Friday, April 30, 2010

Last Day for Book Giveaway!

Don't forget to become a follower, leave a comment and contact email to have a chance at Norris Church Mailer's memoir, A Ticket to the Circus -- deadline tonight!

A great American love story, this warm, funny, revealing memoir introduces the world to Norman Mailer’s greatest inspiration, his wife of more than thirty years. Like Zelda Fitzgerald before her, Norris Church Mailer has led a life as large and as colorful as her husband’s—and every bit as engaging.Growing up a strict Free Will Baptist in the South of the 1950s, Norris Church, christened Barbara Jean Davis, was crowned “Little Miss Little Rock” at the age of three and always knew that life had more to offer her than the comforts of small-town Arkansas. But she could never have guessed that in her early twenties she would date future president Bill Clinton (and predict his national victory even after he lost his first run for Congress), or that the following year she would meet Norman Mailer, who was passing through town giving a lecture at the local college. They fell in love in one night—and their marriage lasted thirty-three years. Despite her enduring love for the man, Norris found life with the writer full of challenges—from carving out her own niche in the wake of five ex-wives and numerous former girlfriends, to easing her way into the hearts of her seven stepchildren, to negotiating the ferocious world of Mailer’s fame, friends, and literary life. The couple’s New York parties were legendary, and their social circle included such luminaries as Muhammad Ali, Jacqueline Kennedy, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, and Imelda Marcos. Their decades-long obsession with each other, as seen in the intimate letters that Norris reveals here for the first time, was not without tests and infidelities; theirs was a marriage full of friendship, betrayal, doubts, understanding, and deep, complicated, lifelong passion.With southern charm and wit, Norris Church Mailer depicts the full evolution of her life, from her childhood all the way through her intense marriage with Norman and his heartbreaking death. This unforgettable memoir will enchant readers with its honesty and insight into how we grow up and how we love.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bedtime Stories

Another church night, another "Mommy gets to read bed time stories for the kids." And another HUGE HIT in the picture book department.

This time it's -- How to Train with a T-Rex and Win Eight Gold Medals by Michael Phelps and Alan Abrahamson.

From School Library Journal: Grade 1–4—A champion at the 2008 Beijing Olympics explains the training schedule that allowed him to accomplish the first-of-its-kind feat of winning eight Olympic gold medals. Comparisons are made that put miles swum, naps taken, calories eaten, weights lifted, etc., into a context that youngsters might more easily understand. For example, his six years of training (from 1998 to 2003) are described as "a kindergartner's whole life!" or "the same as 42 dog years!" Digitally rendered artwork humorously depicts the action, making the book visually appealing. Providing an overview of an Olympian's rigorous preparations, this picture book may be useful for parents or coaches attempting to inspire children.—Maryann H. Owen, Racine Public Library, WI

I picked this up primarily because my 4 year old is OBSESSED with dinosaurs. We have dinosaur everything in our house at the moment. He even compares his bodily functions to dinosaurs, "Mom, I think I have a dinosaur poop!" OK, too much information, but you get the point.

Needless to say, Michael Phelp's book is less about dinosaurs and more about the hours, months and years he put into training for the 2008 Olympics. It's really a mathematical book too -- likening how many miles he swam to how many trips it would take to go back and forth from his home town to the North Pole. He does work dinosaurs into it though -- that over his training he basically leg pressed the equivalent of 1 T-Rex and 10 Velociraptors. That's amazing stuff!!

This is a highly creative and clever book.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Book Review -- Glorious

Glorious (Johnny Temple) Glorious by Bernice L. McFadden

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One thing I’ve learned from reading Bernice McFadden’s works – she doesn’t write about bunnies, rainbows or cotton candy: She takes you to the bottom of the well, lets you roll around in the muck, leaves you waiting for a life line, then brings you back up slowly, so at the end, you are desperate for sunshine.

In Glorious, Easter Bartlett travels a similar journey – one full of racial hatred and brutality – all the while searching for sunshine. After surviving a brutal childhood and traversing the South and other transitory destinations, she arrives in Harlem at the dawn of the Harlem Renaissance, where her writing talent is discovered and revered by other literary giants of the times. Ultimately, her talent is used against her, and Easter’s future is forever altered. In the twilight of her life, she returns to the pre-Civil Rights South, in hopes that past injustices will be rectified.

Bernice McFadden is a beautiful writer. I was transported back to Harlem and could touch the brownstone buildings and smell the earthiness of the streets. Early in the book, her description of a lynching was so vivid, it brought tears to my eyes. However, I had a hard time connecting with some of the characters. Easter was never tangible to me. I understood her pain, but never felt it. Easter’s relationships with many of the other characters were equally distant. And the love triangle between Rain, Meredith and herself was uncomfortable for me. I just didn’t get it. Also, I loved Easter’s time in Harlem – I loved learning more about the leaders of that era. I just wish there had been more of it.

Finally, Bernice really hit stride at the close of the book. Easter’s final years, after her return to the South, are truly poetic.

Once again, white-literary revisionist history has been turned upside down, thanks to Bernice McFadden – and she does a Glorious job.

Sensitive reader: Contains graphic sexual and racial violence; homosexual situations as well.

Book source: received a copy from the author (was not paid or supplemented in any way for my review).

This book qualifies for my Women Unbound reading challenge

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bedtime Stories

Traditionally, my husband is the one to read bedtime stories with the kids. It's his time, after being at work all day, to sit and commune with his children. I'm usually cleaning the post dinner disaster in the kitchen or folding the 500th load of laundry. Since I work at the library, I'm always the one picking out the picture books, but very rarely do I ever read them. Occasionally he will report back with, "that was a really good one" or "don't ever get that one again."

Tonight, however, he was at church meetings, so I was treated to the funniest book ever!

I Always Always Get My Way by Thad Krasnesky

From School Library Journal
PreS—Three-year-old Emmy wreaks havoc on her entire household. From spilling orange juice on Daddy at breakfast, to adorning her brother's pet iguana in a bathing suit and letting the bathtub overflow, she's got curiosity and mayhem covered. Krasnesky tells the story with flowing rhyme that accommodates the humor of the plot and heightens Parkins's comical cartoon illustrations. "I tiptoed into Tommy's room/and found a way to use the broom/to get the lizard off the shelf,/entirely all by myself." As the star of this story gets into different sticky situations, she continually responds with the adage that "I'm only three," so not much should be expected of her. While her mother seems to respond to the little devil's helpless plea, it isn't long before things snowball and Emmy finds herself in a serious time-out.—Adrienne Wilson, Edith Wheeler Memorial Library, Monroe, CT

I think why this hit my funny bone is -- we have our very own "Emmy!" Emmy, in our case, is our youngest son. How often do I find myself saying EXACTLY the same things to my older kids as the mother in this picture book does to hers -- often with the refrain, "he is only THREE!" (Now recently turned 4, but somehow the excuse still spews out of my mouth.)

The illustrations are equally delightful. A perfect tickler before bedtime.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

April Mother Daughter Book Group

Tonight, we hosted mother/daughter book group. This was the LAST thing I needed today. I was so not looking forward to it -- even secretly wishing all of the moms/daughters would cancel: I worked today, had to get Daisy daughter and her friend to and from dance class, my 2 boys to baseball games, clean house, finish the book, and put on a smiling face for our guests. As it turns out, it was EXACTLY what I needed -- Daisy daughter prepared excellent questions and for the first time, the girls took the discussion seriously (I think they are getting the hang of it)! Normally they are a little bit silly acting, but it was a thorough discussion tonight. Who knew Nancy Drew would be so thought provoking -- even for the moms!

Of all the books we've now read as a group -- this was my least favorite.

The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew, #1)

I remember staying up all night finishing The Secret of the Old Clock in 3rd grade. It was the 1st time I ever pulled an all-nighter. However, 30+ years later, it didn't quite have the same affect. Where the Betsy-Tacy books were old fashioned and nostalgic, Nancy Drew seemed dated and clich├ęd. Although, it really doesn't matter what I think, the girls loved the book. One thing I learned during out discussion is Carolyn Keene, the author of the Nancy Drew series, is really a pseudonym for a bunch of authors that wrote the series. Maybe that is why it was so formulaic.

Next month we are reading book 1 of the Ivy & Bean series by Annie Barrows.

Then we've committed to meet during the summer once school is out (I'm so excited!). I think we are going to read
Beezus and Ramona in preparation for the movie, which opens in July. And just in case you hadn't heard, Beverly Cleary, author of the Ramona series (and SO MUCH MORE) celebrated her 94th birthday last week! So, you should treat yourself to a Beverly Cleary book in the near future.

And for our special treat I made this:

Caramel Banana Tiramisu Recipe from Marzetti

It was delicious -- however -- please do not soak the ladyfingers in OJ!! It was a sloppy mess. Omit that one thing, and it would have been perfect. Although, I would change out ladyfingers for vanilla wafers too. It would have been more like a traditional banana pudding. And you need 2 containers of cool whip - one to add to the pudding mixture, one for the topping.

It was a perfect ending -- to a not so perfect day.

Book source: public library

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Guest Book Review -- Percy Jackson and the Olypmpians: The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #1) The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Guest post by Daisy Dad

I am not a blogger. I am not a prolific reader like my wife. Most times I would rather watch the movie than read the book (I know – sacrilege!) and then if the movie is good I will have the best intentions to go back and read the book, but 9 times out of 10 I will not. I always tease my wife about starting a book club for men where we pick a book and instead of reading it we would watch the movie remake instead. Any husbands out there want to start? I digress. Anyway, I will confess that I have only read a few books since my dearly beloved Harry Potter series ended with a flourish of warm fuzzes in Deathly Hallows. It was very hard to pick up a book or a book series that so completely captured my imagination that I had completely lost interest in reading. I tried Wally Lamb (one of my favorites) but it is still on the shelf. I read a great book about the Southern Italian Mafia – but non-fiction doesn’t count. So when my wife said she did not have the time to read Percy Jackson and the Olympians – The Lighting Thief – to see if it was appropriate for our 9 year old to read, I reluctantly agreed.

First let me say, Percy ain’t no Harry and Rick Riordan ain’t no J.K. but I reluctantly enjoyed the book. Mr. Riordan creates a world that seems real – one that could co-exist within our own reality – something that Hogwarts does not. As Percy learns of his true identity with the aid of his friend Grover, the historic framework of the Greek gods and a possible scenario of how they are more than just myths and how their actual existence could explain many current events were intriguing to me. Yes, this is Juvenile literature but one with a sophisticated edge. Could the Greek gods be just that, Gods? Of course the more you think about it the more farfetched it becomes, but if you let down your BSmeter just for a little while, Mr. Riordan weaves some interesting theories about the continued existence of Zeus and his brothers and sisters.

This cross country adventure is not without its faults. At times it is too cinematic (and no, I have not seen the movie). Too often when filmmakers use real places and they take license to manipulate the reality of those real places, it becomes harder to believe. Let me just say the scene in the St. Louis Arch is a little farfetched – even for a filmmaker. I also wished that I had a better grasp of the Greek gods and heroes. I think a refresher course (or an introductory course for younger readers) would only make this book more enjoyable and even culturally stimulating – for older or younger readers. I remember enjoying D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths as a youth and will be having my father send it to me so my daughter can be a bit more familiar with some of the mythology that is introduced.

There is one event in the book that, even though it is resolved to the good in the end, may be a bit disturbing for young readers. So, without spoiling it for you, why don’t you read it too before you let the young one read it. You will enjoy it. I am off to start #2 – The Sea Monsters.

Don’t worry Harry, I still like you better!

Book source: personal copy

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Book Review -- The Wives of Henry Oades

The Wives of Henry Oades The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

If I’m ever abducted by Maori natives in New Zealand, my husband better spend more than one or two fictional pages looking for me!

Henry Oades has moved his family from England to New Zealand and wife Martha is none too excited to be living in Oz. Once there, out of nowhere, she and her children are abducted by Maoris – something the reader is supposed to innately understand, because author, Johanna Moran, offeres NO historical background for why these natives would do such a thing, other than the assumption that it is commonplace -- or to carry out the stereotype: white man = good; natives = bad. From there Henry puts forth what reads like a feeble search, gives up, then boats himself off to American. Meanwhile, Martha, survives the abduction, becomes a respected midwife, and is released, all within a few pages. Henry re-marries Nancy; Martha finds her way to California, and believe it or not, finds Henry and his new wife. Thus ensues a very awkward love triangle, a community that is accusing them of bigamy, and worse – that they are MORMONS!

The first 30 pages of this book were really good and intrigued me. But soon thereafter, the wheels came off the bus. None of the situations seemed adequately developed; the transitions between the abduction, the search, Henry’s relocation, Martha’s captivity and release were abrupt and left me thinking, “huh?” I never once felt anything for these characters – except possibly Martha. You had to have sympathy for someone who has been abducted, escaped, crossed the ocean, only to learn that her husband is married to another woman. And to make matters worse, her husband didn't even seem to care that she was alive. Nancy, Henry’s newest wife, was whiny and annoying. Why Martha didn’t slap her from the onset still baffles me.

The legal battles the Oades had to fight at the end of the book were equally awkward. With Henry facing trial AGAIN for bigamy (isn’t double jeopardy a constitutional right even then?), the attorneys argue, cross examine, the judge rules, and Henry’s future is decided all in 2 pages. Surely the author could have spent more time developing this crucial scene. After reading this passage my first thought was, “that sure was easy.”

The Wives of Henry Oades was a disappointing read. That’s the best I can do for this book.

For a completely different review of this book, please read Suey at It's All About Books.

Book source: private purchase

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Announcing the Wolf Hall Read Along!

What do you do when you have a book so long you can't possibly read it without feeling defeated before the 1st page?? You find a friend with the same book, commit to 100 pages a week, set a deadline, and hopefully both succeed reading it and enjoying the discussion along the way!

That is what Leah at Amused By Books and I have done! Both of us received Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel for Christmas. The book has languished on our shelves staring us down like a rabid dog, taunting us to read it.

So here we go -- our first ever Read Along! Please join us! Our official kick off date is May 1st -- and we are giving everyone who wants to participate the WHOLE month of May to finish by May 31st.

We will report back each Wednesday (hence Wolf Hall Wednesdays) with commentary and questions between me and Leah. Our goal is to read 100 pages per week or 17 pages a day. Whew -- it makes me sweat just thinking about it.

We hope more will join us -- it will be much more fun that way.

Wolf Hall: A Novel

Monday, April 12, 2010

Book Give-a-way!

All I can say is, it pays to read the paper.

I have read numerous reviews of Norris Church Mailer's memoir, A Ticket to the Circus, including yesterday's New York Times Book Review. As a small town Arkansas girl who went on to marry Pulitzer Prize winning author, Norman Mailer, and live a life very few of us experience, I knew this book would be the latest addition to my Goodreads list.

So this morning as I finished my morning rounds at the library, I thumbed through the paper and noticed in "Paper Trails," a local column about the goings on in Little Rock and the surrounding area, that Ms. Mailer (known as Barbara Jean here locally) was signing books at our bookstore 3 blocks away!! Oh my gosh!

I pawned my kids off on a girlfriend, went to the bookstore and waited for this --

Ms. Mailer reading from her book.

Then I asked a patron to take a picture of us both -- for some reason she didn't wait for me to turn around, so this is what I got:

In honor of her appearance in Little Rock, I am offering a giveaway of Ms. Mailer's AUTOGRAPHED book, A Ticket to the Circus.

A Ticket to the Circus: A Memoir

To enter, you must currently BE a follower or BECOME a follower and leave a comment and your email in the message so I can contact you should you win. The giveway will be open through Friday, April 30th at 10pm CDT.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Book Review -- The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games (Hunger Games, #1) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First there was Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Then Twilight (do I need to mention by who?!). Most recently The Help. Three wildly successful, ├╝berpopular novels that I absolutely hated. I thought The Hunger Games was going to be the fourth. It didn’t end up that way, but I still have my reservations about the novel.

Panem is some post-apocalyptic version of North America. The region is divided into “districts” with a CAPITOL ruling them all. There used to be 13 districts, now only 12 – those silly rebels in district 13 got what was coming to them when they tried to revolt and were blown to bits. As a result, the CAPITOL decideded to create The HUNGER GAMES to punish the remaining districts by selecting two teenagers (tributes) from each to perform in the gladiator-like ritual where the goal is to KILL each other and survive to the end. Yeah, that’s it – teenagers killing each other in a vast arena that is televised nationally. Takes bullying to a whole new level.

I’ll save the summary of the entire book, for fear of spoilers, but here is my take:

• The thought of these kids killing each other for sport for the sake of a festival for the “country” was hard for me to swallow. I had a really hard time getting over the premise of this book.

• Once I got to section II “Games” I could see why this is immensely popular: Author Suzanne Collins has created two highly appealing characters – Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Melark. Their relationship and the way they out wit, out maneuver, and defend themselves is contagious. You can’t help but keep cheering for them – even if you are continually reminded that, “oh great, another 12 year old was murdered.”

• I was highly annoyed at the use of the word CAPITOL. Didn’t anyone tell her that CAPITAL with an A is used for a region and CAPITOL with an O is used for an actual building? Her use of CAPITOL was always (correct me if I’m wrong) used for a region – so I guess her editor had reasons for it. It bugged me and was distracting.

• The ending was predictable. I can’t say why, because, well, SPOILERS.

Once again, I’ve been the naysayer against popular opinion. I’m not sure I would recommend this book to others, but luckily I don’t have to, since others have already done if for me. Also, I’m not sure I’m that eager to read books two, and eventually three. If the “death match” with teenagers continues, I think I will find something else to read. Call me a curmudgeon.

Summation: I read it to the end, so I liked it enough to see it through, but not enough to possibly continue the series.

Book source: borrowed a copy from a friend.

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Let me interrupt this programming...

To wish my baby a Happy 4th Birthday! And it's not an April Fool's joke!

My youngest started out life like this:

At 12:09am on April 1, 2006, he was immediately rushed to our local children's hospital because of a congenital heart defect -- Tetralogy of Fallot. He was monitored there for 3 days to make sure he was stable before we could bring him home.

5 weeks later, he looked like this:

He had open heart surgery at 5 weeks, and was hospitalized for two. We nearly lost him immediately after surgery, due to "post-op" complications. After 48 hours of Hell, he turned the corner.

Now he is this:

As a parent, you never LOVE one child more than another, but when you've been on the edge of life and death with one of them, there will always be something "different" about my baby that makes him extra special.

Momma loves you!