Archive for category Reading
I injured my back on Saturday. I wasn’t even doing anything cool. I was just dragging a stack of little chairs from one end of the church to the other so the children in our congregation could practice the program they were doing the following day (if you were wondering, the ten children in our smaller-than-normal primary did an excellent job).
Since then I’ve been spending a lot of time lying on the couch with my legs propped up on the armrest, and I’ve developed profound gratitude for two inanimate objects.
First, my ice pack. This one has gel in it, so it doesn’t freeze solid. Rather than lying on a chunk of hard ice, I can lay on a nice cold object that molds to fit my back. It also beats bags of frozen peas. Really, if you don’t have a gel ice pack, you should get one.
Second, my kindle. The best part of being injured is getting to read. I finished a research book and read an amazing nonfiction book that wasn’t related to my current writing project and then started a novel. And when my toddlers want me to take a break and read board books to them (does anyone besides me find most board books boring?) I can find my place again in seconds. I’m not going to tell everyone to get a kindle, but hey, make time to read something.
Now you’ll have to excuse me. I need to go lay on the couch with my ice pack and read my kindle.
Today I’m doing something I’ve never done before: I’m reviewing a book on my website. I often enjoy mid-twentieth century memoirs, so when this opportunity came up, I decided to try it. I received a copy of the book for free in exchange for my review. I value my readers enough that I’ll be completely honest with my opinion.
First, the book’s synopsis (from goodreads): The only life little Sonja Francesco has ever known is traveling the carnival circuit and living with her five siblings in a tiny caravan home. The family never stays anywhere long enough for Sonja to make friends or develop roots. The only one in her family, Sonja always believed in God and wants to belong to a church.
At fourteen, Sonja meets the Mormon missionaries and develops a strong testimony of the truth of the Gospel. But can she live the commandments while traveling with the carnival and running one of the attractions every Sunday? Will it be possible for her to leave her family’s life behind and live the life she has always dreamed of?
This story is told as a series of flashbacks to Sonja’s childhood. Each chapter begins in the present, with Sonja and her mother, Magot, then changes to the past and paints a picture of Sonja’s early life. Sonja’s family lives in a caravan and travels from town to town to put up a merry-go-round and other carnival attractions for local festivals. Like many people in post-war Germany, the family struggles with poverty.
Margot, the mother, joined the circus during WWII to hide from the Nazis. I would have liked to know more about her history (I guess I’ll have to readWalk on a Wirewhen it comes out). I was curious how Sonja’s parents met, and about what made Margot lose her faith. She seemed to have liked the circus, but I guess living through WWII as a half-Jewish woman would have been traumatic enough, even if no one ever questioned her hiding place. Knowing more details might have helped me like Margot more than I did. As it was, Margot was a bit of a Scarlet O’Hara type character: beautiful, hardworking, and determined to survive, but not very kind. Margot didn’t ruin her sister’s lives (like Scarlet did), but she did call her children derogatory nicknames and had some marriage difficulties.
Sonja’s character was much more likeable. We’re introduced to a child who just wants to be a good girl. She wants her family to like her, but her family is under a lot of stress. She had a pet dog that helps her feel less lonely, and eventually begins to learn about God. Readers that love conversion stories will enjoy Sonja’s dream, her introduction to the missionaries through English classes, and her determination to join the church despite her parent’s disapproval.
Sonja gradually beings to yearn for a more normal life. She’d like a home—or at least an apartment. She’d like to make friends and keep them for more than a week or two. And she’d like to be able to attend church on Sunday instead of working at her parent’s carnival. Eventually she gets that, but it comes at the cost of a broken family, and that made me sad.
I’d classify this as a coming of age story and a conversion story. It’s a book I’ll remember, and I think it will give me extra encouragement to make sure my children know they are loved. It’s a good reminder that people can overcome hardships and still find joy with life. Don’t pick Carnival Girl up expecting it to read like a fast-paced novel. And for you history buffs, this book does take place during some interesting times (from the end of WWII to the early 60s), but global events are far in the background. Sonja’s family wasn’t involved in the cold war. But if you want a poignant read about a girl growing up in a different time with a very different lifestyle, you should give this book a chance.
Carnival Girl: Searching for God in the Aftermath of War
Published by Cedar Fort Books, 2012, 216 pages, available for purchase on Amazon.
Some great things happened last weekend. I went to the LDStorymakers Writer’s Conference in Provo and had a wonderful time. I strengthened some existing friendships, made new friends, and learned a ton. Thank you to everyone who helped make the conference a success!
The rest of this post is about giving congratulations to some very deserving individuals. After the conference were the Whitney awards, and I’d like to congratulate the winners: Dan Wells for I Don’t Want to Kill You (Novel of the Year), Tess Hilmo for With a Name Like Love (Best Novel by a New Author AND Best Youth Fiction/General), Rachel Ann Nunes for Before I Say Goodbye (Best General Fiction), Gale Sears for Letters in the Jade Dragon Box (Best Historical), Carla Kelly for Borrowed Light (Best Romance), Stephanie Black for Rearview Mirror (Best Mystery/Suspense), Robison Wells for Variant (Best Youth Fiction/Speculative) and Brandon Sanderson for The Alloy of Law: A Mistborn Novel (Best Speculative Fiction). You can see the cover art for the winning books here.
Never heard of the Whitneys? It’s an awards program designed to highlight the best works of fiction by LDS authors and help raise the quality of LDS literature. You can see all the finalists from 2011 here. If you’re looking for a great book to read, this list is a good place to start! And if you’ve read a great book by a LDS author, you can nominate them for a Whitney Award here.
The next congratulations goes to one of my little brothers. This past weekend he graduated from Washington State University and received his commission in the US Army. Congrats, Second Lieutenant Grant! I have five siblings, and they are all wonderful, talented, amazing people and good friends. This week I am extra proud of my brother Jeremy. Here are a few pictures taken by my awesome big sister VaLynn.
Pictures like this make me wish I could have been in more than one place last weekend! I’m so grateful to live in the United States and to have such a wonderful family. As a side note, I’ve had a few people ask me if Jeremy is the model for the cover of Espionage. The answer is no, but he’s now the right rank!
I’m really into how things end. Yes, the first chapter in a book needs to be good if I’m going to keep reading it, but the last chapter needs to be even better. Someone once told me that stories are either tragedies (the hero dies) or comedies (the hero lives). For this post, I’ll use more than just two categories, with examples from books and movies. Maybe you’ll have a different opinion. If so, awesome! Different opinions keep a variety of books on the shelves of bookstores. *This post contains spoilers.*
The Disney Princess Ending:
Here’s the basic summary: good guys live, bad guys die or get sent to prison. The hero and heroine are usually married or going to be married soon, and they’re often going to be rich, too. To this category I’ll add Jane Austen novels and most chick flicks.
The Mostly-happy Ending:
The best example of this category is the movie “Star Wars IV: A New Hope” (the first movie in the original series). On one hand things are good: Luke learns to trust the force, Han Solo comes back to help his friends, R2D2 gets repaired, and the Death Star is destroyed. On the other hand, Obi Wan dies, the rebel base has been discovered, the Empire is still out there and a lot stronger than the Rebellion, and Darth Vader is still alive. I’d also put Espionage in this category, but it would involve too many plot spoilers to explain why.
For this post, I’m changing the traditional definition (the hero dies) to include anything that’s sad, but in a good way. Like 1984. Winston doesn’t die, yet it’s still a sad ending. But that sad ending makes a good point. Into this category also fall a bunch of Shakespeare plays and books such as A Man for All Seasons and For Whom the Bell Tolls. And the true story of Count von Stauffenberg—it’s told in a few books, and in the recent movie “Valkyrie”. Yeah, he and everyone else involved in the plot to kill Hitler get executed, but at least they tried and got oh-so-close to succeeding.
The And-now-I’ll-throw-the-book-(or DVD)-across-the-room Ending:
Sometimes it’s a fine line between tragedy and just plain awful. Take “Valkyrie”. If von Stauffenberg’s family had been ruthlessly hunted and killed and the Nazis had won the war, I’d put it in this category. Aren’t we glad the Nazis didn’t win the war? Into this category I’d put the original Hans Christian Andersen version of The Little Mermaid (the version where she turns into foam at the end of the story). And “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” (the third one) makes it to this category too. Hero and heroine get married but only get to see each other one day out of every ten years? Horrible! Can’t believe I paid money to see that.
So what type of endings to you like to read (or write) or watch? Feel free to suggest more categories. . . if there’s enough interest, we can do this again on another blog post.