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Even when I was a little girl who still enjoyed getting toys for Christmas, I also looked forward to receiving books.  Then as a teenager I remember enjoying Christmas night, after all the festivities were finished, finally getting to lie on the sofa to read whichever book I was most excited about receiving.

Well, that hasn’t changed.  These days, if anyone asks me what I want for Christmas, I will have a list of books ready even if I cannot come up with anything else.  Usually these are the latest installment of favorite series that tend to appear in November.  I resist the temptation to buy them myself, eagerly anticipating receiving them as gifts.

I read very fast, so I’ve already finished most of my Christmas books, and am ready to share them with you!

This is the latest of Patricia Cornwell’s novels about Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta, a series I have been enjoying and collecting for years.  Sadly, Cornwell seems to have peaked years ago, at least as far as this series goes.  Long gone are the detailed autopsies and absorbing stories I enjoyed.  While this one was better than some of her recent work, and I did enjoy it just because I care about the characters, I am tired of hearing about the same villain over and over again.  These days, all the attacks are against Kay and her family.  I’d like to see her get back to fighting criminals and being a voice for victims.  I’ll keep reading these, though.

Here’s another series and author I love, and was again disappointed with this go-round.  For one thing, I have been wondering for YEARS what the title of this book would be.  Ever since A is for Alibi Sue Grafton fans have tried to predict her titles and of course everyone could hardly wait to see how she handled this most difficult letter.  What an anti-climax.  She didn’t play by her own rules! I enjoyed the book–I still love the main character–but again it felt a bit like the author was phoning it in.  It seems like she has lost interest and is just trying to get to the end of the alphabet.  Even the way she peppered the story with unnecessary encounters with just about every one of the protagonist’s former love interests seemed forced, like a sop to fans.  Again, I’ll read the rest of these and hope that this was an anomaly because this is the first time I’ve felt disappointed in one of these.

I wrote about my desire to read this book in a very popular post last year.  While I have not yet put its principles into practice, it has definitely inspired me to declutter and tidy.  If I really end up following Marie Kondo’s method, I will let y’all know how it works out!  Unexpectedly, one thing I’ve enjoyed about it is small glimpses into Japanese culture (like offhand mentions of the problem of storing kimonos and items for tea ceremonies).  I do find myself talking about this book a lot, which tells me that parts of it resonate with me and I am being inspired to think about “things” in a different way.

Okay, so this one is a bonus.  This isn’t mine (it’s Emily’s) and it wasn’t a Christmas present (she bought it herself).  But I did read it, so I thought I’d tell y’all about it.  Now, I don’t expect a whole lot from movie novelizations.  The best part of reading them is finding little tidbits of backstory that were cut from the final script, and this does deliver on that score.  But oh my gosh, y’all, the purple prose!  The speechifying! The dialogue!  It was BAD.  Read the book if you loved the movie, by all means, but be prepared to laugh at what are supposed to be some solemn moments.

I’ve got two more Christmas books to read, which I will write about at a later time.  What have YOU been reading lately?

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“Sometimes I think, what if I don’t feed

When a vampire’s abilities and defects never fully develop, taking on the head of England’s biggest vampire sect could be a bad idea.

Ever since he was turned, John Grissom, bacteriologist, has worked to find a cure for the disease. A powerful peer of the realm approaches him about research into the immunological properties of vampire blood, but Grissom discovers a far more gruesome scheme at play. He, his newly acquired assistant Henrietta, and the Prussian Van Helsing, a veteran vampire hunter in the employ of the Foreign Service, must seek out the elusive vampire lord before he sets in motion a domino effect leading to Napoleon’s successful arrival on British shores.

I recently was offered the opportunity to read and review Order of the Blood:  The Unofficial Chronicles of John Grissom by Page Zaplendam. (Full disclosure: I received a free copy of the ebook but my opinions are my own.)

Now, y’all know I love to read.  And I have always enjoyed historical romances and fantasy.  This book has both.  Still, I was a little skeptical when I began to read.  After all, there have been a lot of vampire novels written recently.  What more could there be to say?

But John Grissom is not your typical vampire: debonair, bloodthirsty, seductive, and headed straight for hell.  Nor is he a modern vampire: gorgeous, angsty, tortured, all-powerful.  Instead he is a Catholic gentleman of the past (England, 1809), a scientist living with what he believes to be a disease, subsisting on the blood of animals and feverishly researching to find a cure.  Moreover, he still needs his glasses, is not super-strong or super-fast, and has no problem with daylight.

And he isn’t the only unwilling vampire attempting to live a virtuous life–indeed, the opening scene of the novel takes place at a support group meeting for the Afflicted, which will look very familiar to anyone who knows the format of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting! It is there that he first spots Dr. Isherwood and his daughter, Henrietta, who will become his assistant and ally and possibly more than that in the future–I’ve been promised there are sequels on the way!

Besides introducing us to the main characters, including an ancestor of the famous Van Helsing, the novel is full of political intrigue and plotting that Grissom, an unlikely action hero, must attempt to thwart.  Zaplendam knows how to paint a picture of the era–the characters are clearly of their time (while still being relatable) and I loved all the little details such as the use of appropriate slang terms.  You can tell the author did her homework–she didn’t just plop modern characters into an old-fashioned setting.  I also appreciate that Grissom is a moral vampire whose Catholic faith and the state of his soul are important to him

This is a short novel, but every word counts.  A lot happens in this book and I am impressed by Zaplendam’s ability to world-build and create distinct–and likeable–characters with such economy.  I was sorry to see the story end and the first thing I asked the author was if there would be sequels.

I don’t want to spoil the story for you by saying any more.  Instead, I’ll share what I learned from the author herself when I interviewed her after reading the book.

Q: How long have you been writing fiction? Is this your first published work?

A: I have been writing fiction with the intent of becoming an author for at least seven years. It’s been difficult to fit it in when I have so many other time commitments. This is my first published fiction piece, the first of many.

Q: Why have you chosen to use a pen name? 

A: For a variety of reasons, but mainly to protect my family – publishing is so very public – and because I write in multiple genres.  Like other authors, I decided to use a pen name to help with creating and maintaining a specific author identity. Once I publish in a different genre, it will be under a different pen name.

Q: How does your Catholic faith inform your writing?

A: Excellent question. In regard to this book specifically, it always bothered me that in the vampire narrative, there was no exercise of free will. Our faith teaches us that we have free will; we can either cooperate with God’s graces or deny them. But becoming a vampire via the usual method – where one is turned against one’s will – seemed unfair and simplistic. 

Imagine a Catholic man, a hard-working, Mass attending father of a family. Coming home late one night he’s victimized by a vampire – and all of a sudden he’s an evil, murderous vampire? Not only does the individual not will to become a creature of evil, participating in evil, but how many people do we know that are evil for evil’s sake? We are far more complex than that. 

So I wanted to show the struggles that are likely were the vampire narrative actually a possibility. I re-imagined it this way, as a disease, because our faith teaches us that it is an impossibility for anyone, even Satan, to make our moral choices for us. A disease was the most rational explanation for vampirism, in order to explain how an individual could be affected by vampirism without it inhibiting their ability to exercise their free will. 

Ultimately, we must choose the good. Faced with the difficulties of requiring blood to survive, the age old moral question of taking another’s life for the sake of maintaining one’s own life, comes into play. Given the recent revealing videos on Planned Parenthood, I find this question to be especially relevant since it is one of the biggest justifications for abortion (life of the mother).

In the broader sense of how Catholicism informs my writing, I have to say ‘treatment of subject.’ As a Catholic writer, the final outcome of a story must be a moral outcome. Even if the writer is dealing with immoral elements, or temptations to sin, or perhaps even engages in sinful things, or is torn about the immorality of a given situation, the final conclusion, the takeaway as it were, must be reflective of objective morality (which Catholicism has the exclusive right to determine). In that respect, a Catholic writer can never justify premarital sex or divorce in their writing, or write about it in such a way that it would propose an occasion of sin for the reader. At times, it can take delicate handling, more so when using romantic elements. 

Q: What are your literary influences?

A: There are so many, but in particular Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. I don’t know that they have influenced my writing so much as they have influenced me and the things I love (which in turn influence my writing, so I must think there is a correlation there.) One can’t escape modernity though. We are a product of our age. And I really like that we can write things now in ways that would have been considered unacceptable in times past. I can start a sentence with ‘And,’ I can have my characters express what they are really thinking without the imposition of social restraint (as one sees in 19c novels for example). Of course, there is a certain artistry to being able to write within given parameters, no doubt. But I really enjoy being able to write in my own voice, which finds a lot of humor in a realization of the obvious.

Q: Why romance? Why vampires?

A: I was torn about what genre to place this in. Is it a historical? A paranormal? A romance, per se? The romance aspect of it was intended from the outset to be a side story, and I think I accomplished that. What can I say? At heart I am a romantic. I especially love the idea of how complicated life could get for an individual suffering from a disease that might endanger the loved one. There’s a lot of fodder there for conflict and drama, a writer’s dream really. 

And vampires because I haven’t yet come across a vampire narrative that really satisfied me. Vampirism is an extremely old narrative historically, almost medieval, and it was a response to the inability of medieval man to explain certain events. Vampires were among the ‘bogeymen’ of old. As far as folk villains go, a vampire is nearly iconic. As one who really loves folklore and fairy tales, that in itself was enough to intrigue me. 

Q: Vampires are ubiquitous in popular culture.   Is it a fair criticism to say that there’s nothing new to say about them?

A: I’ve often asked myself that same question about fiction as a whole. There are just so many books out there. What new thing could possibly be written? And the truth is, we aren’t writing new things in the sense that we are bringing something new to the table. It’s more like discovering a new facet of the same gem. We are dealing with the same old human nature, but we can arrive at new insights into that nature. That is the artistry of being a writer no matter the genre, no matter the subject matter. And all the more reason for fiction to be written from a Catholic moral perspective. Of anyone, Catholic writers are in the best position to understand the human soul and human nature, because we have the true (Catholic) understanding of it. 

Vampires are ubiquitous, sure, but in so far as a re-imagined vampire narrative can act as a platform for revealing the complexities of what it is to be human, I think there is room for development. 

Q: What about the sexual undertones of vampirism?  (SPOILER) At the same time that John assured Henrietta’s father that nothing happened between them—meaning nothing sexual—I felt that the intimacy of the sharing of blood was akin to the intimacy of a sexual act.  

A: That’s a provocative question (no pun intended), thank you. Part of vampire lore includes the power of the vampire over the victim, his ability to influence his victim and subject him. It is an invasion, not only physically, in the sense that the person is physically subjected against their will, but it is also a psychological invasion. I didn’t want to discount that aspect, but I wanted to be able to explain how it worked to some degree. 

While nothing happens between John and Henrietta that would endanger her physical purity or mental/spiritual innocence, we see a sudden jump in their knowledge of each other. This jump would normally come after greatly increased association with each other (which in turn would typically only occur if they were courting), so it puts an unorthodox (for the time period) sort of intimacy between them that creates tension. Not only do we have a physical attraction there (we are attracted first with our eyes), we also have increased awareness of what makes the other person tick. Evil vampires are going to use this to their advantage. Grissom, as a man of honor, feels like he knows more than he has a right to know.

Q: Some Catholics would opine that to write about vampires is to dabble in the occult.  How would you answer such a criticism? 

A: I think a thing is what it is, only if that is what it is. 

In other words, if something is in se occult, than it can’t be otherwise. If one were to present a Ouija board, something which in se deals with the occult, as possibly not such a bad thing, yes, it would be dabbling in the occult. But I don’t believe vampirism necessarily falls under ‘occult.’. First, because vampires begin as humans. In my book, they retain their humanity. Like I said, the idea that man can lose his free will through no fault of his own is actually against Catholic teaching. The Unofficial Chronicles is a recognition of that by re-imagining vampires as humans with a free will. 

Secondly, would we say that a movie such as the Exorcism of Emily Rose dabbles in the occult? It deals with the demonic, it’s for entertainment. The occult, so far as I understand it, requires a glorification of or at least an impartiality towards the demonic. But treatment of subject. A writer can have a character who is a satanist – as long as that satanism is presented as an evil and that satanist as a sinner. In the Exorcism of Emily Rose the demonic is unquestionably recognized for the evil it is and the possession case is merely the vehicle, the background, to the greater drama of the trial. It is because of that that it is acceptable to Catholics. Juxtapose it against the The Exorcist, which relies on the sensationalizing of a possession case for its entertainment. 

I think those are the major differences between my novel and many of the vampire novels that are out there. In my novel, vampirism is not in se part of the occult, but a disease which does not in se produce a demoniac, and it’s the vehicle by which the greater story is revealed. 

Q: What’s next for John Grissom? 

A: Like the first book, book 2 has mystery, suspense, and bit of romantic drama. We see him using his defects as strengths and discovering new things about himself. I decided to go North into Derbyshire, for several reasons, one among them being that that’s where Pemberley is and I wanted to give a nod to Pride and Prejudice, one of my favorite books since I was a teenager. But the thing I am most stoked about is the new paranormal threat Grissom will be dealing with. It’s very exciting. And a shade gruesome, like book 1.

Page Zaplendam is the pen name of a writer of speculative and fantasy fiction. Page does not believe in vampires, or that the world will end in the immediate future. Then again, truth is always stranger than fiction.

To learn more about Page and her writing, check out the links below:

Website: www.pagezaplendam.com Facebook: www.facebook.com/pagezaplendam

And I encourage you to purchase the ebook!

Either here: Buy Order of the Blood (ebook) or Paperback from Amazon

Or here:  Buy Order of the Blood from Smashwords

Cover - crte version 4 correct bleed resolution

nablopomo

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It’s been a long time since I’ve linked up to What We’re Reading Wednesday, and I’ve missed sharing books with you.  Fact is, I don’t read as much as I once did.  That’s sad but true, and it’s the computer’s fault. Because it would be more accurate to say that I still read a lot, just articles and blogs instead of books.  I read great articles and blogs, and I share them with my Facebook friends.  But it’s not quite the same. So here’s a sampling of what I’ve read (relatively) recently that I thought it would be fun to share.

I got this one via Blogging for Books, and then took forever to read it.  My fault, not the book’s, because it’s engaging, easy to read, and interesting.  And there’s probably not much I can tell you about Paleo that you haven’t already heard, because I’m way behind the times.  I will say this:  people who complain about his ideas without having read the book . . . obviously haven’t read the book. 🙂 It’s far from being the had-core-you-must-eat-this-way-or-else diatribe people make it out to be.  And a lot of it makes sense to me, even if I would never choose to eat that way full time.

I was given Teardrops That Tango to review by the author.  This is a book that will get your attention from the first page.  It tackles all kinds of rough situations: child abuse, suicide, mental illness.  I know it sounds like a downer but it has a happy ending.  It’s definitely painful to read, though, especially because you know it’s the true story of someone who has suffered a lot.  But that’s not supposed to be the message you take away from it.  Be aware that although it starts out like one it really isn’t a strict autobiography, but also combines resources for those going through rough times with inspiration and advice.  It’s ambitious for sure and that can make it a bit uneven but it’s a story you won’t easily forget.

The above constitute comfort reading for me.  Our whole family loves Star Trek.  We have many, many Star Trek novels, which are some of our few books that survived the destruction of our home by fire four years ago.  We’ve been watching one Star Trek episode each night for months now, and having made our way through TNG and TOS (yes, in that order!) we are now experiencing Deep Space Nine for the first time!  Anyway, those first two books are sequels to the second-to-last TOS episode, which put me in the mood to read them; and having read them, I was in the mood to read more, and the next ones pictured are two of my favorites.  If you like Star Trek, you will like these books.

And I just started the Grisha Trilogy this week, and I am already on the third book!  Emily (grown up daughter) has been urging me to read these for awhile.  Emily reads like I used to read.  She keeps the library busy and she buys books too. Christmas and birthday lists are and always have been full of books.  And of course it’s more fun if you can discuss what you read with someone else who’s read it too.  I don’t know why I was so reluctant to start these.  I think I was afraid they would be demanding or exhausting but they aren’t.  The author has set her world in something resembling Russia in the 1800s and the familiarity makes it easier to immediately relate to.  Obviously the story is engaging and interesting or I wouldn’t be reading it so fast.  Whether I would recommend them I cannot say until I see how they end, and how the romance plot resolves.

Emily has already informed me what series she is going to make me read next, so I’ll have something else interesting to write about next time!

What are you reading? You can tell me in the comments! And for more reading suggestions, visit the other posts in the linkup!

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Did you think I’d given up writing on my home-made homeschool curriculum?  Think again!  It’s just that I’ve been busy actually DOING homeschooling, as school began last week.  And so far it is going pretty well.  Today I want to write on our Reading curriculum.

I did have to order some new textbooks because some of mine were lost in the fire.  That makes me really sad because a few of them had been around a long time–they were discarded textbooks from St. Joseph that they were giving away back when I was younger than Lorelei.  It’s a sad commentary on  . . . something . . . that Catholic textbooks are no longer used in Catholic schools.  One of the best aspects of Catholic education is that the faith can be woven throughout the day and not confined to religion class.  How much more true that would be if Catholic texts were still available!

But the Internet being the marvel that it is, I managed to find what I was looking for:  fourth grade Catholic Readers from the 1940s and 50s.  I have a mixture of New Cathedral Readers and Faith and Freedom Readers, and I have a few secular readers I’ve collected over the years as well that we can use if we finish the ones we have.

Right now we are reading New Times and Places, and Lorelei is enjoying the stories, most of which teach Catholicism by showing Catholic people doing Catholic things in the course of their regular lives.  Most days of the week somewhere in the middle of our school day I just tell her to start reading and after about 30 minutes I tell her to stop, and then she tells me about the stories, which she is always eager to do.

reading book

 

As you can see, there is nothing NEW about this book.  But that’s why I like it.

reading book 5

reading book 4

reading book 3

reading book 2

I love the old-fashioned pictures, the innocence, the simple piety of these books.  I love that Lorelei is learning about living the faith even as she does her reading lesson, but in an organic way, not a preachy way.

On Fridays, we switch gears and I have her read and do some exercises from a workbook I bought somewhere, which includes short segments on Guinness Book of World Record Winners.  I just thought that looked fun. 🙂

When she finishes this first reader, she already has a chapter book picked out to read.  I’m going to have her read that and then do a book report.  Then we will start on the next reader.  And we will just keep going until we run out of year.

Jake and William were not confident readers, so I started them in the third reader, and we would take turns reading aloud to each other.  Lorelei, like Teddy, is fine to read on her own at grade level, and I expect we will move into 5th grade readers later in the year.   The problem with Lorelei is that she’s not that into reading.  She likes to read once she gets started, but unlike Emily (and me) it’s not the first thing she thinks of when she has free time–that would be t.v.  That’s why it’s important to me to make extended and interesting reading part of our curriculum this year, and why I’m going to concentrate for now on READING, not talking about it, or answering questions about it, or doing lessons based on it.

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what we're reading

Participating in What We’re Reading Wednesday has shown me how boring I am.  Every week the other contributors post reviews of intellectual or inspirational reads, and I just keep on reading the same old stuff.  Which is why I skipped last week, because I figured y’all were tired of hearing about Patricia Cornwell.

So to spice things up a bit, this week I will tell you what I SHOULD be reading, and if all goes according to plan in a few weeks I should be able to tell you a little more about the books below.

OK, y’all, I have zero interest in reading this book.  But Nelson DeMille is a favorite of my next-door-neighbor, who runs the book club, so this is what we are reading for Monday.  It’s about a million pages long, and I haven’t started it yet.  But that doesn’t matter because this is a cool book club and if I don’t read it I’ll look it up in Wikipedia or something so I can throw out a few intelligent-sounding comments before I drink too many glasses of wine.  Seriously, we’ve already read one of his books, and I didn’t hate it; it’s just not my cup of tea.  But no one liked the one book I’ve had us read so far, so I will just be good and quiet and do what I am told.

I just got this one in the mail from Beacon Hill Press.  I’m an official Off-the-Shelf blogger for them, which means I get free books to write reviews about.  I have 90 days to read and write, but will probably try to do it this week.  I’m excited about this one!

Here’s another I’ll be reviewing for Beacon Hill.  Unfortunately only an e-book was available, not my favorite way to read at all, but I’ll manage.

I’m really excited to read and review this one, since I have three adult children in various stages of launching.  This is another Beacon Hill Press offering.

Everybody has been talking about this Paleo thing for awhile now.  So I’m excited to read this and to see how its advice conforms with the changes I’ve already made to my diet.  I’m getting my copy of this through Blogging for Books, a new venture for me.

 

Finally, here is what I am ACTUALLY reading. 🙂  I continue to make my way through Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series, in chronological order.  Having read them all and knowing what comes later adds another layer to the experience.  Without giving anything away, this one in particular, which largely focuses on Kay’s grief over the gruesome murder of her lover, Benton Wesley, is hard to see in the same light now that I know the eventual resolution of this story arc.

Reading about Scarpetta always puts me in the mood for good food, since she is an Italian gourmet cook.  I had meant to check out the following for awhile, and had one of those late-night Amazon moments, found they were cheap, and now they are on their way to me.

I’m not a huge cookbook person–I cook mostly out of my head–but I’m going to enjoy these because the first weaves in a story about the characters and the second showcases recipes that are actually mentioned in the books.

For more of what people are reading, check out the linkup at Housewife Spice!

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what we're reading

I’m a day late to the party, and it wasn’t because I was busy reading.  I only wish.

I told you last week that I was reading this for book club:

I started this the night before our meeting, and it’s almost 500 pages, so I couldn’t pay as close attention as I should have, but that’s okay because that’s four hours of my life I will never get back.

Maybe I’m not being fair because the one member of our group who picked the book and is into tech stuff really liked it, and it’s won awards, but I was turned off in the first chapter when the main character was called a “roll model.”  This would be the main character whose name is, I kid you not, Hiro Protagonist.  Anyway, this book is about a futuristic society in which everything is a franchise, even countries, and there are lots of those.  There are no laws anymore, and people live in their own sovereign nations called burbclaves where peace is enforced by private security.  Those who can spend most of their time in the virtual reality Metaverse.  No doubt the Metaverse was cool and cutting edge in 1992 when this was published, but the author’s minute descriptions of it are boring to a modern reader.  To give the guy credit, he coined the word avatar, but we all know what that means at this point.  In my opinion, this book peaked in the first chapter, which was actually pretty cool.

Other than that, I am still on my Patricia Cornwell kick, and am about to finish this:

Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta books grow increasingly long and convoluted over the years, and I like her earlier ones, like this one, the best.  I’m not sure why I enjoy this kind of thing so much–I think it might have started with Quincy, which I watched religiously and which inspired in me the brief ambition to be a forensic pathologist.  My first Cornwell book was Body Farm, which I read because of the local connection (Knoxville is the home of the REAL Body Farm).  I found that I liked her writing and the mysteries, but really the key to these books is the characterization.  And now after so many years of reading these books, Scarpetta and co. seem like old friends to me.

And now back to work.  If you’d like more book reviews/recommendations, check out the rest of the linkup at HousewifeSpice!

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what we're reading

So I belong to a book club and it’s pretty awesome.  For one thing, it’s located right next door, so the fact that drinking wine is a large part of the meeting is not a problem.  A book club that sends its members home tipsy is kind of cool, don’t you think?  Second, we have an eclectic and fun fix of people who attend–men and women.  Third, my neighbor makes lots of yummy treats, so the meeting doubles as dinner.  Four, no one cares if you read the book or not. Five, we don’t just stick to one thing–we read all kinds of interesting stuff. Six, of course we talk about the book, but we also get off topic and talk about all kinds of things.  Seven, our meetings have been known to go on until midnight!  Seriously!

This is all to lead up to what I am reading Wednesday although to be honest it should be called what I might be reading LATER on Wednesday, because I haven’t even borrowed the book (there’s another perk!) from my neighbor yet.  But I do plan to do so later today, and since our meeting is Monday I should be able to tell you all about this book next week:

In the meantime, I got the idea that it would be fun to re-read all my Patricia Cornwell novels in order. (See, that’s the kind of thing I do.  That’s why I’m always waiting till the last minute to read the book club book.)  These are some of the few books I salvaged from the fire, plus I’ve added new ones since.  I’ve just gotten started, so I am reading this one:

I also finished up the Love Inspired romances I was reading last week, but you don’t want to hear about those. 🙂

If you want to see some other good books, check out the other entries in the linkup here.

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