The Lost Symbol


Dan Brown is best known for The Da Vinci Code. Of course, after loving the fast-action code-breaking of Da Vinci, I started reading other Dan Brown books. The Lost Symbol grabbed my attention because it’s about Freemasons, and I’m already interested in them.

Like all Dan Brown novels, The Lost Symbol certainly shouldn’t be taken as historical fact; but Brown does his research well enough to still tell an excellent story that’s mostly based on truth, with just enough fiction to spin it all wildly out of control. Having said that, I’m starting to see through his edge-of-your-seat writing to the tried-and-true formulas that he always seems to use:

  • The first scene will be gripping and morbid. Probably a death and subsequent disfigurement. Although in this one, it’s just death threats.
  • The next scene is usually the one introducing Robert Langdon, who is in his forties but still in excellent shape due to swimming laps. Emphasis is placed on how in-shape he is for his age. Also, women desire him, but he’s not really sure why.
  • In a few scenes, we’ll introduce the villain. He is naked. The reason he is naked is so Brown can describe how toned and intimidating his body is; nobody else (besides the reader) is present. The villain (a man) is also naked because he is somehow obsessed with his body, and paying special attention to it. In this case, reveling in weird tattoos.
  • Now for the female interest: mousy science nerd who is still irresistibly attractive. She is also not aware of how attractive she is. She is conveniently single, and Langdon’s age. At some point during this first introduction, Brown will describe her skin as “Mediterranean.”

I could go on, but I won’t. The main thing is, Brown is predictable. If you don’t like his writing style, you don’t need to bother reading any more; they’re all pretty much the same. The good news is, if you like his writing style, you’re probably going to like everything he writes. The Lost Symbol actually did surprise me a few times, it delivered all the action and suspense I wanted, and told me a great deal about American history and Freemasonry that I didn’t know (and should probably fact-check.) At any rate, it piqued my interest.

If you like action movies/books, this is a great one. If you want high literature, you should read something else. But this book is an excellent ride.

Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems


Billy Collins is becoming a favorite of mine. Aimless Love is a collection of old poems—some I recognized, some I didn’t—along with a small collection of new ones. It’s a much longer book than his older collections, which means you have more poems to work with.

There’s really not much to say here. I liked his poems just as much this time as last. If you like his poetry, you’ll like this one. If you don’t, you won’t. His style is fresh, humorous, and has very little “stuffy British poetry snob” about it. I liked it. ♦

Resolution: Read the World

I’ve made a new life resolution. It’s kind of like a New Year’s resolution, except I’m not kidding myself into thinking I can finish this in only a year. I’m going to read a book from every country.

I got the idea from a TED Talk by Ann Morgan, a British woman who suddenly discovered her “cosmopolitan, global” outlook wasn’t reflected by her bookshelves—which only had British and North American authors on them. So she asked her friends for recommendations, and then her friends’ friends, and then strangers online from different countries. She got some books sent to her from abroad, and she even had to ask for special translations a few times.

I’m secretly hoping that by the time I get around to reading some of the less accessible countries, there will be an easier way to get a book. But in the meantime, I have a few to start with, and I’ve got Ann’s list to give me ideas. But if you have recommendations, please let me know—I would especially like to get recommendations from people born in other countries.

I’m starting now…or a few months ago. I’m starting to record the books now, but if you think I’m not going to count Les Mis (which I laboriously finished over the last four years), then you’ve got another thing coming.

So join me if you like, and help me if you can! I’m reading the world! ♦

Here’s the TED Talk:

Here’s Ann’s blog:

Here’s Ann’s book list:

It’s That Time Again!

Time to acknowledge the truth: I read more than I blog. Way more than I blog. So instead of doing a well-thought-out review of all the books I’ve read, I’m going to do the next best thing: a two-sentence review of each. You find out which books I would recommend, and I don’t have to sit here thinking about all the blog posts I should write. Here goes.

Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us
Claude M. Steele
Everyone deals with different stereotypes, and sometimes the best thing to do is ignore them. Good book, but very repetitive.

The Golden Compass Series
Philip Pullman
Great series – I liked the first book best and the last book least, but it’s still worth reading all the way through. Fantasy steampunk science fiction, all wrapped around a non-traditional adventure story.

Lyra’s Oxford and Once Upon a Time in the North
Philip Pullman
Five stars for Once Upon a Time, only three stars for Lyra’s Oxford. Both were good supplements, but Lyra’s Oxford is too short to spend money on.

The Book of Mormon
Joseph Smith, Jr. (Translator)
Five stars in the “spiritual” or “doctrinal clarification” category. Not in the “gripping literary read” category.

The Great Brain
John D. Fitzgerald
Pretty good, pretty funny, occasionally touching. Quick, easy read about a boy growing up in Utah.

The Crucible
Arthur Miller
How did I not read this in high school?! Sinister and amazing.

Eliot Weinberger (Editor)
Collection of international poetry. Wonderful.

Come No Further
Michael Zaccariah
Local author, and you need to look him up. Decent Western for most of the book, but with a mind-blowing plot twist at the end.

Boy: Tales of Childhood
Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl is funny, but his fiction is funnier.

The Lottery and Other Stories
Shirley Jackson
This short story collection would have made a lot more sense if I had known the legend of Jamie Harris before beginning. I didn’t, and it was just weird.

Way to Be!: 9 Rules For Living the Good Life
Gordon B. Hinckley
Great religious inspiration for teenagers. Not just for teenagers, though – it got me out of a pretty foul mood.

Strengths Finder 2.0
Tom Rath
Pretty useless if you don’t have the CD. I didn’t have the CD.

The Map of Time
Félix J. Palma
Steampunk, time-traveling, sci-fi, steamy romance. Very well-written, but Ethan had already spoiled all the plot twists for me.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Alvin Schwartz
Super corny scary stories. Absolutely terrifying illustrations.

The Illustrated Man
Ray Bradbury
One of the better Bradbury short story collections I’ve read. Great sci-fi, good horror.

The Words of Desmond Tutu
Naomi Tutu
The only thing this book was missing was more Desmond Tutu. Good inspirational collection, but very short.

The Haunting of Hill House
Shirley Jackson
Possibly the best haunted house story out there. Starts a little slow, but picks up with a vengeance.

The Secret in the Old Attic (Nancy Drew #21)
Carolyn Keene
Classic Nancy Drew. Outlandish mysteries, illegal sleuthing methods, attack-spiders, secret drawers, pretty dresses, and unreasonably-priced antiques.

Jerry Spinelli
Very good story, raising social and moral questions in a kid-friendly conflict. I’m giving this six stars.

The Word of Wisdom
Steven C. Harper
Explores questions about Mormon dietary practices. Well-researched, and taught me a lot of new things.

Island of the Blue Dolphins
Scott O’Dell
An old classic from my childhood. Survival-adventure with a strong girl I always thought was awesome.

Mormons and Polygamy
Jessie L. Embry
Raised a lot of excellent questions, then kind of shrugged and said, “I don’t know – I just have faith!” I expected much better research conclusions from this.

Flawed Dogs: The Shocking Raid on Westminster
Berkeley Breathed
The creator of Opus the Penguin tells a hilarious adventure story featuring a breathtakingly beautiful dachshund and his human girl. Ethan doesn’t understand why I think it’s so funny, but the pictures alone are enough to make me giggle.

There! I did it! So now you know, everybody. My personal recommendations. I’m sure you’ve been waiting for this moment. And just in time for Christmas shopping, too.

Books, by the way, are an excellent Christmas gift. ♦

Something Wicked This Way Comes


Ray Bradbury is a freaking genius.

Most people know Bradbury through Fahrenheit 451, which is well-known because it’s required reading for a lot of high school classes. For good reason, of course—it’s well written, it makes a very good point, and the point it makes is for literature and against censorship; it’s popular among English teachers.

But let me be honest: Fahrenheit 451 is my least favorite of anything I’ve ever read by Bradbury. It’s not a bad book, by any means. It’s a great book. The problem is that I had already read Bradbury’s portrayals of Halloween before I read it. And if Bradbury is good at writing, he is amazing at Halloween.

I mean, the storyline is good. But when Ray Bradbury tells you it was October, he doesn’t just tell you the month. He tells you what the leaves smell like, what color the dirt on your shoelaces is, and the sound of your mother calling you home for dinner while you race your friend to the front porch. He’s a poet—he just writes it in prose. And when someone that good at writing decides to write horror, it’s amazing and terrifying all at once.

Something Wicked This Way Comes is a story about two 13-year-old boys, a middle-aged man, and an evil carnival. That’s basically it; it’s a classic good-versus-evil story. But the real difference is that Bradbury makes the story about humanity, youth, fear, growing old, and breathing just for the joy of filling your lungs. He doesn’t tell you that the good guys win; he tells you why light is stronger than dark.

This is literally the best book I have ever read. If you haven’t read it yet this October, get out there and buy a copy. ♦

The Book Title Generator

Sometimes marriage gets in the way of sleep.

I mean there’s sex, sure, but I’m talking more about the slumber party effect. I sleep next to my best friend. He gets me. He gets my sense of humor. He says hilarious things right as I’m about to fall asleep.

And then there are those nights when he finds the world’s greatest website at 1 in the morning, and we end up staying awake laughing until tears come out of our eyes at things that probably won’t still be funny in the morning.

…So anyway, I have no idea why I felt the need to say all of that. It’s not like that has anything to do with the Book Title Generator we may or may not have found in the wee hours of the morning.

I’m now considering writing a series of short stories, just to justify any of these titles. And in case you’re interested, here are a few of the possible book titles we still thought were funny after we got some sleep:

  • Minnesota Sexy
  • Murder for Charity
  • Chicken Walls
  • The Heat of the Gringo
  • Born Pregnant
  • Demon Shorts
  • Remains of the Groom
  • The Gods of Angela
  • Time for a Rake
  • The Annotated Raiders
  • Town of Holes
  • Apache Special
  • The Holiday Cats
  • The Smell of the Road
  • Bamboo and Betrayal
  • Cook the Saint
  • Starlight and Doom
  • Leather Net
  • Savage Shopping
  • Warlock and Einstein
  • The Bikini Cousins
  • Turtle Joseph
  • Wife Square
  • Tarzan the Roof
  • Magical Chloe
  • Explosive Range
  • Panama Forgiveness
  • Hatchet Logic
  • The Clown in the Faith
  • Hidden Food
  • Enduring Wyoming
  • The Unquiet Apples
  • The Dedicated Gorilla
  • Gay Breath
  • The Hollow Carla
  • Harriet and the Barbarian
  • Swan Tendencies
  • Hunk of the World
  • Arabian Stuff
  • Nelson’s Mouth
  • Twilight Babies
  • Boomerang Violence

Just a few. English teachers: you have just found your creative writing exercises for the year. You’re welcome. ♦

Les Misérables

les mis

Okay, guys.

I did it. I finished Les Misérables. I convinced my mom to buy me this book just after we went to see the musical. In 2013. I literally got this book before I even started dating my husband. We have a baby now. This book took me 3 years to read. It is long. It is wordy. It is incredibly dense, complicated, and detailed.

And it was totally worth it. There are some books that I’m like, “Well, yeah – I read it because it’s a classic.” And I probably wouldn’t have finished it otherwise. (The Sound and the Fury, I’m lookin’ at you.) There are other classics, like Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, that I finally just said to heck with, and took back to the used bookstore. I only have one life to live. I don’t need to spend it pretending to like Walt Whitman. But I read The Hunchback of Notre Dame once upon a time, and it was amazing, so I stuck it out with Les Mis. And it was totally, 100% worth it.

Victor Hugo tells so much, so well, and with such beautiful prose, that it astounds me. This man had no “delete” key. As far as I’m aware, he didn’t even have an eraser. And somehow, he manages to have a side-story for every single extra character in the entire book (which is nearly a thousand pages), and just when you think you’re never going to see that person again, you realize they’re pivotal. It’s incredible.

He writes romance in an extremely sappy way, but makes it somehow bearable and even (gasp!) romantic. (For me, this is a big deal. I usually gag when I read romance.) He writes war and general violence incredibly well. He writes poverty so well you can see the fleas jumping off of people. If you loved the musical, or you love France, or you love poetic or romantic literature, read this book.

Having said that, don’t read this book if you don’t like long books. Because it’s crazy long. Also, I need to learn a lot about French history before I go rereading it. I know nothing about the historical context here.

Also don’t read this book if you find yourself disliking Hugo’s writing style. The entire reason to stick around is because of his style. Granted, the first 60 pages or so are a little slow and almost irrelevant – so don’t judge it right off the bat. But don’t force yourself through 900 pages of someone you don’t like.

I would give this book 5 stars, but only recommend it to someone who is willing to wade (and wait) through a lot of good writing. ♥