Book Recommendation: Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

Archaeology, mystery, and an ancient Egyptian mummy come together in this Victorian-era novel. Meet the indomitable Amelia Peabody in Crocodile on the Sandbank which was written by Elizabeth Peters and published by Grand Central Publishing in 1975. Mystery fans will enjoy the headstrong characters and the exploration of ancient Egyptian artifacts in this story.

Crocodile on the sandbank quote-God help the poor mummy who encounters you, Peabody

Summary

After receiving an inheritance upon her father’s passing, proud, blunt spinster Amelia Peabody decides to explore her passion for ancient language and history by visiting Egypt. Along the way, she takes on a companion in Evelyn, an English gentlewoman with a tarnished past. They fall into the lot of two archaeologist brothers, the stubborn, bullhead Emerson and his mild-mannered brother, Walter.

“The truth is, I wanted him to be a villain—a veritable crocodile, like the one in the ancient poem, that lay in wait for the lover seeking to win his sweetheart. A woman’s instinct, I always feel, supercedes logic.”

Amelia’s Egyptian adventure soon takes a spooky twist when a mummy goes missing and is seen walking about at night. The group suspects it is one of the villagers trying to scare them away in order to pilfer artifacts from the tomb, but they soon realize their Egyptian ghost has taken a strong interest in Evelyn. Will they catch the culprit, or is the mummy really a curse from a disturbed king’s grave?

“Really, the mummy was becoming ridiculous! Its repertoire was so limited; why didn’t it do something different, instead of creeping around waving its arms?”

If you loved this book, then check out the rest of the Amelia Peabody mysteries.

Insomnia, Chocolate, and Other Fun Facts About Authors and Their Books

Behind every great story is another great story. However, these stories about the authors, how their books were initially received, and other interesting literary tidbits are not often known, so today I am going to share some of these fun facts about well-known authors and their books.

Insomnia, Chocolate, and Other Fun Facts About Authors and Their Books

  • Robert Louis Stevenson’s wife burned his first draft of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde because she didn’t like it, calling the story “nonsense.” Robert Louis Stevenson had to rewrite it.
  • It is believed that Shakespeare added over 1,700 words to the English language.
  • Washington Irving, author of Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, was an insomniac. How’s that for irony?
  • Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when poet Lord Byron proposed a ghost story contest among a group of friends.
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, in only three weeks. He also ran a medical surgery during this time.
  • Authors Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe were neighbors when they lived in Hartford, Connecticut.
  • Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” was published in 1841 and is commonly recognized as the first modern detective story.
  • Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham was banned from China for portraying “early Marxism.”
  • Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, used to work for Cadbury after school taste testing their chocolates.

Do you know any more fun or interesting facts about authors and the books they wrote? If so, then share them in the comments below, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Book Recommendation—Why I Don’t Hide My Freckles Anymore: Perspectives on True Beauty

Though I love fiction books with excellent characters and stories, this month I’ve decided to recommend a nonfiction book that is very important to me. In days of commercialized beauty where you have to makeup yourself, stay slim, flatten your curls, etc. the book Why I Don’t Hide My Freckles Anymore shows us a different perspective on true beauty. This collaboration of essays written by BYU students, faculty, and many others was published in 2013 by Deseret Book as part of project to remind us where beauty truly lies.

Why I Don't Hide My Freckles Anymore-Beauty is a virtue quote

Summary

We live in a media-saturated culture that tells us that we aren’t good enough unless we are thin, blond, sexy, tan, perfect, etc. The constant bombardment of what the world perceives as beauty leaves many women with feelings of depression and inadequacy where their appearance is concerned. But Why I Don’t Hide My Freckles Anymore redefines beauty into being who we are rather than what we are.

“The strength in beauty refuses to allow us to be formed by cookie cutters. Cookie cutters are for children. Let us be women! Women with vision. Women who revel in what others might call imperfection. Women who recognize ourselves as capable of moving the world.”

The countless experiences shared by these women draw on faith, love, and trials to show what true beauty really is. What does one woman do after she learns her husband was never physically attracted to her? How does another woman learn to accept herself after losing her hair to chemotherapy? And after struggling with an eating disorder, how does a woman begin to see herself as God sees her? These powerful essays encourage women everywhere to love themselves the way they are.

“I am beautiful because I choose to believe it and that decision has set me free.”

Book Group Questions

  1. Which essay in this collection was your favorite and why?
  2. Have you ever felt that you weren’t beautiful? Share your experience and how you learned to accept your unique beauty.
  3. What is true beauty in comparison to the world’s idea of beauty?
  4. Why do we often connect beauty to love and acceptance? In what ways is this good and bad?
  5. Many of the women who wrote these essays relied on religion and spirituality to discover their true beauty. What are your thoughts on this?

The Pros and Cons of Bookworm Dream Jobs

After starting my new job as a Library Shelver, I realized that I have held most of the dream jobs bookworms would kill for. While reviewing, stocking, and writing books may sound like the perfect job to those of us who prefer books to people, there are (unfortunately) still some downsides to these dream jobs. Today I am going to cover some of the pros and cons of bookworm dream jobs that I have experienced.

Bookworm Dream Jobs pros and cons

Book Reviewer

Pros: Why get paid in money when you can get paid in books?! In the Travels of a Book Tourist section of my blog, I have had the opportunity to review many wonderful books. Not only do publishers provide reviewers with a free book, but you often get a copy of the book before it hits stores, so you can read it before everyone else!

Cons: Unfortunately, you may not love every book you review. In fact, you may hate some of these books. Normally if you dislike a book, you can return it to the library without reading the whole thing. However, as a reviewer, you promised to read it, so you have to force yourself to plow through every single page. Plus you feel a little guilty about pointing out the many flaws of the book when you provide your honest review.

Working at a Bookstore/Library

Pros: You are surrounded by books! You get to touch the books! You get to organize the books! You get to smell the books! You get to talk about the books! You get discounts on the books! I got to experience many these benefits when I worked at Deseret Book and at my current job working for Salt Lake County Library Services.

Cons: If you are an introvert (like many hardcore bookworms), then assisting customers/patrons can be nerve-wracking, especially if you don’t know how to help them and they are angry and want to blame all of their life woes on you.

Writer

Pros: Though I have worked as a writer, I’m still in the aspiring category where fiction writing is concerned. However, I do have some experience in this field and I have learned a lot about it from others. A writer is a dream job for a bookworm because you can create the stories you have always wanted to read. You can count yourself among the many writers you love. You can provide books for others to read and enjoy.

Cons: Anyone who has ever looked over their first draft knows that writing is not as easy as we would like it to be. Plus there is the matter of breaking into the field, working with agents/publishing houses/editors (or doing it all yourself if you self-publish), marketing your book, and praying that at least a few people will read it and like it.

Book Recommendation: Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson

A Western fairy tale meets an Indian-inspired culture in Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson published by Henry Holt and Co. in 2010. In this story, two sisters receive two very different gifts from a goddess, and through their journeys, they must discover the faults within themselves and how to use their gifts.

Toads and diamonds quote-Naghali_s snake messengers

Summary

Diribani and her family suffer from poverty, but that all changes when Diribani helps an old beggar woman at the well. The snake goddess Naghali-ji blesses Diribani so flowers and jewels fall from her lips with every word she speaks. But when Diribani’s stepsister, Tana, visits the well, she receives a very different gift of having snakes and toads fall from her mouth.

“Revenge, greed, necessity: Any could be your undoing. Only think. One of the gems you spout so casually would secure an ambitious man’s future.”

So begins the journeys of the two sisters as Diribani travels with a prince and Tana hides from the cruel governor of their province. Religions clash and hearts are broken as the two sisters try to understand how the goddess wants them to use their gifts, though they soon learn things they never imagined about themselves. This is a great book for readers who like fairy tale retellings and different cultures.

“Beauty wasn’t in this body, crusted with filth and sores. It wasn’t even in the paintings Diribani had created, dry pigments arranged on flat paper. It was in life itself: the boldness of daffodils, the sweetness of violets, the resolution of diamond. Like Tana’s resolution, Tana’s priceless mix of cleverness, loyalty, and strength. Diribani had lost her way, so she would be guided by her sister’s example.”

Book Group Questions

  1. How were both Diribani’s and Tana’s gifts blessings? How were they curses?
  2. In the author’s note at the end of the book, Heather Tomlinson said that she invented the two religions in this novel, though she did use elements from several actual religions. Discuss the similarities and differences between the actual religions and those seen in this story. Also discuss how religions can clash with each other.
  3. Diribani had the unspoken wish for beauty while Tana’s unspoken wish was to keep her family safe. How did the gifts they received reflect these wishes? What did the sisters learn about these wishes by the end of the book?
  4. Compare this story to the original fairy tale, “The Fairies” by Charles Perrault. What are the similarities and differences?

Book Recommendation: Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

Fairy tales, Romanian folklore, and enchanted frogs come together in Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier which was published by Knopf in 2007. In this retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” a young woman must accept change in her life as she travels from her world to the fairies’ Dancing Glade in the Other Kingdom.

wildwood-dancing-quote-secrets-the-other-kingdom

Summary

For many years now, Jena has traveled to another world at every full moon with her four sisters and her enchanted frog, Gogu. They dance in the Other Kingdom with the strange, beautiful fairy folk and return to their own world every morning. But things begin to change when the Night People join the Dancing Glade and when Jena’s father leaves her in charge of their home and business.

“I’ve always believed we should try to put bad things behind us—not to forget them, but to learn from them and make the best use of that learning in our lives. If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t blame Draguta or the folk of the forest. It’s your life—the only one who can live it is you.”

Jena’s perfectly ordered world spirals out of control when her older sister falls in love with one of the Night People, when her cousin takes control of her home, and when tensions rise between the people of the valley and the wildwood folk. As Jena tries to help those she loves, she finds that she may have to seek aid from the wildwood witch, Draguta.

“What we ask of you is simply the recognition of change, Jena. Yours is a world of constant change. You must learn to change, too. You spend a great deal of time worrying about others: trying to put their lives right, trying to shape your world as you believe it should be. You must learn to trust your instincts, or you are doomed to spend your life blinding by duty while beside you a wondrous tree sprouts and springs up and buds and blooms, and your heart takes no comfort from it, for you cannot raise your eyes to see it.”

Book Group Questions

  1. Jena struggles to control all of the changes that occur in her life and that of her sisters’. How does her need for control dissipate by the end of the book? How does she learn to let go and change?
  2. Looking back on the book, what were some of the clues given that showed that Gogu was actually Costi?
  3. How much of Cezar’s anger do you believe was fueled at himself?
  4. Examine the tenuous relationship of the villagers from the “real” world and the folk of the wildwood. How is this relationship balanced, and how does it get unbalanced?

Book Recommendation: Followed By Frost By Charlie N. Holmberg

It is always amazing when an author can combine a fantasy world with tormented characters and powerful themes. One such book is Followed By Frost by Charlie N. Holmberg which was published by the Amazon Publishing imprint 47 North in 2015. This chilly read is about survival, romance, sacrifice, and how suffering can cause the coldest hearts to change.

followed-by-frost-quote-winter-is-the-dearest-friend-to-those-who-have-chosen-to-be-cold

Summary

Smitha is a selfish, vain young woman who has no qualms about rejecting Mordan’s love. But Smitha gets her dues when Mordan curses her to be as cold as her heart. Smitha’s skin freezes like ice, the devastating snowstorms that hover over her force Smitha to leave her village, and Death in the form of a being named Sadriel follows Smitha on her lonely journey of suffering and eternal winter.

“I curse you, Smitha Ronson, to be as cold as your heart. May winter follow you wherever you go, and with the cold, death.”

But Smitha’s unbearable life changes when she meets a prince from a Southern land. His kingdom suffers from drought, and he wants Smith to bring snow to save them. She agrees, but as Sadriel grows more dangerous and as Smitha becomes closer to the captain of the guard, she must make decisions that may affect her curse forever.

“Mordan had taken away the life I had know, but even his curse had not taken my life. Without that, I would be truly frozen, unable to change. Unable to save myself. My life, albeit a hard one, was the only thing I had left.”

Book Group Questions

  1. Smitha begins her story as a selfish, mean girl and ends as a kind, giving woman. How did her suffering change her heart for the better?
  2. Share your thoughts on Sadriel and on how he is portrayed as the personification of Death.
  3. Compare Sadriel and Lo’s relationships with Smitha. How are these two men different? How did their relationships with Smitha change throughout the story?
  4. After Smitha’s curse is broken she has to make a decision that may bring the curse back again. Why was the choice she made different from the selfish choices she made at the beginning of the book?

If you enjoyed Followed By Frost, then check out Charlie N. Holmberg’s The Paper Magician series.

To Read, Or Not To Read

When I visit the library, I’ll usually check out about twice as many books as I can read in a week. Why? Because some weeks I will only read about half of those books. Why? Because sometimes I’ll start reading a book, and then I’ll put it down because it’s poorly written, has graphic content, or it is simply not my cup of tea. Some die-hard bookworms may scorn me for being such a quitter, but considering the size of my TBR (to-be-read) pile, I’d rather spend my time reading books I will like rather than the ones I can already tell I will hate.

to-read-or-not-to-read

The tricky part of this practice is actually determining whether a book is for me or not. Here is a list of steps I usually follow that help me determine whether I want to read a book.

  1. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I judge books by their covers. In this case, it is not necessarily the picture and title of the cover I judge but rather the back and the inside flaps. I may learn in the author bio that they wrote a series of books I felt were poorly done. Or the reviews on the back may compare the book to reads I dislike. Call me picky, but sometimes I will put away a book before I even crack it open if I just get a bad feeling about it.
  2. The first few pages of a book are supposed to hook you to the story, but sometimes they push me away. For instance, if an author drops vulgar swear words in the first page, then I’ll stop reading. Or sometimes the author will immediately break common creative writing conventions in the worst way possible, and it will drive me crazy.
  3. I once heard that you should try to read at least 50 pages of a book before you determine whether you want to dump it or not. If I’m starting a book and I’m not really sure if I want to give it a chance or not, then I’ll work my way to at least the 50th If things start to pick up, then I’ll keep reading. If they continue to flatline, then bye-bye book.
  4. As crazy as it sounds, I will sometimes stop reading a book even if I have read halfway through it. Yes, I have invested a lot of time to reach this point, but if the book has lost my heart and isn’t singing to me anymore by the halfway mark, then it probably won’t during the remaining half.

What are your thoughts about deciding whether to read a book or not? What rules do you enact for yourself in this process? Tell me about them in the comments below, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Book Recommendation: East By Edith Pattou

I love reading retellings, especially when they introduce me to lesser known fairy tales, myths, and legends. One such book is East by Edith Pattou which was published by HMH Books for Young Readers in 2005. This retelling of the Scandinavian folktale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” brings readers on a fantastic adventure which includes a traveler, a great white bear, trolls, and a mysterious enchantment.

east-by-edith-pattou-east-of-the-sun-west-of-the-moon-quote

Summary

Rose is a north-born child, which gives her a deep desire to travel the world and have grand adventures. But her life changes in an unexpected way when a great white bear invades her family’s cottage. He promises fortune and health to Rose’s family if she will come with him. She agrees.

“They journeyed far and the white bear said, ‘Are you afraid?’

“ ‘No,’ she replied. ‘I am not afraid.’ ”

As Rose lives in the white bear’s castle, she seeks to learn who he is, what she is supposed to do there, and whether he is the stranger she meets every night. But Rose’s curiosity comes with a price, and she soon finds herself traveling to the ends of the earth in order to save the white bear from the Troll Queen. If you love the fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast” or the Greek myth “Psyche and Eros,” then you will enjoy this book.

“All that mattered was to make things right. And I would do whatever it took, journey to wherever I must, to reach that goal.”

Book Group Questions

  1. Rose’s mother is very superstitious and believes that the fortune her family experiences is a result of the white bear. However, the rest of the family disagrees. What do you think of this? Are we ruled by fate?
  2. Compare East to the original folktale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon.” What are the similarities and the differences?
  3. How did Rose’s character change throughout the story?
  4. Find and discuss similarities between the Norwegian folktale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” and the fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast” and the Greek myth “Psyche and Eros.”

5 Ways To Celebrate Jane Austen’s Birthday

I may be stereotyping here, but when most women think of classic literature, their minds often turn to Jane Austen’s books. What’s not to love about the timeless romances, witty commentary, eloquent language, grand balls, and courtly manners of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, and Northanger Abbey. Tomorrow (December 16th) will be Jane Austen’s 241st birthday, so if you are an Austen fan through and through, here are a few fun ways you can celebrate.

jane-austen-movies
Images via IMDb.

1—Read one of the books: Whether it is a well-worn copy of Pride and Prejudice or you want to explore one of her other books, crack open an Austen novel and immerse yourself in regency era courtship.

2—Watch a Jane Austen movie: You can see Jane Austen’s humorous characters and fantastic language come to life in the movie adaptions of her stories. A few of my favorites include Pride and Prejudice (2005), Sense and Sensibility (1995), Emma (1996), and of course, the six-hour BBC version of Pride and Prejudice (1995).

3—Share some quotes: You can’t deny that Jane Austen has some classic quotes, so share some on social media or tell a few friends. You can hunt for your favorite quotes in her novels or you can explore a collection of them in the book, What Would Jane Do?

4—Watch or read a Jane Austen retelling: You can take a fun, new look at Jane Austen’s classic stories by reading or watching a retelling of them. Some fun options include Austenland (movie adaption, 2013), Pride and Prejudice (2003), or even the horror comedy Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (movie adaption, 2016).

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Images via Goodreads and IMDb.

5—Have a regency-style tea party: If you and your friends are really industrious, then have a full blown Jane Austen tea party. Wear regency dresses, drink tea, nibble on biscuits, and attempt Jane Austen speak.

Have some more fun ideas on how to celebrate Jane Austen’s birthday tomorrow? Share them in the comments below, on Facebook, or on Twitter. Also take a look at the Regency Era board I created on Pinterest for some more Jane Austen inspiration.