Friday, November 2, 2012

Proof of Heaven

Colm is a little boy who is dying. He knows it. His mother knows it. His doctor knows it. Coming to terms with this knowledge, Colm tries to placate his mother by pretending to believe in the healing powers of faith that she believes in. But he grows tired, physically and mentally. It is time for Colm to tell his mother the truth: There is no God and there is no life after death.
In Mary Curran-Hackett’s “Proof of Heaven,” a little boy is trying to deal with a very grown-up problem of facing his own mortality. He knows he is going to die but he has one mission on this earth that he would like to fulfill before his life ends and that is to meet his father. He knows it will hurt his mother if he tells her this, so he does his best to do this on his own.
With the help of his Uncle Sean and his doctor, he is confident that he will be able to find his father and gently break the news to his mother of his impending death. While Colm’s mother, Cathleen will stop at nothing to save her son. Her faith in God is unwaivering, as is her faith in their doctor and new friend, Dr. Basu. She knows that there is a way to heal her young son and restore his health so that he can grow up with her.
This book asks questions about love, death, and the afterlife. It is an exploration of the unbreakable bond of mother and child. It is about what makes a family. Most of all, this book is a journey about faith. It is about the different phases of faith in people’s lives. There are many ways to exhibit faith, whether it be through the ritual of religion, whether it be through science, or whether it is simply through the faith we have in our friends and family. This book is a reconnaissance of faith in all of it’s facets.
This is Curran-Hackett’s debut novel. She uses experiences from her own life to paint a very real picture of a boy and his mother who seem to be out of hope, but are never out of faith.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Violets of March

Emily Wilson has a seemingly perfect life. She has a perfect husband, a great career as a writer, and she lives is a beautiful apartment in Manhattan. Then her husband throws her a curve ball and all at once her marriage is over

To escape her own melancholy, she goes to visit her Aunt Bee on the West Coast. There she finds peace, a little romance, and something she never bargained for: a mystery.

Emily finds a journal at her aunt’s old house that contains a story of love and betrayal, but she cannot figure out if the story is real or fiction. The more she reads, the more involved she becomes and the more determined she is to find out who wrote this story. She has to figure out who the main players are in this story before she can get to the bottom of what really happened.

When Emily comes to terms with who the people are in the story and the end result of everything that happened, she is able to sort her own life out and free herself enough to find love and invite it into her own life.

“The Violets of March” by Sarah Jio is very much a romance. But because there is a great mystery involved, I did not mind the romance too much. It wasn’t mushy or boring as most romances tend to be.

While The book did not totally keep me enthralled, it was a fun, quick read that let me escape a little into that West Coast, beach front, life.  I did not necessarily identify with the main character, as my life is as far from hers as possible, but I could sympathize with her plight.

I was also very intrigued by the mystery surrounding the journal that she found. This was definitely the best part of the book. I wanted to know who the people were. Were they people that Emily knew? And where are they now? This dual storyline kept me reading with anticipation.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Language Of Flowers Column 24

In Victorian times, before there was texting and Facebooking, there was floriography. This “language of flowers” used various flowers and floral arrangements to send coded messages to others. It allowed individuals to express feelings that they might not want to speak aloud.

“The Language of Flowers,” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh introduces a young woman aptly named Victoria who has an affinity for flowers and their meanings. She can communicate through flowers what she cannot communicate through words or any other way.

Victoria grew up in the foster care system. When she turns eighteen, it is time for her to find a job and take care of herself. She becomes homeless and plants and cultivates a garden of her own in a public park. When a florist discovers her talents, Victoria also realizes that she has a gift for choosing the right flowers for the right occasions for the right people.

Victoria is not a likable character. She is mean. She makes very bad choices. She has been hurt so much in her life that she hesitates to let anyone into her life. But I found myself drawn to her. I sympathized with her. I wanted to go back in time and take care of her as a 9 year old and tell her that everything was going to be okay.

This book takes place in the present as well as Victoria’s past. We find out why Victoria became the way she is.

I cried while reading this book. I sobbed while reading this book. I know some people might find it a bit sentimental, but I could not stop reading it. I read the book in one sitting.

Some people I have talked to feel like the character is so unlikable that they could not relate to her at all. I guess I have always had a soft spot for children in the foster care system. I was glad Victoria was a fictional character, but I worry so much that there are many children in our system that are just like her. It breaks my heart that they children can slip through the cracks.

The story was not the only thing that I loved about the book. There was so much information about this Victorian Language of Flowers that I had to know more! I find it fascinating all of the meanings of the various flowers. And flowers that so many of us associate with certain feelings, mean the opposite! For example, I have always thought of sunflowers as being happy and bright and cheerful, but the Victorian meaning is “haughtiness.”

At the end of the book, Diffenbaugh encloses Victoria’s dictionary of flowers and their meanings. It is definitely a reference that I will use in the future. This book made me want to send flowers to a friend. Of course, I haven’t done that, yet. I always figured, why send flowers when you can send chocolate? Is there a Language of Chocolate out there? That is something I need to get fluent in.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

            I remember going to the circus several times as a kid. Surprisingly, the most memorable was also probably the most uneventful.
We lived in Philadelphia at the time. I must have been about 11 or 12 years old and I was really excited. We had been to the circus before and I knew what was coming! I was anticipating the elephants, the acrobats, the clowns and the cotton candy.
We left on a cloudy afternoon to search for this circus somewhere outside the city limits. I am pretty sure my mom had no idea where we were going. And it started to rain. Then it started to pour. After what seemed like forever, we finally arrived at the circus and I remember having to tromp through a huge mess of mud to get to the arena. But when we got to the gates, the circus was closed. It had been shut down due to the rain.
I remember being totally devastated. I was angry with my mom for dragging us all the way out in the middle of nowhere for nothing. I had looked forward to all of the magic the circus had to offer only to have my hopes crushed.
            “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern invoked all of those feelings of wonder and anticipation that I had about the circus. The descriptions of the sights, the sounds, and the smells that you can only experience in a carnival atmosphere really made me feel like I was right there.
            The book does not tell the story of any ordinary circus, however. This is Le Cirque des Reves, a magical circus that arrives without warning. Within its tents, the stage is set for a fierce competition—an impossible battle of skill and imagination between Celia and Marco, who have been trained in magic since they were young. Now is the time for them to show what they have learned. However, this encounter can end with only one of them standing.
            This book is part fantasy, part romance, and part intrigue. There is no one category that could define this book. It was fun, and I wanted to find out what happened in the end. The cast of colorful characters was fun to get to know, and it was devastating to lose some of them.
            Morgenstern’s descriptive prose was so intense that I could picture in my mind exactly the way everything looked and felt. I still have those pictures in my head. “The Night Circus” left me wanting to go to that magical place. I want to find that circus, or any circus or carnival for that matter, so I can experience everything that goes with it.
            Unfortunately, circuses are few and far between. Their live performances have been replaced by screens. We are so inundated, as a society, with computer-generated imagery, that illusions and circus magic no longer impress younger audiences. 
But nothing can replace a good book. Your imagination is always more brilliant than anything that can be produced on a screen.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Column 22

Madeleine L’Engle is an author you may know from your childhood. She wrote “A Wrinkle In Time,” “A Ring of Endless Light,” “Troubling A Star,” and numerous other books for youth.
            Madeleine L’Engle was also of woman of great faith. She believed in the sanctity of marriage and of family. She lived a fascinating life. You can read about her life through her memoirs, a four-book series entitled “The Crosswicks Journals.”
            My favorite in this series is without a doubt “Two-Part Invention.” In this memoir, L’Engle explores her relationship with her husband. She begins by talking about her childhood and then her young adulthood. She quickly moves to meeting her husband, actor Hugh Franklin, and their courtship.
            Theirs was a chaste and atypical courtship in that they did not rush things or make flippant moral decisions as did others who ran in their circle. They were “theater people,” which meant that most of the people around them did not blink an eye about “sleeping around” and moving from one partner to the next without qualm. Both of them decided to stay chaste until marriage, despite the pressures around them to the contrary.
            When they were married, they were hopelessly devoted to one another. Never giving up his dream of acting, Hugh continued to work on Broadway and eventually in television, where he landed a long-time acting position as Dr. Charles Tyler on the soap opera “All My Children.” This was his most well-known role.
            L’Engle supported her husband in his often difficult career. She never asked him to sacrifice his dream. She became a mother and homemaker while keeping her career as well. She wrote many successful books and had an acting career too.
            In this book we see the ups and downs of their marriage through humor and stories that only L’Engle could make funny and interesting. When Hugh gets cancer, we see her undying devotion and the love and passion she has for her husband, even after many years.
            This has to be one of my favorite books of all time. I have read it three times. Each time I get something new out of it. Each time I read it I gain a personal strength that makes me know that, although marriage is tough, it is worth all of the pain. Your spouse is your best friend. Your spouse is the person with whom you want to share everything.
Through her intimate thoughts and memories, L’Engle shows the reader that a perfect marriage is possible. A perfect marriage is your own marriage if you work to make it that way. As L’Engle puts it: “Love of music, of sunsets and sea; a liking for the same kind of people; political opinions that are not radically divergent; a similar stance as we look at the stars and think of the marvelous strangeness of the universe—these are what build a marriage. And it is never to be taken for granted.”
L’Engle and her husband are no longer living, but their amazing example lives on in her immortal pages. I know that even though this was my third reading of “Two-Part Invention” it will not be my last.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

            In a time where women are not considered citizens according to the law, Lyddie Berry is a widow who struggles to maintain a modicum of autonomy after her husband dies in a whaling accident. This is how “The Widow’s War” by Sally Gunning begins.
            According to the law in 1761, Widow Berry is entitled to one-third of her husband’s property. This means she may use one-third of her house. She also has use of the cow, the chickens, and part of the land to plant a garden.
            Lyddie is expected by her son-in-law to turn all of her property over to him so that he can sell it off for a profit. She is expected to move in with his family and live the remainder of her days in his debt. This is what society dictates, and it is what her friends and daughter expect her to do.
            Lyddie has other plans, however. She has lived many lonely years as a fisherman’s wife, taking care of her home and her property on her own while her husband was out to sea. She doesn’t see why things have to change.
            So through the help of a dear old friend who happens to be a lawyer, Lyddie tries to change how things have always been. She determines to make full use of that one-third of the property that is rightfully hers.
            She makes friends with an Indian man who hires her to keep his house so that she has a little bit of money to buy necessities. But he is the only friend she makes in this endeavor. She has lost her friends. Her community has shunned her. Her own daughter has even turned her back on Lyddie. She has only her own will to go on.
            But her son-in-law does not make things easy. He does everything in his power to make her life more difficult. He wants the money that the sale of the house would bring and will stop at nothing to get it.
            This is an inspiring fictional story about a woman who is determined to take her freedom from those who refuse to give it.
            I was rooting for Widow Berry from the very beginning. She is a heroine who tries to do what society expects of her, but in the end, has to follow her heart. She challenges the political, the religious, and the societal views around her in order to be happy.
June 19 marks the anniversary of the day in 1873 that Susan B. Anthony was  fined $100 for the federal crime of voting (in the 1872 presidential election) without the right to vote. She is a great woman that stood up for women’s rights in the history of this great country. “The Widow’s War,” although fictional, helped me appreciate the many heroines who have made my life, as a woman, a little easier.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I finally got around to reading this YA dystopian book. So many people have told me how great it was. And while I was reading it, I could not pick it up without someone saying how amazing it was.
To be honest, I was a little under-whelmed. It did not grab me much at all. I really had a hard time relating to the characters in the first half of the book. And when the author described the "Pretties," I just could not wrap my head around how they could be at all attractive.

But I kept reading. I thought there had to be something to all of the hype that everyone was creating around this series. After about 150 pages, I kinda got it. Once Tally, the lead character who is an, "Ugly," leaves her comfortable home, I really started to identify with her and I started to root for her.

I also really liked the description of "the ruins." This is supposed to be our current world about 300 years into the future. It fascinates me to think about what people will think of us in the future. I think Westerfeld really made this come alive for me. I get a kick out of picturing our dystopian future.

I like even more when he starts to describe how it all happened. I want to know more about how our civilization came to destroy itself. I watched "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" last night and I got the same thrill. The thrill of knowing how an entire civilization can come to ruin.

Basically that is what this book is about. It is about how we, the human race, are so centered on what people look like that we took ourselves out. We ended up creating a world where everyone looks the same and thinks the same and acts the same. This is to take out any chance of ruining ourselves ever again.

So, while I was a little disenchanted at first by this book, by the middle, I was hooked. And now I can't wait to read the next one. I really hope it goes more in depth about the fall of our civilization. I look forward to seeing what the next book in the series has to offer. I am not committed to the characters quite yet, but I do look forward to seeing what they will be up to in the next installment, "Pretties."

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Column 20 How to be an American Housewife

            “How to Be an American Housewife,” by Margaret Dilloway, is a glimpse into the life of Shoko, a Japanese woman who marries an American soldier after World War II in an attempt to escape her bleak prospects: a life of manual labor and near-starvation patterned after the fate of her mother and the Japanese women before her.
            The book begins at the end of Shoko’s life and flashes back to the past, beginning with her dream of being a housewife to an American GI. She knows it will be a challenge to raise children in America and still incorporate traditional Japanese customs, but Shoko is an intelligent woman who feels that if anyone can make good on this dream she can. So she finds an American soldier to marry and brings two children into the world in the United States.
            The title of the book refers to a fictitious book that Shoko’s husband, Charlie, gives her to help her assimilate into American culture. There are snippets from this “book” at the beginning of each chapter. Dilloway explains in the author’s note that her own mother received a similar book that was a guide for Japanese brides marrying American men.
I found myself very interested in the customs of the Japanese while reading this book. I was interested in their religions and the way they eat. I thought it was interesting how they revere their male children more than their female children. They let their sons get away with everything and ask them to do nothing, while the girls are stuck with all of the work and are expected to be perfect.
 Somehow, the boys who are raised this way still have some kind of a work ethic. The daughters grow up pleasing their parents and becoming submissive wives.
But Shoko does not experience this with her children. She tries raising her son and daughter in this traditional Japanese manner in America and finds that she ends up with a lazy, full-grown man who lives with his parents well into his forties. Her daughter becomes a bitter, disenchanted single mother who wants nothing to do with the Japanese way of life.
Before she dies, Shoko wants to reconcile with her brother, who disowned her years before when she married an American. With her failing health, it is impossible for Shoko to travel to Japan for a reunion, so she sends her daughter, Sue, in her place. This trip reveals family secrets that change the way Sue views her mother and the world around her.
Told from the points of view of Shoko and her daughter, “How to Be an American Housewife” offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of this Japanese-American family. It is engaging and entertaining, and I did not want to put it down.
In particular, the story made me want to know more about the women who came over from Japan seeking a better life in America. Were they happy with their choice to come here? Is America what they expected? Would they have chosen to go back to Japan if they could?
I am also curious to know how much Japan has changed since that post-World-War-II era. Are there women in Japan who still want to leave their country to come to America to seek “a better life?” I would definitely like to read more about this subject and seek out other books by this author.

Friday, June 1, 2012

column 19

            One day you are volunteering at your child’s school as the cafeteria mom. It is the end of lunch and almost all of the children are outside on the playground except for three little girls who have been teasing your daughter and your daughter who has run into the bathroom. There is a sudden explosion from the kitchen. When you come to, you find the three children crying, covered in soot and ash. You know that you have to get the children out of the building, but your daughter is still in the bathroom across the cafeteria. What do you do?
            This is the beginning of the book “Save Me” by Lisa Scottoline. The decision this mother makes and how she executes her decision affect her life dramatically over the next few months and beyond.
            I know, it sounds intense. It is really intense, but so good! But the book doesn’t stop there. There is also a mystery involved, as there is with all of Scottoline’s books. We find out what caused the fire and why all of this affects the main character, Rose, so deeply.
            This book is an accurate portrait of just how far a mother will go to save the ones she loves. It is emotional, heartbreaking, and a thrill to read. Let me be honest, it is not some great intellectual piece of literature. But it was a quick, fun read.
            I have read all of Scottoline’s books. Most of them are law mysteries. They are about a lawyer who lives in Philadelphia who is constantly getting into trouble by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I love these books. They are easy, fast, no-brainers. I started reading them because they all take place in Philadelphia, where I spent my elementary and junior high years. I love to read about the places that I am familiar with.
            I never expect more out of these books than to be entertained. They are entertaining. They grab me from the first chapter and make me want to read until I have finished the last page.
            But this book surprised me. It actually made me think a little. I was confronted with the “what would I do?” scenario. And I was curious, as well, as to how I would react if I had been the parent of one of the other children. How would I feel if there was a disaster at the school of my child? How would I react if my child had been seriously injured at school? Would I blame the school? There are also the legal ramifications. Would I want to sue someone?
            While this book might not be an American classic, it is a great way to escape your daily duties. It is a fun read—a wonderful “beach read.” (Does Rigby Lake count as “the beach?”)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Column 18 The Thirteenth Tale

Every once in a while I read a book that I can’t put down and I know I will want to read again. This was the case with “The Thirteenth Tale” by Diane Setterfield.
            One of the main characters of the book is Vida Winter, a fictitious famous author in England who has eluded biographers for fifty years, telling them only invented stories about her life and making up her past as she goes along. When she gets ill and learns that her life is fading, Winter turns to an amateur biographer, Margaret Lea, to trust to tell her life story from its eccentric beginning to its tragic end.
            Margaret is a bookish sort who has remained almost cloistered in her father’s bookshop all of her life, choosing to lose herself in the lives of the dead—through old books—rather than to foster relationships with the living.
            After receiving  a request from Winter to write her biography, Lea reads a rare copy of Winter’s “Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation.” She is intrigued by the stories and rather confused when she finds that there are only twelve stories rather than thirteen. It is then that she wonders, “Where is the thirteenth tale?” And her curiosity leads her to agree to tell Vida Winter’s  “true” story.
            Winters tells her life story as would any novelist, insisting on beginning at the beginning and going to the end, with no deviations. Margaret records Winter’s account and begins her journey in finding out all of the family secrets of the Angelfield family, including the skeletons in the closet that continue to haunt them now.
            This story of Gothic suspense had me enthralled the minute I opened the first chapter. There are so many interesting characters and stories to try to figure out, that I did not want to stop reading. This book left me wanting more, but it wrapped up rather nicely in the end.
            The book is full of beautiful references to, and about, books. Margaret’s love of books is something almost sacred to her, and it made me almost weep.
            Of course, I was excited to read this book when I read that it was a ghost tale. But if you are not into the supernatural, do not let this put you off. It is not full of weird, implausible plot points. It is also not scary. It is a suspenseful book that has twists and turns that you will never see coming.
            It is a book that you will definitely want to talk to someone about when you are finished, so I suggest you read it for a book group selection or have a friend read it as well. Or, email me! I will be happy to talk with you about it. I am looking forward to the day when enough time has passed that I can read it again. I know there are so many things in the book that I might have missed.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Column 17

People always want to know where to find new books to read. There are a lot of resources that can help you choose books, including people that share your passion for the same genre. There are even places to get free books!
            Most of the places that I go to for book ideas are sites on the internet. My primary resource is A social network for readers, Goodreads is a great place for you to catalogue the books you have read, as well as keep a list of books you would like to read. You can have “friends” on Goodreads, kind of like Facebook, and find out what they are reading as well.
            Unlike Facebook, however, I have expanded my friends list to include people I don’t know personally. If I find a person on Goodreads who reads and likes similar books as me, I will become friends with them just to keep up with their reading lists and get ideas of what to read.
            Goodreads also has giveaways where you can get free books, and many authors who are members of Goodreads keep blogs so that you can see what their latest projects are. Shelfarie is a similar website to Goodreads, but I have not really gotten as involved on that site.
            I also receive several newsletters for readers by email. My favorite is Shelf Awareness for Readers. This newsletter comes every Tuesday and every Friday. In this newsletter there are book reviews about the latest books, as well as suggestions for books that are older.
            Shelf Awareness also has great articles by readers and writers about books and writing. Some authors pitch their latest projects, and there are book giveaways on the site as well.
            I get a lot of great ideas from these newsletters. The reviews of the books are divided by genre, which helps when I am looking for a particular book to read. When I see a review of a book that I might be interested in, I usually go back to Goodreads and put it on my “to-read” list.
            Another newsletter that I get about once a month is Reading Group Choices. This is a website geared more toward book clubs, but it has some great ideas about books to read. It is also a great resource to use if you would like to start a book group. It tells you how to get started and how to have a successful book club.             Reading Group Choices also publishes a book each year comprised of one-page summaries of great book club books to read. I gave all the members of one of my book clubs a copy of this book for Christmas, and I think it will be a great place for us to find books to read in the future.
            There are also a million blogs out there that you can follow to find some great books to read. is one of my favorites. Kathy, the inspired blog author, writes about several books a week and does interviews with authors as well as giveaways. She has a great selection of books and does not stay with only one genre, which is something that I really like. Also, if you are interested in writing your own book blog, she is a great resource on how to get started. I get most of my requests for reviews from authors that she has sent my way.
            Despite the abundance of internet resources for finding a great book to read, sometimes a personal recommendation is still the best. Talk to people who have the same interests you have and ask them what they are reading. You may be pleasantly surprised with the books you will find!             

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

column 16

With all of the attention on “The Hunger Games,” right now, I thought I might suggest a series that is similar without the horror of children killing other children. The genre of dystopian young adult fiction seems to be very popular right now. There is no shortage of books to quench your thirst if you can’t get enough of this kind of story.

            The “Matched” series by Ally Condie is one of the thousand or so series out there for young adults or anyone who likes to read about another society created in the mind of a very clever author. In this world, “the warming” has come and the “Society” is trying to prevent the end of the world by making choices for everyone.
            The Society has chosen one hundred stories, one hundred paintings, one hundred songs, etcetera for everyone to hear and see. The Society chooses everyone’s professions, everyone’s mate and how many children everyone can have. They even choose when everyone will die.
            Cassia is satisfied with her life in this world. She is happy with her ideal chosen mate, until she sees Ky’s face flash an instant on the matching screen before fading to black. It is then that Cassia begins to question everything she has ever known.
            Is she really happy with her life? Are her parents, grandparents, neighbors, friends, happy with Society making all of their decisions for them?
            The premise of this first book, “Matched,” is engaging and promising. I read it when it was first published two years ago and awaited anxiously for the sequel which was released in November. I just got my hands on a copy of the second installment of this trilogy, “Crossed.” I read it in a few hours.
            The second book is different from the first in that it takes place outside of the Society that has been created. Cassia has chosen who she wants to be with and does her best to find him. But without the kind of “love-triangle” from the first book, there was not quite as much tension.
            What I really like about this series is that it is very clean. I could easily allow my twelve-year-old daughter to read it without being concerned about content. It is not overly intense. And there is not sexual content or innuendo.
            I really liked reading “The Hunger Games.” But I have not let my daughter read it because she gets scared easily and I think it might be a little too intense for her. The situations are dire in those books. Life seems hopeless.
            These books are less about survival of the fittest and more about having free agency. They are about making choices whether those choices are good or bad. And who determines whether a choice is a good choice or a bad choice?
            So, if you liked “The Hunger Games,” take a look at the “Matched” series by Ally Condie. I know it is always nice to find a new series to read and the final book in the series comes out in November.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

column 15

I never learned about Japanese-American internment camps in the United States when I was a child, so it has been shocking for me, as an adult, to read about this dark period in the recent past of the United States. It is even more shocking to read that it took place not far from my current backyard.
            During World War II, people of Japanese descent who had been born and raised in the United States were put in camps, which were essentially prisons, because of their heritage and the color of their skin.
            Julie Otsuka writes about this embarrassing chapter of the history of our country in two gripping and eye-opening novels, “When the Emperor Was Divine” and “Buddha in the Attic.”
            In her debut novel, “When the Emperor Was Divine,” Otsuka portrays the life of a family that is taken by long train ride to a dusty, hot, uncomfortable camp in the desert of the American West.
            The horrifying reality for Japanese Americans during World War II was that no one trusted them. People whose parents had immigrated to the United States from Japan for a better life found themselves ostracized by their fellow Americans—people they had grown up with. Men, women, and children born in this country were put in these “camps” because of fear.
            “Buddha In the Attic” paints a portrait of Japanese mail-order brides brought to the United States in the early twentieth century to marry Japanese men who were supposed to make their dreams come true. These men sent for women, ages 10 and up, to come live with them to be their wives, to make families, and to sometimes be no more than legal slaves.
            Mothers sent their daughters to this country with the hope that they would find a better life—free from the hard physical labor and malnourishment from which they themselves had suffered—only to find that the girls were sent to fates not much better than their own.
            As the years went on, conditions improved. The children of these mail-order brides grew up learning English. They got an education. They were able to read and write. This was the reason these women sacrificed to come to this country. Maybe they were not able to better themselves, but they were able to make things better for their progeny.
            Then came the bombing of Pearl Harbor. People who had been the friends of these Japanese Americans became afraid.  Their neighbors, grocers, customers, and employers were all afraid. That was when the men started to disappear. They were taken in the night. Eventually, fear spread beyond just the men. After all, who knew what secrets the Japanese women and children were hiding?
            That is when all the Japanese, regardless of whether they were born in the United States, were taken to the internment camps in the Rocky Mountain West, where they could be “safe.” That is what the government told the American people. Children missed their playmates. Employers missed their employees. Grocers missed their customers. People missed their friends, their neighbors, their community members, and their church fellows.
            These two books opened my eyes to the problems that arise when people are afraid. We can be a devastating people. We can be an intolerant people. We can even be a cruel people.
            After reading these beautiful novels, which are based on true stories as told to Julie Otsuka, my hope is that we can be a good people. These books talk about an inexcusable part of our American past. I hope it is never part of our future.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Column 14

Jane Austen is the quintessential chick-lit author. She is the original. Before Sophie Kinsella’s “Shopaholic” series, or Jennifer Weiner’s “Cannie Shapiro” books, there was Jane Austen. Elizabeth Bennet, Elinor Dashwood and Fanny Price are the original feminist heroines of literature. How can you read about these strong women, and the men they love, without falling in love yourself with the very idea of Regency-era romance?
    Even though Jane Austen has only six full novel titles to her credit, there are so many people who have tried to duplicate the Jane Austen experience. There are those who have written sequels and prequels to each of the six novels. There are spoofs of her books. There are books about people who love her books and books about people who obsess about Jane Austen and her life.
    This week’s book is about someone who wants to escape into that Regency time period of “turns around the room,” gallant men in breeches, and women being saved by tall, dark, handsome men—of considerable means—on horseback.
    In “Midnight In Austenland” by Shannon Hale, Charlotte Kinder is recovering from a disastrous marriage and wants nothing more than to escape to an immersive Austen experience where actors compete for her affections and cater to the guests’ Austen fantasies.
    While “Austenland,” the first in this series, was strictly a romantic comedy (which is currently being made into a film), “Midnight in Austenland” mixes things up a bit with a murder mystery twist.
    Of course, there is a great deal of humor in this book. I love Hale’s wit and the way she writes her characters as flawed-but-endearing women. The self-deprecating humor makes the reader root for the heroine from the beginning and hope that she can find the love that she craves in the fantasy world of Jane Austen.
    Perhaps you have heard of Hale and read some of her young adult fiction like “The Goose Girl” and “Princess Academy.” These fantasies are great reads if you are looking for a fairy tale. With “Midnight in Austenland,” we see a different side to Hale. The writing is geared toward adults, and the main character is a strong, adult heroine.
    While nothing beats the real Jane Austen, I love these fun Jane Austen-like add-ons and adaptations. Hale does not disappoint in this category!
    In general, I quite enjoy Hale’s books written for adults. This is the third of her books aimed at an adult audience, and I rush to get a copy of each one as it is released. Besides the two books in the Austenland series,  there is also “The Actor and the Housewife,” which is one of my favorite books. I can count on it for a great laugh and a good cry.
    If you like Shannon Hale’s young adult fiction but are looking to branch out, “The Actor and the Housewife” and the Austenland series
 should be the next books on your list!   

Friday, March 2, 2012

Lucky Column No 13!

            I have not done a lot of traveling, but I have moved a lot. In the process of those moves I have traveled across the country too many times to count. But I have not really stopped anywhere and experienced the cultures or seen many sites. I have been to most of the states in the continental United States and I have even been to a few of the Canadian provinces, but most of these experiences were brief rest stops on my way to final destinations that were as exciting as, well, Rexburg, Idaho.
            It has been a dream of mine to see different places in the world. But I hate traveling. I get airsick, carsick, and seasick. Because of this, my traveling experiences are limited. The women in the book I am reviewing for this week had no such issues and found the world at their disposal despite the limitations of the early twentieth century.
            “Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West,” by Dorothy Wickenden, is the true story of Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood, two close friends and graduates of Smith College who spent their time touring the world for fun until happening upon teaching jobs in the wilds of northwestern Colorado.
            These two high society girls from Auburn, New York are tired of their luncheons, charity work, and the silly young men trying to court them for their money. They set out on an adventure to teach in a remote mountain-top school in the Wild West.
            They endure long rides by horseback to the schoolhouse every day. They survive blinding blizzards. They come to love and care for unruly children who have never heard of the Pledge of Allegiance, who ski to school on barrel staves, and whose clothes are no more than rags tied together with string.
 The year Dotty and Rose spend in the West changes not only their lives but the lives of all of those who live in the tiny settlement of Elkhead, Colorado. There are many cowboys vying for their attention, and they see one of their dear friends kidnapped by two coal miners.
            This true story is captured in letters home by Dorothy and Rose, as well as interviews with descendants of the young women and with descendants of those who grew to love them in Elkhead. The story is delightfully thrilling and exciting. I learned so much about the western United States in those early years of the twentieth century that I did not know before.
            I love to read historical nonfiction. It makes me feel smarter than I am. Most of the time I read novels. Lately, I have been reading a lot of paranormal fiction and young adult fiction because of requests for reviews. It was nice to change things up a bit with this fun and witty trip with two society girls.
            Growing up on the East Coast, I did not learn western history. I did not learn about the building of the railroads. I knew that there were cowboys and western towns—I mean, I am a huge fan of “Little House on the Prairie”—but I really had no idea how recent this history was.
            This book gave me a small glimpse into the history of our great Wild West. After reading this book about two brave and inspiring girls, I do feel a little bit smarter, and maybe a little more adventurous. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Column No. 12 February 16, 2012

When I was young, I would devour romance novels. Nothing too lurid or inappropriate—just the sweet teeny bopper books that every thirteen-year-old girl loves. The story where girl meets boy, they fall in love, then there is a misunderstanding and they break up. But by the end of the novel, everything is resolved and the sixteen-year-old sweethearts end up living happily ever after.            

This was the plot of most Sweet Valley High books, and I am pretty sure I read just about every single one out there.

Now that I am older, and my taste in books has changed, I am pretty much over romance novels unless there is some kind of supernatural twist or mystery involved. I don’t have time to waste on just plain old romance anymore. I have my own love story that is happily ever after.

After twenty years together and fifteen years of marriage, my relationship with my husband is not exactly the stuff romance novels are made of, but it is perfect. It is comfortable. I am happy with our romance and find most romance novels trivial and quite ridiculous.

That is why, when I started reading this week’s book, I groaned a little inside.
“Pic Jump,” by local author Michelle Erickson, started out as your typical romance. Girl meets boy. They fall in love. They get married. I was thinking that the story was a little weak and that the love story was awfully short. Then the excitement started!

Minutes after the wedding there is a car crash which leaves the heroine, Pic, in a coma and unable to communicate to anyone through her own body. But she is able to communicate through the head of a Barbie doll to a little girl. Pic finds that there is a reason that she is in her situation. She has to help solve a mystery and save people that are in danger.

Yes, the premise is a little far fetched. But, I tell you what, I was hooked! Michelle’s writing style was fast-paced. Once I started, I could not put it down. I read the entire book in one afternoon!

I satisfied my need for a romance novel for this week’s Valentine’s column, and my own need for adventure and mystery.

This is the second book that I have read of Erickson’s. You may recall my review of “Klaus” in December. I suggest you take a look at her clean, fun books and support a local author. Her books are available on in e-book form or paperback. Or you can get “Pic Jump” at the BYU-I bookstore.

If you have not read a romance in a while because you are tired of the inappropriate content, this is the book for you. Or, if you have not tried a romance because you think they are all sappy and silly, take a look at “Pic Jump.” It was definitely my kind of romance!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Darkening Dream by Andy Gavin

If you like horror, this is a great book for you! It is intelligent, well-written, very well edited and gripping. Sarah is a young Jewish girl in turn of the century Salem who is friends with a group of other teenagers. They stumble upon more than they bargain for when they find a newly turned vampire in their small town. Befriending a young Greek boy named Alex, they are determined to find the maker of this vampire and put a stop to all of the nefarious deeds that seem to be happening all around Salem.

This is not your average tale of vampires. There are no sparkles and the vampires are definitely not "vegetarians." They are dark, evil beings who seek to bring about the end of the earth. There are warlocks, demons, and shape shifters. Mythology, biblical references and folklore fill the story with depth and creativity.

I have mixed feelings about this book. It was dark, and scary. There was a little bit of bad language in it. There was some sexual content. I would not recommend it to young readers or to those who are easily offended or frightened. It is very violent, which did not bother me. The violence was so well-written that it did not seem gratuitous. Much like "Godfather."

I was intrigued. I was frightened. And the end left me wanting more. I want to know what happens to the dear families and characters that I have come to know. I hope there is a sequel!

If you would like a free copy of this book from the author, Andy Gavin, follow this link today or tomorrow and get your free ebook!!!!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Column No 11 February 1, 2012


   Somewhere on a remote Italian island there is a castle covered in wisteria and freesia, with a blossoming Judas tree standing watch over the courtyard like a trusted footman.
            For Lotty and Rose, this castle beckons as an escape from their unhappy lives as unappreciated wives. 
            One dreary day in London at the women’s club, Lotty and Rose see an advertisement for a castle to let for the month of April in sunny, enchanting Italy. The women jump at the chance for a vacation from their husbands and find two other women to join them in this magical paradise.
            “The Enchanted April” by Elizabeth von Arnim is the perfect book to read in this dreary February weather. The descriptive prose invites the reader into the gardens of San Salvatore, a fictional medieval castle in the Mediterranean. All of the foliage surrounding the castle is a glorious metaphor for the development of lives and how people change.
            I was hooked from the first page when I read about Lotty, the shy and flighty wife of an ambitious solicitor, Mellersh.  Mellersh does not appreciate Lotty’s optimism and has forgotten why he married her in the first place.
            Rose is described as the “disappointed Madonna,” unhappy in her marriage because her husband has chosen a profession of which she doesn’t approve. These women become unlikely friends in the planning of their trip to Italy.
            Through advertisement, Lotty and Rose find two other women to share the expense of the trip: Caroline Dester, a young socialite, and Mrs. Fisher, a woman of advanced years who is shocked by the other three young ladies’ lack of propriety.
            This is a story about love, companionship, and having someone to appreciate you. Rose, in particular, “passionately longed to be important to someone again . . . privately important just to one other person.”
            Each of the four women is rejuvenated by the beauty of her surroundings, and each finds hope in her own way. As Mrs. Fisher decides, “As long as one was alive, one was not dead—obviously . . . and development, change, ripening, were life.”
            The reason I chose to write about this book now is because I recommend it for a great book group selection for this month or next.
            In March, the Department of Theatre and Dance at BYU–Idaho will be presenting the play version of “The Enchanted April.” What a wonderful opportunity to read the book and compare it to the play.
 Wednesday, March 28 there will be a special talk-back after the performance, in which the actors, designers, and director will discuss the play and the book as well. All book groups are welcome and encouraged to attend that night. If your book group would like to attend and have a talk-back on a different evening, you may contact The Department of Theatre and Dance at 496-4820 to request a special session.
            The play will run from March 22–24, and from March 27–30, with 7:30 p.m.  performances. Be sure to arrive thirty minutes early. Tickets go on sale two weeks prior to the performances.
            I encourage you to read this enchanting romantic comedy. It made me laugh out loud, and it gave me hope in the healing power of love. What better way to spend a Rexburg winter than to visit the Mediterranean and enter the world of “The Enchanted April.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Column No. 10 January 18, 2012

            I always judge a book by its cover. I am horrible that way. When I go into the library, I go to the new release section and pick up the books based on what the title font looks like, what kind of picture is on the jacket, and the color of the letters in the title.
            I am usually a pretty accurate judge about whether or not I will like a book just by looking at it. I don’t even have to look at the description of the book. This week’s book was one I never would have chosen if I had gotten it at the library.
            My cousin Melissa messaged me about this book. Growing up, Melissa and I had one thing in common: books. We both could read an arsenal of books within a week. And we had the same taste in books. We would pass books back and forth like other kids would interchange mix tapes. While Melissa and I did not have much else in common, we could always count on each other for a good book recommendation.
            Now we are older. We are both married. We both have kids. Melissa lives in Wisconsin. We don’t talk on the phone. We don’t email each other about our daily activities, but I can always count on her for a great book idea. I am always looking for a good book. So when she told me about “The Shape of Mercy” by Susan Meissner, I knew I needed to read it right away.
            I ignored my personal 99-cent e-book rule and spent full price to download this book that I knew would be great, just because Missy told me it would be. I was not disappointed.
            The cover of this book is lame. It makes the book look like it is going to be a really sappy Christian romance novel. I am not knocking Christian romance novels. They have their place in the world of literature, or at least in the world of quick, fun reads. But I was definitely not in the mood for that kind of book this week. I wanted something that would grip my soul and not let go. I wanted something that I would not be able to put down until the end. I found it!
            Lauren, the main character of the book, is a girl of privilege. She has never needed anything. But in an effort to escape the clutches of materialism, she decides to take a job. When she meets an elderly woman who needs someone to transcribe the diary of Mercy, a girl her age who lived during the Salem witch trials, she jumps at the opportunity.
            Lauren gets more than she bargained for as she becomes attached to Mercy, and she races to the end of the diary to find out what she knew was inevitable.
            In her journey through Mercy’s diary, Lauren learns not only Mercy’s story, but about her own life and how to accept who you are and the life you are given.
            I loved the way the story includes excerpts from the seventeenth-century diary. I am always a sucker for anything that has to do with Salem, Massachusetts. But this did not have anything supernatural or unbelievable in it. It seemed like it could be true. And it taught me a little about being happy in my own skin and with my own circumstances.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Have you heard about World Book Night?

I just learned about something called World Book Night. It is an excellent idea! People throughout the world, on April 23rd will be giving away free books in their community to people who do not read or who read very little. There is a list of books from which to choose and it is really hard to choose just one, believe me! The books are donated by this organization and shipped to the "givers" who will give out the book on that night.

I have signed up to be a giver. At least I have applied to be a giver. I think this would be so awesome! They provide you with 20 books to give out to people. I would love to just stand outside of the Paramount Theatre and hand out free books to people! Wouldn't you love to do it too? Check out this link
world book night and see if this is something you might want to do!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Column No. 9 January 2012

            Henry Huggins and Ramona Quimby were two of my closest friends growing up. I moved a lot, which meant that I was constantly making new friends and trying to find a new place in each neighborhood and school where we would make a home.             Few things were constant in my childhood friendships, but I always knew that I could count on books. At a young age, I found the books of Beverly Cleary to be especially comforting. Reading the antics of Ramona, Henry, and the gang on Klickitat Street was my anchor, in a way. I always knew that while reading those books, that those kids would not judge me. The characters were full of fun, and they were always up to new adventures.
            Recently, as I read about the childhood of Beverly Cleary in her memoir, “The Girl from Yamhill,” it was like coming home. It has been many years since I have opened the pages of those well-worn books from my childhood, but when I opened this memoir, memories of the adventures that I experienced in Cleary’s books came flooding back. I remembered the comfort I felt when I would reread a book about Ramona. I also remembered the thrill I got when I discovered other Cleary books for the first time.
            One of my favorite books as a fourth and fifth grader was “Emily’s Runaway Imagination.” Emily is a girl who lives on a farm in Oregon in the 1920s whose small town cannot afford a library. Emily uses her lively imagination to help bring a library to Pitchfork. Little did I know that this was a childhood experience for Cleary herself! Living on a farm in Yamhill, Oregon, young Beverly was prone to getting into scrapes because of her own runaway imagination. And her mother was the one who brought a library to their small town during a time that books were considered a luxury, especially among farmers.
            When the Great Depression hit, Beverly’s family was forced to leave the farm of her young childhood and move to the city of Portland. This is where a lot of the stories of Ramona and Beezus got their roots. Beverly had no shortage of adventures of her own that she whipped into tales of our young friends like Mitch and Amy, Ellen Tebbits and Otis Spofford, and of course, Henry Huggins.
            Reading about the childhood of Beverly Cleary endeared her to me even more than her books did when I was a child. Cleary’s mother was not a warm woman. Yet despite the lack of compassion and love Beverly received from her, Beverly was able to grow up and write the Ramona books about the kind of mother every child wants to have. Her father was hardworking and wise, but rarely present. Beverly Cleary overcame so many hardships to become the positive, optimistic writer that molded many children into compassionate and loving young adults.
            “The Girl from Yamhill” is the first of two installments by the Newbery medalist. It covers her childhood from living on the farm in Yamhill through her high school years in Portland. I am excited to read her second installment, “My Own Two Feet,” the story of her adventure leaving Oregon to attend junior college in California. This book takes us from her college years during the Depression, through various jobs she had, her marriage, and the publication of her first book.
            Whether or not you are a fan of Beverly Cleary, you will find her childhood fascinating and be uplifted by her strength and character. I will be forever grateful for her imagination that brought me my best childhood friends and continues to bring comfort and happiness to my own children.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Natural Reaction

The sixth in the Mary O'Reilly Paranormal Mystery series, "Natural Reaction," by Terri Reid picks up where the fifth book left off. Mary had just been through a horrible kidnapping and experienced, through hypnotism, everything a woman who had been previously kidnapped had endured.

I love these stories. My only complaint is that they are not long enough. But Reid is great about writing and publishing her books regularly, so I never have to wait too long for the next installment. My love of the paranormal is always fed when I get to read what happens next in the life of Mary O'Reilly who is an ex-cop who can see and talk to ghosts. I love that she helps the ghosts to move on to their next life after resolving any unfinished business in this life.

This story revolves around a chemistry teacher who was killed in an explosion caused by an experiment gone wrong many years ago. Or was it? There has to be a twist, right? Was the chemistry teacher murdered. and if so, why?

These questions are answered in this great story as well as the furthering of Mary's personal life with the police chief. Questions are answered about his past as well. If you are not familiar with Mary O'Reilly, it is time to get to Amazon and download her first book for a very reasonable price for your Kindle!

A Marked Past

"A Marked Past," Mercer Legacy Book 1 by Leslie Deaton is a great story of witches and modern day Salem. Lyla Mercer's life changed the day her dad dies. Her mom takes her from her comfortable home in Chicago to an old historical family house in Salem, Mass.  It is when she moves to Salem that Lyla finds her true roots and that she is part of a legacy dating back hundreds of years.

Lyla Mercer is a witch. She finds her powers are unlocked when she moves into the family home and talks to her uncle who insists that the death of Lyla's father was not an accident. He was murdered. It is up to Lyla and her cousins to stop this man who has killed numerous members of her family over the span of hundreds of years, from killing the rest of the Mercer Clan.

The story was fun, and unpredictable. I did find it a little manipulative to read in the beginning. I was not excited about the first two chapters. I thought the book was going to be sappy and sentimental, but I am glad I hung in there and continued to read because it got a lot better! I loved the plot and story line. The end did leave me hanging! What a cliff hanger! But I just can't wait for the next installment.

I am a sucker for anything witchy that takes place in Salem. And this book was one that was perfect for a quick read. I am really excited to see what Deaton will bring us next!

Rae of Hope

You know how I love a good YA paranormal book! This one did not disappoint. "Rae of Hope," by W.J. May is a story of a young girl whose parents died when she was a little girl. As a teenager she is sent to a boarding school in England where she finds all of the students have special powers and tattoos that show up the night of their sixteenth birthday. Rae discovers not only her powers, but also the history of her parents and finds that she has an original tattoo and powers that are unlike any other.

Of course, the story is not terribly original. There have been books written that are similar, but the writing style was gripping and the story and characters sucked me right in! I could not put this book down. There is a lot going on in this story. We have a lot of characters to meet, as well as the different powers that they have. There are going to be romantic plots and twists. As well as a little mystery.

The book was reminiscent to Harry Potter, but more for the YA set. Not as much detail about the school itself, as the Hogwarts books, which moved the story along quickly. But I loved that everyone had different powers and that everyone was just getting to know what these powers were and how to use them.

Rae's roommate was quirky and fun. Her love interest was the perfect boy, of course. And Guilder, the school, was a place that any teenager would be happy to attend.

With the magic and mystery that this book provides, it is a must-read for fans of YA paranormal romance!