Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Christmas Quilt by Jennife Chiaverini

Number eight in the Elm Creek Quilts series, The Christmas Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini was not exactly what I was expecting.  I thought it would be a book about the characters I had come to know and love putting together a quilt at Christmas and in a way, it was.  Ms. Chiaverini's novels don't always follow a straight time line.  Occasionally, a novel will jump far into the past and explore the lives of the people who lived in Elm Creek generations before the current residents.  This book took the current characters and went back only a couple of years.  The time line for this book is set between the first novel and the second in the series.  It revealed some history that hadn't been discussed earlier, which I enjoyed, but I found the flashback a bit disturbing.  It was odd for me to hear a character talk about being alone when I know full well she marries in a later book or about a disagreement that seems unresolvable that I know improves.  It was rather like reading books out of order and it bothered me.  That aside, it was still a fun book, but for any of you out there who are about to begin the Elm Creek Quilts series, I would really recommend reading this book immediately following The Quilter's Apprentice.  It doesn't give anything away that is written in the later novels and it just makes a little more sense. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Extras by Scott Westerfeld

I just finished reading Extras, the final book in the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld.  The first three books in the series play more like a trilogy and Extras kind of felt like...well, an extra.  It does have some of the characters from the first three books, but the main focus is on a new character, Aya.  It is also set in Asia as opposed to the North American setting of the first three books. 

Extras checks back with humanity three years after the completion of Specials.  The world has undergone another massive change and the results are mostly good.  I really enjoyed this series.  It makes one wonder what the world will really be like in five centuries and what effect our current actions are having on that future.  I think no one, or at least very few people, will argue with the notion that we are not taking very good care of our planet.  As the population grows and technology advances, it appears as though we are speeding that destruction.  The Uglies series explores what that might mean when compounded over a few hundred years.  Scary, but very interesting.

Now if you will excuse me, I am going to go take out my recycling and hug a tree. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

My sweet friend Hilary from book club mentioned this book recently and said we just had to read it.  I picked it up at the library, but now I'm looking for my own copy.  Of course you can purchase it on Amazon here, but I think I'll look at the used bookstore in town first.  Not that it isn't worth the $12- it totally is.  And since I'm not worried about spoiling anything for you, I hope you won't mind if I share a few of the wonderful things I learned. 

The Four Agreements are four changes we should make in our lives to make ourselves happier. 
  • Be impeccable with your word.
  • Don't take anything personally.
  • Don't make assumptions.
  • Always do your best.
They sound like common sense suggestions, but the way Ruiz presents them makes them sound almost new.  The first, Be Impeccable with Your Word, means that we should use our words to share love.  He says we should begin with ourselves.  We can tell ourselves how much we love ourselves.  We can let go of all the judgements we bring upon ourselves.  When we stop judging ourselves, we will also stop judging the people around us.

Don't Take Anything Personally is the agreement that my friend was telling us about.  If someone says something ugly to you, it says more about that person than it does about you.  Ruiz says, "If someone gives you an opinion and says, 'Hey, you look so fat,' don't take it personally, because the truth is that this person is dealing with his or her own feelings, beliefs and opinions.  That person tried to send poison to you and if you take it personally, then you take that poison and it becomes yours.  Taking things personally makes you easy prey for these predators."  I LOVE that!  He also says, "You have to trust yourself and choose to believe or not to believe what someone says to you."  If someone doesn't like me and is ugly to me, it is that person's poison.  I don't have to accept it.  I don't have to blame myself for it and constantly try to fix it.  I can let it go.  How great does that feel!

The third, Don't Make Assumptions, makes so much sense.  "All the sadness and drama you have lived in your life was rooted in making assumptions and taking things personally.  Take a moment to consider the truth of this statement."  If I assume that someone ignored me or was acting hurtfully, I might take that personally.  Then I have begun an entire drama in my head that never even really existed.  If I assume I know how someone will react to something, I may act defensively and for no reason at all.  And I love this:

"We make the assumption that everyone sees life the was we do.  We assume that others think the way we think, feel the way we feel, judge the way we judge, and abuse the way we abuse.  This is the biggest assumption that humans make.  And this is why we have a fear of being ourselves around others.  Because we think everyone else will judge us, victimize us, abuse us, and blame us as we do ourselves.  So even before others have a chance to reject us, we have already rejected ourselves."

The fourth is Always Do Your Best.  "Under any circumstance, always do your best, no more and no less."  The best way to live your life is to always do your best.

The book goes on to offer so much good advice, so many valuable points. 

"We have the need to be accepted and to be loved by others, but we cannot accept and love ourselves.  Our image of perfection is the reason we reject ourselves; it is why we don't accept ourselves the way we are, and why we don't accept others the way they are."

"We must forgive those we feel have wronged us, not because they deserve to be forgiven, but because we love ourselves so much we don't want to keep paying for the injustice.  Forgiveness is the only way to heal.  We can choose to forgive because we feel compassion for ourselves."

"Imagine living your life without judging others.  You can easily forgive others and let go of any judgements that you have.  You don't have the need to be right, and you don't need to make anyone else wrong.  Imagine living without fear of loving and not being loved.  You are no longer afraid to be rejected, and you don't have the need to be accepted.  You can say, 'I love you,' with no shame or justification.  You can walk in the world with your heart completely open, and not be afraid to be hurt."

"Let go of the need to defend your opinions and always be right.  Your opinion is nothing but your point of view.  It is not necessarily true. 

I love the concept of "Zoom in, Zoom out."  It is when you imagine seeing your life through a camera lens.  You can zoom in and see the details of your life, of your problems or conflicts.  You can also zoom out and see the entire city, the state, the country, the whole world as if you are looking down from space.  From that distance, suddenly our problems seem so insignificant, so short-lived.  It's like the old question, "In a hundred years will this matter?"  With this in mind, it becomes easier to let go. 

I really learned from this book.  I'm sure it's something I will want to read again and again.  Of course making the four agreements a part of my life will take practice, but I think it is already helping me.  Have you read this?  Have you tried these concepts?  I'd love to hear what you think.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick

Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick is the sequel to Hush, Hush which I read earlier this summer.  I wasn't crazy about that one, and I can't really recommend this one either.  To be honest when I first began Crescendo, I actually considered not reading it.  Hush, Hush was okay, but not great and a bit juvenile. I know that probably sounds funny coming from someone who so often reads YA.  The sequel didn't give me the impression that it was going to be much better.  I enjoyed it, I read it very quickly, I wanted to find out what would happen, but it wasn't great writing.  All that aside, I did put my name on the waiting list for the third in the series.  It's not due out until October, but there are already 59 people on the list ahead of me.  I'll get it when I get it and I'll probably be sucked back in, but I'll probably be rolling my eyes at myself the whole time.  Oh, well.  A little fluff now and then won't hurt me. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Sugar Camp Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini

Seventh in the Elm Creek Quilts series, The Sugar Camp Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini is not about a blanket you take with you to summer camp.  I know I've mentioned at least six previous times how much I adore this series, but I just must say it again.  I LOVE these books.  There are so many good books out there and many that are just okay.  Not all books are worth our time, frankly, but these truly are. 

This latest installment travels back to the years just prior to the Civil War.  Dorothea Granger, raised by abolitionist parents, becomes part of the Underground Railroad.  My knowledge about the Underground Railroad is sadly limited, but from this book I learned quite a bit and I'm inspired to learn more.  You know how I feel about historical fiction (LOOOOVE IT!) and this certainly did not disappoint. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Specials by Scott Westerfeld

The third installment in the Uglies series, Specials by Scott Westerfeld is a fast-paced, exciting novel.  Tally is back again and now she is very special.  If you haven't read this series yet, I highly recommend it.  I know, it's YA again, but is it my fault so much good writing is aimed at a younger crowd?  Besides, I would still like to think of myself as a Young Adult, so I enjoy it just as much as the 17-year-old sitting next to me, possibly even more. 

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen was the official book club selection for August.  This is the third book I've read by this author and can I just tell you?  I LOVE her books.  Her writing is always so fun and magical and whimsical.  Prophetic trees and books that magically appear and cakes that call to people.  It's all so wonderful- and by that I mean full of wonder.  LOVE THEM!

This book was no disappointment.  It was a very quick read- I started Saturday afternoon and I was finished by Sunday evening.  I have already recommended it to a couple of people.  I can't wait to discuss it in book club tomorrow night.  Pick it up.  I think you'll love it just like I do.  And while you're at it, pick up her other novels as well.  They are just as good!

I can't read her fourth novel!

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

I heard about this book when the author was a guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  It sounded very interesting so I put my name on the reserve list at the library.  I finally got it last week and started it, but it was a very slow start.  I think I ended up making it about a third of the way through the book, but I just couldn't make it any further.  I suppose I could have made myself finish it, but I have a long list of books to read and time limits on some of those, so I just let it go.  I'm sure  many of you out there will find it very interesting.  If so, please comment below and tell me what you thought and maybe what you learned. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo

A sweet book club friend loaned me this book.  We had discussed having Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo as an official book club selection, but I'm really glad we didn't.  While I enjoyed reading it, I don't think it would have given us enough meat to chew on during a book club discussion. 

Heaven is for Real is written by a pastor of a Wesleyan church in Imperial, Nebraska.  He is also the father of Colton Burpo, a little boy who at age four told his parents that he had been to heaven and back. 

Little Colton was just shy of his fourth birthday when a terrible illness nearly took his life.  After his surgery and recovery he began saying unusual things about Jesus and heaven.  Finally his parents were able to understand that he was trying to tell them he had been to heaven during his surgery.  He was able to describe family members he had never met and events that had occurred while he was in surgery. 

Some of the things said in the book coincided with my beliefs, some not so much.  I think it's one of those things where one has to decide for one's self.  This could be actually what Colton experienced, but I also believe it's possible he was helped a bit.  I reserve judgement.  Who am I to say a four-year-old couldn't have visited heaven and returned?  It is a short read so pick it up if you're so inclined.  I'd love to hear what you think.

The Master Quilter by Jennifer Chiaverini

The sixth book in the Elm Creek Quilts series, The Master Quilter by Jennifer Chiaverini did not disappoint.  It was very fun in that it addressed what I had felt were a few loose ends from an installment a few books back.  I just love these books.  Have you read them yet?  They really make me want to quilt.  As a matter of fact, when my cousin's wife sent out a call for quilt blocks for another cousin's wife who is suffering from a severe case of terminal cancer, I was more than ready to oblige.  I have to tell you- my quilt blocks were precious!  The only guidelines were size, background color and that they should have hearts.  I'm telling you, they were adorable!  Never mind- don't take my word for it.  Just look at these!

(I appologize fort the orientation- blogger won't let me fix it.)  I really hope our cousin feels our love.  And I might not have been so ready to contribute and confident in my ability if I hadn't been reading these books.  I really love them!