Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Massacre at Mountain Meadows

Title: Massacre at Mountain Meadows
Authors: Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley, Glen M. Leonard
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 430
Published: 2008
Date Finished: 22 March 2009
My Rating: 4 Stars

Challenges: 100+, Library, New Author

In September, 1857 Mormon settlers in an isolated area of southern Utah deceived a group of approximately 120 emigrants with a promise of protection from local Indians. After convincing the emigrants to turn over their weapons the settlers killed all of the emigrant party with the exception of a small handful of children.
In the preface to this book the authors stated that "thoroughness and candor have been our ideals in writing this book, but with so many minds already made up about the role and quilt of participants, we are sure to disappoint some readers."
Luckily for me I did not have my mind made up one way or the other and in fact knew very little about the Mountain Meadows Massacre and so was able to read and appreciate the depth of research that went into this book. The authors decided not to write their book as a response to what others have written but to return to the primary sources and basically start from ground zero. As a former student of history, I can thoroughly appreciate this approach. They turned to local and genealogical sources as well as regional and national newspapers to gain information on the immigrants, the settlers, and conditions in Utah at the time of the massacre. They were also able to use the collection of church and militia records from the Family and Church History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Essentially, they were able to tap into previously untapped resources and also shed new light on resources that have not been looked at or used in years.
As I stated, I knew very little about this incident before reading this book. I read an article here and there over the years but had never made much effort to learn more. As such, this book and the details surrounding the massacre and events in Utah at the time was pretty interesting and enlightening for me.
Even after reading this account it is incomprehensible to me how these settlers could take a few annoyances, minor skirmishes and essentially empty threats and believe that it justified a mass killing. While the authors do a great job of placing the massacre within the big picture of life during the time period and local events going on at the time, they never excuse or try to justify the settlers actions.
"There were conflicts on the southern road. But the emigrants did not deserve what eventually happened to them at Mountain Meadows. The massacre was not inevitable. No easy absolution for the perpetrators is possible. Their later posturing and rationalization could never overcome one irrefutable fact: All the purported wrongs of the emigrants-even if true-did not justify the killing of a single person."

I also appreciated and learned much from the author's research and descriptions of religious and ethnic violence and the process that leads to mass violence and killing.
"As emotions build, the perpetrators become convinced that their opponents are a threat to their people and values. They claim to act defensively, even while are are aggressors. Rumors are everywhere, and perception becomes reality. The final cataclysm is sudden and almost inexplicable."

"For the most part, the men who committed the atrocity at Mountain Meadows were neither fanatics nor sociopaths, but normal and in many respects decent people. The modern age, confronted with mass violence and killings, has rediscovered a fundamental aspect of theology. 'If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them,' wrote Russian Nobel Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn. 'But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who wants to destroy a piece of his own heart.' "


I will admit that there were so many people involved between the emigrants, the militia and the Indians that at times the reading and keeping all the players separated did get a little tedious but it was worth the effort. The book did end a little abruptly without giving much of the story after the massacre. I would like to learn more about the aftermath.
An eye opening and mostly intriguing look at a tragic event that never should have happened.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Coraline

Title: Coraline
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Juvenile, Fantasy
Pages:179
Published:2002
Date Finished: 20 January 2009
My Rating: 3 Stars
Challenges: Library, New Author, 100+, Dewey's Books


I read this book as part of the Dewey's Books Challenge. I liked this quote from Dewey's review discussing the then not yet released movie. "If this book has been made into a movie, and if you’ve seen the movie, compare the book to the movie. It is being made into a movie. I feel skeptical. I don’t like the promotional poster. I don’t like the idea of Dakota Fanning as Coraline. No, no, no. I want 1988 Winona Ryder as Coraline."
I have not seen the movie yet myself but I agree about Dakota Fanning. You can read Dewey's review of Coraline at The Hidden Side of a Leaf.

It seems Neil Gaiman is the belle of the ball in the literary world right now. I thought it was about time I read one of his books so I would know what all the buzz is about. Since Coraline was about to come out as a movie I decided to go ahead and start there.
Coraline is a sort of horror novel for the tween set. Coraline is bored and none of the adults in her life seem to be listening to her. Looking for something fun to do Coraline ventures through a small door in her house. On the other side she finds a world that is similar yet disturbingly different from her own. She enters into a challenge with her "other mother" in an attempt to save her life, the lives of her parents and three other children.
Maybe it is my general under appreciation of the fantasy genre rearing its head again, but I found this book to just be a little, eh, alright, nothing great. I suppose it could very likely be a scary read for its intended audience but it did not have that effect on me. For me, the story and characters just fell a little flat and I found my attention waning a number of times, which can't be a good thing for a book that is under 200 pages.
I thought it was a fun and creative book and I did like it but did not think it was great.
The book I picked up from the library was a movie tie in edition. There was a section of full color stills from the movie, an excerpt from the screenplay and notes from Neil Gaiman and Henry Selnick, the director, about the route Coraline took from book to stop motion animated movie. I do plan to watch the movie one of these days and wonder if it will be a rare case of enjoying the movie more than the book, despite my general dislike of Dakota Fanning. :-)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring Reading Thing 2009



Spring is in the air! Which means it is time to sign up for the Spring Reading Thing hosted by Katrina at Callapidder Days.

This year I am going to use the Spring Reading challenge to help me finish 3 other challenges I am signed up for.
Here are the books I am planning to read:

Black Beauty Anna Sewell
The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
Behind Rebel Lines by Seymour Reit
Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Betty Smith
Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Friday, March 13, 2009

Alice

Title: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker
Author: Stacy A. Cordery
Genre: Biography
Pages: 590
Published: 2007
Date Finished: 29 January 2009
My Rating: 3 Stars
Challenges: Library, New Author, 100, Chunkster, In Their Shoes


Before coming across this biography about Alice Roosevelt Longworth, I knew very little about this woman who was once a major American icon and known around the world as Princess Alice. I knew she was Theodore Roosevelt's daughter, that her mother had died shortly after giving birth to her and that she married a congressman from Cincinnati in a fancy White House wedding but that was about as far as my knowledge went. It turns out there was a lot to learn.

So who was Alice Roosevelt Longworth?
Theodore Roosevelt lost both his wife and his mother within hours of each other. Devastated by grief Roosevelt named his daughter Alice after her dead mother and then left her in the care of his sister. It was not until he remarried and his wife insisted Alice live with them that Roosevelt sent for his daughter. His new wife, childhood friend Edith Kermit Carow, at times took on an almost wicked step-mother persona towards her step daughter and her father pretty much kept ignoring her. Roosevelt never talked to Alice about her mother or even spoke her name. Alice was called Sister by the family so that the name Alice did not have to be used. Alice became a sort of outsider in her own family, never feeling that she fit in with her step brothers and sister.

After Theodore Roosevelt became President, Alice became the rebellious first daughter that the nation and world could not get enough of. Before there were movie stars or celebrity sports stars Alice Roosevelt was a media darling. The press followed her everywhere and she made the headlines for recklessly driving her car, betting on horses, and smoking in public. Alice renounced many of the social conventions of her time much to the relief of some and consternation of others. She became known as Princess Alice to all her worldwide, adoring fans. Her father and mother tried rather fruitlessly to convince Alice to behave properly and keep her name out of the papers, she was garnering more attention than her presidential father. It was not until Alice took a very successful goodwill trip across Asia that the president realized the political value of his celebrity daughter.

Alice loved the fame, the notoriety, living in the White House and being privy to the political scene in the nation's capital. In 1906 she married Nicolas Longworth, a congressman from Ohio and secured a future living in Washington and being a major behind the scenes political player. Alice became one of her father's most trusted political advisers and campaigned for his third term as president. Throughout her life this intelligent and ambitious woman wielded major political power but eschewed holding an official office. She cultivated friendships with those in power and helped to develop others for future political power. She voiced her opinions and did not care what others thought. She was very outspoken against her cousin Franklin Roosevelt's presidency and did not much care for cousin Eleanor. Alice worked to make sure her name and personality were always out there and always influential.

The biography includes details of her relationship with her often drunk and womanizing husband and Alice's affair with Idaho's Senator Borah, who fathered Alice's daughter Paulina.
In fact, details are something this book did not lack at all. While I was fascinated by much of what I was reading the book took on an almost time line effect at times. Lists of dinner guests, who Alice met with, when and where filled page after page. There were so many facts and details but I still felt this book was just skimming the surface when it came to who Alice was. I came away from this very lengthy biography feeling like I still had so much to learn but that I knew every detail about Alice's life. Like many biographies there was a lot of going back in forth in time that often got confusing and left holes in the story that were either filled in much, much later or never at all.
An ambitious and very well researched biography that just seemed to be missing something. Don't read unless you are very interested in the subject or you'll be bored by the many tedious details concerning Alice.

If you are interested in Alice but not sure about reading this long biography you can check out a fun and award winning children's book titled What to do About Alice written by Barbara Kerley and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham.







Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Title: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Author: Jamie Ford
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 290
Published: 2009
Date Finished: 11 March 2009
My Rating: 4
Challenges: Pub, WWII, New Author, Library, 100+


I really wanted to rate this book a 5 and if I gave half ratings I suppose I'd give it 4.5. This book just drew me into the setting of Seattle during the 1940s and the internment of American citizens who were of Japanese decent during WWII. This book, in fact, made me cry which is an effect that few books have on me. I tend to be a fairly stoic person and that carries over into my reading but by the time I was finishing this book I was all weepy and glad no one was around to see me working my way through a box of tissues.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet tells the story of Henry Lee through transitions in time between the 1940s and 1986 in Seattle. Henry is the son of a Chinese nationalist obsessed with the war between China and Japan. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor Henry's father decides that his son needs to become more American and will no longer allow Henry to speak any language but English at home even though it breaks down the communication between Henry and his Cantonese speaking parents. Henry is also sent to the exclusive Rainer Elementary where he is the only Asian student and is ruthlessly bullied by the other students. Henry's one friend is Sheldon, a young black jazz musician who plays a saxophone on the street corner.
Amongst the confusion of war and prejudice, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a new Japanese American Student at Rainer. Always fearful of his father's reaction Henry forges a strong bond of friendship with Keiko. As more Japanese people are arrested and rounded up in raids, Henry fears for what will happen to Keiko and her family. When the order for the removal of all Japanese people in Seattle comes down Henry is torn trying to do what is right while struggling to understand what the right thing is. Should he be loyal to his Chinese nationalist family or should he follow his feelings and help Keiko?
The other side of the story takes place in 1986 as Henry, now a widower, is trying to bridge the gap in his relationship with his son and between his past and present life.
This is Jamie Ford's debut novel and while I really enjoyed it, there were some inconsistencies and a bit of redundancy. The use of the Internet in 1986 had me a bit puzzled. Yes, the Internet existed at the time but was not really being used in the ways described in the book.
Perhaps a little heavy on the sentimental side at times, I really enjoyed this thoughtful look at the tragic events surrounding the treatment of Japanese Americans during WWII and the glimpse into the Japanese internment camps.



Wednesday, March 11, 2009

On a Personal Note

I know my blog has been very quite of late but I hope you are not giving up on me. I've got a nice big stack of books to review. Having my husband home for the past month has really put a crimp in my blogging time. His laptop is not working and so he has been using my computer to hunt for jobs and work on school assignments.
The good news? My husband was offered a job this week and will be returning to the working world at the end of this month. Yea! He was actually offered two jobs within two days, which was kinda crazy but good for us. He is really looking forward to the start of this new opportunity and only wishes they wanted him to start before the end of the month.
On a different personal note, my due date for the baby was adjusted a few days by my doctor. Her calculations were a few days different than mine but really, when it comes to having a baby I don't think a day or two difference in the estimated due date really amounts to much.
I am still dealing with morning sickness. I was hoping it would be passing by now but no such luck. My morning sickness with my son lasted several weeks into my second trimester so we will see what happens with this baby.
OK, that should be it for the personal, non-book related posts.
Reviews I've got in the works include:
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Miss Buncle's Book by D.E. Stevenson
The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Plus a few more.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Classics Challenge

I've been waiting for Trish to announce the Classics Challenge and I am excited to get started next month.
I am going to sign up for the Classic Entree and read 5 books for this challenge. I do not know exactly which books I will read but they will probably come from the following list.
-Emma by Jane Austen
-Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
-A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
-Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
-Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
-Roughing It by Mark Twain
-Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
-Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

Sunday, March 1, 2009

February 2009 Reading Review

What a month. I was actually kinda surprised when I started putting my stats together because I did not think I had read so much this month. This month was just a difficult month for reading. Between morning sickness, which I am still dealing with, and my husband being laid off, life has been stressful and normal routines have all but disappeared. I spent most of the month reading one book, Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, and I am glad to have finally turned the last page. Here is the breakdown:

Books read
in February: 7
Yearly book count: 17
Pages read in February: 2573
Yearly page count: 5181

Juvenile Non-Fiction:
  • Lincoln: A Photobiogrpahy by Russell Freedman
  • The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary by Candace Fleming
YA Fiction:
  • Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
Fiction:
  • Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
  • The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
Non-Fiction:
  • Homeschooling: Take a Deep Breath You Can Do This by Terrie Lynn Bittner
  • The Emperors of Chocolate by Joel Glenn Brenner

Ratings:
5 Stars:
1 (The Painted Veil)
4 Stars:
4 (The Emperors of Chocolate, Lincoln: A Photobiography, The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look, Our Mutual Friend)
3 Stars:
1 (Homeschooling: Take a Deep Breath You Can Do This)
2 Stars:
0
1 Star:
1 (Tender Morsels)

February Challenge Update
Daring Girls:1/9
Victorian: 1/3
Numbers: 1/5
Chunkster: 2/3
Dewey's Books: 1/5
What's in a Name: 1/6
Decades: 3/9
RYOB: 4/15
YA: 2/12
In Their Shoes: 3/5
Civil War: 1/12
New Author: 13/50
Library: 12/50
100+: 17/101