Tag Archives: reading list

What I’ve Been Reading About – Sex, Lies, and Murder

Hey Dudes and Dudettes,

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged about my progress with the To Be Read Pile Challenge, so I thought I’d better “update my status.” You see I’ve been reading a lot about relationships lately, so I have three titles of love advice for anyone to enjoy.

And as a refresher, if you’re unfamiliar with the TBR Pile Challenge, it’s a reading contest hosted by Adam over at Roof Beam Reader. The goal is to complete in 12 months time 12 books that have been sitting on your bookshelf for a year or more. You know the ones, they linger in the ever-looming “to be read” pile. At nine months in, I’m just two books away from completing the challenge this year. Holla!

What have I recently crossed off my list?

TBR book collageBonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

Roach - BonkLittle known fact about me, or maybe it’s no secret, I love learning about sex and sexuality. I minored – and only because it wasn’t offered as a major at the time – in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. I’m passionate about women’s issues and rights, and I’m thrilled to be working at a reproductive health clinic in my town. Reading about the history and science of sex research was right up my alley.

The author, Mary Roach, is quite possibly the queen of nonfiction exposition on risque topics. Her other books dive into the worlds of human cadavers, the digestive track, and what happens when we die. For Bonk, the woman volunteered herself and her husband to be lab rats for sex research on orgasms. That’s dedication.

In Bonk, not only will you learn about the doctors and scientists behind the “G-spot,” the infamous Kinsey “attic sessions,” or just how artificial insemination happens in a pig, but so much more!

The American Heiress

american heiressAlright, let’s tame things down a bit. For all you Downton Abbey diehards and regency era wannabees, I suggest you give Daisy Goodwin’s The American Heiress a try. My book club read this one and it was well enjoyed.

Cora Cash is an American debutante. She is wealthy, beautiful, and definitely high society. Her mother, opinionated at her core, has high plans of wedding her daughter to an English Duke, which would grant Cora the one thing she doesn’t have…a title.

It won’t surprise readers to learn that Cora is soon wed in the novel, however can Cora’s marriage last when she comes from a different world than her husband? So many unknowns!

Escape on a whirlwind love affair in Europe, walk the halls of the great English mansions, and go galloping with the finest – or are they – members of society.

Rebecca

rebeccaBy and far one of my favorite reads this year! I can’t believe I didn’t read it sooner! After all, the film adaptation by Alfred Hitchcock is tied for first place (with North by Northwest) as my favorite film of his.

Be very aware, young lovers, when falling head over heels into this tale. A young woman of unfortunate circumstance believes her luck has turned around when she meets and marries millionaire, Maxim De Winter, owner of the luscious estate, Manderley. But all is not well inside these walls. The great rooms of the house, the garden with its roses, and the forgotten cottage down by the beach – they are all haunted by Rebecca – the first Mrs. De Winter.

A shocking truth brings the honeymoon to a miserable end in this chilling story by Daphne Du Maurier. I can’t tell you what happens, just read it for yourself!

*****

What have you been reading? Are you participating in the TBR Pile Challenge? How’s it going? Got any recommendations for me?

 

 

 

ROWdate: Writing, Reading, and the Redhots – Oh My!

It’s officially September, which in my line of work, means it’s Christmas.  I’ve been feeling all nostalgic already for summer.  I know I did accomplish a lot, but I still didn’t get to the full list.  Every summer, I make a commitment to get to the beach and read at least three times.  You know why?  It never happens.  How many times did I get to the beach this summer?  Once.  And I left after only an hour because there were a lot of bees around and the sand was piping hot.

Maybe the beach is overrated.  I like the idea of the beach.  But there’s probably a reason why all of the vacations that Joe and I take are to cities.  We’ve gone to Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, Boston, MA, Toronto, Ontario, and this year our road trip.  You don’t see us planning vacations to resorts or taking scuba lessons.  While those sound found, I’m not sure I could handle a whole week of beach life.  I just don’t operate that slow.  You know, island time.

I blame my family.  Look at them.

Ok, I probably coordinated that…  We were in the Tetons, I was feeling epic.

Ok, so ROW80, I’m off of work today and it’s time to Fast Draft!  Since I also have to take my car into the shop, I’m hitting another summer to do and biking to the coffee shop to get my writing done.  See you tweeps at #teamsprinty and #FastDraft today!

Other news, The Redhots kicked off this past friday to a huge success!  Did you miss out?  I won’t hold it against you, just go rectify the situation right now!  It’s not too late to get the cutest redheaded version of Siskel and Ebert tear down and pump back up again the sexy series that’s sweeping the nation:  Fifty Shades of Grey.  So visit Marcia and I and tell us what you think:  50 Shades of Hot?  or 50 Shades of Not?

If you’re up for a readathon, there are several great ones going on.  Great New Books just announced the September book review of Hemingway’s Girl and will be voting soon for the next several months.  We’d love your input on what the hottest books this season include – what do you want to read with us?

Then Jenna at Lost Generation Reader is hosting a Harry Potter Readathon from Sept. 1st – December 15th.  I’ve actually never read any Harry Potter books, so I’m signing up for the first book, just to say that yes I have read Harry Potter.

I finished reading A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain this week and LOVED it!  Never would I have thought that foods like haggis and cobra heart and sheep’s balls would sound delicious.  But reading this book confirmed, once again, that my dream job would be traveling around as Tony’s quirky redheaded counterpart – no real experience, but an eager and gullible partnership could work well.  I also have the travel bug again.  Vietnam and Portugal are placing high at the moment.  Next year…

How is your summer winding down?  Are you looking forward to fall and getting more writing done?  What’s on your autumn reading list?

The To Be Read Pile Challenge

It never stops! (photo from endlessbookshelf.net)

I know you all have one, that looming pile next to your nightstand, the sinking bookshelf that can’t hold anymore, the stacks creeping up on your desk, and the ones you borrowed or were given months ago and haven’t gotten around to reading yet.

It’s the dreaded To Be Read Pile!

*Cue the high-pitched horror flick scream!*
Fear not, dear Readers!  Adam, from Roof Beam Reader, has made a fun and cost effective contest for all of you looking to hit that stack of TBR’s!
The 2012 To Be Read Pile Challenge is your quest to complete 12 books that have been looming on your list for at least 1 year.  That means the book does need to have been published in 2010 or before.  You are also allowed to list 2 alternative books to your 12 in case you have one that is simply unfinishable.  And yes, unfinishable is a word now.  Every writer fears it.  That, and clowns.  Nobody writes about clowns.  They’re plain creepy.
Anyone is welcome to join the challenge and make their TBR list!  If you care to officially join, and enter for the chance to win a $50 Gift Card to either Amazon.com or The Book Depository, then sign up at Adam’s blog!  He’s also listed for you all the participants’ links to their TBR lists, so it’s an amazing place to browse new titles and connect with those reading the same ones as you!

Here is my 2012 TBR List:

  1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  2. Little Bee by Chris Cleave
  3. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
  4. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
  5. Blessings by Anna Quindlen
  6. The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  7. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
  8. The Lace Reader by Bromonia Barry
  9. The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee
  10. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
  11. The Preacher’s Bride by Jody Hedlund
  12. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters, Jane Austen

Alternates:

  1. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  2. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Part of the challenge is to also write up a short review of the books you’ve read, and so I’m going to share with you a few titles I’ve recently finished both on the list and off!

(photo from starvingwritersbooks.com)

Deeper Than the Dead by Tami Hoag:  I picked this one up for my library’s book club and sadly only 5 of us showed up for the discussion that night.  Even more sad was the fact that I was the only one who liked the book.  For those of you who religiously read murder mysteries, I guess Deeper Than the Dead might not mesmerize, but I hadn’t read a creeper book in sometime.

The premise for DTTD begins when three school children discover a dead body in the park one day.  Their teacher, Anne Navarre is struggling to both interrogate and comfort her class about the serial murders that are happening.  The chapters move from the point of view of Anne, the lead detective following the case, the mind of the next victim, and also the killer.

Tami Hoag, a 15 consecutive time New York Times Bestselling author, set the book in the 1980’s.  At first, she thought how fun it would be to reminisce about leg warmers and big earrings, but as she got into the book’s research, she realized how little we had in DNA testing, even in 1985.  The book took a whole new interest as she discovered what detectives had to deal with in order to solve a crime then.

I for one, give this book a thumb’s up!  It was interesting to think about in terms of the advanced technology and testing we have now, and it was a super creepy read!  Don’t read this book before bed!  Or listen to it in the car!  I mean it, it was eerie!

(photo from barnesandnoble.com)

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee:   I just couldn’t get into this one.  I read this title with my other book club group and I think all of us would vote it our least favorite read so far.  It does have some interesting historical value, but the pace was slower and I didn’t like many of the characters.

The Piano Teacher is set in the 1940’s and 50’s, and webs together multiple stories from both during the war and after it.  At that time period, the British who lived in Hong Kong were somewhat of an elite society, and we are thus introduced to Claire Pendleton, bored housewife who begins an affair with the driver of the family she teaches piano for.

Though I didn’t care for this particular novel, that isn’t to say I don’t admire Ms. Lee.  Janice Y. K. Lee is an incredibly accomplished and intelligent woman.  Born in Hong Kong to Korean parents, she attended college at Harvard University.  Her first writing job was as beauty editor for Elle Magazine.  While there, she sought out her true passion, the features section.  She later wrote for Mirabella Magazine, and completed the Hunter College MFA program.  I appreciate her dedication to her work immensely.  Lee spent 5 years working on this book, setting it down here and there to raise a family of 4 (including twins).

The Piano Teacher is another New York Times Bestseller and Lee’s only book so far.  I have no doubt we’ll see her name in print again.

(photo from wikimedia.org)

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer:  I LOVED THIS BOOK!  I couldn’t stop reading this book!  It’s quite possibly one of THE best written books I’ve ever read!

Into Thin Air recounts the firsthand telling of the Mount Everest Disaster of 1995 by Jon Krakauer, who was solicited to go along and write an article for Outdoors Magazine.  While Krakauer’s book is illuminated with terminology definitions and historical background of the world’s highest peak, I do recommend making yourself a cheat sheet of names and what team they belong to as there are many tourists and sherpas traveling at the same time.

Into Thin Air will excite the adventurer in you; you’ll want to climb Everest.  However, as you read further into his journey, it becomes all too clear how little we are in control with the force of nature.  It is extremely tragic what happened on this expedition and my heart and condolences go out to the victims’ families.  But there were many heroes on that mountain too, who risked their lives to ensure the safety of others.

As for Krakauer, he is a well known name for writing stories of great adventure and adversarial topic.  Checking out his wikipedia page, you’ll see lots of retorts toward every one of his works.  I’m definitely interested in reading more of his works.

(photo from goodreads.com)

Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson:  Chris is a woman who wakes up every day believing herself to be 20 years younger, single, and certainly not a mother.  The reality is far different.  Suffering serious damage from an accident, Chris has severe amnesia.  Every night when she sleeps, she forgets all that happened the day before and can’t remember much past her childhood.  Except, each morning a doctor calls her and reminds her where to look for her diary, the only place where Chris can piece together her life and know who she can and can’t trust.

The beginning of this book is a slower start, which is to be expected because as you read and learn clues with Chris, much of the information is repetitive.  This would be the case for you if you had to start over from scratch each day.  As the book progresses though, you become more and more on edge wondering who’s telling Chris the truth about her life.

I’d give this book a sideways thumb, if that makes sense, because it has a lot of potential and is thought provoking.  It is the first book published by S. J. Watson, an English writer and now international bestseller.  He wrote the book while taking a writing course at Faber University, and based it upon several accounts of amnesiac patients and their families.

There you have it folks!  Adding these in, I’ve completed 7 out of my 12 TBR books so far!  How far are you on the reading challenges you’ve set for yourself?  What is your reading goal?  I’m shooting for at least 2 books a month.  You can check out what I read here.  What titles are you reading right now?

And don’t forget!  We’re trying to help Jillian Dodd convince author CJ West to participate in her MANday blog.  Find out how you can help here!

We’re Taking Over WordPress: Life List Club – New Blog, New Prizes!

Big news!  Huge!  Spectacular!  Extra, Extra! 

The Life List Club Launches Own Blog!

That’s right guys and gals!  The Life List Club has decided to launch their own blog site and make things easier ON YOU!  Instead of trying to bounce around between 8 or more blogs on one day, we’ll be able to space out our plethora of viewpoints and encouraging ideas over the course of a month at our site.  We’re posting on Wednesdays and Fridays all about achieving goals, and using Mondays for any announcements or guest posts that may occur (hint, hint – Who’s interested?)  Please give a round of applause to my co-founder, Marcia Richards who worked doggedly on setting up our site.  You can visit us at our new blog, and we’ll officially transfer there the first wednesday of April!  Don’t forget, we hang out at the hashtag #LifeListClub too, so you can always give a shout out there!

And Now a Word from our Sponsors:

Ok well not sponsors, I don’t currently have any of those, but if companies like Bath and Body Works, Lush, Target, Barnes and Noble would care to make a contribution, I’m sure it would only do wonders for the ol’ Witkins’ Happiness Project.  ;)

It’s time for our Milestone Party!

You can’t have a party without dancing!  Previously you’ve raved to Ce Ce Penniston’s Finally, you’ve jammed to Ke$ha’s Tik Tok and here to teach you how to boogie is the Bingo Boys featuring Princessa singing ‘How to Dance!’

The point of a Milestone party is to celebrate the strides you’ve made on your life list.  A few months ago I condensed my list to the core necessities, and here’s where I’m at with my progress:

1.  Write Everyday – My minimum goal was to write at least 5 things in my gratitude journal each day, with a long term goal of scheduling time each week to get writing done on my book.  However, in the last month, I changed projects.  Instead of the paranormal young adult novel I was working on, I switched to memoir.  Pretty drastic switch there!  I got some good tips from my Warrior Writers Boot Camp gang and will be starting to piece together this project in the next weeks.  I’m also attending the DFW Writers Conference in May, featuring guest author James Rollins.

(My favorite items to have made the Gratitude Journal lately)

  •  Writing a letter home
  • Crossing paths with 7 young deer while hiking in Hixon Forest
  • Reading the fun comments on my Musicalpalooza blog
  • Watching the finale of Season 2 The Walking DeadOMG! What is about to happen??!
  • Feeding the ducks down at Riverside Park
  • Discovering Joe Lando (Yes!  As in Joe Lando who played Sully on Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman) is playing Cassie’s father on The Secret Circle

2.  Read Two Books a Month - I’ve excelled at this goal!  In February I read four books, and hope to complete that same number by the end of March.  My upscale in reading led to two author interviews for Shifting by Bethany Wiggins and The Doctor’s Lady by Jody Hedlund!  It was an absolute treat to get to chat with these phenomenal women!  I also felt a big push to get to that “To Be Read” Pile and cut out costs of buying more and more books before getting to the ones on my shelf, so I joined the 2012 TBR Pile Challenge.  I’ve completed 5 out of my 12 books so far, two more in progress, so I just need to finish writing the reviews.

3.  Save Money - I was amazed at how much money I could add to my savings after using my ridiculous star stickered chart to track when I didn’t spend money frivolously!  I was able to save up funds to ensure my trip to South Korea is a go!  (I leave in a week and a half!)  I have yet to meet with a personal banker to find a better savings account and finish Suze Orman’s book, Women and Money. 

4.  Work out at least once a week - I’m probably most behind in this goal, but I have stepped it up nutritionally.  I started keeping a food journal along with my gratitude journal so everything’s in one place.  I track what I eat each day, and just writing it down keeps me accountable enough to make sure more fruits and veggies find their way onto the plate.  I’ve made some new recipes including CM Stewart’s Green Smoothie!  And I’ve definitely been buying more produce instead of junk snacks at the grocery store.  On days off, I’ve been good about doing some hiking or walks because I read an article about how even 10 minutes/day  in nature can do wonders for anxiety and fatigue  issues (which I’ve been battling as of late).  The next step is to go full swing with some consistent workouts!

That’s what I’m up to!  How ’bout you?  Do the Bingo Boys inspire you to take dance lessons?  How’s your writing going?  Your workouts?  What dream vacations are coming up?

AND…any time the Life List Club has a Milestone Party we give away prizes!  Drop me a comment below sharing your goals and you’re entered to win a blog swap and I-Tunes Gift Card!

More fabulous prizes to be had!  Visit each contributing writer of the LLC for a chance to win:

Marcia Richards Guest post swap and Amazon gift card

Sonia Medeiros A guest post from Sonia or the winner’s work featured on Sonia’s blog

Jenny Hansen A Margie Lawson lecture packet and a $10 Starbuck’s gift card

David Walker A free download of his “Web Wisdom: Inspiration from the Inbox”

Gary Gauthier A choice of 3 eBooks

Lara Schiffbauer A $25 Gift card

Happy Friday Everyone!

Loving Frank: A Book Review

Published in 2007, this recount of a seven year love affair between Mamah Borthwick Cheney and architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, seems to be getting a second wave of publicity.  I can recall the cover being all over bookstore tables 2 years ago with posters all around.  Now that I picked this up from my “To Be Read Pile,” it would seem I’m not the only one circling back around.  Members of my book club brought the title up for a future read this year, and I’ve seen the historical romance appear in several magazines and book club lists as well.

Before I can tell you about the novel, I have to share with you what I learned about the author.  Nancy Horan was first introduced to Frank Lloyd Wright’s work while living in Oak Park, Illinois for 24 years.  Horan even lived on the same street as Mamah Borthwick Cheney, who in 1907 commissioned Wright to build a home for her and her family.  On the local tours of Wright’s houses and in a few biographies she read, Horan began to wonder who this “Mamah” woman was.  (Mamah is pronounced May-muh.  A derivative of Margaret, though Mamah was always named just Mamah; her grandmother liked the sound of it.)  Little is told of the affair between Mrs. Edwin Cheney and the architect, most scholars stick to his work and pay little attention to the innovator’s personal life.  But Horan knew there was more to the story.  Coincidentally, the affair lasted seven years, and it took Ms. Horan that long to write the book.

Author Nancy Horan (source: globegazette.com)

Those of you who’ve read my book reviews before know I LOVE digging into how the author did their research and what drew them to the story.  The why’s behind why this particular author was the one to write the tale!  Having lived down the street from a Wright created home for so many years, that was the least bit of research Horan did.  The author amazes me immensely with the amount of research she did.  She read all about Wright’s architecture, the movement of modernism, Wright’s autobiography (in which he never outrightly names Mamah), his son, John Lloyd Wright’s biography, the translated works that Mamah did for Swiss philosopher Ellen Key, copies of the only surviving letters by Mamah, reminiscing books by the neighbors of the Cheney’s, and she traveled to places that Mamah lived in order to get to know her.  When first beginning the project, she was writing in several different points of view, but a few years later changed the whole thing to be from Mamah’s perspective.  You can hear more about Horan’s own love affair with the research for Loving Frank in her interview with BookBrowse.com.

Horan’s background is in journalism, and she has covered a range of topics in her years from politics to fashion.  After taking a creative fiction class at the University of Chicago, she discovered she rather liked it.  Loving Frank is her first novel, and she’s been praised for how confident her writing is as a debut author.  I couldn’t agree more!  The language of Horan’s book is beautiful and enthralling.  The story of this couple is tumultuous, as is usually the case when families become separated and new relationships are formed.  Despite the ups and downs of the characters, Horan’s writing maintains an intensity that I think Ms. Borthwick Cheney would be proud of.

Mamah Borthwick Cheney (source: google images)

Living during the turn of the century, Mamah was a woman who would latch on to change.  While the Woman Movement happened all around her, the Suffragists marching, Mamah’s ideals followed more so of expanding one’s own mind.  It wasn’t enough to have equal rights, one had to allow for constant transformation of person and ideas.  If Frank Lloyd Wright is one of America’s most profound natural architects, than Mamah Borthwick Cheney is arguably one of the least known, though best examples of transcendentalism and free thought.

One of the things Horan accomplishes in this book so well are the dichotomies Mamah faced in life.  In fact, that’s how Horan plotted the novel.  She took the major decision moments of Mamah’s life and plotted them down, then looked to define and develop how Mamah came to those decisions.  One of the biggest battles Mamah faced was her role as a mother.  She deeply cared for her children and there are many who would criticize her for the years she spent apart from them.  I think Horan was able to give the reader some perspective, selfish as it may seem in parts, of the whole picture and the grave seriousness of what was at stake for each person.

Frank Lloyd Wright (source: google images)

And then we have Frank.  The subject of so much devotion, Frank Lloyd Wright changed the life of Mamah, and she for him, forever.  While the fame of Wright today is vastly known and celebrated, that was not always so.  He was always awarded, his talent was undeniable.  But the architect needed constant beautiful things around him.  These shopping sprees and grandiose plans resulted in financial debt on more than one occasion.  He dreamed of a perfect world where students could learn from him and create their own projects, yet he was quick to judge and not forthcoming with praise, though he always wanted it for himself.

Frank had a family of his own too when he began the affair.  Six kids in fact.  But Frank’s version of time and Mamah’s were entirely different interpretations.  His work and celebrity afforded him more luxury than Mamah in the 1900’s and he was able to go anywhere he pleased.

The biggest dream of his was to build a home for he and Mamah in Spring Green, Wisconsin on the property near where he grew up.  Even while traveling in Italy and studying the architecture there, he couldn’t get the rolling hills of the midwest out of his mind.  That dream came true when he built Taliesin.

Taliesin (source: google images)

Loving Frank isn’t a book I would’ve thought to be spectacular.  It isn’t a story I would’ve sought out.  But I am wholeheartedly thrilled I took this book off the shelf and listened to its tale.  It didn’t matter to me that at times I agreed and disagreed with the decisions Mamah made in life.  I wanted to be her friend and talk feminism and philosophy with her over dinner at Taliesin.  I wanted her to share her thoughts with me even more on what it was like to be her.

So go ahead, walk over to that “to be read pile” or bookshelf, and pick a title.  You may just surprise yourself.  And if you’re not sure what to read next, might I recommend Loving Frank?  You won’t regret it. 

For more on:

Frank’s Architecture

Mamah and Feminism

Frank and Mamah’s Relationship

Moloka’i: A Book Review

(source: alanbrennert.com)

I admit I picked up Moloka’i based on the cover.  The lure of a Polynesian island, the bright colored hibiscus flowers, the young girl with a no doubt unique story.  When I saw it on the list of my local library’s book discussion list, I thought, ok, good read for January, if I have to live in Wisconsin, I’ll at least escape to Hawai’i.  I had no idea what I was in for. 

Alan Brennert (source: goodreads.com)

The story of Moloka’i is a love story, that is if you’re looking from the author’s point of view.  Alan Brennert fills the pages with historically accurate information about Native Hawai’ians and the early stigmas of leprosy.  Brennert was working in the television world, writing for L.A. Law, which won him an Emmy, and also wrote and worked on productions of China Beach, Simon and Simon, and the 80’s revival of The Twilight Zone.  When a production project he was working on with Kevin Costner’s Tig Productions never made it to air, he started a completely new project:  the result, Moloka’i

Goodreads synopsis: 

Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka’i. Here her life is supposed to end—but instead she discovers it is only just beginning.
With a vibrant cast of vividly realized characters, Moloka’i is the true-to-life chronicle of a people who embraced life in the face of death. Such is the warmth, humor, and compassion of this novel that “few readers will remain unchanged by Rachel’s story”

I’m going to warn you, readers, cause like all of you, I’ve got a big pile of ‘to-read’ books, so I’m going to say that I LIKED this book, but I didn’t love it.  Mainly, because it’s sad.  You shouldn’t read Moloka’i if you’re looking for a feel-good, girl meets boy, normal growing pains kind of book.  But I’d like to tell you why I think YOU SHOULD read Moloka’i. 

I believe any book that opens our eyes to a different culture, especially when it’s done with such clear reverence for those individuals, is a worthy read.  Like many who attended the book discussion that night, we knew there were leper colonies, but we couldn’t tell you where they were.  The island of Moloka’i was one of them.  The stereotypes and fears of leprosy then are similar to what many of us saw when AIDS first appeared in the media.  People fear what they don’t understand.  The nation didn’t know what caused the disease, how it was spread, or how to treat it.  So they simply said, here’s paradise, but you can never leave it. Anyone who showed signs of the disease was taken from their family and sent to Kalaupapa.  In Rachel’s case, she was so young, she lived with the nun’s at the school on Moloka’i. 

The Shores of Moloka'i (source: google images)

Imagine living your whole life on one island.  Living the same routine, eating the same foods, watching your friends die from disease.  Part of that is Rachel’s story.  But part of her story is about finding strength in yourself and making families wherever they come to you.  A fascinating element to the book is the dichotomy of religion in Rachel’s life.  Her mother was a vigorously converted Christian woman who sought to teach her children manners and respect.  When Rachel is moved to Kalaupapa, she meets Haleola, a Hawai’ian medicine woman who teaches Rachel about the Hawai’ian gods and goddesses. 

And there are others who become part of Rachel’s family.  Sister Katherine is her caretaker, Nahoa teaches her to surf, and she meets Kenji, a man who comes to Moloka’i also afflicted with the disease and ostracized for his Japanese heritage.  All of these individuals will teach Rachel a new form of freedom: what it means to be daring, to have fun, to love.  Each person plays a role in her life and she as much in theirs.

It is rare to find a story that recounts a person’s life from the age of early childhood to maturity.  How can one person’s story be so engrossing?  To answer that, you’d simply have to read the book and get to know Rachel yourself. 

What do you think?  Had you known of these leper colonies before? Have you been to Kalaupapa? What other books have you read that have transpired one person’s life tale well? 

Grayson: A Book Review and Lesson on Positivity

Lynne Cox (source: newyorker.com)

For Lynne Cox, a champion long distance open water swimmer, practice and positivity go hand in hand.

If you’re unfamiliar with Lynne and her triumphs, here are just a few of her records:

  • In 1972 at age 15 Lynne swam across the English Channel and shattered the men’s and women’s world records with a time of 9 hours and 57 minutes.
  • In 1975 Lynne became the first woman to swim across Cook Strait between the North and South Islands of New Zealand. Her time was 12 hour and 2 1/2 minutes.
  • In 1976 Lynne became the first person to swim across the 42 degree F waters of the Strait of Magellan with a time of 1 hour 2 minutes.
  • In 1985 Lynne swam “Around the World in 80 Days” by swimming 12 extremely challenging waterways some that had never been attempted.
  • In 1987 Lynne became the first person to swim across the Bering Strait as a way to open the US-Soviet Border for the first time in 48 years with a time of 2 hours and 6 minutes.
  • In 1994 Lynne swam through the Gulf of Aqaba from Egypt to Israel and from Israel to Jordan tracing the progress of peace between the three countries.
  • In 2002 Lynne became the first person to complete a 1.2 miles in Antarctica, from the ship the Orlova to Neko Harbor in a time of 25 minutes.  (All facts from Lynne Cox’s website)

Not bad right?  Would you believe me if I said Lynne was inducted into the Swimming Hall of Fame?  She is.

Lynne’s journey in the water began at the age of 9, when she was coached by Harvard University coach, Ben Muritt.  By age 12, she was working with 4 time US Olympic trainer Don Gambril.

Grayson, is a memoir by Lynne about a routine swim practice that became a life defining moment.  She was only 17 years old when this happened.

Imagine yourself swimming laps early in the morning, back and forth between pier points.  The sun is not up yet.  You are alone in this day where the black sky blends into the dark waters.  Suddenly, hundreds upon hundreds of anchovies are swimming past you!  And behind them are grunion.  Slippery, iridescent fish are moving so fast, that one grunion ends up in your mouth!

This is a grunion. (source: latimesblogs.latimes.com)

After the grunion, you become swarmed by large, 40 pound tuna, bouncing out of the water, all chomping for their next meal.  That’s when you realize, you’re in a food chain cycle.

Below you, the current is weighted.  You can tell something is beneath you.  Something big.  It’s following your path.  As you continue to stroke forward, you peer behind you with each breath checking for dorsal fins.  Is it a shark?  Panic in every fiber of your body tells you to leave the water, but the fighter inside you says stay.  Stay and finish your workout.  This situation is real and you will face it again on another swim, you have to prepare yourself.  Stay.

You can see a friend on shore waving their arms at you.  He comes running down and he tells you, “It’s a whale!”

*****

That is the beginning of the story of Grayson, a four month old baby gray whale and how Lynne meets him while she is practicing in the ocean.  What follows is an epic journey that lasted hours where the two new friends go in search of Grayson’s mother, without whom he will not survive.

Lynne Cox swimming (source: laurinswim.com)

You will not believe what they go through, and yet through it all, Lynne is a consistent reminder of the power of positivity in our thoughts.  There are times where her body becomes weak, where she loses Grayson, where she wonders if his mother is dead.  But Lynne will defy it all and remain assertive.  She will remind you that there is no task too big if you break it down and go piece by piece.  She will remind you that the hardest and most difficult trials of our lives are best made with decisions of heart instead of head.  And she will do all of this with such imagery as you can barely imagine.

For this midwest girl, the Mississippi River is the closest thing I have to open water.  I have been to both oceans surrounding our country, but I have never had the delights and trepidations that Lynne describes while encountering dolphins and jellyfish.  It has been a few months since I read this book, it was at the end of summer.  I just went to my library’s book discussion on it and it reminded me that I while I was reading this book, I was sitting on a patio chair outside with my feet up on the seat because reading about the food chain cycle around her was terrifying!  I also shared bits of the book aloud with my boyfriend because the descriptions are so rich and magical. Lynne Cox does something only a handful of us can do, but she invites us along in her writing with beauty and awe.

If any of you are looking for a great Christmas present idea, I highly recommend Lynne’s book.  She intended it for an adult audience, but teens all over have grasped at this inspiring story and found hope in its pages.  It’s a book that with a message that will make you go, “Ok Lynne, I know you’re talking to me!” and anyone can appreciate it.

Go get this book!

For more information about Lynne, her world records, her speaking engagements, her other books, and even her blog, check out her website www.lynnecox.org.

What do you think?  Can you imagine swimming in the ocean with a baby whale?  What experiences have you had growing up where positive thinking played a crucial role in helping you face an overwhelming situation?

The Hunger Games: Best Lack of Sleep You Ever Had

After several pleading conversations from my friend, Annie, I went out and bought The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.   It sat on my bookshelf for awhile, not out of apathy, but let’s face it, there are always lots of books to read!  If I’m being honest, it only made the “next in line” list because it was a smaller paperback and I was traveling, not adding a lot of weight is good when you’ll be carrying this backpack around an airport for a couple hours.  And I have yet to purchase an e-reader; don’t hate me.  I started reading The Hunger Games on the plane ride home.  I was hooked by page four.

I’m not usually one to ignore the driver on a long ride home, but I did.  Joe and I had just come back from a fabulous week long vacation in Toronto, and instead of regaling each other with stories about our favorite visits and dishes, I was reading.  (I did put the book away when I saw him doing the droopy eye thing; I don’t want to die to get to the next chapter.)

The Hunger Games put me right back in excitement mode.  The story of a post-apocalyptic North America where only 12 districts remain intact, all ruled by one Capital.  To ensure no further outbursts or rebellion, the Capital created the Hunger Games.  Twenty-four must go, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district.  They will compete to be the last one standing, and the Capital will do whatever is necessary to see it’s a good show.

     Suzanne Collins did an amazing job with the pacing of this book, the story gives you normal world in the beginning, quickly sets up the problems for the people, shows you how the lead character, Katniss Everdeen, is a little rebellious, even in the beginning.  The games are quickly introduced and once she’s in the game, there’s no putting the book down.  I commend Collins for her writing; she reminded me of the Kurt Vonnegut, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley books I used to love reading as a teen.  And while many things occurred to terrorize the survival of Katniss, I never thought it was unbelievable in the world Collins created.  Her plot points and actions are well mapped together.

Collins found her niche writing for children television shows, including Nickelodeon.  Her biography is a bit outdated, but you can glimpse into how her mind thinks when she’s world building.  Her first series, The Underland Chronicles, tells the story of an 11 year old boy and his sister who fall through a grate in their apartment and end up in the Underland below the streets of New York City.  There, the boy is considered a warrior and his sister is worshiped by cockroaches.  Together they must win the battle against the rats to save their lost father.  See what I mean?  She’s a hoot!

The Hunger Games is set to be released on film in March 2012, but you’ll definitely want to read this book.  The next two in the series, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, have been purchased and sit by my bedside.  I’m pacing myself, reading another book in between the series.  Although, if any of you read the blog review Ellie Ann Soderstrom did, you may second guess continuing the series.  While she too raved about the first book, she thought the next two were lacking in character growth for our leading lady, Katniss.  Don’t read Ellie Ann’s post unless you’re ok with spoilers!!!  I’m still planning to finish the series, and hoping I’m able to to see Katniss evolve as the battle takes on new levels.

“May the odds be ever in your favor!” –Effie Trinket, The Hunger Games

Have you read The Hunger Games?  What do you think of Suzanne Collins world building?  Are you prepared to have dreams that YOU are in the Hunger Games?  It is the leading side effect of reading this book.  Proceed with caution, and don’t sleep with your archery kit.

P.S.  Don’t miss the just released trailer for The Hunger Games!

A Witchy Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

     I’m having such fun with this book club I joined.  Our book for June was The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe.

Connie, a graduate student trying to survive her oral exams, inherits (of sorts) a dusty, dirty old house that belonged to her grandmother.  She moves to the house in the summer to clean it up and sell it, but what Connie doesn’t know is that this house will unlock a secret in history dating all the way back to the Salem Witch Trials.

The book is a fascinating read, imagined by the author through her own dissertation work at Boston University.  Every day she would walk her dog on the trails between Salem and Marblehead, Massachusetts, the cities the book takes place in.  Howe states the characters in her book are not autobiographical, but they are well developed nonetheless, and she herself is descended from two Salem Witch historical figures:  Elizabeth Proctor, who survived, and Elizabeth Howe, who did not.  Spanning the Witch Trial days and the decades that followed in conjunction with present day, she webs together a cunning woman of the 1600’s with a 1990’s stressed out student!

Last summer, I vacationed in Boston, MA, and took a day trip to Salem with my boyfriend.  If any of you have upcoming vacations that way, plan to stay overnight!  All the good graveyard and witch tours happen at night!  As it was, we weren’t in on that loop, so we had to catch our train back to Boston, but we did spend a full day in Salem.  Salem is a beautiful, seaport town with a mix of past and present in its streets.  The locals you’ll meet are just as diverse covering the full spectrum of love/hate for the tourists that flock to its city, especially at Halloween.  The city offers such tourist and historical attractions like the Witch Dungeon Museum and the Pirate Museum.  Plus, almost all its shops offer psychic readings, tarot readings, palm readings, and a vast array of magical potions and herbs if it interests you.

We toured the Salem Witch Museum.  The main room is set up like a theater, and you sit around the edges with its “stages” encircling you.  The lights go up on various scenes to reveal still models in period dress, each depicting a moment during the Salem Witch Trials as the audio narrates.  The role of Tituba in the Salem Witch Trials is not widely known, but she was a servant in Reverend Parris’ house.  A slave from Barbados, Tituba would entertain the children with magic tricks and scary stories.  Her name was the first name cried out from the “afflicted” girls.  After that, many more women were accused of the craft.  The most shameful accusation was that of Rebecca Nurse, a respected, God-fearing, elder member of the community.  It is suspected her plea of guilty came more-so out of fear and misunderstanding than anything else.  Historians say she was questioned twice at trial, but she was old and hard of hearing, causing her to nod in reply than speak up.  She was one of the 19 people hanged during the Salem Witch Trials.

The hangings weren’t the only punishments given during during this time of suspicion and fear.  A man named Giles Corey was actually pressed to death, with logs and boulders stacked upon him as a torture method to make him name additional suspicious townspeople.  His last words are reported to have been, “More weight.”

In addition to the 20 deaths following the trials, many of the accused “witches” spent months in prison awaiting a suitable judge to arrive to port.  And even those that weren’t hanged suffered a life in prison.  At the time, if you were imprisoned, it was up to your family to pay for your imprisonment and upkeep.  If you could not pay, which many of the lower class families could not, you rotted in jail for a lifetime to pay off your debt.

Many of the leading figures of the Salem Witch Trials make an appearance in Howe’s book, giving it a rich historical setting, and new perspective on its haunting past.  The book is full of several mother-daughter relationships, providing great discussion at book clubs, if you’re looking for a new read.  And since the main topic is uncovering Deliverance’s physick book, also called a spell book, receipt book, Book of Shadows, you can count on a little magic sneaking its way in.

As for Howe’s writing style, it was said by several book club members that the beginning is a little slow.  I agree, at times the description of Connie’s actions or internal thoughts dragged on, but this is absolutely a book to stick with, unanimously liked by each member, especially the ending!  It brought up a lot of interesting conversation about character development, gender then and now, how our perception of the world is based on the world we grow up in, and of course, witches!  Do you believe in witchcraft?  How has the term witch changed over time?

What do you think?  Do you believe in magic, or is it all a bunch of hocus pocus?

Also, what’s a great next read I should tell my book club about?

Page 56, Sentence 5

It’s National Book Week!  Time to celebrate, like this woman!

See, she knows how to party!  Grab the closest book to you, go to page 56, sentence 5, and copy it into my comments.  Paste these instructions in your own blog and see how many book lines you can read.  Don’t give away the book unless someone asks though!  It’s more fun to see all the different quotes and guess where they came from.  Here’s my book quote:

“Let’s waddle home, kids,” Dad would say.

Happy reading and writing during National Book Week!  Quick it’s almost over, participate now!

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