Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Looking Back, Looking Forward (July 2009)

Looking Back
After a few slow months June was a busy month for me on the blog. I (pretty much) caught up on reviews by posting about 14 books this month. It was nice and stress relieving to see the stack of books I needed to write about dwindle down to almost nothing. Of course, I've gone and slacked off again this last week and so my stack is back up to 6 books.
As far as reading goes, I read 11 books in June. I ranked only 3 of them below 4 stars, so I would say it was a pretty good reading month.

Looking Forward
Here is a glimpse at some of the books I am hoping to read in July.
I have a few holds coming in at the library that will be added to the mix as well. I love everything about my library except the length of time it takes them to process new books. I am first in the request Q for Shannon Hale's The Actor and the Housewife and Laurie Viera Rigler's Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict. I am pretty eager to read both books and wish my library would hurry up and get them processed.

You might notice that in that whole stack of books there is only one that is not a library book. Unfortunately, the libraries in Ohio are about to have their funding cut by 50%, which will be devastating. I am pretty disappointed in many of my state's politicians right now. I understand that cuts in the budget have to be made and I know that the libraries across the state understand that and they know that cuts to their budgets will happen but 50% is huge and as I said, will be devastating to the libraries in this state.
Fortunately, there is a great grass roots campaign going on all across the state to save the libraries. Hopefully it will help.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Victorian Challenge Wrap-Up

For the Victorian Challenge I took a drink at Whitechapel and read three books from the Victorian Era.
The books I read are:
-Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
-Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
-Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

This was a fun reading challenge and if it is hosted again I'll probably be signing up.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

In the Garden with Jane Austen

Title: In the Garden with Jane Austen
Author: Kim Wilson
Genre: Non-Fiction, Jane Austen
Pages: 114
Date Finished: 30 April 2009
My Rating: 4 Stars
Challenges: 100+, New Author, RYOB

"Jane Austen loved a garden. She took a keen interest in flower gardening and kitchen gardening alike. The Austens grew their own food whenever they could and had flower gardens wherever they lived, at their parsonage at Steventon in Hampshire, their town gardens at Bath and Southampton, and when they returned to Hampshire, at their cottage garden at Chawton. In Jane’s letters to her sister Cassandra, we see her planning the details of these family gardens, discussing the planting of fruit, flowers, and trees with enthusiasm. "

In the Garden with Jane Austen takes the reader on a tour of all things to do with Georgian and Regency gardens. You come across gardens that Jane herself would have worked in or visited or at the very least knew of. Cottage gardens, manor house gardens, town gardens, and public gardens are all brought to life in wonderful detail and through beautiful photography. We also learn what Jane's favorite plants were as well as other interesting bits of information like how people tried to disguise or hide their outhouses.
The book features information on several gardens that are still in existence and open to the public today as well as sections on the gardens featured in Jane Austen movie adaptations and a chapter on how to re-create Jane Austen's garden yourself.
A lovely little book filled with beautiful pictures and drawings, as well as fitting quotes from Jane Austen's novels and other contemporary sources.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Up a Country Lane

Title: Up a Country Lane
Author: Evelyn Birkby
Genre: Memoir, Cookbook
Pages: 254
Published: 1993
Date Finished: 24 April 2009
My Rating: 5 Stars
Challenges: 100+, RYOB, New Author, Shoes

Up A Country Lane is part memoir and part cookbook. Through stories and photographs Evelyn shares what life was like living on a farm in rural Iowa during the decade following WWII. Neither Evelyn or her husband Robert were farmers but like many young couples from the era they were eager to rent a farm, put down roots and build a meaningful life on the farm. Evelyn shares everything from the sense of community, gardening,the ritual of grocery shopping and the use of meat lockers to raising chickens, milking, haying, harvesting, schools, social clubs and so much more.
Evelyn does not shy away from the reality of life on a farm and shares stories of drought, ruined crops, sickness and accidents. "A family on a small farm could have more than its share of isolation, loneliness, and constant need for hard, physical labor. So the memories of simple, happy events and celebrations must realistically be tempered by the struggles endured."
Many of Evelyn's stories made me smile but some were also heartbreaking.
If there was one thing that could bring a farming community together it was food. Potlucks, club luncheons, harvest feasts and holiday gatherings were all occasions to pull out platters, bowls and pie plates. At the end of each chapter Evelyn shares many simple recipes that were favorites in her family and many neighboring families as well. These are recipes that people really made and ate, recipes that the people were connected with.
One of the recipes I've tried was Curried Beef and Rice and let me tell you that was one hearty, filling meal. Beef, potatoes lots of vegetables and seasonings all served over rice. It was delicious but like I said very hearty and filling and I can see why a hard working farm family would enjoy that meal.
I love that every time I make a recipe from this book I can flip through the pages and read some of Evelyn's stories again. A treasure of a book. I'm glad I stumbled upon it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

TSS: Summer Reading with the Kids

If there is one thing I am passionate about it is reading to your kids. It is one of the most beneficial things a parent can ever do for their children.
We have two "scheduled" reading times a day. The first one is in the morning following breakfast and the second is at bed time. But those two times are far from the only times we read to our kids. My son or daughter will bring me books to read throughout the entire day. They both love books and even when not being read to either one can often be found sitting on the couch or floor with a pile of books surrounding them. Often when my (almost) 2 year old has wondered off somewhere and I call her name to find out where she is I hear her holler at me from her room "I'm reading!"
On the first day of Summer Reading at the library I trotted my kids across the street to sign them up. I told the librarians I had two pre-readers and was told I had to read 20 books to them during the next 3 months to be entered in the grand prize drawing and to receive a few other prizes along the way to 20.
20 books? In my head I was thinking we'll be done by tonight. The library we did Summer Reading at last year required that I read closer to 60 books and even that did not take too long.
So we went home and I started writing down the title of every book I read to the kids that day. Not counting books I read more than once that day I read 17 books to my kids in one day. I don't normally keep track of the number of books I read in one day so it was interesting for me to take the time to write them all down and count them up. That's a lot of reading. I also read at least 1 chapter from a chapter book to my son in the afternoons while his sister is napping. Every book read and every minute spent reading to my kids is well worth the small amount of effort I put into it.

Here is the list of books I read that first day for the Summer Reading Program:

Lizard's Home by George Shannon
My Friend Rabbit by Eric Rohmann
Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis
Not a Box by Antoinette Portis
Higher! Higher! by Leslie Patricelli
My "e" Sound Box by Jane Belk Moncure
A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis
Lentil by Robert McCloskey
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
D.W. Go To Your Room by Marc Brown
Arthur and the True Francine by Marc Brown
My "h" Sound Box by Jane Belk Moncure
My "k" Sound Box by Jane Belk Moncure
My "o" Sound Box by Jane Belk Moncure
Two Little Trains by Margaret Wise Brown
The Underground Gators by Tina Casey

Read to your kids!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Last Lecture

Title: The Last Lecture
Author: Randy Pausch
Genre: Non-Fiction, Self-help
Pages: 206
Published: 2008
Date Finished: 28 May 2009
My Rating: 2 Stars
Challenges: 100+, New Author, Library, Non-Fiction 5

Self-help/advice books are the last genre of book I really have any interest in reading. I doubt I would have ever picked this book up if it had not been picked by my book group to read.
Why don't I like self-help books? Because in my opinion to often they take a one-size fits all approach to life. Do this, follow my advice and all your problems will be fixed, blah, blah, blah, etc, etc. Life is not a one-size fits all and there are many paths to happiness or fulfillment in life.
So why didn't Pausch's Last Lecture blow me out of the water and leave me feeling inspired to change the way I live my life? For starters, I don't think any of his advice or life lessons were all that new or revolutionary. Hasn't it all been said before? Didn't a lot of what he said equal common sense?
Secondly, there seemed to be an undertone of arrogance through out the book that just kinda bothered me. A lot of "look at how smart I am and what I've done with me life. I can carry $200 cash in my wallet all the time." But I think that arrogant tone is often a part of self-help books, a reason I don't like them. And frankly, there was a lot of advice he gave that I did not agree with.
Will I get struck by lightening for not loving this book and everything written in it? Am I a horrible person for saying bad things about a man who is dead? Maybe. But this book did not change my life or even make me think much about what he said beyond the conversation during book group. But then, I am pretty happy with my life even though I am not a genius, don't have lots of money, am not a famous professor and like to repair my cars when they are in accidents. The fact that I take care of the things I own does not make me materialistic or mean that I focus on unimportant things.
Do I think it is sad that Pausch died, leaving behind a young family? Of course. Do I think his optimism in the face of imminent death was pretty amazing. For sure. Self-help books just rub me the wrong way. Maybe if I'd read his story as a novel I would have been more moved.

Spring Reading Thing Wrap-up

Even though it has felt like Summer for awhile now, at least in my neck of the woods, Summer is just now ready to make its official start.
I made a personal goal for myself this spring to read between 30 and 40 books. Right now I am sitting at 31 so I guess I just made it.
For the official Spring Reading Thing Challenge I set a goal of 10 books that would help me accomplish other reading challenges that were ending during the spring or shortly thereafter.
I am happy to say that I read all 10 books and as of right now I have completed 7 reading challenges this year.

Here are the books I read for the Spring Reading Thing:

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

Lots of good books on this list, as well as a few duds. My favorites were A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Under the Greenwood Tree and Ethan Frome.

The Spring Reading Thing was hosted by Katrina at Callapidder Days. Thanks Katrina!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Ethan Frome

Title: Ethan Frome
Author: Edith Wharton
Genre: Classics, Fiction
Pages: 99
Published: 1911
Date Finished: 19 June 2009
My Rating: 5 Stars
Challenges: 100+, New Author, Decades, Dewey's Books, Classics, Spring

The bleak New England setting of Ethan Frome helps set the tone for this rather bleak little novel.
Ethan Frome is a poor, down trodden, and in my opinion weak willed farmer. He is married to Zeena, a hypochondriac, uncommunicative, rigid, complaining, manipulative (I could go on...) woman.
When Zeena's destitute cousin Mattie Silver moves in with the Fromes Ethan quickly becomes enamored with the young, happy woman who seems to be the exact opposite of his wife in every way. Ethan finds himself being pulled between doing the right thing and what he thinks will make him happy.
It is a tragic story filled with a strong sense of pessimism, depression and hopelessness but written in a good way, i.e. not overly melo-dramatic.
A brilliant novel. Maybe just don't read it when you are looking for something happy and uplifting.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Under the Greenwood Tree

Title: Under the Greenwood Tree
Author:Thomas Hardy
Genre: Fiction, Classics
Pages: 237
Published: 1872
Date Finished: 16 June 2009
My Rating: 4 Stars
Challenges: Spring, Victorian, Classics, New Author, Library, 100+

Under the Greenwood Tree begins as a humorous and somewhat charming look at a simplistic group of church musicians who are about to be disbanded to make way for an organ. Along the way the story morphed into the strange and still often humorous love story between Dick Dewey and the village's new school teacher, Fancy Day. As a couple I found the pair rather mismatched but it did lead to some fun reading.
This is my first Hardy novel and was surprised at how humorous and light the story was. It is my understanding that most of his major works are much more dark and not so happy. None the less, I found myself laughing and enjoying myself quite a bit, especially the parts with the choir, a group of men who were prone to get drunk before doing anything.
In the end I am just left wondering if Dick and Fancy could really have been happy together? She's so concerned about being modern and is a bit pretentious and he is such a simple working man. Then, of course, there is that secret Fancy is keeping from Dick...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Reading with my Kids

I have not written a post about some of our favorite picture books in, I can't remember how long.
We read huge amounts of books but only a small handful seem to become favorites that we return to over and over. Here are some of the latest.

Antoinette Portis

Not a Box and Not a Stick have been favorites for several months now. Red loves playing Not a Stick and making up all the things that his sticks are opposed to actual sticks. I love that the box book looks and kinda feels like a box and even says "net wt. 11.5 oz." The cover of the stick book looks like wood.

On a recent library trip we found an Antoinette Portis book that we had never seen before. A Penguin Story is cute story about a little penguin trying to find something that is not blue like the ocean, not white the snow or not black like the night.

Robert McCloskey
We have the book A Robert McCloskey Collection and the kids ask me to read from it almost every morning during our morning reading time. The book includes Make Way for Ducklings, Lentil and One Morning in Maine.
It is unfortunate that the collection does not include our favorite Robert McCloskey, Blueberries for Sal. Instead we just check it out from the library and keep it for as long as we can before returning it.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

TSS: Catching Up on Young Adult

Title: Remembrance
Author: Theresa Breslin
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Pages: 296
Published: 2002
Date Finished: 3 May 2009
My Rating: 3 Stars
Challenges: 100+ RYOB, Young Adult, New Author

This novel explores the lives of 5 young people living in Scotland during WWI and the course their lives take due to the war.
I had a difficult time getting into this book and feeling really engaged with the characters. Not only were the characters often a little one sided and stereotypical but the author would develop story lines for some characters and then abandon them pretty much altogether to tell another character's story with out every really giving us more about the old characters. I wanted more!
John Malcom is the eager and excited young man who can't wait to sign up and go fight in the war. Francis is the ardent pacifist and Alex is the younger brother hopelessly wishing that he were older so he could enlist.
Charlotte is the rich girl who proves she is tougher and more thick skinned than everyone thought and Maggie is the shop girl with an agenda for women's rights and equality.
Although the set up of the characters seemed false and too stereotypical at times, I did find myself getting more drawn into the story. I just ended the book wishing that there had been more character development and that some of the story lines would have been explored more.
If you enjoy YA and or historical fiction set in WWI there is a good chance you will enjoy this novel.

Title: The Rain Catchers
Author: Jean Thesman
Genre: Young Adult
Pages: 182
Published: 1991
Date Finished: 10 May 2009
My Rating: 3 Stars
Challenges: 100+, RYOB, Young Adult

I don't remember exactly when I first read a novel by Jean Thesman. I know I was probably a late tween or early teen. It was around the time when I had started wondering from the kids section of the library into the YA. This will probably sound funny but I used to look for books by authors who had the same last name as I did. It was not a very common name and I always thought it would be cool to find an author with the same last name as me. It was kind of a compulsive habit that I had for awhile every time I went to a bookstore or library. So there I was browsing the Ts in the YA section when I found Jean Thesman. Not my last name, but her books looked good and as it turned out, they were. I quickly read through all of her books that my library had.
I loved Jean Thesman's books and wanted to write stories like hers with heroines like Grayling from The Rain Catchers or Molly from Molly Donnelly. I just couldn't get enough of her characters or her stories.
So, now after that walk down memory lane, I guess I should tell you a little about this book.
Grayling lives in a house of storytellers. Every day at tea time the women of the house gather together to tell their stories, each one with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Sometimes they tell Grayling's story, except her story does not have an end. "I am like a book that was lost before the reader could finish it." (10) Grayling does not know what happened to her mother the night she showed up at home muddy, with her car missing. She does not know why her mother left her in Seattle with her Grandmother and moved to San Francisco to start a new life for herself. Grayling wants her story to have an ending.
Throw in the cute boy who is painting the house and the family drama of her best friend Colleen and you get yourself a pretty good novel.
A simply told coming of age story that tackles some controversial social issues. To be completely honest, if this was the first time I'd read this book or a book by Jean Thesman, I don't think I would have been as wrapped up in as I was when I was younger but it was nice to re-visit this old favorite.

Title: A Drowned Maiden's Hair
Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
Genre: Juvenile
Pages: 389
Published: 2006
Date Finished: 31 May 2009
My Rating: 5 Stars

Challenges: Library, Seconds, 100+, What's in a Name?

Orphan stories have been done a lot, right? Especially orphan stories about girls. We've all read some of them and many of them are considered classics. So what could Laura Amy Schlitz hope to add to the scores of books about orphan girls by writing one herself?
Well, I think I can pretty much guarantee that you've never read an orphan story quite like A Drowned Maiden's Hair.
Maud Flynn knows she is not the most well behaved, prettiest or smartest girl at the Barbary Asylum so even she is surprised when Hyacinth Hawthorne decides to adopt her. Maud is swept away from the orphanage by Hyacinth and her sister to start a brand new life where she will be pampered and cherished. Or so she thinks. Instead Maud is relegated to a third story room and not permitted to leave the house because for some reason no one is to know she is there. In time Maud begins to learn about the secret role she is to play in the sisters family business. Maud remains eager to please and goes along with her secret role in hopes that her dream of being pampered and cherished will come true.
I am just going to come right out and say that I think this is the best children's book I have read in a long time. A Drowned Maiden's Hair is a highly original, intelligent, and character driven story that does not leave the plot behind (my favorite kind of book.)
The characters and character development in this book were just perfect. Schlitz did not tell us about the characters so much as she had the characters tell us about themselves through their actions and words. The story is told through Maud's point of view but even when she can't or won't see the treachery and villainy of those around her, you as the reader are coming to some chilling realizations.
The pacing was perfect for a book that is almost 400 pages long. The story unfolded smoothly and steadily and never once slowed down or made me impatient in my reading.
Wonderful writing, complex characters, treachery and mystery. I highly recommend this book.

Whew! Now that I have written about those three books I've only got 4 more in my queue to write about. It feels nice to be getting caught up!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Memory Keeper's Daughter

Title: The Memory Keeper's Daughter
Author: Kim Edwards
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 401
Published: 2005
Date Finished: 7 May 2009
My Rating: 2 Stars
Challenges: 100+, Name, New Author, Library

A man makes a bad decision, more people make bad decisions. Most of them are unhappy or at least troubled by the choices they made.
Did not really like it that much.
If you'd like more information than that you can read more reviews on Goodreads or check out an introduction to the book from Penguin.

Friday, June 12, 2009

I am a Daring Reader

I've completed the track I signed up for with the Daring Book Challenge. I signed up to read 9 books from the list by June 15th. I also signed up to try and read the entire list, so I'll still be working on my daring reading skills for awhile yet to come.
The nine books I read for the challenge:
This was a fun challenge. I read some that I really did not enjoy and some that I just loved. My favorite from the list was definitely A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
I look forward to reading more of the titles for the perpetual challenge.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Adventures of Robin Hood

Title: The Adventures of Robin Hood
Author: Roger Lancelyn Green
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 275
Published: 1956
Date Finished: 11 June 2009
My Rating: 4 Stars
Challenges: 100+, Library, New Author, Daring Girls

Another retelling of the Robin Hood Legend. Roger Lancelyn Green's retelling, a bit more modern having been published in 1956, draws heavily upon the old ballads and plays as well as the works of Alfred Noyes, Tenneyson and Scott.
I found this Robin Hood to more closely resemble the Robin Hood that modern pop culture has given us or I guess this might be the Robin Hood the the modern retellings have gained some inspiration. Green's Robin started out as the Earl of Huntingdon who was selling his lands to help the poor until unjustly made an outlaw by the Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John. The Earl and his followers take to the forest and become know as Robin Hood and his merry band of followers. Robin openly fights and is not at all weary of killing as he was in Pyle's version of the story. He works to obtain the ransom money that will bring King Richard back to England.
One of the biggest distinctions between Green and Pyle's retelling is Green's inclusion of Maid Marian as a major character. Robin and Marian's wedding was interrupted the Sheriff and Guy of Gisborne coming to arrest Robin. Before fleeing into the forest Robin extracts a promise from Marian that they will remain half married until King Richard can return and marry them. Eventually Marian becomes an outlaw herself and joins Robin Hood in Sherwood as a skilled archer and swordsman. I enjoyed the inclusion of Marian, even if she is a more modern (relatively speaking) addition to the story.
The characters in this version seemed to have a bit more depth to them. The Sheriff and Prince John seemed more evil and Robin seemed more noble and his life in the forest had more purpose than just fun and high jinx. Perhaps, an easier read too, with less of Pyles Old-English style.
Another enjoyable look at the Robin Hood legend. I think next I will read Noyes' play. As Green himself stated, "Robin Hood's is a story that can never die, nor cease to fire the imagination. Like the old fairytales it must be told and told again-for like them it is touched with enchantment and few of us can fail to come under its spell."

Baby Name Contest Winner

No one guessed all 20 names correctly but we did have 4 people get 19 correct, Mrs. Mordecai, Mama Rachel, Vic and Donna. Good job ladies!

First the answers:
1. Willa Cather
2. Edith Wharton
3. Anne Frank
4. Jane Austen
5. Harper Lee
6. Margaret Mitchell
7. Maya Angelou
8. Virginia Woolf
9. Harriet Beecher Stowe
10. Louisa May Alcott
11. Agatha Christie
12. Amy Tan
13. Beatrix Potter
14. Charlotte or Ann or Emily Bronte (3 possible correct for this one)
15. Frances Hodgson Burnett
16. Mary Shelley
17. Pearl S. Buck
18. Toni Morrison
19. Elizabeth Gaskell
20. Daphne du Maurier

And the winner(after a random drawing of the above mentioned 4)......
Mrs. Mordecai

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mary Poppins

Title: Mary Poppins
Author: P.L. Travers
Genre: Juvenile Fiction
Pages: 202
Published: 1934

Date Finished: 8 June 2009
My Rating: 4 Stars
Challenges: 100+, Library, New Author, Spring, Daring Girls

P.L. Travers' Mary Poppins is wonderfully vain and strict.
She is always thinking about and checking on her appearance every chance she gets. She is also rather strict with the Banks children and I found myself wondering why they adored her so much since she was often so harsh with them. I suppose it was knowing that she had some kind of magic and really, who wouldn't want a nanny with magical powers to take them on fun adventures? Even if she was a bit stern on those adventures.
A fun book full of lots of little stories. One of my favorites was the chapter devoted to the young twins John and Barbara. Did you know that while all we hear is baby babble and crying, babies are really able to communicate with animals and the wind? Unfortunately once they turn one they lose that special gift. Charming!
I'd like to read more of the books in the series but I think I'll wait and use them as read-a-louds with my kids.
After reading the chapter on Mrs. Corry and her gingerbread stars I was really craving some gingerbread. I pulled out my Mary Poppins in the Kitchen cookbook and used Mary Poppins very own gingerbread recipe to make myself some gingerbread stars.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Because You Died

Title: Because You Died, Poetry and Prose of the First World War and After
Author: Vera Brittain
Genre: Poetry, Non-Fiction
Date Finished: 19 April 2009
My Rating: 5 Stars
Challenges: RYOB, 100+

Vera Brittain was a British writer whose works focused mostly on feminism and pacifism. She is best known for her autobiographical work Testament of Youth that traced her life before, during and after WWI.
This collection of poetry and prose by Vera Brittain was compiled to commemorate the90th anniversary of end of World War I in November of 1918. The volume also serves to commemorate those close to Brittain that were killed in WWI, her brother Edward, fiance Roland Leighton and two friends, Geoffrey Thurlow and Victor Richardson, as well as many of the nurses and VADs that Brittain worked with during the war in London, Malta and France.
The poetry and prose selections also serve as a look at Brittain's changing convictions from idealistic young girl at the outbreak of war to her ever increasing anti-war convictions in the years following the Armistice.
I read recently that Vera Brittian's Testament of Youth is to be made into a feature film. The article gives some good background information on Brittain.

The Superfluous Woman by Vera Brittain
Ghosts crying down the vistas of the years,

Recalling words
Whose echoes long have died;
And kind moss grown
Over the sharp and blood-bespattered stones

Which cut our feet upon the ancient ways.
But who will look for my coming?
Long busy days where many meet and part;

Crowded aside

Remembered hours of hope;

And city streets

Grown dark and hot with eager multitudes

Hurrying homeward whither respite waits.

But who will seek me at nightfall?

Light fading where the chimneys cut the sky;

Footsteps that pass,

Nor tarry at my door.

And far away,

Behind the row of crosses, shadows black

Stretch out long arms before the smouldering sun.
But who will give me my children?

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Title: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Author: Betty Smith
Genre: Fiction, Classics
Pages: 493
Published: 1943
Date Finished: 5 June 2009
My Rating: 5 Stars
Challenges: 100+, New Author, Chunkster, RYOB, Classic, Spring, Daring Girls

I figured out a long time ago that I generally love character driven novels so it is really not at all surprising that I loved this book, a very heavily character driven novel. But I did not think it lacked plot like I have heard others say. I thought this was a very well plotted coming of age story that gave the reader a look at what life would have been like living in Brooklyn during the early 1900s.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is an American Classic that tells the story of three generations of the Nolan and Rommley families. The story focuses mainly on Francie Nolan, a young girl coming to terms with many aspects of her life including hunger, poverty, meanness and death.
While I did not think the book lacked plot, what I did love most about this book were the very richly drawn characters, especially Francie. One of the most interesting character traits I found in Francie was how she tried to find or create order and control where she could since her life was often not what she would have it be. She had to try each flavor of ice cream by going down the list and trying the next one every time they went to the ice cream shoppe and she was reading the books in the library from A-Z. I have to say I loved reading the bit about the books because I attempted something like that once myself. I decided I would start at the A's and work my way through the entire collection all the way to Z. Unlike Francie though I quickly gave up when I went and looked at the first few books in the A section. They all sounded boring.
The book was populated with strong women characters that I could not help but root for as I read. There was Francie herself but also her mother and aunts, women who took control and did not let themselves become victims to circumstance.
Betty Smith's novel tells a beautiful and moving story. I read most of it in one day because every time I set it down to go do something else I found myself drawn right back to the book. I know a lot of people don't see this book in the same light I do, but I really could not put this book down. I just had to keep reading to find out what would happen to Francie and her family. Adding this book to my list of all time favorite books.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Baby Name Author Contest

As you probably know I am having a baby girl later this summer. I mentioned in a previous post that my husband and I have very different ideas about naming this baby girl. I want something somewhat unique and maybe literary, he wants the same names everybody else is naming their baby. Talking about names can get stressful in our home.
I thought I'd have some fun and host a little baby name contest and giveway. Actually, I've got a few in mind. This first one is going to be all about famous (female) authors names.
Here is the run down. Below I will list the last names of several authors and you will need to provide me with the first name of the author. Keep in mind that they are all women (I'm having a girl) and please do not use search engines or look at the answers that others have left in the comments.
The winner will be determined by the most correct answers. If more than one person has guessed the most correct than I will have a random drawing for those people to determine the winner.
The prize: A new paperback copy of Alexander McCall Smith's 9th book in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, The Miracle at Speedy Motors.
Contest will run through Wednesday June 10 and I will announce the winner on Thursday the 11th. If I can not access your e-mail address through your blog (or if you don't have a blog) than please leave your e-mail with your answers.

Have fun!

1. Cather
2. Wharton
3. Frank
4. Austen
5. Lee
6. Mitchell
7. Angelou
8. Woolf
9. Beecher Stowe
10. Alcott
11. Christie
12. Tan
13. Potter
14. Bronte (3 possible correct for this one)
15. Hodgson Burnett
16. Shelley
17. S. Buck
18. Morrison
19. Gaskell
20. du Maurier

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Magic of Ordinary Days

Title: The Magic of Ordinary Days
Author: Ann Howard Creel
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 274
Published: 2001
Date Finished: 27 May 2009
My Rating: 4 Stars
Challenges: 100+, Library, New Author, WWII

There is a blurb from author Susan Vreeland on the cover of this book that describes The Magic of Ordinary Days as "highly satisfying." I'd have to say that is exactly how I felt about this book. This novel did something that few of the books I've read recently has done, it lingered with me. For several days after finishing the book I would think about it and pick it back up to read over certain sections or passages again.
At the height of World War II Livvy Dunne is a strong, intelligent and independent woman who has plans for the future. She is attending University and dreams of becoming an archaeologist and traveling to far off places like Egypt. When her mother falls ill Livvy takes time off from school to care for her and after her mother's subsequent death Livvy is left floundering and feeling lost. She begins a flirtation with a solider that changes the course of her life sending Livvy to live on the plains of Colorado married to a man she does not know. Forced by circumstances to give up her dreams and the life she knew Livvy is lonely and struggles quietly to accept her new life. Livvy's new home is not far from a Japanese internment camp and when some of the detainees come to her new husband's farm to help with the harvest Livvy finds some much needed friendship and solace in two young Japanese American sisters.
The Magic of Ordinary Days is a very quiet, almost gentle story that unfolds slowly but beautifully. I loved Creel's writing and her descriptions of the Colorado plains and of Livvy's internal struggles.
I really appreciated Livvy's character and how she wanted to do what was right and accept the consequences of her actions even if it was a struggle to do so.
I enjoyed the pacing at which the story was told, Livvy's full history not being revealed until more than half way through the novel.
I did feel that the big plot point at the end came up suddenly, even if it was forshadowed pretty well, and then the book ended quickly. But, that aside, I still really, really enjoyed this lovely novel.
Creel gives the reader a look at a slice of life on the home front during the war and the treatment of Japanese-Americans. A love story, sure, but also a story about trust, friendship and finding happiness (in the magic of ordinary days.)