both sides by two forces of evil. Finally, they may be Cirith Ungol and Minas Tirith (in Gondor), both having stood since the “ancient battle.”

Check out my review of the third book, The Return of the King.

Peace and love.

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The “Unpleasant Job” of Being Atticus Finch

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In honor of Harper Lee (1926-2016).

rfornelli

mockingbirdIn the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Miss Maudie perfectly describes the nature of her life-long friend, Atticus, who is a lawyer. Maudie tells his children, “I simply wanted to tell you that there are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father’s one of them.”

The nature of his “unpleasant job” in the novel is simple: Atticus defends a black man against the blatantly, undeniably false charges of a white woman in the south in the 1930s. Atticus is ridiculed and threatened by the townspeople, who don’t understand why he is trying so hard to save someone they are convinced is guilty.

Atticus perseveres through the destruction of his reputation. He ignores the whispered criticisms and shrugs off the mocking insults. His belief in doing what is right enables him to wade through the venomous hate, so that he can teach his…

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Book Review: The Dark Half.

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Title: The Dark Half
Author: Stephen King
**************************Spoilers Ahead*********************************
Summary: This novel describes a classic case of good versus evil, with the twist that both are sides of the same man, literally and figuratively. Thad Beaumont, a successful writer, struggles against George Stark, the ghost of his twin and the personification of his pen name. Thad attempts to kill his pseudonym by writing an article for People in which he reveals the truth. Stark, enraged, commits a killing spree and murders all involved with the article. Stark then kidnaps Thad’s family in order to force Thad to write another novel, so that Stark may take over Thad’s life. Thad calls upon sparrows — psychopomps of the living dead — to rid himself of Stark — his pseudonym, his double life, his “dark half.”
Reflection: This was my fourth — and only successful — attempt to read this book all the way through. It took forcing myself to watch the movie and then trudge through the agonizingly slow first three chapters to get to the point where I could enjoy the story.
Fun fact: Alan Pangborn is the sheriff of Castle Rock in this and in the novel Needful Things.

Why I Feel Everyone Should Read

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I truly and wholeheartedly believe the world would be a better place if everyone considered reading as essential as other daily tasks. I realize that not everyone likes to read; some, in fact, claim to hate it and refuse to voluntarily skim through even a few books a year after they have completed high school.

The result has been, over the last few decades, a disintegration of our civilization on multiple — alarming — levels. As a society, our refusal to read has had detrimental effects: many people’s comprehension, vocabulary, communication, and logical thinking has suffered; they lack basic spelling, usage, and grammar skills; and they have trouble interacting appropriately with others because they are unable to empathize or connect emotionally. Additionally, while people turn away from books and embrace television and Netflix, for example, they are abdicating any responsibility for deep critical thinking or personal growth, as is it common knowledge that binge-watching American Dad cannot replicate the benefits of a focused long-term plot or the in-depth character study offered in books. Furthermore, by wasting time so contentedly on social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram, people are allowing others to dictate their ethics, self-worth, and interests. “Likes” are very important these days, and young people, in particular, will do or say just about anything to earn approval from strangers online.

Being an optimist, I refuse to believe this change to our culture is permanent. I know that reading offers too many benefits to allow it to “go gentle into that good night.” I will continue to promote reading and encourage my students to engage in it regularly. Below are a few reasons why.

Reading serves many purposes. Historically, story-telling was a way to preserve a culture’s beliefs and to pass on its values to younger generations. (In my opinion, it can definitely do the same today.) Problematically, modern-day reading is mainly seen as simply a leisure activity, done with the intention of providing entertainment, and therefore viewed as a “huge waste of time.” A lot of people would just rather “watch the movie.”

Many times, though, people do not realize exactly how much they can take away from reading, in general. We can study a character’s true motivations and analyze the factors that drive their behaviors. We can pick up on clues that a character may be “unreliable” (and, therefore, untrustworthy) through subtle hints and indirect characterization. We can assess the results of a character’s decisions and actions, examining how it impacts his or her life over a long span of time. We can gain insight by familiarizing ourselves with characters from all walks of life, with varying interests, abilities, and personality traits. This can train us for daily interactions with those around us and help us to better know ourselves.

For example, reading a novel which includes characters who are greedy or selfish can subtly demonstrate the danger of such behaviors in our own lives. Similarly, lovable characters can cause readers to forget their own loneliness for a short time, or lead readers to recognize desirable traits that they can adopt for themselves. Sympathetic characters can ease a reader’s feelings of self-pity by opening his or her eyes to other forms of pain and suffering in the world. Heroes fighting against villains — whether successful in their endeavors or not — can teach readers the importance of standing up for what they believe is right.

There are many genres from which to choose, so with enough searching just about everyone can find a novel that suits their interests. Some prefer true-crime documentaries while others enjoy romance novels. Mystery novels are fun because they enable people to piece together information and attempt to make accurate predictions — they keep people engaged. Science-fiction, fantasy, and mythology can expand people’s imaginations while, often, encouraging personal moral decision-making or ethical soul-searching. Nonfiction selections in the self-improvement, history, or autobiography categories are meant to provide useful information and can help people understand themselves and the  world around them more clearly. A few relate best to poetry, as they find that it succinctly expresses their own feelings in unique or unexpected ways, which can be quite comforting. Someone might prefer to read classics, from which they can deduce that, while the world itself has changed greatly over time, human nature and emotions have not.

Reading, most importantly, opens our minds. I have smiled when my favorite characters succeed. I have cried when innocent or helpless characters are killed. I have raged over the injustices characters suffer at the hands of their society. I have been uplifted when characters are able to turn their lives around and make a positive change. I have gained wisdom, courage, and strength from reading about the struggles in other people’s lives. I have educated myself on concepts, ideas, and philosophies about which I had no other way of learning. Reading lets me see the world from many perspectives and experience things I never would otherwise. It allows me to be part of other cultures and travel through time. It helps me to not only visit other worlds, but to live in this one more fully.

Peace and love.11215807_10205957227265590_2406978983197072906_n.jpg

Book Review: Book of Enchantments by Patricia C. Wrede

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****Warning: Spoilers ahead!***

Summary: This is a collection of young adult fantasy stories. Each offers a uniquely Wrede perspective. The last story features Cimorene, the heroine of the Dragons series. Additionally, the last work in the book is a recipe for chocolate cake, written using the directions of a battle-weary soldier.

Review: This is a fun collection for children and teens, or anyone feeling young at heart. I highly recommend.

Book Review: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

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***Warning: Spoilers Ahead!***

SUMMARY: This fantasy novel is the first in the famous and popular The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It describes the beginning of the journey of Frodo and his companions. It is first set in the Shire, from which Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin set out with the ring Bilbo stole from Gollum and willed to Frodo. The four hobbits eventually meet Aragorn, who leads them to Rivendale. At Rivendale, it is decided that the ring must be destroyed, and Frodo is appointed to be the ring-bearer. The four hobbits, Gimli, Gandalf, Aragorn, Boromir, and Legolas form the fellowship meant to carry the ring to Mordor. Through the course of the novel, Gandalf is lost while fighting the balrog and Boromir is slain by orcs while protecting Pippin and Merry. The fellowship is broken up when Frodo, followed by Sam, leaves for Mordor and Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas set out in search of Merry and Pippin.

Check out my reviews for The Two Towers and The Return of the King.

Peace and love.
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The “Unpleasant Job” of Being Atticus Finch

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mockingbirdIn the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Miss Maudie perfectly describes the nature of her life-long friend, Atticus, who is a lawyer. Maudie tells his children, “I simply wanted to tell you that there are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father’s one of them.”

The nature of his “unpleasant job” in the novel is simple: Atticus defends a black man against the blatantly, undeniably false charges of a white woman in the south in the 1930s. Atticus is ridiculed and threatened by the townspeople, who don’t understand why he is trying so hard to save someone they are convinced is guilty.

Atticus perseveres through the destruction of his reputation. He ignores the whispered criticisms and shrugs off the mocking insults. His belief in doing what is right enables him to wade through the venomous hate, so that he can teach his children to stand tall and proud. He leads by example; doing what is right is not always popular, but is necessary nonetheless. Even when his family is attacked, Atticus takes what he believes is the just and moral path, never growing bitter or regretful.

The unpleasant job of being Atticus Finch is the same in all times and all places: it is unpleasant to do what is morally and ethically right, even at the expense of one’s own security and happiness. It is unpleasant to defend the weak, the abhorrent, the defenseless. It is unpleasant to have compassion. It is unpleasant to go against the grain, to be unpopular, to, in essence, be despised unjustly. It is unpleasant to value truth and justice over tradition and expectations. It is unpleasant to be strong, when it would be so much easier to give up or give in. It is unpleasant to be a leader, rather than a follower.

Peace and love.

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