Tag Archives: reading

How to Gift Graduates: A Book List

Well guys, it’s another book list.  Can we ever have too many?  I figured it’s that time of year.  May is the new December, and there are recitals, class parties, and ….graduations!  As I sat in my classroom and signed yearbook after yearbook of graduating seniors, I held a sharpie in one hand, students’ yearbooks in the other and thought, how can I summarize in a few words how great they are, far they’ve come, or how hard they worked?  I almost resorted to scrawling H.A.G.S. a time or two, but refrained, as that would totally be an English teacher yearbook travesty of some sort.  So instead, I wrote a book recommendation for them at the end of my short note.

Here are a lot of the ones I suggested. Some are old standbys, some are hot off the press, but they are golden books to be read many times for people of any age.  I know it’s been done – the “let’s give the grad a book” present (I think I got 4 copies of Oh the Places You’ll Go when I graduated), but you know what, words really do hold answers, wisdom, humor, so here they are…

should must

#1 The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion by Elle Luna

I cannot speak highly enough about this author, artist and book.  It all started with one of her articles that went viral, and a year to the day,  her speech was published! It is not only full of inspiration and wisdom, but gorgeous art as well.  Do yourself a favor and pick up two.  One for a grad, and one for yourself!


#2 What Would Jane Do? A Jane Austen Devotional by Potter Style Publishing

Ok, so this one is arguable just for girls (but more power to any guy who wants to read Austen), but it’s a great size with wit and wisdom from the one and only, Jane Austen.


#3 The Second Book of General Ignorance: Everything You Think You Know is (still) Wrong by John Lloyd

This is part two to the first General Ignorance book.  Hilarious, humbling, and actually instructive.  A great way to say, “look, just because you graduated, doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of things about this world you still don’t know”.


#4 The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Austen to Wilder by Erin Blakemore

Life stories of Harper Lee, Louisa May Alcott, Zora Neale Hurston, and others intertwine with their novel plots in author Erin Blakemore’s book. She writes vignettes about these women and how their subsequent novel(s) are related to the lives the lead.  I could not put this one down.


#5 The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by John Klassen

What is any book list without one children’s book?!  This Blue Ribbon Picture Book Award winner is classic Lemony Snicket.  Simple language with a powerful punch.  A realistic reminder that darkness is in our lives, but how to not be afraid.


#6 Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination by J.K. Rowling

You had me at Rowling.  That’s all I needed to know when I picked this book up.  Then, I soon realized it was adapted from her powerful commencement speech at Harvard (I made my students watch this years ago and it’s been a favorite ever since).  It is a must read book and perfect small token to take in our purses or to college.


#7 A Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

This classic is stunning.  If you love the ocean, Anne’s lyrical thoughts on life, love, and youth will hit your heart and resonate.  It’s simply beautiful.

Happy reading!

Surprise: I like Fantasy Novels

I first heard about the Whitney Awards four years ago, but that year I did not read all the finalists like I have done in the years since then. I particularly avoided the Speculative category because it would have required reading The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, and I just could not imagine myself reading a thousand-page-long high fantasy novel. Then, this year, the follow-up to that novel, Words of Radiance was picked as a finalist for both a Whitney Award and the Association for Mormon Letters novel award. After years of avoiding Sanderson’s work, I decided it was finally time to dive in.  A few weeks ago I went to the library, grabbed a copy of Words of Radiance, and furtively checked it out—even though it’s hard to be sneaky when you are carrying around a book that has a thousand pages and weighs several pounds. I brought the book home and stared at it for about a week before reluctantly cracking the cover. Although I’ve long been an avid reader, I’ve also secretly looked down a bit on people who read epic fantasy. I worried that my decision to start reading Sanderson would be the first step on a slippery slope that would end with me making my own chain mail. Thankfully, I have been proven wrong and I now repent of my previous snobbishness. Continue reading Surprise: I like Fantasy Novels

What’s In A Review(er)?

For the most part I’m a discerning devourer of books, though to be fair if a story is promoted as having: a. aliens; b. space ships; c. sarcasm; d. guns; e. dogs; f. baking and/or g. magical realism, chances are 95% and rising that I’ll be checking out a sample chapter.

Though it’s the FINDING these works of bliss that has tended to be problematic, especially with the dross and magic flooding Amazon (self-published for the most case) demanding attention and often 99 cents. I’m also put off Amazon reviews when “This book arrived 10 days after I ordered it, which is why I’m giving it one star but the story was good.” Thankfully, the internet has given me a pool of reviewers whom I have come to rely on for recommending books I’d like – it has taken time (years) but right now I have seven tabs open with my favourite review sites/blogs, and I very rarely go to any others.

But what makes you want to read a book that has been reviewed? Is it the style of the review: strictly factual, Harvard referencing and no advertising anywhere? Chatty, casually mentioning three other similar books and flooding enthusiasm? Genre specific? A literary dissection, discussing the thematic elements, symbolism and political motivations? Or is it the website of someone you know (or know only online) who you’ve worked out likes and dislikes the same sort of books you do?

One of my favourite books this year – Terms of Enlistment, by Marko Kloos – found its way onto my phone simply because of the review from one of my favourite writers, Larry Correia:

I really enjoyed this one. Marko was in the German army, then emigrated to America. The thing that I enjoyed about ToE was that it was this really cool mil-sf, from the grunt’s perspective. Personally, my favorite parts where in the main character’s backstory, about his crappy upbringing, his enlistment, and the basic training. The character has a good evolution, and then we’ve got war, and space aliens. So what’s not to love?  Check it out.

Short blurb, summative, war and aliens = WIN! Add to that the fact that Marko wrote a very clever, engaging and downright fascinating story and I’m now more likely to have a look at other books Corriea recommends.

One of my sons’ (and my) favourite picture books came from a review column of an online science-fiction magazine, which has featured many columnists and genres. Of the original post, this is the section which intrigued me:

Before I go, I want to mention one more book that I’ve absolutely fallen in love with. Every so often, a picture book crosses my desk that makes me want to email the author and gush and gush about it. (Adam Rex is still wiping off my gush overFrankenstein Makes a Sandwich.) I’ve just pulled up Amanda Noll’s website (www.amandanoll.com) and am about to do the same. Howard McWilliam is next. This is their first book. You’re going to want to own it.

Here’s the story: Ethan goes to bed one night and finds (*gasp*) that his regular monster has gone fishing (Gabe left him a note). Oh, no! What is Ethan to do? How will he sleep without a monster under his bed? So Ethan does what any intelligent boy with a purpose would do: he begins the process of interviewing prospective monsters for the position that Gabe has left vacant.

I’m a member of Goodreads, and while I’m rather lackadaisical about updating my status, I always read the reviews of my Goodread friends. Two friends specifically review books on their blogs (both of whom read widely and use star ratings, though Shelah’s also rates them for content, and Tracey’s often has author interviews too), and I’m constantly adding titles to my lists thanks to their reading and winnowing efforts.

Reviews also come as a result of a competition win. Through another review blog I follow (by a mother and son, which adds fun variety and opinions) I recently won a review copy of a Deseret Book title and while I was delighted to have an e-version on my phone, I was a little hesitant about how to review it. Mostly because most reviews I’ve read on Deseret Books read less as reviews and more as testimonials or missionary fireside proclamations. In the end I wrote an honest (and I think definitely un-DB style) review of the book, because if I read a review I want honesty, not nice-so-I-don’t-hurt-anybody’s-feelings pandering.

I was a little concerned when I read the blurb that this would be so sweetly pious it would make my teeth hurt (and my spirit grow dejected in comparison), but I really should have known better.

(The rest of the review is here, and includes peanut butter cravings, a prophet and happiness.)

Overall, I want a review to pique my interest, give me just enough details to work out if I want to hunt the book down, and also entertain me. Just like a book, really, only shorter (and with zero spoilers!)

So how do you choose your next read? Word of mouth? Trusted friends? Oprah? Eeney-meeney-miney-moe? Specific websites or publishing emails? Genre specific sites? What does a review(er) cover or omit to help you decide what to read? Read any good reviews lately?

Sorry, Sweetie – Spoilers

There is one particular rule in my family that all three of us rabidly enforce. It doesn’t matter if it’s to do with a book, TV series, movie or joke punchline, no matter the format we are decidedly biblical – “As for me and my house There Will Be No Spoilers”.

I’ve been a victim of spoilers, and have inadvertently given a few. I’ve even suffered a reverse spoiler, when on my way to see the movie Gladiator, a friend said “It’s so sad when the gorilla dies! Whoops – sorry!” meaning I spent the entire time waiting for a gorilla a. to appear on screen and b. die. Needless to say by the time the credits rolled I was a. ticked at my friend for distracting me so thoroughly, and b. reluctantly impressed at their fine joke at my movie going expense. A similar pang of “Is it better to know or not” hit me this week when a significant spoiler was released about the upcoming Mad About the Boy, the third in the Bridget Jones series (by Helen Fielding). It’s a significant spoiler, enough to have made headlines around the world and have fans wailing into their “I Heart Mr Darcy” pillows on- and off-line. Some have suggested that the spoiler is a commercial ploy to generate interest and revenue, while others state that it’s the author’s prerogative to kill of characters whenever they feel so inclined (and I’m sure everyone has a character they’d rather have seen stay alive). Based purely on the spoiler some have already stated vehemently that they will/not be reading the latest book – it will be interesting to see how sales and reviews treat the release.

Maybe spoilers can be good as well. When my youngest was starting to read The Book of Mormon himself, my oldest said “And wait until you read about Nephi killing some guy!” to which my youngest snorted and said “He wouldn’t do that!” Of course that started an argument but also resulted in both boys reading that chapter straight away and then acting it out. Repeatedly.

So I admit spoilers can generate excitement, discussion, hype and anticipation but personally I much rather being ambushed by a plot twist, a character’s death (“I am a leaf on the breeze. Watch how I soar”) or revelation-realisation on my own terms, without obvious forewarning or accidental disclosures. I see it as the difference between going on a journey yourself and seeing someone else’s photos of the exact trip a week before you leave. It’s kind of the same thing, but a whole chunk of the excitement has disappeared.

Spoilers have their place. It’s just not at my place.

What are your thoughts on spoilers – are they okay or annoying? Do you give advance warning, or prep the ambush? What is a book or movie/show which left you stunned at a sudden change, death or revelation? (Remember, sweetie, no spoilers!) Do you have any rules when it comes to plots, characters and upcoming surprises?

Books – My Drug of Choice

My addiction started by the time I was two. The promise of a Little Golden Book would have me sitting placid and quiet while my Mum did the weekly grocery shop. Legend has it that she could read it to me once, then I’d read it to myself from then on.

I can’t remember learning to read, or even being read to. As far back as I can remember, though, are pages of books, with dust and words and pastels and stains and too many dog eared corners to count. The first book I remember causing emotional pain was Black Beauty, closely followed by London’s The Call of the Wild. I think I was about eight, no more than ten years of age, and books were surgically, magically inserting me into dragons, horses, dogs, spaceships, soldiers. I read far up trees, getting high. Continue reading Books – My Drug of Choice