Friday, September 30, 2011

The Moment You've All Been Waiting For...

A quick review: my dear friend Kelley over at Daily Sips presented me with a challenge last week - pick a book for an online book club.  Oh my!  What fun - and what a burden!  I mean, there are just SO MANY BOOKS out there from which to choose!  To choose just one for a book club...I felt like Spiderman.  It's both a gift and a responsibility. 

BUT, after consultation with an expert (i.e. my mother), I have come up with the first title for our monthly book club.  Let's review how this will work:

1. Everyone come back to my blog on Fridays and check in with their progress.  Be careful with what you say - someone else may not be as far as you are, and you wouldn't want to spoil anything!  These check-ins need not be anything elaborate - more like "hey, I'm on chapter five, wow, this is great!  You are my hero for picking this book!"  or "I'm on chapter four, this book sucks and I hate your living, breathing guts for picking it."  Stuff like that. 

2. On the last Friday of the month, I will post an online review of the book.  Everyone else in encouraged to do the same, either in the comments on my blog or on your own and link it in.  Then we can generate some discussion in the comments.  This will probably take some tinkering as we get into it, but we'll see how it goes. 

3. I will also announce the next book.  I will NOT, however, be the only one picking books for this thing.  I mean, I CAN pick them all, but you all will eventually get sick of reading biographies of medieval English queens.  (Don't worry.  That's not what I picked this time.) I will be taking suggestions and possibly assigning the task of picking the books to certain participants. 

4.  A note about the comments and discussions: we need to be able to have open discussions.  No two people are going to think exactly the same about anything.  So please, let's be respectful of others' opinions and expressions.  Let's keep it clean and civil out there. 

So, enough with the rules!   On with the first selection!

The book for the month of October will be...

According to

he Weird Sisters in Eleanor Brown's delightful debut could have been weirder, considering their upbringing. Their professor father spoke primarily in Shakespearean verse, and while other kids in the bucolic Midwestern college town of Barnwell checked the TV lineup, the Andreas girls lined up their library books. They buried themselves in books so completely that while they loved each other, they never learned to like each other much. And when adulthood arrived and they pursued separate destinies, each felt out of step with the world. When news of their mother's cancer makes a terribly convenient excuse for attention-hog Bean (Bianca) and Cordy (Cordelia), the “baby” who always got off easy, to boomerang back to Barnwell from New York and New Mexico, respectively, they return bearing the guilt (and consequences) of embezzlement and pregnancy-by-random-painter. They're most terrified of admitting these failures to Rose (Rosalind), the responsible eldest, who stayed in Barnwell to teach Math and cling to her caretaker-martyr role. With lively dialogue and witty collective narration, the sisters' untangling of their identities and relationships feels honest and wise, and the questions they raise about how we carry our childhood roles into our adult lives will resonate with all readers, especially those with their own weird sisters. --Mari Malcolm

So...that's my pick!

(You gave the assignment to a Shakespeare fan.  This is your own fault.)

Check in over the next few weeks, and come read and discuss the final review on October 28!

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Challenge Has Been Made!

Hello there, fellow bookworms!  You know...all three of you who read this blog.  My good friend Kelley over at Daily Sips has laid before me a challenge - start an online book club through the blogging world. 

Whoa, what? 

Because I have SO much time on my hands? 

Because I need ONE MORE THING on my plate? 

Because I need MORE commitment in my life?

Ummm, well...mostly, because it will be fun!

Here's how it will work.  We will pick a book per month.  Every Friday come to this blog and check in - I will write an entry Friday mornings for your comments.  You can either comment on how you are doing and what you are thinking, or you can keep it up on your own blog and just link it in my comment section.  The last Friday of the month, I will do a full review of the book, and everyone else is encouraged to do so as well...if not on your own blog, then come review it in the comments. 

Sound like fun?  Kelley and I think so! 

Tune in next Friday - the last Friday in September - for your first book assignment.  Kelley has nominated me to choose the first book, so next Friday I will reveal October's book.  Ohhhh, the suspense...I can't bear it...(especially since I don't know what book is first...)

If this sounds good, leave a comment!  If you are one of my FB readers, feel free to do your commenting there.  We'll bring it all together!!

Thanks all! 

Monday, September 19, 2011


I consider myself a fairly literate person.   I own The Complete Works of Shakespeare.  I love Charles Dickens.  Jane Austen.  Gone With the Wind is my favorite all-time novel.  I've read Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby.  Antigone.  Candide.  I have read, although hated, Walden, and I have suffered the great pains of two Steinbeck novels.  (I HATE STEINBECK.  I mean, not him personally, I don't know him personally.  But I hate Hate HATE Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath.)  I read great American novels, biographies, old classics, modern classics, classics of all varieties.  I am a well-read person. 

And every now and then, a well-read person needs a guilty pleasure.


By Tori Spelling.

Yes...Tori Spelling. 

I don't know what happened.  One minute I was standing at the New Arrivals section of the library shelf, looking for the biography of Cleopatra that I didn't get to finish the last time I checked it out.  The next minute I was checking out Tori Spelling's latest tell-the-world-about-my-life book, Mommywood.

The thing is, I don't particularly love Tori Spelling.  I don't particularly not love her...I don't think of her at all, really.  I didn't know she had a reality show.  I didn't know she was married.  I didn't know she had two kids, or that she'd been married before, or that she has been in numerous TV shows and independent movies.  I knew she was on Beverly Hills 90210, but I have never seen an episode.  The most familiar I am with her is her role on - wait for it - Saved By the Bell.  As Screech's dorky girlfriend Violet.  Because I am THAT AWESOME, my friend.  THAT AWESOME.

I'm also not a celebrity person.  I don't read the weeklies, I don't watch TMZ, and I don't know who most of the people are on the cover of People magazine.  I am a mom of toddlers - if they haven't sung a duet with Elmo, I don't know who they are, and I don't really care.

So, why did I pick up this book?

Ummm...I dunno.  I guess it just kind of caught my eye, being about motherhood and all.  I started to read the first chapter there in the library, and then I checked it out.  It's as simple as that.  I have read both of Jenny McCarthy's books about motherhood (the funny ones, not the one about autism), and they were hilarious, if not a little raunchy at times.  So I thought, what the heck, this looks interesting and like it would be a fast, fun read.  Why not?

It was all of those things - interesting, fast, and fun.  I didn't know much about Tori Spelling before this, but I realized I had some assumptions about her, like that she was a gazillion-aire who had inherited a chunk of her father's money.  Well, she is certainly richer than I am, but she's not in the same place she was growing up, and she consistently says she "has to work to support her family."  What that really means is that she has to work in order for her family to live a certain lifestyle in a certain tax bracket - but whatever, that's her choice.  I also didn't know anything about her personal life - her relationship with her mother, her marriage, etc. - and she is very candid about everything.   All that was interesting.  She's a little - ok, a lot - neurotic, and while I can't identify with much of her eccentricities (an open casket funeral for a dog?  Really?), I appreciate the fact that she can readily admit that "I'm just not one hundred percent sane."   She knows her childhood was crazy, and she knows her current life is nutty compared to most of America.  And she is able to be honest about it and laugh about it and invite us to laugh along with her.

It was also fascinating to read about her worries as a mother - not because I didn't realize she has the same worries that I do, but because SHE doesn't realize it.  I get the feeling she thinks all of this is new or just because of her celebrity position in life, but the truth is, most of her worries are the same as any other parents'.  The block party?  All that awkwardness about fitting in doesn't have to do with being a celebrity; it has to do with being the new kid on the block.  I have had vastly similar experiences, and I do not have cameras following me around all day.  (At least, I don't think I do...)  The celebrity factor adds a different dimension, but the feelings are the same.  Likewise about finding the balance between work and home life.  That isn't a famous person issue. That's an issue millions of mothers face, including me.  Feeling inadequate in the face of another parent's skills?  You bet.  Dealing with public temper tantrums?  Well, I have never experienced a red carpet meltdown, but I have experienced Wal-Mart ones, and the principles are the same.  (For the record, I think they did the right thing.  You either have to cut bait and get out, or just wait out the tantrum.  She couldn't leave, so she had to wait it out with as much grace as she could.  Go Tori!)  Motherhood is universal, whether it's in Mommywood or as a MidWestern Mommy. 

In the end, I had this overwhelming urge to call up Tori Spelling and go get coffee with her.  I mean, not that I'm going to or anything, but I think we could talk about a lot of stuff. We both have little kids, born via C-sections.  We both struggle through feeling inadequate as a mother.  We both face problems with our children and our families and the world around us.  We have the bonds of motherhood that forever bind women together.  I'd like to reassure her that really, she's not that different than other moms, just facing some different factors...and doing so with grace and style.  I could talk to her about diaper disasters, and she could teach me how to dress.  (You know, in something other than jeans and a t-shirt.)  And I'll be honest - I'd like to throw Jesus in there too.  This is a woman still in a lot of pain and a lot of issues from her childhood, and I wish I could tell her somehow that the holes in her life left by her relationship with her mother can be filled by God, and that He's just waiting and aching for her to turn around and see Him standing there, waiting for her with the open arms she never felt from her mother. 

So...Mommywood.  Interesting.  Fast.  Fun.  Not terribly deep, but though-provoking all the same.  A nice little guilty pleasure break from biographies of twelfth century Anglo-Saxon royalty or books about special education strategies.  Read it, don't read it, whatever you like. 

Scale of 1-5: 3
What's up next: To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick
Top Five TBR:
1. The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth by Alexandra Robbins
2. Hearing God by Dallas Willard
3. Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert
4. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
5. Erasing Hell by Francis Chan

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Light in the Forest

I teach in a middle school, so more and more I am reading books because I will be reading them with my class.  Recently we read a book called The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter.  The book takes place during the 1760s in the Pennsylvania territory.  The premise is that a young boy of fifteen was kidnapped at the age of four and raised by an American Indian tribe.  Eleven years later, a treaty is signed and all white captives must be given back to their families - whether they want to go back or not.  True Son, the main character, has no memory of his white family and considers them his enemy.  As his birth family tries to reintegrate him into "civilization," True Son struggles with his loyalties and identities as both Indian and English.

This book is great for teaching because it generates fantastic discussion.  Themes of racism, tragedy, loyalty and family are just as familiar today as in 1760, and students can identify with these issues.  The characters are well defined, the plot is clear, and the setting is described in detail - all of which makes it useful for teaching state standards.  It is also a guy book, so if you are teaching a group of young boys (like I am), it's a great book because it will keep them engaged.  There is some violence and whatnot, and let's face it - scalping keeps even the most bored 13 year old boy involved.

Having said that, I didn't enjoy the book all that much.  I'm not a 13 year old boy, so I don't enjoy scalping and shooting.   I also, as a mother, had a hard time reading the part that flashes back to his kidnapping...I identified waaaay too much with the mother to enjoy the reading.  The style of the book is also not my particular taste. Richter gives many long-winded, beautiful descriptions of mountains and forests and rivers.  All of that is lovely, but I don't enjoy reading such descriptions.  There's nothing wrong with them, it's just not my cup of tea.

Let me be clear: this is a fine book.  Well written, good story, well communicated.  It's a great book for generating discussion and helping readers think about broad issues, and it's a book that I would recommend to teenage boys looking for a good read.  It was just not a personal favorite of mine.

Scale of 1-5: 3
What's up next: To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick
Top Five TBR:
1. Mommywood by Tori Spelling (that was just plain embarrassing to type; I'll try to explain myself when I review it)
2. Hearing God by Dallas Willard
3. Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert
4. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
5. Erasing Hell by Francis Chan

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II

"Near the end of World War II, a U.S. Army place flying over the island of New Guinea crashed in an uncharted region inhabited by a prehistoric tribe."  - Mitchell Zuckoff, the preface of Lost in Shangri-La

In May of 1945, as the war was winding down, a small US compound on Dutch New Guinea sent out a plane full of WACs and soldiers on a pleasure viewing trip of a valley that had been dubbed "Shangri-La."  The three-hour morale-boosting excursion turned into a tragic nightmare as the plane crashed into the side of a mountain, killing all but three of the twenty-five inhabitants of the plane.  The next seven weeks proved to be a tale worthy of the movies, including life-threatening injuries, encounters with natives that had never seen people with light skin, treacherous jungle hikes, heroic paratroopers, and an incredibly wild, death-defying scheme by a cowboy colonel to get everyone home.

I had never heard of this story.  At the time the events occurred, it was a story followed with the same kind of breathlessness as the Chilean mine workers of our era.  Journalists treated it as one of the most dramatic tales of the war.  However, within months of the rescue, the atomic bomb was dropped, the war came to an end, and this amazing tale was lost among a sea of WWII stories.  It lay forgotten by the public until a journalist, author Mitchell Zuckoff, came across a random article on the crash.  The story, as he put it, "nagged at" him until he couldn't help but investigate.  The result is Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II.

The story reads like a work of adventure fiction...but it's all true.  I kept having to remind myself that he wasn't making any of this up.  Zuckoff goes to great lengths to be as accurate and detailed as possible, and yet he captures the readers' interest and keeps our attention.  It's an incredible story - why on earth is this the first time I have ever heard of it?  I would be absolutely shocked if this didn't become a movie sometime in the next couple of years.  The script writes itself.  Using first-hand accounts, diaries, photos, Army reports, and finally the results of a personal visit to New Guinea, Zuckoff brings us back to 1945 and plops us right down in this island, surrounded Stone Age natives and jungle.  You feel the pain in Margaret Hastings legs and the fear and confusion of the native tribes.  You wait with baited breath to see if everyone gets out alive...and the final rescue plan is something so fantastic there is no way anyone could make it up.

One of my favorite features of the book was the explanation of the natives' reactions to the soldiers.  Zuckoff uses a back-and-forth method to bring a unique perspective to the reader.  First he describes a scene from the point of view of one of the Army personnel, like the captain who led the paratrooper expedition that cared for the survivors until the rescue could happen.  Then, using interviews of the tribal members he obtained with the help of a translator, he explained what they had really thought and had really been doing.  The comparison is both hilarious and eye-opening, and it's a fascinating look at what happens when two completely different cultures find themselves face-to-face.  The US Army landing in the middle of Shangri-La was about as foreign to the natives of the island as space aliens landing in the middle of Kansas.  From a sociological and anthropological standpoint, the comparison of perspectives is a priceless look at humanity.

If you are interested in history, adventure, sociology, anthropology, military technique, or just plain like a good story, this book is for you! 

Scale of 1-5: 3.5
What's up next: To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick
Top Five TBR:
1. The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter
2. Hearing God by Dallas Willard
3. Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert
4. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
5. Erasing Hell by Francis Chan