Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh *Review*

Victoria only knows how to relate to people one way…through flowers.  Unable to vocalize her hurt and anger, she turns to the language she learned from the one person she has ever loved, Elizabeth.  Elizabeth taught her the language of flowers.  She taught her that thistle means misanthropy and dahlia means dignity.  Victoria uses this language throughout her life with various people she encounters whether they understand the language or not.  That’s actually the way she prefers it.  She keeps to herself, never letting anybody get too close to her.  Those that try she drives away.  She really can’t take any more hurt and disappointment.

     Unapproachable, no one is able to break through her shell until one day, someone who has been studying her from a distance hands her mistletoe- “I surmount all obstacles.”  Can this young man tear through the wall Victoria has carefully constructed around her heart?

The Language of Flowers  is a beautiful story of love and loss, hurt and disappointment, realization and hope.  I learned so much about this romantic Victorian language that young lovers used to describe their feelings for each other.  Words can’t always describe what you truly feel, but a fragrant flower…sniff! 

So what would you give to a friend hoping to have a baby?  Dittany.  To someone who has lost a loved one?  Cypress or Aloe.  To someone who has helped you out in a time of need?  Bellflowers.  I laughed when I went through the drive through of my bank the other day and realized they had planted cabbage which means profit!  I also now understand why so many bridal bouquets include red roses (love) and baby’s breath (everlasting love.)

Going through the Dictionary of Flowers I wondered which one I would give my husband?  My Choice?  Cactus.  I’ll leave you to look that one up!  🙂

4.5/5 stars

The Christmas Wedding by James Patterson *Review*

The tree is decorated, the cookies are baked, and the packages are wrapped, but the biggest celebration this Christmas is Gaby Summerhill’s wedding. Since her husband died three years ago, Gaby’s four children have drifted apart, each consumed by the turbulence of their own lives. They haven’t celebrated Christmas together since their father’s death, but when Gaby announces that she’s getting married–and that the groom will remain a secret until the wedding day–she may finally be able to bring them home for the holidays. But the wedding isn’t Gaby’s only surprise–she has one more gift for her children, and it could change all their lives forever. With deeply affecting characters and the emotional twists of a James Patterson thriller, The Christmas Wedding is a fresh look at family and the magic of the season.
 
     I love an easy read this time of year.  The yuletide season is just too busy to try to get into a chunkster, so when our book club voted in The Christmas Wedding as our December read I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about the hustle and bustle of trying to speed read the day before to get it done.
     In typical Patterson style, the chapters are short (and there are a lot of them.)  It’s a treat to be able to sneak a chapter in after you’ve put the cookies in the oven and have a few under your belt when you take them out.
     The premise of the story is a little amusing and a lot unbelievable.  I can not imagine any 3 guys, no matter how wonderful,  helping plan a wedding they might not have a role in, nor waiting patiently at the altar while the bride finally announces her decision.
     Believability aside, it was a fun book and just what I needed.  I enjoyed trying to figure out who the groom was going to be (I was right by the way.)  I also appreciated that even though this is kind of fluffy Christmas fare, Patterson does not tie everything up all neat in ribbons and bows.  The family (her children and grandchildren) have troubles and issues throughout the book and when the book is finished…they still do.  It would have been so easy to create within the pages a Christmas miracle and make everyone well, happy and magically in love again and I respect Patterson for not doing that.  That part at least was more real.  If you’re looking for a quick feel good (but not too good) read…this one would be a good present for yourself.  3.5/5 stars

The Paris Wife by Paula McClain *Review*

A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.

A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.

 
I had heard good reviews of this book and it was on Book Movements Top 10 Book Club Picks at the time I picked it up so I was really excited to wrap my hands around it.  Even the reviews on the back cover were glowing:
“Impossible to resist…” People Magazine
“…a moving portrait…” The Boston Globe
And even after reading it I wouldn’t say I totally disagree with any of them except
“…making the macho Hemingway of myth a complex and sympathetic figure.” USA Today
 
Sympathetic?  Hell no!  From the very beginning I felt Ernest was a self-absorbed, egotistical coward.  He drags Hayden across the sea to Paris, leaves her alone most of the day while writing alone in his apartment, seeks out praise for himself like other people gulp in air after  a long dive and can’t face criticism  when given it.  He alienates his friends and mentors for a more bohemian crowd that thinks he hung the moon, and pouts when he finds out Hayden’s pregnant because it doesn’t fit into his plans.
I was frustrated  with Hayden the entire time because I felt she gave up too much of herself to satisfy his ego.  Towards the end when their marriage started to unravel she was not whole enough to even try to fight for this man she loved so much.
The book was not a total loss.  I thought it was very well written and would indeed make for a good discussion at a book club.  I could see our book club being very passionate about this read.  3/5 stars

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

Last week’s reading goals went…pffffttt!  Out the window!  I wanted to read The Ledge (which I did), The Family Fang (which I got 1/3 of the way through), and finish Unbroken (which didn’t even get in the CD player.)  So in other words…almost epic fail!

This week I am scaling back my reading goals to something a bit more manageable.  I will finish reading the Family Fang, but Unbroken will go back to the library until after the new year.

IF I finish The Family Fang I will read The Courage Tree by Diane Chamberlin:

Eight-year-old Sophie Donohue just wanted to be like every other little girl. Which is why her mother, Janine, reluctantly agreed to let her go on the weekend camping trip with her Brownie troop. But when Janine arrives to pick up Sophie after the trip, her daughter is not among the others. Somehow, along the forested route from West Virginia, Sophie has disappeared.

Sophie is no ordinary 8 year old. She suffers from a rare disease, and Janine has recently enrolled her in an experimental treatment as a last effort to save her life — despite the vehement objections of her ex-husband, Joe, who believes conventional medicine is the only route to take. The only person to support Janine in her decision is Lucas Trowell, someone familiar with the herbs used in the treatment. Lucas has been encouraging Janine to keep Sophie in the program, and, indeed, the little girl has been showing remarkable improvement.

All her mother’s instincts tell Janine that Sophie is alive, but time is running out. Without her treatment, it’s only a matter of days before Sophie’s illness will claim her life. As Janine, Joe and Lucas embark on a desperate search to find Sophie, envy and suspicion grow between the two men, casting doubts on each other’s true motives for helping Janine.

Deep in the forest, another drama unfolds. Sophie has found refuge in a remote cabin inhabited by a woman who wants nothing to do with the little girl. She’s desperate to help her own daughter, who has been wrongly imprisoned for murder and who, after escaping, is on her way to join her mother. Sophie’s arrival puts in jeopardy her daughter’s future, but the mysterious woman is as determined to save her daughter as Janine is to save Sophie.

Only one of them can succeed.

My personal goals for this week are to finish  start my Christmas shopping, get up my Christmas tree, decorate the house,  make my pasties for Christmas Eve, plan my Ad Altare Dei lesson for my religious emblem class, catch up on my Boy Scout Blog (I’m 3 meeting posts behind!), birthday shop for my hubby,  go to our book club Christmas party/baby shower, make praline cheesecake for our last Revelation Bible study session, cheer on my winning Minnesota Wild Hockey team (my true passion) and plan my menu for my New Year’s Eve party.  It’s going to be a fun (and exhausting) week!  Have a great week everybody and keep those pages turning!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Redemption by Stacey Lannert and Kristen Kemp *Review*

On July 5th, 1990, Stacey Lannert shot and killed her father who had been abusing her sexually since she was 7.  Missouri state law, a disbelieving prosecutor, and Stacey’s own fragile psyche conspired against her: she was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Redemption is Stacey’s candid memoir of what happened after she found herself in prison for life.  It is an extraordinary account of Stacey’s will to live a positive-even triumphant- life, and ultimately, the healing power of forgiveness.

After spending as many years in prison as she had out of it, on January 10th, 2009 outgoing Missouri governor, Matt Blunt, commuted Stacey’s life sentence.  Six days later, she walked out of the prison gates a free woman.  Redemption is the story of how Stacey became a free woman while still inside those gates.

Redemption starts out with an idyllic family.  A family that sounds too good to be true.  Stacey is born as a blond, blue-eyed baby with a kewpie doll curl. We have Stacey remembering  photo albums filled with family pictures of bright smiling faces, a mother and daughter sporting matching outfits that Deborah sewed herself, a father who sits her on his lap, shares his popcorn and is truly interested in how her day went, a grandma that sneaks them sugared cereal (which isn’t allowed at home) and boat rides on family vacations.

But then things start to go horribly wrong.  Dad starts arriving home drunk every night, angry and abusive.  Soon, sitting on his lap, father-daughter time turns into something altogether different.  Something scary and ugly.  At the age of seven, Stacey’s sexual abuse begins.  It’s occasional and she’s able, at first, to separate  the daddy she loves from Tom, the drunk sexual abuser.  She withdraws into herself and blocks out the disturbing acts that are starting to happen more frequently to her.

Around this same time her mother starts to distance herself from her family, more interested in school and a career then paying attention to what’s happening at home.  Soon Deborah and Tom are divorced and Stacey’s mom is not there for her when she ‘s needed the most.

Stacey’s dad becomes the one constant in her life.  When he’s not drunk and he’s the kind, sweet father and not Tom, she can count on him.  But when he’s drunk…

Stacey is tired of the abuse and wants it to stop.  She scrunches up the nerve to tell a few people that her daddy is “hurting” her.  Rape is not a word she knows yet.  But no one believes her. No one.  After too many years of shame and abuse, neglect and hurt, Stacey picks up a gun and shoots her father.  Unbelievably, her prison sentence is life-without parole.

Stacey’s story is a heartbreaking one.  I was sickened by the abuse that the child Stacey suffered.  How could nobody believe her when all the signs were there?  But now, Stacey’s trying to change that.  She’s speaking out across the country in school and college campuses, through magazine articles and TV talk shows.  She’s made it her life mission to convince other victims of sexual abuse to tell someone what is happening and to keep telling until they find someone who believes them and will help them.  Stacey also runs a non-profit website called Healing Sisters with the goal of eradicating sexual abuse.

If you suspect someone is being sexually abused, talk to them and let them know you are there for them.  And if someone tells you they are being sexually molested BELIEVE THEM and get them help.  One in four girls are sexually molested in the United States today, a statistic that makes me shudder.  Don’t let these girls down.     3/5 stars

Thank you to Crown Publishers for providing me with a copy of this book.

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens *Review*

Wow! Wow! Wow!  I love it when a debut author, a book that I wasn’t expecting so much out of, totally blows me away!

On the day she was abducted, Annie O’Sullivan, a thirty-two year old realtor, had three goals—sell a house, forget about a recent argument with her mother, and be on time for dinner with her ever- patient boyfriend. The open house is slow, but when her last visitor pulls up in a van as she’s about to leave, Annie thinks it just might be her lucky day after all. Interwoven with the story of the year Annie spent as the captive of psychopath in a remote mountain cabin, which unfolds through sessions with her psychiatrist, is a second narrative recounting events following her escape—her struggle to piece her shattered life back together and the ongoing police investigation into the identity of her captor.

The truth doesn’t always set you free.

Comments in my It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? post several weeks ago that I featured this title in had me a little nervous.  “Disturbing.” “Hard to read.”

Yes, I agree.  You hit the nail on the head.  But fantastic, heartbreaking, and page turning need to be added too. 

Annie O’ Sullivan’s year of captivity  is hard to read about.  I felt her fear, her anger, her confusion and her loss.  How does she try to live with her captor on a day-to-day basis when she doesn’t know who he is or what made him the way he is.  She thinks she has him figured out and tries to act like she thinks he wants her to act and ends up being beaten for saying the wrong thing.  She has to clean the house when he tells her, take a bath when he tells her, eat when he tells her, and even has to pee on his timetable.  It’s amazing that she can even think on her own.

After she’s back home she has a hard time doing just that.  She watches the clock so she knows when she can eat, she can’t do it before the right time no matter how hungry, her stomach just won’t cooperate.

The story of her life in captivity, as well as how she’s putting her life back together now that she’s free come out piece by piece, a little at a time during visits to her shrink.  In fact, the chapters are even titled Session One, Session Two, etc.

SESSION ONE You know, Doc, you’re not the first shrink I’ve seen since I got back. The one my family doctor recommended right after I came home was a real prize. The guy actually tried to act like he didn’t know who I was, but that was a pile of crap—you’d have to be deaf and blind not to. Hell, it seems like every time I turn around another asshole with a camera is jumping out of the bushes. But before all this shit went down? Most of the world had never heard of Vancouver Island, let alone Clayton Falls. Now mention the island to someone and I’m willing to bet the first thing out of their mouth will be, “Isn’t that where that lady Realtor was abducted?”

trust me on this one, you have to add this book to your “Have to Read” list.  Then deadbolt your doors, double-check that your windows are locked and lay in bed with it until you’ve shut the back cover.  5/5 stars

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

Not much happened in my world last week.  Oh, I was busy with the usual:

Monday-Ad Altare Dei class then Boy Scouts

Tuesday- RCIA class

Wednesday- Christmas cookie and candy making with my cousin (we made: Mounds Balls, Peanut Butter Balls, Butterfinger Bites, Dipped Pretzels, Ritz Dipped, Gourmet Toffee Pretzels, Peanut Butter Fudge, Cathedral Window candy, Wreath Cookies, Spritz, Snowman cookies and Peanut Blossoms and Potato Stick Haystacks)

Thursday- My Revelations Bible Study Class

Friday- Finally! Relaxation after dropping my son off at his confirmation retreat

Saturday- Did 3 loads of laundry, 3 loads of dishes, bought 3 Christmas presents online, and made 4 more kinds of Christmas cookies (Berry Shortbread Dreams, Cherry Dipped Cookies, Pumpkin Cookies and Molasses Creams) all by 9am. Then took a nap (!) before assembling supper, picking up my son from his retreat and visiting with company who stopped by my house.

Sunday- Church, then more sweet treats. Made Snickers Bars, Waffle Cookies, Toffee, Lemon Snowballs, Peppermint Chocolate Chip Meringues and Russian Tea Cakes.  Believe it or not, I am not done yet.  There are still a few more I need to make, but those will have to wait until next weekend. 🙂

Yes, all this while working two jobs!  Someday, retirement will come… Although I heard the other day that 80 is the new 65.  It seems people are starting to retire when they are 80 now.  That scares me a little!

Last week I managed to fit in two reviews:

You Are My Only by Beth Klephart and Big Scary Monster by Thomas Docherty.

Coming up later for review this week is Still Missing (a 5 star review!) and Redemption, so stop on back for those.

This week I will be reading The Ledge: An Adventure Story of Friendship and Survival on Mount Ranier  by Jim Davidson and Kevin Vaughan.

In June 1992, best friends Jim Davidson and Mike Price stood triumphantly atop Washington’s Mount Rainier, celebrating what they hoped would be the first of many milestones in their lives as passionate young mountaineers. Instead, their conquest gave way to catastrophe when a cave-in plunged them deep inside a glacial crevasse—the pitch-black, ice-walled hell that every climber’s nightmares are made of.

An avid adventurer from an early age, Davidson was already a seasoned climber at the time of the Rainier ascent, fully aware of the risks and hopelessly in love with the challenge. But in the blur of a harrowing free fall, he suddenly found himself challenged by nature’s grandeur at its most unforgiving. Trapped on a narrow, unstable frozen ledge, deep below daylight and high above a yawning chasm, he would desperately battle crumbling ice and snow that threatened to bury him alive, while struggling in vain to save his fatally injured companion. And finally, with little equipment, no partner, and rapidly dwindling hope, he would have to make a fateful choice—between the certainty of a slow, lonely death or the seeming impossibility of climbing for his life.

Then I will get to The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson.

Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art.

Their children called it mischief.

Performance artists Caleb and Camille Fang dedicated themselves to making great art. But when an artist’s work lies in subverting normality, it can be difficult to raise well-adjusted children. Just ask Buster and Annie Fang. For as long as they can remember, they starred (unwillingly) in their parents’ madcap pieces. But now that they are grown up, the chaos of their childhood has made it difficult to cope with life outside the fishbowl of their parents’ strange world.

When the lives they’ve built come crashing down, brother and sister have nowhere to go but home, where they discover that Caleb and Camille are planning one last performance–their magnum opus–whether the kids agree to participate or not. Soon, ambition breeds conflict, bringing the Fangs to face the difficult decision about what’s ultimately more important: their family or their art.

And finally I will try to round out the week by finishing an audio that I started last week.  I thought maybe I could fit in an audio while making all those Christmas cookies, but I was only 3 CDs out of 14 in when I realized I hadn’t added quite enough flour to one recipe and almost forgot the vanilla in another so I turned it off before all my hard work was ruined!  So finishing up Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand will also be a priority for me.

On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood.  Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared.  It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard.  So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.

The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini.  In boyhood, he’d been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails.  As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile.  But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.

Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater.  Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion.  His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.

An ambitious week ahead of me but I think I’m up for it!  How about you?  What Are You Reading?  🙂

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila of Book Journey.