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read on the iPad: Stuck in the Middle

Several weeks ago, as I was practicing my skills as a slug, I watched Millionaire Matchmaker. You know, the show on Bravo in which single millionaires go to Patti Stanger for tough love advice and (hopefully) a love match. Usually the men’s behavior resembles that of pigs and the women act vapid and desperate.

On this show, however, Patti matched a pair of brothers. Cruz brother 1’s pairing was a typical swine/bimbo failure. The other couple, though, was fun to watch, especially when Cruz brother 2 asked his date if she minded if he prayed before their meal. To be honest, it brought tears to my eyes to see a real man acting out his faith. On television, no less.

(Yes, I’m getting to the book part. Be patient.)

I experienced more of the same type of faith-filled male lead when I read Stuck in the Middle by Virginia Smith. The book followed a recently-dumped young woman who didn’t feel like she was living up to her full potential. She lived with her mother and her grandmother, and as the middle child, she often shrank into the woodwork when compared to her sisters.

Enter hot-young-doctor-man neighbor. She’s interested. He’s interested. So is her sister. And so the games began.

My favorite parts of the book centered around the hot-young-doctor-man neighbor’s faith. He was the type of man that many women want and not enough women wait for. The type to care about people he didn’t have to care for and openly share his beliefs.

The book wasn’t complicated. The ending was happy, of course, and the characters were fairly stereotypical. But for a light read, it more than serves the purpose.

Lest this post get any longer, I must also discuss reading on the iPad. I used the Kindle app, which was awesome. And this particular book came to me free by way of the free list on Amazon.com. (It is no longer a free selection.)

Likes:

  • I can carry multiple books (and an internet browser) at once.
  • I can use the Kindle app on multiple devices (iPad, my school computer, my phone).
  • It fits in my (large but not overly so) purse.

Dislikes:

  • Not all books show page count. Some just show a percentage of book read, this one included. I thought I had 5% more of the book to go when I reached the last page. Boo.
  • I can’t read in the tub on an iPad… especially one issued by the school. What if I dropped it? Eek!
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book review: Magic Hour

Late this summer, I signed up at paperbackswap.com, a service for… wait for it… swapping paperback books. Well, any book, really. They don’t discriminate against hardcovers and audio books. Conceivably, those could be swapped, too.

if you prefer to own the book, you should hasten to this site.

Anyway, if you sign up for a membership and list 10 books, you are given one credit. The credit allows you to request one book posted by another member, and they mail it to you (they pay postage). When someone requests one of your posted books, you mail it away to them (you pay postage) and earn a credit. So far I’ve requested and received five books. I’m waiting for two more in the mail. I’ve sent six to other people.

they're not all perfect, but they're smell and spill free. and perfectly readable!

I’ve been pleased so far. Check it out if you’re so inclined.

Imagine that. I’ve been sidetracked. Good thing I’m not so easy to distract in the classroom. Sheesh.

captivating. kept me up past my bedtime, so i could finish.

The point of this post is to tell you how much I loved Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah, one of the books I received in the swap. The story opens with famous child psychiatrist Dr. Julia Cates being ostracized from the world she’s known when she wasn’t able to read between the lines and prevent one of her patients from committing murder.

Around that same time, her sister —  hometown police chief and former beauty queen Ellie Cates — has her own unique problem. A wild child, literally, appeared in town. After hiding in a tree and only being captured by net and tranquilizer, she was taken to the hospital. When the girl proved to be nonverbal — and seemingly unaware of the usual world’s norms — Ellie called her sister.

The remainder of the book follows Julia, Ellie, and the wild child — later dubbed Alice — as they try to find the child’s family and teach her how to feel (and act) human again.

The best part of this book is the healing that love provides. Now I’ve believed in fairy tales forever, but I know full well that the world is flawed and relationships often fail. Different perceptions of life events — even events shared with someone else — can cause giant rifts between people. But this book shows that communication and honesty — the tearing down of walls — can allow for people to come together even when they disagree.

This theme is repeated many times in this book’s love stories: between man and woman, yes — but more importantly between sisters, between mothers and daughters, and between friends.

And, as the title suggests, there is something magical about the little girl who is the center of this book, Alice. As a teacher and mother, my heart flipped at her moments of learning and connection. And, as she made her way from feral child to Julia’s world, I loved how the author let her keep nature as part of her essential self.

I fear writing more because I want to tell you that the ending is happy and that the reasons behind Alice’s wildness are revealed. But then I would spoil it. So I’ll just leave you here: with one of my favorite passages.

Girl looks at Sun Hair. Holding tightly to her hand, she wants to look away or close her eyes so that if Sun Hair is going to hit her, she will not have to see it coming, but she forces her eyes to stay open. It will take all her heart, everything she has inside of her to think and remember and make the forbidden noise…

She looks up into those pretty green eyes. Girl wants to be good. She licks her lips, and then says quietly, “Stay.”

Sun Hair makes a sound like a stone falling in deep water. “Didyousaystay?”

Girl gives her the special rose. “Peas.”

movie review: The Help

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This review is spoiler-free. (You’re welcome!)

Every time I read a book for which there is a movie counterpart, I am concerned that the movie will “ruin” the book. If you’re a reader, you know: rare is the movie that lives up to its book. Even more seldom, then, does the movie improve upon the book.

After reading The Help last week and seeing the movie tonight, I have to applaud director and screenwriter Tate Taylor.

Though Taylor did make some changes to Kathryn Stockett’s original novel and though he presented some surprises, they were all pleasant ones. Every plot detail he chose to tweak was conceived to improve the story. As a reader, I felt treated to surprises he incorporated into the movie. Little things, like innocent-looking pies, foreshadowed hints to what I knew was to come.

I went into the theater wanting to meet Celia most, as she was easily my favorite character in the novel. Having met the characters “in person” now, though, she is one of a handful of favorites. I loved Skeeter’s more outspoken nature, Aibie’s obvious love for all her children, and Minny’s rarely-shown tender side. The characters weren’t just dressed for the part, they became the people who’d formed in my imagination. Some of the minor characters were narrow, of course, but the ones I loved most were well-developed and satisfying.

What made me happiest was what I was struck with by the end of the movie. The strength of the theme: people are good. Maybe I’m idealistic (okay, I know I’m idealistic), but I want to believe in what Aibie tells her white babies: “you are kind, you are smart, you are important.” This movie told of horrific events in our lifetime, but it held the promise of better times to come.

The Help is rated PG-13 and is 137 minutes long. Its screenplay was written and directed by Tate Taylor, starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis, and Octavia Spencer. Watch a trailer, read the book if you’re so inclined, and go see it.

book review: The Help

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As of this morning, I was on page 219 of The Help by Kathryn Stockett. This evening, I’ve buzzed through all 521 pages. As many of my friends have said, “I couldn’t put it down.”

Actually, for a little while I didn’t want to read past page 219. I really didn’t want to know the worst would befall the characters I’d already come to know and care about.

Very rarely do characters in books become as real as the people in my life that I love. These ladies managed to do so in a very short span of time. Even if the worst happened, I had to learn more about them.

That, and the movie is coming out on Friday. I tell my students that they *must always* read a book before seeing a movie because it’s the only way an intelligent person can make an informed judgement in comparison, so I feel obligated to follow the same rule. Plus, I believe in the sense of this particular law. So what if it’s nearly always the book that’s better? (Except, of course, in the unfortunate incident of P.S. I Love You, but I’m really starting to get off track here…)

Anyway… if you haven’t heard, the premise of the book is this. In the early 1960s, Skeeter Phelan has come home from college to Jackson, Mississippi. She wants to write, but the best she can do is the housekeeping column in the local paper. She enlists the help of a friend’s maid because she has never cared for a home, herself. Her family’s own maid had made that possible.

As she continues to look for writing opportunities, Skeeter earns the attention of a New York publisher. As a result, she begins writing the maids’ own stories. In today’s world, fighting for equality is a common idea. But fewer than fifty years ago, the fear of repercussions — blackballing, threats, death — were real.

Besides my concern for the characters in their time period, I enjoyed the little details Stockett wove into the book. For one, I never knew that remote controls were once called Space Controllers! And when one of the characters wanted time alone with her boyfriend because he probably wouldn’t brush her hair off her face if they were around others? Such an old fashioned and simple thrill. If only today’s love stories could be so innocent.

This book is told with poise and humor that few books have. I only hope the movie does it justice. If nothing else, they best not miss the lesson of this book: that no matter the color of one’s skin, or the station of their birth, everyone can be “kind, smart, and important.”

book review: Tough Customer

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Usually, when I’m on vacation, I like to read as much as possible. And usually, when someone else is driving, I am allowed that chance. Unfortunately, I was the driver for all but 8 of the 52 hours in the car. And during those eight navigation-free hours, I was too interested in my navigator to do much reading. Plus, I thought it would be very rude.

“Hey… thank you for taking time off work to accompany us to Savannah. Why don’t I just grab my book and read while you drive us there?”

Um… nope. That certainly wasn’t going to happen.

However, whenever my kids were in the pool, which was quite often, I pulled out my book and read. And I was able to complete two books. One, Heaven is for Real, I’ve already reviewed. The other, Tough Customer by Sandra Brown, was also enjoyable, but in a completely different way.

One of the minor characters in this book, Derek Mitchell, was featured in Smash Cut just last year. And it’s his employee, Dodge Hanley, who leads the action in this book. In short, Dodge’s former lover, Caroline King, calls him for help after not speaking for over 20 years. Their daughter, Berry, the one he’d met through glass when she was born, was in trouble, and she needed his help.

It seems that a murderer had set his sights on Berry. In his first attempt, he shot one of her co-workers. This led to scandal, and Caroline wanted to avoid more.

I liked the fact that the history between Caroline and Dodge was leaked, bit by bit, as the book unwound itself. And I liked the southern setting which mirrored my vacation destination.

I’ve enjoyed Sandra Brown’s books since I read The Switch way back when my oldest was a tyke, so I also liked elements of the book that are quintessential Sandra Brown. She lays out the plot and reveals bits of the villain’s character, but she keeps part of it to herself. The tension of romance is always present, but it isn’t blatant enough to be uncomfortable. The twist at the end, though, is always my favorite part.

My children have learned that when I reach the last few pages of a novel, they probably should save their questions, lest they get “the look.” Hey, it’s the climax of the novel! It’s intense! Especially with Sandra Brown, and especially with this book. I never saw this particular surprise coming.

So… on vacation I was able to read two books, and both were winners. Pick up Tough Customer. Or another Sandra Brown book. And hit the deck chair. You’ll enjoy it.

book review: Heaven is for Real

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One of our vacation stops included the U.S. headquarters of Operation Mobilization (O.M.), a missions group spreading the word in over 110 countries. While there, we couldn’t help but visit their bookstore.

And when I saw Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo, I put it on the must-buy pile. It had been on my Amazon wish list for a while, and once it was right in front of me (at an amazing price), I couldn’t pass it up.

It is one of the biggest-selling Christian books of the year. And now that I’ve read it, I understand why.

Todd Burpo is a pastor. At the time of this book’s events, Todd and his wife Sonja were raising daughter Cassie and son Colton. Their family had encountered more than their fair share of problems when suddenly Colton became very sick. After nearly two weeks of illness, the doctors claimed that they had run out of magic for Colton.

The next day, however, after Todd and Sonja’s church met for a prayer meeting for Colton, his condition underwent a drastic change. By that afternoon, he was playing with his action figures and sharing bits of his personality again. This was just one piece of the miracle that was to come.

A few months after his recovery, Colton told his parents about how the angels sang to him in heaven. A few days later he told them about the colors in heaven. And that’s when his parents realized that he’d been telling him about his experiences all along, and that what he was saying had to be true. I really want to share more, but it’s not my story to tell. It’s Todd’s. And Colton’s. And a few anecdotes here would never do it justice.

What I can tell you is that as I was reading, I became very excited about the heaven in my future. Colton makes it sound like a beautiful place. It feels real to me now. A reward to anticipate.

The book is short — just about 120 pages — and I read it in just two days. (It would have been one day, but vacation isn’t just about sitting by the pool and reading!) Then I promptly gave it away. Because it is a book that must be shared.

Rest assured, though, that I’ve just re-purchased the book from Amazon. I want to be able to pass it along to others.

You should pick it up, too.

book review: Lioness Arising

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I once was informed (by a male friend) that men want women who appear wholesome on the outside but reveal a slightly wilder side at home. Apropos or not, it’s what I thought of when I was rereading one of the chapters of Lioness Arising by Lisa Bevere.

a little worn... with many notes inside!

I don’t think Lisa and my friend meant the exact same thing, but bear with me. In the chapter I most recently reread, Lisa describes how lionesses do “life right out in the open, light-filled expanses of the African plain” where they “rest, play, groom, feed, train, and even mate in the open.” In contrast, she also details lionesses who calmly focus on their prey and hunt when the time is right.

Throughout Lioness Arising, Lisa Bevere uses the metaphor of a lioness to reveal how women can and should act and be. It is a powerful metaphor and a beautiful one. I read the book once with women at my church, and I’m reading it again now as part of my daily quiet time.

The more I read this book, the more I want to be a lioness. I see so many things in this animal that embody who I want to be.

I want to be “at ease with [my] strength and at rest with [my] power.” I want to “wear [my] beauty comfortably.” I want to be someone a lion can trust and build a life with. I want to be under the same mission as a lion. I want to be protective of all the pride’s young, not just my own. I want to believe that God will lead me to steps 2, 3, and 4 after I complete step one in faith. I want to live in the light and be real about who I am and what I believe.

These are just a few of the lessons I have learned from this book, and I recommend it to men as well as women. Lisa’s writing is passionate and accessible. She weaves scriptures in to explain her points. She is human and real as she writes.

And several times as I was reading, I wanted to talk to a man about the ideas. One in particular, because he gets my metaphors, and because I think he would be intrigued by this particular metaphor of a lioness.

For years and years, I have said that I wouldn’t mind being a cat for a day. Now, however, I believe that I would like to be a lioness for life. This book is one of the best.

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