Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

I’ve always loved public libraries. I remember going as a child. I’d check out a hefty stack of books and proudly carry them to the desk, check them out on my own card, then carry them to the car. I’d read all the way home and would usually have 3 or 4 books finished by the time we got there. By the end of the day, I would have finished my whole stack. I’d be ready to go back the next day, but I’d have to wait until the next week. While I waited, I’d read them again and again. 

During my junior high and high school years, we lived in a rural area. When we made trips “into town”, we didn’t make it to the library because it wasn’t the part of town we were going to. I resorted to buying my own books (and bags of mixed nuts from Morrow’s Nut House) at the mall with my allowance. During the school year, I’d get books from the school library. My senior year, I spent one of my free hours working in the library. It wasn’t a terribly busy place, so I spent a lot of time lining up the books with the edges of the shelves. Sound boring? Not for someone like me! I loved being able to see all the books the library had. I was introduced to many contemporary authors that way: Robin Cook, Victoria Holt, and others. 

I didn’t have much time for reading for pleasure when I was in college, but I did work in the campus library. I worked in the back and helped process the new books that came in. Whenever my department was slow or my supervisor was out, I got to work with other departments. I don’t know why I didn’t think to pursue a degree in library science…

At some point in my adult life, I rediscovered the public library. I know one was in the downtown area, and I didn’t like going to it. I feel almost certain that I visited a different local branch, but I can’t recall it. On the other hand, I do remember countless visits to Books-A-Million…

When we moved to the Dallas area, I sought out several libraries in the cities surrounding us. I still have (expired) library cards from larger cities and smaller towns on the north and east sides of the Metroplex. I’d take the boys weekly for story time and more often in the summer when their special programs were in full force. As they got older and I homeschooled them, we joined a wonderful kids’ book club that our 4-H leader led. I read with them as well as on my own. 

The boys are enrolled in a small Christian school now. They don’t have as much time for reading for pleasure during the school year, but during the summers I make sure they have something to spend time reading each day. But we still visit the library frequently during the school year. Each trimester the high school students must write a lengthy research paper. (Yes, that’s three research papers each school year; twelve during their high school career.) In the search for resources, we visit the library and check out obscure books (for difficult historical and literary topics).

Caleb’s winter trimester research paper was on slavery and the 13th Amendment. We checked out six books, which he kept in a stack on his desk when he wasn’t using them. Once he had turned in his paper and he knew he wouldn’t need to refer to the books for anything, he brought all six downstairs and put them on the table. I put them in a crate in the trunk of my car. A few days later I stopped off at the library and put the books in the book drop since they were closed. One, two, three, four, five, six. Later that week when I checked my account online, records showed one of the books hadn’t been turned in. I knew better, but I thought maybe they were just slow in processing them. Not long after that, I got my regular email notification that my books would be coming due in a few days. That book was still listed as being checked out to me. I was busy, and I had time to renew it and deal with it later, so I did. And again. And again.

I stopped off at the library a few weeks ago to finally check on what to do about it. The lady at the circulation desk requested and shelf check for the book at all four branches. She told me to watch my account. If they found the book, they would take it off my account; otherwise I would be responsible for it.

Last week, I got another email notification about a book coming due. It hadn’t been found and was still on my account, so I stopped by on Saturday afternoon to follow up on it. I talked to a different lady at the circulation desk (on purpose). She checked my account again and said a shelf check showed the book had not been found. I had to pay for it. I told her that I knew I had returned it and that I had put it in the book drop on the side of the building; unfortunately there was no way I could prove it.  I wanted them to check around the book drop area just in case it had gotten lodged somewhere. (It was a really thick book.) But no. I could pay it or lose my library privileges when the final renewal ran out in three weeks. 

I sighed, loudly unzipped my wallet, and tossed down $32 cash and two quarters. While the clerk painstakingly wrote out my receipt, I debated whether I wanted to check out the books I had chosen. I muttered, “Well, I won’t be using the book drop anymore.” She ignored me and continued writing the receipt. Then she handed it to me along with my new printout of books I had checked out. I was tempted to stick those books in the book return window as I walked past, but I kept them.

Still, it would be easier to just download ebooks and let them automatically be removed from my device when time is up. As much as I still enjoy the feel of an actual book in my hands (which I think I blogged about long ago), it’s not worth the headache if I have to deal with the library losing books that are in my name. 

Then again, if this is the only bad experience I’ve had in the nearly 13 years I’ve been using that particular library, the odds are pretty good it won’t happen again. The whole experience just leaves a bad taste in my mouth, though. I don’t want to take the risk.

I will continue to check out books from there, but I will not use the outside book drop anymore. I’ll make the library trips only during operating hours. It’s really not that inconvenient. It’s only five minutes from home and from work. But if it happens again, I really will have to come up with another option. 


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I’m an avid reader, and I’m always in the middle of two or three books. Or four. Or five. Seriously. I carry one with me all the time because you never know when you’ll have some spare time/wait time. I like to be prepared.

A few years ago I tried using Billy’s old Sony eReader. I downloaded a book from the library and managed to read it all, but it was kind of boring (the reader, not the book) and not the easiest thing to use. Besides, I just like the feel of a book in my hand… The eReader went back into a drawer. When I pulled it out again (probably a year later) to give it another try, the battery was dead and I couldn’t readily find the cable to charge it. I eventually returned it to Billy with a sigh that I’m just not ready for that technology yet…

Last summer I got an iPad, and it didn’t take me long to download a Kindle app. My sister had a Kindle Fire and she kept telling me all the great things about it, all the books she could get, etc. Still, I couldn’t really get into reading on it. I used it to read a few library books, but I always went back to bound books.

I guess I really changed my opinion about ebooks when we took a short road trip and I didn’t want to pack a lot of books to take with me. I took one that I was almost finished with, but instead of packing another two or three to choose from, I just relied on what was on my Kindle app. That was the turning point. Since then, after finding out about Christian Fiction for Your Kindle, I’ve downloaded close to 60 free or inexpensive books onto my Kindle – and I get a few more new ones every week!

A few months ago, I downloaded Overdrive Media on both my iPad and my iPhone. I use the iPad app for non-Kindle books that I want to check out from the library. The only ebook I’ve read on it so far has been Jeremy Camp’s autobiography I Still Believe, but I have many more on my library wish list. I use the iPhone app for audiobooks to listen to while I’m driving, cleaning house, or working on projects where the TV would distract me. So far I’ve listened to Carol Burnett’s This Time Together, The Bridges of Madison County, Three Weeks with my Brother (a memoir by Nicholas Sparks), and Fahrenheit 451. I started listening to The Invisible Man but I lost interest in it. I’m looking for some sort of tuner/receiver so we can listen to audiobooks over the car speakers via my iPhone on our beach trip in a few weeks.

I also found out about a free ebook reader app through Christian Book Distributors (CBD). I downloaded it and was able to find several free ebooks through their site. I’ve read one so far – Invisible by Lorena McCourtney. I enjoyed it so much, I checked out the second book of the series (of 4 books) from my church library.

Just yesterday I downloaded the Nook app. I don’t know much about it yet, but I figured that would be the way to go if I (hopefully!) win a Barnes & Noble gift card from our public library’s adult summer reading program. I have 10 entries so far, but I’m hoping to get my name in a few more times before the program ends. The top prize is a Nook, which I have promised to a friend if I happen to win it – which I seriously doubt. The second prize is an iPod Nano. The individual library branch prizes are the B&N gift cards – my preference!

Lately I’ve been thinking about downloading an ebook reader of sorts onto the boys’ iPod Touches. I don’t want them having free access to any book, so I have to look at my options carefully. I also don’t want them having the ability to download a book through an app that’s tied in to a credit card. Since their iPods are configured to not bring up Internet pages, I need to see what I could do from my computer. I guess it’s homework time…

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I look at my blog and wonder, why haven’t I blogged lately? Then when I try to think of answers, I can’t really come up with any good ones…

1. School started. But that didn’t stop me last year…
2. I have an iPad now. But I also have a WordPress app on there so I can blog directly from it…
3. Life is busy. But it’s not any busier than “normal”.
4. I don’t have anything to blog about. But I do!

So why have I been silent? No good reason.

My goal is to get back to a more regular blogging schedule. I definitely don’t want to give it up! I’ve been blogging for at least 9 years – though the early years were lost in a horrible crash at… (I can’t remember the name of the blog hosting site.)

Book-wise, I’m not reading as much as I used to. I have lots of books on my must-read list and on my library shelf. But I am reading. A few months ago, I challenged myself to become more educated about our presidential candidates. I read Tony Evans’ How Should Christians Vote?, which was great. I also had The Faith of Barack Obama by Stephen Mansfield and The Mormon People by Matthew Bowman on the table beside my recliner. I only made it halfway through the first one (which I’m through with and need to return to the library), and I didn’t get started on the second one (which I still want to read). The idea of “needing” to read those kept me from the others on my shelf.

One great recent read was James Patterson’s Zoo. Wow! Talk about hard to put down! It was creepy, thrilling, interesting,… possible? Yes, I read it during my self-imposed political education, but it was a book I had put on hold long ago and had been waiting anxiously for. When I finally got it, I had to get right to it because I couldn’t renew it. It was well worth the diversion!

Now I’m reading Weight Loss Boss by the CEO of Weight Watchers (whose name I can’t remember right now…). It’s okay. There’s nothing there I haven’t heard before, and each chapter ends with a Weight Watchers commercial from another satisfied customer. I’m not into Weight Watchers, but the book caught my eye anyway. I’m slogging through it, and though I’m not finished with it (after many weeks), I’m ready to turn it in and focus on something different.

Garden-wise, I’m still getting a few tomatoes. Really? I quit watering it and tending to it a while back because things had slowed down so much. After the weather turned cooler, though, my cherry tomatoes took off. I counted about 40 on there two weeks ago. Just last week I picked a small “regular” tomato, which the boys and I shared (along with two grocery store tomatoes) in our Greek salad supper Friday night. I also saw a new crop of jalapeños forming. I’m not putting any more effort into it, but I will take what it gives me!

Co-op-wise, things have been great. Last week was my least favorite haul, but it’s still been good. (Five cucumbers? And nothing to put with them? Thus the Greek salads the boys and I ate last week…) So far I’ve put up almost 4 cups of mashed sweet potato to use in a few pies and a cheesecake. For Sunday night’s Pie & Praise at church, I used the fresh cranberries I got. I made a delicious cranberry-apple crisp. The boys don’t like it, mostly because of the tartness, but I love it! I was so glad to bring home leftovers.

Next week is my turn for co-op shopping. My original partner dropped out because they’re moving to a new town. I was alone for a while, but recently my friend Julie’s daughter (Kenya) was paired up with me. She’s a teacher, so right now I’m picking up her produce each time, then she’s stopping by on her way home (she lives a few streets over) to get it. She’s not going to be available to help me pick up next week, so the co-op coordinator will be going with me. I can’t wait! It’ll be my first time to go to the Dallas Farmers Market – and my first experience shopping for the co-op. I’m glad I’ll have someone seasoned going along with me! I’m not sure what I’ll want to get, but I do know I want more fresh cranberries. I’ve got my mind set on making a cranberry cheesecake for one of our Christmas parties. 🙂

Now that I’ve got all the catching up out of the way, hopefully I’ll get back to posting regular stuff: book reviews, menu plans, craft projects, etc.

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16. Coming Back Stronger by Drew Brees, with Chris Fabry *audiobook*

I’ve discovered audiobooks! I never thought about it much until a friend of mine was talking about how much he enjoys them and shared tips on how to download them onto my iPod. I’d never really thought about that much, though I have looked at some of the books on CD at the library. I decided to see what the library had to offer electronically and my eyes were open to all new possibilities.

I tried reading Tim Tebow’s autobiography Through My Eyes a few months ago. I enjoyed parts of it, but all the football talk really slowed me down. I like football; I’ll watch it on TV. But I really don’t want to read a lot about it. By the time my 3 weeks of having the book were up, someone else had it on hold, so I had to turn it back in. That was fine with me because I had gotten bored with it. That’s the reason I hadn’t checked out Drew Brees’ autobiography, though I’d seen it on the shelf for a while. As soon as I saw it as a downloadable audiobook for my iPod, I jumped right on it.

I wasn’t let down, either. While I probably would’ve gotten bored reading most of the football stories, my interest was held while I listened to them. Maybe that’s because I was a captive audience – earbuds in, hands busy working on either cleaning or organizing. Regardless, it was entertaining and informative.

I’m a die-hard New Orleans Saints fan. I’ll always cheer them on – and regardless of what happens with Drew Brees in the future, I’ll always cheer him on as well. Yes, even if he ends up playing for the Atlanta Falcons or the Dallas Cowboys. (Don’t read that as me cheering for those teams, just the player!)

I’ve always liked Brees, but I gained a new respect for him as I learned about his life. He’s a down-to-earth, very likable guy. He thinks things through and examines all his options before making decisions. He likes closure. He faced some tough times as he grew up, but he didn’t let them get him down, he’s not using that as a crutch, and he’s not making excuses about it. Instead he’s using that to be a stronger person, a stronger leader.

The thing that probably impressed me the most, though, is his Christianity. He is a believer (though not as outspoken about it as Tim Tebow), and he and his wife approach life with a biblical worldview. They pray together and work together to do what they feel God has called them to do, to be where God wants them to be. That’s part of the reason they ended up in New Orleans (which is a fascinating story). Together they have established the Brees Dream Foundation, whose mission statement is “improving the quality of life for cancer patients, and provid[ing] care, education and opportunities for children and families in need”. Their belief is that for every dollar in, a dollar must go out. They also hold to the idea that “to whom much is given, much is required”.

Coming Back Stronger is a must-read – or a must-listen! – for anyone who’s a fan of football. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of someone else or some other team. His story is inspiring and deserves to be known and appreciated.

17. Working It Out by Abby Rike

If you’re a fan of The Biggest Loser, you probably know something about Abby Rike. Abby was a contestant in Season 8, and the story of her personal tragedy captured the hearts of America. She lost her husband, her 5-year-old daughter, and her 2-week old son in a tragic car accident. Her response was to stay strong on the outside, but inside she was dying, lost in a lonely world. She was too scared to love anyone again, fearful of more hurt. When she became a contestant on the show, she turned her life around. She formed close bonds with her fellow contestants, especially her roommate, Shay Sorrells. Abby opened herself up to love again, and her transformation was a beautiful process to watch.

Abby goes into much more detail about her life, her love, her depression, and her renewal in her book. Her strong Christian perspective is straightforward and spot-on with biblical truths. She is an inspiration – not just for people who are trying to lose weight, but also for anyone coping with tragedies that are inescapable. I would love to see her travel on the Women of Faith circuit!

This is a book to be read and shared! A big thanks to my sister Lindsay for loaning me her copy since my library didn’t have it. If I see a copy next time I’m in a bookstore (which are far and few between these days…), I’ll get my own copy. Yes, it’s that good.

18. One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Based on the title alone, had I run across this book on my library’s shelf, I most likely would have read the inside flap to see what it was about. Based on what’s written there, I most likely would’ve added it to my seemingly bottomless book bag. As it ended up, One Amazing Thing was recommended by a friend through a Facebook reading group. She suggested we read it by a certain date, then discuss it. Though I’m not a fan of “assigned” reading (for me, as an adult; it’s a totally different matter for students…), I thought I’d join in.

The reason I didn’t find the book on my library’s shelf is that it’s apparently a fairly popular title. I had to put it on hold and wait a few weeks before my turn finally came up. Once I started reading it, it was hard to put down.

Uma, a young Indian woman, is waiting in an American passport/visa office with a handful of strangers when an earthquake occurs, trapping them all together in the basement office. After banding together to pool their resources of food and collect drinking water, they realize the office is slowly flooding. In order to keep the stress of their circumstances from taking over, Uma suggests they each tell a story – something from their lives that no one else knows. She wants them to each share “one amazing thing”. After some hesitation, each person eventually shares something. They not only learn about each other during the process, but they also learn about themselves.

There are nine stories within the larger one, each one different and interesting. It’s been likened to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, where the a group of pilgrims share stories as they travel. Of course, I enjoyed some of the stories more than others – as well as liking some of the characters more than others. It was nice to see how each of the characters came to a realization of some sort while they were sharing with the others.

The only thing I would’ve changed is the ending. While we do get to know all the characters’ stories, we never find out if they were rescued or not. I’m one who prefers finality. I want to know if the lessons they learned were something they were able to live out, or if they learned them just before dying. This is the type of ending that leaves room for a sequel, but there’s not much reason for a sequel here. The characters (unless they’re the few who are related by blood or marriage) don’t have any reason to stay in touch with each other after the ordeal ends, and a sequel to this would be a random conglomeration of disjointed stories. Still, it’s worth taking the time to read.

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11. Seriously…I’m Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen DeGeneres cracks me up! I don’t watch her show because I’m too busy to watch any daytime TV, but I’m sure I’d enjoy it. In fact, when I visited her show’s website earlier and saw that Johnny Depp will be on tomorrow for the first time, I decided I might try to watch after all. If I can remember…

When I was browsing my library’s “NEW” book section a few weeks ago and saw this, I snatched it right up and stashed it in my bag. Unfortunately I was in the middle of reading something else that was taking me longer than usual. When my three weeks were up, someone else had put it on hold so I had to return it – but I put it on hold for myself so I’d be sure to get it again fairly quickly.

The day I picked it up again, I sat down in some out-of-the-way chairs in the children’s section of the library and dove right in. It’s funny from page one. There were some times when I laughed out loud – and at least one of those times was in the library…

Ellen on mammograms: “Now the word ‘mammogram’ makes it sound like it’s going to be a fun experience. You think a cute little grandma is going to show up at your door to sing you a happy birthday song or something. Unfortunately, that is not the case. A mammogram is less like a fun song and more like an industrial-strength panini press.” (p. 22)

Ellen covers a wide range of topics in many different ways. Some things weren’t as funny as others, but most things put a smile on my face. I enjoyed reading what she thought about her experience as a judge on American Idol. On the other hand, I wasn’t thrilled with reading about her relationship with her “wife” Portia.

What confused me most was her picking on Harry Connick, Jr. I wasn’t sure if she was joking (which turned out to be the case) or if she really doesn’t like the guy. I actually Googled “Ellen DeGeneres Harry Connick Jr” to find out what their relationship is really all about. It’s all good. And funny. I watched a few clips from her show where he’s been a guest and they’ve been wonderful together. He’s even co-hosted a few times.

While I enjoyed the book for the most part, I was tired of it all before I got to the end. I wanted to finish it, but I forced myself to finish it quickly so I could move on to something else. This is maybe a book to read a little here, a little there. It’s not something I want on my personal shelf.

12. Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes by Maria Goodavage

I’m a sucker for books about animals, so when I saw this one in the “NEW” section of my library (where I always find myself browsing…), I knew I had to read it. I’ve heard stories of soldier dogs and this intrigued me.

I was hooked with the first chapter, a short four-page account of Fenji, a German shepherd, and her handler as they search for IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in Afghanistan. Then things change seemingly abruptly. Goodavage delves into the history and science of military working dogs for several chapters before finally (page 189, to be exact) getting back to focusing on the personal experiences that I’m looking for. While her findings in those areas are interesting and important – and granted, they were woven in with experiential stories – I felt a little bogged down with it all and it took me several weeks to read the book.

It’s definitely a book worth reading. Dog lovers, beware! You’ll find tears in your eyes – and you’ll probably feel compelled to fill out adoption paperwork so you can provide a loving home for one of these heroes.

13. The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks

I always like to settle in with a Nicholas Sparks book, but last time I read so many of them I got burned out. Honestly, I don’t know how long ago that was… But since I’ve been seeing previews for The Lucky One on TV lately, I decided I’d like to read some more of his work. I’m on hold for that particular book, so in the meantime I decided to read The Best of Me.

Dawson Cole and Amanda Collier were two teens in a forbidden relationship. Dawson was a quiet, solitary boy from the wrong kind of family. He turned his back on his family of criminals and left his abusive father to live on the floor of a garage owned by Tuck Hostetler. Amanda Collier is the only child of a wealthy, well-respected family. When their secret relationship becomes known, Amanda’s family does what it can to tear the two apart. In order to give Amanda the best chance to have the life she deserves, Dawson breaks up with her.

Twenty-five years later, Dawson is living a solitary life in New Orleans. A recent survivor of an oil rig explosion, he keeps seeing a mysterious dark-haired man in a windbreaker. The doctors say his hallucinations will fade as his brain heals, but he’s not so sure. Amanda is lost in a failing marriage with a drunk husband, two teens, and a young daughter. Tuck Hostetler dies, and his lawyer summons them to return to Oriental, their home town.

They meet unexpectedly at Tuck’s house, setting into motion a long weekend of reminiscing and rebuilding their relationship with each other. But Amanda decides she can’t tear her family apart despite her love for Dawson. As Dawson ties up loose ends in Oriental before returning to New Orleans, the mystery man shows up one last time…

There are really too many other smaller plot lines present to be able to justly describe the book without giving too much away. I will say that the ending was predictable. Once I realized where the story was heading, I wanted to quit reading and put the book down – but I was compelled to finish it and see if maybe there was some twist that would change things after all…

I found myself in tears a few times throughout the book, but not nearly as much as I anticipated. Still, the story was great and I had a hard time putting the book down. I fell in love with the characters (well, most of them), and I could picture the descriptions in my mind’s eye. Nicholas Sparks did it again.

14. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

I didn’t know much about the movie Hugo when it came out in theaters recently. In fact, I first heard about it from a friend of mine who was describing the book to our small group. When he said the book was all pictures (not accurate), I was intrigued. I had to see this book.

I searched my library and others for “Hugo”. That’s all I knew. No author, no full title. Just “Hugo”. Finally I decided to Google it, and that led me to the full name The Invention of Hugo Cabret. That made things so much easier! On my first try, I found it at my library – at my own branch, even, so I didn’t have to put it on hold and wait for it to be transferred. When I got it, I was shocked first at its thickness, then at its heaviness. I immediately wondered how I was going to get through it all. Once I began leafing through the book, I realized the pages were quite a bit thicker than the average book. And since a large portion of the book was illustrations, “reading” it would be easier than I thought.

A word about the illustrations. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is winner of the 2008 Caldecott Medal. The illustrations, all in black and white, are beautiful. Some look like simple charcoal drawings, so fresh-looking that I felt I would come away from the book with smudges on my hands. Other drawings are more detailed, and some really look like black and white photographs. I found out later through information in the back of the book that those were actually film stills.

The story of Hugo begins with “A Brief Introduction”, which proves to be important later in the story, followed by several pages of illustrations that draw the reader into the story. Forty-six pages in, the written part begins. The pattern of pages of illustrations followed by sections of text continues throughout the book. Overall, the combination of illustrations and text makes for a pleasantly unique experience.

Hugo is orphaned and secretly works as the clock keeper at the train station in Paris. He has possession of an automaton, which his father was working to repair before his tragic death. Hugo believes the automaton has a message for him from his father, and he works diligently to repair it, stealing pieces he needs from the owner of a train station toy booth… There are surprising twists in the plot, and the ending is quite unexpected.

The story is intriguing – and it’s based on some truth, as I found out when I read through the acknowledgments at the end of the book. Surprisingly, both of my sons are interested in reading the book, and I’ve placed the movie Hugo on our Netflix DVD queue for later this summer when they’ve both had a chance to complete the book and are taking a break from their whirlwind of activities in June and early July. I can’t wait to see it and compare it to the book.

15. American Pickers: Guide to Picking by Libby Callaway with Mike Wolfe, Frank Fritz, and Danielle Colby

Billy and I enjoy watching shows like American Pickers, Pawn Stars, Auction Kings, and Storage Wars. I read Rick Harrison’s biography, License to Pawn several months ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. When I saw the American Pickers guys on the cover of a book on the “new” section of my library’s shelves, I snatched it up, thinking it would be just as enjoyable.

Unfortunately, I had ignored the Guide to Picking subtitle. While there was a little biographical information about Mike, Frank, Danielle, and Mike’s business (Antique Archaeology), the book was mostly comprised of tips on how to be a picker, what and where to pick, how to sell your items, etc. There was some mention of people and events from their show’s episodes, but not as much as I had hoped to find.

If you’re interested in learning how to become a picker, whether you’re a collector or you want to make some money at it, this book is full of great tips. But if you’re looking for a biographical sketch of these entertaining guys (and girl), you’ll need to look elsewhere.

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9. Twist of Faith by Anne Beiler with Shawn Smucker

You’ve certainly heard of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, even if you’ve never feasted on one. (And if you haven’t tasted one, you really need to!) This is the story of “Auntie Anne” herself, the company’s founder.

Anne grew up in an Amish-Mennonite community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, as one of eight children. Her family struggled to make ends meet, and living in such a close-knit community, everyone in the community pitched in to help them. Life was good until a tragic accident took her daughter’s life. Angela was only 18 months old. Anne went into a spiral of depression, which continued as she and her husband moved to Texas with their two daughters. When they finally returned to Lancaster County, Anne found purpose through a job managing a pretzel stand at a farmer’s market. After a few successful months, she bought her own stand and, with Jonas’ help (as well as from her many siblings and other family members), quickly began building the business that would reach around the world – and allow her husband to live his dream of providing free counseling. Still, Anne’s depression continued. She used work as a cover, but even that put too much stress on her…

One of the biggest underlying themes in this book is forgiveness, though that didn’t really show itself until the end. Anne had many problems that she would rather sweep under the rug or busy herself with work to forget than to face them and move past them. Even though her husband, her daughters, and her family and friends had forgiven her for things, it wasn’t until her mother-in-law died that she was finally able to piece together parts of her past that she couldn’t remember. She was then able to forgive herself of her mistakes because she could see her goodness in spite of her actions and her depression.

Anne’s story is good, but it’s not very well told through this book. She jumps around too much in time telling her story. Even though she included the year when she’d switch from one part of her past to another, it was never easy to follow. Details about one part of her life are easily confused with details from earlier or later. At times I found myself wondering just exactly where one incident fit into the bigger picture. Once I even wanted to make a timeline so I could keep things straight. In all her jumping around, it seems that some of the things she mentioned got dropped altogether. In spite of all this, though, curiosity about the founder of one of my favorite mall snack shops kept me reading.

If you’re like autobiographies and you’re a fan of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, it’s worth a try.

10. The New Strong-Willed Child by James Dobson

I have a strong-willed child who has begun trying to challenge my authority in matters of schooling. In an attempt to get hold of the situation before it gets out of hand, I reread this book. (Yes, I read it before, about the same child, several years ago. The reasons were different then, but I had forgotten most of what I read. Maybe I need to buy the book…)

Dobson characterizes two basic types of children: compliant and strong-willed. However, within those two broad categories, there is a myriad of places they can fall. Mine is by no means to the extreme end of strong-willedness, but if I don’t assert my authority now, there is likely to be trouble later on.

There are some wonderful nuggets of truth in the pages of this book, and hopefully I can take them to heart and implement a plan. Basically, my approach needs to be one of coolness and control, not frustration and indecisiveness or inconsistency. My child needs to know that I am in authority over him, and he will act accordingly. Hopefully this is just a short phase where he’s testing the waters – and he’ll get back to his sweeter self soon. He sees his older brother have more freedom in things, and he’s trying to assert himself in the same way. There is obviously jealousy involved, and we’re trying to deal with that as best we can, but without coddling him.

I highly recommend this book for anyone with children – from infants up through adolescence. It’s one for the shelf!

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6. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12 in Panem, formerly known as the North American continent. Ever since a rebellion, in which District 13 was obliterated, the Capitol hosts a yearly reality show called “The Hunger Games”. Two “tributes” from each of the remaining 12 districts are chosen to fight to the death until one winner remains.

When her younger sister is chosen at random from thousands of names to be the next female tribute from District 12, Kat boldly takes her place. She is soon transported to the Capitol along with Peeta Mellark, the male tribute from her district, where they will be transformed, trained, and forced to compete.

I had never heard of The Hunger Games, published in the fall of 2008, until recently. All of a sudden many of my Facebook friends were raving about the trilogy. After hearing about it, I wasn’t sure it was something I really wanted to read, but I decided to try it anyway. Caleb had also heard about it and wanted to read it since one of his best friends was raving about it. (He got the set for his birthday last week, so now we don’t have to wait f.o.r.e.v.e.r. to get copies of the second and third books from the library.)

Once Caleb finished reading it, I started it. I was hooked almost instantly and had a hard time putting the book down! I didn’t have any real problems with the book. It is violent, as should be expected from the main plot, but it’s not graphic. Also there’s no foul language or anything mature about the content. (I let Caleb read it before me because the raves were coming from many of our church friends…, but I do want to read the second and third books before him if I can.)

One thing that struck me about the book is the total lack of any Christian influence. Panem seems to me to be a post-Apocalyptic world. There’s no mention of prayer, faith, church, or even God. As I read through the book, I realized that the characters had no real hope for anything other than staying alive, and in some cases even that seemed hopeless. Since this series has such a huge cult following, I’d love to see someone build a Bible study around it. I wish I were qualified. Still, some great conversations can come from a book discussion group about this.

I definitely recommend this book. If you or someone you know is a non-reader, this might be just the thing. I’ve heard of several people who don’t like to read who have blown through this book in a day or two. It’s just that good.

The Hunger Games movie is coming out this weekend, but I don’t think it’s one I’ll be letting Caleb watch anytime soon. The book is too violent to portray visually to a pre-teen, or even a young teen in my opinion. It’s not quite the same as the Harry Potter series, which was also violent. It’s fantasy and was portrayed as such. The Hunger Games is just too realistic.

7. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

In this second book of the Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are preparing for their tour of the districts as the Hunger Games winners. President Snow, angered by what he thinks is Katniss’ public defiance of the Capitol by succeeding to keep both herself and Peeta alive during the games, threatens her in order to keep her in line. She must put out the fires of rebellion that are beginning to spark in the districts, or she and/or her loved ones will be killed.

Katniss, however, through no machinations of her own, has unwittingly become the face of the rebellion. Suddenly, she and Peeta are participants in the Hunger Games again, along with 24 other winners of past games, in a never-before twist. Only one is supposed to live, but someone has other plans…

This book was almost as good as the first one. The storyline was great and fast-paced. The old characters were familiar, and the new characters were well-developed.

My only issue with this second book was its slightly more adult content. There wasn’t much – mostly one female character who repeatedly stripped naked. It’s nothing explicit, just a mention. Still, I think that’s a bit much for part of the audience that’s reached through them. They’re marketed as young adult books, but many popular children’s authors are calling them children’s books. They aren’t. I also noticed there are no Christian undertones in this book, just like there weren’t any in the first book.

8. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

In this final installation in the Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss finds herself recovering from injuries she received during the Quarter Quell games. She’s no longer in her home district, District 12, which has been destroyed by the Capitol. District 13, which is long thought to have been destroyed, has been secretly building up to take on the Capitol in a fight to end President Snow’s dictatorship and bring about its own socialist government.

Katniss is reunited with her mother and sister, as well as her best friend Gale, but Peeta is in the hands of President Snow, being used as a propaganda tool to bring Katniss out of hiding. Katniss agrees to become the “Mockingjay”, the symbol of the rebellion, but she’s got plans of her own…

This was my least favorite of the three books, but it was still hard to put down. The characters continue to be wonderfully written, and the plot was fast-paced and full of unexpected twists.

Again, my problem with this book was the more adult content. This one was a little racier, with some mention (though not explicit) of sexual perversions. One of the characters, a friend of Katniss’ from the second book, is recalling his forced past as a male prostitute, though those words are never used. While that is essential to the story, I think the author could have chosen something just as effective but less offensive – especially considering her audience.

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