Monday, December 14, 2009

The Help (Kathryn Stockett, 2009)

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, is the “it” novel of the moment and currently holding at number eight on the New York Times Bestseller list. The novel has been on the list for 35 weeks and recently came to my attention. I am normally a fan of nonfiction books but was intrigued by the praise of The Help from friends and wonderful book reviews. This was a book that I thoroughly enjoyed and I was sad to say goodbye to the rich, multidimensional characters

The Help is told from the perspective of three characters, Miss Skeeter Phelan, and two African American maids, Minny and Aibileen. Miss Skeeter is a recent graduate of Ole Miss University with an English degree. Her education has made her question the norms of the rural 1960’s town in which she grew up. Although Skeeter is accepted by her friends into the local Junior League and country club; she is ultimately an outsider in part due to her unconventional looks and her educated, open mind. Skeeter decides in her quest to become a real writer to interview the maids in her town. The chapters skip from Skeeter’s point of view to the vivacious, hotheaded, Minny and the authentic voice of the novel, Aibileen. The conflict is created by the extreme danger in Skeeter’s decision to interview the maids regarding the real treatment of domestic help in 1960’s Mississippi. Skeeter must attempt clandestine meetings with the maids in the black quarter and she ultimately writes about the private lives of her white best friends. In the end, Aibeleen becomes Skeeter’s staunchest ally and truthfulness prevails over bigotry.

I read most of the book on a five hour car trip and feel changed by Stockett’s poignant, yet ironic prose. I hope she will do a sequel because I’m not quite ready to let these characters go.

*FYI: Kathryn Stockett grew up in Jackson, Miss. with an absent mother and a beloved maid named Demtrie. The maid was her primary cargiver and the love of her life. This book is a dedication to this most influential person in her life.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Art Exhibition: Last World War I Veterans by Dan Llywelyn Hall


Portraits of the late WW1 veterans and serving British soldiers in conflict (London,UK)

Over forty paintings, prints and drawings will be exhibited. The studies of the last survivors of WW1, Harry Patch and Henry Allingham will be on display as well as a series of portraits based on current serving and deceased British soldiers from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. All works will be available for sale with 75% percent of proceeds benefiting St Dunstan’s and the British Legion.

Dan Llywelyn Hall

Monday, November 30, 2009

Guest Blog: Rachel Sontag; House Rules

Author Rachel Sontag on her memoir, House Rules.

A compelling, at times horrifying work that is impossible to put down, House Rules cracks open the shell of a desperately dysfunctional family with impressive grace and humor and prose that is both precise and rich.
Rachel Sontag grew up the daughter of a well-liked doctor in an upper middle class suburb of Chicago. The view from outside couldn’t have been more perfect. Well educated, liberal and worldly, the Sontag’s went to synagogue every Friday night. But within the walls of the family home, Rachel’s life was controlled and terrorized by her father’s serious depression. Questioning his authority led to brutal fights; disobedience meant humiliating punishments. When Rachel was twelve, he duct-taped her stereo dial to National Public Radio, measured the length of her hair and fingernails with a ruler, and regulated when she could shower.

A visceral and wrenching exploration of the impact of a damaged psyche on those nearest to him, House Rules will keep you reading even when you wish you could look away.

Thank you, Rachel and please visit her website

Monday, November 16, 2009

Guest Blog: English Professor Jennifer Feller

Three Cups of Tea: one man's mission to fight terrorism and build nations-- one school at a time
by Greg Mortenson , David O. Relin

Compact discs / Read by Patrick Lawlor / 2006.

Recently, Greg Mortenson's story Three Cups of Tea made it into my pile at the public library. I'm a changed person for hearing this tale. While that might seem to be a wild claim, it's literally true. I believe everyone in America should read or listen to this book.

Mortenson is a unique soul, a large man, trained as a nurse, and a mountain climber by vocation. He had two passions for the first three decades of his life: climbing and a desire to cure his younger sister's physical challenges. As a result of his sister's untimely death, Greg became even more determined to explore and celebrate life, to honor hers. In 1993, he joined a group that planned to ascend K2, the highest peak in the world. Characteristically, his trip was cut short by a successful attempt to save a fellow climber. Through a series of chance encounters, Mortenson ended up recovering in small mountain village in Northern Pakistan, where he found his third passion in life.

While he was on the mend, impressed by the compassion, wisdom, and grit of these Himalayans (the Balti), Greg toured the village. When he asked to see their school, he was led to a clearing, where children were practicing their lessons in the dirt. The government allowed the village to share a teacher with a neighboring village, but this was a day the teacher worked in the other. The children studied in the open, as there was nothing to spare for a building or supplies. On the spot, Mortenson vowed to provide a school for these children.

With no training in education, no background in fundraising nor international relations, and no connections who could help him, Mortenson set himself to the task. In fact, Mortenson was computer illiterate and homeless, as he had spent his life studying medicine, stored his belongings in rented space, and travelled constantly to climb. On the other hand, this man is an inspirational archetype of an American: well-travelled, resourceful, strong, honest, tolerant, compassionate, and persistent.

Overcoming all odds and every obstacle, learning from every mistake and gathering friends and supporters along the way, Mortenson succeeded in building that first school. To date, dozens of schools have been built, hundreds of village women have been provided backing for economic development, and, perhaps most important, international and cross-cultural bonds of hope and education have been forged throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mortenson's journey, as perilous and winding as a mountain trek, inspires patience, hope, and diligence. He learned the language, raised money, and risked everything. When approached for background information for this book, he provided a list of his enemies, so that the story could be told honestly. He was kidnapped by insurgents, routinely travelled through war zones, and lived on pennies a day. In fact, he was in Pakistan when the Towers fell in NYC and refused to leave the country until he'd finished the construction he'd planned for that trip.

Mortenson is unique individual, self-taught and determined. To know him is to be involved with his cause. To love him is to be separated from him for months at a time, as he travels and works to build schools and forge peace in the most desolate parts of the Third World. To read this book is to learn, along with Mortenson, more about relationships and humanity that any other I've experienced (in my self-help-soaked life!). The title of the book comes from the first lesson he learned from his hosts, "The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die. Doctor Greg, you must make time to share three cups of tea."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Quick Quote for the Day

"The world is but a canvas to our imaginations"
  Henry David Thoreau
 (Image: Wassily Kandinsky/The Swan)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Memory Keeper's Daughter (Fiction, 2005) Kim Edwards

This fictional novel begins on the night of an unusual Kentucky blizzard with Dr. David Henry delivering fraternal twins to his wife, Norah, assisted by his devoted nurse, Caroline Gill. David realizes that Paul, the boy baby, is healthy but that the other child, a girl, has Down’s syndrome. In order to spare Norah the heartache of this discovery, David orders Caroline to place the baby in an institution. Caroline, thirty-one and single, ignores David's request and flees with the baby, Phoebe, to a new life in Pittsburgh. The plot thickens and a dark shadow appears over the marriage of David and Norah. Paul, the male twin, is impacted by the problems of his parents. The new life of Caroline and Phoebe is also detailed. The novel chronicles the characters lives over three decades from 1964-1988. This is one of the best fiction books I have read in years. A page turner that I read over two nights. Every person I have recommended it to has the same reaction. Mesmerizing and excellent, the novel spent most of 2006 on the New York Times Best Seller List mostly through word of mouth. Deep themes of the treatment of the disabled and women are evident. In the end, life continues and we must live with the choices we make.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Black Wave: A Family's Adventure at Sea and the Disaster that Saved Them

This is the story of John and Jean Silverwood and their four children, Ben (16), Amelia (14), Jack (9), and Camille (5) and their adventure sailing around the world on their 50 ft catamaran, the Emerald Jane. In 2003, the family decides to leave their hectic life in surburban San Diego and embark on a life changing journey. Jean narrates the first part of the memoir and describes adapting to life on the high seas. I enjoyed her depictions of the family adjusting to the close quarters of a boat (especially the teens), passing through the Panama Canal, the enriching experiences of observing marine life and exploring other cultures. The children become adept at sailing and navigating. There is the threat of pirates in certain ports.
John is the voice of the second portion of the book and gives the reader his perspective of the trip along with historical information. The family confronts a dramatic collision with a coral reef 350 miles off the coast of Tahiti and the event has dire consequences for John. The strength of the family is tested and the the accident is life altering. In the vein of the Perfect Storm, this is a real life adventure tale that promises to be a memorable read. Hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Indentical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited

I read this book about a year ago but the story has remained with me. Elyse and Paula were identical twins born to a mentally incapable mother and separated as infants. Separation of identical twins is not a common occurrence. The sisters found eachother at age 35 and noticed amazing similarities in their lives. They both had explored artistic paths and had become interested in writing though they had very diverse upbringings.   The authors are thrilled to find eachother but experience difficulty with their new reality. My favorite parts of the book delved into the history and science of biological twins. The idea of nature versus nurture are explored in a unique way. Haven't we all wondered what it would be like to find an identical twin. I was truly sad to reach the last page of this amazing memoir.

Crashing Through: A True Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man Who Dared to See

Robert Kurson writes the biographical story of William May, a man who was blinded at age three in a tragic chemical accident. He remained blind for forty-two years and created a successful, happy life which included a career and family. Kurson's book details May's stem cell surgery in 1999, when at the age of forty-five he regains the ability to see. He describes May's difficulties in learning to live with sight and seeing the faces of his wife and children for the first time. The story evolves in a mysterious way.

I read this book about a year ago and had forgotten about it until my son brought up Helen Keller at dinner one night. Our family became engaged in an interesting dialogue about sight and hearing. The book became a focal point in our conversation and created many thoughts for us to ponder. We must be grateful for our senses.

In closing, I will say that the book fascinated me on many levels : 1.) The absence of one sense and the way in which people overcome this loss to live full lives 2.) The intricate and minute aspects of our vision that evolve over a lifetime; optic magic that the correction of vision may not be able to overcome. The book has remained with me and I left the reading with the an incredulous sense of awe in the power of the human body; one which we take for granted on a daily basis. I hope you will read this book and share your thoughts on an amazing human experience. Bravo to Robert Kurson for his excellent book.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Broccoli Brian

This post is a children's book called Broccoli Brian, written by Joey and Jenny Richardson and illustrated by Ellen Byrne. The book begins with two family dogs,Brian and Milo,chasing a cat called Fraidy. The chase continues over many miles when the conflict occurs and Milo becomes stuck in a muddy pig pen. Brian saves the day with a pouch of broccoli he wears around his neck. Consuming the broccoli gives Brian great strength (aka Popeye). Milo is saved from the swine and the story resolves with both dogs going home for a much needed bath.
This story was born from our dog, Brian's, real love of broccoli and is a gift to our children about our family pets. The message is a positive one: eat your broccoli and you will be strong. We hope others will love it and we will keep it as a family tribute to our two sweet, elderly canines.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Goodbye Natalie,Goodbye Splendour (Marti Rulli;Dennis Davern)

I found this book at the library on a Saturday and was finished with it by Monday. I had seen it advertised in a magazine and had forgotten to write the title down. I have always been interested in Natalie Wood and a huge fan of her movies. The book is written from the point of view of Marti Rulli; a writer and longtime friend of Dennis Davern, the captain of the Splendour, the yacht owned by Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner. I found the beginning of the book to be exceptional. Rulli told of the circumstances in which Davern became affiliated with the Wagners and his memorable time being their boat captain. An intimate friendship resulted from his employment and the close quarters spent on the Splendour. Davern creates vivid images of lovely boat trips and visits to the Wagner home in Beverly Hills. Davern reminisces about the yacht and the love he observed between Natalie and RJ. He tells of her sketching images of her daughters, Courtney and Natasha, and what a wonderful mother she was. Rulli describes the idyllic life the Wagner’s led in 1981 through the eyes of boat captain, Davern.

The final weekend of Natalie's demise is less vivid. Durban recalls events over a period of decades to his old friend, Rulli. He alludes to the fact that Natalie died from a homicide but in the end the facts are elusive. He gives some description and undergoes hypnosis but the hard, cold facts are never fully laid out. The book becomes caught up in Rulli's determination to publish a book but was I left missing a full chronology of the allegations the authors were making. In my impression, without a full disclosure by R.J. Wagner; the real truth may never be known. As a reader, that left me a little lost. Still worth a read.

*(I read this book and wrote this review in 2009 but never posted. This week the LAPD opened an inquiry into the death of Natalie Wood, almost thirty years to the day of the incident.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Middle Place

The Middle Place, by Kelly Corrigan, is probably my favorite book I have read this year. The book resonated with me because like Kelly, I  grew up in suburban Philadelphia and lived in the San Francisco Bay Area as a young mother. Kelly describes her journey through breast cancer while learning that her father has prostate cancer. A theme of the book is that in our 30's we live in a middle place between parent and child. Kelly's father, Greenie, is a character for the ages. He is a fun loving, optimistic, bear of a man who supports Kelly through her troubles. Beautifully written and heartfelt, this book delves into the author's world of marriage, motherhood ,friendship,and most of all family. Kelly writes in a way that you feel that your are a friend. You will feel a familiarity when she finds, Edward, her husband, has her babies, and grapples with the twin cancer diagnoses with Greenie. This book is currently on the New York Times bestseller list. Kelly has a second manuscript in production which I can't wait to read.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Adventure Read

One Sunday, paging through the Washington Post review of books, I found this gem. Norman Ollestad has written a gripping memoir of his unusual upbringing in Malibu and Mexico in the late 1970's. The author's father, Norman Ollestad Sr., was a former child actor and FBI agent. He raised his son to be fearless; skiing black diamond mountains at age three and surfing some of the most dangerous waves of the Pacific Ocean in Topanga Beach and Mexico. The book is a love story about a father and son. Norman's unorthodox upbringing ultimately saved him from a harrowing plane crash at age 11. A truly inspiring and moving tale. Another Starbucks book pick and currently on the New York Times Bestseller List. You will not be disappointed in this book. Website:
Norman Ollestead on Youtube discussing his book.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Happens Every Day

Happens Every Day (Isabel Gillies)
This was an excellent memoir on surviving divorce. I read it the first time in about two sittings. The author describes how she left a lucrative role on Law and Order to follow her English professor husband to a tiny, bucolic town in Oberlin, Ohio. She thrives there and enjoys the academic life with Josiah and their two small boys. Unfortunately, life sometimes has other plans.
Gillies paints an excellent portrait of marriage, infidelity, and its aftermath. She describes her WASP upbringing and displays great strength in the dissolution of her marriage. I have passed this book along to people of all ages and everyone has been captivated. I read this with a group of young adults and they had high regards for this memoir! Starbooks book pick for May. (FYI: Starbucks picks some terrifiic books).

NPR Review by Maureen Corrigan (Interesting article by book critic and Georgetown professor)

Isabel Gillies Website                                   

About Me

I am excited to share some of my favorite books and tips for motivating people of all ages to read. My friends and family have encouraged me to share the many books I read with others. I am so motivated to start a blog and I hope you will all be interested in my posts. Mainly, it is my own catalog of books I have read. You may also see some guest bloggers.
My love of reading began at an early age and in fifth grade, I was privileged to be pulled out class and be included in a group reading Junior Great Books. In the school library one day, I was frustrated and could not find a book to check out. The school librarian directed me to the biography section and I have been hooked on non-fiction books ever since. The point is that everyone enjoys stories and interest is the key word. Find out what a person is interested in and there is a book,article,website, or poem for them! Reading is a life skill.  It creates critical thinking skills and ispiration!
In closing, my daytime career revolves around teaching reading and I hope to inspire you with many great books. Please post comments and give me some feedback.