Wednesday, March 28, 2012

March Mother Daughter Book Club -- All the Lovely Bad Ones

All the Lovely Bad Ones
My enjoyment rating: 3 of 5 stars
Daisy Daughter rating:  4 of 5 stars
Book source:  Public library
Genre:  Juvenile fiction

Corey and her brother, Travis, are spending the summer at their Grandmother’s Inn in Vermont. With a history of ghost sightings, Corey and Travis are determined to do their part in adding to the Inn’s spooky reputation by staging their own ghostly apparitions. What they don’t realize is their antics will awaken a vast community of dormant spirits and unleash the very evil, Miss Ada.

All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn, was our Mother/Daughter book club selection for March.

This was surprisingly eerie! I started it one night, after the kids were in bed, and my husband out of town, only to realize, that I was a bit uncomfortable reading about a haunted Inn. I was even more surprised that my daughter FINISHED it and liked it, in spite of its supernatural setting.

The tale of the Inn being a former “work farm” for orphans, operated by two ruthless caretakers, was clever and authentic. And that the orphans died at the hands of their tormentors was equally sad.

Then ending was quite chilling as well.

For a juvenile work of fiction – it gave me the shivers!

All the girls loved it. It was a great discussion about ghosts, whether they’d ever seen one, whether they believed in them or not, would they stay in a haunted house or not – all very interesting questions and answers.

Next book selection:

April: Mackenzie Blue: Friends Forever? by Tina Wells

Friends Forever? (Mackenzie Blue Series #3)

May: Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine (I read this a month ago and LOVED it!)

The Lions of Little Rock

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Book Review -- Flunking Sainthood

Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor
My enjoyment rating: 4 of 5 stars
Source:  Nook
Genre:  Non-fiction; Self-help

If you had a plan to increase your spirituality over the course of a year what would you do?

Jana Riess, in her book Flunking Sainthood, decides to seek out reading ancient texts and embracing religious traditions – everything from a month of fasting to strict Sabbath day observance to rigorous daily prayer – a journey she expected to succeed at on a monthly basis.

What she realizes is that each of her endeavors are much more difficult – and need a LOT more time – to accomplish and master. At the end of her year, she feels like she has “flunked.” After the death of her father, she recognizes that even though she didn’t meet the expectation she set out for herself – she had indeed increased her spiritual strength and because of her year long journey, was able to put into practice many of the tenants she had learned, to cope with his death.

I loved this book – it was witty, honest, revelatory, and full of failure. And considering I fail on an all too regular basis – it was refreshing.

The most significant point the author makes is: to be a better Christian (or any other religious belief for that matter) takes PRACTICE. If you want to be generous – you need to practice generosity, if you want to forgive – you need to be more forgiving, if you want to be more prayerful in your everyday life – you need to pray! Duh?!   And some of these goals take months, if not a lifetime, to achieve.

One particular personal reaction I had to this book was found in her chapter on Fasting. For months now I've been struggling with my personal self worth -- without being able to pinpoint why. When I came across the following: "I'm craving community almost as much as food..." I thought I’d been sent a personal revelation. Nearly a year ago, I had a profound shift in my community, and have been in mourning ever since. In the mean time, I've been trying to fill that "craving" with food -- which has left me even more empty and community-less. I’m thankful to Ms. Riess for showing me (even though I know it wasn’t her intention!) that I can create a community without using food as a crutch – and over the next year – that is my goal.

Friday, March 16, 2012

March Book Group -- Half Broke Horses

Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel
Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Jeannette Walls
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Source:  Personal copy
March Book Group Choice
Genre:  "Real life" fiction

When you seek shelter in a tree with your siblings because of a flash flood, and subsequently spend the night there too – you know your life is destined to be an adventure.

Lily Casey Smith did it all – rode on a horse across the state of Arizona at the age of 15, broke horses, taught school, lived in Chicago, worked a ranch, played poker, boot-legged moonshine – oh, and married and had 2 kids. One of them being Rose Mary Smith Walls – the eccentric mother of Jeannette Walls of The Glass Castle. Half Broke Horses is Jeannette’s second book and homage to her fiercely independent and unique grandmother.

This was our book club selection for March and we all loved it. Not as much as The Glass Castle – but that book was such a dysfunctional masterpiece that it would be hard to measure up.

Lily was an amazing woman – especially at a time in our history when independence, free thought, and escapades were not valued traits in women. Lily made it seem “normal” to hold a pistol to the head of a disagreeable elder, or transport your kids to each school where you teach, or beat most men in a game of poker. Maybe not the perfect mother…but she did what she thought was best. We need more women in the world like Lily Casey Smith.

This is the perfect companion to The Glass Castle…but I need to re-read it again to put all the puzzle pieces together.

Highly recommended for book clubs/groups.

Listen to the author talk more about her grandmother here:

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Book Review -- Immortal Bird

Immortal Bird: A Family Memoir

My enjoyment rating: (Mr. Weber's story 1 star; Damon's story 5 stars) = 3 of 5 stars
Book Source:  Library copy
Genre:  Memoir

Is it even possible to be critical about a book that details the death of one’s son without sounding callous? I’m going to try…

Damon Weber was born with a congenital heart defect – the number one leading birth defect in all children – a single ventricle that required two surgeries immediately after his birth. For the next 13 years, Damon and his family lived a fairly normal life, free of heart complications. But that would soon change when Damon develops a rare, life threatening disease directly related to his initial heart repair. After years of treatments, medications, and failed procedures, Damon and his family are faced with the only option left – a heart transplant. What transpires after his transplant is truly tragic and a parent’s worst nightmare.

Doron Weber has written an angry, caustic, and powerful account of the life and death of his son, Damon.

Although Mr. Weber’s takes us on an amazing, but painful journey through the final years of Damon’s life and treats us to a Damon who is talented, witty, brilliant, and tireless, I’m not sure if this was Damon’s memoir or Mr. Weber’s?

It is loaded with references to Mr. Weber’s education, experience, connections, colleagues – and an arrogance that is nearly suffocating. While an advocate for his very ill son, Mr. Weber believes his own intellect and knowledge and his access to the elite echelon of achievers in each sector of society will best the doctors who are treating his son. In reality, Mr. Weber was trying to use his contacts to play God.

But in the final pages, even with Mr. Weber’s haughty attitude, it’s ultimately a father’s (and mother’s) love that permeates the story about Damon and his fight to survive and his tragic death.

As a side note: My connection to this book is personal – my youngest son was also born with a congenital heart defect – and although his issues are different than Damon’s, the anguish I felt at the end of this book rocked my soul.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Book Review -- The Lions of Little Rock

My enjoyment rating: 5 of 5 stars
Book source:  Library copy
Genre:  Juvenile fiction (recommended for 10 and older)

Every once in awhile you read a book that hits too close to home. Or in my case, it is home.

In 1958, Gov. Faubus and the Little Rock school district closed all 4 high schools instead of following a court order to integrate, thus propelling the fight over desegregation into what was called The Lost Year.

In her book, The Lions of Little Rock, Kristin Levine tells a poignant story set in The Lost Year and of a little girl desperate for a friend, a community at war, and the fight to allow ALL children the right to an education.

Twelve year old Marlee, struggles to communicate. What she lacks in verbal skills she makes up in spectacular math ability. But what Marlee really wants is a friend. When Liz arrives at the lunch table and asks if she may eat with Marlee, it is a dream come true. What neither of them realizes is their friendship will put at risk their families, their friends, and their own lives.

It is hard for me to be objective with this book – my children go to the same schools as these characters, we are members of the same Zoo, they will graduate from Central High, we drive past the memorial honoring the Little Rock Nine on a daily basis. But with that objectivity (or lack thereof) noted: I thought this was a marvelous novel. The single most important thing to Marlee and Liz was their friendship. They did not care about the color of their skin or about court orders. All they wanted to do was play at the Zoo and do mathematical magic squares.

For parents wanting to discuss the events of 1957 (and 1958) and a broader discussion of integration and civil rights, this is the perfect book to read with your child(ren).

I will be suggesting this for our Mother/Daughter book club.

This novel will linger with me for a long time.

Highly recommended.

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