Monday, April 13, 2015

My new blog is now live!

Introducing.....Hopewell's Library of Life! 

My new blog is now live. It showcases my writing--my novels, my royal pieces and my essays on the Duggar family. My novels feature cross-generation love stories so the blog also will cover fictional and real older man--younger woman couples. Each week the blog will have a special topic each day.

Monday: Character biography and quote from my between the wars fiction series, Amberleigh.

Tuesday: Profile of a real or fictional cross-generational romance.

Wednesday: Character biography and quote from my1920's Indiana romance: Meat, Potatoes and Pie: A Midwestern Love Story.

Thursday: Quotes from my Commonplace book--that is quotes I love from books I've read.

Friday: Slice of life: My monthly book reviews, new Royal or Duggar posts or anything else.

Saturday: Occasionally on Saturday I will post something from my novella, The Engagement of Eddy and May, a story of Princess May and Prince Eddy.

Please join me at the new location. I also have a new Twitter name you can follow: HlibraryofLife

Thursday, March 26, 2015

What I've been reading: March Edition

Looking over my reading journal I see I finished a lot of books this month!! A few had been hanging around a while and just needed to be finished though. I do get a lot of audio books in during my 80+ mile commute (each way) and I tend to pick audio books that are about a "week long." Starting the week fresh with a new book is always nice. Now, where to begin to tell about all these interesting books! 

Both Anita Diamant's writing and Linda Lavin's reading made the audio version of this book wonderful! Historical fiction today suffers badly from having current day PC attitudes put into characters, so it was with trepidation that I started in on this book. I shouldn't have worried--after all I loved her book the Red Tent. Boston Girl features nothing overtly too modern or too pc. The characters were real and believable. And added bonus is that no one gets raped, molested, murdered, etc, but it is not "sickeningly sweet." It's believable. Highly recommended. The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant.

I fell in love with Anne Tyler's writing way back. I've slowly but surely been getting thru all of her wonderful books. Like all of her books, A Spool of Blue Thread has "real" people for characters--flesh and blood folks you can reach out and touch, people who make you cringe, people you want to marry and people who make you say "Well bless their heart." There are so many juicy layers and nearly hidden secrets that this is truly nonlinear storytelling at its best. My only tiny, tiny regrets in this book were that there was no year given on any of the chapters so starting out it was confusing. And, though I've come to accept that Baltimore, like Charleston, is a place with odd first names, the whole "Stem" thing got old. This was more than counteracted though by, for once, a story in which  a charcter left their birth family behind without a regret and with becoming a serial killer or being crippled by guilt or bitterness or whatever. She just got on with life and made the life she needed and wanted. That was fabulous. I also liked the grit and determination shown in the early Depression era chapters--something young adults today could seriously learn from if they'd allow themselves to take it seriously. Highly recommended. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler.

Shut. The. Front. Door. Yes, I've included a CHRISTIAN novel in my "best of" for this month. I don't often find Christian fiction that is written in a manner that I find engaging enough to continue past the first few pages. Lynn Austin is a GREAT exception to that rule and now I'm happy to find that Jody Hedlund is as well. This book was a bargain for Kindle and would be well worth it at the full price. This book, which draws on the life and later marriage of Pilgrim's Progress author John Bunyan tells of a fascinating time in  struggle THE struggle of Puritan Christians to maintain their freedom of worship after the end of Cromwell's rule. I read over a hundred pages in one sitting--it drew me in that quickly and kept me raptly focused. I was only disappointed to learn that the series in which this book is published is not a second book on this couple. That's a shame. Their story was engrossing. I thought the title could have been better as well--too 'cheap' for such an excellent story. The Preacher's Bride by Jody Hedlund.

I do wish the idea of "Young Adult" fiction would go away. Fiction is fiction and a well written book is something to be savored regardless of labels. I enjoyed the book and, surprisingly, also the movie of Green's The Fault in Our Stars so much I knew I'd read the rest of his books in time. This one was also on sale for Kindle so I grabbed it.  Boarding School has always fascinated me, but this one really hit home. The characters were the quirky academic and artistic kids I hung out with in high school so I could fully relate to this story. The dialogue is believable, the actions and thought processes were true to the characters ages and personality types. There was so much here that rang true for me that I'm very sure I will reread it annually for a long time to come. Looking for Alaska by John Green.

Get out of here! Yes, you are seeing things correctly! I'm highly recommending BOTH a Christian novel AND a book of short stories! But wait, THERE'S MORE! It's an Oprah-recommended book, too! Those are usually too depressing for me. But, back to the point-- I never read short stories--they're either too long or not long enough. I'm doing one of those popular "Reading Challenges" this year and one item was something from a genre I don't usually read. Well, I took on two such this month. This collection is a collection of stories about unusual women--to say more would spoil the joy of reading the stories for yourself. All are excellent, though some of the stories  may be offensive to more conservative readers. I read them in one day, they were that compelling. "The Siege of Whale Cay," was my favorite for all of its quirks. Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman.

The Rest of March

Fantasy was the other genre I don't like well. I also chose this title to meet a personal challenge--reading the Ambleside Online curriculum.  I have a personal blog that keeps track of my reading from this list called A Lifelong Learner in Ambleside where I track my progress--many of the books were read aloud years back when my kids were homeschooled for two years. So The Book of Three is a fantasy adventure--sort of a young person's Lord of the Rings Meets the Once and Future King Within a Castle Video Game, if that makes sense. If you are into this type book then you will enjoy it.  Suitable for a read aloud or for mid elementary and up to read alone. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander.

Rosie Dunne I want to just shake you. Ok? I love Cecelia Ahern's writing, though this one is gimmicky--its all told thru e-mails, instant messages, notes and cards. That gets a bit tricky to keep straight in heavy traffic on audio! A good little book. Rosie Dunne [Also known as Love, Rosie] by Cecelia Ahern.

When the audio books I request from the library on cd don't come in in time and I'm left facing a commute with the radio for company,  I trawl through the e-audio collection. Other than classics, most such books have been disappointing. I was pleasantly surprised by this book. While there was one scene (sexual but meant to be funny) that some WILL find shocking, it is all adds up to a fun story. I think "buzz-kill" was used twice which could end up "dating" the dialogue, but that's a tiny thing. I look forward to more from this author. When in Doubt Add Butter by Beth Harbison.

This one I also picked for the Reading Challenge--a book chosen for its cover. There's a lot to puzzle over in it. Parts are the Bible parts are crap on par with Love Story's famed "Love means never having to say you're sorry." Not sure if "Love" [seems like it is a being in this case] is Christ or just a being known as "Love".  Near then end if mentions the need of an invisible sword to "fight the demons of intolerance" still thinking about that line, too. Most was very enjoyable and it was very readable--but not at all what I expected when I liked the cover. I was expecting a traditional novel and this it is not. Manuscript Found in Accra by Paul Coelho.

Another desperation e-audio, but this time one that left me feeling uneasy. It's actually another Christian novel as well--this may be a first! Two Christian novels in one month.
I didn't finish the first book of this series, but it all gets explained. I still find Kat annoying and too full if herself. And she hasn't the brains to keep seriously hunting for a fall teaching job, either.

Good things: Ms Jackson writes of a vibrant community of believers. She has them turn to the Bible in the manner of all committed Christians. She presents the church as a good thing and shows other churches doing good things as well. The believers portrayed have different levels of education and different careers and are of different ages. I also love that the story is set in Rogers Park, the Chicago neighborhood I know best.

Some observations: Never have I heard of 20 somethings living like this--making each other breakfast? Always having super expensive salads for dinner--all on part-time jobs? Really? They "rent" a very old "video" and no one uses their cell phone much. They always go to a computer to look things up. They never just order pizza or make a sandwich and always set the table and make nice. No one ever gets annoyed at Rochelle's son always forcing himself on Nick.

And who, when talking to fellow church members, says "[Church Name]'? The keep saying "at Souled Out" instead of "At Church..." Weird. And then there is "Bree" who is only ever heard of if she's leaving for work or coming home from work tho she does get one small gripe about Rochelle's son. The dialogue given to the children is atrocious. Also does anyone use the term "Hunk" anymore? And, honestly, I've not heard anyone be so worried about either HIV or AIDS since the 80s. Pretty odd for a former med student. Does anyone under 50 know the term "wash and wear?"

Microagressions:  A white man "knuckles" the top of an African-American child's head? Seriously? That's the verb--"knuckled." There are others, but this one is the worst. All kinds of stereotypical "Girlfriend-" type slang. Stereo-typical names etc for some African American characters--LaToya and Florida are mentioned.

I really liked the whole >Yada Yada Prayer Group Series and those characters seemed much more real. Come to the Table by Neta Jackson.

Don't Bother

Lots of stupid errors that don't affect the story's truth, but that do chip away at the credibility of the storyteller as an historian. Anyone who can read a family tree can tell that FDR had FIVE children in 1945--the sixth died in infancy. Ditto the Churchill family--five children born, but one died as a small child. Churchill's mother's name was Jennie Jerome, not Jennie Jerome Randolph. She became Lady Randolph Churchill upon her marriage. There are more of this type error. Again, they do no harm to the story, they just should not be there. It shows this is not a serious book. There are at least 3 other books with almost the exact same title. 

For long stretches I forgot that this was not a general book on World War II--there is so much "filler" that distracts from the supposed murder of Patton. So far there is absolutely nothing new unless you count something trivial like embalmers not being able to get a needle into FDR's veins due to his arterial scoliosis.

Too bad Beatrice Patton didn't wale on her husband the first time he stepped out of line like she supposedly did on one officer who criticized her "Georgie."

O'Reilly is NOT an audio book reader. No emotion, speaks way too fast--he does not draw the listener into the story at all. And could he please learn to pronounce German words and names?? Or, for that matter, decide if Mrs. Patton is "Bee-atrice" or "Bee-AY-trice"? His tone is so disrespectful its as though he knows his book is not to be taken seriously.

Leave me a comment with the books you've enjoyed this month.

If I Could Get My Kids to Read Books I Recommend, Then This Would Be The List...

What I've Been Reading: February Edition

Thursday, March 19, 2015

If I could get my kids to read books I recommend, this would be the list for them

I have two kids--one is a reader of sorts, the other hates reading. Naturally. Of course. I'm a book nut and a librarian. I take it personally, though who knows why. If I could get them to read books I recommend, this would be my list of what they should read. No, the Bible isn't on here--they've had it around all their lives and know to read it. No Anne Frank or Corrie Ten Boom--they've met them both in school or homeschool. Nope, no Roosevelts or Royals. Not a single Mountbatten, Churchill or any other Brit. No Federalist Papers or wisdom of the Founding Fathers--they should know enough on that to at least appreciate their freedom. No Gone With the Wind or other favorite sagas. No Number One Ladies Detective Agency or William Monk.  No Peace Corps memoirs or travel books. No, not even James Herriot and his wonderful friends and animals--they've known him thru his children's books. Just the books that might get them thru life a little easier--they can find their own books to read just for pleasure.

This book so moved me that I've probably recommended it to more young people than any other book. Set in my hometown, it tells the story of racial hatred, racial identity and the power of the human spirit. I think it should be required reading in high schools everywhere. Life on the Color Line by Gregory Howard Williams.

Ok, on child has listened to this one with me. It really captured that child's imagination. I wish my other child would listen to it, too. Written in the 1940s it is still "spot on." The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.

Practical advice to the clueless before it's too late is usually ignored. I wish they'd read it and APPLY it. Men are  From John Gray.

I've long encouraged my kids to go Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace course, but this book is equally important. Stuff can't fill your heart, but debt can cripple you. This book clearly shows what matters--self respect and hard work. The Millionaire Next Door ....

It takes most people half a life time to learn that constructive criticism isn't about whether or not you are a good person. Nor do you have to be liked at work. You do, however, have to be respected and seen as a willing contributor to the team and for that to happen you must be emotionally mature enough to be part of a team. School has pretty much destroyed this in many, many kids. This is a tough one, but it matters. Working With Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Coleman.

"Life is banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death" may seem the opposite of the self-help books I've listed, but they really go hand-in-hand. People "stave to death" getting hung up on popularity, letting others make their life for them and trying to fill holes in their heart by spending money. Autnie Mame, one of the many great books my Mom shared with me, taught me to be my own person and that families are whoever loves us. Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis. I'd also love it if they read his book The Joyous Season.

I had to debate including this one, but it does belong here. Traditions can be stifling or they can be part of the scaffold that holds us up. It's a choice on how that goes for each of us. Same with family. Skipping Christmas by John Grisham.

Because every generation thinks they've invented sex, drugs and rock n' roll, this reminds us in a fun way that there really is "nothing new under the sun." Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner's classic The 2000 Year Old Man.

Don't like your life? Change it. Get up off the couch and do something different. Go to college, start a business, move to a new town or city--its YOUR life. It will only be what you make of it. She Got Up Off the Couch by Haven Kimmel.

If they'd read these, I could sleep easier. But, likely they won't--at least not until they've learned most of this the hard way. Before you have children no one can ever tell you how hard it is to watch your kids make choices--even good ones. You can see the outcome, but they must find it out for themselves. That can be brutal. It isn't any easier though for them to see when you were right and they should have listened.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What I've Been Reading

The Best of February

World War II is one of my go-to topics when I search for new books. This month I had three great books set in Europe during the war.

I found this amazing story in a list of bargain Kindle books and snapped it right up. It did not disappoint one bit. The courage of these mothers in hiding their children during the holocaust! The courage of the children! The courage of the hosts! Wow. I was on the edge of my seat! Also fascinating was the story of getting the word out about such "hidden children" and creating opportunities for them to meet each other, exchange stories and feel validated. I cannot even fathom how any of these people found the courage to do what they did. What an inspirational book. Such Good Girls: The Journey of hidden Child Survivors of the Holocaust by R.D. Rosen.

As an American I count myself lucky to have learned that  in World War II, France fell to the Nazis, that some resisted Nazi rule and that De Gaule became a hero. That's more than subsequent generations have learned. This book really fueled my desire to learn more. We think of the "French Resistance" as artsy types blowing up bridges when trains carrying Nazi bigwigs are crossing them---just like Hollywood depicts them. This time, though, they are women. Wives, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, girl friends. And, though not Jewish, they ended up at Aushwitz and Ravensbruck starving, being humiliated, mistreated, gassed and left to just plain die. This group of French women on that train in winter, however, did all they could to survive. The hardest part of the story was learning that the women my age--gulp! the oldest in the group--died within weeks of boarding the train.. From the few who survived the war, we can learn much about resiliency, the courage and strength true, caring friendship can create and just how much the human "will" can accomplish. As my area was enduring record cold while I was listening to the audio version of this book, I could all too painfully shrink in horror at the thought of standing for hours from 3 am onward in total darkness in subzero temperatures in cotton clothing and maybe not even shoes let alone warm socks or boots. The point was death--to force people to die. But these women did everything they could to persuade and sustain each other in their desire to LIVE.
A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead.

This third book is also about courage--albeit of a different sort than that which lets a woman survive Auschwitz or hide a Jewish child from the Nazis. Aimee, an American, met an married a German aristocrat (albeit one whose family had been in Russia until the aftermath of the 1917 Revolution) before the Nazis came to power. They decided to stay in Germany. Their life was not nearly as hard as she thought--they lived on a large estate, he did not work, though he tried repeatedly to enter the diplomatic service, and they had all sorts of household help. When the war came, while not a Nazi in belief, the husband being of the correct age, served as a junior officer in the Nazi army. The story is told by this couple's youngest daughter--the daughter with the fewest memories of "before" the war who drew on her parents letters for the early parts of the story. Upon learning that, due to American law for the years of their birth, some of her children were "German" to the United States while the youngest ones were "American" made this all even harder for Aimee. Her courage came to the fore in getting her family out of the way of the Soviet Army. In this she acted almost fearlessly and saved her family. There were other very difficult choices, but she faced them. This was an interesting memoir, but it lacked "something." Only in the final days of the war were they really, truly in danger. They were subjected to rationing like everyone else, but still had help, still lived on their estate. She suffered no repercussions for refusing to allow her son to attend one of the "prestigious" Adolph Hitler Schools--an "elite" system of military boarding schools. I truly liked what I read of the husband who served on the Eastern front and had nothing what so ever to do with the concentration camps. He seems to have genuinely NOT been a believer in Hitler which is typical of the old German aristocracy. Still, after reading the other two books at the same time, I just wasn't prepared to see this family's struggle as that big of a deal.
A World Elsewhere by Sigrid MacRae.

Another fun widower book!

I happen to have LOVED Major Pettigrew's Last Stand --the gold standard of widower's tales. Look out Major, Ove is here! Saab-loyalist extreme-o, Ove finds life without his beloved wife to be, well, not worth living.  But then the neighbors get in the way! To say more would be to spoil it all. The ending was a trifle too P.C. but still believable for today's world. We need more men like Ove that's for sure! A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, is not to be missed.

The Rest of February

Sarah Addison Allen is one of my favorite contemporary authors. That makes it even harder to say that this book was a big let-down. Maybe it was the way too-familiar teenage dating angst? Or maybe it was baby-obsessed character? Or the ridiculous carnival guy? Hmmmmm. Can't quite put my finger on it. Her books always have a wonderful not-quite-magical whimsey to them that I thoroughly enjoy. This one just plain lacked that. Technically it is a sequel to her first wonderful book, Garden Spells, but it lacked all the feeling of that story. Her last book, Lost Lake, was much better too. While this book did end better than I anticipated, part of the ending was simply too predictable. I hope her next book is back up to her usual wonderful standard. First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen.

Like A Year of Living Biblically, Rachel Held Evans decided to follow the Bible's "teachings" [some say "commands"] for women as literally as possible. She also drew on the novel, the Red Tent, a completely fictionalized "Bible Story" for her discussion of a women's "time of the month." I did not over-analyze this book--I just laughed and kept reading. Her theology can be debated by those better informed than little old me. I just thought it was a fun read and gave thanks that she wasn't a pencil-thin Manhattan-ite out to make fun of women who believe.  A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

Please leave me a comment and tell me what you've been reading or link to your own reading post. I love to see what other's are enjoying or what I might wish to avoid!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

My response to "11 Things Empty Nesters Want Parents of Little Kids to Know"

Over at the great Huffington Post, Shelley Eming posted a Pinterest-y "make memories" type list of   "11 Things Empty Nesters Want Parents of Little Kids to Know".  I know offer MY version of this list--it's a tad different from Ms Eming's sweet list.

My list is a tad different...

1. Sports practices are for the kid's team, not the parent. Do something else during that time. It's ok to miss a few games--kid needs to learn that he's part of team in sports and must compete regardless of who's watching. [My real advice: Feel free to skip kid sports. Your child isn't going to the olympics or the NBA--statistics bear me out.]

2. You can't film, record or scrapbook every minute of their lives and as Martha would say "It's a good thing." I'm the Mom who forgot the camera [yes, you had to have an actual camera not a phone] for my kid's first school Christmas presentation. Guess what? She doesn't remember it and WHO CARES. Plus, I saved her dress.

3. Don't rush to enthuse over every new passion. They just saw ice skating on tv and love it. Take the family skating some Saturday--don't rush to sign up for 40 lessons. Chances are it's not that big of a passion. You WILL know when they truly ARE passionate and it is likely to be for something you don't expect. If it's legal, moral and ethical then help them with that passion, but don't take it over and micromanage it.

4. Have the other kids to YOUR house. God knows what the other folks may have in theirs.

5. Know where your kids friend's are in their family's birth order. Anyone more than a year or two older see #4 at least until you get to know the other family WELL.

6. Offer them something other than Disney Princesses and other overly hyped media-tie in products. That doesn't mean NO to those, just offer other EXPERIENCES to minimize the influence of these things on their imaginative play.

7. READ and keep reading to them.

8. Listen to them.

9. Don't sit around worrying that they'll be abducted or in a Columbine incident. Relax.

10. Take time for yourself and don't feel guilty.

11. Do what's right for the kid. Bedtime is the #1 item on this list. It's hard to have only a short time after work, but your kid has been at work longer than you have. Bedtime is bedtime.


12. Don't find defiance "cute." You will so regret it.

13. Stop worrying about if your kid likes you. And please, quit saying a Mommy/Son Daddy/Daughter "Date." Just don't. It's creepy. Do things together one on one, but don't call it a date. Therapy looms.

14. Let them fail. Let them fight their own battles. Get involved only if it their legal rights are being violated. Resist the urge to say "How could you have said that nicer?" It's better to let them find out what happens when they don't say it nicely.

15. Resist the urge to let the world revolve around the child. People only sleep with their kids when they are too poor to do otherwise. Sports leagues can be a tyranny to families. Think before you sign up. Say "go play" and mean it. Let them be bored, they'll learn to solve the problem. Keep time for yourself and for your marriage--it matters a whole lot more in the long-term.

16. Say "No" and mean it. It causes maturity to grow.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What I've Been Reading

January is a great month to stay in bed and read! Sub-zero temperatures, snow, short days and long, dark nights add up to the perfect climate for reading.

The Best of January

Do you enjoy programs like the "History Detectives?" Do you know what "Crowd Sourcing" can mean in research? This is the incredible story of a young man who started a novel and ended up living it in real life. This is the true story of how a piece of home movie film from 1938--the "Three Minutes in Poland"--was research, the people identified, survivors reconnected and the whole thing added to the collective knowledge of the Nazi Holocaust. Amazing! I did not get to finish it due to the library's loan period, but will go back to it as soon as I get up the waiting list again. Don't miss this one! Three Minutes in Poland by Glenn Kurtz.

Imagine being rounded up, held captive for a few days and then sent away from your family to begin a new life? That's what happened to Milada  in Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia. At a "Lebensborn" center in Poland she is "re-made" into a model Aryan child and given to the family of the commandant of the Flossenburg. But "Eva," as she is forced now to be known, keeps hope alive of being reunited with her own family and resuming her own life. This is a book for any age--it is marketed to elementary or middle schoolers. The ending is a big less than I'd hoped for, but does not spoil the excellence of this story. It would be interesting to read a real-life comparison, but apparently there are none. This is what historical fiction should be.  Someone Named Eva: A Novel by Joan M. Wolf.

I love the impressionists--their work constitutes my favorite period of art history. Claude Monet and his wife Camille come alive in this excellent historical novel. The genius, the selfishness, the poverty, the heartache--and the love--all shine thru in this story. I came away feeling I had truly spent time with the great artist long-suffering wife. Claude & Camille by Stephanie Cowell

Daphne DuMaurier could create a universe of emotion within the covers of a book. This one, a book club friendly 300+ pages is a story of manipulation and betrayal. A charming woman distantly related to Ambrose and his nephew Philip charms both of them--the attentive younger woman to the uncle, the mysterious and intriguing older woman to the nephew. But things are not quite what they seem. Set in a rather neglected, but comfortable Cornwall estate, this story is a true page-turner not to be missed. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne DuMaurier.

The Rest of January

I've long been fascinated by all types of fundamentalism, regardless of the political or religious creed the espouse. Sima's Undergarments for Women is set in a mostly Orthodox and Hassidic Jewish neighborhood in New York. As the title indicates, Sima sells lingerie--the real stuff that real women wear daily. She fits bras perfectly--altering them when necessary. [Yes, I learned a lot!] The story intermingles her struggle to have children with that of the young woman she takes under her wing as a sort of surrogate daughter. Her stale marriage, a friend's glorious marriage, all get worked into the story. Sima's Undergarments for Women by Ilana Stanger-Ross.

The Romance Reader the story of a frustrated daughter of a Hassidic Jewish family living in rural New York summer community for various Hassidic families. Rachel finds her completely scripted life to be dull and too confining. She knows once she finishes school she will teach for maybe a year and then be married off--probably to the first suitor the matchmaker finds for her. There were too minor annoyances in this story--the drama Mama and the fact that the title has little or nothing to do with the story. Yes, Rachel and her sister sneak secular books, but that's about it for that supposed story line. Overall this was an interesting story that was well told. Mama's problems WERE easy to understand, but Jeesh Lady, get a grip! The Romance Reader by Pearl Abraham.

I wanted to LOVE Florence Gordon. An aging hero of the 70s women's movement confronts old age and the time in her career when "life achievement" awards beckon. Her cranky ex-husband, her son who somehow became a cop, her annoying daughter-in-law are all cognitive dissonance to her world. However, her granddaugher appears and Florence hires her to do a little research. No, no, no--this is not one of those "rediscovering the love of a child" sap-fests. This is an old broad with grit! This was the only part of the story that worked for me. The other characters were too blah to matter and their stories never really "got" me. But Florence and her grandaughter did. Florence Gordon By Brian Morton.

Leave me a comment with some of the books you've enjoyed this month!

Friday, January 09, 2015

Better late than never.. What I read in December 2014

First, let me say how hard it was to choose "the best" this month! Too many great books that left me with lasting "book hangovers." I love to cook and enjoy good food and having TWO excellent food - cooking stories--well! How to decide which was better than the other? You see the problem, I'm sure. Then there were the other excellent reads. 

 The Best of December

Loved it! "Toothsome" does have synonyms, however. And, we don't all know French...translations would be great, but that is a minor point. Happily lacking in cloying  earnestness and no hint of an "I discovered French food" attitude that spoils much of the writing and blogging on the subject.  Plus, having had the goal of entering the Foreign Service, that aspect of her story strongly appealed to me as well. Win-win for both sides of the story. In a word? Delightful. Highly recommended. Mastering the Art of French Eating.... by Ann Mah.

 A foodie book that is part memoir, part immigrant saga, part odyssey of self-discovery--this book is a delight in every way. It could easily have been in my freshman literature course on self-discovery along with the Awakening by Kate Chopin and the French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles and the rest of the books in that course. The author's story is about so much more than delicious Persian food. It helped a good bit that the author and I are close contemporaries in age--I too came of age with the Iranian Hostage Crisis numbered in days each night by Walter Cronkite, but without the emotional pull of being Iranian. I admire her courage in enduring a college dorm at that time. Everything about this book embraced me like a close friend. This is the type memoir that more women need to read. Maman's Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan.

This story, of sisters Rose and Pearl, two Hasidic Jewish girls growing up in New York in the 1950s, is as illustrative of life today for extreme right-wing Christian ("Patriarchal" or "Quiverfull") girls as it is for the ultra-Conservative Jewish girls in the story. Parents and religion control everything. But the ties that bind start to strangle and Rose must act. To say more would be to spoil the story. This is an amazing story, the characters are full-blooded and so real you end the book feeling you've gone along on a real journey--another journey of self-discovery. The Sisters Weiss by Naomi Regaan.

When is a child an adult? At age 17 and some months? On the 18th birthday? Who decides when a child this age must have medical treatment? Does this child "believe" or has he been taught to believe and mouth that beliefs of his parents? Jehovah's Witness parents, their soon-to-be-legally-of-age son, a life-long-higher-achiever of a judge and British law all collide in this excellent story of maturity and how it is defined. Add to this an act of indecent selfishness by an otherwise beloved and decent husband of many years and you have a very compelling novel. I found Fiona ridiculously guilt ridden over one stupid, impulsive act that would never have troubled anyone outside the pages of a novel. Did she cross a line? Yes, but not in the way she thought. She  did not stay detached and on her high bench as judge. When that occurred she should have recused herself and had the case completed by another judge. In spite of this I do recommend it very highly. It IS very compelling reading and as more and more of the religious right divorce themselves from contemporary "chemical" medicine and seek cures with herbs and so-called "essential oils" we will hear more of this sort of case. The Children Act by Ian McEwan

I discovered this gem of a novel in a search for books on the "empty nest" to help prepare myself for what's coming up very soon. Nina Bell's story of the various families who have forged a "family of friends" over the years of the children's schooling rings true in every way. Yes, the characters are a bit stereotyped--the using single mom [Ouch! I hope I haven't been so awful!], the perfect stay at home Mom, the two professional family etc, etc. But these characters were very real to me. Their stories are well-known to anyone in middle and upper middle class suburbia anywhere in the developed world. The struggles to get the kids thru school and into prestigious colleges and high-paying careers, the necessity for ongoingself discovery and marriage reinvention, the taking stock of life--it is all right where I am today. The crisis that come out of nowhere, the bizarre but thrilling interlude [not one I would choose!!] are all so HUMAN, so real. I plan to read more from this author. I also hope there is a sequel to this book--it lends itself to it very well. The Empty Nesters by Nina Bell.

Back in my very dim past I was married outside of my own culture. It is very, very difficult. Not only do you miss out on the rites of passage of one or the other culture, but you must renegotiate everything you took for granted almost daily--at least in the beginning. My admiration for the G.I. brides of World War II (and later of the occupation and the Korean War) known no bounds. At a time when other parts of the world were still truly strange an unknown, they put their faith in men they barely knew and went to a country they couldn't really imagine fully knowing they might never see their own country and their own family ever again. This book tells the story of four such brides--and tells it very well. The joys, confusion, struggles and bewilderment are all here. There are successes and failures. The legacy of these women is their determination, their grit, and their perseverance. G.I. Brides... by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi

The Rest of December

Is there a mother alive today who hasn't wanted to scream at the thought of reading Goodnight Moon AGAIN? I picked this audio book while simultaneously giving thanks that my children were never THAT enthralled with the book and that "too the moon" is not really a saying we use. Still, in the buzzword of the year (my choice for most overused word of 2014) this ICONIC "classic," is given a new spin in Goodnight June. The story of its creation alone is cute and compelling. Its the rest of the story that dumbs it down. A great love story that is nothing but marital infidelity and another great love that just happens by chance? Oh, please! Then the neat tidy wrap-up of the loose ends? Probably not. It was all pleasant, just not plausible. I wish the author had focused on the letters and the scavenger hunt and left the love stories out of it--it would have gone done much better and would have made Bill Gates appearance more appropriate. As an adoptive mother I got my back up at the constant references to the birth mother as "MOTHER" in verbal capitals and the absurd fantasy that someone given up for adoption would want to rush bailout the mother who gave him up. So, read this one for the wonderful story of how Goodnight Moon could have come about and ignore the rest. Goodnight June by Sarah Jio.

I also enjoyed two more books in Anne Perry's William Monk series and the latest installment in Alexander McCall Smith's Number One Ladies Detective Agency series as well as a few very forgettable free Christmas-themed Kindle "shorts."