Monday, July 26, 2010

Blogging break

I'm going to go ahead and take a few weeks off from blogging because we have so much piled onto our proverbial plates, but here are a few things to keep you busy:

Catalog Living - Follow the lives of Elaine, Gary and their fictitious family as they munch moss balls and safely hide albino apples from each other. This is such a clever website that it just makes me want to scream, "Why, oh, why did I not think of it, first?"

Neatorama - Totally fun time suckage. I advise just dropping by Neatorama on occasion because they post so much it makes my Google Reader sob.

Anja Mulder - The blog of a Dutch artist who makes me want to burn my house down and start over, again. I love the simplicity and beauty of her work.

TYWKIWDBI - Short for "Things You Wouldn't Know If We Didn't Blog Intermittently." You just never know what this blogger is going to post about, although he leans heavily toward science and history.

See you in a few weeks!

Bookfool, aka Busy Little Bee

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bellwether and Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Last week, I quickly gobbled down Bellwether by Connie Willis and I liked it so much that I decided to pull Doomsday Book, also by Connie Willis, off my shelves. I am now officially a crazed Connie Willis fan girl. While the two books are completely different, the author's hallmark is intelligent, humorous writing in which the author pokes fun at unnecessary roadblocks caused by incompetent, mindless humans.

I bought a three-foot-long piece of po-mo pink ribbon to take back to the lab, which meant the clerk had to get off the phone again. "This is for hair wraps," she said, looking disapprovingly at my short hair, and gave me the wrong change.

"Do you like po-mo pink?" I asked her.

She sighed. "It's the boss color for fall."

Of course. And therein lay the secret to all fads: the herd instinct. People wanted to look like everyone else. That was why they bought white bucks and pedal pushers and bikinis. But someone had to be the first one to wear platform shoes, to bob their hair, and that took the opposite of herd instinct.

, published in 1996 by Bantam books, is labeled "sci-fi" but it's not so much a science fiction book in the usual sense (time travel, outer space, or other woo-woo topics) as it is a book about scientists. Specifically, Bellwether is the story of two scientists working for the same company. Their projects are eventually combined after they're thrown together by a serendipitous bit of incompetence on the part of a mail clerk.

Sandra Foster studies fads, how they start and what they mean. Bennett O'Reilly is preparing to study monkey group behavior but he's really a chaos theorist who lost his job and had to grab what was available. HiTek Corporation, where they both work, is a company that uses these scientific studies in order to try to determine the best way to make buckets of money. Studying fads, for example, is something they hope will lead to their eventual ability to create fads of their own.

As the two scientists get to know each other and work together, they deal with an employer who follows the latest managerial trends and constantly updates paperwork so that it's longer and more complex. Meanwhile, the doctors Foster and O'Reilly are totally oblivious to the fact that they're falling in love. Sandra Foster is, in fact, half-heartedly dating another man -- a man who just happens to follow fads like a sheep in quite the opposite way to Dr. O'Reilly's seeming obliviousness to trends. This is one of the things I simply adored about Bellwether -- there's a touch of romance but the characters themselves are a little obsessive about their work and not very self-aware. It struck me as true to life.

Bellwether is as much a side-splitting observation of incompetent management, silly trends and human behavior as it is a story about science and a slowly developing attraction. A "bellwether", incidentally, is a sheep who unknowingly leads a flock. The bellwether becomes important when Sandra and Bennett combine their studies. calls Bellwether a "tongue-in-cheek fantasy" and this site refers to her books as "piercing evaluations of social movement excesses", which is definitely a description I can get behind.

Bottom line: Smart, humorous writing that incisively illustrates the human tendency to follow the latest trends, skewers ridiculous corporate practices and lambasts incompetent workers in the midst of unfolding a realistic, slowly-developing romance. I loved this book so much I want to eat it. Kidding. But, I am hungry and I did love the book.

Doomsday Book is quite a different animal altogether, a blend of historical fiction with time travel and more hair-pulling human incompetence.

Mr. Dunworthy, an Oxford professor, is certain that horror is going to befall young Kivrin, a 20-something historian who has wanted to travel back to Medieval time since she became his student. Now, she's dressed and ready to go to the year 1320. The head of the Medieval department has decided to rush into the drop into 1320 without unmanned tests and other necessary preparations but Mr. Dunworthy managed to at least oust the inexperienced tech from Medieval.

The drop is made and Kivrin materializes with the usual time-travel headache. But, she quickly begins to feel worse and darkness is falling. 1320 is in the midst of the mini ice age and the drop site is not quite right; she is in the midst of a forest. Where is the road upon which she was intended to materialize? Will she even find civilization before she freezes to death?

Back in 2054, everyone but the technician, Badri, has dispersed to wait for the "fix" to see if Kivrin landed in the proper time and place. Then, Badri comes rushing into the pub. Something has gone horribly wrong. He races back to the lab with Mr. Dunworthy and the physician who gave Kivrin her innoculations and enhanced her immune system (to avoid contracting any nasty Medieval illnesses) following on his heels.

But before Badri can explain what's happened, he collapses. And, his illness is not minor. With an epidemic raging in Oxford and most everyone on vacation, nobody is available to find out if Kivrin is safe. And, Kivrin herself is deathly ill in the past -- so ill that she has no idea how she arrived in the bustling home of a fairly well-to-do family. When she finally recovers, Kivrin will find that the family has secrets of its own that may keep her from ever finding the rendezvous site and returning home alive.

Doomsday Book starts out a little slower than I anticipated and is pretty repetitive as Badri quickly becomes so incoherent that he can't even speak a full sentence. I have to admit that was annoying and it did take time for the story to develop, but about halfway through, the book became utterly gripping. To say much more would be to give too much away, even though the outcome is pretty predictable.

One of the most fascinating things about Doomsday Book is that it was published in 1991. Five years ago, the author's version of the future might have been a bit more believable but now that we have iPods and nearly everyone owns a mobile phone, there are some minor concepts that really jump out. Everyone uses land lines with video capability in 2054! People still buy "vids" and play them on "vidders" rather than downloading digital content. Apart from those and a few other minor issues that are only evident because things have changed so quickly in recent years, the author's visualization of a future world still seems pretty startlingly astute and her descriptions of the past are vivid (and smelly -- I would definitely not like to time travel to that particular era).

Bottom line: A massively entertaining little chunkster that blends history and science fiction to brilliant success. At 600 pages, Doomsday Book does suffer from some needless repetition but it's so visceral and engrossing that its flaws fall away to nothing.

I highly recommend both books and am kind of going minor nutskies searching for my copy of To Say Nothing of the Dog. Crazed fan girl. Seriously. Also, you may have noticed I'm having an attack of adjectives, today. Sometimes that happens. Let's blame the heat, shall we?

In other news:

I received a copy of Fixing Delilah Hannaford by Sarah Ockler from the ever-friendly Amy, today. Thank you, Amy!

I'm fickle, this summer. I've ditched two books and started two new ones. Who knows what I'll manage to complete and what will get set aside, although I'm on the verge of finishing Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs by Heather Lende. It has periodically made me sob, but I think I'm just overtired, this week. When your husband travels to a different hemisphere, it's rather wearing.

What exciting things are going on with you, this week? Tired of the heat, yet? I hear Tropical Storm Bonnie is headed our way. Maybe she will cool us off a bit. One can only hope.

Happy Reading!

Bookfool, happily hiding in air-conditioned home

©2010 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are not reading this post at Bookfoolery and Babble, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wahoo! Wednesday - Sketchy family edition

None of them like having their photos slapped up on the internet, but these people (including the fur person at the bottom) are my wahoos. Even the guy who went to Australia without me. I love 'em. Photos were altered using a sketch feature available at PhotoFunia. Wahoo! for family!!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Case of the Crooked Carnival by Michele Torrey

The Case of the Crooked Carnival
by Michele Torrey
Copyright 2010
Sterling Publishing - Children's (Middle Reader)
92 pages

From the publisher:

Drake Doyle and Nell Fossey, are fifth-grade crime-fighting science detectives, and the two best friends solve mysteries in their home lab – by analyzing the evidence, developing a hypothesis, and testing out their theories. In The Case of the Crooked Carnival, Drake and Nell will take readers on four exciting new whodunits: Are ghosts and ghouls keeping Edgar Glum awake? Have aliens invaded Mossy Swamp? What’s the crooked game everyone’s losing at the carnival? And why is the town bridge going bananas?

The Case of the Crooked Carnival is the 5th in the Doyle and Fossey, Science Detectives, series. I'd never heard of the books until this one arrived in the mail, a surprise from Sterling Kids. I sat right down to read it immediately and absolutely loved it .

A middle reader with short chapters, The Case of the Crooked Carnival is easily readable by children of many ages and excellent for educational use. I wouldn't limit the reading to the ages specified: 9-12. At least one of my children would have probably enjoyed this book by the time he was 5 or 6 and even older kids who find science frustrating or just enjoy a good story might get a kick out of this series. There is nothing annoyingly childish or cutesie about this particular title. It's funny but intelligently written. The two young science detectives solve four different mysteries using science principles and then the latter third of the book is devoted to setting up your own lab (what to gather, where to put it) and how to do some simple experiments.

I would have loved to have the Doyle and Fossey series available when I was homeschooling my eldest son. Also, it doesn't matter that The Case of the Crooked Carnival is the 5th in a series. The author does a great job of filling in readers so that they get a decent understanding of how the two science detectives work and why they are interested in science (both have a parent working in a science field). The author is a microbiologist and immunologist and I believe her love of science and her sense of humor are both evident in this delightful series.

Bottom line: Science is made fun in this humorous book that would make a great addition to any home library. Especially recommended for teachers, homeschooling parents, and kids old enough to handle "chapter" books.

Gushy thanks to Sterling Kids for the review copy!

©2010 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are not reading this post at
Bookfoolery and Babble, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
Copyright 1979
Beacon Press - Fiction/Time Travel
264 pages
25th Anniversary Edition, published 2004, contains a reader's guide

Dana is loading the bookshelves in her new house when she becomes dizzy and suddenly finds herself by a river in a forest. She saves a boy from drowning, is frightened by a man aiming a gun at her and then reappears in her home, wet and shaken. But, it's not until she finds herself pulled out of her own home a second time that she realizes she's being called back in time to save her ancestor. And, only fear will take her home.

Being called back to the time of slavery whenever her ancestor, Rufus, is in trouble is bad enough. Each time years pass and Rufus is older. But, each time she also ends up staying longer. And then her husband is pulled back in time with her. Dana is black and Rufus is a white slave owner. Dana's husband, Kevin, is white. But, he's a stranger to the Maryland plantation where Dana must stay and there's only so much he can do to help her.

Dana's appearances in pre-Civil War Maryland become more terrifying and dangerous the longer she stays and the more time goes by. Because each time she's called back, Rufus has become a little more like his cruel, slave-beating father. She can't kill Rufus or let him die, no matter what he does to her, because she will cease to exist. Instead, she must keep saving a man who deserves to die and watch out for herself as much as possible until Rufus becomes father to the child Dana knows will continue the family line.

Published in 1979 and still relevant -- a book that really makes you think. Not perfect because there were some times the wording pulled me out for a moment and occasionally I thought Dana got away with more than I could fathom a black woman getting away with in the time of slavery, but that's just my opinion. Highly, highly recommended.

Bottom line: Excellent writing and a rocking fine central dilemma make this an amazing and timeless read. I think this book would be a great book club read. There's a lot to ponder and discuss.

In other news:

Only one book has arrived here in the last week or two: Goodbye Darkness by William Manchester (from PBS). Otherwise, nada. I even went to Borders and came out empty-handed, although that's partly their fault for not bothering to send me the weekly coupon. They should know I'm a sucker for coupons, by now. It's all in their computer.

Jeane of DogEar Diary asked me if I have any more photos of the fox I snapped in Colorado and asked to see more. I do. But, I figured I might as well have a little fun and went dashing off to look at more possibilities for photo effects (something I've spent a lot of time playing with, this week). In the process, I found PhotoFunia -- a wonderful free photo-effect website -- and opted to turn one of my favorite fox photos into a colored sketch. It was a little too subtle for me, so I saved it and added some shadow to give it a little more punch. I love the end result, which looks like it was torn out of an old book:

I'm still reading Doomsday Book by Connie Willis but hope to finish that, today, and then return to the books in my sidebar. Not much else is going on! I really do need to clean house, but the city pool had a broken pump, yesterday, so Kiddo has continued to hang out with me and we're having fun. Well, okay, we're having fun when he's awake. Boy, that kid likes to sleep.

What are you reading, these days?

Bookfool, too busy to moan about not being in Australia

©2010 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are not reading this post at Bookfoolery and Babble, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunday Summer Doldrum Pie

If this past week was a pie, I'd have to say it was one that sank in the middle. It is just too hot for me (hence, a photo of the moon over a nice, cool state called "Colorado"). It was also a migraine week and had I been 100% I probably still would have accomplished next to nothing with huzzybuns banging around, getting ready for a big trip. He went to Australia. Without me, again, yes. Ask me if I'm totally bummed.

I'm trying to psych myself up to spend a week deep cleaning my house, while he's gone, but we'll just have to see what happens. I tend to only get so far and then either Fiona starts attacking my leg (her way of saying, "Play with me!") or I decide the concept of the siesta is way underrated and end up lying on top of a half-made bed, staring into space (Did I tell you it's too hot for me?). Blogging? It's just too much effort. Reading has been pretty much beyond me, too, although I did manage to finish Kindred by Octavia E. Butler and Bellwether by Connie Willis. Plus, 5 books that Sterling Kids sent me. More on those, later. I'll have a Children's Day and review them all, soon.

One week's blogging in review:

1. Last Sunday, I posted some random quotes and a recipe (for apple cake) because it's purging time. Sometimes, I can't bear to pass on a book until I've saved a quote or two.

2. On Wednesday, I managed to bash out a single review: The Passage by Justin Cronin. Well, one review is better than nothing.

3. On Friday, I posted a sneak peek chapter of In a Heartbeat by the Tuohys . . . you know, the folks who were made famous by the movie The Blind Side? Sadly, I have not been in a non-fiction mood and couldn't even talk myself into picking up the book to read a chapter, although I will get to it, eventually.

4. Later that evening (Friday), Miss Fiona made her weekly appearance. This time, I used to have a little fun making her slightly cartoonish.

That's it. Wow. Kind of a pitiful blogging week. Hopefully, this coming week will be better. I actually had to zip over to the Big City three times, last week, which ate up many hours. I don't go to the Big City without taking the time to go to a store or two for supplies. There are a lot of things we simply cannot acquire in our little town.

Since the heat and fatigue and husbands leaving without me have been messing with my ability to read, I'm not even going to bother updating you on my reading, apart from the fact that I've added one more book but haven't put it in my sidebar. I'm a little under halfway through Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. I liked Bellwether so much that I decided to give another Willis book a go, even though it's 600 pages long. The next few weeks should be equally hectic and hot, so I anticipate a minimum of computer time and then I'll take some time off to ponder my empty nest after Kiddo leaves for college (muffled sob).

I leave you with yet another Colorado photo: A fox who stopped mid-scratch to wonder if that chick on the deck was a problem. Apparently not. He went right back to sleep.

I definitely need to do some wahooing on Wednesday. Happy Sunday!

©2010 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are not reading this post at Bookfoolery and Babble, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fiona Friday: Cartoon Fionas

The cartoon look isn't too dramatic, but I used to add a little effect to two Fiona pics. First, Fiona being naughty, chomping down on a Mt. Dew box (you can see this was taken during a thirsty week when we were in dire need of sugary caffeine):

And, a sweet Fiona closeup. I love her face!

©2010 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are not reading this post at Bookfoolery and Babble, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

In a Heartbeat by Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy (sneak peek)

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card authors are:

and the book:

In a Heartbeat

Henry Holt and Co. (July 13, 2010)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings, Senior Media Specialist for The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***


A Memphis, Tennessee native, Leigh Anne was raised by her devout Christian mother and tough-as-nails U.S. Marshall father, a JFK appointee who served the administration in its efforts to racially integrate schools in the Deep South. She attended Briarcrest Christian School and went on to graduate from the University of Mississippi, “Ole Miss,” with a Bachelor of Science degree in Interior Design. There Leigh Anne met Sean Tuohy, her husband of 27 years. Both were active and ambitious college students. Leigh Anne was a cheerleader, campus favorite, homecoming maid, and active member of her sorority; Sean became a record-breaking SEC basketball champion and still holds several SEC assist records. Drafted by the NBA’s New Jersey Nets in 1982, he opted to continue his career overseas before returning to the U.S. to be with his father in his final days. He became a successful entrepreneur, building a company that now owns and operates 70 fast food restaurants, including Taco Bell and Long John Silver’s franchises. The Tuohys are the proud parents of daughter Collins and sons Michael Oher and Sean Jr.

Visit their website.

Product Details:

List Price: $24.00
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (July 13, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0805093389
ISBN-13: 978-0805093384



The Popcorn Theory


We all begin on the same page and we're all going to end on the same page.—Sean Tuohy

After many years of getting and spending, of being broke, then rich, then almost broke again, of cashing in and paying up, and—let's face it—hoping to die with the most toys, we're convinced that it's better to give than receive. Some folks call that philanthropy. But we aren't the fancy types. We don't always have enough starch in our shirts and our household is about as formal as a sandbox. Instead, we live by a more informal notion, which we call the Popcorn Theory.

It goes like this: "You can't help everyone. But you can try to help the hot ones who pop right up in front of your face."

The Popcorn Theory is about noticing others. It starts with recognizing a fellow soul by the roadside as kindred, even if he doesn't seem to belong in your gated community and, at six foot five and over three hundred pounds, is the biggest piece of popcorn you ever saw. It's about acknowledging that person's potential and value. It's about seeing him, instead of looking past him.

"Like with popcorn, you don't know which kernel's gonna pop," Sean likes to say. "But the hot ones just show up. It's not hard to spot 'em."

Except, that first day we almost drove right by him.

It was a raw autumn morning in late November 2002, the day before Thanksgiving. A light dusting of snow had just fallen, which we in Memphis, Tennessee—being Southerners—considered a blizzard. Ice draped the roof gutters and the sky was dull and blanched, a waste-colored day.

We were on our way out to breakfast. He was trudging down the street in nothing but a T-shirt and shorts, his arms wrapped in a sad knot, his breath visible in the cold.

We glanced at him, briefly. Then we did what comes too easily to all of us. To be honest—gut-punch honest—we kept on driving and passed him by. Past the occasional patches of snow that lay on the yards like sheets half pulled back. Past the stubbled lawns and the freeze-cracked sidewalks.

But, as we left him behind, a thought tugged at Leigh Anne's consciousness. It was as faint as the wind, as indistinct as the chittering of birds.

"Turn around," Leigh Anne said.

With that, our lives changed in a heartbeat.

If you are among the millions of people who saw the movie The Blind Side, or read the book it was based on, then you know what happened next. You know how a wealthy suburban couple pulled over and spoke to young, rootless Michael Oher. How Michael was a ward of the state, his mother an addict, his father murdered. How he ran away from twenty foster homes and passed through eleven schools before he met us. How he eventually became a second son to us and earned a football scholarship to the University of Mississippi, where he made the Chancellor's Honor Roll. How he then went on to stardom in the National Football League. How an Academy Award–nominated film was made about our family, and how Sandra Bullock won her first Oscar for her portrayal of Leigh Anne.

You probably think you know everything about us, our whole story. Actually, you only know part of it. Don't get us wrong. Our friend Michael Lewis, the author of The Blind Side, wrote a wonderful book that deserved to be a bestseller. (Most of his books sell big. We haven't read all of them, but if you see him, tell him we did.) Our friend Sandra Bullock is a brilliant actress and her star turn in the movie, all nerve and bluntness, was perfect. (Leigh Anne doesn't actually wear skirts that tight, but it's a minor point.) Compared to our real lives, though, the book and movie were just sketches.

For instance, people ask all the time: "Is Leigh Anne Tuohy really like that?"

Our friends are quick to answer: "It's worse. The movie could only get an hour and a half of her in."

The truth is, childbirth is easier to explain than our story. So in this book we'd like to introduce our family properly, tell you how we saw events through our own eyes, and deliver our message in our own voices.

It's a message about giving. We often say that our son Michael gave us much more than we gave him. That confuses people: how is it possible that a homeless kid could give anything to wealthy parents who already had two perfect children? It's possible because in every exchange with Michael, we came out on the better end. We gave him a home—and he gave us back a stronger and more centered family. We gave him advice and support—and he gave us back a deeper awareness of the world. We gave him love as a boy—and he gave us back a man to be proud of. Each thing we gave to him has been returned to us multiplied.

But before any of that could happen, something else had to happen first. A fundamental precondition had to be met.

We had to notice him. We had to see him.

At this point we should pause to explain why a couple of well-heeled suburbanites would go out to breakfast on a weekday morning. The answer is that we don't cook. Or, to be more specific, Leigh Anne doesn't cook. As Sean likes to tell people, "My wife believes that if somebody else cooked it, and we bring it home and eat it, that's ‘home cooking.' "

Our son Sean Junior, who we call S.J. for short, claims that our conversations about meals always consist of the following exchange:

"What's for dinner?"

"Whatever you pick up."

S.J. also likes to tell the story of our Kroger's supermarket card. A while back the local grocery started a program: for every fifty bucks spent at Kroger's, four dollars would go to the school or charity of your choice. After about a year, our grand contribution to the team, based on the amount of food we purchased, came to just seven dollars. The only things we ever bought were Diet Coke and Gatorade.

Actually, we almost didn't even have a kitchen in our house. Several years ago we moved into a lovely home in the upper-crust River Oaks section of Memphis, thanks to our dual success in business—Leigh Anne as an interior designer, Sean as an entrepreneur in the fast-food business. Due to the growth of Leigh Anne's firm, Flair I Interiors, and Sean's company, RGT Management—which over the years has acquired more than eighty Taco Bells, Pizza Huts, and Long John Silver's—we were fortunate enough to be able to buy and remodel a beautiful four-bedroom, cream-brick manor on a bucolic street called Shady Grove Lane.

Leigh Anne handled the remodeling discussions with the architect, who then drew up some plans. When she showed the blueprints to the rest of the family, we all stared at them for a long moment.

"Where's the kitchen?" Sean said to Leigh Anne.

Meaningful pause.

"I don't plan on cooking."

Longer pause.

"All right," Sean replied patiently, "let's approach this from the practical side. What if we ever want to sell the house? Who would buy a house with no kitchen?"

Stubborn, emphatic pause.

"I don't plan on selling the house."

Eventually, we struck a compromise: a small passageway lined with bookshelves was converted into a galley kitchen. Sean likes to show it off to visitors by spreading his arms out in the tiny space. "See this?" he'll say. "This was a negotiation."

Even now, it's immaculate because it's so seldom used. As our daughter, Collins, tells her friends, "It's like a hospital operating room."

S.J. enjoys throwing open the refrigerator door to show visitors what's inside: nothing but bottles. We have drinks. We have sauces. We have condiments, ketchup, and mustard. We have seasonings, stuff to put on food. But no actual food.

By now you may have gathered that our family is a little . . . odd.

So that's why we were out driving that morning. We were on our way to get some home cooking.

That day in the car when we spotted Michael, ambling slowly along a tidy cement walk and past a series of wrought iron gates behind which peeked the tall gables of grand homes, we each had the same fleeting thought. We wondered, inwardly, what a black kid was doing in that neighborhood at nine thirty in the morning. Frankly, he was out of place. In that part of town, it's a little unusual to see someone walking on foot, much less a very tall, very large, dark-complexioned person in shorts.

"He looks like a fish out of water," Leigh Anne said aloud, peering through the windshield.

Memphis, of course, has a long and tortured racial history. But if you live in River Oaks—a stately, wholly white enclave—it's easy to avert your eyes from the city's race and class divisions, or ignore them altogether. Thick-chimneyed Mock Tudors and faux French chateaus are tucked behind whitewashed brick walls. The subdivisions have European names like Normandy Court and they exude affluence and seclusion. They are sheltered by old oaks and pines and heavy hedges and protected by thick garden walls. There's no concertina wire, but you get the idea.

As we passed Michael, Sean recognized him. He was the "new kid" everyone was talking about at Briarcrest Christian School.

The pleasant, redbrick high school where we sent our children was just four blocks from our house. Briarcrest had been founded in 1973 as a response to the court-ordered racial integration of the Memphis City Schools, when the flight of white parents had resulted in a burgeoning of small, private, reassuringly homogenous halls of education. Most of the kids at Briarcrest came from the same neighborhoods and their families enjoyed the same income levels.

But, to its credit, Briarcrest had begun to seek out and admit minority children, partly out of a philanthropic impulse, partly in the interest of giving its affluent students fuller exposure to the actual world around them. Michael was one of these minority kids—he'd only just arrived and he stuck out like a sore thumb.

As it happens, Michael was the same age and in the same class as our daughter, Collins. One day she had encountered him on the staircase on her way to anatomy. He was going up and she was going down, and he took up the entire passageway. She had to back up so he could get past her. She remembers thinking, "That's the largest person I've ever seen."

The next day she introduced herself to him. He just said, "Hey." She didn't get many words out of him in their first few encounters.

Sean had also noticed him at Briarcrest, where he volunteered in the afternoons as a basketball coach. It was his habit to drop by the school during his lunch break and he had spotted Michael in the gym, sitting in the bleachers watching some kids play ball. One afternoon Sean spoke with Michael briefly, and he came home talking about the huge new kid who had great hands and feet to go along with his size. Sean saw right away that Michael might be a real asset to the Briarcrest athletic teams.

As we left Michael in the rearview mirror that November morning, the two of us had a brief conversation.

"That's the new kid at Briarcrest I told you about," Sean said.

"What's he doing out here this time of day?" Leigh Anne asked. "School's not in session."

"I don't know."

And that was it. No question about it, we intended to keep driving. We were more concerned with breakfast. Actually, we were preoccupied with food in general, given that it was the day before Thanksgiving. We wouldn't be cooking ourselves, of course, but the previous evening we had spent a couple of hours helping Leigh Anne's mother—who would be hosting the family meal extravaganza—dice and chop.

Later on, we learned that Thanksgiving didn't mean much to Michael. Neither did Christmas, or his birthday. These days weren't for celebrating, quite the opposite. They were bleak, neutral days that only reminded him of want. "I went through a lot of those days with nothing," he told us. "A holiday was just another date to me."

We glided down the street in our BMW, a plush and comfortable silver cloud, fine with the world. But then it began to sleet, and that's when the thought whispered to Leigh Anne.

Why doesn't he have long pants on in November?

The thought grew until it forced itself into her throat and demanded to be spoken aloud.

"Turn around."

"What? Why?"

"Go back and let's see what he's doing here."

"Maybe he's going to the school."

"That's all fine, Sean, but why does he only have a T-shirt and shorts on in this weather?"

"I don't have a clue."


Anyone who has heard Leigh Anne Tuohy speak in that tone invariably does what he is told. Sean promptly U-turned the car right in the middle of the street, as ordered.

One of the things Mister Tuohy understands after twenty-eight years of marriage is how not to aggravate Missus Tuohy. Another thing he understands is how aggressive she is when a kid has needs—aggressive being a polite term for borderline obnoxious. Kids drive her crazy, because whatever is wrong in their lives is not their fault. Just by looking at Michael, Leigh Anne could tell that he had never hurt a soul. And he was shivering.

We pulled up beside him and Sean rolled down the driver's side window with an electric hum.

"Hey, Michael, what are you doing over here today?"

Slowly, Michael folded himself in half and bent down to the window. His expression was placid, gentle eyed. His voice when he spoke was mellow, deep chested, and surprisingly beautiful. He had a voice like a cello.

"I'm going to shoot hoops."

"Well, the gym's not open."

To Leigh Anne, leaning across from the passenger seat, it was immediately apparent that Michael was disappointed. He had an "Oh, no" kind of look. It was obvious to her that he now had no mission, no plan—and no place else to go.

"They got heat there," Michael said uncertainly.

He was going to the school because it was warm.

"Let us take you home," Leigh Anne said.

"Oh, no, no, no," he replied, with something like alarm. "I'm okay, I don't need anything."

"Well," said Leigh Anne, "why don't you at least let us take you back up to the bus stop where you got off. When does another express come by?"

"I don't know," he said.

After another minute of conversation, Michael clearly realized how persistent Leigh Anne intended to be. We simply weren't going to leave him standing there in the sleet in a T-shirt. Finally, he agreed to let us drive him to another bus stop and he climbed in the car.

There was hardly any talk as we drove. A little basketball chitchat, nothing more. What was going through our heads? Not much. All these years later, Leigh Anne is the only one of us who can recall having a specific thought that day. The first thing she thought was, "This kid needs some clothes." It was apparent that he didn't own any cold-weather garments. Next, she thought, "I wonder who would know what size he wears?" But she couldn't bring herself to ask him any questions. We didn't know anything about him or his life and we didn't want to patronize him.

We arrived at the bus stop and let Michael out. He waved good-bye. That was it, the end of the first encounter. It was nothing, and everything.

The following Monday, when school was back in session, Leigh Anne went over to Briarcrest and began asking some questions. Who was this kid? Where did he live? Where were his parents?

No one had any firm answers. The counselors knew next to nothing about him, except that he had been brought to the school in September by a youth basketball coach named Tony Henderson, with whom he had spent a few nights. Henderson had persuaded the Briarcrest administration to enroll Michael as a hardship case, on academic probation.

Leigh Anne dropped by the gym and queried Briarcrest basketball coach John Harrington, who said, "I don't know that much about him yet, but I do think he probably is lacking in clothes." Leigh Anne said, "Will you ask him if he will let me take him shopping?" John said he would approach Michael and let us know. That night John called Leigh Anne to say that Michael had agreed to let her buy him some things.

The next day, as Michael climbed into the car after basketball practice, Leigh Anne began to grapple with the scale of his potential needs. For starters, he was such a big kid that she had no idea where to look for sizes that would fit him. Surveying him, she said, "Okay. Where are we going? Do you know where we could get you some clothes?"

Michael looked back at her with an impatient, adolescent expression, like she'd just said something stupid. He sort of snorted, "Yeahhh."

"Well, I certainly can't take you to Macy's," she shot back, "so point me in the right direction."

That was the first small seed of a rapport and it grew from there. In the months ahead, our relationship with Michael would develop with a lot of sarcastic back-and-forth, and a lot of teasing, which was what we did in our home. Michael learned pretty quickly that in the Tuohy household you can say just about anything and not get in trouble.

In the weeks that followed, Michael began spending more and more time hanging around the house. But he wasn't the only one. We had supported and cared for plenty of kids besides Michael. (We still do.) A lot of them were athletes looking for a way up and out through sports, kids who were on the margin financially or academically. We had a natural sympathy for them; earlier in our lives, as we will explain, we had had much less ourselves. Besides Michael, there was a boy in the band and a young girl on the softball team. We wanted our home to be open to them and to all of our children's friends. Our house was like a hive: kids came over to share our takeout, or to be tutored by Sean, or just to play video games with S.J. Michael was different only in that he had greater needs. Truth be told, he needed more than any kid we had ever met.

But if there is a fundamental misapprehension about Michael, it's that he needed saving. As we got to know him during those first few weeks, we discovered that underneath his shyness, his foot shuffling, and his head ducking, he had a tremendous will to determine the course of his own life. If he initially seemed forlorn, and searching, that was because he felt guarded and out of place because of what he'd been through. But buried under his skin, like rock under soil, was a deep confidence, a sense of his own capacities. You saw flashes of it when he would cut his eyes up at you and smile. In that instant, you could see all that he had inside of him, as if the landscape of his mind had just been lit up by lightning.

Eventually, we came to understand that Michael was almost always the smartest person in the room. It just took a while for all of us to realize it. If anything, he was almost too sharp for his own good. As Sean would sometimes joke, "He thinks he could perform surgery with a butter knife." Miss Sue Mitchell, his academic tutor in high school and college, once said, "If Michael and I are ever in a car wreck together, please do not let him operate on me. Because he thinks he can."

The point is, Michael was always going to find a way to make it out of his situation—and nobody was going to be more responsible for his success than he was. He knew what he wanted and he found ways to attain it. "I knew there had to be something better," he said later. "I'd say, ‚ÄòMan, there has to be something else. I just have to better myself.' "

Michael came to us this great, sweet, bright kid, ready-made for success. All we did was give him a few tools and step out of the way. We allowed him to become who he was supposed to be. He was such a self-made man, in fact, that when he later saw the portrayal of himself as a boy in the movie, he said, "I was never like that." He didn't like seeing himself as he was. He argued that he never had trouble meeting people and looking them in the eye, and he all but insisted that he was born with a 3.5 grade point average. To him, none of his past happened. What he is now is what happened. Sometimes we argue with him—in all honesty, it's still hard for us to know how to treat his past—but then we let it go. His childhood is his own property. He would probably not be the success he is without the ability to transcend his past. He simply refuses to let it catch his sleeve and drag him backward.

A couple of weeks after we picked Michael up and took him to the bus stop, he spent the night on our couch for the first time. At that point he was drifting from household to household, dividing his nights between three or four different families from Briarcrest. He occasionally spent nights with a young assistant football coach named Matt Saunders. He also spent a lot of nights with a classmate named Quinterio Franklin, who lived out in Mississippi about thirty-five miles away.

When Michael stayed with us, he slept on a sofa in our game room, a broad, many-windowed space that reflects the Tuohy love of toys. It's got three different flat-screen TVs, a Pop-A-Shot basketball machine, an Xbox rig, and a view of the swimming pool outside. It's also got a large L-shaped sectional couch.

The running family joke is that Leigh Anne took Michael into her heart the first time she saw how neatly he folded everything. He treated that sofa as if it were the property of the U.S. military. After his first night with us, we all stared at the blanket folded and cornered in a neat bundle and at the sheets he had so crisply squared.

"Instant love," S.J. remarked.

No one else in the household would have done such a thing. Except for Leigh Anne, of course. The rest of us are all wrecks—which is why we need her.

Collins's room during high school was so messy that it drove Leigh Anne to distraction. Collins lived in piles. You could see the Monday pile, the Tuesday pile, and the Wednesday pile. There was the formal-wear pile and the semiformal pile. Leigh Anne would take videos of the room and show it to visitors, in hopes of embarrassing Collins into cleaning up the mess. When that didn't work, Leigh Anne would scream, "I'm going to throw her out of the house!" Finally, Collins would clean her room . . . and a couple days later, you'd see the piles on the floor again.

For all the chaos and yelling, it was apparent to any outsider who walked into the Tuohy household that we were a close family—if a functionally dysfunctional one. We didn't come home to the smell of fresh-cooked meals every night but we laughed a lot. We didn't have many Dr. Phil moments, either. We were moving too fast. Our lives were simply too hectic—who's got time for serious conflict?

Michael's first impressions of the cast of characters in our house were pretty vivid. Here's what he saw in each of us.

Leigh Anne: a former cheerleader, and five foot two of plainspoken will. She wanted to get things done and usually what she wanted to get done needed doing. If anyone tried to stop her, she'd take his arm off and walk down the street with it. She had a shiny exterior, glittering and bejeweled, that covered for tenderness. She cried on Sunday at Grace Evangelical Church when Pastor Jimmy Young read her mother's favorite scriptures or called for her father's favorite hymn, "Up from the Grave He Rose." But that didn't mean you wanted to mess with her.

"I'm all about loving and giving," Leigh Anne would say, "but I'm going to kick your butt if you do something you're not supposed to do."

Sean: gently sarcastic in tone and in manner, he pretended to be the minority partner. "I get a 49 percent vote," he'd say. In reality, he was probably the strongest person in the family. Sometimes others in the family seemed almost to ignore him, but when there was a crisis, everybody ran right to him. He oversaw dozens of fast-food franchises and he was also a broadcaster for the Memphis Grizzlies, the local NBA team. He was short on time and big on results. He refused to read the instructions to anything—he just went from A to D and didn't want to know what steps B and C were.

Collins: picture a luminous changeling with waist-length hair—and biceps. Collins—or Collie-Bell, as others in the family liked to call her—managed to be all things at once, gorgeous and athletic, sweet and a smarty-pants. She was the member of the family to whom everything came effortlessly. Before Michael arrived she was the best athlete in the house. She would master a sport, become bored, and move on. She was a gymnastics prodigy and later one of the best swimmers in the city. She triple-jumped and then won a state championship in the pole vault.

Sean Junior: An antic child, with a thick slab of black hair falling over his eyes and speech that came all in a rush. Of everyone in the family, he was the most perceptive and attuned to others. He had a strange, hyperkinetic mind; he was a king of the universe at Xbox, and he made straight As though he hardly cracked a book. Somehow, against all odds, he was also self-assured. The youngest in a frenzied household, he was always being left behind but never seemed to mind it. His good humor was bottomless. When he played basketball for a local boys club team that was made up completely of black kids, except for him, his teammates nicknamed him "Spot."

The family came and went at all hours and seemed to live completely in the moment. Sean would need five clean suits for a road trip because in addition to overseeing his restaurants, he was traveling all over the country doing his broadcasting for the Grizzlies. Collins couldn't find her pole vault gear in all the piles, Leigh Anne was juggling decorating jobs, and S.J. needed a ride somewhere. The merry-go-round never stopped—or even slowed down.

Then Michael came along. It didn't take long for him to understand what we were all saying to him: "If you want to jump into this frying pan with us, let's go!"

There was never a moment when Michael formally joined our family. It just happened. Monday became Tuesday and Tuesday became Wednesday. He'd stop by the house to hang out between classes and practices, which became hanging out to study, which became spending the night, which became staying for three nights, which became staying for a month. All of a sudden six months had gone by. At some point we realized that Michael had been living with us for a long time. It just evolved into what it was.

At first we were just too busy to stop and think about what was happening. It was only later that we understood that a mutual awakening had taken place and began to measure the size of the awkward gaps we confronted, between privileged and poor, between black and white. And only then did we begin to bridge these gaps as a family.

One of the questions we're asked most frequently is, how were Collins, S.J., and Michael able to accept one another as brothers and sister without resentment? We're not exactly sure, except that they were born good-natured, and we didn't ruin them. For some reason, our three kids aren't sitting on some psychiatrist's couch saying, "I got screwed." How did that happen? We don't know. But we do know that the three of them cared for each other as much as anybody.

One possible answer is that we all laughed a lot. Another is that Collins and S.J. were open to Michael because they hadn't been raised in total privilege and prosperity. When they were younger, they saw us struggle economically, so they grew up with some sense for how hard we worked and how fortunate they were. We also tried hard not to sequester them socially—because when you're socially sequestered, you're susceptible to stereotypes and to viewing a lot of people as "others." We never wanted our kids to view anyone as an "other."

Not long before we met Michael, we sent Collins to a program called Bridge Builders. It's a weeklong seminar during which schoolchildren from the dead opposite ends of the city are placed in dormitory rooms on the University of Memphis campus and required to get to know each other. The program is run by a Memphis nonprofit foundation called Bridges, which for eighty years has been fostering racial and social justice through a variety of community initiatives. They mentor local "peacemakers" and help young dropouts get their equivalency degrees and find jobs. "Changing Memphis One Life at a Time" is the program's slogan.

For five days, Collins—who was then a sophomore in high school—roomed with a girl from Raleigh-Egypt High School on the other side of town. Raleigh-Egypt was the opposite of Briarcrest socially and economically; it had a mixed student body and its share of problems. On one occasion, for instance, a student had slapped a teacher.

None of the kids in the program were allowed to use cell phones except in an emergency. Communication with friends on the outside was strictly forbidden, so all the kids had was each other. Through a series of encounters and counselor-led seminars, Bridge Builders knocked down social barriers and forced the kids to lean on one another. At first Collins and her roommate were all about checking out each other's hair. But as they got better acquainted, they discovered they were separated by—and curious about—some of the simplest things.

One exercise in particular made a lasting impression on Collins. A counselor gathered about fifteen or twenty kids together in a room, lined them up single-file, and turned out the lights. In the dark, the counselor asked them to close their eyes and listen to a series of questions. The students were to respond to the questions simply by taking a step to the left or right. If the answer to the question was yes, they were to step to the right. If the answer was no, they had to step to the left.

"Are you going to get a car when you're sixteen?"

Collins heard shuffling in the dark. She took a step to the right.

"Do your parents have jobs?"

More shuffling. Collins took another step to the right.

"Do you have two parents?"

Still more shuffling. Collins again moved to the right.

After a few more questions, the counselor said, "Open your eyes."

The lights flickered on.

Collins stared around the room. Almost all of the kids were on opposite sides of the room. They had been pushed to either one wall or the other by their family's circumstances. Just a few kids stood in the center.

Collins thought, "So this is why we're the way we are."

If the message you take from our experience is that a rich white family tried to save a black kid, then you will totally miss our story's meaning. It has nothing to do with where we were from, how we lived, or how much money we had. It's not important what color we were, whether we had glasses or didn't have glasses, or what kind of shoes we wore. All of that is irrelevant. Some people have tried to make it relevant—but they emphasize the wrong thing.

It so happened that when we first met him, Michael was a black, sixteen-year-old male. But those words are just adjectives that describe the person we tried to help and ultimately came to love. Making him a part of the family was an unconscious act, and it happened in a heartbeat.

It's equally true, however, that the outlook on life that allowed us to open our hearts and home to Michael was developed over the course of our lifetimes. If the impulse was sudden, the two of us had been thinking for several years about our philosophy of giving.

One of our deepest beliefs is beautifully captured in the Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, or 2 Corinthians. The seventh verse of the ninth chapter of 2 Corinthians reads: "Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." After many years of attending church together, and helping to found one of the fastest-growing congregations in Memphis, Grace Evangelical, we came to believe that a cheerful, spontaneous offering, no matter how small, could be increased and made powerful by God. Our faith helped us understand that it was up to us to be generous and make ourselves available to be used by others.

We also became convinced that in order to really give, we had to get our hearts right. We had to learn that it was important to let go of any particular agenda. What were we hoping to achieve when we gave? We knew that it couldn't be "We're looking to go out and help a fourteen-year-old Hispanic boy today."

So many people we knew wanted to make a difference and yet they waited for a really important cause to come along. Or they waited for their big bonus check to come in. They said to themselves: "I want to save Africa." Or: "I want to save the American Indian." They had an agenda. But why is it necessary to have an agenda? Because it relieves our conscience? Or makes us look good to our bosses? Or makes us feel good about ourselves? Because it makes us more appealing to the congregation? Or gives us more points on our Visa card? Or means that the United Way is going to give us a plaque?

The more we thought about the nature of true charity, the more we realized that there's a paradox in Americans' general attitudes toward giving: as a citizenry we are at once charitable and stingy. According to the National Philanthropic Trust, 89 percent of American households give to charity. Sounds impressive, but think about this: on average, we donate just 1.9 percent of our household income. To be frank, that's miserly. Especially considering how enriched some of us are, that percentage is well below what it should be. And by biblical standards—as most Christians would undoubtedly agree—it's downright shameful.

As we reflected on our own ways of giving, we came to see that we often approached charity too formally. Giving shouldn't always be a prescribed ritual or ceremony; it doesn't need to be accompanied by properly stamped paperwork. If we worried less about the procedures and methods of giving and concentrated more on a giving state of mind, we might have more to offer than we knew.

It pained us to realize that we too often failed at the simplest kind of giving. While we were waiting for a great cause, or focused on an agenda, we chose not to notice someone standing right in front of us. We looked right past the woman in the grocery store taking things out of her basket because she was short on cash or the elderly disabled man in line at CVS.

Ultimately, we agreed that by embracing a smaller and more cheerful kind of giving, we might ease a lot of everyday problems. It took several years but slowly, informally, we found ourselves arriving at a simple conclusion: it wasn't important to do something great.

Instead, we decided to take this approach: do small things with great love. If we could do that, little opportunities to give might grow beyond our wildest dreams.

And that's exactly what happened when Michael walked into our lives. We didn't set out to take in a homeless kid. We just gave him a ride. He was the ultimate example of the Popcorn Theory.

Too often we think we lack the means to improve someone's lot. We're wrong. The Popcorn Theory doesn't oblige all of us to write impressively large checks or take in every hungry child with a face like a flame. It only requires that we perceive the person standing right in front of us.

Not long ago we heard the following story from a U.S. senator we met during a trip to Washington for an Adoption Coalition convention. There is a little-known congressional program that awards internships to young people who have aged out of the foster care system. These are kids who were never adopted and are no longer eligible for state support. They have no families and few prospects. The internship program is a way to give a few of them a decent professional start.

This senator we met during the convention employed one such young man as an intern. One morning the senator breezed in for a meeting and discovered that his intern was already in the office, reorganizing the entire mailroom. The senator said to the intern, "This is amazing—the mailroom has never looked so clean. You did a great job."

A few minutes later the senator decided to get a cup of coffee. As he passed by the mailroom, he glanced through the plate-glass window and saw that the intern had tears streaming down his face. The senator stopped short, wondering what could have upset him.

He returned to the mailroom and said, "Son, are you okay?"

"Yes," the intern answered quietly, wiping his tears away.

"Did I say something to offend you?"

"No, sir."

"Well, what's wrong?"

After a short silence, the young man said, "That's the first time in my life anyone's told me that I did something good."

A bit of attention and a kind word—that's how little it takes to affect someone's life for the better.

Thousands of people failed to notice Michael Oher, his quality and his promise. Every day, as he walked the long blocks from the bus stop to school, they drove right past him. Now, Michael was hard to miss. But nobody seemed to have noticed him. Nobody ever stopped to ask, "Where are you going?" Nobody even offered him a ride.

After we met Michael, we became very conscious of his old bus stop. Leigh Anne is a power walker who does five miles a day and, from that Thanksgiving on, whenever she strode up to that bus stop she always took note of the people who were waiting for a bus and stopped to speak to them. Sometimes she just said, "How is your day?" Or she paused to ask a few questions and find out more about them. There was an orthopedic clinic nearby and some of them were on their way to get medical care. (We never even knew the clinic was there.) Others were on their way to work at a Chick-fil-A on the nearby commercial strip. (We'd never thought about how they got to work.) Most of them were taken aback when Leigh Anne stopped for conversation. They got a look on their faces that said, "People don't usually talk to me in this part of town."

Try an experiment. At some point in the next twenty-four hours you're going to come across someone who seems of no consequence. Ask yourself if you see value in this person. It might be a young woman in a restaurant clearing off the tables. It might be the young man who parks your car in a garage. It might be someone standing on the curb at a red light or waiting at a bus stop. Pay attention to how you respond. You will glance at them, barely, and you will place some type of value on them. (You're lying if you say you don't.) You will pass right by them and if you give them a second thought, it will be this: you're better than they are.

By the time Michael was seventeen or eighteen, he might have completely fallen through the cracks, unnoticed by anyone. After all, who cared where Michael slept, what he ate, what he wore, or where he went? To be brutal about it, who really cared whether he lived or died?

Even after Michael made it to the NFL, people still didn't seem to value him, to see him, as clearly as they should have. For instance, when Sandra Bullock went on the Late Show with David Letterman, she had an exchange with Letterman that struck all of us. No doubt he didn't mean anything by it, but Letterman kept referring to "that boy in the movie." You could tell it got to Sandra. She finally said, "You mean Michael."

To us, the astonishing commercial success of The Blind Side is rooted in a kind of self-examination. Michael's story causes all of us to search our souls and it shows us how we too easily ignore, debase, and devalue each other. The experience of watching the movie is kind of like hearing a sermon when you've screwed up and suddenly the sermon seems directed right at you. But the movie also touches the part of us that wants to be better, that yearns to treat each other as family. The story it tells is a reaffirmation of the way we want to feel about who we are and the way we want our country to be.

We're often asked, wasn't it a risk to take Michael into your home? You know what? You take a bigger risk every day of your life. When you get in your car and drive across a bridge, you take a risk. You don't know if your tires are going to blow out, or if the bridge's pilings are going to hold up, or if there's a drunk driver coming at you from the other end of the bridge. But you don't stop and think about it, do you? You don't get up every morning and kick each of your tires. You don't stare at the bridge and say, "Yeah, I think it'll hold me." You go right ahead and cross that bridge without giving it a thought.

Everybody takes risks, every day. You just don't realize that's what you're doing. For us, loving Michael was like that. We just crossed the bridge without thinking about it. And the way we see it, these are the kinds of risks that all of us need to take more of.

This is not to say that we don't have problems or make mistakes. It's not like we give everything away and go around wearing sackcloth, either. Like most people, we spend too much money on too many things, from golf clubs to David Yurman earrings. All you have to do is take a look at Collins's Louis Vuitton MacBook cover—Michael bought it for her—or check out the four cars in our garage, including young S.J.'s Dodge Challenger—Michael bought it for him—to know that.

Moreover, we're the first to admit that we weren't always the most generous givers ourselves and also that our views about giving were strongly influenced by others, starting with our parents. In the chapters to come, we'll show you how giving was passed down as a legacy to us and how we're trying to pass it to our children.

As you'll see, we have our flaws. You could even say that we have major issues. But, in the end, we're like every family. We have our disagreements and our insensitivities. We don't always like how other members of the family behave. We fight. We make up. And we get over it.

That's what families do.

Excerpted from In A Heartbeat by Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy
Copyright 2010 by Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy
Published in 2010 by Henry Holt and Company
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

I have not yet begun to read this book, but will post a review when I do.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Passage
by Justin Cronin
Copyright 2010
Ballantine Books
766 pages

A new virus appears in the not-so-distant future. Vicious and deadly, the disease has some unique properties that could prove useful if scientists can harness only the good side effects. But, the government has another purpose in mind.

A dozen death-row inmates have become the subject of human experimentation designed to turn them into weapons. The results are horrifying: vampire-like creatures with glowing eyes, sharp teeth, tremendous strength, a dramatically slowed aging process and a craving for blood. After government scientists have turned 12 deadly men into horrible creatures, two FBI agents are sent to pick up another test subject. This time, it's a little girl.

When all of the infected subjects escape, the virus rapidly spreads across North America, wiping out most of the population and turning the rest into blood-thirsty creatures known as "smokes", "jumps" or "virals".

Nearly a hundred years later, a small community of survivors is in danger of losing their only protection. The batteries that power their viral-repelling lights are failing. Without lights, there's no hope for survival. When a silent young girl wanders into their camp, a young man in the community named Peter discovers that she may hold the key, not only to their settlement's survival but also to the recovery of the human race. But a long and arduous journey through the dangerous land now overrun with deadly creatures is their only hope. And, the virals are growing stronger.

I finished reading my copy of The Passage, an advanced reader, the day before publication: June 7. By the time of its release, The Passage had already been hyped to proportions as epic as the book itself with Stephen King's enthusiastic recommendation helping to push the fervor, as you surely know. I didn't feel like I needed to immediately sit down and add to the publicity machine; there were other books I still hadn't gotten around to reviewing and I was curious whether the book would stick with me. A month later, I can tell you it has stuck with me just fine.

Normally, I am not a reader of books that you could refer to as "epic". I tend to like spare but lyrical writing without a lot of unnecessary detail and am of the opinion that most chunksters could stand to lose 100 pages, if not more. In this case, I was kind of stunned to find that I pretty much felt the opposite; I had trouble leaving the world inside its pages and went into a brief but miserable reading slump after I finished.

There were moments that I thought The Passage dragged a bit and it took me about 30 pages to really get sucked into the book; but, once I was immersed in that strange future world of scary virals and its ragged little band of survivors, I couldn't bear to read anything else. I set aside all of my other reads and focused on the book. I had to know what was going to happen and I was surprised to find that I relished the detailed descriptions that gave The Passage such a fabulous sense of time and place.

What I disliked about The Passage:

Not much, but it's not perfect. As I said, there were moments that the story dragged. There were also a few small passages that were a little too vague and dream-like (and, therefore, confusing -- usually involving the little girl, Amy, who is apparently clairvoyant). Occasionally there is some repetitive monologue that has to do with the buried humanity still inside those creatures and their ability to inject their dangerous thoughts into human dreams. That was a little annoying but certainly not enough to pull me out of the book long enough to reject it.

Finally, there was one incident that quite simply could not occur as the author described it. If I could ask the author one question, it would be, "Did you deliberately choose to take artistic license with this particular scenario or did you simply not do your research?" because the novel struck me as otherwise well researched. But, I've been to the location in which the scene occurred and I know what exactly was changed and why it could not happen as written. That particular scene nagged at me for a while. Then, I deliberately chose to assume the author had decided to alter the locale to his satisfaction and moved on.

What I loved about The Passage:

Justin Cronin is a rocking fine world builder. The future he created is believable and fascinating. I think that's what I loved the most -- imagining myself inside that world and questioning what I would do in the same situations, getting to know a unique set of characters who were so well described, so utterly three-dimensional that I would likely know one from another if I were to step into their fictional world. Some were heroic or foolish, some led by fear or selfishness. The characters had a broad range of personalities and, like real humans, were often a little unpredictable.

I would classify the book as tense more than horrifying, although there were two or three situations I found particularly unnerving and those were the only times I read with all the lights on. I was always able to read at night, although my mind kept playing with the storyline while I slept and I'd awaken to the memory of vivid dreams in which virals were trying to get into my head. They weren't nightmares, though, or at least they didn't feel like nightmares to me. I liked the fact that the book was not so terrifying that I could only read during the daylight hours and I loved the variety of characters and personalities in the book.

The language of the future world was also believable; language is altered over time and the new idiom was not so far removed from the language of the present. Individual words made sense in context and in regard to the world in which characters lived.

Bottom line:

A unique, satisfying and well-written tale of a terrifying disease, a ravaged world and the courage and hope still remaining amongst survivors for the eventual restoration of humanity. The fact that the creatures known as virals are vampire-like, but very different from the classic mostly-human vampires kept the book from feeling like just another vampire story. I will be eagerly awaiting the next installment, which comes out in 2012. As a movie, I'd expect this book to have an "R" rating for violence; it can be a little gory and disturbing.

My thanks to Random House/Ballantine for the advance reader's edition.

In other news:

I am on Day 4 of a pretty intense migraine but felt like I really needed to get this review written. Depending on how I feel, it might take a few days to get another review posted so please forgive my sporadic posting.

Just walked in:

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer - from HarperPerennial for a TLC Book Tour
Wicked Company by Ciji Ware - from Sourcebooks for review

Just finished:

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler - a library sale find, published in 1979 and still relevant

Just started reading but will probably finish tonight because I'm enjoying it so much:

Bellwether by Connie Willis - recommended by the Very Patient Carrie K, a delightful blogging friend with excellent taste in books, admirable knitting skill and a pleasing affection for cats.

Happy Reading!

Bookfool, off to get an ice pack for her sore head

©2010 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are not reading this post at Bookfoolery and Babble, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Random Quotes and a recipe

Because I'm weeding books from a bedside chest (and other places . . . like the floor) to make room for a new bed frame, I have collected a few quotes I think worth sharing before I pass on the books. And, a recipe that I haven't tried. If you beat me to it, let me know how it turns out.

Quotes and a recipe!

Being in this recession feels like watching a nature film about the disintegration of a major polar ice shelf: Huge chunks of everything we thought was solid keep breaking apart and disappearing into an abyss, the depth of which no one knows.

from Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colon

"A little while later, we got pulled over by a state trooper. We thought, What now? He took a look at our license plate and said, 'Do you mean to tell me that you-all drove here all the way from New York in this car?' Daddy said, 'Yes, sir, we did.' And the trooper said, 'Well, God bless, and welcome to Florida.' "

from Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colon

Quick Apple Cake

1 egg
1/4 cup milk
1 cup sifted flour
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine [plus about 1 Tablespoon, melted]
2 apples, peeled and sliced
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, beat the egg with the milk. Sift together into a second bowl the flour, baking powder, salt and tablespoon of sugar. Cut the butter or margarine into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture is the consistency of cornmeal. Stir in the egg and milk. Spread batter in a greased pan (8 x 8 x 2 in.).

Press apple slices into batter in rows. Brush top with part of the melted butter or margarine, sprinkle with the combined sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and top with remaining melted butter or margarine. Bake in a quick oven until the cake leaves the sides of the pan and is nicely browned on top, twenty-five minutes or more. Serve warm or cool cut in squares.

--also from Cherries in Winter

Over the PA system, the captain came on again. "I'm sure y'all have noticed we've been circling. We're trying to use up some a that big ol' tank a gas before we come on in." He proceeded to tell us that there was a little ol' problem with getting the landing wheels to go down. That got everyone thinking. Now all you could hear was the vibration of the propellers slicing evenly through the dark, and the muffled terror of people mentally preparing to die. Only the Indians in the back appeared unconcerned; what did they care--they'd be back.

--from Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Burden

The thought of performing operations on numbers was much slower in coming because performing arithmetic requires a certain degree of abstraction. Anthropologists tell us that among many tribes, if two hunters fired two arrows to fell two gazelles, then got two hernias lugging them back toward camp, the word used for "two" might be different in each case. In these civilizations, you really couldn't add apples and oranges. It seems to have taken many thousands of years for humans to discover that these were all instances of the same concept: the abstract number, 2.

--from Euclid's Window: The Story of Geometry from Parallel Lines to Hyperspace by Leonard Mlodinow

I am living once again in the town where I grew up, having returned here several weeks ago in a state of dull torment for which the Germans probably have a word.

--from All New People by Anne Lamott

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Saturday Summary - a little more than a week in review

Since I returned from my refreshing vacation-slash-family-get-together in Colorado, it sure seems like I've done an awful lot of posting and it occurred to me that a weekly summary post might be a nice idea for the sake of overwhelmed readers. I'm going to go as far back as my first post-vacation review and summarize a little under 10 days' worth.

Here's what's been happening at Bookfoolery:

1. On Thursday the 1st of July, I reviewed the new HarperPerennial edition of The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy and posted a photo of the cabin we rented in the mountains. As expected, I gushed over Simon's writing. I can't help myself.

2. On Friday, the 2nd of July, I reviewed A Cottage by the Sea by Ciji Ware and listed all the books that arrived (some of which sat on our doorstep for who knows how long -- apparently we did not choose a trustworthy person to watch our doorstep, this time around).

3. Later in the day came the reliable Fiona Friday post: Fi vs. the Blinds.

4. Monday, July 5, I reviewed A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Campbell. I jumped the gun a bit as it was released on Tuesday, but what's a day but 24 hours, right? In case you're wondering, I found the book nearly impossible to put down. Also included in this post are a photo of a lovely husky and my favorite Pathetic Home-Driveway Fireworks photo.

5. On Tuesday, the 6th of July, I reviewed The All American Jump & Jive Jig, a children's book that I actually got to read to a child! Squeee! Included is a bonus photograph of my niece's boyfriend reading the book.

6. Wednesday, July 7 was a scheduled tour day. I posted a sneak peek and review of Boyfriends, Burritos and An Ocean of Trouble by Nancy Rue. To be honest, I hate the sneak peek posts, which are a required part of FirstWild tours. I read them, sometimes, at other blogs. But, they almost never draw any commentary and I think most people prefer to read my thoughts, so I only post them because I must. I may remove the sneak peek (aka, free chapter) now that the obligation is over, but the review will stay put.

7. Also on Wednesday was the 20th anniversary of my father's death. After I'd done my touring duty, I wrote a small, late-night tribute to my father and included a Wahoo! Wednesday photo, since I really don't do that often enough.

8. Thursday - nothing. I declared it a reading and email catch-up day.

9. Fiona Friday! - Fiona was baaaaad, this week, but I decided I'll save up naughty cat photos for a special day. Instead, this week you got two Fionas for the price of one, twice. And, now you know what mirrored closet doors are for. Cat photography. Is there any other reason?

Books I finished, this week:

1. Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover by Ally Carter - the third in the Gallagher Girls young adult spy series. Funny but with a slightly pensive (almost sad, at times) tone. I still loved it. Kiddo and I enjoy this series.

2. Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas - A lovely tale of friendship, shared grief and quilting in the Colorado mountains during the Great Depression.

3. The Case of the Crooked Carnival by Michele Torrey - A middle reader that I highly recommend for anyone and everyone. Great interconnected stories based on real science, plus some experiments you can do at home.

Books I still need to review:

1. The Passage by Justin Cronin - Oh, look how the first month of publication flew by! And, the buzz hasn't faded one bit, has it? I didn't mean to wait quite this long, but no worries; this book has stuck like fly paper on my mind. I'll still have plenty to say (but will try not to burden you with a 3-page report).

2. Emma by Jane Austen - Good old Jane. I love Jane. Yes, this book has stuck with me, as well.

Other things I need to post about:

1. The A & E version of Emma, starring that chick who likes to go commando. I read that tidbit in a gossip magazine. Oh, what is her name? Well, it was wonderful and I finished it after July 1, so it counts for the Everything Austen II challenge and probably will end up in a separate post.

2. My monthly reads in review for June. June sucked in some ways (quantity - possibly because I was diagnosed as anemic, which means everyone suddenly wants tons of your iron-poor blood) and was meh in others (lots of average books) but was a three-chunkster month (Wahoo!) and two of the books I read were wunderbar (Emma, The Passage) so I've decided it all averages out as a decent month.

That's it for the week. Time to move forward! Preferably not with many-thousand-foot drop-offs nearby and lengthy traffic delays.

Happy Reading!