52 Books in 52 Weeks of 2010

Week 33: The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood

Life has felt kind of crazy lately. Everything is swirling around me at a rapid-fire rate and I am not seeing much of a slowdown in the near future. There’s a lot of external clatter. The push and pull, tug and tear of all the things that people are asking of me. Things that need to be done. Things that I demand of myself that really don’t have to be done and all the things that I just wish would magically get done on their own. Focus is hard. I jump from task to task, welcoming distractions, while at the same time clamoring for a little peace and quiet.

I close my eyes.


I take a deep breath.


I relish the solitary seconds of these two infinitely small, highly restorative actions; and then I hear a small little voice calling me.


“It’s time for stories mommy!”


I am confident I don’t have the energy this week, or this night to pull off a dramatically engaging story with distinctly different sounding characters. But I gather what little left I have in me for this sweet child who adores this time we spend every night (as do I) cuddling and turning the pages of a curious new adventure… and then I remember THE QUIET BOOK by Deborah Underwood.


Yes! A children’s book is actually the perfect remedy to all this commotion. Well, that and spending some A+ quality time with the kiddo.


There’s no doubting THE QUIET BOOK is a children’s book. But in the few times that I have read it, I think I have benefited more (okay, maybe differently) than my son has. It’s a lovely little book, graced with delightfully drawn woodland creatures by Renata Liwska, that shares the variety of quiet moments a child can encounter in a day. Bunnies, birds, bears and deer experience quiet moments like “Sleeping sister quiet,” “Lollipop quiet,” and “Bedtime kiss quiet.”


As we turn the pages, I feel myself relaxing and slowing down. The pace of the book actually encourages this. There are bursts of loud quiet, like “Right before you yell SURPRISE! quiet” which makes my little guy laugh and read the page again, blurting SURPRISE even louder. Now we are both laughing.


“This is my favorite kind of quiet, mommy,” he says as we turn the page to “Top of the roller coaster quiet.”


And I can almost picture his own face, like the furry little creatures sitting in the car at the top of the ride, a mixture of fear and exhilaration capturing their breath before they round the corner and come flying down.


“That’s a good one,” I acknowledge.


My favorite sits on the adjoining page, a serene scene of a bunny and bear skipping rocks across the water. “Best friends don’t need to talk quiet.”


We finish the book and our nightly routine of songs and hugs before the official tuck-in and lights out. THE QUIET BOOK has been the perfect silencer to all the external noise of this past week.


Rating: 5 stars
Genre: Children’s
Pages: 32

Week 32: House of Cards – David Ellis Dickerson

So a funny thing happened on my way back to the office after lunch on October 1, 2009 (and no, I don’t have a freaky good memory, just mad web searching skillz)… I was listening to NPR and came into the middle of some interview with some guy that had written a book and I think greeting cards were somehow involved. And you know how that is when you are coming into a talk radio program trying to catch up and figure out what is going on. Well, I was doing that and navigating the traffic and then all of a sudden I hear Neal Conan welcoming some caller named Tracy to the show and within the first syllable of this Tracy person opening her mouth I realize it’s TracEY and she’s a dear friend of mine from college who I had not seen in about six years. And here she is calling in to say she knows the author, Dave Dickerson and they went to college together and she was so excited to hear of his book and success and just wanted to say hello. And I know there were just too many ands in that paragraph but it really was all that.


AND… how cool and weird that we were all, in some way or some relay, all catching up with some part of each other through Neal’s show. Now, I don’t know Dave, but he sounded very affable and smart and I made a note to look up his book.


Fast forward nine months and Tracey and I are catching up over chips, salsa and a great lunch while she’s in town just for the weekend. I had not picked up Dickerson’s book, HOUSE OF CARDS: LOVE, FAITH, AND OTHER SOCIAL EXPRESSIONS (but I had looked it up and added it to my list to get, really!) In our chatting, she brings up her friend Dave and mentions that they have reconnected and she’s terribly embarrassed, but she needs to excuse herself to send him a text about some reading event that was happening right as we were getting our 37th refills of iced tea because we had been gabbing for that long. Then you know what she says? She says, “Let’s go over to the bookstore and if they have his book… I am getting it for you. I think you will love it.”


Now, I am never one to pass up a book–a free one at that. And, with it being one that was already on my list to get, well picture me pleased while I picture you all wondering if I am ever going to get to my review of it. And, I will. In just a minute. I promise.


So, while I was super excited to get this book, I was also kind of nervous. Tracey knows about this crazy reading project I am doing and she knows I write up reviews of all the books I read. Big deal, right? Well, I haven’t been in a situation where I am friends with someone who is also friends with the writer of one of the books I am actually reviewing. Tracey is cool beyond cool and would want me to be totally honest, which is great. But truth be told, there was a little bit of pressure. Just a tad.


Well thank goodness Tracey knows me as well as she does (college friendship plus 20 years and a facebook reconnection will do that for you). I really adored HOUSE OF CARDS.


The first thing it has going for it is that it’s a memoir. You all have pretty much figured out that I love me some memoir. Secondly, it’s so very well written. Very well. Dickerson is wicked smart (like so smart he creates those crazy puzzles that are published in puzzle magazines for other smarty smartenheimers that I can only imagine exist). He’s also a master with the rhyme and friends with Will Shortz. Yet despite all this and his mighty brains, Dickerson brings the same conversational tone that I overheard while he bantered with Neal and Tracey on NPR back in October. This made reading HOUSE OF CARDS like sitting and having a conversation with an energetic and engaging friend.


Third, it’s really interesting. In addition to getting a glimpse of life at Hallmark (which you would expect to be as warm and fuzzy as the cards they sell, but SPOILER ALERT: It’s not!), you get a peek into the life of a lapsed fundamentalist Christian virgin who at 29 is trying to connect with others and make a name for himself doing what he does best: write.


Hallmark plays a major role in the book. In fact, it’s almost another character. Dickerson describes, with much heart, the challenges and pain we all can feel when we are trying so very hard to fit in, locate like-people, and find our niche in an all-new world. Dickerson had envisioned Hallmark being a perfect landing spot; but, it proved to be one nut that was a pretty tough to crack.


The secondary story line that actually ends up proving to be of primary focus, is that of Dickerson’s personal history and his relationships. Dickerson grew up in an extremely conservative religious environment that he began to question as an adult. Despite initially converting to Catholicism and embracing more liberal views of the world (he’s now an Atheist), he found it hard to break from preconceived notions and beliefs that had guided him for so long. In his time at Hallmark, the rose colored glasses were coming off and it resulted in some hilarious, heartbreaking and cringe-worthy moments that may not be the experiences of the average modern male, but they were his own.


I guess you could say that HOUSE OF CARDS is a story that captures a window of time in the life of a man who is finding his way. A bit of a late bloomer who is finding his stride. A man who definitely has found his niche in the wonderful world of words.


Oh, and if you want to check out his chat with Neal, CLICK OVER HERE.


Rating: 3 stars
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 384

Week 31: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress – Rhoda Janzen

MENNONITE IN A LITTLE BLACK DRESS: You had me at the cover of your delightful looking little book. Yes, it was your cover that had my interest on high alert and my mouse ready to click “Add to Cart”. Then I looked closer and saw that you were a memoir. And you were endorsed by Elizabeth Gilbert of EAT, PRAY, LOVE fame. Well, I just had to add you to my shelf of all of my other impulsive book purchases that I have made but can’t actually make good on reading until some later date because that’s just how I roll.

Fast forward two months and my book club selected it for our August read. Picture me thrilled! Fast forward just a teensy bit more and see me glad to have read it but with a luster that’s faded ever so slightly.


MENNONITE IN A LITTLE BLACK DRESS (MENNO) is writer and professor Rhoda Janzen’s memoir of returning to her roots after a devastating car accident that left her physically scarred and the dissolution of her 15-year marriage that emotionally wrecked her. Home for Janzen is her Mennonite community on the west coast, thousands of miles from the midwest and her life of academia. Despite eschewing much about the faith, the food and the conservative upbringing her parents provided, Janzen finds that home is where the healing is.


In a dozen or so chapters, Janzen shares her history, both as a Mennonite daughter and then a codependent wife married to a charismatic yet bipolar, emotionally abusive and ultimately bisexual man who leaves her for another man. Her gift is in her sense of humor and ability to embrace a community that she once left behind. Janzen does this with a very conversational tone, a must for me in a good memoir. She seems very real and someone who would be great to sit next to at a dinner party.


My only real complaint was the number of stories and anecdotes she shared to give the reader a glimpse of her personal history. She crams so many of them into MENNO that I felt that she often interrupted herself to get another story in. And yet there were moments of realization, of reflection and remembrance captured so very eloquently that her talents as a writer can’t be denied. And, it’s this contradiction that has me struggling. I think MENNO is definitely worth a recommendation, but I wouldn’t say it’s for everyone. Oh, how I wanted to remain as totally smitten with this book as when I first laid eyes upon the cover! But I am a little more informed and a little better off for having read it. And I am sure, just like finding the perfect little black dress, this book will be the perfect fit for that special someone.


Rating: 3 stars
Pages: 272
Genre: Memoir

Week 30: Crush It – Gary Vaynerchuk

It’s a slim book this week. The week I am officially back in the office for just one week before I am out for another week. You know how that goes. Busting your ass so you can be out for a week only to come back from a week away to more work than you know what to do with. And then I had to use that week to prepare for another week away. So blah, blah, blah. I am talking in circles and just need to get going with what was going on this week between the covers… ummm book covers, that is!

This week, at the recommendation of a colleague, I read CRUSH IT: WHY NOW IS THE TIME TO CASH IN ON YOUR PASSION by Gary Vaynerchuk. I have a role in my company’s social media strategy and presence and this colleague knows about my love of reading and blogging and this little online nook I have carved out for myself and thought this would be a perfect read for me.


In some instances, CRUSH IT was perfect. At just 160 pages during a crazy busy week, the perfect size of it screamed out to me. It’s also very readable and easy to digest. But in tone and overall impact, CRUSH IT was far from receiving a 5 star rating.


Vaynerchuk is a successful business man, having taken his father’s wine business from a single brick and mortar liquor establishment to multi-million dollar online business. He’s created a highly social, easily accessible online environment for wine lovers to congregate, get informed and buy wine. Vaynerchuk has leveraged social media (and this is more than Facebook and Twitter) to cultivate a space for his business and his customers that is not just all about buying wine. By utilizing different space and newer technology, he’s promoting not just a business but a lifestyle. He’s crushed it. He’s living his passion and wants everyone else to do the same.


And that’s part of the same-old, same-old of CRUSH IT. In many ways, it’s just another book by someone who has made it telling those of us who haven’t to get off our butts, quit our jobs and live our passion. It’s a great idea in theory but so very hard to execute. Maybe that’s the non-risk-taker in me talking… When I get past that, the next hurdle is Vaynerchuk’s explosive energy that really comes across like a multi-level marketing plan sales pitch. I’m all for positive energy and the old go-gettem-tiger! attitude… But CRUSH IT lays it on pretty thick.


When you can get past the get-rich-quick sounding vibe, Vaynerchuk does share some great ideas, gives access to online resources that are both familiar and some very new ones. He also goes out of his way to be a resource and mentor for his readers to help them do whatever it is they love, how to be the very best at it, create a space for it, and at the the end of the day… crush it.


Rating: 3 stars
Pages: 160
Genre: Business

Week 29: Long on Books, Short on Reviews!

 

So this past week I have been in Oklahoma with the kiddo visiting family. It has been a week of indulgence. Sleeping in, sunning lots, laughing more, forgetting calories, competitive bouts of dominoes, Uno and Rummy. Oh, and lots of books. In a word, it has been a little slice of perfection.

I was able to knock out three books this week before getting back to the grind of daily living. I really considered just keeping this windfall a secret and writing up a single review for each of the books and posting them across the next three weeks, but you all know I just can’t do that. Plus, I have the next two weeks of books already selected for my August book club and my work trip to New Orleans, so there you go. And, since that grind is about to start up here real fast, here I go with three reviews that are short and sweet.



 

Book 29: The Super by Jim Lehrer

Career newsman Jim Lehrer, famous for the MacNeil/Leher NewsHour and more recently the PBS Newshour, has another iron in the fire as a novelist. Who knew? I certainly didn’t, but my folks did and this week while I was back in the heartland they recommended I check out Lehrer’s 20th novel, THE SUPER.

THE SUPER takes readers back to 1956, a time when luxury travel was via train, most specifically, Santa Fe Railway’s The Super Chief. Lehrer weaves together actual historical events and individuals with fiction to create an interesting story of what could have been during one 39-hour trip along The Super Chief’s route from Chicago to Los Angeles. The individuals at the forefront are The King of Hollywood, Clark Gable; millionaire Super Chief regular, Otto Wheeler who hopes to die riding the majestic train; fading Hollywood movie producers Darwin Rinehart and Gene Matthews; as well as former President Harry Truman. When a passenger ends up dead just hours into the trip, an all-out investigation ensues.

Reading about a simpler, more luxurious time was certainly enjoyable; yet I felt that Lehrer spent too much time building up the action and it was only after page 100 that I was really engaged. Not a problem if we are talking about a 700 page book. But at 224 pages, that’s almost halfway in that I finally really cared. It was also hard to distinguish between a number of the Hollywood producer types in the alternating chapters of the story. Lastly, the intrigue was not at the level of a Murder on the Orient Express, which the book jacket references, but a softer mystery.

Overall, I think people interested in train travel and the days when the silver screen ruled over the small boxes in our living rooms will enjoy THE SUPER. Folks looking for a page turning, gut wrenching thriller will need to grab a different book off the shelf.

Rating: 3 stars
Pages: 224

Genre: Fiction

 

Book 30: Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor (Author) and Peter Parnall (Illustrator)

I adored this book!

I am not going to wait and tell you and that may make the rest of what follows not really matter since I spilled the beans in the first sentence of my review, but I don’t care.

I absolutely adored this book!

When visiting the folks, they save the kiddo and I the trouble of bringing books by swinging by their local library and grabbing a few titles for us. It’s a great way for us to get exposure to stuff we might not normally pick up and it’s even more special when there’s a gem in the mix like EVERYBODY NEEDS A ROCK.

Written in 1985, EVERYBODY NEEDS A ROCK is a delightful children’s book that eschews toys and other material things for the pursuit of nature and the world around us. The narrator, a young Native American girl, walks kids through the rules of navigating the great outdoors to find the perfect rock. Be it smooth or lumpy, shiny or dull, she recommends that it should be small enough to fit in your pocket and that you should select it entirely on your own (not rushed or at the direction of some adult).

Written in a poetic nature, the tone of the book is delightful and what truly makes it special are the exquisite illustrations. I haven’t seen anything like them. Peter Parnall has captured the whimsy and nature and childhood with these gorgeous drawings illustrations which embody the beauty of Native American art.

EVERYBODY NEEDS A ROCK is a rare and wonderful find. I loved it so much I am buying copy for the kiddo and me. Everybody does need a rock, but they need this book too.

Rating: 5 stars
Pages: 32
Genre: Children’s Literature


Book 31: Marland Tragedy by Kim Brumley

Part of my time in Oklahoma was in Ponca City, a quiet pocket of gorgeous tree-lined streets that is rich in both history and a smidge of scandal when you mention the name Marland. That’s E. W. Marland, a pioneer of the Oklahoma oil industry.
 
I have actually spent many a summer in Ponca City just walking distance from the Marland Mansion (and walked the grounds of the property many a time, I have). It seemed only fitting to pick up a book about the highly controversial E.W., and at just under 200 pages, MARLAND TRAGEDY it was.
 
MARLAND TRAGEDY follows E. W.’s contributions to the oil industry, being one of the first to find and access oil in Oklahoma and creating Marland Oil Company which paved the way for companies like Conoco to enter the scene. Oklahoma native, historian and author Kim Brumley also chronicles Marland’s numerous efforts as a philanthropist to improve the status and surroundings of his fellow Oklahomans. Marland lived, for many years, a life of luxury and opulence before poor business and political decisions would undermine his efforts. And, unfortunately, his legacy is a tainted one due to his marriage to an adopted niece, Lyde.
 
Yep, you read that right. Marland adopted the niece of his first wife (and her brother) when their parents could no longer care for the children and Marland then annulled the adoption in order to marry Lyde. And this was all after his first wife Virginia died. It was probably for the best she wasn’t alive to see how his life played out.
 
Now, Lyde was no longer a child when the annulment and subsequent marriage occurred. They weren’t technically related. She was also a willing and consenting participant in the relationship. However, it’s a little Woody Allenish and, for a number of reasons, the act was considered highly scandalous and attracted the attention of city residents, business partners, politicians and peers throughout the country. What followed were years of public scrutiny, bouts of seclusion and disappearing acts, ongoing scandal and rumor, and what was probably the total destruction of Lyde’s human spirit. Tragic, indeed.
 
While the facts, not all of which are proven, that surround the Marland family are indeed fascinating, MARLAND TRAGEDY is jumpy, a bit repetitive in structure and style and in need of a strong editing hand. Despite that, it’s clear that Brumley has a passion for Oklahoma history and the indelible imprints made by this highly generous, yet equally dysfunctional family. It won’t be the most eloquently written autobiography you pick up, but it reads at an engaging clip.

Rating: 3 stars
Pages: 188
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography

Week 28: World of Pies – Karen Stolz

The week before you go on vacation always seems to be like regular life, just intensified. Less sleep, more work, less ease, more stress… all just to take a few days off. This week was no different. I was about to pack up the boy and head out to the heartland for a week long visit of rest, cooking out, sleeping in, game nights and sun-kissed skin. I needed an easy book this week, the week before my officially easy week. WORLD OF PIES by Karen Stolz fit the bill perfectly.

This slim collection of stories centers around Roxanne Milner a young girl growing up in small town Annette, Texas in the early 1960s. Each chapter focuses on a time in Roxanne’s life during the critical ages of 12 – 30 something when she’s coming of age and coming into her own. Stolz does a good job creating a picture of Roxanne, her evolving best friendships, awkward first loves and losses all the way into marriage and a family of her own. The town of Annette is charming and a character of its own in the story, with mainstays such as Carl’s Corsets (Roxanne’s father’s lingerie shop and source of embarrassment for her) and Doreen’s (the best place for a burger and malt) which provide the reader a great sense of the community in which Roxanne grew up.

While WORLD OF PIES hearkens back to a seemingly simpler time, Stolz doesn’t shy away from weightier subjects (racism, Vietnam) that are sprinkled throughout the book in a way that remind us where we came from and bring more depth–without overpowering the story–to what could just be retro summer chick lit. But there is a fair amount of chick in this lit and that’s what makes it a perfect summer read. Desserts play a prominent role in WORLD OF PIES, shockingly though, pies are the least mentioned! That was my only complaint with the book. With a title like WORLD OF PIES, I expected them to have more of a feature role. Stolz makes up for this by providing the character’s recipes at the end of the book. A sweet additional treat to an already delightful book.

Rating: 3 stars
Pages: 176
Genre: Fiction

Week 27: Secrets of Eden – Chris Bohjalian

Just hours after Alice Hayward is baptized, she’s found strangled to death in her home. Sitting a few feet away from Alice’s body is her also-dead husband George, his brains blown out against the living room window in what appears to be a murder-suicide. And so starts SECRETS OF EDEN, a really hard-to-put-down and engaging page turner by Chris Bohjalian the author of MIDWIVES and THE DOUBLE BIND.


SECRETS OF EDEN wastes no time setting up the story and leaving the residents of small town Haverville, Vermont (and the reader) left to try and understand what would cause upstanding community business leader George Hayward to snap so violently and inflict such pain and devastation, all the while leaving behind a 15 year old daughter, Katie. Yet there were a few people who knew what happened behind the closed doors of the Hayward home and it’s Bohjalian who utilizes four of these individuals to tell the story of their tragic ending. First up is Reverend Stephen Drew, a trusted confidante, aware of the pain and strife Alice encountered. Second is Catherine Benincasa, Haverville’s resident attorney called in to investigate the deaths (and already aware of the restraining order Alice had requested just months before her passing). Spiritual self-help author du jour Heather Laurent, herself an orphan due to domestic violence, enters the fray with hopes of supporting Katie. And finally, thoroughly devastated Katie herself.


Employing this multi-narrative strategy to tell the story could have been a mess, but proves otherwise due to Bohjalian’s ability to believably create four wholly unique individuals with different and often conflicting points of view. As each narrator spoke in first person, it established an intimacy that had me feeling like I, too, was a fellow resident or friend listening in and maybe even participating in the gossip that comes with such a scandal. I was also able to see the blind spots and gaps in each of their perspectives, as an effective first-person narrative allows you to do, and slowly piece together what I thought happened between Alice and George.


Now, I won’t tell you if I was successful in determining the conclusion. I will tell you that SECRETS OF EDEN was a quick read, perfect for a lazy summer weekend when you want to shut off the TV and delve into a story rich with character development and full of intrigue.


Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 384
Genre: Fiction

Week 26: Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith – Jon Krakauer

On July 27, 1984 brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty brutally murdered their sister-in-law and 15-month old niece. They said it was a directive from God, a “removal revelation.”

In fact, Dan Lafferty’s exact words were, “I was doing God’s will, which is not a crime.”

And so sets the stage for UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN: A STORY OF VIOLENT FAITH by Jon Krakauer, an exhaustive exploration into the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (The Church of Mormon or LDS) and the excommunicated sect, The Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS).


I actually sat down with this book in 2003, when I was five months pregnant. While I hadn’t read Krakauer’s previous books, INTO THIN AIR or INTO THE WILD, I knew he was a well-respected non-fiction writer who had received a fair amount of acclaim. After making it through 100 pages, though, I had to put it down. The violence, especially involving the baby was too much to bear while my own baby was growing inside of me and my hormones were all crazy. The historical backstory was especially comprehensive and just too dense for me to really get lost in. Fast forward six years and one of my fellow book clubbers mandated it for her turn hosting this July and here I am again.


The second time around the violence was still hard to read and the history was again dense and slow moving, much like working your way through a thatchy forest, pushing the bark and leaves out of your way to make it to the clearing. That being said, I think this is an important book, flawed and all.


Why?


It’s important to understand history so we can anticipate and plan for the future. It’s important to learn other’s perspectives and their world views in hopes of understanding them. When things go wrong (horribly, horribly wrong), it’s important to be willing to go back–even to the very beginning–to understand how it could have happened. And, hopefully, to do whatever is needed so it doesn’t happen again. However, this becomes infinitely complicated when the horribly, horribly wrong is done in the name of religious freedom.


UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN recounts Ron and Dan Lafferty’s movement into the fundamentalist teachings that sprang from LDS founder Joseph Smith and subsequent self-ordained prophets throughout Mormon history. The FLDS faith is riddled with documented atrocities toward women and girls (including physical, sexual and emotional abuse) placing them outside of an equal role with men, and into one that views them as property. When Ron’s wife Dianna can no longer take his steadily growing controlling nature she leaves him and takes their children across the country. Her departure sets off a downward spiral in Ron, already angry at the world and profoundly narcissistic, who copes through obsessive prayer and requests for revelations from God. Finally, he gets his wish; a direct order to kill his sister-in-law Brenda and her daughter Erica, as well as two other community members, all seen by Ron as having aided in Dianna leaving and disrupting God’s plan for him.


Interestingly though, Ron’s revelation isn’t for him to kill them, but for his brother Dan to do it. He is just the voice, while Dan is the body to carry out the revelation. Ron’s increasing anger and narcissim compounded with Dan’s fervent fundamentalist fanaticism enabled them to “do God’s will” and take lives of two innocent people. Fortunately, they were unable to carry out the other murders due to some circumstances beyond their control.


Horrifying? Yes. Fascinating? Eerily so. Unconscionable? Absolutely. And yet, everything I shared with you was a supporting character to the chapter upon chapter of the starring role: The History of Joseph Smith and the Chuch of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This is a problem only because the book–on the front cover even–markets itself as a true crime story. I wanted to know so much more about what led up to the murders of Brenda and Erica and just enough history for me to understand the role that violence has played in the FLDS faith. Before closing the book I wanted to know:


When Ron shared his revelation with people of his church, why did no one go to the police?


Why didn’t Brenda’s husband Allen do anything to protect her? Yes, Ron told him too.


Why did no one tell Brenda that they feared for her life?


Why didn’t Krakauer–who had access to both Dan and Ron in prison–have any follow up with Allen?


Why didn’t Erica leave when she had the chance?


I can’t expect all the questions to be answered, most certainly not the last one. These just seem like gaping holes in an account that is so meticulously researched documented. Still, I came away knowing more than when I came in. I came away knowing more clearly the differences between a religious community trying to appeal to the mainstream (LDS) and one that is fervently against the norm (FLDS). I came away knowing that religious fanaticism practiced under a banner of heaven, regardless of the faith being followed, can be horrifically destructive and should not be excused.


Rating: 3 stars
Pages: 432
Genre: Non-fiction

Week 25: The Mighty Queens of Freeville – Amy Dickinson

There was not a singular moment that signaled to Amy Dickinson her marriage was over. Not her husband showing up to counseling with a suitcase having just returned from a European vacation with a girlfriend. Not when he told her he no longer loved her. Not when he said that they no longer had anything in common. And not when he reminded her that most of the men in the lives of her family had left, so it was probably something she expected. Nope. It wasn’t until the moving trucks were sitting outside of her door that she registered the finality of their dissolution and was forced to move forward in life as a single mother. THE MIGHTY QUEENS OF FREEVILLE is Dickinson’s account of her survival, and ultimate triumph, with the help of the women who had raised her.


It was my own mother, a single mom herself, who recommended this book to me after hearing about it on NPR or the morning news circuit or some talk show. See, Dickinson is actually a pretty famous person. She’s the Amy of “Ask Amy” the advice columnist who replaced Ann Landers. She also appears frequently on NPR’s “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me” and “All Things Considered”. And she didn’t start out that way. No, she started in Freeville, NY a small town of fewer than 1,000 people. She started surrounded by strong women who keep on when the keeping on is all you can do. And when Dickinson needed to keep on for her own sake and that of her two year old daughter, it’s where she returned. Repeatedly.

 

Despite the title, the other women play a more secondary role than I expected. The book focuses on singular moments in Dickinson’s emergence from divorce into self-sufficient, single-mother. Yes, there were a number of times that she returned to Freeville (she even bought a ramshackle house for a mere $56K to serve as a second home and safe landing spot when she needed the comfort and reassurances of home). But the book really focused on Dickinson and her daughter, Emily. That being said, I found the book thoroughly engaging, humorous, poignant and full of resonating moments.

 

THE MIGHTY QUEENS OF FREEVILLE came to me at a perfect time. My own single-motherhood status becomes officially official any day now and with that comes a mixture of emotions. While my situation is very different from Dickinson’s, the loss of a marriage is significant, mourn-worthy and creates some of the most challenging moments going forward and out into the world with a new status. Dickinson’s writing style is familiar and comforting and is probably one of the reasons she’s a successful advice columnist. She’s comfortable in her own skin, thanks to the independence and self-sufficiency gained early on when her own father left the family high and dry. She’s bright and engaging and a bit of a self-proclaimed dork which endeared her to me further.

 

THE MIGHTY QUEENS OF FREEVILLE certainly has a niche demographic of readers in divorced single mothers, but I actually think it’s a great book for all women struggling, needing support of others, connecting with their own resiliency and surviving because of and in spite of everything they have experienced.

 

And with gems like these, how could you not want to pick it up?:
[blockquote]On Her Mother (After Her Father Left)

She simply prevailed. Prevailing is underrated. People have the idea that unless they win, they lose. But sometimes surviving is enough. My mother knew this, and I learned it by watching her.

On Dating

The search for connection is the most basic and beautiful impulse I have. I try to enjoy my efforts–even when they are misguided, not reciprocated or doofus in the extreme.

On Advice to Her College-bound Daughter

I told her that the feelings she has when she is young will be the same feelings when she’s old, and that she should try not to be afraid of them. I wanted her to be bold in her choices but careful in her actions. I told her never to be mean to someone who loved her, because regret is the only true casualty of love.[/blockquote]

Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 240

Genre: Memoir

Week 23: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – Alan Bradley

I have always enjoyed a good mystery. It started with the classic Encyclopedia Brown mysteries of my childhood and grew to enjoying the likes of Agatha Christie, Dennis Lehane and Harlan Coben. Now, an expert on the mystery genre, I am not; but I do know when I like something. And I am ready to add Alan Bradley to the list of mystery writers to follow.

A first-time novelist at 70, Bradley has created an engaging heroine in the highly precocious, chemistry loving Flavia de Luce, an 11 year-old super sleuth and the star of THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE. Flavia (Flave) is the youngest of three girls and constantly finds herself at odds with her much older sisters Ophelia (Feely) and Daphne (Daffy). The distance from and desire to terrorize her sisters is a great encouragement for Flave’s love of chemistry, which manifests itself as a passion for poisons. And despite this morbid-sounding affinity, THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE is as delightful as the title and a lovely little read on a hot summer day.

 

 

After brief introductions of the de Luce family, the story opens with a mysterious death at Buckshaw, the de Luce’s English estate, and even stranger leave-behind: a dead jack snipe, with a collectible postage stamp impaled on his beak. Flavia’s father is immediately taken into custody and it’s the young girl’s mission to get to the bottom of this mystery, much to the chagrin of all involved.

 

So much of THE SWEETNESS makes it an engaging story: The all-things-English about the setting and its eccentric cast of characters, the turn of events and the smart-aleck leading lady herself. If I had to mark it down a smidgen, it would be that you really do have to suspend your disbelief to fully appreciate that an 11 year old could really have the knowledge, insight and wherewithal to accomplish what she does. But isn’t that sometimes the joy of a good mystery? The ability to get fully engrossed and let a little of the imagination stretch beyond the realm of logical possibility and wrap up to a satisfying conclusion?

 

This self-proclaimed realist must have found a little soft spot at the bottom of the pie.



Rating: 3 stars

Genre: Mystery
Pages: 416