Monday, November 30, 2009

We Have Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself

I have never been a person who gives in to fear.  I have always liked that line from the movie Strictly Ballroom..."a life lived in a fear is a life half-lived."   "Feel the fear and do it anyway." I used that one a lot when I was learning how to ski.  I could fill this post with platitudes like that.

I recently wrote a post about how parenthood has affected and changed me.  It seems as if everywhere I look or everything I read reminds me of how fragile life is.  A few weeks ago, a friend of mine lost a dear friend.  This woman was a prominent lawyer in Dallas.  She and her husband and their 4-year-old son were killed in a house fire.  They couldn't get out. I did not know these people personally but I was greatly affected by the story. I cried a lot. And then I went out and bought new fire extinguishers and smoke alarms for my home.  This morning, I heard on the radio about a local family of four killed by a reckless driver running a red light this past weekend. The children were 8 and 5. We think we have control over our lives.  Look at how I responded to the death of the family in Dallas. I went out and bought fire safety devices.  But how do I control a reckless or drunk driver?  The fact is that I cannot keep my child safe and my family safe. There is nothing that I can do or buy that will ensure their safety.  I could do everything in the world to physically protect my child and then he could get sick. My time volunteering with a children's hospital and Make-a-Wish Foundation have shown me this reality in spades.  So, I have new fears in my life now.  I am traveling with my mother and little one this coming weekend.  This is the first time I have traveled with my child. I am nervous about the plane ride. I lay in bed last night thinking about something going wrong with the plane. How ridiculous is that?!  I have never had any fear of flying before!  Is this how I am going to spend my life now?  Full of fear and anxiety?

As Christians, we are supposed to put our faith in God.  Everything from worrying about our daily needs to our greater fears.  It is really hard for me to "hand it over" sometimes.  Especially with all the daily reminders of how things can go wrong that confront me in the news, on television, in my books. Do you know that the last four books I read had the deaths of children in them?!  I think I need a break!!!  It's time for some fluffy comfort reading.  If I mention that I am about to start a book and you have read it and it has the death of a child in it, PLEASE STEER ME AWAY FROM IT!  Just for the time being.  I'm ready for a few sugarplums dancing in my head instead of tragedy.  In the meantime, I am going to work on letting go of fear and just living in the moment and handing all the worry and negativity over to God.

Maybe Keb' Mo' can help me out.

CHRONIC CITY by Jonathan Lethem

Review coming soon...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Your Moment of Zen

I didn't think it could get any weirder or funnier than Awkward Family Photos. And then my friend Kim introduced me to THE PEOPLE OF WALMART!!!!

The perfect timewaster/pseudo-schadenfreude that I have seen in awhile!
I am cruising through Lethem's CHRONIC CITY right now and hope to start the new AS Byatt over the holidays.  Lots of reviews coming soon.

In the meantime, I hope you all have a lovely Thanksgiving full of blessings and yummy food. 

Monday, November 23, 2009

THE WRONG MOTHER by Sophie Hannah

I can't remember where I first heard about this book. I read lots and lots of magazines, blogs and trade publications and then stack my library account with books that sound interesting.  This one finally popped up in my library queue.  I haven't read many books in the mystery/suspense genre for awhile so this made a nice change of pace.

Sally Thorning is a busy working mom who tries to find time to be all things to all people. During a moment of weakness, Sally take the opportunity of a cancelled business trip to have a mini-vacation from her life.  She meets a man named Mark Bretherick and has a week-long affair.  A year later, Sally hears that a mother and young daughter have been killed in a murder-suicide.  They are the family of Mark Bretherick. As Sally watches the newscast, she sees an interview with Mark Bretherick and realizes that he is not he man she had the affair with.  Someone is lying. 

What follows is a fast-paced mystery-thriller that keeps the reader constantly guessing.  One of the reasons that I do not read many mysteries anymore is that so many of them have become formulaic.  It is easy to guess what will happen. That was not the case with this book. It took many surprising twists and turns. And it is much more than a thriller. Hannah presents three types of mothers in  her book---the workaholic mom who is having second thoughts about motherhood, the selfless mother totally devoted to her child and the mother who tries to straddle both worlds. While weaving these threads into her story, Hannah reveals the difficulties facing modern mothers and the stresses that these roles can place upon them.

BOTTOM LINE: A very readable thriller that will keep you guessing until the very end.  The sections that focus on the police slowed the action down a bit and the ending felt very abrupt.  Overall, this is a good solid entertaining read, though.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A GATE AT THE STAIRS by Lorrie Moore

This book is on many people's lists of the best books of 2009.  I have been wanting to read it for quite some time.  This one is going to be difficult to review.

A GATE OF THE STAIRS follows the coming-of-age of 20-year-old Tassie Keltjin in the months following 9/11.  Tassie is a small-town girl from farm community attending a local college.  In order to get a little extra money, Tassie applies to be a babysitter for a 40-something chef/restaurant owner who is adopting a child with her husband.  After a few failed attempts, the couple adopts a mixed-race child. The social, class and racial pressures surrounding this adoption in the post 9/11 landscape form the backdrop of the story.  As Tassie experiments with first love and her newfound independence, she is confronted with unexpected secrets from the people around her that have heartwrending consequences for everyone involved.

Many reviewers have described this book as a coming-of-age tale with lots of heart and humor. Others have focused on the dichotomy of small-town farm life versus college-town life as seen through the eyes of Tassie Keltjin. Still others have pointed out the complexities of race and class as seen through the adoption of the mixed-race child. The book is all of those things. However, I had a hard time with the book because I had no connection with Tassie. I did not find her to be compelling or particularly interesting character. She merely served as a construct for getting us through the story. The book itself is heartbreaking.  So many secrets and so much loss. It was hard to get through in an emotional sense.

BOTTOM LINE: Not recommended. It grieves me to say this but I was disappointed.  I think the subject matter is interesting and Moore brings up a lot of compelling issues in the post 9/11 world. However, the fact that Tassie was not an engaging character really damaged the book for me.  Tassie needed a bit more personality. Maybe even humor.  Moore does a terrific job dealing with some tough issues but overall the book left me cold.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I'm on the Random House Library Blog!

It's a small world after all.

Random House was nice enough to give me a shout-out on their library blog.

Find it here.

Monday, November 09, 2009

ALICE I HAVE BEEN by Melanie Benjamin

I received an advance copy of this book from Random House.

A few years ago, I read a biography of Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll.  I thought it would be interesting to learn more about the man who came up with the outrageous world of Wonderland.  I had never before heard the rumors of Dodgson's alleged inappropriate relationships and photography sessions with young girls.  Dodgson's alleged pedophilia has never been substantiated.  However, the photographs that still exist that he took of young girls still manage to raise a few eyebrows.  One of those photographs is of a young girl named Alice Pleasance Liddell. She is scantily clad as a beggar/gypsy girl.  It is a commonly held belief that this little girl was the inspiration for ALICE IN WONDERLAND.

In ALICE I HAVE BEEN, Melanie Benjamin tells the story of the origins of this famous book and the relationship between Dodgson and Alice Liddell from the perspective of Alice.  The book is broken into three parts: Alice's childhood, Alice's adulthood and Alice at 80 years of age.  Benjamin explores how being the subject of such a famous work may have affected Alice's life and the possible reasons behind the break between Charles Dodgson and Alice's family when she was 11 years old.  Benjamin manages to strike just the right tone. Some writers, like AS Byatt, are very gifted at being able to channel just the right tone and voice for their works of period fiction. Others fail miserably.  I believe Benjamin did an excellent job with this. I felt as if I were reading the private journals or correspondance of a real Victorian lady. In the first part of the book, the reader feels all the confusion of a child who is on the edge of growing up but doesn't yet understand the romantic innerworkings of adults.  When Alice is an adult, we view the events through the lens of an adult looking back at her childhood.  The third part of the book was the most moving to me as Benjamin deals with the tragedies of Alice's later life and how her view of events changes with her status as a mother. 

This book was fascinating and incredibly moving. It made me wish that we knew the truth about Alice's relationship with Dodgson. Because the two families destroyed many of the photographs, journal entries and letters, we may never know the truth.  Still, Benjamin offers a compelling look at the effects of being a Victorian "child star" on one individual.

This book will be released in January 2010.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended.  Well written while offering a new look at a well-known children's book.  I guarantee you will be running to the library and internet to learn more about these enigmatic individuals and their story.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins.

This is a tricky book for me to review. As a (relatively) new mom, I have found myself drawn to all sorts of child-rearing books lately.  This one sounded like it would offer a much-appreciated dose of humor to this often weighty subject.  Elizabeth Beckwith is a stand-up comedian who comes from a large Italian family well-versed in the art of the manipulation of children. Each chapter in the book focuses on a different area of this novel approach to child-rearing such as "Mind Control: Why It's a Good Thing."  Beckwith also includes tidbits from her own childhood throughout the book to provide a humorous look at family life in the Beckwith household.

While this book is certainly more of a spoof on child-rearing books than an actual "how-to" book, a lot of Beckwith's advice seems pretty reasonable while offering a dash of humor.  Beckwith is at her best when she offers accounts of her own childhood and family.  I often laughed out loud at those parts. Most will appreciate her dry and witty approach to this subject.  Especially those who are in their thirties who will recognize many of her references.

While this book is only 240 pages, I had a hard time getting through it.  It was amusing but not very compelling. I think the fault lies with me and not the book.  I don't seem to connect well to humorous child-rearing books.  I recently tried to read and review another book in this genre and just gave up.  I could not get into it.  I think that sometimes, Beckwith tried to be a little TOO clever and self-reflexive.  The discussion questions and "letters to the author" at the end of each chapter seemed unnecessary and a little too "clever."  If Beckwith had offered more of her own family/childhood stories rather than focus on creating a parody out of parenting books, it would have been much more effective.

BOTTOM LINE:  I will recommend this book for parents looking for a little humor in their child-rearing reading. While I was slightly disappointed, I still found much of it to be very amusing.

Book Blogger Holiday Swap

So many great bloggers are participating that I decided I had to join in!!  Sign up here.  But hurry!
 The registration closes on November 12!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

I'm a Winner!

Just found out that I won a copy of CRANIOKLEPTY: GRAVE ROBBING AND THE SEARCH FOR GENIUS by Colin Dickey. It sounds fascinating!  I entered a contest where you were asked to answer the question, "Whose skull would you dig?"  They selected my entry!

See the winners here.

Can't wait to read it!!!

I AM Reading!

Hi everyone.

I am trying to finish my current reads but I am really dragging.  Maybe it is the unseasonably warm weather.  Maybe I am coming down off of a sugar high after Halloween. Maybe I am not getting enough sleep because Noodlebug seems to be coughing most of the night. We are assured by the doctor that he is NOT sick but just has a lingering cough....if one more person tells me to put him to bed with a humidifier I'm going to defenestrate them. We have tried every trick in the book but he continues to cough at night after a month. At least he seems healthy enough otherwise.

Current reads:

RAISING THE PERFECT CHILD THROUGH GUILT AND MANIPULATION by Elizabeth Beckwith (sent to me by HarperCollins)


I am about to start:

GATE AT THE STAIRS by Lorrie Moore

ALICE I HAVE BEEN by Melanie Benjamin (sent to me by Random House)

I keep gazing longingly at my copy of AS Byatt's THE CHILDREN'S HOUR but I am trying to save it for my holiday vacation time. I want to savor it. 

Happy reading!!!