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Monday, December 30, 2013

Height of the Scream - Ramsey Campbell

A man decorated with The Scar is set to harm a man's family. What will happen when he finally confronts him?

Performers and audience members alike will shiver when a band decides to put on The Dark Show, leaving the audience and music players in awe of its performance.

Did you ever notice the wind seeming to play tricks on you, making it seem as if Litter were following you? One man discovers that this may actually be the case.

A woman who works at the library decides to put on a show for the children, but who knows what lies In the Shadows when she tries to play with tricks of light.

After finishing filming for a gory movie, a couple's house may become its own Horror House of Blood.

This collection contains 18 stories, so horror fans should be able to find something they will enjoy.

Recommended Reads:
Apocrypha Sequence: Deviance - Shane Jiraiya Cummings
The Changed Man - Orson Scott Card
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark - Alvin Schwartz

Friday, December 27, 2013

Bony-Legs - Joanna Cole

One of my reading groups was discussing scary books we enjoyed as children. I hadn't thought about this story in years, so it startled me when it immediately popped into my mind when the topic came up.

Based on the Russian folk tale of the witch Baba Yaga. Bony-Legs lives in a house in the forest that stands on chicken feet. Sasha, a girl, is sent out by her aunt to borrow a needle and thread. Along the way, Sasha shows kindness to a dog, a cat, and a gate, who later help her escape from the witch. When Sasha innocently asks to borrow a needle and thread, Bony-Legs announces she will instead eat the little girl.

Although Sasha is scared, she shows courage in escaping with the magic objects given to her by the animals she helped during her journey.

While I was a child, I could never quite identify what it was about this book that made me so attached; however, as an adult I am able to articulate it. I love Sasha's kindness and generosity. Even better is the fact that it is rewarded later in the story. She cries when she is first captured, but she shows bravery in the face of a seemingly hopeless situation when she escapes. Her trust in the magic objects she is given exemplifies faith in others.

There is also the fantastic illustrations. Hidden within many of the pictures are eyes and other creepy images that fascinated me as a child.

I hope other young readers will discover and enjoy this retelling as much as I did and still do.

Recommended Reads:
Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Incarnation - Nelson Reference

Being raised Catholic, Advent was celebrated every December. This meant the reading of the stories of the birth of Jesus for four weeks. I always loved this tradition and even though there are a couple of different version of the event in the Bible itself, I wanted to read different expressions of these stories. This collection contains songs, poems, and prose pertaining to the events surrounding the Nativity, which was just what I was looking for.

The chapters are separated by theme, making it easy to find what the reader may be looking for. The Man Joseph written by Sally Meyer is a lovely modern interpretation of Joseph's challenges as he stayed by Mary's side. The Annunciation in the book of Luke is one of my favorite stories in the cycle. There are many lovely prose and songs concerning Mary in the book, but my two favorites are Rupert Brooke's Mary and Gabriel and The Mother of God by William Butler Yeats.

One of my favorite activities during childhood was moving the Three King's as they journeyed across the house, until they finally arrived to greet Jesus on Epiphany (Three King's Day). It is hard to decide which ones are the best within this collection, but I managed to narrow it down to three: Journey of the Magi by T.S. Eliot, The Wise Men by G.K. Chesterton, and The Three Kings by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

There are many more themes that include amazing works from those inspired by the Bible, but each person will find their own delights. If you are looking to add new ways to tell the story of the Christ child's birth, this may just be the book for you.

Source Material:
The Bible

Books in the Series:
The Cross

Recommended Reading:
Jesus Calling - Sarah Young
A Symphony in the Sand - Calvin Miller
The Birth - Gene Edwards

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Ship Who Sang - Anne McCaffrey

This collection brings together five stories that were originally published as separate pieces in various magazines between 1961 to 1969. Helva is a human bred purely for her brain. She was inserted into a ship at a young age, so she has no experience in a normal human body.

While I love the concepts and conflict in the stories, the stories themselves aren't engaging, especially the ones written between 1961 and 1966. McCaffrey's writing is stunted and reads more like a movie script than a story. The Ship Who Mourned in particular is an apt example. The plot line of Helva being driven mad by the loss of a special individual should have been heartbreaking, but it reads like a series of events rather than being emotionally engaging. Dramatic Mission was just plain silly, in my opinion.

The Ship Who Killed was the only story in the collection that made an impression on me, as it forces Helva to confront both an outward foe and an internal one.

The ideas within are intriguing, but the writing style in the majority of the stories makes it difficult to enjoy.

Books in the Series:
The Ship Who Searched
The City Who Fought

Recommended Reads:
Xenocide - Orson Scott Card

Friday, December 20, 2013

Last Child in the Woods - Richard Louv

If you grew up with open prairies, desert, forest, or even an open lot nearby you probably already know the joy and excitement of nature. You may remember how you learned about physics, the hard way, when you fell out of a tree or tumbled into a ditch. Those scars, bruises, and maybe even broken bones from adventures were probably something you recall and retold with pride.

Louv collects data and recounts the importance of nature to children. Studies show that exposure to nature can calm children, including those with ADHD, and improve their concentration. Exposure to nature, even just seeing green space from a window, has been shown to improve healing times in patients in hospitals. Hands-on experience by studying bugs, collecting rocks, or simply taking a trek through an area can help children learn about the world around them and how it all interconnects.

Louv and others all around the country are fighting for the return of exploration and adventure. This book exposes the advantages, pitfalls, logistics, and even legal challenges that await us if we choose to enrich our lives with more nature.

Recommended Article:
How Children Lost the Right to Roam in 4 Generations

Recommended Reads:
15 Minutes Outside - Rebecca Cohen
Free-Range Kids - Lenore Skenazy

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Solstice Evergreen - Sheryl Ann Karas

Decorating an evergreen during the winter season has become a staple of American life. For many it's simple a sign of the season, something fun to decorate, or a beautiful centerpiece to brighten the main room. It seems to transcend culture and religion.

In this book Karas explores the curious tales of evergreen trees throughout the world. Each chapter explains the theme followed by several tales from around the world as examples. The themes she chooses are: The Nature of Religion, Sacred Trees and Groves, Evergreen Symbology, The Tree at the Center of the Universe, The Earth Mother and the Dying God, the Death of Pan, and Rebirth of the Tree. It contains popular stories such as Grimm's The Juniper Tree, Anderson's The Fir Tree, and The Day the Sun Disappeared of Japan.

Traditions and folklore reveal the everlasting appeal of the evergreen tree in our hearts and homes in this book.

Recommended Reads:
Pagan Christmas - Christian Rätsch, Claudia Müller-Ebeling
The Winter Solstice - John Matthews

Monday, December 16, 2013

Children of Dune - Frank Herbert

Paul Atreides has left his mark on history with the people believing him the prophet Muad'dib. Now that he is gone and their mother, Jessica, is staying at Caladan, his sister Alia takes over the Jihad in her brother's name. Alia's hold on the empire is enough of a challenge, and her life is only made more difficult as she attempts to keep the thousands of personalities in her other memory under control. Ganima and Leto, Paul's two remaining children, are also held captive to the threat of their other memory turning them to abomination.

Alia's hold on the empire and the Jihad is already tremulous, but when a man only known as "The Preacher" comes to the capitol city to denounce her and the way she runs the empire, it only makes the ordeal more difficult. As Alia feels her power decreasing she becomes more vulnerable internally, providing the necessary environment for her inner lives to attack.

While Paul's children are hidden away from the other Houses in the Empire, they are still not safe from the betrayals that have managed to establish themselves within their Sietch.

Full of treachery, danger, and conflict of many types, readers will find themselves fascinated with this addition to the Dune story line.

Books in the series:
Dune Messiah
God Emperor of Dune

Recommended Reads:
Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert Heinlein
Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card

Recommended Viewing:
Dune (mini-series)
Children of Dune (mini-series)

Friday, December 13, 2013

How Full is Your Bucket? - Tom Rath, Donald O. Clifton Ph.D.

This simple concept may very well change the life of the reader and all of those around them. Each person has a bucket, which is filled or emptied by the words and actions of others.

Sometimes it's necessary to make negative observations, such as during a work place review or when a child does something wrong. How do you keep the other person's bucket full while still making sure they understand what they've done wrong? The magic ratio is 3 to 1. For every one negative thing, you should try to express 3 positive things.

Are more positive interactions better? Studies show that being overly positive (a ratio of about 13 positive to 1 negative) will harbor a unrealistic environment and may even make the situation or environment worse.

Of course, it's important to remember not everybody values the same things. A plaque on the wall may mean the world to one person, but may just be a bauble to another. One person may prefer a heartfelt "thank you" with a handshake in person, while another may appreciate an email.

While this book only spans 89 pages in text, it makes an impact by keeping things simple and easy-to-understand. In the end of this particular edition are exercises and guides that will help the reader discover how best to fill their own bucket and the buckets of others. A good quick read that can be useful in all areas of life.

Similar titles for younger audiences:
Fill a Bucket: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Young Children - Carol McCloud, Katherine Martin
Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids - Carol McCloud

Recommended Reads:
The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate Paperback - Gary Chapman
The Color Code: A New Way to See Yourself, Your Relationships, and Life - Taylor Hartman or Personality Plus: How to Understand Others by Understanding Yourself - Florence Littauer

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Krampus: The Yule Lord - Brom

I borrowed this book from the library on the sole fact that it had to do with Krampus, Saint Nicholas's naughty companion who is better known in Europe for punishing children by beating them with switches or tying them up in a sack and throwing them in a stream if they are naughty. I had no idea what to expect.

Santa Claus decided that Krampus is no longer necessary in a world that is much more enthralled with good will, peace, and handing out favors than punishing children. When Krampus refuses to hang up his switch, Santa Claus shackles him in a pit so he can work in peace.

Jesse is a man down on his luck. His wife left him and took his daughter to go live with a man with more livable means. To make matters worse, this man works for law enforcement. Just when Jesse is about ready to give up, a strange thing occurs.

The solution to all of Jesse's problems turns out to be the bane of his existence. Not only is he caught up in the middle of a drug war, he's also caught up between the war between Krampus and Santa. Santa just wants his magic sack back, while Krampus wants to put the Yule back into Christmas. That and he wants to kill Santa for stealing his stuff and putting him in solitary confinement.

By weaving together folklore from Germanic, Norse, and modern traditions, Brom creates a fascinating backdrop for his novel. Jesse's life circumstances of the down-and-out man, trying to bring his family back together is something many people can either relate to whether personally or through others. How his life ends up out of control despite his best intentions is yet another. Disturbing in multiple ways, this read certainly isn't for the faint of heart. But it's not without its lesson. At the end it almost begs the reader to bring the spirit of Yule back into the winter traditions.

Recommended Reads:
Pagan Christmas: The Plants, Spirits, and Rituals at the Origins of Yuletide - Christian Rätsch, Claudia Müller-Ebeling

Monday, December 9, 2013

We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson

Constance Blackwood is the caretaker of her ailing Uncle Julian and her unusual sister Mary Katherine. Merricat, for short, is highly superstitious in her own way, and uses various objects around their property to keep her family safe. She is also highly unsociable, so while she enjoys the outings to the village to get groceries weekly, she is highly agitated by the people who approach her during her errands.

When one of her charms falls, Merricat intends to warn Constance of the coming danger; however, she is put off by the unexpected arrival of their cousin Charles, who quickly takes over. He eliminates Merricat's weekly errand by going to the village himself, and to make matters worse, he doesn't have a routine himself, which throws her entire world off kilter.

Tragedy strikes, displacing the Blackwoods from their home and killing one of their own. How will Merricat recover from her loss?

Jackson explores many fascinating themes in her short novel. How does one define family? How does one respond when the outside world does not accept oneself? And how does one build ones life after it has been destroyed?

Recommended Reads:
The Glass Menagerie - Tennessee Williams
The Darkest Part of the Woods - Ramsey Campbell
House of Leaves - Mark Z. Danielewski

Friday, December 6, 2013

15 Minutes Outside - Rebecca P. Cohen

Are you tired of your kids sitting in front of the television, computer, or other electronic devices? Do your kids complain they're bored? Maybe what they need is some time outdoors (and maybe you need some too).

But what do you do once you manage to get them outside? Cohen provides 365 ideas on how to get your kids out and moving. There are simple ideas like going for a walk. By walking to school or the store, a walk can become an adventure. A route normally taken by vehicle takes on a whole new aspect when taken in slowly.

If you're not quite ready to wander around with the kids, you can always have them explore the yard. What interesting objects can they find around the yard? Pine cones, flowers, ants, and even blades of grass look totally different when examined under a magnifying glass.

A bit too hot for exploration? Consider using water balloons, squirt bottles for water guns, or maybe use sprinklers. Is it too cold? Consider a short outdoor picnic in the yard with hot muffins and hot cocoa.

Many more exciting ideas for activities are available in this book. Cohen shares her own experience with time outside with her children. The activities start in January and move on through the year providing seasonally appropriate activities. Each entry is numbered with a title and contains a description of the activity. Throughout the book, she also includes text boxes that contain ideas on how to use the weather to your advantage, how to gather toys and other objects for use outside, how to make seasonal pack-and-go bags, and more.

Recommended Reads:
Last Child in the Woods - Richard Louv
Free-Range Kids - Lenore Skenazy
Simplicity Parenting - Kim John Payne, Lisa M. Ross

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Winter Solstice - John Matthews

If you've ever wondered where winter holiday traditions come from, this is the book for you. By separating the chapters by theme, the author makes it easy for the reader to locate whatever one is seeking: The Solstice Dream, Child of Wonder, The Green Bough, Old Sir Christmas, The Solstice Animals, The Twelve Days of Christmas, and Celebrating the Solstice.

Solstice Dream covers rites from all around the world. It Sun-Rites of the Hopi, the Celtic Wheel, Saturn's Games, and the Feast of Fools.

Child of Wonder addresses the most popular incarnation story of Jesus Christ, but it also talks about Dionysus, Baldr, Horus, and many others.

We use evergreen trees, holly, ivy, and many others to decorate during the holiday. The Green Bough reveals age-old traditions on where these originated and why they were used.

Old Sir Christmas follows Santa Claus, along with Saint Nicholas, Shamans, and many others. This chapter also includes his entourage of companions, including Krampus, elves, and reindeer.

If you've seen a nativity scene, you'll notice certain animals always seem to be included. The Solstice Animals provides insight into how these animals came to be endearing enough to maintain their status throughout many cultures and religions.

The Twelve Days of Christmas provides a series of themes with activities for the reader to utilize from December 25th to January 6th (Christmas to Epiphany in the Christian calendar).

And finally in Celebrating Solstice, the author provides plays and other activities for the reader to use for their own solstice celebration.

This book is full of insightful information on the winter season in Europe, Americas, and Asia. Filled with quotes, illustrations, and activities, readers are sure to find what they are looking for, whether to satiate their curiosity or to institute some old time religion in the modern world.

Recommended Reading:
Pagan Christmas: The Plants, Spirits, and Rituals at the Origins of Yuletide - Christian Rätsch, Claudia Müller-Ebeling
The Solstice Evergreen - Sheryl Ann Karas

Monday, December 2, 2013

Looking for Mary - Beverly Donofrio

Donofrio's life isn't going so well. She just broke up with her long-time boyfriend, her son isn't speaking to her, and she's not happy. Deciding to get herself out of the funk, she sets out one day on a treasure hunt at the local yard sales. She unexpectedly returns with a statue of the Virgin Mary. She finds herself bringing home more memorabilia, and soon the forgotten figure of her childhood begins calling her back home.

While searching for Mary in the scripture, the faith, and in culture, Donofrio begins to understand her life and herself more. As she imagines the things that Mary must have done right with her child Jesus, she recalls the hurtful things her mother and grandmother did wrong. As she thinks about the hurt her mother caused her, she begins to truly recognize the things she has done herself as a mother that hurt her son.

In her search, she not only discovers Mary, she discovers herself.

Recommended Reading:
Cult of the Black Virgin - Ean Begg
The Catholic Passion: Rediscovering the Power and Beauty of the Faith - David Scott
Mere Christianity - C.S. Lewis