Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Book Review by "Rosie Girl" -- Home for the Holidays

Home for the Holidays
Home for the Holidays by Heather Vogel Frederick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Book Source:  personal copy

Review from "Rosie Girl" formerly known as "Daisy Daughter"

Home for the Holidays is number five in the Mother/Daughter Book Club Series. This realistic fiction novel is about five teenage girls who leave their homes in Concord, Massachusetts for different winter vacations. The girls go on different adventures in Laguna Beach, New Hampshire, and even a Christmas Cruise to the Bahamas. Megan and Becca fight over the captain’s son while Cassidy visits her home state of California. An unexpected sledding accident causes Emma and Jess to change their holiday plans.

Will the girls be happy enough to have a good Christmas?

I give this book five stars and two thumbs up! I relate to this book a lot because my mom (Daisy Mom) and I have our own mother/daughter book club. I have some of my best friends in our book club just like the girls in Home for the Holidays. Another similarity is that my mom is a librarian and so is Emma’s mom, Mrs. Hawthorne. Most young readers will be able to relate to at least one of the book club girls. Even tweens won’t be able to put this book down because it’s filled to brim with adventure, drama and love!

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Book Review -- Okay for Now

Okay for Now
My enjoyment rating: 5 of 5 stars
Book Source:  Personal Copy
Genre:  Juvenile/Middle Grade Fiction

Consider the following: an author proposes writing a middle grade novel involving John James Audubon’s Birds of America, an emotionally abusive father, a Vietnam veteran brother, the classic novel Jane Eyre, the New York Yankees, an eccentric playwright, a business executive who is both an expert at horseshoes as he is at cultivating orchids – you would probably consider him crazy and usher him out the door. But only author Gary Schmidt could weave all the above in a story so full of heartache and hope that the obvious response would be, “why didn’t I think of that story line?”

Doug Swieteck, a minor character from Mr. Schmidt’s Newbery Honor winner The Wednesday Wars, has moved from Long Island with Holling Hoodhood’s beloved Joe Pepitone’s New York Yankees jacket, to upstate New York to face the uncertainty of his father’s hostility and being the new kid on the block. With the help of multiple friends and teachers, Doug is able to navigate the natural difficulties associated with 8th grade, the increased tension at home, with his newly developed artistic talent studying Audubon prints and the burgeoning relationship with Lil Spicer, daughter of the local grocery merchant.

This was an extraordinary book. Mr. Schmidt was a master in the layering of story lines of Doug’s life. With the introduction of each bird (you’ll notice them immediately at the beginning of each chapter), and at each obstacle that Doug encounters, it was a natural instinct to reach through the pages to give this kid a hug. Additionally, Mr. Schmidt expertly shows how important teachers are to the lives of our children and that no child is out of reach of being nurtured and taught. And without much effort, he TEACHES the reader as well – about classic literature and art and science – it was seamless.

Finally, this was a story about the rebuilding of a family, the strength of a young man, and the beauty of a friendship. Oh, and birds. Lots and lots of birds.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Book Reivew -- Stiff

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human CadaversStiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
My enjoyment rating: 4 of 5 stars
Source: Public library
Sensitive reader:  fairly detailed blood and guts account of the human anatomy

Preparing a Thanksgiving meal may never be the same after reading Stiff, Mary Roach’s eerie, but fascinating look at the life (or is it death?) of the human cadaver. In the opening chapter, Mary is visiting an anatomy lab where 40 heads are waiting in aluminum roasting pans (the ones used for roasting turkeys!) for a group of doctors to refresh their skills as plastic surgeons.  We may be eating ham next week.

Thus begins this strange and macabre, but respectful and very funny narration about the necessity of studying, practicing, dissecting, decaying, freezing, embalming, harvesting, and other uses of the deceased human body.

Some of the more interesting tidbits: The University of Tennessee has the ONLY “body farm” – where they study decaying bodies in an open field; the injuries (or lack thereof) of the victims of the TWA flight 800 that exploded off of Long Island were used to solve the mystery of what caused disaster; the gruesome and grisly tales of “bodysnatching” in the early 19th century and the doctors who profited from it.

For such a morbid topic, Mary’s dialogue provided much comic relief (but not at the expense of the dead) to what could have been a stomach turning downer.

I must say – there were several chapters where I nearly lost my lunch – I almost quit reading during Chapter 3 about the body farm – it was fairly graphic (measuring maggots, liquid human decay – yuck!). And her eyewitness account of a “human organ recovery” or organ donation surgery was just so, so sad. But I persevered and I’m glad I finished.

Finally, “Mary Roach is the funniest science writer in the country…Stiff tells us where the bodies are, what they are up to, and the astonishing tales they still have to tell. Best of all it manages, somehow, to find the humor in human cadavers without robbing them of their dignity…Long live the dead.”

I completely agree.

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Us! Celebrating the Power of Friendship Blog Tour and Giveaway!

The story of life is told in several volumes...Friends are bookends holding up either side.  Mary Anne Radmacher

I first met Mary Anne Radmacher at our local literary festival three years ago.  When I exited her workshop, I thought I'd met a new best friend.  Her words were inspiring and her presence peaceful.  I've since indulged on her inspirational writings and quotes on many occasions.

So I was thrilled to be asked to participate in the release of her newest book Us! Celebrating the Power of Friendship. 

Can you remember the name of your very first friend?  Or the last time you laughed or cried with a friend?  Our friendships create the richness of our lives, without which our existence would be bland and empty.

Mary Anne, in her extraordinary way, captures the meaning of friendship in 80 concise pages.  Her passages and poems are profound yet effortless.  You feel the sacredness of friendship in her words.

I'm thrilled to share with you Mary Anne's guest post and her thoughts on Friendship:

Mary Anne Radmacher
        What inspired you to write a book about friendship?  Was there a particular friend that kindled the idea?
       My friend, Maureen, was a high school senior when I was a sophomore.  When she graduated she gave me a book of quotes about friendship.  I knew when I finished enjoying those great thoughts that someday I would write a book on friendship.  When I was 19 I operated a switchboard for a small college in San Francisco.  In the quiet moments, I would work on my friendship book.  A teacher who stopped by my desk each day, Professor Sparks, greeted me with an unusual question – “What dream are you working on today?”  I easily and quickly replied, “My book on friendship.”  Thirty five years later US! CELEBRATING THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP features some of the things I knew and treasured about friendship when I was still a teen-ager.
 Why is friendship important - to women especially?
I first want to say that I believe friendships are very important to men – and I have observed that they deal with it and talk about it (when they talk about it at all) differently than women.  Women want to  affirm, support, validate what they know to and for each other.  Women have an increasingly demanding set of roles to fulfill in our culture, and our friends help us “suit  up” for those various tasks.  Women friends offer each other support that is both tangible and metaphysical.

Is friendship more important than familial relationships? As important? 
The answer to that question depends on the nature of one’s relationship to family.  I was born around the time my parents were celebrating 25 years of marriage.  Two of my siblings could have been my parents.  The participants in my family structure were either a) tired or b) involved in their own life activities.  From early on I learned to create my own “tribe” first from the neighborhood, then school, then peers in my life experiences.  My friends, in all practical applications, have been like family to me.

Why do we need to take time out to appreciate our friends? Everyone leads busy lives, and our friends certainly understand that.
The busier I am the more conscious I am of how important it is to stay connected to my friends.  It’s too tempting to relegate our friends to the back of the line.  When, in fact, our relationships are one of the greatest graces of our lives. 

What are some easy ways to show our appreciation?
I’m a BIG FAN of the postal service.  Sending a fun or meaningful card “just because” is a real tender connection between friends.  I use technology to take photos with the short caption, “I saw this and it made me think of you.”  I’m encouraging groups of friends to use my US! book as a “scrap book” or to use an older term , “autograph book.”  Each member of the circle has a copy and each book gets passed around.  Friends write their own thoughts of appreciation on the page that most reminds them of their friend.  Combining my words and illustrations with loving words from your own friends – a powerful and memorable combination.
Being cued in to the present and real struggles a friend is facing is important.  More than saying, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do,” DOING something practical really shows how much you appreciate your friend.  My friend is moving this week.  She has a two hour daily commute.  AND she has special food needs with a variety of allergies.  I made allergy-appropriate lunches for her for a week.  I said, “I know when you are moving you don’t even know where your kitchen utensils ARE!  I hope this makes making good, healthy choices easier for you this week.”  It got a big WOW from my friend.

As we get older, it becomes more and more difficult to establish new friendships. Why is that?
Age brings a certain predictability and a whole road of judgments and assessments at our backs.  It becomes very easy to judge someone in advance and tell ourselves all the reasons why we likely wouldn’t like this person or that.  Also, we’ve had a few friendship failures as we’ve gotten older and might be less inclined to be vulnerable.   My dad outlived all his old friends and he told me one of the regrets of his life is that he did not take the time to make new friends.  My life is like a shelf on a bookcase.  My oldest and my newest friends are the book ends that hold all the other books together!

What are some ways to foster new relationships?
Be open to people who are different than you.  Say yes to experience new gatherings and go to events that are a little out of your comfort zone.  Listen attentively and observe how you feel listening to this new person.  If you are immediately engaged, interested and alert…that might be an excellent basis for exploring the possibility of a friendship.  If someone says, “We should talk about that,” or “I’d love to get together sometime and learn about your experiences with_________,” schedule the time.  Sometime soon.  Listening is an excellent way to foster a new relationship.  And it’s also a litmus!  If you find yourself endlessly listening with no opportunity to speak, that might be an indicator of a relationship you want NOT to foster.  That’s important to pay attention to, as well.  Not everyone you meet would make a good friend for you.

If you could plan a perfect night with a friend, or group of friends, what would that be?
I get to have quite a few of those kinds of nights.  We share healthy and yummy food, work on some sort of art project and tell each other fabulous stories.  Most of them even true!

What is your advice for people who have grown distant from friends, and don't know how to change that?
Reach out.  Take the risk and say, “I miss our times of connecting.  I thought of you just the other day and remembered the time that we…..”  Sometimes just confessing that you’ve noticed some distance has crept in will be a relief – they have likely noticed it, too, and haven’t known what to do, either! 

We can't talk about your books without mentioning the artwork. Do your friends inspire you, advise, you or in any way assist you in your creative life?
My friends deliver honest advice and critique when I ask for it and otherwise have an abundant supply of “Ooooooh’s” and “Ahhhhh’s.”  That sweet celebration is like the warmest, softest sweater on a chilly afternoon.  The finest compliment I get from any of my friends is when they purchase my work and give it as a gift to their other friends.  Not only are they supporting my career but they are affirming that what I communicate has functional value to them.  That means so much to me.

Us!  is the perfect gift for the friends in our lives that mean so much!  That is why I am delighted to offer TWO copies of Us! as a giveaway!  To enter, please enter a comment about the meaning of friendship and a valid email.  The giveway will end on Sunday, November 20th at 10pm CST and the winners chosen by (winners will be notifed via email and given 24 hrs to respond before another comment is chosen).

Also, please take the time to visit the other blogs participating in Mary Anne's tour:

Blog Links & Dates:
Monday November 7th-  Joyuslion
Tuesday November 8th - Christine Mason Miller
Wednesday November 9th - Cornerstone Coaching
Thursday November 10th - 8 Women Dream
Friday November 11th  - Aimee's Blog
Saturday November 12th - Gerber Daisy Diaries
Sunday November 13th - Motivational Musings
Monday November 14th - The Red Boa

Mary Anne Radmacher
The words and work of mary anne radmacher have circled the globe on products, quotes in books, been included in speeches, are part of ceremonies from graduation to weddings to memorial services.

Radmacher's words are woven into media from Oprah's Harpo Studio headquarters, commercials, to being quoted in newscasts from the 2011 Tour de France coverage to the evening news with Diane Sawyer.  Her signature posters are in board rooms and school rooms, adorn hospital halls and homes around the world (and found at and her work is visible from the Clinton Museum Store to gifts store on the corner.

Stay current with her appearances and what writing processes she is guiding at
just released and available as an ebook!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fastest 3 minutes in book reviews!

My apologies to ESPN’s Chris Berman, and his “fastest 3 minutes in the NFL” – my homage won’t include any interceptions or injuries, but you can easily read this post during any halftime.
Life. Children. Home. School. Work.
All have somehow complicated my reading habits.   Books have become the caboose of my daily existence – the end of a very long day to which I fall asleep.  Thus, very few have been completed in recent memory.
So in order that the few that I have completed to keep from being lost in the synapses of my gray matter – I offer the following (and you could queue the ESPN theme music, but I'm sure that would involve litigation).

Skeletons at the FeastSkeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian
September Book Club Choice
My enjoyment level 3 out of 5 stars

Source:  Personal Copy

Sensitive reader: A few graphic sex scenes and violent war scenarios

Blurb from the book:
In January 1945, in the waning months of World War II, a small group of people begin the longest journey of their lives: an attempt to cross the remnants of the Third Reich, from Warsaw to the Rhine if necessary, to reach the British and American lines.
Among the group is eighteen-year-old Anna Emmerich, the daughter of Prussian aristocrats. There is her lover, Callum Finella, a twenty-year-old Scottish prisoner of war who was brought from the stalag to her family’s farm as forced labor. And there is a twenty-six-year-old Wehrmacht corporal, who the pair know as Manfred–who is, in reality, Uri Singer, a Jew from Germany who managed to escape a train bound for Auschwitz.
As they work their way west, they encounter a countryside ravaged by war. Their flight will test both Anna’s and Callum’s love, as well as their friendship with Manfred–assuming any of them even survive.
Perhaps not since The English Patient has a novel so deftly captured both the power and poignancy of romance and the terror and tragedy of war. Skillfully portraying the flesh and blood of history, Chris Bohjalian has crafted a rich tapestry that puts a face on one of the twentieth century’s greatest tragedies–while creating, perhaps, a masterpiece that will haunt readers for generations.
My thoughts:
This was a great book club selection – so much to discuss – Hitler, the bombing of Germany, the deportation of Jews to concentration camps – one of our better discussions.  The author includes some unnecessary sexual descriptions – but I skimmed them for the most part, and was able to maintain the story line.  I love WWII historical fiction, and although a great book club choice, it wasn’t necessarily a GREAT individual read.

Diamond Ruby: A NovelDiamond Ruby by Joseph Wallace

What’s In a Name Reading Challenge:  book with a “gem” in the title

My enjoyment rating 3 out of 5 stars

Source:  Personal Copy

Sensitive reader:  Organized crime of the early 20th century – but nothing alarming (that I remember!)

Blurb from the book:
Seventeen-year-old Ruby Thomas, newly responsible for her two young nieces after a devastating tragedy, is determined to keep her family safe in the vast, swirling world of 1920s New York City. She’s got street smarts, boundless determination, and one unusual skill: the ability to throw a ball as hard as the greatest pitchers in a baseball-mad city.  From Coney Island sideshows to the brand-new Yankee Stadium, Diamond Ruby chronicles the extraordinary life and times of a girl who rises from utter poverty to the kind of renown only the Roaring Twenties can bestow. But her fame comes with a price, and Ruby must escape a deadly web of conspiracy and threats from Prohibition rumrunners, the Ku Klux Klan, and the gangster underworld.  Diamond Ruby “is the exciting tale of a forgotten piece of baseball’s heritage, a girl who could throw with the best of them. A real page-turner, based closely on a true story”
My thoughts:
Love a female protagonist who tries to “make it” in a man’s world and nothing is more “manly” than professional baseball.  I loved Ruby, but, the author tried to do TOO much by incorporating nearly every historical account of the early Twentieth century – from Babe Ruth, to prohibition, to organized crime, to the influenza epidemic.  Also, I had a hard time believing, that outside of her pitching strength and speed, Ruby could actually play baseball.  Because pitchers do need to know how to field the ball! 
Another, better than average book, but not great.

Lost HorizonLost Horizon by James Hilton

October Book Club Choice

My enjoyment rating:  3 out of 5

Source:  Personal copy

Sensitive reader: Clean

Blurb from the book:
Four people from a plane crash are taken to Shangri-La in the Himalayas, where the members of a Tibetan lamasery live in peace and seem to have found the secret of eternal youth.

My thoughts:
This was not what I was expecting!  Which is neither good nor bad.  It was a very strange book – and one I would have enjoyed more had I been able to discuss it at book group, but I wasn’t able to go because my husband was out of town.  The narrative was confusing, so I had to go back and reread the first chapter, then the latter finally made sense.   The notion of 4 individuals being hijacked for the mere purpose of populating an isolated monastery, where one could live forever (nearly) and NEVER leave (think Hotel California, but without the Eagles) was a bit much for me.  But it was a classic, so I’m glad to have read it.

Finally, our Mother Daughter book club October selection was: The Secret Life of Amanda K Woods by Ann Cameron.  I did not go, nor did I read it -- so I can't offer my thoughts one way or the other.  Our November selection is:  Finally by Wendy Mass
Blurb from the book:
You can pierce your ears when you're twelve. You can go to the mall with your friends when you're twelve. You can babysit little Timmy next door when you're twelve. You can get a cell phone when you're twelve. Hey, you can even ride in the front passenger-side seat when you're twelve.
When you're twelve, when you're twelve, when you're twelve . . .
My name is Rory Swenson, and I've been waiting to turn twelve my whole life. In exactly 18 hours, 36 minutes, and 52 seconds, it will finally happen.
My life will officially begin.