Sunday, February 28, 2010

Book Review -- The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My earliest memories include twirling around in my front yard in a blue floral dress with a tutu-like skirt. Jeannette Walls’ first memories are of being engulfed in flames at the age of 3, after her tutu catches fire while she is cooking hot dogs (unsupervised) on the stove. Oh how different our lives were.

Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle is a mind-blowing look at her parents, siblings and childhood. Rex and Rose Mary Walls are not your typical parents – they are essentially gypsies, living out of their car and various rental homes in multiple cities as they avoid whatever demons – or most likely, police – are chasing them. Rex is brilliant, but an alcoholic, Rose Mary, is a woman with amazing talent, but can’t overcome her depression battles. Jeannette and her siblings are left to parent themselves – in the desert, on the streets, in homes meant to be condemned. They are often without food, clothing and shelter – living under rubber rafts to keep themselves dry from leaks in the ceiling and eating sticks of margarine in order to survive. Somehow Jeannette and her siblings endure childhood and a rag-tag education to become functioning and successful adults.

Reading this book was like watching a car wreck – so morbid, you need to look away, but ultimately you find yourself staring (or in this case reading) at the dreadfulness of it all. I was amazed at the survival instincts of these siblings – and what made them so different than others who, in similar circumstances, don’t break free from the cycle of poverty, alcoholism and abuse. I was also impressed that this wasn’t a “Mommy Dearest” tell-all. Ms. Walls accepts her parents for who they were – she does not point fingers or assign blame – but looks at their struggles, addictions and circumstances. Although highly dysfunctional, this was a family who, in their own way, genuinely loved each other.

For the sensitive reader: This book contains some language and sexual situations.

Book source: used book store.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Kelly Corrigan's Lift

One of my reading highlights last year was Kelly Corrigan's The Middle Place. Her newest book, Lift, will be released on Tuesday, March 2nd. It's a collection of letters for her daughters...I can't wait.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sugar Winners!


Shawnta and Amused!! (All qualifiying names were written on paper, put in a brown paper bag, and drawn by my husband -- very old fashioned, but official!)

Thanks again to Ms. McFadden for providing me with the giveaway copies.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Book Groups -- A Week in Review

I’ve managed TWO book groups this week – Mother/Daughter book group on Tuesday. Big Love book group last night.

Last month, I was fairly crestfallen after m/d book group – it appeared to be the beginning of the end. I posed the question after our discussion if they wanted to continue, and surprisingly, I received a resounding YES. Tuesday night, even though we were still small in number, I could tell that this is something – both mothers and daughters – love. The commitment carried over to the fact that our host mom, didn’t even have her daughter their! She had committed to a show with her dad, and forgotten about book group. The mom was still willing to host us all even if she was sans daughter. Once again, the girls loved this book. I thought it was interesting that they talked more about situations than the actual book – whether they had been to a play – what Christmas traditions did they have – it was a very dynamic discussion. I’m much more optimistic that our m/d book group will survive. We even plan on meeting through the summer. One mom even said, “Oh, yes, I think they will miss it if we don’t meet.” Love the love.

Since we were done with Betsy-Tacy – the girls had to come up with suggestions for our future books. After a very democratic vote – the girls decided on:

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (Description: When suburban Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, she knows she doesn't just want to run from somewhere she wants to run to somewhere--to a place that is comfortable, beautiful, and preferably elegant. She chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Knowing that her younger brother, Jamie, has money and thus can help her with the serious cash flow problem she invites him along. Once settled into the museum, Claudia and Jamie, find themselves caught up in the mystery of an angel statue that the museum purchased at an auction for a bargain price of $250. The statue is possibly an early work of the Renaissance master Michelangelo, and therefore worth millions. Is it? Or isn't it? Claudia is determined to find out. This quest leads Claudia to Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the remarkable old woman who sold the statue and to some equally remarkable discoveries about herself).

This is one of my husband’s all time favorite books – so we may have a daddy included in next month’s mother/daughter meeting. I was hoping for something a little more “brief” since this comes in between my fundraiser and spring break and my reading hours are non-existent – but it’s all about the girls!

Our Big Love Book group was a surprising success! And I don’t mean to imply that our other meetings are failures – but 20 minutes before our meeting, our book discussion designate called to inform me that her husband was stuck at work and she couldn’t make it! Yikes! Unfortunately for us, we weren’t able to benefit from K’s discussion preparation; however, we were lucky that in the library kit we used, they had prepared discussion topics and author info for us! Whew! No last minute GOOGLE searches on Roald Dahl! This was a fascinating, but creepy book. One where you ponder, “what happened in his childhood that he could create such freaky stories?” And I mentioned in my brief book review that I wasn’t sure what we would really talk about – but trying to ponder and discuss such twisted storytelling really was verbally stimulating.

Our next book is These Is My Words by Nancy Turner. I read this book last year and LOVED IT!! I’m not going to be at our next meeting because we will be on our way to Washington DC for spring break, so I’m glad we selected a book I’ve already read. I think I will try to “conference call” into book group from the road!

It was a great literary week.

Today marks the TWO WEEK mark until my fundraiser! The quote, “what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger,” certainly is appropriate!!

Book Review -- Skin and other stories

Skin and Other Stories Skin and Other Stories by Roald Dahl

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Snakes nursing from cows, husbands whacked by legs of lamb, diamonds found in intestines – you’ll find all of this and more macabre writing in Roald Dahl’s short story collection, Skin and other stories. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book – but it was much more entertaining, in a creepy kind of way, than I thought it would be. I must admit, I skimmed several of the stories, due to my overwhelming work load at the moment. However, his writing left you wanting more of the story and less at the same time. It also proved to be a wonderful book discussion!! I thought, “There is nothing in this book to talk about…” boy was I wrong! I’m not a short story reader, but this format is something I plan on reading again.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Book Reivew -- Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown (Betsy-Tacy) Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once again, Betsy and Tacy exceeded expectations!

In what I would call the final installment of the “childhood” portion of this series, “Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown” – the girls are now 12 years old and, according to them, “all grown up.”

Their escapades continue – riding in a horseless carriage (a car!), beguiling their new friend, Winona, going to the theatre, befriending an unexpected companion, acting on stage and discovering a long, lost relative!

So many things to adore in this book! For those who love the theatre (a paramount requirement in our family!) there are several chapters on that theme. Do you enjoy Christmas traditions? A chapter on that. A love of the library and all things literary? Betsy is euphoric when she is allowed to go the library ALONE every other Saturday. She also blossoms into a poet and writer. The relationship between Mrs. Poppy and Betsy is one of particular importance. It shows how mercy and compassion can transcend the difference between age, cultural upbringing and social status. A sweet, sweet book. If you read only one Betsy book this is the one to read.

My daughter’s favorite part: “…acting on stage! I want to do that when I grow up!” She is a closet theatre geek – she’s been going to theatre since she was 4. Her first musical, Annie. I hope she will audition some day!

Our mother/daughter book group meets tomorrow night for our discussion. This is the final Betsy-Tacy book for us. We will be picking a new series/author/theme for March.

Any good ideas/recommendations?? And something short? March is Spring Break!

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Author Interview: Bernice McFadden and Giveaway!

Andy Warhol is quoted as saying, “everyone will have 15 minutes of fame.” Mine came and went with my quote in the New York Times calling Kathryn Stockett’s novel, The Help, racist. I’ve since replied to those who sent me “dislike” mail (we aren’t allowed to say hate in our house!) that it was my “Joe Biden” moment. Probably not the best word to describe her novel, but it was a heat of the moment rant. However, I still detested the novel and felt a white author’s portrayal of African American “help” offensive and totally lacking credibility. But what I am thankful for is The Help put me on a journey to read more African American authors who are credible voices for African American experiences.

A few weeks ago, I reviewed Sugar, by Bernice McFadden (the 1st in a year long journey to pump up my African American literary IQ). I adored Sugar and said, “…this book will envelop you and break your heart.” What I didn’t expect was for Ms. McFadden to visit Gerbera Daisy Diaries and quote me on her own blog!

Thus began an email chat that has developed into an author interview, book giveaway, and a dinner invitation next time she is in my state! Like manna from heaven!

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of Sugar’s publication, Ms. McFadden agreed to a “chat” and offered TWO signed copies for a giveaway.

Melissa Mc: Sugar was your 1st book, how long had Pearl and Sugar been cohabitating in your imagination before they were put on paper? Were they based on real people and experiences?

Ms. McFadden: Sugar started as a poem back in the late 80’s. Eventually, I expanded the poem into a short story. I was writing short stories back then. I had no idea that I had an entire novel in me. When I felt I was ready to make the leap from short fiction, it was SUGAR that begged me to tell her story and so I did. I do think that many parts of the novel were fostered by stories I’d heard told around my grandparent’s dining room table.

Melissa Mc: As an Arkansan, one of the things that initially attracted me to the book was the locale. Why Arkansas? Unless you are Maya Angelou, Arkansas is not the most popular locations for literature!

Ms. McFadden: Honestly, I had no idea why I chose Arkansas! When I was writing SUGAR I had no idea that the town of Bigelow actually existed. I never checked I just pulled a name out of my mind and went with it. It wasn’t until I received a letter from a reader who actually grew up in Bigelow, Arkansas that I knew it was a real place.

Melissa Mc: This book involves a cast full of women, all of whom are violently opposed to Sugar taking up residence. In a broader sense, why do we as women have a tendency to feel threatened by someone so different? I have a 9 year old daughter, and I already see defensive, suspicious tendencies between her and her peers (luckily, not quite on the scale as Sugar, Shirley and the rest!).

Ms. McFadden: We, meaning men and women, are territorial, just like animals; it is a part of our DNA. But I do feel that women react a bit more aggressively then men when a so-called outsider invades their space and threatens to shake things up. Especially if the outsider is more attractive and interesting than they perceive themselves to be.

Melissa Mc: From what I have read, your road to becoming an author took you through corporate America, Fashion College and travel/tourism school ---were you a “writer in hiding” during those years?

Ms. McFadden: I’ve been writing every since I could read. And I started reading very early. At the age of nine I distinctly remember announcing to my mother that when I grew up I was going to be a famous writer. But that dream drifted away for a number of years because at that time there was no literature available written by many” living” African-American writers, and so naturally I thought that it would be improbable that I would be given the opportunity to publish. By the time I was in my early twenties, that had changed and there was a plethora of African-American authors to choose from. This reignited me and I began writing and submitting stories, but no one would publish them. I received 78 rejection letters for SUGAR over nearly a 10-year period before I finally secured an agent and consequently a book deal.

Melissa Mc: What is your writing routine? Do you write at a set time everyday or when the mood hits?

Ms. McFadden: For many years I only wrote at night, but now I write whenever the characters call on me, and that can be at any hour of the day or night. I do not write everyday, but I do have writing marathons where I work for three days straight or until I am completely exhausted. After that I may not write another word for weeks.

Melissa Mc: What authors inspire you and what books do you recommend for those unfamiliar with African American literature? (Especially those of us who are trying to find an alternative to The Help.)

Ms. McFadden: I am a fan of a many writers, but I would have to say that I have been greatly influenced by Toni Morrison, Gayle Jones, J. California Cooper and Gloria Naylor. I would direct those readers looking for well thought out, compelling and moving stories that range in scope from literary to contemporary novels written by writers of colors to seek out authors such as Donna Hill, Dolen Perkins -Valdez, Carleen Brice , Bonnie Glover, The writing duo Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant, Elizabeth Nunez, Connie Briscoe and Tina McElroy Ansa.

Melissa Mc: Can you tell us about Glorious your latest novel?

Ms. McFadden: This arguably the 90th anniversary of the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance and Glorious is my tribute to that magical era in American History. It is a historical fiction and so readers of GLORIOUS will meet some of the major figures that helped shape that period.

Glorious is set against the backdrops of the Jim Crow South, the Harlem Renaissance, and the civil rights era. Blending the truth of American history with the fruits of Bernice L. McFadden’s rich imagination, this is the story of Easter Venetta Bartlett, a fictional Harlem Renaissance writer whose tumultuous path to success, ruin, and revival offers a candid portrait of the American experience in all its beauty and cruelty.

Glorious is ultimately an audacious exploration into the nature of self-hatred, love, possession, ego, betrayal, and, finally, redemption. Glorious will be published on May 1st, but is available for pre-order .

Thank you Ms. McFadden! This has been a delight!

As I said, Ms. McFadden is offering TWO signed copies of Sugar to TWO lucky readers! To enter this giveaway, just leave a comment with a valid e-mail address AND become a follower. To double your chances, you can blog about this giveaway with a link back to this post. This giveaway will be open until Saturday, February 20th at 11:59 p.m. CST; and I will notify the winners the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. mailing addresses only. Good luck!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Book Review -- Murder at Longbourn

Murder at Longbourn: A Mystery Murder at Longbourn: A Mystery by Tracy Kiely

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Poor Elizabeth Parker – being alone on New Year’s Eve sucks. So much so, she has taken her great Aunt Winnie’s offer to come to her B&B -- the Inn at Longbourn -- on the Cape. There she will help her aunt stage a “Dinner/Murder Mystery” for her guests. But before the evening is over, something will go horribly wrong -- after the lights go on, a guest is found murdered! And it’s none other than the village’s most hated resident – Gerald Ramsey. All of the guests are suspects, and Elizabeth must play detective before the police accuse her aunt of the crime.

Tracy Kiely’s first novel, Murder at Longbourn is billed for “the die-hard fan of Jane Austen novels…” Other than the main character’s name, she being in search of her own “Mr. Darcy”, the Inn being named after the Bennett’s residence in Pride and Prejudice, and a poorly written pas de deux between Elizabeth and despised friend, Peter McGowan – I found absolutely NO similarities between this novel and ANYTHING Ms. Austen has ever written.

The mystery was also weakly drawn. After the crime has occurred, the police question the guests, find the murder weapon in the cat bed, and go on their merry way, admonishing the guests, “not to go anywhere.” Maybe I’ve watched too many CSI episodes, but can’t officers test for gun powder residue immediately?? I would think, in my TV trained mind, that a murder suspect could have been instantly apprehended the night of the event. But, alas, we are drawn into a nonsensical tale of real estate obsession, family discord, and a case of mistaken identity, that is really laughable. Oh, and the clich├ęs in the book are mind numbing. The best in the whole book was at the end, when the police arrive at another potential crime scene and they shout, “Police! Nobody move!” Now that was original.

I think I would have been more forgiving of this book, if at the very least, the romance was believable. I’m a sucker for romantic tension and lovers realizing they are meant for each other after all. But, nothing in this romance was, well, romantic.

With this book, I’ve finally given up on reading Austen-knockoff lit. I haven’t found anything that is worth my while. If you have any recommendations, please advise.

I received this book as a “giveaway” from Stephanie’s Written Word. In keeping with how I received this book, I would be HAPPY to giveaway my “gently read” hard back, author signed, copy of this book. Just leave a comment about your experience with Austen knock off lit. I will pick a recipient using on Valentine’s Day – Feb. 14th at 11pm CST. Please leave an email so I know how to contact you.

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Theatre Review -- Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Sex. Lies. Secrets.

Sounds like some 21st century reality TV program.

But, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, by Tennessee Williams was written in 1955 over a half a century before reality TV made it acceptable to air such personal behaviors.

The Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s production of Cat, once again reminds us that sex, lies and secrets are a timeless human condition.

As they gather to celebrate “Big Daddy” Pollitt’s (Joe Vincent) birthday, the Pollitt family is suffering through their own set of sex, lies and secrets. Brick (Michael Ellison) and Maggie (Trista Moldovan) are distressed over the condition of their deteriorating marriage (sex). Big Mama (Kathleen Doyle) and Big Daddy are buoyant at his recent medical diagnosis (lie). Son Gooper (Brian Wallace) and daughter in law, Mae (Amy Tribbey) are tormented to think they will be left out of the family will, and ultimately, control of the family’s vast Mississippi Delta estate (secret & lie).

Trista, although stunning, is a burdensome Maggie. Her character must carry nearly the entire first act, and it takes much effort for her to do so. An initial reaction is, “when will she ever stop talking?” As a self described “cat” Maggie is expected to be lithesome and slinky. Trista’s Maggie is clunky and slow. Unfortunately, she is burdened with the images of her on screen predecessors, Elizabeth Taylor and Natalie Wood. Michael is a substantial Brick, the former football star turned alcoholic. However, Brick must limp around stage with an ankle cast and single crutch. It would be blasphemous to fault the legendary playwright Tennessee Williams for writing the character with such an impediment (the crutch being a metaphor for his alcoholism, perhaps? Or being emasculated by his wife? Or clinging to his belief that he is heterosexual?), but it was so distracting to watch Brick hobble and jump around stage, that no one got to see the Brick fraught by guilt, anger and shame.

The second act is energized by Joe Vincent’s “Big Daddy.” He is pompous, arrogant, irreverent and damn funny. As he forces Brick into a “Father/Son talk,” Big Daddy shares more than enough information about his feelings (or lack thereof) for his family members, including Big Mama. Kathleen Doyle as Big Mama, is a true southern lady – trying to serve her husband, children and grandchildren. And she isn’t too “big” or over bearing, fluidly accepting her secondary marital role. Another second act surprise is the performance of Brian Wallace’s Gooper, the older but always neglected son. Gooper is grasping franticly, at not only the family estate, but for love and recognition from his parents. Amy Tribbey is a stoic wife, and is his staunchest supporter, fighting to the end to see that Gooper gets what he deserves – and raising his five “no neck monsters” in the process.

Mike Nicholl’s stage is stunning – oozing southern humidity and decadence.

The Rep’s production must be seen. It is raw and gritty. It explores a damaged, dysfunctional family that is far superior to any reality TV.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof from Arkansas Repertory Theatre on Vimeo.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof runs February 5 – February 21
Wednesday curtain 7 p.m
Thursday, Friday, Saturday curtain 8 p.m
Sunday curtain 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Added performance, Tuesday, Feb 16th @ 7pm

Single ticket prices start at $20. Discount rates are available for groups of 10 or more. To purchase tickets, buy online or call The Rep Box Office at (501)378-0405 or 1-866-6THEREP.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Tales from the Infirmary

I'm home sick with a fever, severe chills, sore throat and achy ears. I can't even keep my head up long enough to read a book!