Friday, March 30, 2012

Review: The Beautiful and Damned

The Beautiful and Damned
By F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Modern Library 2002
378 pages
From the library

Anthony Patch is living a life of luxury and waiting for his grandfather's wealth to become his own. After graduation, he courts and marries the beautiful Gloria Gilbert. They are prepared to drink, party, and see and be seen by all of the right people until their proverbial ship comes in. But things don’t go quite the way Anthony and Gloria expect.

Fitzgerald’s novels are notoriously autobiographical, and The Beautiful and the Damned is no exception. It mirrors his life with Zelda, where they squandered their money on alcohol and parties. Anthony goes into the army but, just like his creator, never goes overseas. 

Fitzgerald writes from experience about falling in love and getting married young. Anthony and Gloria are immature and selfish. Their passion for each other is immense, but so is their need to have nice things, go nice places, and be admired. Neither of them is willing to take responsibility for themselves, their relationship, or their financial stability.

This does not make them particularly likeable as characters. They are not malicious, but they are stuck in a sort of adolescent world without a care. Anthony and Gloria miss the moment when one transitions from kids with no worries to adults with responsibility and the desire to consider someone besides themselves.

“After the sureties of youth there sets in a period of intense and intolerable complexity…But by the late twenties the business has grown too intricate, and what has hitherto been imminent and confusing has become gradually remote and dim. Routine comes down like twilight on a harsh landscape, softening it until it is tolerable. The complexity is too subtle, too varied; the values are changing utterly with each lesson of vitality; it has begun to appear that we can learn nothing from the past with which to face the future – so we cease to be impulsive, convincible men, interested in what is ethically true by fine margins, we substitute rules of conduct for ideas of integrity, we value safety above romance, we become, quite unconsciously, pragmatic. It is left to the few to be persistently concerned with the nuances of relationships – and even this few only in certain hours especially set aside for the task.”

Although this book is almost a century old, it feels incredibly timely. Here is a novel about young love, about the tenuous line between riches and poverty, about a young man who graduates from college, can’t decide what to do with his life, and then can’t find a job. Fitzgerald’s brilliance is that it resonated with his peers – those of old money whose world was changing rapidly – and it resonates with the current generation that is watching their dreams fall aside to the economic and social realities of our day.

As always, Fitzgerald writes beautifully of both the decadence of wealth and the despair of having only change in your pocket. While this novel may be at its heart about a married couple that likes to have a good time, The Beautiful and the Damned is a serious look at the effect money (or the lack thereof) can have on a person and on a marriage. 

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts?

Next month, I will be reading Tales of the Jazz Age, a collection of short stories. Join me! 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Laptop Blues

Hey there, lovely reader. How is your day going?

So I have no review for you today because my laptop shuffled off his mortal coil. That was bad news bears, people. The port where you plug your computer in burnt out and when there is no power, you get no computer.

Thankfully, that handsome husband of mine backed up my files and bought me a new laptop while I was at work. He is kind of awesome. You may all be appropriately jealous now.

This is my new friend laptop:

We will be friends. I am, though, a little behind on things since I was computer-less for a bit.

But I wouldn't let you visit and not leave you with a bookish goodie. Do you like to compare your reading speed with your friends and family? I found this cool thing on the Staples website where they time your reading and then compare it to the national average.

My dorkdom was satiated.

Check it out here:

Make sure to compliment your laptop tonight so it will not leave you forever. See you tomorrow, ladies and gents.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wednesdays with David: When I Get Bigger

When I Get Bigger
By Mercer Mayer
Random House 1999
From the library

The story: Little Critter is dreaming about all of the things he will be able to do when he is older. He imagines going to the corner store, taking the bus to visit his grandparents, getting a paper route, and camping out in the backyard. By the end of the book though, mom and dad send him to bed because he's "not bigger yet."

Mama opines: Little Critter is one our favorite characters. Little kids will really relate to the things he goes through - dealing with younger siblings, making friends, visiting grandparents, and going to bed. While these books are set in the past, they have timeless stories. I love explaining some concepts to David. When reading this book, I had to explain a rotary phone! It was awesome. 

Thoughts from David: I like it because he can go anywhere he wants! I'm not bigger yet. But when I'm bigger, I'm going to live at Grammy's house!
Favorite part: When he looked both ways to cross the street.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Review: The Secret History of the Mongol Queens

The Secret History of the Mongol Queens:
 How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire
By Jack Weatherford
Crown Publishers February 2010
277 pages
From that beautiful place where they let you borrow books...

Professor and author Jack Weatherford discovered that in The Secret History of the Mongols, the section enumerating the deeds and rewards of Ghengis Khan’s daughters had been unceremoniously removed. His curiosity was piqued and he began researching the ways in which the female descendants of the Khan were instrumental in keeping their people united.

I found this book disappointing in two ways. Firstly, there just isn’t that much information about Ghengis Khan’s extended family. Weatherford is forced to do a lot of guessing and a lot of dot connecting. I felt like there wasn't particularly enough information for a book, but they stretched what they had because the concept was interesting. Every time you learn enough about someone to be truly interested, they are deposed, murdered, or the records simply stop. This makes it difficult to really get into the book because few things are certain and you don’t have a lot of time to become invested in these people.  Reading goes slowly, to say the least, when you aren't invested. 

When you read the book description, you expect it to be full of strong women making independent choices and generally kicking butt and taking names. Weatherford writes, “Four became ruling queens of their own countries and commanded large regiments of soldiers. At least one became literate, but several supported scholars, schools, and the publication of religious and educational texts. Some had children, while others died without surviving descendants…The royal Mongol women raced horses, commanded in war, presided by judges over criminal cases, ruled vast territories, and sometimes wrestled men in public sporting competitions. They arrogantly rejected the customs of civilized women of neighboring cultures, such as wearing the veil, binding their feet, or hiding in seclusion. Some accepted the husbands given to them, but others chose their own husbands or refused any at all. They lived by the rules of society when prudent, and they made new rules when necessary.
Without Ghengis Khan’s daughters, there would have been no Mongol Empire.”

But it doesn’t quite work that way. The first portion of the novel is not so much about women who asserted themselves and took power. Instead, it is about Ghengis’ realization that the men in his family, particularly his sons, were either weak or corrupt. He then transfers control of certain territories to his daughters by marrying them to strategic leaders, so he can go out and conquer more land. While his daughters do thrive in these positions of leadership, the more interesting thing is that the Khan seems to have progressive views on gender (or at least thinks that his own daughters are brilliant and capable).

This doesn’t mean that I regret reading this book. I have a much better understanding of the nomadic lifestyle of the Mongol people and the ways in which they intersected with their neighbors. The last woman mentioned in this book is truly awesome in an “I’m going to do things my way and then I’m going to ride into battle and oh, did I mention I’m also pregnant?” sort of way. Mundahai became a widowed queen in 1470 with no heir apparent. She refused the offers of marriage that were made and instead installed the last living descendant of Genghis Khan as co-ruler, despite the fact that he was only a boy. She and her child king Batu Mongke found common ground in their lack of family. Their friendship, camaraderie, and what appears to eventually be love made them an unstoppable team. Mundahai’s accomplishments as queen are truly amazing.

This is an interesting book, but the little bit of information about the Mongol Queens just isn't enough to make an entire book. It might have been more interesting to focus solely on Mundahai, the female descendant of Genghis Khan who rose to power and united the Mongol tribes, since the history of her rule has survived through the ages. Despite its faults, I’m glad I had the chance to learn more about Mongol culture and the women who had the ability to hold power in a time ruled by men. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

It's Monday and March is almost over

Hello, bookish people! How were your weekends? I saw The Hunger Games on Sunday afternoon. I really enjoyed it. While my friends and I spent a lot of time nitpicking, overall we thought it was great. I am excited to go again with the husband, my mama, my sister, and anyone else who wants to go!

I'm continuing my mission to read through the F Scott Fitzgerald canon this year. I will be reading The Beautiful and the Damned this week. You are welcome to join me. Come chat about the book on Friday!

Read This Week:

The Secret History of the Mongol Queens
By Jack Weatherford

Half-Blood Blues
By Edi Edugyan

Posts from This Week:
It's Monday
Wednesdays with David: Harold and the Purple Crayon
Review of A Novel Bookstore
Readers Cannot Live on WWII Alone

Reading Now:

The Beautiful and the Damned
By F. Scott Fitzgerald

Coming Up:

By Kathryn Harrison

Carry the One
By Carol Anshaw

What are you reading this week? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Readers Cannot Live on WWII alone...

So, without realizing it, I have managed to read four novels set during WWII within the last month. I read The Baker's Daughter, No One Is Here Except All of Us, and The House At Tyneford. I am currently reading Half Blood Blues.

I've always been a bit of a WWII buff. I was the kid in the elementary school library scooping up Number the Stars and The Upstairs Room. I find the time period fascinating and I'm always impressed when a writer introduces an aspect that was unknown to me.

But...I think it's time to branch out. Fellow readers, what are your favorite time periods to read about? What historical fiction novel is your favorite? Suggest away!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wednesdays with David: Harold and the Purple Crayon

Harold and the Purple Crayon
By Crockett Johnson
Harper Collins 1955
From our happy, messy pile of books


The story: Harold decides to go for a self-made moonlight stroll. With the help of his trusty purple crayon, he is able to create a forest, a picnic, an ocean, a fierce dragon, a city, and finally his own bedroom so he can sleep after his adventures.  

Mama opines: David loves this book. We got it for him for Easter two years ago (you have to include some non-chocolate goodies, right?). Somehow, though, I had never read this book as a child. Now I love reading it with David. The text and the pictures are so simple, but I love what it says about childhood, art, and imagination. It certainly gives you some impetus to set your little one free with some crayons. Just make sure they are working on paper or another approved medium and not your walls! (PS - If this unfortunate event does occur in your home, I would suggest Mr. Clean Magic Eraser....not that my precious son has ever decorated our walls or anything like that...)

Thoughts from David: Let’s see. I know! I like it because he drops off to sleep. I like when he makes tall buildings, bigger than a house!
Favorite part: When he walks on the straight path, so he won’t get lost.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Review: A Novel Bookstore

A Novel Bookstore
By Laurence Cosse
Europa Editions August 2010
416 pages
From the library

Three people have bizarre encounters within weeks of each other. The cases seem unconnected – a man disappears and claims he was abducted, a woman is driven off the road by a mysterious vehicle, and a man is harassed by a group of men who appear during his daily walk. But the victims do have something in common. They are all on the selection committee for The Good Novel, a unique bookstore where the only things sold are novels selected by a secret group of writers. As the threats escalate, the managers of the bookstore must find out who has a grudge against the bookstore and how far they are willing to take it.

I had heard often about how amazing Europa edition were, and when I found out that A Novel Bookstore was one of them, I scooped it up. Who wouldn’t love to hop inside the story of two people opening a bookstore and dream that you could do the same? While this is a mystery, the whodunit is not the most important part of this book. Instead, it is a fascinating look at the world of bookselling and a love note to every person who hold books in a special place in their heart. Let me give you a little snippet of the love:

“We want books that are written for those of us who doubt everything, who cry over the least little thing, who are startled by the slightest noise.
We want books that cost their authors a great deal, books where you can feel the years of work, the backache, the writer’s block, the author’s panic at the thought that he might be lost: his discouragement, his courage, his anguish, his stubbornness, the risk of failure that the has taken.
We want splendid books, books that immerse us in the splendor of reality and keep us there; books that prove to us that love is at work in the world next to evil, right up against it, at times indistinctly, and that it always will be, just the way that suffering will always ravage hearts. We want good novels.
We want books that leave nothing out: neither human tragedy nor everyday wonders, books that bring fresh air to our lungs.”

This novel will cause you to reevaluate the things you believe about books, because the characters are constantly considering these exact questions. They believe that there is something intrinsically necessary about an expertly crafted novel…until they are met with the belief that reading is a leisure activity and should be more enjoyable than difficult. They wonder about what makes a novel truly great. They wonder why people spend so much money buying books that are only average. They make book lists, many, many books lists (personally, I have a very lengthy Word document and random pieces of paper in my bag and on my desk) and then they scrap the lists to make better, longer lists.

The plot is not perfect. The mystery element is sort of brushed over at the end, because honestly it’s not the point. There is also an unknown narrator throughout. While most of the novel is told from a sort of omnipotence, once in a while we get some thoughts from “I.” When the narrator is finally revealed, it doesn’t quite make sense and I found myself sort of disappointed.

That being said, if you are a person who loves books, if you have one in your purse and one tucked on the shelf in the bathroom, and you are constantly scheming about what you will read next, you should sit with this book for a while. It is a gift to those of us who would rather be lost in the world of a book than just about anywhere else on earth.

Reading A Novel Bookstore, which is translated from the French, made me really think about the kinds of books that I read and my lack of international titles. Certainly I’ve read some but,when I thought of The Good Novel bookstore with a section for the novels of each country, I realized how heavily I read American literature. So now I’m appealing to you, the people who know about all the good novels. What international writers do you admire? What works in translation must I add to the library queue? Let me know in the comments! 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

It's Monday and we are reading...

Hello readers! How were your weekends? It's been a long, interesting weekend here at the literary casa. Saturday was a long hard day when you feel like parenting is officially driving you insane because all you are doing is saying no and instituting time-outs. Yuck. Sunday was a wonderful day - the husband preached at a church and they hired him. (The process is more complicated than that, but you get the idea). So when he graduates in May, he will become the pastor of his first church. We are excited, nervous, and a lot of bit exhausted.

O.k. enough about us. More about the books!

Read This Week:

The House at Tyneford
By Natasha Solomons

A Novel Bookstore
By Laurence Cosse

Reading Now:

The Secret History of the Mongol Queens
By Jack Weatherford

Posts from this week:
It's Monday
Wednesdays with David: Skid and the Too Tiny Tunnel
Reviews of Another Piece of My Heart, No One Is Here Except All of Us, and The House at Tyneford

Coming Up:

Half-Blood Blues
By Esi Edugyan

By Heather Dixon

What did you read this week? Comment away!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Review: The House at Tyneford

The House at Tyneford
By Natasha Solomons 
Plume December 2011
359 pages
From the library

So The House at Tyneford. Here is what I need to tell you about this book. I put the boy down for his rest time the other day, and settled down for a late lunch and a few pages. Before I knew it, the book was finished and it was two hours later. This book is excellent.

Elise lives a life of luxury in Vienna, with her opera singer mother, author father, and older sister. But their life of privilege will not last, because it’s 1938 and the Landau family is Jewish. Anna and Julian are determined to see that their children get out of the country safely.  Margot goes to America with her husband. Elise becomes a servant in an English manor house. She is put to work by the proper butler Mr. Wrexham and the housekeeper Mrs. Ellsworth. While Mr. Rivers is regal and aloof, his fun-loving son Kit soon becomes an unexpected friend. The residents of Tyneford are living on a precipice between the world they have known and the world that will come.

This book is amazing in a good, solid way. It’s a little bit predictable; there is neither magical realism nor ridiculous plot twists. It’s wonderful in the way that chicken noodle soup is good on a cold day – it’s smart comfort reading. That’s not to say that it's fluffy. There are so many issues at hand here. Perceptions of class and gender are rapidly changing during this time period and the war forces them to change even further. The residents of Tyneford are trying desperately to hold on to the things that they know, in spite of the inevitability of both war and change.

“I felt the shadows draw around the house. They went up with the blackouts while I was sleeping, but when Mrs. Ellsworth unfastened the blinds, the shadows remained. I had not realized that I had been living in Arcadia until it was time to leave. The horrid trick was that for the present we all remained, but the place shifted around us. The trees and lawns and shrubs were the same, and the house changed more slowly, but something was different. We did not know it then, but our lives at Tyneford had shifted key, and we were rushing toward our final movement, whether we were ready or not.”

The descriptions throughout are perfect. Ms. Solomons describes the English countryside, the manor, and the small village so that you feel like you have been there too. In the author’s note we learn that Tyneford is not a real place, but it is based on a real place that Solomons knew as a child. The characters are as rich as the landscape. Elise is a lovely protagonist. I wanted the book to be longer, so I could spend more pages with her. Each character encountered on these pages from the brusque Mr. Rivers to a local fisherman who lives in the village is nuanced.

People, read the book. It is amazing. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review: No One is Here Except All of Us

No One Is Here Except All of Us
By Ramona Ausubel
Riverhead February 2012
325 pages
From that library place 

Lena lives a life of contentment and routine with her brother, sister, and parents in her small Romanian village of Zalischik. Their isolation is so great that when word finally reaches them about the war through a mysterious refugee, it is too late to flee. Not knowing if their seclusion can save them, they decide to start over. Tomorrow will be the first day of the world. In the new world, there are no rules written. Spouses, children, and jobs can be exchanged. Beliefs can be rewritten. Can a new world save them from the horrors of the old world?

Have you ever listened to an incredibly beautiful piece of music where the meeting of hope and hopelessness actually made your heart hurt? Ramona Ausubel has written the prose version. As the reader, you know from the beginning that this can only end in tragedy. But the hope of these people and their faith in the world they have created makes a believer out of you as well.

This is, obviously, a novel about the power of story. Story can quite literally change your life. In this case, the story is a little fantastic. While it doesn’t cross over into real magical territory, there is a feeling that things can happen in this created world that might not occur in the normal world. Story becomes a collective history, a way to connect with people in your past and your future.

“Even though you have only been alive a few days, your story, our story, started a long time ago. Ours is a story I know, both the parts I saw with my eyes and the parts I did not. This kind of knowing comes from somewhere in my bones, somewhere in my heart. Someday, your children will ask what happened, and you will tell a new version, and this way, the story will keep living. Truth is not in the facts. The truth is in the telling…”

The characters in this novel are beautifully rendered. Although Lena is the main character, this book is so much about the concept of community and family. Each relationship is beautiful and heartbreaking – parents and children, husbands and wives, lovers new and old, friends and neighbors. Connection has never been more important or more fragile.

No One Is Here Except All of Us is a little bit of poetry and a little bit of magic interwoven with a beautiful story with memorable characters. This tale will make you smile and make you cry, often on the same page. These people and their stories will resonate with your heart for a long time. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wednesdays with David: Skid and the Too Tiny Tunnel

Skid and the Too Tiny Tunnel
By Jeffery Stoddard
Warner Press January 2009
From our shelves


The story: Skid is a tiny tractor among mighty machines. While the big trucks leave each morning to dig out a tunnel between the two towns, Skid is left behind to do menial jobs. When a bulldozer named Pillar tells him that you don't have to be big to be mighty, Skid doesn't believe him. But that very day, a cave-in happens at the work site and Pillar is trapped. The only one who can reach him is tiny Skid. Can he find the courage to save his friend?

Mama opines: This is a great book for kids who are dealing with fear or with being left out by bigger siblings. Skid learns that although he is is small, he can do great things and he can overcome his fears. There are also lots of trucks, which you know makes the heart of my little boy very happy.
The book does have a subtitle with a Bible verse referenced, but there isn't actually any talk of God within the book. So if you are a Bible sort of person, then awesome for you because you can reference the verse when you read with your kid. If you are not of that camp, then read away anyhow! No need to fret.

Thoughts from David: I like it because it has some machines. They really need Skid and sometimes friends get around creepy tunnels, sometimes they even build houses.
Favorite part: I don't have a favorite part. I like it all! 

Take your books and go read outside - it is gorgeous! With love, David and his Mommy

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Review: Another Piece of My Heart

Another Piece of My Heart
By Jane Green
St. Martin's Press March 2012
400 pages
ARC won from Macmillan and Goodreads

Andi has become a well-known fairy tale character: the evil stepmother. But Andi isn’t evil; she is well-loved by her husband Ethan and her stepdaughter Sophia. The only person who finds her evil is her teenage stepdaughter Emily. Their tempestuous relationship threatens to drive Andi to the edge and tear the family apart. When Andi discovers that Emily has a big secret, will it save the fragile family or finally destroy them?

This novel got off to a bit of a rough start for me. It seemed so endlessly clich├ęd – the rebellious teenage daughter, the father who makes excuses for her, and worst of all the ridiculous gay neighbors. Ms. Green quickly establishes the impasse at which Andi and Emily exist. Emily is rude and nasty to her stepmother for no apparent reason, and Ethan tends to side with his precious daughter which of course strains his marriage. The situation is not helped by Ethan’s ex who has partial custody of the girls and is happy to stick her nose into their relationship and disparage Andi. The problem for me was that we lingered in this no man’s land for a little too long. Like Andi, I was seriously considering leaving this relationship. .

Thankfully, the novel does move beyond this. The revelation of Emily’s secret has major ramifications for the family and it has the potential to heal or break them. It made a lot of difference for me when the narrative switched from Andi to Emily. Once we saw things from both points of view, it made it much more accessible for the reader.

While I was tempted early on to write this book off as fluffy, as it progressed it wrestled with a lot of important issues. The stakes become increasingly high and I sat down and finished the book in an afternoon. This book is ultimately about what makes a family – who do you let in and who do you let go? Is family defined by blood or by something deeper? While the story is somewhat predictable, I did find myself thinking about the characters and the issues with which they grapple after I finished reading.

If Jane Green is your girl and you have been waiting to get your hands on this book, fear not! Another Piece of My Heart is released today, March 13! Pick it up at your book-selling establishment of choice. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

It's Monday!

Hello there, fellow bibliophiles! How are you?

I am so excited to announce that the husband's ordination council went really well! The delegates voted unanimously that he should be ordained. So, providing that he doesn't flunk his last semester of grad school and he is called by a church, he will be ordained in May. It was a wonderful day, but gosh we are exhausted. I am hopeful we can take it a little easy today, but with a four year old it might be difficult. 

So I've been doing some reading. Let me tell you about it. 

Read This Week:
No One Is Here Except All of Us
By Ramona Ausubel

Another Piece of My Heart
By Jane Green

Posts from this Past Week:

Coming Up:

The House at Tyneford
By Natasha Solomons

A Novel Bookstore
By Laurence Cosse

What are you reading this week? Comment away! 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Five #1

Hi boys and girls! I've seen this around the bookish interwebs, at cool sites like this one and this one. So I am about to tell you five things that will make your Friday more awesome.

1) I was going to share my thoughts on No One Is Here Except All of Us today...but I'm not. Mostly because this book is painfully good, in that it makes me want to do the ugly cry every time I read it. So I'm reading, but slowly. Check back next week - I will post the review and go out to buy more tissues.

2) The ladies at The Blue Bookcase are asking big important questions with their Literary Blog Hop. Up for this week: How do you find time to read, what's your reading style, and where do you think literature should rank in society's priorities?

3) I want all of the things here! My birthday is next month, people.

4) This article is making me want to go find our old book of  fairy tales and read them again. Those are some amazing and twisted stories.

5) The husband is having his ordination council this Sunday, which basically means that pastors in the denomination ask him questions and vote on whether they think he is ready to become a pastor. Any prayers and good thoughts would be appreciated!

Happy Weekend!

(by Ameilie Rose)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Review: Grace for the Good Girl

Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life
By Emily Freeman
Revell September 2011
221 pages (plus a study guide) 
From my tbr shelf 

If you attend church, then you know this girl. She is the one who volunteers to teach in the Sunday School, brings really good cookies to the potluck and sings in the choir. She doesn’t go out drinking and has never been arrested, but she does have a smile for everyone who comes through the door. She’s the good girl. She seems to have nothing to hide but in her book Grace for the Good Girl, Emily Freeman rips the mask off of the good girl and reveals what is really going on in the hearts of good girls everywhere.

So I read this book because I am basically that girl. My dad? A pastor. My husband? Soon to be a pastor. Me? Basically a good girl. I did go into the book with some reservations, though. I often find in books like this that the point is belabored well past my point of tolerance. But there was no worry necessary here.  Each chapter is well thought-out and important to the premise of her book.

The first part deals with hiding. Ms. Freeman looks at the different things that good girls hide behind: good performance, a sterling reputation, strength and the safety of a comfort zone. Instead of using these tactics, she advocates a four step approach to freedom – receiving the knowledge of God’s salvation, remaining in His love, responding through worship, and remembering to continue these practices regardless of what is going on around you.

Freeman holds nothing back while sharing her own experiences. She admits to the things she hides behind and the ways in which living as a good girl failed to bring her freedom, peace, and happiness.

“Growing up a good girl was natural for me. But there were those times when it was exhausting to try to measure up. Good girls are good listeners. Good girls are always there for everyone. Good girls don’t get mad. Good girls are laid-back. Good girls roll with the punches, go with the flow, follow the leader (as long as the leader is a good girl, of course).
I was a good girl and I wanted to be a good girl, but it often kept me from saying what I really meant. In fact, my desire to be good even kept me from exploring my own opinion, and I grew up to believe that my opinion didn’t actually matter much anyway. I avoided vulnerability for fear of being rejected or being labeled needy. Good girls aren’t needy, they are needed. And so instead of living free, I lived safe.”

This book is written as a small group study, but you can read it alone (as I did). However, I would suggest that you space out the chapters instead of barreling through them in just a few days (as I also did). This is the sort of read that calls for some reflection on your life and the ways in which you can implement the things that you have been reading. If living up to everyone’s expectations and always doing the right thing is not bringing you the peace and happiness you expected it would, this is the book for you. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wednesdays with David: The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Pressure

The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Pressure
By Stan and Jan Berenstain
Random House 1992
From the childhood shelves of the mama

With the very sad passing of Jan Berenstain, it seemed only appropriate that we should share a favorite Berenstain Bears book here with you. These books belonged to my sisters and me as children and I love sharing them with David now.

The story: Brother and Sister Bear are picking up activities faster than Mama Bear can put them on the giant calendar. A day filled with karate, art class, soccer, swimming, and shopping is thwarted by a car on the fritz. What's a busy family to do?

Mama opines: I love the Berenstain Bears books. They are so true to life, and I love their depictions of how a family works. In this book in particular, I am touched by how the children want to help their mama who is at the end of her rope. I appreciate Papa's admission to Brother Bear that even daddies cry sometimes. I love the fact that they can decide as a family that something is not working and then make a plan to fix it together. This series may be a few decades old, but the stories and concepts are timeless.

Thoughts from David: I like it because they do all this stuff and they have the awful schedule! And 'cuz they have a family meeting, that’s my favorite part.

Some of our other favorites are The Berenstain Bears and the Truth, The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers, and The Berenstain Bears and the Trouble with Friends

Do you remember reading these as a child? Do you read them now with your kids? What is your favorite Berenstain Bears book?

Happy Reading from the boy and his mama!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Review: Life of Pi

Life of Pi
By Yann Martel
Mariner Books May 2003
326 pages
From the library 

Piscine “Pi” Patel is a young man living in India with his parents and brother. His days consist of roaming around his father’s zoo and exploring his beliefs about God in his local church, mosque, and temple. When the economy changes for the worse, the Patel family leaves India to start over in Canada. But the ship they are traveling on sinks and Pi is the only human survivor. However, he is not alone. He is joined in the lifeboat by a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

The beginning section of the novel is perhaps rambling, but it is delightful. Pi fills the reader in on his acquired knowledge about the animal kingdom and the strange ways in which different species interact. He also shares his attempts to learn about God through the Christian, Muslim, and Hindu faiths (all at the same time).  His abject terror as the priest, imam, and the pandit converge on him at once is one of the best moments in the book.

Once disaster strikes, the reader is in for the long haul with Pi and his animal companions. I thought Mr. Mantel did a good job with this portion of the novel. While it could have been very boring to have someone abandoned at sea for so long, I was eager to continue turning pages to find out what would happen next. Much of this is due to Pi’s personality. He is resilient in the face of everything that he has gone through.

“Life on a lifeboat isn’t much of a life. It is like an end game in chess, a game with few pieces. The elements couldn’t be more simple, nor the stakes higher. Physically it is extraordinarily arduous, and morally it is killing. You must make adjustments if you want to survive. Much becomes expendable. You get your happiness where you can. You reach a point where you’re at the bottom of hell, yet you have your arms crossed and a smile on your face, and you feel you’re the luckiest person on earth. Why? Because at your feet you have a tiny dead fish.”

The ending of the novel is something that people have strong opinions about. Not wanting to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it, I will just say that personally I wasn’t bothered by it. I found it in sync with the rest of the novel and the questions of story and narrative that Mantel has woven throughout the book.

I really enjoyed reading Life of Pi. Although this is classified as adult fiction, I think it could just as easily be a YA novel. Pi is a teenager, although his concerns (a giant tiger, dying of dehydration, his lifeboat capsizing) are slightly different than most kids his age. Pi Patel is such a great character and the themes explored in the novel – humanity, compassion, faith, and the purpose and form of story – are beautifully told through Mantel’s captivating words. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

It's Monday again...

Hey there, everyone! How are you doing? Did you have a good weekend? We celebrated my dad's birthday on Saturday, which meant lots of food and lots of laughing. After church on Sunday, we had a quiet afternoon/evening of playing Trouble, reading, napping, and enjoying homemade mac and cheese. On to the books!

Read This Week:

Flappers and Philosophers
By F. Scott Fitzgerald

Life of Pi
By Yann Martell

Grace for the Good Girl
By Emily P. Freeman

Posts From This Week:

Coming Up:

No One Is Here Except All Of Us
By Ramona Aushbel

Another Piece of My Heart
By Jane Green

Leave me a comment and tell me about your weekend shenanigans and what you are reading! Happy Monday! 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Review: The Baker's Daughter

The Baker's Daughter
By Sarah McCoy
Crown January 2012
304 pages
From the library

Hey boys and girls! Check out my review of The Baker's Daughter at my column of The Atlantic Highlands Herald. Yes, I am a terribly fancy book review columnist for the online newspaper of my hometown. Try not to be so jealous. Scurry on over there, read away, and then go out and have a fantastic weekend! 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

February Wrapup

Alas, my friends, February is over. Time to see how many books we read in the last twenty nine days!

Books Reviewed: 9
Pages Read: 3212
Fiction/Non-Fiction: 9/0
Female authors/male authors: 5/4
Lindsey's favorite of the month: A Room With a View

Books reviewed with David: 5
David's favorite of the month: The Velveteen Rabbit

This has been a sort of a bummer month for me. I read lot of books that I liked, but I didn't read any that knocked my socks off. So tell me, what was the best book you read in February?