Friday, February 5, 2016

Or Give Me Death by Ann Rinaldi

Or Give Me Death is a novel about Patrick Henry's Family by Ann Rinaldi.  I've often found that the best books to read for a glimpse into history are Young Adult books and this one is for ages 10-14. While we all know of Patrick's Henry place in history as the first governor of the Commonwealth under the new constitution and his speach "Give Me Liberty or Give me Death", it appears there is little known about his family. While mostly fiction, Ms. Rinaldi does use knowledge of the time to give us an idea of what life in the Henry household was like. Told from the point of view of Patrick Henry's daughters Patsy (Martha Henry) and Anne, the major hurdle his family had to overcome was his wife's mental state. Rather than move her to a local asylum, which was a wing of the jail with little or no amenities, they renovated a cellar into living quarters for her where she could not escape (according to the novel she had tried to drown her youngest baby). His son, John, also had an incident where "he went mad" after the Battle of Saratoga. With Patrick Henry away for most of the time, Patsy, his eldest daughter, was left to take the role as mistress of the house during a time when slaves were thought to be planning an uprising. A heavy burden for a young woman.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

John Riley's Daughter by Kezi Matthews

In my search for books set in each of the 50 U.S. States, I came across John Riley's Daughter (Set in South Carolina). It was Kezi Matthews' debut YA novel and a short read at just over 120 pages. Nevertheless, Ms. Matthews packs a lot in those pages. Memphis, is very young when her father drops her off at her maternal grandmother's house and conflict with her aunt ensues. Despite her lack of parental guidance, and the obvious disdain of her grandmother, Memphis finds friends and overcomes a great deal of hurt caused from her mother's death and her father's abandonment. When mentally handicapped Aunt Clover disappears it causes thirteen year old Memphis to question herself as to whether it was their argument that caused her Aunt to leave.
This is one of my favorite books this year, Kezi Matthews harnesses the turmoil within the family and gives the reader a glimpse into life in South Carolina in the 1970s.

Apparently, any book set in the south mentions Kudzu and although I have heard about the invasive plant, I didn't realize it was planted deliberately as a government plan to curb the Dust Bowl/soil erosion problem.

Monday, February 1, 2016

You're Never Too Old . . .

Friday, January 29, 2016

Swan by Frances Mayes

I'm still reading through the used books I picked up at the YMCA fundraiser last year and found Swan by Frances Mayes (you may remember she wrote Under the Tuscan Sun).
Although there were a lot of characters and it took me a while to familiarize myself with them at the beginning, each one is necessary for the story.

From the cover:
The Masons are a prominent but now fragmented family who have lived for generations in Swan, an Edenic, hidebound small Georgia town. As Swan opens, a bizarre crime pulls Ginger Mason home from her life as an archaeologist in Italy. The body of her mother, Catherine, a suicide nineteen years before, has been mysteriously exhumed. Ginger is reunited on new terms with her troubled, isolated brother, J.J., who has never ventured far from Swan, and together the Mason children grapple with the profound effects of their mother's life and death on their own lives.

My thoughts:
I found that Ms. Mayes captured Southern life wonderfully and kept me interested throughout the ups and downs of both the past and present of the Mason family and those surrounding them. She has a wonderful way of describing the setting and characters. However, I did find that it seemed to end abruptly and left a lot of unanswered questions.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick has a vivid imagination for futuristic societies. His works include: Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report. However, The Man in the High Castle is set in 1962 (alternate history genre) in a world where Germany and Japan defeated the allies and have separated the U.S. with Japan taking the West (The Pacific States of America) and the Reich ruling the south. Adolf Hitler resides in a sanatorium. Slavery is legal once again and few Jews have survived. The Mediterranean Sea  has been drained and made into farmland. The Germans now have their sights set on outer space and travel is mostly by rocket ship rather than airplanes.
This is the world where Mr. R. Childan, a Jew, had transitioned from a used book store to a dealer in rare and desirable artifacts and Mickey Mouse watches are a highly desirable collectors' item.

My Thoughts:
Many of the characters refer to I-Ching a Chinese book of wisdom (oracle) others are reading The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, a banned book (by the man nicknamed Man in the High Castle) which gives a fictional account of the socialist world that would have evolved if the allies had won WWII. There are mixed reviews about the book and Amazon Prime now has a mini-series which may make the story easier to follow than the book. For those confused about both the book and the ending, which was abrupt, take a look at the explanations here. The book would make an excellent book club read and definitely food for thought.
 Study guide here 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Clementine by Sonia Purnell

Winston Churchill was an imposing historical figure, but we've heard little about his wife, Clementine. The biography by Sonia Purnell gives an in depth look into the life and childhood of the woman who stood by his side.

From the cover:
Born into impecunious aristocracy, Clementine Hozier was the target of cruel snobbery. Many wondered why Winston married her. Beautiful and intelligent but prey to crippling insecurities, she made his career her mission, guiding him with a raw honesty and keen understanding of what was needed for his political survival. She tempered and stabilized him, but her devotion came at the perilous expense of their children.

Hop on over to Letters from a Hill Farm for more about the book.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Blow Out the Moon by Libby Koponen

I found Blow Out the Moon at a Friends of the Library sale. The book is shown on the cover as a novel, in some places it's described as an autobiography, but it is actually a memoir of Libby Koponen's 18 month stay at a boarding school in England in the 1950s.
Her father was working for J. Walter Thompson and insisted on taking his family with him when he was transferred to London for a short period. The family were obviously well off as they board a cruise vessel for the trip across the Atlantic. I lived in England as a child and later moved to the U.S. and I found that my experiences were in reverse to hers. She had to learn how to hold a knife and fork while eating. I, on the other hand, couldn't get used to holding food in my hands and tried to eat a Taco with a knife and fork! She refused to sing God Save the Queen which she felt was disloyal to America and remarked that the tune was the same as My Country 'Tis of Thee. I, on the other hand, had no idea what the Pledge of Allegiance was.
School was a challenge as she had only used a pencil in America and a fountain pen was foreign to her (most English schoolgirls during that period had a constant ink stain on their finger). In the afternoons everyone was given a small bottle of milk to drink (I remember that most of the time these were left out in the sun and tasted horrible). She was also surprised that there was nothing in the history books about the American Revolution. During church services, she thought "God seemed so English" and didn't believe there was "someone in the sky who cared about everyone."
Her first story, The Richardsons, wasn't well received by the headmistress as it inferred that the Germans had occupied England which the headmistress was quick to point out had never happened - England had never been invaded by a foreign army. The headmistress went on to quote a verse in Shakespear's Richard II where England's surrounding sea is considered a moat.
Libby's life was one of privilege, gaining entrance to a prestigious boarding school, (Sibton Park) travel by cruise ship, and after their time in England, the family toured Europe for two months before returning home.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

In each of Jodi Picoult's novels, she takes the reader on a journey and Leaving Time is no different from her other stories. Although the novel is fiction, most of the elephant stories are true and she obviously has a passion for their demise through poaching and carelessness of those who have little value for life.

From the cover:
For more than a decade, Jenna Metcalf has never stopped thinking about her mother, Alice, who mysteriously disappeared in the wake of a tragic accident. Refusing to believe she was abandoned, Jenna searches for her mother regularly online and pores over pages of Alice's old journals. A scientist who studied grief among elephants, Alice wrote mostly of her research among the animals she loved, yet Jenna hopes the entries will provide a clue to her mother's whereabouts. Desperate to find the truth, Jenna enlists two unlikely allies in her quest: Serenity Jones, a psychic and Virgil Stanhope, the jaded private detective who originally investigated Alice's case.

My thoughts:
Jodi Picoult doesn't write in conventional chapters, but rather juggles the thoughts of various characters which gives the reader insight into different views of the situation, As with all her books, Ms. Picoult has done extensive research to give the reader a glimpse into the life of Alice and her husband who are both conducting elephant research. At times, I found myself skipping over some of the information about elephant behavior. Serenity is the complete opposite of the researchers and clues Jenna in on the spirits of those who have died and what to expect from them. Between the scientist and the psychic, it gives the reader two completely polar views of the story. The ending is totally unexpected and shows what a crafted writer Ms. Picoult is.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

American Dreams by Marco Rubio

American Dreams - Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone by Marco Rubio gives a good insight into his thoughts and agenda. Let's face it the debates for this upcoming election have been sadly lacking in an depth.

He states:
The American Dream may not survive another four years of outdated, status quo leadership, America is in dire need of a new direction . . . we need a clear vision forward that puts opportunity over cronyism, work over dependence and the health of the American family over all. America needs a conservative reform agenda.

He talks about antipoverty programs:
They discourage moving from dependency to work by effectively levying a large tax on anyone who earns too much to receive benefits. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan calls this the "poverty trap." . . . Most poverty programs offer decreased benefits as poor people make more money . . . they lose more in benefits than they would earn in salary.

His thought on immigration (summarized):
1. Those who are here illegally must be registered. If they have committed serious crimes they will have to leave. (the E-Verify system should help to stop illegals from working).
2. Those who qualify would be allowed to apply for a temporary non-immigrant visa. (Pay an application fee and fine, undergo background check and learn English). It would be revoked if they commit a crime and cannot apply for government programs such as Obamacare, welfare or food stamps)
3. They will have to stay at non-immigrant status for a minimum of 10 years then they may follow normal channels to obtain citizenship. 

Less Government and More Fee Enterprise:
He mentions how Florida regulations have prevented Uber from becoming a popular alternative to taxis and squashing competition.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Isabel by Carolyn Meyer

Isabel - Jewel of Castilla by Carolyn Meyer is a Royal Diaries book by Scholastic. I came across the English Scholastic books written in the form of a diary and covering various times in history while in England last year and although they are written for middle grade/young adult, they are a great way to learn a little of history from a child's point of view. I found some of the Royal Diaries series at our local library.

The diary begins in 1466 when Padre Torquemada gives Isabela (King Enrique of Castile/Leon's sister) a blank book in which she could keep account of sins, especially the seven deadly sins. During her childhood years she has had to deal with battles for the crown between her half brother Enrique and her brother Alfonso. There is also doubt as to who should be the rightful heir as Enrique has a daughter Juana. At that time Spain was separated by regions and Kingdoms.

The story ends when she is betrothed to Ferdinand of Aragon but the historical notes continue the story. Once Isabel and Ferdinand marry and combine their countries to make a unified Spain, instead of bringing peace, more upheaval ensues. A devout Catholic, Isabel and her husband make it their task to rid Spain of Moors (Muslims) who live in the southern part and also give Jews the opportunity to be baptized within a four month period or otherwise be banished from Spain. The Spanish Inquisition was formed to make sure all Spaniards were Christians or tortured until they accepted the faith of Isabel and Ferdinand.

Their daughter, Katherine (of Aragon) married first Henry VIII's brother and then Henry VIII of England. Queen Isabel encouraged cultural changes and also sponsored Christopher Columbus's travels which brought Spain into the Golden Age.

If you like history, these are great books for an uncluttered glimpse into life of the time.

Discussion guide here

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

A friend recommended The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey and as I've been looking for a book set in Alaska for my 50 State Challenge I picked the book up from the library.
From the cover:
Homesteaders Jack and Mabel have carved out a quiet life of hard work and routine for themselves in the wilderness that is 1920s Alaska, both still deeply longing for the child it's ow impossible for them to have. Yet their love for each other is strong, and in a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they play together, building a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone - but a trail of tiny footsteps remain.

My thoughts:
First of all, the descriptions were wonderful and set the reader in the rugged, yet beautiful Alaska wilderness where life was difficult for the couple. Eowyn Ivey has used the Snow Maiden, a Russian Folk Tale for the story and as we all know, except in the Disney version, fairy tales usually do not end well! Nevertheless, as the author lives in Alaska, she does a wonderful job at giving the reader a glimpse into the hard life for homesteaders with little or no comfort and a desire to live off the land. All through the book we are thrown into believing the child is real and then a hint that she isn't real at all. At the end it's really up to the reader to decide as there isn't a tidy ending where we are told exactly what happened.

You can read a more detailed review of the story here

Discussion questions here

Friday, January 8, 2016

Redemption by Frederick Turner

I'm still going through some of the books I picked up at the local library for sale by the Friends of the Library. At 10 cents each they were a bargain. It also meant that I picked up several books that I might not normally read and Redemption was one of those. For more details, take a look at the Kirkus Review.

My thoughts:
Times were hard for practically every one of the working class in 1913 New Orleans and the book covers a district where there was a mixture of alcohol, gambling, and whorehouses. There aren't normal sized chapters throughout the book, but it is broken down into characters who frequent and work in Storyville District.  As you might imagine, there is a lot of violence and fights and sexual encounters. On top of that there are the racial tensions (Robert Charles Riot) and it's a wonder anyone survived.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Money Saving Tips

This year I'm determined to stick to a budget and will be posting money saving tips on my blog A Penny Saved. Hop on over and take a look and if you have anything to add I'd love to  hear from you. Either leave a comment or send me an e-mail

Sunday, January 3, 2016

50 State Reading Challenge

United States MapI thought this year would be fun to read a book set in each of the 50 U.S. States. No complicated rules, but the main setting has to be in one of the 50 U.S. states. It can be fiction, non-fiction, children's book. Anyone want to join me?

I'll be posting my progress and I'd love to hear your comments.

You can add each state to a map here as you read a book.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Afternoon Tea Downton Abbey Style

Downton-Abbey-tea-set.jpgAll Downton Abbey fans are going to be glued to the television for the final season and with it we will all be making endless cups of tea (to get into the spirit of things) along with a few Downton Abbey parties to give them a final send off. To help you to know the ins and outs of tea making, download Afternoon Tea Downton Abbey Style by Tadio Diller.
Note: It was free for Kindle when I downloaded it and is quite a short book, but does let you know the difference of types of tea and how long to brew along with recipes.

More info. about afternoon tea and customs here

I found an interesting article on tea etiquette at Huffington Post

High Tea or Low Tea?
There is some confusion over high tea and low tea. High tea is served on a dinner table usually between 6 and 7 p.m.  Low tea or afternoon tea, is served around 3:00 - 4:00 p.m. on a lower table (coffee table height) in a living room/drawing room.
Note: napkins are never put on the table once they have been on your lap (folded at a diagonal). If you need to leave your chair, your napkin should be placed on your chair until you return.

Lots of info. about tea etiquette here