Tag Archives: books

Book Opinion: Caroline Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller

My 1970’s era copy of Little House on the Prairie, a hardcover version bought for my daughter, and the new version, Caroline, bought recently.

As a long time Laura Ingalls Wilder fan, imagine my delight at discovering Caroline Little House, Revisted, a reimagining of Laura’s book Little House on the Prairie, told from the perspective of Caroline Ingalls, mother of the Ingalls brood. I was not disappointed.

This retelling of the tale delves into Caroline’s emotions, snippets of her history that Laura’s books didn’t address, her fears, her relationship with her husband, her love for her children, and the intestinal fortitude required of the pioneer generation. It includes stories that my fellow prairie-ties will recognize. The leaving of home and family, crossing the frozen Lake Pepin, fording a flooded river in the wagon, arriving in Independence, wolves, prairie fires, Indians, and best of all, MR. EDWARDS. It also clears up a few things, including the fact that the Osage war dance described by Laura didn’t happen. The Ingalls’ were likely frightened by the mourning songs sung by the Osage women after the Osage leaders met with federal Indian agents and agreed to peaceably sell their lands and relocate to Oklahoma. We also learn that the Ingalls family were not removed from their land by the government. Rather, Gustav Gustafson who bought the house in the Big Woods, reneged on the deal, the property reverted to the Ingalls and since they did not yet own their Kansas claim, they had to go back.

The emotions in Laura’s books were the emotions of a child, in this book, we get insight on what the pioneering experience must’ve been like to the women who gave up their entire lives to go west. The fear of giving birth alone, surviving sickness without family, worry for the children, long stretches of time alone on the claim with children while the husband went to town or went out hunting.

This book probably has a very specific audience, people like me who grew up on Laura’s books or the television show. Honestly though, anyone with interest in history or the pioneer era would enjoy this book. By the way, if you’ve never read Laura’s books, and your knowledge of the Little House universe is limited to the Micheal Landon show, I beg you to read the books, and read them to your kids. You’ll never look at that tv show the same way.

Have a great weekend everybody. Spend some of it with a good book, and spread kindness. ❤️

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Book Opinion: Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes

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Adolph Hitler.

I was raised by parents and grandparents who lived through WWII and the Great Depression. I didn’t realize until about ten years ago, that the America I grew up in was very post war in its sensibilities. I was surrounded by the greatest generation and their independence and strength. I was raised on those values, and one thing that has always fascinated me because of its extremity is WWII era Germany. I couldn’t understand it, and Adolph Hitler was and is, the ultimate boogie man. One minute you see him smiling and petting his dog in what looked like a scene that anybody would be in, the next minute you see him screaming and shaking his fist, spittle flying, weird little bangs separating, thousands of sycophants Seig Heiling and snapping up that infamous salute.

The pageantry created by the Nazis was second to none. Red, black, and white go so well together after all. The uniforms were flashy and they made every effort to show mainly tall, well-built, handsome, blue-eyed blondes to reinforce their agenda. The parades, the bonfires, (hey, are those BOOKS in there?) the snappy flags and the shiny black cars. Then you find out about the beatings, murder, destruction, concentration camps and world domination ambitions, and the contradiction that was Nazi Germany becomes something that you try to figure out, but can’t.

When I saw this book at Jo-Beth Booksellers, I couldn’t resist. I read the book jacket, so I knew it was satire, but I had to see what Timur Vermes imagined the Furher (sorry, I don’t know how to do umlauts) would do if he came back. What I found was more an indictment of modern civilization than an indictment of Herr Hitler, although I guess you can’t really make him any worse than he already is.

So anyway, Adolph wakes up on a beautiful, blue sky, sunny day in a vacant lot somewhere in Berlin. At first, he looks around for signs of the war going on, but sees none. He is in full uniform, it’s a little smudged and smells like gasoline from a cleaning attempt, but overall, he’s in pretty good shape. He winds up being taken in by a newspaper kiosk guy who tells him the year and helps him out. He also hooks him up with tv producers because he thinks the Hitler thing is an act.

Hitler is a smart guy obviously and figures out really quickly that something strange has happened and he wants to get his political career going again. To make a long story short, he learns about modern technology and people and finds all of it ridiculous, still hates Jews etc., and becomes a big celebrity. And of course, nobody believes him. The entire country is furious that he won’t reveal his real name, because they don’t believe him, and he’s ready to call in the SS to take care of the people who keep asking. Just like vampires, werewolves, and witches, modern society doesn’t believe in the monster, and ultimately, it’ll cause them trouble.  By the end, you can see that if he remains persistent, the modern sheeple are going to end up following him.

I enjoyed the book overall. It made me think about how ridiculous modern society is. It pointed out yet again, that even though a threat, or a negative anomaly can be as plain as the nose on your face, we often, in our enlightened modernity, deny it, even as it’s taking over our lives. I’d kind of like Vermes to write a sequel, where the monster really comes roaring back, in all of his muderous, evil, mastermind glory, not funny this time.  It would be the most successful horror story of all time.

If you enjoy satire, you might want to give this one a look. It really did have a number of LOL moments, and the way the speeches he makes are laid out in the book, you can almost hear that old black and white boogie man screaming, and shaking his fist, spittle flying, and weird little bangs separating.

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

 

Book Opinion: Prince Lestat by Anne Rice

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What to say, what to say…

When I was a teenager, I found Interview With a Vampire. I liked it and proceeded to read the rest of the books, along with the ones about the Mayfair Witches and all the rest. I was excited to see she was writing another vampire story. Then I read it.

The thing people who have not read these books don’t realize, is that Lestat is kind of the chorus girl who breaks out and eclipses the star. Interview With a Vampire is Louis’ story, not Lestat’s. He figures strongly in it of course, but the book is about Louis. After that one, Lestat became the focus. Such a mythology has built up around him and he has such a strong voice in her writing, that it’s almost like he’s real. In fact, go to New Orleans on a regular Tuesday, and I guarantee you that within an hour of wandering the French Quarter, you will find some guy dressed up like him, purply glasses, long blonde hair, velvet frock coat and all. Just walking down a dusky street. This new book does none of that justice.

The gist of the story is that one of the original vamps has inhabited the body of another ancient vamp, but in spirit form and he is physically telling older vamps to burn fledglings. They are all scared and are looking for a gathering of the older vamps and begging for a leader, guess who? The story is pretty good, and definitely do-able, the problem with this book is the mechanics of it. Without going too deeply into details about glossaries and appendices etc, because it may take you two weeks to read this post like it took me two weeks to read this book, I’ll sum it up. Because it’s been so long, and because the author wants to add to her audience, we are treated to a dictionary of sorts of vampire terminology as it’s used in the Vampire Chronicles. Then, we get a big fat commercial for about a third of the book for the EARLIER books. The Vampire Chronicles and/or names of individual books are mentioned four thousand, three hundred and fifty seven times in the space of the first section of the book. I exaggerate of course, but you get my drift. We then get a different vampiric author for each chapter, giving back stories, world history, etc, etc. I am yawning just remembering it. Then suddenly, we get a Lestat chapter. It flows well, you can hear his voice, especially if you are a long-time fan, you get in a reading groove because it’s well written, then it switches back to someone else, and it takes you a day and a half to read one chapter. Then at the end of the book, we have an appendix of Anne Rice supernatural characters with a little blurb about each one, and then another appendix of Anne Rice supernatural themed books with a short paragraph describing each one. Again, it’s a commercial for the entire cannon of vampire stuff.

There are a couple of interesting surprises involving a young man named Victor, and a young woman named Rose, which set us up for more vampire stories, which if they are done properly could be enjoyable. Now that the commercial that is this book is finished, I can only hope that whatever creepy spirit possesses her when she is writing in Lestat’s voice, will show up and spare us glossaries, dictionaries, appendices, further mention by name of the earlier books, long flowery descriptions of clothing and overuse of the word “bespoke,” as well as an absence of long drawn out, boring world and vampire histories. You made me a little sad Anne, but I’ll chalk it up to the fact that it’s been something like ten or eleven years since you wrote a book and clearly your publisher/editor person didn’t really care what you wrote because they knew it would sell a lot and make a butt-ton of money regardless of the content. It probably won’t work out so great along those lines next time, so tighten it up girl; and if you are surrounded by yes men, get somebody who will tell you the truth and actually WORK with you. I still love you though, and I look forward to being able to give you another chance.

Have a great day everybody, stay warm and be nice 🙂

Abandoned Apple Farm

My Facebook friends have already seen some of these pictures, so I apologize to them for posting stuff they’ve already seen.

When I was a little girl, my mother took my brother and me to this apple farm every year to get our Halloween pumpkins. It was awesome and the inside of the store smelled like apples. I’ve thought of it often over the years, so a few weeks back, my husband and I took a drive out to see if it was still standing. It was. Sort-of.

The store.
The store.
Old Mrs. Fagley's spot.
Old Mrs. Fagley’s spot.

Right next to the fireplace, beside that white pillar that you see, the grandma of the family sat. She reminded me of a Russian fairy tale grandma. She was always bundled up, and working on some kind of crafty thing. She never looked up. If I am remembering it correctly, she smoked a pipe. I was simultaneously fascinated and terrified of her. I wanted to talk to her, but I was too little to have the guts to do it.

Abandoned books and an apple sticker.
Abandoned books and an apple cider sticker.

If the books hadn’t been so moldy and gross, I would have liberated them from their depressing captivity. As it was, I had to leave them behind. A sad state of affairs for a book lover such as myself.

Freezer door.  Beautiful.
Freezer door. Beautiful.
What was BEHIND the beautiful freezer door.  Scary, scary, scary.  Didn't linger here...
What was BEHIND the beautiful freezer door. Scary, scary, scary. Didn’t linger here…

Speaking of abandoned books. I love this photo. So simple, so bleak.

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I think that’ll have to do for this post. I have a lot more pictures from this day. I’ll have to do another post with some of them another day. Don’t wanna bore ya.

Have a beautiful day, send positive vibes into our troubled world and be kind to someone. 🙂

Book Opinion: Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

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When I was a teenager, my Mom and Dad and I went to Florida several times on vacation. We always drove and we always stopped at the Quality Inn in Valdosta, Georgia on the way down. This hotel screamed “The South” to me; plantation shutters, beautiful gardens, a pool that I loved and a small-ish, original to the property house all graced the place. We ALWAYS ate dinner at the Ho-Jo’s across the street then came back and my Mom and I would wander the grounds before my solo swimming sessions at the pool. Mom would sit there and watch me swim “in case something happened” but she would’ve not been much help if something HAD happened because she couldn’t swim. My Dad would usually stay in the room smoking and watching t.v.

Even though we always only stayed there one night because we were just passing through, I loved that place. I entertained some of my most vivid Gone With the Wind fantasies inside my head as my Mom and I walked the grounds. I kept waiting for Rhett Butler to come around a bend and fall in love with me, and beautiful girls in hoop skirts to be flirting with handsome boys at a barbeque on the lawn. I loved it so much that when I grew up, I wanted to stop there with MY family, so one year when my daughter was little, we got off the highway and went to the hotel. It was some other chain by then, but the plantation shutters, gardens, pool and house were still there. They were shabbier than they had been and I realized that the property was literally RIGHT next to the highway. When I was a child, the grounds had been so lush that you couldn’t SEE the highway, so I had no idea. It was a little chilly, so we couldn’t get in the pool, which was disappointing, and if it had been warm, I would never have let my baby in it anyway because it wasn’t really clean and THAT was disappointing. The Ho-Jo’s was gone as were Rhett and the rest of the gang and THAT was disappointing. The whole experience left me feeling let down and I was glad to leave the next morning. The only way I’ll ever go back is if I win the Power Ball and go buy it and return it to it’s former glory, so when I heard about Sarah Addison Allen’s new book Lost Lake, I felt that I might be able to relate.

Sarah Addison Allen is one of my favorite authors. I have all of her books and I love them all. They are all lyrical, and a little magical. One of her books has a protagonist who enchants with her baked goods, another book has mysterious lights in a garden. They are lovely, beautiful stories, and Lost Lake is no different.

Kate is a young widow with a daughter named Devin, and a mother-in-law named Cricket. After the loss of her husband, Kate “goes to sleep” for a year. When she finally snaps out of it just as she is about to take her daughter and move in with Cricket, she finds a postcard from her great-aunt Eby who owns a lake resort in southern Georgia. Eby is the last relative Kate has, and on a whim, Kate decides to load Devin into the car and drive down to visit Eby who she had only met once, when as a child, she and her family had spent several weeks at Lost Lake.

When Kate arrives at the lake, it is obvious that time has taken it’s toll. The property has fallen into disrepair, the guests who summered there for years are aging out of coming back, and Eby has decided to sell and retire. During the course of her visit, Kate reconnects with people she met before as well as meets a whole new cast of characters. Without giving too much away, there is a mute French woman, a ghost in a chair, a ghost alligator, a mystery, and a lovely man to occupy her time.

Lost Lake is a beautiful story about families, new beginnings, endings, tying up loose ends, grief in many of it’s forms, forgiveness, understanding, letting go of the past and embracing the future. You can’t go home again, but you CAN use your past to make your life move forward. Sometimes ghosts can help you learn how to go on. I enjoyed reading this book in the middle of winter, because it transported me to summer; to cool drinks by the water, lanterns in the trees and dancing in the moonlight. Thank you Sarah Addison Allen for giving me another beautiful story to think about and another book to add to my stack. It’s a keeper.

Have a great day and read a great book 🙂

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.

See Ya Later Harry Potter

Magic at the Harry Potter Festival in Wilmington 2007

I saw the final Harry Potter film today with my fifteen year old daughter.  I started reading the books to her when she was three or four, so they and their characters have been part of her life, for practically ALL of her life.  While I was watching today, I had some thoughts about the stories and characters that I decided I wanted to share.

When the books first came out, I bought /Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone/ for myself.  I thought it looked good, but I couldn’t tell if it was for adults or kids.  That should have been my first clue as to the universality of the stories.  I read it, then I read it again and then I thought about it for a long time before I decided to share it with my daughter and husband.  I decided that there were some valuable lessons for my daughter in it, so we sat night after night on the “biggie bed” and read Harry.  My husband loved it, my daughter loved it, I loved it, and none of us could wait for the next one to come out.

After we fell completely in love with Harry and his friends, I started hearing about adults who would not let their kids read the books because they thought that they would influence their children to go toward Satan.  I even had one mom that I knew well and who I respected, tell me that her church had told it’s congregation to boycott the books because of the themes of witchcraft and wizardry.  I asked the mom if she had read any of the books and she said no, that her entire decision was based on what her pastor told her to do.  I begged her to read the first one.  I explained to her that good always triumphs over evil and that there were a lot of valuable social lessons for kids.  She read the first book, then went out and bought all the books and gave them to her daughter.  Harry Potter gave one mom the strength to think for herself and not rely on the opinions of others.

As the series evolved, Harry behaved like a brat in one book, a hero in another and just a boy, just Harry, in all of them.  His friends loved him and were loyal.  His enemies were evil of course, but they were also like every mean girl in school.  He handled it all with the help of his friends.  He didn’t have much of a family, but he made his OWN family from his circle of friends and they were just as important to him as any blood family could’ve been.  Harry’s friend family made another mom I know very well, feel that her lack of a big family is ok because she has made another, just as real family for herself , of people who love her.

The stories teach forgiveness, and nowhere is that more obvious than when Harry chooses to save Draco Malfoy’s (his own-age arch-enemy) life.  They teach that you never really know what is going on in someone else’s life or heart to make them the way they are, Severus Snape anyone?  Love lasts beyond death, evil will come for you where you least expect it, people die and it’s hard to get over the bad things that happen to you in life.  You WILL have your feelings hurt, you WILL be the hero at some point and and you may hang your head in defeat or shame the next day.

All of these things are found in Harry’s story.  You also see that when that evil comes for you, you have to fight it and that although the struggle may be long and hard and you may lose some things along the way, in the end, good will win, light will overcome the darkness.  You can and will find your place in the world and sometimes the most timid, awkward person you know (Neville Longbottom) becomes a hero.  The Harry Potter stories are universal because they offer us hope.  No matter how outnumbered we are, no matter how bad things seem to be, if we screw up our courage and walk in the light, we will win.

I love you Harry Potter and all your friends too.  You’ve helped countless people see themselves and their trials in you, and you’ve helped those same people realize that life can be good again.  It is with a great deal of wistfulness that I say goodbye to Harry.  I hope that JK Rowling writes some more books about him, but if she doesn’t, these fictional characters who have become so real to so many, will continue to keep us company every time we crack open the books or watch one of the films.  Thank you Harry for reminding us that hope, love and courage are the three most important things in the world.