Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tonadoes, Hook Echos, and other words you hear when you live in Arkansas

If I don't post for awhile, it is because we've been dealing with some serious weather, including this bad boy that blew thru town last night...

(for those not familiar with this -- it's called a FUNNEL CLOUD!!)
We are without power at home, therefore no Internet either.  I've been told we will have electricity back by Thursday at midnight...but who knows...

In the mean time, I've been feeding my Internet obsession at the library and Barnes and Noble...but it's sporadic at best.

Love springtime in tornado alley!

Friday, April 22, 2011

April Book Group -- La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith

Not a normal month for our book group.

Our original selection, Here on Earth by Alice Hoffman was abandoned mid-read. Although I am a fairly “liberal” reader, some of our members are significantly more cautious. So the content of this book was deemed inappropriate. This is the first time in 8 years that we’ve switched books in the middle of the month, which is a fairly good track record, if you ask me.

Also, we made a few changes to our unofficial “rules.” For the first time since we began meeting 8 years ago – we selected all of our books in January, to access our local library’s vast collection of “book club kits.” Although the ease of having 10 books for all our members readily at hand has been a huge time saver, it also has created some angst for members who don’t like being limited too what the library has to offer. It also has created a burden for me, because I’ve become the “ogre” who must make sure EVERYONE has returned the book to ME, so I may return them all together in the official book club bag. So, going forward, we will read some of the remaining club kits that our members selected – but have canceled others, and will revert to our “one member, one book” rule – whereby all our members have a chance to select a book, kit or not, and then be responsible for accessing them (either via library or purchase) and returning them. Whew…glad we were able to resolve it all…felt like I was chairing a PTA meeting last night and needed to ask for a motion!

Now to our 2nd selection for April – La’s Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith.

I read this book over a year ago and loved it. Sometimes when a book is read for the 2nd time, things don’t “feel” the same, or your opinion is swayed differently. I am pleased to say that I loved it just as much the second time as I did the first. It is a quaint, vintage, “feel-good” story. Here is my review from December ’09 – I didn’t feel any need to change any of it!

La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith: Book Cover

Book ReviewLa's Orchestra Saves the World by A. McCall Smith
My enjoyment rating:  4 out of 5 stars
Book club rating:  A-
Book source:  Public Library

The cover of La’s Orchestra Saves the World absolutely enchanted me – the blue/green patina background, antique bicycle, and chicken cage – I was ready to jump on the bicycle seat and peddle off into the world of Alexander McCall Smith.

When I did, I ended up in the English countryside, with La Stone, her cottage and garden. La was probably similar to most countryside residents during WWII -- trying her best to help the war effort however best she could, whether it was planting a victory garden, helping her neighbors, or in her case, organizing an orchestra, a social activity that helped distract folks from the ongoing carnage of war and gave them some semblance of normalcy.

La’s (short for Lavender) “road” to country peasant started with the death of her philandering husband, and the sympathy of her now former in-laws, as they bequeathed their country home to her. She meets neighbors and local military men that sustain her during the war effort. One of these is Feliks, a polish refugee who has been assigned to work a neighboring farm. La develops a deep interest in Feliks as he helps a disabled farmer and volunteers to help her with her own garden.

This was a calm, bucolic, novel, in spite of the WWII setting. It was beautifully written, although, at times I thought it was an overly plain book –plain characters that on their own seemed insignificant and ordinary, but when “planted” together they were much like the potatoes they were cultivating – plain in appearance, but nutritionally necessary to the inhabitants and ultimately, to the reader.

As much as this was a novel of survival – it was also a morality tale. Many neighbors were suspicious of Feliks and his polish ancestry – was he indeed a Pole? Or was he a German spy? La finds herself in the middle of unfounded accusations, and the fallout from those actions, suspicions and assumptions prove complicated.

I thought her organizing an orchestra was the stabilizing force for so many during the war– and La was reminded of this when she wanted to “quit and go home.” People needed the memories the music evoked – those of peaceful times when you could enjoy a concert without threat of destruction.

The ending, however, took a rather awkward “turn” with nuclear disarmament, and La becoming an anti-war protester. I thought that was odd, but it did set up the final meeting of Feliks and La and a satisfying conclusion.

In the end, this was a beautiful story of survival, friendship, and hope. A perfect reminder of what we can do when we depend on and help each other.


From the Author:
I wrote La’s Orchestra Saves the World because I wanted to pay tribute to rather brave people. I wanted to say something about how ordinary people managed to get by during the Second World War. Most of them would not have regarded themselves as heroes and heroines, but they were. La (short for Lavender) was one of these. She worked on the land, helping a farmer with his chickens, and also started a little orchestra for British and American airmen. Music, she felt, helps. And it does--it inspires and heals.


The other group I wanted to pay tribute to was the Poles. Polish servicemen played a major role in the war. Their airmen, for example, participated in the Battle of Britain, that crucial battle that decided the fate of Europe. At the end of the war the Poles were betrayed and the contribution of their forces largely ignored. In the victory parade in London, the Poles were not allowed to march with everybody else (Stalin insisted on this). So those brave men stood at the side of the road and wept. This book is about them too.--Alexander McCall Smith
May Book Group selection:  The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent
The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent: Book Cover

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April Mother Daughter Book Club


My enjoyment rating: 1 of 5 stars
Daisy Daughter rating: B-/C+
Overall Book Club rating:  A-
Book Source:  Library copy


Lucy Desberg is determined to help her mother and grandmother save their family pharmacy from bankruptcy. Burdened with bills they cannot pay, Lucy’s grandmother is convinced they will to sell all they have to make ends meet. But Lucy comes up with a plan to “diversify” business – add a day spa, incorporate “green” business practices, and apply for a city grant, in hopes of saving their livelihood.

By far, this was the WORST book club selection I’ve read. I hated this book from page one. So much so, I can’t even manage to rehash all that I thought that was wrong with this book, but for a brief outline here is what I had issues with:

• Completely unrealistic characters

• Poorly developed plot

• Age inappropriate relationships (12 year olds dating)

• Age inappropriate activities (and not morally inappropriate, but maturity level inappropriate)

• The use of the name of deity, over and over again.

However, the girls were extremely prepared for our discussion! This was a complete 180° from last month where they totally spaced it. They had some very thoughtful questions, like, “what would you do to help save a family business?” to “Would you be jealous if you best friend started dating sibling?” Of course, there were the throw away questions like, “what is your favorite lip gloss?” But we spent far more time discussing the book than last month. And I was the ONLY mom to finish this book…to confirm the poor quality of our reading choice (at least for the adults!).

The Birthday Ball by Lois Lowry: Book Cover
I am excited for our May selection (and last for the school year!) – Lois Lowry’s The Birthday Ball. Our favorite book this year, as a whole, was The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry, so I look forward to reading more of her works.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Blog Tour -- The Crazy Daze of Motherhood

A mother's day is filled with all kinds of emergencies, from bumps and bruises to hospital stays. Find the perfect way to recover from your own family's little emergencies with Jane Isfeld Still's latest book on the hilarious daily challenges of a mother in the fray. You're sure to laugh and cry as you celebrate the joys of motherhood.

Jane Isfeld Still has written a collection of delightful vignettes that reflect on her years as a mother of six children.  Everything from emergency room etiquette, her compulsive- obsessive cleaning habits, hair-do disasters, and a first hand incident with non-waterproof mascara!

The beauty of motherhood-writing (a genre unto itself, I believe) is that all of us in this great mommy sorority, have experienced at one time or another, a situation similar to those being described.  And that certainly is the case with Jane's musings.  One that I particularly relate too is the chapter entitled, "Drama Queen."  Jane recounts, 
'Unless you're dead, don't bother me when I am on the telephone!'  Ok, maybe that language is a little extreme, but why do my children have all their little emergencies when I am trying to talk on the phone?  It's like a built in sonar from their mouths to the phone line.
It must be a trait inherited by ALL children that the moment a mother is on the phone all H*&^ breaks loose!

If stockings were a mode of decoration for Mother's Day, this compilation would be the perfect "stocking stuffer" for any mom.  It's the perfect size to fit in a purse, to be pulled out and re-read during a time of child conflict.

Equally endearing are the illustrations throughout the book by Matt Kelley.
Been there, done that.
 

You can win a fun prize from Jane to help celebrate the release of her book. Just go to her blog at http://www.janeisfeldstill.blogspot.com and become a follower, and then leave her a comment and tell her that you're a new follower. You could win:



1. Mother's Daze basket, soap, chocolate, lotion, decorative candles, and recipe cards


2. Box of blank cards with a smattering of Canadian chocolate


3. Chocolate


The Crazy Daze of Motherhood may be purchased at Amazon

Contact Jane at http://janeisfeldstill.blogspot.com/ or http://janeisfeldstill.com/index.html

Book source:  I was provided a copy of the book by the publisher -- I was not told what to say or how to review the book, nor was I compensated in any way for my thoughts.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Book Review -- Mrs. Mike


My enjoyment rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book source:  Personal copy

Katherine O'Fallon is sent off to the great White North to live with an uncle under the premise that it will be good for her health...at the age of 16, she finds strength, love, tragedy, and a home she never wants to leave.
 
This was a quaint story. I loved the relationship Kathy had with her Canadian Mounty, Mike, and the family they created. The authors created a very realistic life for those very brave individuals who chose to make the Yukon their home -- a blend of "breeds," Indians, trappers, and white European/Canadians -- who depended on each other for everything!
 
Life in the tundra was stark -- between the frigid weather and the mosquitos -- I'm not sure how anyone survived.
 
Kathy's life was not easy and suffered greatly -- but it was also filled with joy. Inspite of the many obstacles, she was able to create a home. And her husband Mike was a welcomed character -- I envisioned him as part Robert Redford part Liam Neeson -- a rugged, tested, and dependable mate who loved Kathy more than life itself.

I didn't LOVE this book, probably because I read something so similar this year -- Maud Hart Lovelace's Early Candlelight -- another historical romance set in the wilderness of the Wisconsin territory.

I do think this is a book anyone would enjoy with it's simple lovestory and vast landscape.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Arkansas Literary Festival Wrap Up

I spent a great Saturday in the company of authors, writers, chefs and friends.  It was a spectacular event, and I would have attended MORE sessions if they hadn't conflicted with one another!

Started Saturday morning at the new author panel and heard readings from both Kyran Pittman and Eleanor Brown.  Kyran is a dear friend; it was a thrill to see her in the "moment."  So excited for her success.  Eleanor was a hoot!! So very funny! I can't wait to start her book (The Weird Sisters).  I made the pitch to her for an author interview in the coming weeks and she agreed!  She will be on the road for a bit, but I plan to contact her once I am finished reading.  If I had any talent as a photographer, I would have included a picture of her here...but reading is about all I have a brain for.  But here is my signed book:


The grand moment for me was the session featuring Ree Drummond, better known as The Pioneer Woman.  She was everything I expected....witty, natural, kind, and an Okie!




It was worth the hour and 15 minutes I had to stand in line!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Arkansas Literary Festival!

It may not be BEA -- but it's the next best thing!

For months I struggled with the idea of trying to get myself to New York for Book Expo of America -- but the reality was I couldn't coordinate ANY of our schedules -- mine, husband's, children -- or finances that would allow my attendance.

Fortunately, I live in a community that supports the arts and it's artists, and for the 7th year, Little Rock will be hosting the Arkansas Literary Festival -- a premier gathering of hundreds of authors and readers.

Although events started yesterday -- I won't be able to attend any of the sessions until tomorrow.


Here is my scheduled list of events -- yes, I know you are jealous!!

YOUR FIRST TIME



Time: Sat., April 9, 10:00 a.m.


Location: Room 124, Arkansas Studies Institute

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown: Book Cover


Planting Dandelions by Kyran Pittman: Book Cover
In 2010 the Festival offered two first-time novelists and both happened to be male. This year we have evened the score by introducing you to Eleanor Brown and Kyran Pittman. The twosome will discuss Brown's much adored debut, The Weird Sisters, and Pittman's honest and absorbing Planting Dandelions: Field Notes from a Semi-Domesticated Life.

I gushed earlier this year about Kyran's memoir -- I'm eager to read Eleanor's book as well, as I've read wonderful reviews about it.


COOKING WITH VIKINGS



Time: Sat., April 9, 11:30 a.m.


Location: 18th Floor Party Room, 300 Third Tower


Don't expect horns or Eric the Red. Elizabeth Heiskell, lead culinary instructor at the Viking School, is paired with her friend, Lee Richardson, executive chef at the Capital Hotel, whose professional kitchen uses Viking products. Get ready for some tantalizing Southern dishes that are both simple and spectacular.

Chef Lee is a neighbor -- his food is to DIE for!!

OK -- hold on to your ebooks -- look what is next (!!):

THE PIONEER WOMAN LOVES A COWBOY



The Pioneer Woman by Ree Drummond: Book Cover
Time: Sat., April 9, 1:00 p.m.


Location: Darragh Center, Main Library


Ree Drummond, the well-known blogger whose new memoir Black Heels To Tractor Wheels has been optioned for film, will light up the Festival with her down-home charm, passion, and warmth. Her blog, www.thepioneerwoman.com receives two million hits a month.




Ahhhh!!!  I'm hoping this small time Oklahoma girl has the opportunity to meet another small time Oklahoma girl -- I know she would like me!
 
Finally, my last session on Saturday:
 
BAKED



Time: Sat., April 9, 2:30 p.m.


Location: 18th Floor Party Room, 300 Third Tower


Yummy! Indulge in some sticky and scrumptious new desserts from the cheeky and imaginative Brooklyn bakers Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. The duo will whip up sinfully delicious treats from their second cookbook, Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented.


There are dozens of other sessions, panels, and workshops to partake of -- unfortunately, I can't attend them all.
 
If you are in the area, and want to imbibe on all things literary -- head down to the River Market area of Little Rock -- that is where all the "in" people will be this weekend.
 
Check out the FULL schedule of events at the Arkansas Literary Festival website.

Monday, April 4, 2011

And the Winner is!


The winner of my Mom & Me giveaway for TWO tickets to the Saturday, April 9th matinee of The Rep's production of Hairspray is:

Susan 
(Random.org #6)

Have a great time, Susan!

Thanks to all of those who entered.

Even if you didn't win the giveaway, you can still purchase tickets at The Rep's box office (501) 378-0405 or on line

The show runs from April 8th -- May 8th.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

And the winner is...


Tammy
(#15 from Random.org)

Thanks to all of those who entered my
Fool for Books
giveaway!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Fool for Books Giveaway Hop!



Seriously, I am the lamest trickster around.  You'd think I could come up with something "foolish" on the fooly-ish of all days.  My only claim to doing something extraordinary on April Fool's Day is -- give birth!!  My youngest son turns 5 years old today!  So, in addition to giving away a book, I am also in the midst of baking a birthday cake and wrapping presents!  Happy Birthday my baby boy!

Now to the necessary stuff...



Thanks to Kathy at I am a Reader and Not a Writer, and Belinda at The Bookish Snob for co-hosting this event!

What does one giveaway on April Fool's Day?  I would think something funny?   LOL, ROTF, kind of stuff, right?

So, for this giveaway, I'm offering a book from one of the funniest writers I've read!

I have ONE paperback copy of Jen Lancaster's Bright Lights, Big Ass to offer!

Bright Lights, Big Ass by Jen Lancaster: Book Cover

I'm tired, cold, and sleepy, so I'm making the entry as easy as possible -- fill out the attached form, become a follower, and in the comments section, tell me the CRAZIEST trick you've ever pulled off on April Fool's Day, and voila, you are DONE!

Giveaway is open April 1-2nd
(I will pick a winner via random.org at 10pm on Saturday night, and notify the winner via email; they then have 24 hours to contact me, otherwise, I will select another winner).