Friday, October 19, 2012

October Book Club -- Destiny of the Republic

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a PresidentDestiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
My enjoyment rating: 4 of 5 stars
Source: Personal copy
Genre:  Non-fiction; presidential history
Objectionable material: none (unless you get woozy at descriptions of oozing infectious masses).

Clorox wipes? Hand sanitizer? Soap and water?

So many “sanitary” tools that we use to keep our modern day world germ free.

Not so in the late 1880s. And it ultimately proved fatal to our 20th president, James Garfield.

Candice Millard builds an engaging multi-layered narrative around the humble life of James Garfield, his insane stalker Charles Guiteau, his team of highly trained (for the time period), but completely inept doctors, and one very popular inventor, Alexander Graham Bell.

To look at this work with modern 21st century eyes you gasp with the thought of -- how on earth could this have happened: A president unguarded with a stalker on the loose, medical professionals probing an injured body with filthy instruments and fingers, and a family waiting in agony as their beloved father and husband writhes in septic infection.

This was a very informative book – I knew nothing of Pres. Garfield. He was a footnote at the bottom of any history book. But he was a man beloved by a nation, who had no desire to become President of the United States. But when called upon, he accepted the nomination.

My only grumble – the writing was a bit flat and a few of the storylines felt incomplete. For instance, when describing Garfield’s romance/courting with his wife Lucretia, in once sentence you get the sense that it is a glorious romance, in the next line you aren’t sure whether they love each other at all. It was fuzzy at best.

Overall however, this was a remarkable history lesson about a man and a president where you can honestly say, “oh, what might have been...”

October Mother Daughter Book Club -- Stargirl

Stargirl (Stargirl, #1)Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
My enjoyment rating: 4 of 5 stars
Daisy Daughter's rating 4 of 5 stars
Source:  Library
Genre:  YA Fiction
Objectionable material:  None
From Amazon: Stargirl. From the day she arrives at quiet Mica High in a burst of color and sound, the hallways hum with the murmur of “Stargirl, Stargirl.” She captures Leo Borlock’s heart with just one smile. She sparks a school-spirit revolution with just one cheer. The students of Mica High are enchanted. At first.
Then they turn on her. Stargirl is suddenly shunned for everything that makes her different, and Leo, panicked and desperate with love, urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her: normal. In this celebration of nonconformity, Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli weaves a tense, emotional tale about the perils of popularity and the thrill and inspiration of first love.

This was an extremely powerful book. Such a strong message on the necessity of maintaining your personal uniqueness in the face of overwhelming peer pressure.

The story of Stargirl and Leo has resonated for generations, and is timeless for generations to come.

Staying true to yourself, your beliefs, your soul, your identity, is complicated and difficult to say the least. Not only for a high school student, but for adults as well.

But this book is an essential reminder that our distinctiveness should never be sacrificed, but revered.
I was unable to attend our Mother/Daughter book club meeting, but Daisy daughter reported that the girls really enjoyed this, and committed to keeping their inner "Stargirl" alive!
Our November Mother Daughter book club selection:
The School Story by Andrew Clements

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Book Review -- Call the Midwife

Call the Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s. Call the Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s. by Jennifer Worth
My enjoyment rating: 5 of 5 stars
Source:  Library
Genre: Memoir
Sensitive reader:  Explicit detail on child birth, venereal disease, and prostitution.

A time capsule.

That is what Jennifer Worth has given us in her memoir, Call the Midwife, a perfectly captured time-capsule of her life in London’s East End, where she trained as a nurse, midwife in the 1950s.

This was a glorious book. Her storytelling was superb. I was immediately transported to post-War London, walking foggy streets, among ramshackle buildings and immense poverty. But among the ruins, is a group of midwives, The Sisters of St. Raymond Nonnatus, who care for the greater population of women of the East End.

We learn to love, hope, dream, care, cry, and mourn for her patients: Mary, a 15 yr old prostitute; Molly, the very young abused mother of 3; Sally, a 21 yr old expectant “mum” who suffers from eclampsia; Mrs. Jenkins, whose story is so tragic, it could be a book unto itself; and Concita Warren, a mother of 25 (take that Michelle Duggar!), who speaks no English, but raises her family with love and courage.

She also gives us a great history lesson about the East End and the “Cockney” residents. It was an education just trying to understand how they spoke!

I wanted to read Ms. Worth’s memoir BEFORE I watched the mini-series. I’m so glad I did. It will be one of my top 5 favorite books of the year. I loved it.

Call the Midwife is the first of a trilogy of books that she wrote – the second, Shadow of the Workhouse, and third, Farewell to the East End. I’m eager to read those as well.

Sadly, I learned that Ms. Worth died last year. I wonder what she would think of her memoir being adapted to a mini-series?
Finally, here is a lovely video of Ms. Worth reminiscing about her work in the East End.  It is a treat.

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Monday, October 1, 2012

September Mother Daughter Book Club -- The Mysterious Benedict Society

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
My enjoyment rating: 2 of 5 stars
Daisy Daughter enjoyment rating:  4 of 5 stars
Genre: Juvenile Fiction
Source:  Personal copy
Objectionable material: None

Mother Daughter book club – year #4!

We’ve made it to Middle School! We’ve lost a few members, but the girls were glad to be back together.

Our selection this month was The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. Mr. Stewart is a local author, so it seemed appropriate to read a book by a “neighbor.”

There were several aspects of this book that the girls enjoyed discussing: What determines a family? What are your strengths/talents? Does this book exemplify teamwork? How well would you have worked as a team?

Daisy daughter and her friends enjoyed this book much more than I did. I found the depth of the story lacking, and had a really difficult time maintaining interest. The four society members had some really interesting tests to accomplish in the beginning that were VERY clever. After that, it meandered, and introduced a "whispering machine" that I still don't quite understand. I didn’t finish it until 3 days after our discussion. That being said, Daisy daughter is already on book #2 of the series. I think I am done.

Although the book was a bust for me – I can tell you that I am thrilled that after 4 years, we are still meeting. As the girls mature, their comments are more thought provoking and in-depth. And the moms get a chance to talk about our developing pre-teens. It’s a joy!
Our October selection:
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Part fairy godmother, part outcast, part dream-come-true, the star of Spinelli's novel shares many of the mythical qualities as the protagonist of his Maniac Magee. Spinelli poses searching questions about loyalty to one's friends and oneself and leaves readers to form their own answers.