Monthly Archives: January 2014

Book Opinion: Bellman & Black

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I finished Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield, a couple of days ago, and felt like I needed to let it percolate a bit before I wrote about it.

The story opens with a group of early Victorian era, English boys playing in a field. The action of the scene as well as the book focuses on William Bellman, a ten year old with a fantastic slingshot, unless you are British, and then, it’s a catapult. William uses his catapult to shoot a young rook (crow) off a branch at an incredibly long distance. The other boys are impressed, but William feels bad about the entire incident, falls ill, and when he is better, has forgotten all about it.

The rest of the book tells us William’s tale. We learn that he lives with his mother in a little cottage because his father abandoned them. William is handsome, has a beautiful singing voice, and the girls love him, but it seems that he is never going to amount to much. The girl that he has been seeing, that he seems to care for, tells him that she has her heart set on his friend Fred, the baker, because he is steady and she doesn’t want to struggle. William then works his way into the mill with his uncle and embarks on a very successful career as a mill owner. His life is a good one, until tragedy takes almost everything from him.

At the last moment before the final crisis that will completely destroy the life he has made for himself, he speaks with a mysterious man dressed in black that always seems to be lurking whenever something bad happens in William’s life. They strike a deal of sorts, and the last remaining thing in his life is restored to him. Following this miracle, Bellman and Black, an emporium catering to the Victorian obsession with death, funerals and mourning is born.

The reason I had to digest this book a bit is because I had a really hard time pinning it down. At first, I thought it was going to be a horror story. But it wasn’t. Then, I thought it was going to be a good old-fashioned Gothic mystery. I wasn’t, but it was. I thought that the rooks were going to terrorize him for killing one of their own. They kind of did, but they didn’t. Then, I thought it was a cautionary tale about becoming too self-involved, which it actually was, but at the same time it was not. I kept waiting to dislike William, I kept waiting for him to do something heinous, but I liked him and he didn’t. I kept waiting to find out who the hell gave a crap about the rooks and what their purpose was, and finally at the end, I found that out, and the book once again teetered on horror/gothic mystery. SO, it was a little bit confusing, a little bit literary (which means it forces you to think about the story and not just blindly enjoy it), a little bit spooky, and a whole lot entertaining.

If you are in any way into Victorian era death, or just good life stories, I think you’ll enjoy this book. Although it will try to force you to think about it, don’t think about it too much. Just read it, enjoy it, and don’t try to figure it out. It is very well written, so it’s easy to read. It has just the right amount of artistry about it to make it interesting without being pretentious, and some of her descriptions are downright poetic, which when done properly, as they are here, add to reading enjoyment. So while you are shivering in the cold that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, download it on your NOOK, or hop out to the bookstore and grab a copy, get a cozy blanket, a warm drink and maybe a cat for your lap and enjoy.

Have a great day and spend part of it with a great book 🙂

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Harry Potter, You Are Creating Another Reader

I guess I should say J.K. Rowling, you are creating another reader, but in truth, it’s Harry.
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My twelve year old son likes to read one day, and hates it the next. Typical boy I guess, so on a recent trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, I bought him a copy of /Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone/. He’s seen the movies but only paid half attention to them. He liked Harry, but he was not the HP fan that my daughter is despite my best efforts, because he had not read the books to himself. By buying him his own copy in Hogsmeade, I figured he’d read it because it was a souvenir, and because he is the perfect age. Boy was I right.
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He is now on the second book and is fretting about what he’ll do when he has finished all the books. “What am I going to read after Harry Potter MOOOOM???” I hear this on almost a daily basis. I tell him we’ll find him something else when the time comes. In about a year. Because that is likely how long it will take him to read all those books. I am so happy that he is interested in reading now, and I thank Harry for helping me out. After all, he is what turned my daughter into the reader she is, he also meant more to her than most of the real people in her life. You can read about our farewell to Harry here, https://messagedisciplineisrequired.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/see-ya-later-harry-potter/?preview=true&preview_id=52&preview_nonce=c84fcf7526&post_format=standard.

So once again, I thank you Harry for having a positive impact on our lives, we will always love you.

Book Opinion: My Mother’s Secret by J.L. Witterick

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I was in elementary school in the 1970’s, and it has only been in the last few years that I have realized that the world I grew up in was very much a post WWII place. John Wayne won the war in the Pacific every weekend on television in old black and white movies. The old people (grandparents) talked incessantly about the Depression and the war. My mother told me stories of her parents planning to cut her hair and dress her like a boy if the Germans invaded the country. She also told me stories of drilling with fake wooden rifles at school as a matter of course. My Mammaw told me about the families with the stars commemorating their service people in the window, and how the whole neighborhood heard the mother next-door scream when she got word that her son had been killed. My Grandfather was an air raid warden and when my Mammaw died, we found ration books in her things. There was also a plethora of books about the war and the Holocaust and the Nazis. I became interested in the stories when I was very young. I remember reading Anne Frank’s story, and I remember a book called Marta and the Nazis about a young girl in WWII Germany.

I still like to read about the Second World War. I am completely fascinated by the fact that an entire country full of intelligent, normal, people could fall for the charisma and promises of Hitler. I understand what post WWI Germany was like. I understand the desperation, and the longing for a leader to make it all better. I am unable to understand what I call, for lack of a better word, mass hypnosis that allowed such hideous atrocities to be perpetrated against so many innocents. I don’t understand why more people couldn’t see it coming, when it is so obvious what was happening. I don’t understand how people can do those things to other people.

My Mother’s Secret, by J.L. Witterick, is a fictionalized representation of the true story of Franciszka Halamajowa, and her daughter Helena, and peripherally, her son, Damian. Franciszka was Polish and married to a Ukrainian man. They moved to Germany because there were more opportunities for a better life there than in Poland. Franciszka eventually left her abusive husband, who had fallen hook line and sinker for the Nazis, and returned to Poland with her children. They were able to make a new life for themselves, and were living fairly well considering the level of poverty in Sokal, Poland when the Nazis invaded and the war broke out.

Before the war, Sokal, Poland was home to 6,000 Jews. After the war, 30 were left and half of them were saved by Franciszka. This little, sparely written book, that almost made me feel as if I were reading poetry, recounts the perils of hiding Jews just outside the Jewish ghetto, surrounded by German troops with itchy trigger fingers. The story is told without great gobs of gross, excruciating, explicit details of atrocities, which may seem to some people as if that aspect is being played down, but in reality, it makes the menace more real because you are less overwhelmed by the horror. These are people going about their regular lives, when all of a sudden, they are placed in a situation where doing the right thing could end their lives any minute.

We are also told the stories of the people who had to hide. One day, they were working in factories, or as doctors in hospitals, respected and respectable, and in the blink of an eye, they had to abandon everything and hide like animals in a burrow, just to survive. There is also a surprise “hider” that I won’t tell you about, but his life was hanging by the same thin thread as the Jews.

This book is a VERY quick read. Some of the chapters are only a paragraph long, and it is this unique way of breaking up the story that makes it sometimes feel like poetry. I think this would be a great book to teach just about any student seventh grade or above. It could be used in language arts or history, even ethics or government. If you are looking for historical fiction that illustrates the good in human beings even in the midst of horror, this might be the book for you. I felt so uplifted at the end; I think you would too.

Have a great day, and spend part of it with a good book.

Book Opinion: There’s More to Life Than This by Theresa Caputo

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Okie dokie friends, I told you that you never know what you’ll get here because I read lots of different things and this one is different.

The night after my father died, I was laying in bed in the dark trying to sleep. My eyes were closed and my mind was calming down, but I still couldn’t sleep. Suddenly, on the inside of my closed eyelids, I saw an old photograph. It was perfectly square with narrow white borders and the photo showed a sepia toned forest. There were no people, just the woods as they look in Ohio. Very suddenly, to the left of the photograph, a tall, slim, young man with short,thick, wavy black hair, wearing jeans with a rolled cuff at the ankles, an argyle sweater, and some kind of heavy dark shoes walked into the scene. He was carrying a shotgun. The butt of the gun was in his right hand, and the barrel was leaning on his shoulder. I could see him at about a 3/4 view, so I could see the pattern on his sweater, but only kind of the side of his face. He was about two thirds of the way back in the photo, so I could see his whole body. Just as suddenly, a large dog, a little shaggy, with a flag tail held straight up behind him, bounded into the picture, also from the left and ran up behind the young man. The dog was so happy. It was bounding around the man, obviously excited to see him. The man looked down, rubbed the top of the dog’s head, stood up straight, turned his face directly to me, and smiled a dazzling white smile directly into my eyes, turned and snapped his fingers at the dog and walked away into the woods, with his dog happily bounding around behind him. They disappeared into the trees and were gone. The photograph faded and I opened my eyes. The young man was my Father. He was in Heaven with Red, the dog he loved as a young man, and they were going hunting. He came to say goodbye to me because I didn’t get to see him before he left. It made me feel better and I can close my eyes and still see the scene, but tears are running down my face as I write this.

A couple of years ago, Theresa Caputo, better known as the Long Island Medium, caught my attention on her TV show. I watch it all the time and am fascinated by it. She seems legitimate to me and that’s saying something, because I am very suspicious of any flavor of psychic or medium because so many of them are charlatans, but Theresa seems to be the real thing. I like her. She seems normal. I think we could be really good friends, so my opinion of her and her book may be biased a little. Full disclosure here.

The book was written with ghost (lol) writer Kristina Grish. They obviously had a really good working relationship because Theresa’s voice is evident throughout. It sounds like her. I can almost picture her face and hear her talking through most of the book. She tells us about her life in addition to what goes on in Spirit. We learn that she had night terrors and terrible anxiety as a child and young woman, because she didn’t know what was happening. Eventually, she found a woman named Pat who was able to help and guide her and teach her how to protect herself from the Spirits who just wouldn’t stop communicating with her. Theresa talks about meeting and marrying her husband Larry and talks a lot about her children and her large extended Italian family. There is a lot of love there, and it was nice to hear about it.

Theresa also talks about God, angels, Heaven, guides and Jesus. She hits on what seems to be the major high points of the extensive knowledge of the whole deal that she has. There is no way it could all be laid out in one book, but what she gives us is very interesting and validates a lot of the thoughts I’ve had about God and Heaven and spirituality. She talks extensively about the lessons our souls are sent here by God to learn. She also acknowledges that it was very difficult for her to reconcile some of the things she now knows with the Catholicism she was raised in. I’m paraphrasing here, but she says that being raised Catholic, she was taught that you die, you go to heaven and you stay there with God; it took a little time for her to accept that there is so much more to it than we are taught.

I recommend this book for a number of reasons, not the least of which is it’s fascinating; the book really gives a lot of insight to a topic that not a lot of people know anything about. It’s also entertaining and a well written, quick read. If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, it is also very helpful and comforting. It validated for me, that the vision I had of my Dad after his death, was sent to me by him to let me know that he was healthy and whole, with his dog, hunting in Heaven. As Theresa would say, I know that at that exact moment his soul was with me. I’m also starting to suspect that when my son was about two years old and told me that he knew my daughter when they were in baby Heaven, he was probably right.

Have a great day and read a good book 🙂

Book Opinion: Innocence by Dean Koontz

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I am a big reader. I love books. I have so many of them, that some of them are stored in tubs in the basement, which is really a bad place for books, but what can I do? I’m out of space. I have an English degree and half of a Master’s degree, so I’ve been expensively and thoroughly trained to analyze literature. The problem is, I’ve found that no one really knows what an author’s intentions were unless they left notes that say the cigar in chapter six is a metaphor for something else. It’s all subjective and opinion based and if you can pull quotes from the text to back your assertions, you can say just about anything you want and no one can prove that you are wrong. As I have matured, that seems to be a waste of time. When it comes right down to it in a practical sense, sometimes people want to know what other people think about books and movies and tv shows etc before they waste their time. I’m going to call these “reviews” opinions, because that is all they are. My opinion.

I love Dean Koontz. I’ve read and own all of his books. I wait with great excitement when one of his books is due to come out because I find them so entertaining; wonderful escapism, a day spent in another world. Generally, his books are a really fast read for me because he doesn’t tend to waste time going off on tangents (vintage Stephen King? HIGH Stephen King?) or being artsy fartsy and losing my attention with unnecessary details about clouds and sky and snow. This book took me, waaaaaait for iiiitttt… three freaking weeks to read. I generally read one of his novels in a day.

We meet a young man who’s name turns out to be Addison Goodheart. Goodheart? Really? Bit ‘o foreshadowing there. Anyway, Addison lives in the tunnels deep under a large city that I’m pretty sure isn’t named, but everyone knows is NYC. He lives there because he was born a freak of nature, who’s appearance inspires violence in anyone who looks at him and because it is impossible to live with him, his mother turns him out into the forest (Hansel and Gretel) at eight years old. He makes his way to the city, meets with peril, meets another freak of nature who takes him under his wing and becomes his adoptive father. They live happily in their Phantom of the Opera-esque hideaway until the father is murdered because of his freakishness. Addison then lives alone for six years until the fateful night the Beast meets his Beauty in what is obviously the New York Public Library. She is beautiful, but also flawed by severe social phobia. Addison is not allowed to touch Gwyneth, Gwyneth is not allowed to look at Addison.

Drama and mystery ensue as the two work through people chasing Gwyneth, hiding Addison’s face, rescuing a girl in a coma, creepy marionettes, a cabal of evil doers who are destroying famous works of western art and driving around in a blizzard. There is a lot of waxing poetic, a lot of “I can’t tell you now” intrigue, with an impending Armageddon thrown in for good measure toward the end. “Who we of the hidden were, what we were, why we ever existed, explained the mystery of music issuing out of the ether.” This quote is on page 287. So after almost three hundred pages of prose along these lines, we still don’t know if this kid is a werewolf, burned, two headed, covered with tumors, possessing extra features or what. NO FREAKING CLUE WHAT’S WRONG WITH HIM THIS FAR IN! For me, it was terribly frustrating, irritating even. The vague intrigue goes on till page 295, (give or take depending on your opinion) of a 338 page book. Those last 43 pages are really good and very Dean Koontz. Finished that part in about ten minutes. Those 43 pages made me wish for a sequel believe it or not, but a faster paced, more tightly written one.

Because I love Dean Koontz so much, I’m blaming this on editing. I have never seen one of his books that felt disjointed and kept making me feel like I missed something. I’ll admit it, the blah, blah, blah got so bad I skimmed. I don’t skim. The story has great bones, but the body of the book is so purposely “dreamy” that it almost lost me. My recommendation for this one is to borrow it from a friend or the library, read the last 43 pages and let it go. Find one his oldies like /The Watchers/ or one of the Odd Thomas stories and enjoy Koontz at his best. And DK? I love you, I hope you’re not mad at me; please let me edit your next book, because whoever did this one is not your friend.