30 December 2009

38. Letter to My Daughter

Thank you to Random House Publishing for the opportunity to read and review the Advance Reader's Edition of Letter to My Daughter by George Bishop. I read this book in just one reading and found myself transported to my own teen years. The scenarios painted by Mr. Bishop were amazingly on target and interestingly intuitive as this was a female story from start to finish.

The book is one very long letter from a distraught mother to her fifteen year old daughter. The two had a fight which ended with the mother slapping the daughter and the daughter leaving the house without telling her parents where she was going or when she was coming back. Haven't we all been there on one level or another? The mother then waits for her daughter to come home and writes her a letter telling her about her own adolescence.
The letter takes the reader back to the late 1960s and the VietNam war. And the angst of being in love for the first time. Beyond the basic story, the author leads the reader to think about the war and the effects on young men who were there. In addition, I thought about the legacy we leave our children, in spite of our best efforts not to repeat mistakes of our parents.
This was a very short book, but I tore through it - needing to hear the entire history of the mother as well as the fate of the daughter. This is a fascinating debut novel and I look forward to more from Mr. Bishop.
TITLE: Letter to My Daughter
AUTHOR: George Bishop
PAGES: 126
TYPE: fiction
RECOMMEND: I am very happy to have read this work and would recommend it to my friends.

10 December 2009

Dogs, Books, and things

My sweet Sugar Pie Then:
My sweet Sugar Pie Now:

I am so excited! I am going to be off from work for the next three weeks. Can you even imagine? The way the holidays fall and my need to use up some leave before I lose it created this little holiday miracle. So I have a few things in mind for my vacation:

  • I really want to work on my Holocaust Resources blog by reading and reviewing as many children and young people Holocaust books. If you have a personal favorite that you have read or used for teaching about the Holocaust, please leave me a comment so I can try to locate a copy here at the University or nearby bookstore.
  • For once, I would like to complete reviews of ALL of the books I have read this year. With my husband at work for the first week I am off, maybe I will have some success.
  • Spend time with Sugar Pie and my sweet Annie and Lulu. Best dogs in the world, with Sugar Pie possibly the smallest dog in the world.
  • Crochet some scarves for all of the females in the family - sorry boys, working on a pattern for you! It's not like I am coordinated or anything.

I wish you all happy holidays and hope to hear from you!

37. Yellow Star

Jennifer Roy first learned her Aunt Syvia's Holocaust story almost fifty years after Syvia had been liberated from a Nazi camp, one of only twelve Jewish children who survived the Lodz Ghetto in Poland. Ms. Roy knew immediately that she wanted to tell the story to others. After a number of attempts, she decided to write the story in first person verse. She states:

When my aunt recounted her childhood to me, she spoke as if looking through a child's eyes. She made her experiences feel real, immediate, urgent. In the poetry of a survivor's words, this is Syvia's story. (p. n/a)

This memoir in verse is divided into five distinct parts, based on time periods during the War. The author provides brief historical facts about the period as it pertains to her aunt's family and other Jews in Poland and all of Europe.

The author provides free downloads for educators. Pre-Reading, Language Arts, Social Studies, Art/Music, Math, and Discussion Questions. Although our library has the book listed as Grade 4-8, I think that most portions of the book could be read to or by even younger students. The free verse is beautiful and true to the young girl who lived this life from age four to ten. While the story is often horrifying, I believe it is a story we all need to hear. Here is just a small sample of the story:


is the color of

the felt six-pointed star

that is sewn onto my coat.

It is the law

that all Jews have to wear the

Star of David

when they leave their house,

or else be arrested.

I wish I could

rip the star off

(carefully, stitch by stitch, so as not to ruin

my lovely coat),

because yellow is meant to be

a happy color,

not the color of

hate. (pp. 7-8)

Ultimately, the yellow stars on their coats help in the rescue of Syvia and her family. What a wonderful tribute to one child's Holocaust narrative.

TITLE: Yellow Star
AUTHOR: Jennifer Roy
PAGES: 227
TYPE: poetry, Holocaust memoir
RECOMMEND: Excellent book

09 November 2009

36. Shalom Bayis with a Twist of Humor

Thank you to Gefen Publishing House and LibraryThing for the opportunity to read and review Shalom Bayis with a Twist of Humor: 7 Tips to a Healthy Marriage by Joe Bobker.
While I am not Jewish, I really enjoyed the Jewish references in this merry little guide to marriage. The author divides his freely given advice and jokes into seven different "C" categories: Comedy; Communication, Conversation; Common Sense; Compromise, Causation; Caring, Compassion, Courtesy; Commonality, Compatability, Commitment; and Camaraderie, Companionship!
The most important gem provided to the reader by Mr. Bobker can be found in the Foreword - it is that the secrets to a happy marriage are quite obvious to all of us and, unfortunately, just as obviously forgotten soon after wedding vows are spoken. All in all, a very funny read and thought provoking read.

TITLE: Shalom Bayis with a Twist of Humor: 7 Tips for a Healthy Marriage
AUTHOR: Joe Bobker
PAGES: 213
TYPE: self-help
RECOMMEND: very funny but useful approaches to maintaining a happy marriage

02 November 2009

33, 34 & 35: Harry Potter 5, 6, 7

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was a very interesting book which served to set the tone for the last two books in many ways. After the Tri-Wizard Tournament in the previous book, Harry alerted Dumbledore the Lord Voldemort had returned. Many of the wizards do not not want to believe this and in fact there is a reason why - many of them support Lord Voldemort in his efforts. In an attempt to thwart Voldemort's plans, Dumbledore reassembles the Order of the Phoenix - a group sworn to protect Harry. But Hogwarts itself is under seige - Dolores Umbridge has been appointed in Dumbledore's place to run the school. She will not allow the children to learn about the dark arts, so Harry begins to teach them himself. And thank goodness, the skills of each pupil will be needed in the end, when the world finally believes that the Dark Lord has returned.

TITLE: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
AUTHOR: J.K. Rowling
PAGES: 846
TYPE: fiction, Children's literature
RECOMMEND: I enjoyed this book.

In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore leads Harry through memories of the past in which Harry learns who Voldemort really is and perhaps even why he is the way he is. This understanding is necessary as Voldemort and his Death Eaters and dementors are terrorizing muggles and wizards alike. Throw a little boy-girl tension into the mix, and you have a very lively book. A bit darker than previous books, almost as many questions are posed as are answered. Friendships and betrayals rule the day. And as all the world must have known, someone important dies at the end of the book.
TITLE: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
AUTHOR: J.K. Rowling
PAGES: 672
TYPE: fiction, Children's literature
RECOMMEND: I loved it.

The final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is an exciting yet rather sad book. Almost every question is answered in a most satisfactory manner. The three friends - Harry, Ron, and Hermione - set off to find all the pieces of Voldemort. The three must solve mysteries, fight for their lives, and still find time to love one another and others who are important to their future lives. Does goodness triumph over evil?
I have heard that the last book will become two separate movies. I can completely see that since so much happens in the book. I cannot wait to see the final film installments.

TITLE: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
AUTHOR: J.K. Rowling
PAGES: 759
TYPE: fiction, Children's literature
RECOMMEND: I loved it.

11 October 2009

31 & 32: Two Holocaust narratives

The author who compiled these diaries states that this is the first book of this type from this time period. She introduces the diaries with a rather difficult statement:

Perhaps it is so painful to think about the impact of the war on children - particularly their mass executions - that we have not wanted to read about it, even when that has meant refusing to hear from the children themselves. Maybe it was as much as we could bear to designate Anne Frank the representative child of the Holocaust and to think, then, only of her when we thought about children in World War II. But, in some ways, Anne Frank was not representative of children in the war and the Holocaust. Because she was in hiding, she did not experience life in the streets, the ghettos, the concentration camps, as it was lived by millions of children throughout Europe. (p.xiv)

The diaries, written by children from age 10 to age 18, are arranged chronologically by the age of the child youngest to oldest. The countries represented are Poland, Holland, German, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Lithuania, Russia, Belgium, Englan, Hungary, Israel, and Denmark. The children wrote these diaries from many different locations and situations. Many wrote from the time they moved from their loving homes to a ghetto or a hiding spot. One young boy hid in a cupboard for five year, while another lived and died much like Anne Frank. Many of the children died at the hands of the Nazis in concentration camps, with only these written words somehow surviving to tell their stories. Others survived and published their stories so the world would know.

Selected by the School Library Journal Best Adult Book for Young Adults 1995, this book is a phenomenal resource for those interested in Holocaust history. Because it covers such a wide range of experiences, I think it could be used in middle and high school as a teaching aid with individual children, or small groups, reading the passage and providing their own expression of the child's experience. Some may argue that middle school age children are too young to read these diaries. The author addresses that beautifully:

To turn our eyes away and refuse to see, or to let children see, what prejudice and hatred lead to is truly to warp our collective psyche...The children teach us, by sharing their own direct experience of oppression, that nothing is more valuable than human freedom. This lesson alone is reason enough to read, and to encourage children to read, these diaries. (p. xx)

TITLE: Children in the Holocaust and World War II: Their Secret Diaries
AUTHOR: Laurel Holliday
PAGES: 401
TYPE: compilation of Holocaust diaries
RECOMMEND: Excellent book

The second book that I read containing Holocaust narratives Anthology of Holocaust Literature edited by Jacob Glatstein, Israel Knox, and Samuel Margoshes is probably for the young adult or adult student of the Holocaust. Many of these writing have never been translated to English or published in the English language. Therefore, for many of us, this would be the first time to read these personal experiences. The book is arranged by topic: Occupations, Actions, Selections; Life in the Ghettos; Children; Concentration and Death Camps; Resistance; and The Non-Jews. It is possible to read the experiences of multiple people who found themselves in each situation. While some author's names may be familiar, such as Elie Wiesel, Anne Frank, and Primo Levi, other authors' names are representative of the people who did not live and shared the same past during the War.

In the Introduction, the editors provide the reader with many definitions of anthology and the various reasons why they have collected these specific Holocaust writings. For me, the most important reason is as follows:
There are many faces to courage, and the will to hope, to maintain the simple dignity of daily existence on a human and humane level, to forge the chain of cultural and spiritual continuity from generation to generation, to cherish children by handing on to them the legacy of their people - to do all of this in the midst of peril and deprivation and omnipresent enmity, is a species of fortitude that borders on the sublime. (p. xx)

To be so strong in faith and hope - to continue in the face of darkness. This is what I tried to glean from each person's personal journey as they were translated in this book. Many of the readings begin and end out of the blue, no real beginnings and no sure end. Often I found that I had to read the entry more than once to grasp the setting and events. Again the editors remind us to consider the following as we read:

One can imagine what it must have cost them to tell their story, to recall the facts and details, the total and terrible drama. Yet it is a story that they could not reporess and relegate to the archives of their own private memory - not for history's sake, nor for their own. (p. xxiii)

This book reminded me of a unique and humbling experiene I had as a graduate student. A friend of mine knew a woman who was hospitalized with congestive heart failure. She was able to come home but was very afraid that she would soon die. She had been at Auschwitz and had never told anyone her story. She did not want to die without telling someone and my friend mentioned that I had an interest in studying Holocaust narratives. I went to her home and she told me her story. The impact hearing her, reliving her fear through her words, and knowing the strength it took for her to say them to me - it is something I will never forget. She did not have to share her story with me, a virtual stranger, but she did and I will be forever grateful.

The following words were found inscribed on the walls of a cellar in Germany where Jews hid from the Nazis:

I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.

I believe in love even when feeling it not.

I believe in God even when He is silent. (p. 340)

Next time I sing that song at my Catholic Church, it will hold far more meaning for me. I thank the editors of this volume for bringing it, and the other readings, to my attention.

TITLE: Anthology of Holocaust Literature
AUTHOR: Jacob Glatstein, Israel Knox & Samuel Margoshes eds.
PAGES: 395
TYPE: compilation of original source materials from the Holocaust
RECOMMEND: Excellent book

09 October 2009

30. Family Sentence

Thank you to Beacon Press and LibraryThing for the opportunity to read and review the uncorrected proof of Family Sentence: The Search for My Cuban-Revolutionary, Prison-Yard, Mythic-Hero, Deadbeat Dad by Jeanine Cornillot. This is exactly the type of book I usually enjoy - as I tend more toward non-fiction and biographies in my personal reading tastes. In addition, I know a little something about the loss of a father with my own father disappearing during the Korean conflict when I was only two. So I was a bit surprised that I did not particularly like this book.

Jeanine Cornillot was only two years old when her Cuban father was arrested for anti-Castro revolutionary activities and imprisoned in Miami. Jeanine went to Philadelphia with her Irish-American mother and brothers where they lived in poverty and confusion regarding their blended cultural heritage. To further complicate matters, Jeanine spent her summers in Little Havana with her Hispanic relatives. Still this sounds like something I would enjoy. The problem was the whining! As the author sought to sort out her family problems, she whined and complained and whined. Or that is how the writing sounded to me as I read. I just never felt her pain; never mustered up what should have been natural empathy. I did learn some things about the culture of Little Havana, but ultimately I had to force myself to finish the book.

TITLE: Family Sentence: The Search for My Cuban-Revolutionary, Prison-Yard, Mythic-Hero, Deadbeat Dad
AUTHOR: Jeanine Cornillot
COPYRIGHT: October 1, 2009
PAGES: 220
TYPE: biography
RECOMMEND: Not my favorite although it does provide some insight into the Cuban-American culture

08 October 2009

29. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Thank you so much to William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers for sending me the advance reader's edition of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind [creating currents of electricity & hope] by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. This is the most wonderful story of how the hopes and dreams of one determined young boy changed the lives of many.

William Kamkwamba was just a young boy in a small village in Malawi. His family, like most of the villagers, were poor farmers and could not pay for William to continue his education beyond the elementary level. While William was discouraged by this, he ventured to the very small library in the elemntary school which had only three floor to ceiling shelves of books. He read science and physics books learning about windmills and decided to try to make one in hopes of creating enough electricity to power one light bulb so he could study after dark. He later hoped he could help his family through one of the many droughts and famine which affected his own family and the other villagers. Often having only mouthfuls of food each day, William went throughout the junk yards and nearby small town looking for parts to use in creating his windmill. His family and friends thought this was certainly strange behavior and while they loved him, they had little faith in his success. But using the most rudimentary equipment, William was successful and built first one windmill at his home and then a second windmill at the elementary school. Visiting the school, Malawian officials sought to meet the young man who was so dedicated to his own learning. Ultimately William was placed in an upper level school and also invited to attend a TED Global Conference. Finally meeting with other inventors and scientists at this conference, William was introduced to a multitude of knowledge - Google for one, but more importantly William stood with other Africans who were also inventors and he was pround of his heritage and continent.

The author maintains a website which provides opportunities to support his education, his family, and his village. I cannot think of a more worthy cause.

TITLE: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind [creating currents of electricity & hope]
AUTHOR: William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
COPYRIGHT: September 29, 2009
PAGES: 347
TYPE: biography
RECOMMEND: Unbelievable, belongs in every school library - from elementary to college; and should be read by all who think hope and dreams don't have great power!

05 October 2009

28. The Smell of Humans: A Memoir of the Holocaust in Hungary

The Smell of Humans: A Memoir of the Holocaust in Hungary by Erno Szep and translated by John Batki covers only one small period of time and life as it was lived by only one man of fifty. The war was nearing its end and the bulk of Hungarian Jews had already been deported. In October 1944, Szep , a sixty year old Hungarian Jewish poet, and 49 other older men were rounded up by young Arrow Cross Youths. Just days before Governor Horthy declared a unilateral cessation of hostilities - for which he was deposed. The Germans and their Hungarian allies used these last Jewish men to dig and build an earthworks around their city of Budapest to protect the city from the oncoming Russians. Szep was released on November 6 when the Russians reached the perimeter of the city and managed to live while many others did not. This is a story of only 19 days. But we learn many things from the attitudes of the author, his eye for details, and the brilliance of his thoughts. I would like to share a few passages that struck me as very important to the understanding of his writings:

A man's biography consists of his thoughts. Everything else that happens to me is something alien. As we slipped and slid around in that mud the work was slowed down, providing an occassion for more conscious reflection. We are always thinking about something, although we may not pay attention to our thoughts. Now, writing ten months after the events, I cannot recall a speck of what I had been thinking then. But I do remember trying to recall the thoughts of that day on the march back. And I was unable to recover a single snippet of what my mind had dug up during that day. Thoughts sink into forgetfulness as quickly as rain into the earth. (p. 130)

With bombs falling all around the area where the men slept and worked, Szep wrote about his feelings:

I saw, not for the first time, that one did not fear death in its immediate presence. Thinking stops at such times. Within seconds a process of shutting off takes over within the brain, so that the mind (and, we might say, the soul) rejects, refuses to acknowledge all the horrors accosting us. There is a beautiful wisdom in this built-in self-defence. (p. 142)

Much like shock perhaps. Or the disbelief that something so horrible could happen. I have often hoped that people faced with these tragic endings might believe to the end that there is truth and beauty just on the other side of the river or hill. And then be surprised by death, maybe bewildered. And sanctified. I have often said that while I do not want to die, I am in no way afraid of death. So many people have faced it before me and in less gentle ways perhaps, that I should follow them with delight in our spiritual reawakening.

TITLE: The Smell of Humans: A Memoir of the Holocaust in Hungary

AUTHOR: Erno Szep

COPYRIGHT: 1945 in Hungary, 1994 in English

TYPE: memoir Holocaust

RECOMMEND: a work of great interest

29 September 2009

27. Songs for the Butcher's Daughter

Songs for the Butcher's Daughter by Peter Manseau was mesmerizingly wonderful. I am so thankful to other bloggers who reviewed it which encouraged me to pick it up. The story is told in two voices and two time periods. It is a story of love and loss, beauty and truth, and faith. It is an old man's memoirs and a young man's thoughts and dreams. The voices and stories are alternated between an old Jewish man, Itsik Malpesh, who has written his life story via the Yiddish alphabet and a young Catholic man who, through translator's notes written as he translates Malpesh's story from Yiddish to English, interjects his own story and problems.

Malpesh's story begins in 1903 in Bessarabia, follows him through the two world wars, and to Baltimore where the collaboration begins between the two men. The younger man is a college graduate with a degree in religions and languages. He has recently learned to read Yiddish and comes to meet with Malpesh. This is the great coincidence of the book and holds the wonder of both men's stories.

The writing in this novel is excellent and I was delighted with the format. Because Malpesh described himself first as a poet, writing love poems for a woman he never really knew, the writing in the novel includes many of his songs for the butcher's daughter, who was present at his birth. The author includes Jewish culture from the "old country" as well as descriptions of the immigrant experience. Additionally, the lives of both men shelter some wonderfully interesting characters which Manseau presents to us in a fullness that brings both worlds into sharp focus.

While I found myself loving both men, I was drawn to the younger man in this novel. Like him, I am Catholic. Also like him, I am drawn to Judaism - the history, the culture, the beliefs, by an unknown force. The translator's life was in some way changed by his interaction with a faith not his own, and I believe that mine is as well. I loved this novel. The focus on languages and hope uplifted me even in the face of sadness.

This is author Peter Manseau's first novel. You can listen to an interview with the author at NPR. Songs for the Butcher's Daughter was the winner of the National Jewish Book Award for fiction and the Sophie Brody Medal for Outstanding Achievement in Jewish Literature. The novel was shortlisted for the Mercantile Library First Novel Prize and was recognized as one of ABC Australia's Best International Books of the Year. You can visit the author's website as well.

TITLE: Songs for the Butcher's Daughter
AUTHOR: Peter Manseau
PAGES: 370
TYPE: fiction
RECOMMEND: Best book I have read in some time! Please do give this book a chance.

26 September 2009

26. Saving What Remains

Saving What Remains: A Holocaust Survivor's Journey Home to Reclaim her Ancestry by Livia Britton-Jackson is a remarkable voyage through the bureaucratic entanglements and emotional upheavals experienced by the author as she returned to post-war Communist Czechoslovakia to locate and retrieve the bodies of her Jewish grandparents who had died more than fifty years earlier. Her husband Len, who did not speak the languages of the country, stood by her side and helped as she navigated through all of the necessary bribes and steps to successfully taking their bodies to Israel. Her determination is remarkable and through her efforts a monument to the past shared lives has been created for all of her family. While this book only touches on the author's Holocaust experiences, the emotions of Britton-Jackson certainly remind us of the past and remind us to mind our futures.
TITLE: Saving What Remains: A Holocaust Survivor's Journey Home to Reclaim her Ancestry
AUTHOR: Livia Britton-Jackson
PAGES: 196
TYPE: non-fiction, biographical
RECOMMEND: Read as a wonderful tribute to your own family

22 August 2009

25. Sacred Hearts

Side note: I was diagnosed with the Swine flu on July 15th and was sick as a dog, so to speak, for two weeks. Because I was so weak that I could barely get out of the bed, I read probably ten books. I am now in the process of getting the reviews done for all of these books. Having not taken vacation days or sick days in years, it was nice to read. However, I wish you all well as the flu season approaches. I would not wish those two weeks on my worst enemy!

Thank you to Random House Publishing for the opportunity to read and review Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant. I found myself completely caught up in the life of the 16th century Italian convent. In the beginning of the novel, the reader feels much like young Serafina, a noblewoman who was to become a novice against her will – confined with wildly individualistic women who were all the same, nuns with vows of obedience defining their every movement – at least on the outside. As the reader comes to know these women, each has her own personality and difficulties. Serafina longs for her lover and fights against the ebb and flow of the convent. Suora Zuana, the convent’s medicine creator and dispenser, is charged with calming and nurturing the young girl who is none too happy. The nun in charge of the nuns-in-training feels a sense of jealousy over Zuana and Serafina’s relationship, not to mention the closeness of Zuana to the Headmistress, who must ultimately answer to God and men for all of the convent’s triumphs and failures. I enjoyed this book immensely. The twists and turns of convent life were amazingly drawn by Dunant. She gave voice to women who did not always have a voice in their own time.

TITLE: Sacred Hearts
AUTHOR: Sarah Dunant
COPYRIGHT: July 14, 2009
PAGES: 400
TYPE: historical fiction
RECOMMEND: Fascinating and engrossing

20 August 2009

24. Oh!: A mystery of 'mono no aware'

Oh!: A mystery of 'mono no aware' by Todd Shimoda, and beautifully illustrated by Todd’s wife, is a phenomenal experience. The copy I received from the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program was the final production copy. When I held the package in my hands, I wondered why in the world the package was so heavy. Even its arrival created a mystery! I opened the package and held one of the most beautiful books I have ever had the pleasure of seeing – and I work in a library. The cover design is a delight and the pages inside are silky like a fine art book. The chapter dividers are textured to match the beautiful artwork which adds to the story. I could not wait to see how the internal story would hold up to the external package.
I was not disappointed in any way. Shimoda’s story follows Japanese American Zach Hara, a young man who leaves his mundane job and part-time girlfriend in the United States to travel to Japan, hoping to find any emotion within himself. Zack seeks his ancestral past and in the process begins to teach English in a town close to the Aokigahara Forest, which my husband immediately recognized as the place where many people have gone to commit group suicide. Zach’s world becomes wrapped up in one of his students – an elderly gentleman who attempts to help Zach find emotive feelings by focusing on the theory of mono no aware - which might be loosely translated as the sadness of beautiful things. Turning page after beautiful page, the reader is treated to poetry written by Zach, again enhancing the story. Zach becomes immersed in the mystery of his grandfather’s life, the mystery of the disappearance of a young girl, and the mystery of why people commit suicide in groups. Ultimately I think he feels deeply. The writing is exquisite and the last page is as much a joy as the first. I could not put this book down and when I was done I was certain that I understood 'mono no aware'.

The author discusses the evolution of the book on his blog. He also shares how the artwork for the book was chosen. My favorite quote I have seen about this book is from NPR: Oh! was selected for National Public Radio's summer reading list. NPR reviewer Lucia Silva called it "a triumphant kick in the pants for anyone who doubts the future of paper-and-ink books." I could not agree more – this was a phenomenal experience and at the end all I could say was OH! And three weeks later, I am still thinking about it and can’t wait until my friend finishes it and we can talk about it and find our own emotions play all over the pages. Exceptional read!

TITLE: Oh!: A mystery of 'mono no aware'
AUTHOR: Todd Shimoda (beautifully illustrated by Linda Shimoda)
COPYRIGHT: June 1, 2009
PAGES: 310
TYPE: fiction, self-discovery of emotion within
RECOMMEND: Another even more stunningly beautiful book that I cannot forget.


23 July 2009

23. A Woman in Amber

I think perhaps that I have owned this book for quite some time and if I have read it before, I don’t remember it – I find this highly unlikely. At any rate, I am honored to have read it now. A Woman in Amber by Agate Nesaule is a startling memoir of the author’s childhood experiences during the Russian and German occupation of her homeland of Latvia. While the horrors of the war were bad enough in her own country, her Lutheran father and mother, along with other family members, were forced to flee from the competing armies. Their journey was remarkable in complexity and perhaps luck.

As I read her accounts of war, I wondered what the appropriate age level would be for this memoir. The scenes described are brutal and difficult to think about or discuss. The author solved my problem in two ways. First, as a new immigrant to the United States, she learned English by reading tremendous works of literature. Her teachers questioned whether she was old enough to read such works. Her life experiences and understanding of the beauty and sorrow of the world made her absolutely capable of reading Anna Karenina at 10 years old. Second, I would like to share some of her final words in the book:
But the world is full of pain. Anne Frank, Heidi, and Hilda are dead, but Kurds still freeze on the hillsides, Bosnian women have to live on after rape, Rwandan children stand waiting, too emaciated to beg….But then the sun touches the blossoms again. We have to believe that dreams are meaningful, we have to believe that even the briefest human connections can heal. Otherwise life is unbearable. (p. 280)
So I think any child interested in learning about human pain and human healing should be able to absorb the richness of the story that Nesaule was finally able to tell. She endured the war, shameful indignities at the hands of Americans, a disastrous marriage, and finally through therapy and trust, Nesaule has given us her story; a unique memoir of the horrors of World War II. The other part of her equation of survival and hope is education. Early in her life, she learned from poet Karlis Skalbe that, The riches of the heart do not rust. (p. 121) To the Latvians, this meant that even if you lost every material thing, family, and country – no one can take away that which has been learned. In spite of near constant fear and depression, Nesaule completed her Ph.D. in Women’s Literature and taught at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. The book won the 1996 American Book Award.
While you will need to read the book to understand my final comment, I am very happy that she reconciled with her mother, if only in a dream. Sometimes dreams represent more clearly our reality.

TITLE: A Woman in Amber: Healing the Trauma of War and Exile
AUTHOR: Agate Nesaule
PAGES: 280
TYPE: memoir, World War II
RECOMMEND: Stunningly beautiful book with so much we need to hear and learn.

18 July 2009

22. The School of Essential Ingredients

Thank you to G. P. Putman’s Sons for the opportunity to read and review The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. This is the author’s debut novel and I think it is very successful. I particularly enjoyed the format of the book with each chapter focusing on one of the characters while continuing to move forward the story line.

Lillian is the central character of the novel and runs a successful restaurant and cooking school. This comes as no surprise as she has had an intimate relationship with food from a very young age and she seems to intuitively know what food experience each person needs. We are introduced to the eight students who have found themselves enrolled in Lillian’s monthly cooking class. Each of the students has a secret need and story that seems to be evoked by the lesson of the month. In many cases, the stories become intertwined much like the mingling of foods in a well-thought out dish. To add further reader interest, the author provides very interesting information about the ingredients of the month as well. I did not want this book to end, even as I enjoyed the ending.

TITLE: The School of Essential Ingredients
AUTHOR: Erica Bauermeister
PAGES: 240
TYPE: fiction
RECOMMEND: Delicious, just the right touch of spice.

17 July 2009

20 & 21. Harry Potter 3 and 4

I absolutely loved Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Had there been any hesitancy in reading the rest of the seven book series, this book swept that away with ease. Harry's summer vacations from Hogwarts are never fun, but this summer had been particularly miserable until finally Harry snapped. Thinking he would be in big trouble, Harry is delighted when he finds himself in a small inn free from his Aunt and Uncle. But things are not what they seem and Harry learns that a dangerous prisoner has escaped from Azkaban and seems to be after Harry. In finding Sirius Black and solving the mystery from years before, Harry learns about his parents when they were his age and understands what it means to have family. A wonderful book.

TITLE: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
AUTHOR: J.K. Rowling
PAGES: 560
TYPE: fiction, Children's literature
RECOMMEND: I loved it. My favorite so far.

The only way to describe Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is exciting. From the Quidditch World Cup to the Triwizard Tournament, the book is fast paced and funny and frightening and wonderful. Harry and Ron suddenly see the girls as more than fellow students, but as many young teens, the two are not quite sure how to approach girls even with Hermione's help. We are introduced to many different characters in this book as students come to Hogwarts for the Tournament. Harry is challenged in the tournament with his ultimate challenge being Lord Voldemort. Thankfully Harry is prepared and meets the challenge.

TITLE: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
AUTHOR: J.K. Rowling
PAGES: 752
TYPE: fiction, Children's literature
RECOMMEND: I loved it.

29 June 2009

19. The Natural Laws of Good Luck

The Natural Laws of Good Luck: A Memoir of an Unlikely Marriage
written by Ellen Graf was a delightful read and I am grateful to the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program and Random House for providing me with the opportunity to read and review it. At its core, the book is the melding of two cultures.

When Ellen found herself 46 years old with only one child at home, she discovered she was lonely. Her Chinese friend offered for Ellen to marry her brother in China. Ellen took a huge leap of faith and went to China to meet her potential husband. Without speaking the same language, the two get married and muddle through Chinese legalities to return to Ellen's New York mountain home in wedded bliss. The most interesting passages in the book deal with how this marriage progresses with the blending of a free spirit and a traditional Chinese man! As I read the book, I wondered if some of the Chinese tactics might minimize silly spats in my own marriage. Great book!

TITLE: The Natural Laws of Good Luck: A Memoir of an Unlikely Marriage
AUTHOR: Ellen Graf
COPYRIGHT: 2009, August
PAGES: 256
TYPE: non-fiction, memoir
RECOMMEND: I really enjoyed this book. If you like information about different cultures, you will likely really like this book.

18. A Corner of the Universe

A Corner of the Universe by Ann Martin is a Young Adult novel dealing with the difficult subject of mental illness. Told from the perspective of 13 year old Hattie who is also the narrator, we learn of a most unusual summer in the small town of Millerton. While Hattie is expecting a normal summer vacation - which means a quiet summer working at her parent's boarding house and reading, instead she learns that she has an uncle named Adam who she did not even know existed. She is puzzled by Adam's strange and sometimes outrageous behavior. She learns that Adam has a mental disorder, but Hattie loves his outgoing and loving nature. Still there are times that he becomes angry and menacing. As the story progresses, the reader comes to love them both. Then tragedy strikes and Hattie feels responsible, even while she does not understand exactly what has happened.

I enjoyed reading this book, although my one complaint is that the Adam's mental illness was never adequately defined. Since the novel takes place in 1960, the reader is exposed to the biases and culture of the time regarding mental illness. Adam had been sent to a school and was not discussed by the family until the school closed. In other words, Adam was a shameful secret. This work might be useful in a discussion of how things have changed.

In the afterword, the author shares that the book is loosely based on her own experiences with an uncle who had mental disabilities.

TITLE: A Corner of the Universe
AUTHOR: Ann Martin.
PAGES: 189
TYPE: fiction
RECOMMEND: Because I haven't read any other YA books dealing with mental illness, I think this one is pretty good. Anyone have any suggestions?

22 June 2009

17. Hatchet

Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen, was a 1988 Newbery Honor Book and after reading the book, I agree that it should have been selected for this honor. Reading the book reminded me of Jean Craighead George’s works which are also wonderful. Hatchet is a at its core a book about ingenuity and survival.

Thirteen year old Brian Robeson knew the secret of why his parents were getting a divorce. While he was not happy about the secret or the divorce, he was going to spend some time with his father in Canada. Unfortunately, the small place crashes and Brian must learn to survive alone in the wilderness. He has only one tool – a hatchet his mother gave him before his flight. The remainder of the story is filled with natural beauty and observations by a young man who learns to live with nature to save his own life.

TITLE: Hatchet
AUTHOR: Gary Paulsen
PAGES: 222
TYPE: fiction
RECOMMEND: This book was very interesting and would be of interest to young boys who might not enjoy reading – this has a bit of adventure.

16. The Graveyard Book

English author Neil Gaiman is already well known for his graphic novel series The Sandman, which has outsold comic book favorites such as Batman and Superman. Gaiman’s newest novel, The Graveyard Book, is the 2009 Newbery Award winner. Targeting the younger young adult market (grades 5-8 perhaps), Gaiman tells the story of Bod. No“Bod”y escaped from a murderer when he was just a toddler and found himself under the care of a diverse group of ghosts in a nearby cemetery. Unfortunately, the murderer who killed Bod’s family is still looking for him! And growing up in a graveyard has its own set of challenges.

Over the course of the book, Bod grows up and has many adventures with the outlandish inhabitants of the graveyard. He studies just like other children, with help from historians and language teachers, among others. Bod even ventures out into the world where he finds that a little bit of magic goes a long way. In the end, Bod is alive and must go live with the living, leaving behind all of his deceased friends, but holding on to the memories.

TITLE: The Graveyard Book
AUTHOR: Neil Gaiman
PAGES: 307
TYPE: fiction
RECOMMEND: I enjoyed this book which had just the right amount of fantasy and glee.

18 June 2009

15. Forbidden Bread

Let me begin this review with thanks to LibraryThing for providing me with the opportunity to read this wonderful book. The second thing is that my lifelong dream has been to be a Slovak peasant – knowing of course, as author Erica Johnson Debeljak discovers in her book Forbidden Bread that this group doesn’t exist in Central Europe as the romanticized vision I have in my head. But when Erica first moved to Slovenia with her lover and fiancĂ©, the rural lifestyle and traditions were still common and she describes these with great detail.

When Erica Johnson met and married Slovenian poet Ales Debeljak she moved across the world to Slovenia, just as this country was swirling with national pride and development in a post-Communist world. Erica did not speak the language, did not understand the culture, and wanted desperately to please her new husband and his family. She chronicles her difficulties, challenges, and triumphs in this very funny memoir of adaptation. For anyone who has studied European history, the bureaucracy came as no surprise, but her funniest encounters with the red tape were found in her stories of being pregnant.

Debeljak supplements her stories with photos from her own collection. The reader truly gets a sense of their daily life, even over time. Like the author, I was sad with the last chapter which explains that even during her short time in Central Europe, many things had changed. The things that endeared her new country to her were obsolete, but not forgotten.

TITLE: Forbidden Bread
AUTHOR: Erica Johnson Debeljak
PAGES: 304
TYPE: non-fiction, memoir
RECOMMEND: Because I love Central Europe, I loved this book. It is hard for me to separate out these feelings to know if you would also love it.

06 June 2009

14. Shanghai Girls

I am grateful to Random House Publishing for providing me with the opportunity to read and review author Lisa See’s latest novel Shanghai Girls. I loved her earlier novels and this one was equally enjoyable. In addition to the beautiful story of family and love, the novel explores an area of World War II history with which I am somewhat unfamiliar. Reading the novel has compelled me to do a bit of my own research on the Chinese experience during the early twentieth century.

Shanghai Girls follows two Chinese sisters, Pearl and May, as they are forced to leave their family in Shanghai and travel through war-torn China to America to live with their husbands, brothers whose father bought and paid for the two girls. Unfortunately their journey to America is not easy and their lives are changed on the trip. Still, the two young women are together and gain strength from their relationship; the strength to continue.

Pearl, the older sister, is the narrator and we learn of the hardships the girls face through her voice. We watch as May becomes more acclimated and as Pearl learns to love her husband. Still, the Chinese are treated as less than full citizens in their new country. After WWII, the situation becomes even more intolerable and secrets which have kept the family together threaten to tear it apart. Through Pearl, the reader comes to know and love the extended family and grieves with the girls as first one and then others die. It is interesting to see the role of women in the Chinese culture, both in China and the United States – especially the changing roles.

Although Lisa See’s earlier book On Gold Mountain is autobiographical, describing her family over the past 100 years, the website On Gold Mountain (produced in association with the Smithsonian Program for Asian Pacific American Studies) shows artifacts and photos that substantiate the places described in great detail by See in Shanghai Girls.

TITLE: Shanghai Girls
AUTHOR: Lisa See
PAGES: 309
TYPE: historical fiction, Chinese culture
RECOMMEND: I loved this book - perhaps more than Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.

12 & 13. Harry Potter 1 and 2

I never thought that I would read the Harry Potter books. My children all read them, some very enthusiastically. I have seen all of the movies except for the new one. Lucky for me, I don't remember the movies at all...not because the movies were bad, per se, just my memory for movies is awful. I am re-entertainable! So why did I read them? I have a student worker and good friend, MiaPia, who is obsessed (she would not be hurt by this statement, rather flattered) with all things Potter. So she asked me to read them, begged really. How could I say no?

I really enjoyed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - I mean after all the hype and the movie, it felt like I was getting reacquainted with old friends. The characters are just as I imagine them and like everyone else, I was worried for Harry, sad for Harry, mad for the others. The book is well-written and I thought back to all of the vocabulary enhancement my children gained while reading this at a younger age. I finished Book 1 very quickly and moved on to Book 2.
TITLE: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
AUTHOR: J.K. Rowling
PAGES: 320
TYPE: fiction, Children's literature
RECOMMEND: I loved it.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets seemed to be the book that I remembered the most from the movie, but that enhanced my reading experience rather than ruining it. I went through the book waiting and waiting for Harry to open that chamber. I like it that new characters are introduced as we follow along with Harry, Ron, and Hermoine. I loved Ginny and her sweet crush on Harry and begged MiaPia to tell me who ends up with who in the end.
My favorite quote from the book: Dumbledore speaking to Harry - "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." p. 333 Great statement to live by. Of course, I quickly finished the book and now have moved on to Book 3.
TITLE: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
AUTHOR: J.K. Rowling
PAGES: 341
TYPE: fiction, Children's literature
RECOMMEND: I loved it.

28 May 2009

Take a Chance Challenge

Thank goodness I saw this. This is my first challenge of the year and it looks like a lot of fun. If you would like to join, visit Find Your Next Book Here to sign up and get started. Here are the ten ways to take a chance on a new book!

1. Random Book Selection. Go to the library. Position yourself in a section such as Fiction, Non-Fiction, Mystery, Children (whatever section you want). Then write down random directions for yourself (for example, third row, second shelf, fifth book from right). Follow your directions and see what book you find. Check that book out of the library, read it and then write about it. (If you prefer, you can do the same at a bookstore and buy the book!)

2. Random Word. Go to this random word generator and generate a random word. Find a book with this word in the title. Read the book and write about it.

3. Birth Year Book. Find a book that was published or copyrighted in the year of your birth. Read the book and write about it.

4. Judge A Book By Its Cover. Pick out a book based SOLELY on the cover. First, write about what you expect the book to be about based on the cover art. Then read the book and write about how the book was different from and/or similar to what the cover art led you to expect.

5. Phoning An Author. Pick a random last name out of the phone book. Find an author with the same last name and read a book by them. Write about it. (I'm flexible ... if the first random name you pick is Xprxyrsss, you can pick again!)

6. Public Spying. Find someone who is reading a book in public. Find out what book they are reading and then read the same book. Write about it.

7. Random Bestseller. Go to Random.org and, using the True Random Number Generator, enter the number 1950 for the min. and 2008 for the max. and then hit generate. Then go to this site and find the year that Random.org generated for you and click on it. Then find the bestseller list for the week that would contain your birthday for that year. Choose one of the bestsellers from the list that comes up, read it and write about it.

8. Lit Riff (inspired by the book Lit Riffs by Matthew Miele.) Choose a song and then write a brief story that is inspired by or further explains the lyrics of the song.

9. Poetic Review. Write a book review in three different forms of verse: haiku, limerick and free verse. (You can pick any book you want to write about.)

10. Movie/Book Comparison. Find a book that you haven't read that has a movie based on it that you haven't seen. Read the book and watch the movie within a few days of each other. Write about your reactions to both the book and the movie and compare the two.

So, I think I will get started!

26 May 2009

11. Perfection

Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal by Julie Metz was somewhat difficult for me to read. Not because she lacks anything in story or style. Not because I did not feel her pain. The problem is that I re-felt my own. Our circumstances were so different that they were very much alike. A closed group of friends in any circle will certainly rally around the story on their side of the fence. Whether the what people knew was an adulterous affair or an intense emotional alliance, the when they tell you is after the fact. In many cases, you are not sure what is behind the telling. Be it true caring, pure delight, or just to have something to say in the face of your anger. The only thing lacking in Metz’s story (when compared to mine and many others) is the hysterical and angry diatribe against her spouse that often lasts months or years. This was not an oversight. He was dead.

This memoir unfolds in first-person anguish as Julie’s husband has a heart attack and dies. In the midst of her own pain, Julie hears another females cry in her own house and wonders who could be as upset as she was?? It seems it was one of many women who cried because their current or previous lover was gone. We follow Julie as she heals. I found myself hoping she and her daughter would mend, would find love again. When she went on her first post-traumatic stress date, I cheered. The guy wasn’t the right one. When her friends tried to help her and then turned away from her pain, I understood. Anguish and rebuilding take a lot out of a person and it is sometimes hard to sit back and watch it muck along. I looked forward to the end of the book because I could only assume that it would end well or the book would have been a very different one. When it ended, I was sad because I wanted to know how my friend was doing, how her daughter was adapting. Metz plans to add a blog to her website, so maybe I can follow her story a bit longer.

Another interesting place to look is http://www.everywomansvoice.com/ where after creating an account, members may take a look at what is being discussed regarding Perfection and other selected books highlighting women’s voices. Thank you to Hyperion for providing me with the opportunity to read and review Perfection.

TITLE: Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal
AUTHOR: Julie Metz
COPYRIGHT: June 2009
PAGES: 340
TYPE: non-fiction, memoir
RECOMMEND: I loved it.

24 May 2009

10. firefly lane

First, thank you to St. Martin’s Griffen for the opportunity to read and review this coming-of-age novel by bestselling author Kristin Hannah. This book took me back to my youth, reminded me what friends are for, and left me wondering what would be left of me when I am gone. If you are a baby boomer, the references to the music alone will transport you back to the 70s, unleash the dance within you in the 80s, and the woman you wanted to be in the 90s. Then a time to examine every moment in the millennium will make you hope you can remember each moment.

From the eighth grade on, Kate’s life changed. She was a social nobody before hip and aloof Tully moved in across the street. By some miracle, Tully wanted to be her friend. Tullyandkate dream their dreams (mostly Tully’s) and live their lives (Tully in the public eye and Katie quietly supportive and in the shadows). This play on differences, as well as strengths and weaknesses, provides much of the structure of the novel. The young girls come together and move apart. They love the same man. They swear to have no secrets, and then betrayal breaks them apart. Love brings them back together.

I really enjoyed this book and read it very quickly. Interesting to think of this book in terms of Astrid & Veronika, which was also about friendship. Firefly lane took me to a place where I lived and made me think about friends I have known for many years. Astrid & Veronika took me to a place I have never been and friends I hope I meet. What a joy to be a woman!

TITLE: firefly lane: A Novel
AUTHOR: Kristin Hannah
PAGES: 479
TYPE: fiction
RECOMMEND: great book.

18 May 2009

Musing Mondays

(Musing Mondays are hosted by Rebecca!)

This week’s question (courtesy of Diane) asks:

Do you remember how you developed a love for reading? Was it from a particular person, or people? Do you remember any books that you read, or were read to you, as a young child?

The first book I remember reading was checked out from the BookMobile when I was in elementary school. This lovely green and white bus stopped at the grocery store parking lot once a week and I loved running across the parking lot to see what wonderful volume I could find. The great childhood book was Miss Jellytot's Visit and I loved it and read it over and over. It was published in 1955 and I think I could read it again today and be delighted.

My mother was an avid reader and I happily remember reading all of her Perry Mason mystery books with her. Again, she would read the book and give it to me. I would read it once, then again two weeks later. She was always amazed that I would want to read a mystery that I knew the who done it part! But it seems that I had a mental block - I just Would Not Remember until the end. We still read some of the same books, but at 82 she cannot read things unless they are available in large print. Still she likes to hear what books I am reading.

Having four children caused a slight break in my reading habits - but there was a bonus of reading all of the children's classics again with my children. Now two of the four are voracious readers (time permitting) and the other two simply do not have time. Graduate school put another damper on my reading habits - all history all the time. Almost 100% non-fiction until I got to Library Science grad school and finally more fiction - YA and children's literature. Now I read as much as I can and love every minute of it. I have grandsons who need to learn to love to read so I am working on that now!

13 May 2009

9. Everything Asian

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary ACCULTURATION is the “cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture.” Having studied Cultural Anthropology in my college career, I remember that full acculturation is often easier for younger children than adults and that learning the language is paramount to this process. Even so, definitions and lectures cannot take the place of actual experiences. While I do not know David Kim, his sister, parents, or friends, I can certainly feel their pangs of growth in this process of acculturation in Sung J. Woo’s debut novel Everything Asian. Perhaps this is because the author experienced many of these pangs himself learning English as a Second Language after moving to the United States from South Korea at the age of 10. His past realities have given life to Everything Asian. Visit the author’s web page to learn more about Sung J. Woo.

Everything Asian begins with young David Kim describing his new life in America and his life within his family. It seems that no one is happy, but that may be from David’s perspective. Gradually we learn that mom and dad are too busy running their store to be too excited about anything else and sister is still mad because she had to move away from Korea. In a well crafted novel-in-stories, we get varied perspectives on what it is like to learn a whole new set of cultural norms, to learn a new language (or not), and to struggle to get by in a new place. The sense of family and growth expands beyond the small Korean family at the center of the novel and includes an eclectic group of people working in Peddler’s Town, the small strip mall where the family business is located. Many of the individual stories are quite funny and linking them together makes for a sweet and gentle glimpse of who we are and how we come to be!

I am very grateful to St. Martin’s Press and LibraryThing for providing me with the Advanced Reading Copy.

TITLE: Everything Asian
AUTHOR: Sung Woo
PAGES: 328
TYPE: fiction
RECOMMEND: I recommend this book to readers who like coming of age stories, especially those with a cultural twist.

05 May 2009

Tuesday Things

Did you know that clouds can provide you a visual way to see the tags and authors you have in your library, and the more you have of a certain author or tag, the bigger the name/word will be?

I have looked at the clouds before and think it is a wonderful and different way to look at what we put importance on in our reading. I think the tag cloud is especially interesting because it represents what we think we are reading, not necessarily what others might think - as you can see in the mirror cloud. In my case the two were very similar.

The real clouds have opened up today in Pensacola and I am guessing that since it is intersession at the University, we will have exactly ZERO students in the library. So maybe I can play with the tag clouds and put them in when I get to work! So check back again later!!

Thanks Wendi for another great topic.

01 May 2009

8. Real Food

First let me remind my readers that I am a 55 year old woman, long past fertility with four children who are old enough to worry about that delicate and complex joining of cells themselves. Why would I then ask for an advanced reading copy of Real Food for Mother and Baby? Precisely because I anticipate more grandchildren and do not want to be that old fogey grandmother who remembers how it used to be and constantly reminds the young hipsters that I certainly know better than they do what is good for their new child. If only I could get back to my great-grandmother’s advice to my grandmother – then I might have something of value to add along with my views of never being able to spoil a newborn baby. Instead I happily and quickly read Nina Planck’s wonderful book and I am very grateful to Bloomsbury for providing me with the Advanced Reading Copy. I know that I will continue to consult this book for my own health and nutrition and have something of substance to talk with my children about when their children are born.

Nina Planck is not a newcomer to the food and nutrition world. She grew up on a farm and benefitted from eating real food as a child. She has researched and written numerous articles and books on the subject as well. All of this comes through brilliantly in her latest book, Real Food for Mother and Baby: The Fertility Diet, Eating for Two, and Baby’s First Foods. In the first chapter, Planck discusses what comprises REAL FOOD. I thought I knew quite a bit about nutrition since I have been diagnosed with diabetes. But now, I know why I am diabetic. And how I might change my diet for a more positive result! The next few chapters talk about how both men and women should eat before they attempt to conceive and I am sure I will be giving this book to any of my children contemplating this joyful task. Next comes what to feed your baby and when. Such intelligent thought went into what may seem like very, very controversial advice provided by Planck. Looking back at how and when and especially what my children ate, I was a little sad that I did not have this advice years ago. I am quite sure that my own grandsons would benefit from a slight change in diet. And as a good mother-in-law, I will try to work this in quietly and lovingly.

Back to the controversy, Planck provides research for every single recommendation given in her book; often for both sides of the argument. She also provides the citations and works used for the reader. To complete an already astounding work, Planck also provides a list of online resources or places which might prove useful for readers who would like to know more or purchase more natural and traditional baby items.

Overall, I cannot begin to write how much I enjoyed this book. I intend to go to the bookstore and purchase her earlier book Real Food: What to Eat and Why and visit her blog often, because she links to fascinating information and updates frequently!

TITLE: Real Food for Mother and Baby: The Fertility Diet, Eating For Two, and Baby’s First Foods
AUTHOR: Nina Planck
PAGES: 262
TYPE: non-fiction
RECOMMEND: I recommend this book to every person who consumes food or provides food for others to consume. Don’t worry about the fertility part! If that part does not apply to you, read around it and LEARN how we really should be eating.

25 April 2009

7. Spiced

Thank you to Putnam’s for the opportunity to read and review this wonderful memoir which mixes restaurant hijinks that we all suspect happen with the hysterically funny rise of Dalia Jurgensen to the title of Pastry Chef. Like everyone else on the planet, I have watched Hell’s Kitchen, 30-Minute Meals, Cooking with Paula, Top Chef…and every other television show which allows me special access to the secrets of cooking. I know how to make things semi-homemade and with a little touch of BAM! But even I knew that most of what I saw was fake and taped in two or three minute segments with someone artfully handing the host or chef or contestant just what they needed for the next segment. After reading Dalia Jurgensen’s Spiced, I think I know what really goes on behind the scenes. And it is even funnier than I had imagined.

As a baby-boomer who for some reason went straight from my part-time babysitting job in high school to housewife and college student to mother, I never had the opportunity to work in a fast-food or other restaurant in any capacity. So the stories shared by Jurgensen were new to me and I found them delightful. Jurgensen took a risk, leaving her office job to go to culinary school. Turns out, like most things, that experience was the best teacher. She generally skips over culinary school because it really didn’t matter and heads straight to the kitchens of some of New York City’s very best restaurants. We are taken with her from preparing desserts for the real pastry chef to becoming the real pastry chef. We come to understand the personalities often matter just as much as the food. Ultimately, Jurgensen had very good teachers along her path to pastry chef and her success is a testament to their patience and willingness to bring her into the profession as well as her own tenacity and creativity.

The author has a delightful website, www.myspicedlife.com, where she shares more stories, recipes, and kitchen tips. I am very happy she does, because I loved the book and was sorry I would end our relationship when it was over! Now, I can stop by and chat with her whenever I need some help with a dessert!

TITLE: Spiced: A Pastry Chef's True Stories of Trials by Fire, After-Hours Exploits, and What Really Goes on in the Kitchen
AUTHOR: Dalia Jurgensen
PAGES: 288
TYPE: memoir
RECOMMEND: I loved it. A great compliment to the sweet and easy cooking shows I see on Food NetWork.

31 March 2009

Tuesday Things

Last week we talked about our favorite book(s) - yes, hard - I know :) . This week, I'd like to switch gears - instead of favorites, we are going to look at least-favorites - should be a little easier?? This doesn't have to mean a book that you hated, or one that you didn't finish, although it might be. . .Questions (yes - there are a bunch - answer one or two . . . or all of them!): What is your least-favorite book(s)? Is your least-favorite book listed in your LT library? If it is listed, do you have anything special in the tags or comments section? How have others rated your least-favorite book?

My least favorite book has to be The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. And no, the reason was not all the hype about how sacriligious the book was or the title. My problem was that I just could not finish the book, did not understand the plot, didn't really like what I did understand. I really, really tried to finish this book (I probably read 2/3 of it), but I just could not devote any more of my stolen reading time to something I just did not like in the least. It all started when I found the link to the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. I bravely signed up for my 1% Challenge and because I had heard so much about this book, it was book number two I started to read. The fact that I would have to admit defeat if I could not finish it made me even more determined. Still, I just could NOT do it! Because I did not finish the book, I did not put it in my LT catalog, nor did I continue with my reading challenge. So that made me doubly irritated. The average rating on LT was 3.87 so at least some people liked it. I read through some of the reviews and there were at least many people who felt just like I did.


25 March 2009

6. Unpolished Gem: My Mother, My Grandmother, and Me

Wah! What a fantastic memoir! Alice Pung has done a wonderful job of explaining in her own witty way exactly what it was like to grow up between two cultures. As an Asian girl growing up in Australia, Alice was insulated by her extended family even as she tried to fit in with the world in which she had to live. While we learn how one young woman experienced acculturation and assimilation, we learn even more about the culture the family brought with them to Australia from the killing fields of Cambodia.

Alice was born in 1981 shortly after her family immigrated to Australia and was blessed and cursed to live with both her mother and her paternal grandmother. The two women continuously used Alice as a pawn in their dislike for one another. Of course, Alice learned to use this to her advantage. Even so, she could not escape having to care for her younger sibling or to venture out into a world that remained foreign to the two older women. It is through these two women that we, and Alice, learn about the culture that was left behind in Cambodia. Alice comments on her grandmother’s character, Yet characters are only fixed through experience, and usually bad experience. Before character there is only personality, and who knows what kind of person my grandmother was back then? (p. 47) In another comment which showed the place of women in culture, a place Alice was determined to escape from, Alice says about keeping house and caring for all of the children in the neighborhood, I was not won over by their sedulous flattery. Girls only matured faster because they had to do more. (p. 94)

Pung manages to explain or dispel cultural stereotypes, even as she tries desperately to live in both worlds, make her parents proud, and find her own way. My favorite repeating cultural wisdom is regarding hurtful words that are often used to destroy the ones we love: Words with bones in them, my grandmother calls them. Words to make the other person fall flat on their back and die a curly death, my mother says. The sharp ones, the ones you can use if ever you need a weapon to protect yourself. (p. 36). Of course, we often only think we are protecting ourselves. In many cases, words with bones in them are intended to choke our victims.

Pung’s writing is very concise and beautifully descriptive. Describing her mother, she writes, But there is only so much the camera can catch. It does not capture the times when she laughs, her head flung back, nostrils flared, like a happy hippopotamus with squinched-closed eyes and blunt teeth, a few of them missing. (p. 243)

I would like to thank Plume and Penguin for allowing me to read and review this wonderful book. The Penguin Reading Guide has a wonderful conversation with the author. Read it here. I look forward to the forthcoming book by Ms. Pung as I expect her writing to only get better as she continues to share her humor and reflections. I loved this delightful memoir.

TITLE: Unpolished Gem: My mother, my grandmother, and me
AUTHOR: Alice Pung
COPYRIGHT: February 2009 (American release); originally published 2006 in Australia
PAGES: 282
TYPE: non-fiction, memoir
RECOMMEND: If you are interested in Asian culture, or even coming of age stories, you will enjoy this debut work.


24 March 2009

Tuesday Thingers

Last week we explored the memes on Library Thing. I also asked for some suggestions, and one of you suggested that we get a little more personal by looking at favorite books, etc. So . . . I'd like to look at favorites.Questions (yes - there are a bunch - answer one or two . . . or all of them!): What is your favorite book (yes - this may be a hard one!!)? Is your favorite book listed in your LT library? If it is listed, do you have anything special in the tags or comments section? Have you looked to see if you can add any information to the Common Knowledge? AND a little off topic, do you find that your 5-starred books are consistent with your favorites, and is your favorite a 5-star rated book in your library? How have others rated your favorite book? :)

I could probably write volumes on these questions! Taking a hard look at my Library Thing library just verified what I already knew - I am an easy grader! Many and sundried things please me. I found that 38% (40/107) of the books I have entered have 5 stars. I looked at the forty books and found that the average star score given to these books was 4.1 so I suppose I am not that far off from the average. Another interesting thing I discovered is that only 5 of my favorites are classics, 6 deal with my favorite topic (the Holocaust), and 11 are children's literature (some overlap with Holocaust). The book with the highest overall star score out of these 40 was In My Brother's Image: Twin Brothers Separated by Faith After the Holocaust - Eugene Pogany.

Now my favorites - if someone were to casually ask me what my favorite book is, I would probably say without thinking I Cannot Forgive by Vrba. This non-fiction work tells the story of the first Jewish person who successfully escaped from Auschwitz. A true testament to survival. Another non-fiction book that I love is Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by Agee. The author tells the story about three sharecropper families in the Deep South during the years after WWII. It is fascinating. Fiction - I absolutely love Jane Austen and Pearl S. Buck. I have read Pride and Prejudice and The Good Earth a zillion times each. New fiction - my newest love is Astrid & Veronika by Olssen. This is the story of two women, one young and one old, who live on a mountain top in New Zealand trying to hide from the world and find themselves becoming friends.

Of course I know that these statistics are somewhat skewed but it is still fun to take a look. Thanks Wendi for another great week!

21 March 2009

5. The Mighty Queens of Freeville

A big Thank You to Hyperion Books for giving me the opportunity to read and review Amy Dickinson’s The Mighty Queens of Freeville. What a fantastic and relatable narrative which will leave her readers wondering which side of her family tree links up with their own. Never mind that she grew up in a very small town in upstate New York. Each summer I lived with my extended family in Western Tennessee and I am quite sure we must be related somehow because there were many Mighty Queens living in my small town in the Deep South. In fact, the cover could be a picture of my own family reunion when I was about ten. I vividly remember it because my aunt and grandmother had decided that, in spite of my lack of tatas, I needed a training bra. I was not quite sure what I was training for, but my three male cousins certainly knew that they were training for the bra strap snapping championship of the world. After being chased and tortured to the point of tears for an hour or so, I took off the offending bra and hid it in the cabinet under the sink in my aunt's bathroom. I assume they found it eventually, but had the grace not to mention it to me.

While Mighty Queens is not an in depth account of Amy Dickinson’s life, readers get a strong sense of how Amy and her daughter Emily grew up together through bad times and good. A single mother, Amy was devoted to her daughter even as she tried to make sense of her own life. In chapters dealing with her divorce, dating, and coming home, Amy made me laugh out loud repeatedly. Coming from a family of strong women, I could relate. Describing her own family, Amy writes, These are the women of my world – the Mighty Queens of Freeville – who have led small lives of great consequence in the tiny place that we call home. (p. 9)

Although it may seem disconcerting to some readers, I loved the back and forth, the future and the past narrative that flows throughout the book. Amy relates what is happening to what has happened and even to the possibilities of what may happen. In many ways, this is how we all think. As someone who always loves a good short story about the human condition, this style was very pleasing to me. In fact, for me, this stylistic choice added to the character and impact of the book.

As an early and frequent contributor to various NPR productions and the new Dear Abby (Ask Amy) for the Chicago Tribune and 200 syndicated papers, Amy Dickinson has become very successful. As we read this book, we realize that perhaps success has not changed her too much, she is still the daughter of a woman from Freeville, she is still the mother of a daughter from Freeville, and her heart remains with these women with whom she has shared this wonderful, albeit sometimes painful, life.

If my review has not done this book justice and you cannot decide whether you should run out and purchase it, please take a look at the author’s website. I know I am a Mighty Queen; you might be as well.

TITLE: The Mighty Queens of Freeville
AUTHOR: Amy Dickinson
PAGES: 224
TYPE: non-fiction, memoir
RECOMMEND: Because these people were like my relatives, I loved it.


17 March 2009

Tuesday Thingers

Last week we looked at the Member Giveaways section of Library Thing.
Here are the current meme's available:

You and None Other.
Books shared with exactly one member.
Dead or Alive? How many of your authors are dead?
Dead or Alive Comparison How do you stack up against others?
Male or Female? What gender are your authors?
Work Duplicates. Works you have more than one of.

Question: Do you visit the memes section often? Have you visited recently? Have you discovered anything that surprises you when you visit the memes for your library?

I have looked at the memes section before, but like Wendi, I was surprised that there were more memes than I remembered. I wish that I had some time off that did not involve puppy raising so that I could enter more of my personal library into LibraryThing - then I would have a more clear picture of how I compare to others. Still these memes are too much fun!

Dead or Alive?
  • 71.43% of my authors are alive.
  • I found it interesting that 32 of my authors are listed as unknown. I noticed one author that I know is alive because I subscribe to her listserv. I took a look around to see if I could figure out how to declare her alive. I could not find it, can anyone help??
Male or Female?
  • 36.47% of my authors are male
  • not mentioned is that 63.53% are female...I guess they had to pick one or the other, right?

Another good question and I can't wait to see everyone's answers.

LibrarysCat (Scot-Irish - send me a kiss!)

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