books I've read

Anne Hawn's books

Who Moved My Cheese?
If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans
Scientific Secrets for Self-Control
Just One Damned Thing After Another
The Vanishing
Exercises in Knitting
The Good Dream
The Very Best of Edgar Allan Poe
The Chosen
BT-Kids' Knits
Talking God
The Professor
The Christmas Files
The Finisher
Home Decor for 18-Inch Dolls: Create 10 Room Settings with Furniture and 15 Outfits with Accessories
Dracula and Other Stories
A New Song
All Quiet on the Western Front
File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents

Anne Hawn Smith's favorite books »

I'm reading 150 Books

Monday, December 30, 2013

David Copperfield

David CopperfieldDavid Copperfield by Charles Dickens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am reading this again for my Ravelry "Knitting like the Dickens" group and these are my comments for this reading. December 30, 2013:

I'm finished! (again) This book has been with me for months and months. What will I do without it??? It did drag a bit in the middle, but then it picked up and I wanted it to go on and on. For one thing, I would have had a chapter on Mrs. Micawber's family and how the felt about Mr. Micawber after he was such a success. I bet they would have been on the first boat to Australia swearing they always knew he was going to be successful!

I've read this so many times, but I always see things I missed. When he was traveling and finally realized that he had taught Agnes not to love him and now he realized that he loved her he wrote so beautifully about the regret of missed opportunities and the sorrow of seeing things clearly when there was no way to rectify an earlier action, I realized that he had felt that in his life. I know that sounds obvious, but I don't think I have ever thought about someone of Dickens genius feeling the same kind of feelings we all feel. I see him as so wise and insightful that it's hard to see him as oblivious to his feelings about "Agnes."

That got me to thinking about the tortured lives of many of the greatest artists, writers, dancers, songwriters etc. I've heard the saying that genius is closest to madness, and I am just realizing a bit more about how it happens. First the writer has to have disturbing things happen...for Dickens, his father's imprisonment for one example. He has to allow himself to really feel that pain instead of sublimating it in some way. Then he has to open himself to the pain again in order to write about it convincingly and convey it to his audience, then, he writes of its consequences. Dickens created a new better outcome, but other writers, Sylvia Plath in *The Bell Jar* not so good. All this leads me to a conclusion. If you wish to become a great writer you are going to be very thin skinned and you are inviting tragedy into your life ;>)

For Dickens, another deep pain was the unfairness of Victorian society and the treatment of the poor and infirm. I've have often thought that the nightly news brings us more of the pain and human misery than we can absorb and that can make us callous. Dickens saw that misery all around him and he never allowed himself to become calloused. It is what Jacob Marley told Scrooge. He was cursed to spend eternity seeing the poor and miserable and not being able to do something to help them.

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow WallpaperThe Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a wonderful story! There is a adage in writing that the writer must not tell the reader, but let the characters tell their own story. This is all there is in this story. There is no narrator except for the main character. There are no other people telling the story. Everything we see, we see through the main character's eyes.

She is actually suffering from postpartum depression, but everything being done for her is missing the mark. In fact, it is possibly the worst thing that can be done for her. We hear the voices of her husband and others involved with her care, but only filtered through her depression. Are they really that oblivious to what is really happening to her?

I read a book about the Galveston Flood in 1902. One of the reasons the hurricane was so devastating was the hubris of the new National Weather Bureau. They thought they knew all there was to know about the behavior of hurricanes and they were contemptuous of the reports coming in from the "too easily excited" Cubans. I felt the same kind of hubris in this story. The husband and the doctor think they know exactly what his wife needs and they don't listen to her. They also don't question their own wisdom even when she is obviously getting worse and worse. They do everything wrong for what they are sure are the right reasons.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

My Story

My StoryMy Story by Elizabeth Smart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The only reason I give this only 4 stars is because the writing in some places was weak. As far as the story goes, I give it 5 stars.

I also read a lot of the reviews before I wrote mine and I am amazed at the number who don't believe in God and therefore dismiss Elizabeth's faith. After such a harrowing experience, Elizabeth has recovered and is leading a well-rounded, normal life. She is helping other victims and in every way has risen above this trauma. It is hard to ignore the evidence that there were miracles in her life and that God has touched her in an unbelievable way. Unfortunately, if one of a person's "first premises" is that there is no God, and all evidence is ignored or explained away then that person is forever cut off from faith and no amount of evidence will be enough. For this I feel very sorry.

Elizabeth's book did not go into detail about the sexual abuse and people also criticized that. I can understand why she didn't. First, anyone who watches the news and reads a newspaper knows all too well what kind of things happened to her. Second,for her to write a book about the prurient details of her captivity would be like writing pornography and that is completely alien to any person of faith.

I think the book was just what I expected. My questions weren't about the abuse she endured, but about how she has recovered. The fact that Elizabeth has come out of this experience as a psychologically healthy and poised young woman who is not hiding away continuing to be a victim is something that I think the world needs to know. She now lives her life in the public eye and even appears on ABC news and that is wonderful. Just as Robin Roberts made public her cancer while continuing on Good Morning America, Elizabeth gives people struggling with sexual abuse the example becoming a whole person again. We need people to provide us examples of overcoming.

Her explanation at the end of the book is something that every victim can use. In fact, a person doesn't have to be a victim of this kind of crime to take courage from what she has done. I am afraid our society has become too quick to turn us into victims when anything bad happens. We need to be able to think of others whose examples give us courage.

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Haunted Sister

Haunted SisterHaunted Sister by Lael Littke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a short, but interesting book for YA-Juvenile. Janine is in a terrible accident in which she receives a severe concussion and dies on the operating table. She goes into a nebulous state in which she sees people relatives who have died including her identical twin, Lenore, who died when she was 4. Janine is encouraged to come back to earth and when she does, she finds that her twin sister comes with her. When she wakes up, she finds that Lenore, the "bad" twin is talking to her and she wants to participate in the life she feels she has been robbed of. The situation is very much like a person with multiple personality disorder. Once Lenore manages to get out, she attempts to gain more control and causes Janine a number of problems.

The story line is very good and it is well developed. The characters are believable and the conclusion is well thought out. I think it could have been longer, but since it is for the early young adult group, it is probably the right length.

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Remains

The RemainsThe Remains by Vincent Zandri
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an odd book. It started with an interesting premise. A young woman’s identical twin sister died of cancer and when some odd things begin to happen, she writes a journal in the form of letters to her sister. When they were children they went into a forbidden wood and were molested by a serial killer. They swore to never tell anyone, especially after he was later sent to prison for 30 years for the rape of a woman and was suspected in other rapes and murders. Suddenly, Rebecca starts receiving odd text messages, calls and evidence that someone has been watching her. When she finds that the man has been released, she begins to fear for her life. Added to the plot is an autistic savant artist who paints pictures for her of what seem to be her nightmares.

Unfortunately, the book seemed to fizzle out after the first third. Odd things happen which ought to send a sane person right to the police, but Rebecca seems to be unusually stupid. One minute she is a competent young businesswoman and the next she is a fainting hysteric straight from a Victorian novel. She is totally ineffectual and contributes to most of her worst problems. Another reviewer mentioned the jarring notes in the story and I completely agree. The oddest was the directions for making her favorite scrambled eggs. I could believe that someone substituted a page or two from a cookbook into the manuscript.

The story is interesting and has some novel plot elements, so it is worth the read, but don’t expect to be impressed with the writing.

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Friday, December 13, 2013

The Adventures of Caterwaul the Cat: Feline Pie

The Adventures of Caterwaul the Cat: Feline PieThe Adventures of Caterwaul the Cat: Feline Pie by Damon Plumides
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a great book for middle graders. It's a bit of a "Puss in Boots" story mixed with the wicked queen in Snow White. Caterwaul the cat escapes from the old witch he lives with and ends up with the beauty obsessed Queen. He remembers a recipe for a potion the old witch has and he goes to get the ingredients to make her forever young. In her obsession with being beautiful she has him put a spell on all the mirrors in the kingdom so that anyone who looks in them becomes a cat.

Caterwaul goes on a long adventure to get the recipe and meets a number of interesting creatures along the way. Since the kingdom is awash with formerly human cats, they come with human vices. There is even a cat mafia and a speakeasy with imported French milk.

The book is clever and entertaining. It's probably going to be a series and sure to be a kids favorite.

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Monday, December 09, 2013

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #1)

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #1)The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was reading this for my granddaughter to use in her homeschool free reading and I was very impressed with it. There's lots of action and pretty well drawn characters. Young Percy Jackson has been expelled from every school he has been to. He is ADHD, dyslexic, conduct name it. Things just happen around him and they are the kind of things that get people, especially teachers, very upset. Needless to say, he doesn't have a lot of friends, but he does have Grover, a skinny boy who walks funny, and he likes his Latin teacher who is always after him to become very serious about learning Greek and Roman mythology.

After a harrowing visit back home with his mother and step-father, Percy finally learns why he has such trouble fitting in with his peers. It turns out that his peers are all "half-bloods;" children who have one parent who is one of the ancient gods of mythology. He barely makes it to the "half-blood camp" after being chased there by monsters. From there on, the action really begins.

This is a great book for middle graders and up.

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Sunday, December 08, 2013

Albion's Seed

Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (America: A Cultural History, Vol. I)Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a wonderful book, especially for genealogist. The author takes the first four waves of immigration to America: The Virginians, the Puritans, the Quakers and the Scots-Irish. For each group, he gives information on what part of England they came from, their motivation, their characteristics, religion, habits, beliefs, influences, and any other attributes they had. He then discusses the place where they settled, the relationship they had with the people they found here and other factors such as the climate and quality of the site they first landed.

Briefly, the Virginians were speculators and adventurers, the Puritans were austere and disciplined looking for a place to worship in peace. The Quakers sought the same freedom, but were a completely different type of religious group. Finally, the Scots-Irish were independent Highlanders from the borderlands between Scotland and England and were fiercely independent, stubborn, proud and often a law unto themselves.

These are the people who came to America and became its first citizens. They left their mark on the people who descended from them and influenced the course of events that led to the United States of America.

There is so much information here that is vital to genealogists. It is possible to look at an ancestor and find the year they came to America, the area they settled and their naming patterns and determine which of these four groups they probably belonged to. In my case, I can't find the place my Munn ancestors came from, but they came at a time when the Scots-Irish were immigrating, they have sandy reddish hair and ruddish complexion, they are fierce stubborn people with a number of disowned children and feuds, sometimes violent tempers and they settled first in the Appalachian Mountains. I feel safe in believing that they came from the borderlands especially since Andrew is a favorite given name. When I looked at that area, I found that there were records of Munns. I still don't know exactly where they came from, but the preponderance of evidence tells me that they were Scots-Irish.

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Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Sociopath Next Door

The Sociopath Next DoorThe Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this years ago and it's one of those books that changes a person by reading it. It opened my eyes to the motivations of some of the people I've known whose behavior was incomprehensible to me. It seemed to me at the time that these people just wanted to control every situation but there was a maliciousness in their actions that I couldn't account for. This book made their behavior a lot clearer.

After reading this the first time I became more aware of the characteristics of a sociopath and found that there are more people like that around. It also made the behavior of some public figures make more sense. In some cases, the person not only betrayed the people who trusted him/her but actually ran for election again! Hmmm, the mayor of Toronto may be a very good example.

Reading it again, has given me more insight, especially the last chapters which discuss risk taking behavior. I thought immediately of ex Senator Gary Hart in 1987. At the time of the presidential campaigns, he had already had one close call when a young woman was seen leaving his residence and he was outraged at the press. He actually taunted the Miami Herald which continued to investigate. Almost immediately the trip to Bimini with Donna Rice was exposed. Even that wasn't enough; he tried, unsuccessfully, to enter the presidential race again. I remembered being so confused because he was obviously an intelligent person and yet his behavior belied it. This book made everything so clear. He, and a lot more public figures fit the pattern of a sociopath perfectly.

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Thursday, December 05, 2013

Miranda's Shadow

Miranda's ShadowMiranda's Shadow by Mark Micloskey
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Actually, I'd give it no stars except that looks like I haven't read it.

I'm 5% done with Miranda's Shadow: I am having a lot of problems with this book. The writing is terrible. I'm sorry to be so negative, but the grammar errors and misuse of words make it very hard to read. I am also having trouble with the diagnosis. This is not a doctor, but a person Miranda only knew via the Internet. They didn't meet until the book was finished. I might not finish this one. —
I read another chapter and then gave up, but not without a great deal of concern for Miranda. The author confronts her with a number of harsh realities in an Instant Message session with no thought to the fact that she is depressed, has a death wish and has been known to cut herself. He has never met her, is obviously miles away from her…possibly even states away…with little thought about her mental state after these revelations. It’s a wonder she is alive. He makes sweeping generalizations about the abusers, her parents and grandparents without knowing the facts. He is a complete train wreck and I fear for this woman’s safety.

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Tuesday, December 03, 2013

The Bloodletter's Daughter (A Novel of Old Bohemia)

The Bloodletter's Daughter (A Novel of Old Bohemia)The Bloodletter's Daughter by Linda Lafferty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read several negative reviews on this book, but I found it to be fascinating. I just didn’t see the stylistic problems noted by some others. The author’s words did not get in the way of a gripping tale of history and madness.

I checked on the internet to see what was known about the historical figures and found that the book followed what I read. I thought the character of Marketa, bloodletter's daughter, to be very well drawn. She was an inexperienced young girl and the fact that she misunderstood the reality of mental illness is plausible. When I was and Evaluator at the Diagnostic Center for the Dept. of Juvenile Corrections, the supervisors accidentally left me alone in the building while I was interviewing a very disturbed (and very large) 17 year old boy. All my experiences with the boy had been very positive until I pointed out that he couldn’t be released to his mother because he told me he hated her. Suddenly, my 6’ x 8’ office became very small when he reacted very badly to being challenged. I barely breathed while he struggled for control. (A few weeks later, I saw him handcuffed to his waist and waiting to be transferred to a mental hospital for an involuntary commitment.) I could well understand how Marketa could think that her special relationship with Don Julius would protect her.

I also found the history of the Hapsburgs fascinating. I started looking for images of the “Hapsburg lip” and found some interesting information about their inbreeding and mental problems. The mental problems of Don Julius became understandable as well as his father’s refusal to admit to the extent of his illness.

For anyone who enjoys history and especially this time period, this is a great book.

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Silencing the voices: one woman's experience with multiple personality

Silencing the voices: one woman's experience with multiple personality dSilencing the voices: one woman's experience with multiple personality d by Jean Darby Cline
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book about a woman with multiple personalities or dissociative identity disorder is very well written. It is told from the viewpoint of Jean, the patient with some parts seen through the eyes of her alters. There are parts that are very difficult to read. The splitting off of personalities is not difficult to understand when you read of the terrible abuse. It is incredible that children survive this kind of background.

One thing this book has that I have never read before is what happens to the family when the sexual abuse comes to light. Jean and her sisters told their mother what happened when she asked if there ever was any sexual abuse. It is hard to understand why the mother brought the topic up because she did not want to hear the answer. In this case, at least 2 of the sisters confirmed that there had been horrific sexual, physical and emotional abuse and the other two daughters confirmed the physical abuse and believed their older sisters. From the younger two sisters comments it was likely that at least one other was sexually abused but was not ready to confront her memories. The brothers also believed their sisters and each had a child or step-child molested by the father and all confirmed the horrible physical abuse.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Haunting of Maddy Clare

The Haunting of Maddy ClareThe Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book turned out to be pretty good. I wasn't sure in the beginning. Sarah Piper was working at a temp agency and she was interviewed by the dapper and handsome Alistair Gellis, who had a interesting proposition. He wished to hire her to help him make contact with a ghost...a man hating ghost. Sarah doesn't have many options, so she agrees to the task.

The ghost, a 19 year old serving girl named Maddy Clare, hanged herself in a barn which she continued to haunt. The two elderly ladies who had once employed her have sensed her increasing distress and want to help her make the transition to the afterlife.

There is more going on though. Sarah makes contact with her and senses her tremendous anger. Something is not right and Sarah and Alistair, with the help of his assistant, Matthew Ryder, begin to suspect that she has not committed suicide, but has been murdered.

There are interesting plot turns and a bit of romance and intrigue which make for a very entertaining ghost story. I will be reading more of this author.

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Visitation

The VisitationThe Visitation by Frank Peretti
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What would it be like if Jesus came to our town and started doing miracles right and left? It sounds nice, but this fascinating book shows what kind of things could happen. First, how many people would know how to tell if he truly was Jesus? Just because someone does miracles doesn't mean that they are from God. The Bible is very clear about a time in our future when people will do miracles in Jesus' name and they won't be from God.

Frank Peretti is great at creating characters who are flawed, but resonate with the reader. Even people whose religious background seems different are created with the good and the bad of each denomination. The main character, Travis Jordan, was an eager Pentecostal minister before his beloved wife sickened with cancer and died. He resigned from his church to examine his priorities and sort out the spiritual fallout from this difficult time. Unfortunately, the present minister of his church won't let him sit on the sidelines. As irritating as Kyle is, Travis can see himself in the young minister and somehow is able to separate the chaff from the wheat.

Kyle needs all the help he can get when a young man comes to town working miracles and preaching love and fellowship. If everyone in town will just love and believe in themselves, then heaven will reign on earth...only it isn't that simple. What is interesting about this book is that it takes some superficial beliefs and draws them to their complicated conclusions. If people believe that they just have to be true to themselves and follow wherever their desires lead them what happens to the people whose lives are linked to theirs? Poor Jim and his daughter just want to know what to do about dinner and what do they do while Dee is out finding herself? Things are not as simple as sound bites might lead us to believe.

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Who Could That Be At This Hour? (All The Wrong Questions, #1)

Who Could That Be At This Hour? (All The Wrong Questions, #1)Who Could That Be At This Hour? by Lemony Snicket
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you like Lemony Snicket, will like this. It is full of quirky plot twists and unbelievable characters. Unbelievable characters is what Lemony Snicket does best. I think a good bit of genealogical research would turn up Charles Dickens in Snicket's ancestry. Is this book as fun for kids as it is for adults? I am not sure, but someone is taking them off the library shelves!

This is like a prequel. We get to find out more about Lemony Snicket as an apprentice spy well before he went on to write the "Series of Unfortunate Events." He has drawn the worst possible trainer, but he manages to finish his assignment although we are left with a lot of questions. It is obvious that this is going to be the start of a new series.

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Jennifer and Her Selves

Jennifer and Her SelvesJennifer and Her Selves by Gerald Schoenewolf
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is hard to say a book like this is enjoyable when you are dealing with the unraveling of a life full of pain and abuse, but it was captivating. Jennifer was subject to physical and emotional abuse and to cope with the pain, she dissociated into 7 different personalities. Each personality was "born" as a response to a horrifying situation that the child, Jennifer, was not able to cope with. In her creative mind, another personality emerged who was able to bear the pain and betrayal. While these alters enabled her to cope with her situation, they eventually began to cause her problems. Jennifer was unaware of the alters, but she was aware of losing time. When she would awaken, sometimes in an strange location, she would find that days or weeks had disappeared. Frequent suicide attempts and "cutting" brought her to mental hospitals and new therapist until she finally arrived at Gerald Schoenewolf's office.

Shortly after she began work with Schoenewolf, her personality changed so drastically that he finally became aware that he was dealing with a multiple personality. The book deals with the portion of her therapy that dealt with exposing all of the alters and eventually integrating them. The story is a fascinating look into the way a creative and intelligent mind protected a vulnerable child from abuse that she could not cope with.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lost Boy

Lost BoyLost Boy by Brent W. Jeffs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the forth book on this subject which I have read recently. It covers a different perspective than the others. It concerns the boys who were raised in the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints (FLDS)and were either forced out by the prophet, Warren Jeffs, or who ran away. Boys were undervalued in this society because the church leaders often had 40, 60 or more wives and they married girls as young as 12. There was always a need for more young girls, but that left scores of boys for whom marriage was impossible. This was doubly difficult since a man was unable to enter the "Celestial Heaven" unless he had at least three wives.

These boys were forced out of a closed society which totally controlled their lives. When they left, they were penniless, abandoned, ill educated, and totally alone. They not only lost their homes, families, and friends, but their whole culture. These boys were raised to not only distrust the "gentiles," (non FLDS) but to hate them. The schools they went to while in the FLDS emphasized church history and were devoid of subjects like science and US or World history. They were hopelessly under educated and unprepared for life outside the FLDS. Most of them drifted into drugs and alcohol and many died of overdoses or suicide.

The author of the book, Brent Jeffs, also had to cope with horrible nightmares and an all pervasive fear. His drug use was a double edged sword; it blunted his dreams and memories, but it also left him less able to repress the horror of his childhood. After the suicide of his beloved brother, Clayne, who had recently confessed to his family that his uncle Warren Jeffs had repeatedly raped him as a young boy, Brent's nightmares and panic attacks reached a level which left him unable to cope. He was beginning to remember his own attacks by Jeffs beginning when he was 5.

Eventually, Brent’s story and those of other lost boys led to criminal and civil charges of Warren Jeffs and ultimately his downfall. The book is well written and documented and provides a much fuller understanding of the FLDS and it’s prophet, Warren Jeffs.

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Friday, November 15, 2013

The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist's Notebook-- What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing

The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist's Notebook-- What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and HealingThe Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist's Notebook-- What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing by Bruce D. Perry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a fascinating book! It answered many of the questions I have had about people who commit horrible crimes. It is actually a book about how the brain develops and what happens when something goes terribly wrong in the early years of brain growth. The early experiences of children determine how there brains will grow. If the are given no stimulation or are traumatized, the early brain can't develop properly and every additional experience will be influenced by the missing stages.

I've read a lot of books about feral children, serial killers, sociopaths and psychotics in an attempt to figure out what makes them the way they are. Most of what I have read is limited to what they do instead of why. I keep looking for the missing link. This book is the closest to an answer as I have found. The author uses a medical model of brain development to explain the changes in the brain from trauma or isolation and yet leaves room for individual personality. To me this is the key to why not all children who experience this kind of trauma go on to become murders, serial killers and predators.

As someone else mentioned in a review, this book has made me more compassionate towards people who do heinous things and yet made me more aware of why they cannot be trusted to be free among us. The case of Leon was the best example. Guilty of the rape and murder of two young girls, Dr. Perry was called on to give a pre-sentencing report to decide if his sentence was life in prison or the death penalty. Dr. Perry found that Leon had been left alone in an apartment all day long, day after day. He had no stimulation or love which impaired his ability to relate to others. Sadly, it was a vicious circle for him. He was unlovable because he wasn't loved in infancy but he couldn't get love from the people around him because he was unlovable. He developed into a brutal young man with no conscience and low impulse control. He was damaged by his childhood, but he turned into a man who could not be allowed to live in society. Dr. Perry does not say what happened in his sentencing, but I would have given him life in prison without parole.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Third Wheel (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, #7)

The Third Wheel (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, #7)The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this to see if it would good for homeschool free reading. It's written for middle school readers and I can see why the kids like it. Greg is his usual bumbling self as he tries to find a date for the school dance. He's pretty nerdy and unsure of himself, so he is easy for middle graders to identify with. He also manages to be one of those kids for whom everything that can go wrong does go wrong.

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Prophet's Prey: My Seven-Year Investigation into Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints

Prophet's Prey: My Seven-Year Investigation into Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day SaintsProphet's Prey: My Seven-Year Investigation into Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints by Sam Brower
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the story of the Warren Jeffs saga told from the viewpoint of the private detective who spent seven years of his life tracking down Jeffs and helping to bring him and his henchmen to justice. Sam Brower was uniquely positioned to deal with the FLDS as he is a Mormon and understands how this polygamist cult differs from the mainline church and the effects of the abuses of the practice of polygamy. He also had and continues to have strong feelings about the abuse, sexual, financial and psychological, that the majority of the members suffer from. The FLDS is not just a sect that believes in polygamy between consenting adults, but includes incest, child abuse, rape, murder, kidnapping, and the abandonment of a great many of the young boys who have little value in this society. In fact, since the upper level of the "priesthood" have upwards of 50 wives, there are not enough for the young men so they are pushed out at the slightest offense.

While it might appear that this books, which deals with investigations and court battles, would be dry and uninteresting, but that is not the case. Brower is an excellent writer and he is able to convey the complexities of the law in a way that makes interesting reading. He also takes a stab at the psychological aspect of Jeffs character which is one of the main reasons I am reading about this subject. I have to say, that I agree with his thoughts on Jeffs mental state. This book also fills in a lot of the gaps in the understanding of this sect and the damage it does its members. It was interesting to read this book after reading The Witness Wore Red and Stolen Innocence as it seemed to complete the picture.

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Saturday, November 09, 2013

Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs

Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren JeffsStolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs by Elissa Wall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second book I've read about Warren Jeffs, the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) and the courageous young women who have fled his iron rule. Warren Jeffs is the polygamist leader of this renegade branch of the Mormon Church.

As is my custom, I am reading as much as I can about a topic in hopes of getting a balanced view of the subject. This book is one of the first out from an actual victim. Elissa Wall was given in marriage when she was 14 to a 19 year old first cousin whom she already disliked intensely. Elissa begged the Prophet, Warren Jeffs, not to give her in marriage. She argued that she was too young and that she didn't like her prospective groom. Jeffs only told her to pray and "be sweet," a phrase which means submit to whatever the prophet, or her father says.

Everyone tells her that she must do what she is told. Obedience to the head of the family and the prophet is imperative. There is no other choice for her except suicide. If she disobeys, she will be cast out with no money, no place to go and no knowledge of the "gentiles" she has been taught to fear. Not only that, her father may lose his priesthood because he couldn't control his daughter. That means that her mother will be given to another husband and her children will take his name.

As for being married, Elissa had absolutely no knowledge of what goes on between husband and wife. In the FLDS, sex is not talked about and young girls are taught to treat boys as snakes. They are absolutely not allowed to touch one another or even become friends. Elissa is horrified at what her husband wants and eventually, she is raped and made to do to many things that she finds repugnant. Eventually, she finds the strength to leave and finally to stand up in court and accuse Warren Jeffs of the abuse he forced her into.

It is absolutely amazing that this is allowed to go on in the United States. Young girls are being reared as chattel. Sexual abuse is rampant even with girls barely 12 years old. This is a book that everyone should read so this practice can be stopped.

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Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life of Walter MittyThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of Thurber's most famous stories. In it the mild mannered Walter Mitty experiences five daydreams while on a regular shopping trip with his overbearing wife. While she goes to the hair dresser, he runs some errands and has daydreams connected to something that happens on the way. In these daydreams he is always a confident hero who gets the task done bravely at great risk. In some of the story is heard a sound of "pocketa-pocketa-pocketa" as the daydream is in full swing and which signals a "Mitty moment" to any of the readers of Thurber's best story.

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The Witness Wore Red: The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice

The Witness Wore Red: The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to JusticeThe Witness Wore Red: The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice by Rebecca Musser
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am  not sure why I am so interested in books on this subject, but I keep hoping that somehow I can make sense of it.  It is inconceivable to me that men, especially men who supposedly believe in God can do things as despicable as were done by these leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints (FLDS).  It is also incredible that women would allow themselves, and their children to be abused in this way. I am always searching for something that will help me understand and the best I can come up with is the old saying that "power corrupts and the absolute power corrupts absolutely" colliding with church leaders who are also sociopaths.

In this book, Rebecca Mussler gives a glimpse of what life is like for women in the FLDS.  Men cannot get into Celestial Heaven unless they have at least three wives.  It is the inner circle of this cult that has the power. The Prophet decides which women are given to which men especially after the first wife.  Men try to win favor with the Prophet by paying their tithes, turning over ownership of their houses and land, and their daughters for plural marriages.  Women are taught that it is their highest duty to obey their husbands and their prophet in absolutely everything.  Their lives are centered on their husbands and their children.  From birth, they are made slaves of men.  They are taught to “be sweet” no matter what their men do or tell them.  They welcome in new wives without complaint.  They give their daughters to the prophet to take for themselves (especially if their daughter is pretty) or to give to the inner circle.

Rebecca Musser was very pretty and caught the eye of the Prophet Rulon Jeffs.  She was 19 and he was 84.  She was his 19th wife.  He went on to have nearly 50 more wives all after the age of 84.  His wives kept getting younger and younger until many of them were underage.  When he died, his son, Warren began marrying his father’s wives, technically his “mothers.”  When Rebecca was told that she had a week to submit to his will and marry again, she gathered the courage to escape and go to her older brother who had been pushed out of the church.  (With prophets and their inner circle taking 50+ wives, there were not enough left for the young men so it didn't take much to be expelled.)

She had a better life, but she grieved for her sisters, especially one who was given to her violent first cousin.  She grieved for so many young girls, as young as 12 who were being given to men well beyond age 50.  She grieved for underage girls married two at a time to men older than their fathers and she grieved for her mothers who were made to submit to anything their husbands or the Prophet asked.

When questioned by law enforcement, Rebecca began to see that she could help the states of Arizona, Utah and Texas bring the corrupt leadership down and free these helpless women and their young girls.  She was able to help them build a case against Warren Jeffs, who was not only marrying young girls, but living a luxurious life filled with vices while he preached strict obedience and sacrifice to his congregation.  This book is an example of the power of one person can effect much change.

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More Ramblings on "Catcher" and Classics in general

Kallie wrote: Good point, Roland. In fact, I like to get into character's head when he or she is NOT like me, or like I want to be, and try to see their world from their perspective. I think characterization usually suffers when a writer tries to make a character he or she identifies with as admirable. The character becomes a puppet rather than a complex character with a life of his or her own.

I agree totally!  That is the genius of the classics and all good literature.  I think that is the essence of being "well read."  Getting inside the mind of a character in a book helps us understand ourselves and others.  What comes to mind right now is The Picture of Dorina Gray.  Essentially, Dorian does all kinds of despicable things  without seeming to change in any way. He doesn't suffer for any of his actions. He is a complete sociopath and the reader is able to get into his mind and during most of the book we see the damage he causes others.  At the end though the reader is able to see the damages he does to himself.

After finishing the book, the reader comes to understand that there are consequences to that kind of life.  One book won't put the breaks on a sociopath, but after reading Great Expectations, The Great Gatsby (Daisy), Vanity Fair (Becky Sharp), A Christmas Carol (Scrooge), David Copperfield (Steerforth) Persuasion (Mr. Elliot)even a sociopath can see the consequences of that life, and the rest of the readers understand that there are people who have no conscience and to be wary of them.
immersed in and learn from.

To me, classics gain that title because they are incredibly successful in creating characters and situations which are a different reality from the reader, but which the reader can be

Friday, November 01, 2013

The Final Winter: an apocalyptic horror novel

The Final Winter: an apocalyptic horror novelThe Final Winter: an apocalyptic horror novel by Iain Rob Wright
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This could have been a good book and with a good editor, it still might be, but there are too many mistakes and characters who are not fully developed. At first, I couldn't put it down. There were some individuals in the pub and other stores and interesting story lines, but the promise of those characters kind of fizzled near the end.

The ending was also problematic. I think the trouble is that there are some archetypes in human consciousness and if a person is going to act outside those parameters, there needs to be a very skillful character development. I am thinking of Mephistopheles, Screwtape, Old Scratch and those created by Dante, Milton, and Goethe. I am probably putting it awkwardly, but it is hard to make this point without spoiling the book.
I would like to see other work by the author, because I see a very creative mind.

I also have to note that dropping the foul language and sexual innuendo would help the book a great deal. Many of the situations call for specific adjectives which would help the reader experience the character's thoughts better than the trite expletives which are repetitive and non specific.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Another bit of my ramblings on The Catcher in the Rye discussion:

Books are deemed classics for a lot of reason one of which is that they speak to the human condition and give us insight into ourselves and/or mankind in general.

Somewhere around puberty, we learn to think abstractly.  Up until that point, we are limited by what we have experienced ourselves and we think that everyone experiences the same reality.  Somewhere around the 7th grade we begin to read literature that is more abstract and opens our minds up to a different reality.  We read books like Silas Marner , Great Expectations , An American Tragedy, Catcher in the Rye , and my favorite Of Human Bondage .

By reading books such as these, we learn more about the psychological and philosophical world we live in.  We learn to understand what human nature contains and why people and countries act the way they do. Criminal profilers do not like the serial killers they interview, but they interview them to learn about why they do what they do.

We might not like the characters, the language, or the settings of these books and find them boring even, but that isn't why they are studied.  We can change because of a book even if we don't like it.  I think that is why they are classics.

I try to read a lot of classics because I think they improve my understanding of myself and others.  When I come across a book that appears on most classics list and I don't like it and can't see the point, I feel sad.  There are a lot of people out there who are learning wonderful things, and I can't get it.  Lots of times I go on my library website to get the ebook copy of Cliff Notes or something similar to see if I can understand it.  I still struggle with Toni Morrison or Salmon Rushdi, so every few years, I try them again.  If all those people who are smarter and more well read than I am say that something is in this book that makes it a classic, I pretty much believe them, especially if the book has been around a long time.  If Catcher in the Rye has been on the classics list for this long, it has value even if I may not enjoy reading it.

This is a really good discussion and I wish I could quote some of the other posts here, but I can't, but here is a link to the discussions:

The Catcher in the Rye
Overrated Books

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Paula wrote: "The past isn't even past?  

I don't understand. Can you explain please?"

We carry the past with us.  We act in certain ways because of our personal past or the historical past.  Sometimes we are bound by the past as in Frost's poem:

"He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Sometimes we are in rebellion against the past, but that is still giving it influence over us.

To me, reading allows us to look into others' minds and in doing so, we sometimes see ourselves.  That is why a book like The Catcher in the Rye is important.  The reader is eventually able to see why Holden Caufield acts the way he does AND perhaps, understand his or her own present or past.  (Btw, I didn't like it either, but I understand how people, especially teens, can see themselves in Holden.  I remember thinking that Holden was just like a classmate of mine and it gave me some insight into why he acted the way he did.)

Anyway, when we see ourselves in literature, we can understand our own lives and change them.  It makes sense that a particular book might not speak to us and we wonder what all the fuss is about, but classics are books that speak to the human condition as well as  the individual reader.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering HeightsWuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm reading this for a book group on Ravelry. I've read it twice before, but there is always more to get out of it. I've finally finished and I have to admit that I devoured the last 10 chapters. Mother and I had to have TV dinners because I was 85% finished and couldn't put the Kindle down...and I already vaguely remembered the end.

This is one of the most famous example of Gothic Literature. It is a story that seems to rise up from the barren moors. The characters are complex and seem driven by forces as strong as the winds that howl through the story. Old Mr. Earnshaw sets everything in motion when he brings home the street Arab whom he calls Heathcliff. He sees strengths in Heathcliff that he doesn't see in his own son and seems to care more about him arousing jealousy in his son, Hindley. Heathcliff and Earnshaw's wild and ungovernable daughter, Catherine, bond quickly and run wild on the moors. They form a bond that the whole story revolves around.

This is a wonderful story about love, obsession, betrayal, degradation and redemption. The motives of the characters are complex and have a depth that even Freud would find worthy of study.

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

From a discussion on Goodreads' Catcher in the Rye site  about books that are "overrated."

 It occurs to me that there is a lot of difference between, "I didn't like this book" and it is "just junk" I am reading Wuthering Heights right now in another group. The complex psychology of the main characters is amazing. I've thought about a time in my past when I took a path which was obviously so wrong for me and wondered what I could have been thinking? As I study Heathcliff and Cathy, I gain some understanding of what was going on and, what is more important to me, I understand that I could not have taken any other path at that time because the outcome of that choice is what made me a different person.

 It is all right that a person doesn't like the The Catcher in the Rye or Jane Austen or the Bronte's, but it doesn't mean that they aren't good books and don't deserve to be classics. On the other hand, there are many books on the New York Times' best seller list that I do believe are overrated because they contain no plot, poor research and poor character development.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Hypnotist's Love Story

The Hypnotist's Love StoryThe Hypnotist's Love Story by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I've finally finished this book I am reading for a book group and am wondering how to summarize it. The best I can come up with is that it wasted my time. It's not a bad book. I don't mean that, but the only thing I learned from is was a bit of knowledge about Australia.

The plot is simple, Ellen, the hypnotist met Patrick on an online dating site. They seem to hit it off, but he tells her he is being stalked by an old girlfriend. It is still going on. After his wife died leaving him with a 1 year old, he started a relationship with her that lasted for 3 years. After the break up, she started stalking him. It turns out that his ex-girlfriend is a client of the hypnotist. Neither Patrick nor Ellen know this.

Then there are about 10 chapters where Ellen compares Patrick with every ex-boyfriend she ever had and agonizes about the relationship Patrick had with his stalker and his first wife. It was beyond boring to me. I know people who read this love story and loved it, but it wasn't for me.

I did like the information and descriptions of Australia and the customs there. I think the author did a great job of making me feel like I could see the things she described. I think the problem is that I don't much care for romances.

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Oath

The OathThe Oath by Frank Peretti
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was one of Peretti’s best. The plot centers on the effect of evil on the human soul. Professor Steve Benson, comes to the town of Hyde River because his brother, Cliff, has been killed by some enormous animal that seems to defy description. It is assumed that he was mauled by a bear, but Steve, with a Ph.D in Biological Science and a professorship at Colorado State University teaching environmental science and biology, is not satisfied. He and the conservation officer of Fish and Game manage to kill the rogue bear thought to have been large enough to inflict the damage, but are very unsatisfied with the findings of the post-mortem of either Cliff or the bear.

As the plot develops, it appears that there is more wrong than just a habituated bear. The town is full of mystery and people are united against any outsiders. There seems to be a conspiracy of silence and actual hostility towards Steve. The only one helping is the attractive deputy, Tracy Ellis. She grew up in Hyde River but seems to have some objectivity about troubles in the town, and she doesn’t believe that it was a bear that killed Cliff Benson.

What has happened to Maggie Bly, wife of Harold Bly? Why does Bly have so much control of the people of the town? Why is there such a concerted effort to mislead and drive out Steve Benson? What is the oath that the people of the town took more than 100 years ago, and what does it have to do with Cliff’s death? What are the ominous, dark, oozing sores that appear over the hearts of many in the town?

What follows it the depiction of evil and what it does to a people. Steve learns about the evil that resides in his own heart as he gets closer and closer to the evil in the town. The pace is fast and keeps the reader involved in the chase while Steve desperately tries to find meaning in the evidence that seems to go against everything modern society seems to consider normal.

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

I have been following a discussion on my Goodreads group ostensibly about "Overrated Books," but which led to a discussion of classics. This is my contribution: Another take on "Classics."

 I was a librarian and a teacher and I started a book group on the classics. There are a number of patrons who came up in the 70's and 80's and never read any; no Dickens, no Hawthorne, no Twain, no Shakespeare...nothing! They felt they were lacking, especially because they couldn't understand literary references, and they couldn't read any classics when they did pick them up because the sentences were too long, the vocabulary was too difficult, and they couldn't understand the complex motivations of the characters.

 So, in my book club of about 10 people, we used the Modern Library 100 Best Novels and other similar lists to pick from. We each picked the books we wanted to read. For the two who hadn't read any of the books, we suggested Dracula and The Scarlet Letter. One person wanted to read more of the Lost Generation...Hemingway, Faulkner etc. and I decided to read more Dickens, Conrad, and attempt to read Rushdi and Morrison again.

 We came back each month and discussed what we read. It was amazing! I didn't like the Lost Generation, but I learned enough from the person who did, to try one she read and appreciated it. It was the discussion that made the difference. Many of the classics take study. I got in Cliff's Notes and Monarch Notes on the books people were interested in and we discussed them. We did this for a year. I still don't like Salman Rushdi or Toni Morrison, and I am not certain if they will stand the test of time, but I see much more in them than I did before.

 I don't exactly know how you get around this, but most high school students are too young and too unmotivated to appreciate many of the classics; however, if they don't read and study them, they will never get the skills to read them. It's a catch 22. Classics have long sentences, difficult vocabulary and abstract and philosophical content, but reading and studying them is the only way you can develop the skills to read others.

 So why bother? I don't want to get political, but the mess in Congress is a good example of why. People on both sides cling tenaciously to their own point of view and can't understand the perspective of others or the limitations of their own thinking that is exactly why we study literature!

Behold a Pale Horse

Behold a Pale Horse by Delphine Cull
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have always been interested in the Bubonic Plague. There was more than one occurrence, but this deals with the most severe and far reaching one in 1349. Alyse Elsey lost almost everyone she knew; her husband and children, her sisters and her best friend. The only survivor was her best friend's toddler son, Harold. She feels that she has to take Harold to his uncle, a monk in Norwich. The people she meets and the situations she runs into on the journey give a picture of the lives of the survivors. All over England there was chaos and lawlessness. All the usual structure, government, familial attachments, marketing and day to day existence of their lives were permanently changed. In many villages, less than one tenth of the people were left, and the cities were worse.

Alyse is a gifted healer and as she settles in Norwich, her talents are sorely needed. At first, she is reluctant to become close to anyone because her grief is too great and she did not think she could bear to love people again only to have them snatched away from her. However, she does meet John and his healer mother, who take her and Harold in when she was left dying along the road. How these people put their lives together is a fascinating story.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Baby X: Britain's Child Abusers Brought To Justice

Baby X: Britain's Child Abusers Brought To JusticeBaby X: Britain's Child Abusers Brought To Justice by Harry Keeble
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a very interesting report on the response of the United Kingdom to the deaths of two children, Victoria Climbié and Baby P. Both were failures of the Social Services, police and doctors. Victoria Climbié had been tortured for years and Baby P for over half of his short life. After those horrific failures, new laws were made, policies changed and police were assigned to what Harry Keeble called the "cardigan squad."

He details the lengths the police and social services were willing to to document abuse and to track down the abusers. This also included sending teams to some foreign countries to talk to witnesses and build a case. Heartbreakingly, some times the abusers were set free, but some of the older children who testified said that they felt free because they had had a chance to face their abuser, in many cases, their fathers, and tell what was done to them.

While there were many successes, there are still children who fall between the cracks and suffer horrific abuse and more needs to be done. The statistics are appalling and they are increasing. Having been a teacher, I found myself going over children I had taught and wondering about situations that made me uneasy. I remember children who were too quiet and timid and a father I felt was too full of anger.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

The Hobbit, Prequel to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy

The Hobbit, Prequel to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy  The Hobbit, Prequel to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I got a great deal from Audible on this book, so I am listening to it again for about the 4th time. Actually, I think I am going to use it for my homeschool unit on Folklore for my granddaughter.

For me, it is a big comfort read, something like Harry Potter. There is just such a wealth of experiences in the book. Why is it so much easier to see through human behavior when we look through the eyes of other creatures?

Essentially, Bilbo Baggins has found himself on an adventure which is something that Hobbits never do...except for the Took side of the family, and that is way back in the genealogy. Gandalf the wizard has sold him as a master burglar to a group of dwarfs and they are on the way to retrieve their ancient treasures stolen by Smaug the dragon. Along the way we meet all sorts of creatures such as trolls, goblins, elves and the like. Bilbo finds himself in a capital adventure and at times he is not sure he likes it, but in every way, he rises to the occasion and finds that he actually does have some skills as a burglar.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Secret Kingdom (Chronicles of the Red King, #1

The Secret Kingdom (Chronicles of the Red King, #1)The Secret Kingdom by Jenny Nimmo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first of a prequel series to the Charlie Bone books. Charlie Bone is a descendant of the Red King and this is the story of his illustrious ancestor.

The story starts in the Secret Kingdom which is doomed to fall to the wicked viridees. Before the end, the children Timoken and Zobayda are given gifts which protect them and an Alixir which keeps them from aging. When the viridees have killed their father, Timoken is told by his mother that he can fly and that he is to take his sister and flee.

From there they meet a number of fantastic creatures including the camal, Gabar, who becomes Family. At every turn they are beset by the viridees who are trying to steal the magical moon spider web cloak which is the last one in the world. This series promises to be as good as the first and middle graders will love it.

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Tuesday, October 08, 2013

New Kind of Monster: The Secret Life and Shocking True Crimes of an Officer . . . and a Murderer

A New Kind of Monster: The Secret Life and Shocking True Crimes of an Officer . . . and a MurdererA New Kind of Monster: The Secret Life and Shocking True Crimes of an Officer . . . and a Murderer by Timothy Appleby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a hard book to review. The story was told well and thoroughly, especially the attempts to explain the reason for Col. Russell Williams to exchange a super successful life for the life of a serial rapist and murderer. The example of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde fits best, but even in Stevenson’s book there was a cause. Col. Williams was at the top of an extremely successful career. He was a brilliant pilot who had risen to the most prestigious position in the Canadian Air Force. He had flown dignitaries, including the Queen of England. He commanded an Air Force base. He had a successful and happy marriage. He was a mentor to those below him and respected by everyone who worked with him. Suddenly, he began breaking into neighbors’ houses to steal lingerie after taking scores of pictures of himself wearing these articles while he was there. From there he escalated to serial rapist and murder in less than a year. Why would someone who was at the top of his game turn into a sexual sadist with no history of criminal or deviant behavior before the age of 44?

The author has done a good job of explaining the facts and reporting the speculations of psychologists, law officials and the military as to the cause of his abrupt change, but no explanation could be found. For some reason, Williams was able to compartmentalize his life in such a way as to be two completely opposite people. In doing so, he betrayed the trust of his neighbors, his family, the military who had honored him and his country. Because of the circumstances, this is one of the most interesting true crime books I have read since The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule.

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Monday, October 07, 2013

Teaching Folk Tales

I am so excited! This year's homeschool literature unit is Folk Tales, Fairy Tales, Folk Songs, Myths and Legends. That means that Addie and I will be delving into all those delicious remnants of our past, our literary heritage. We won't be reading the easy book format either. I am trying to get books, or translations that were done as early as possible in order to enjoy the rich heritage of language also.

Here is what is exciting me. I'm a genealogist as well as a teacher and I gave Addie a list of her direct ancestors that I have found and as much information as we know about them. Out of the 640 people I know about I had her select all the people who had German ancestry, including Germanic people from the Alsace region, Switzerland and Belgium. Although most of our ancestors were from England, she found 29 people who had German ancestry.

Next, she is to do some research on the Grimm brothers and write a report about them and their quest to record as much of the folk lore of their people as they could find. As we read these stories, we are going on Google Maps and finding the villages her ancestors lived in and in many cases, taking that little "street level boy" and looking at the place where they lived. We don't know much about these ancestors from the 1700's and 1800's, but we will know the stories that surrounded them.

What made me think of this? Well, along with being a teacher, I was also a librarian. I was dismayed to see book companies putting out modern day "translations" of so many Fairy & Folk Tales. By the time the hard words and scary contents taken out and the stories scrubbed with the Political Correctness brushes, there is little left of our rich literary heritage. I am not blaming the book companies. At least our children will be familiar with the stories, but so much is lost. The schools can't teach a lot of these stories because someone might take exception to something in them or because they don't have time after reading all of the politically correct stories they have to include.

I am fortunate. I create the units I teach out of the things I know Addie loves. Last year I focused on Opera and we both learned so much. Some of the librettos were difficult and some of the parts were deliciously Diana Damrau's Queen of the Night from The Magic Flute. I love passing down our culture as well as our literary heritage. I don't have the constraints that public schools have and I know they do the best they can to work within those bounds. I can also afford to challenge a bright student because I don't have 30 other children to teach. It is up to the parents to try to fill in the gaps, but for us, this works.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

arn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter

Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a KnitterYarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this book. It is only meaningful to knitters or perhaps someone who wants to learn. Stephanie recounts knitting disasters and successes. She talks about things like "stash" "organizing stash and patterns" Ravelry, blogging and all things knitterly. Some things made me laugh and others made me glad I wasn't the only one to make such a stupid mistake. It always feels better to know that a master knitter has made the same mistakes I have. There are some tips in the book, but mainly, it is just fun.

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Spilled Milk

Spilled MilkSpilled Milk by KL Randis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a very compelling story and I could hardly put it down, but it made me so angry. I know this kind of abuse goes on and that children are victimized by their parents, but this child was also victimized by Social Services and her school. How could such agencies promise confidentiality and then do things which put her into further jeopardy? How could a school be so insensitive?

But this is a story of a young girl with enormous courage. At times I was hearing the music from "Rocky" while I was reading. Brooke felt responsible for her siblings and her mother so she tolerated a situation that no child should have to face with the tacit understanding that her father would not sexually abuse her sister. She couldn't protect her family from her father's incredible rage and selfishness, but she could keep it from being any worse.

Brooke's mother, while not abusive, also contributed to her problems. As in so many cases, she was passive and absorbed with her own survival and so she chose to ignore some vital signals. Despite this, Brooke had people in her life who cared about her and recognized that something wasn't right. In the end, they did what they could, and did it well.

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Friday, October 04, 2013

Call Me Cockroach

Call Me CockroachCall Me Cockroach by Leigh Byrne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is the sequel to Leigh Byrne's Call Me Tuesady. It is her own account of the abuse she suffered from her mother between the ages of 8 to 14 when she finally went to live with her aunt. Only Tuesday was singled out for abuse, and her father, while aware of the about did little to prevent it. He did send her to her grandmother and aunt's for summers, but when contacted by Social Services, he maintained that Tuesday was not being abused. Her brothers, two older and one younger, maintained a distance from Tuesday and were complicit by their silence.

While Tuesday did get away from her mother and had a very loving and supportive relationship with her aunt, the scars of her early life effected her in every way. The book gets its title from the concept that the cockroach, despised and hated, will still be in the world even if civilization is destroyed because they are survivors. It is hard for people who have never been abused to understand the depth of damage done to a child like Tuesday. This book pulls away the curtains and allows us to get inside the damaged psyche of someone who has been told she is a worthless. It wasn't enough that Tuesday was forced to stand with her nose to the wall for hours, locked in her bedroom with only a bucket for her waste and starved; she was sent to school dressed in rags and filthy so that her classmates would continue the abuse at school. When Tuesday attended school at her aunt's, she was clean and dressed in fashionable clothes, but she expected to be rejected and by her classmates. Her early decisions were made from a terrible sense of self worth. The ordinary person would look at someone like Tuesday when she was finally surrounded by love and expect her to suddenly change. This book was an eye-opener.

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Wednesday, October 02, 2013

The Hobbit, Prequel to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy

The Hobbit, Prequel to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy  The Hobbit, Prequel to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I got a great deal from Audible on this book, so I am listening to it again for about the 4th time. Actually, I think I am going to use it for my homeschool unit on Folklore for my granddaughter.

For me, it is a big comfort read, something like Harry Potter. There is just such a wealth of experiences in the book. Why is it so much easier to see through human behavior when we look through the eyes of other creatures?

Essentially, Bilbo Baggins has found himself on an adventure which is something that Hobbits never do...except for the Took side of the family, and that is way back in the genealogy. Gandalf the wizard has sold him as a master burglar to a group of dwarfs and they are on the way to retrieve their ancient treasures stolen by Smaug the dragon. Along the way we meet all sorts of creatures such as trolls, goblins, elves and the like. Bilbo finds himself in a capital adventure and at times he is not sure he likes it, but in every way, he rises to the occasion and finds that he actually does have some skills as a burglar.

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Monday, September 30, 2013

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian DetectiveThe Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book and it increased my sense of the Victorian culture with regards to crime, the rise of a detective force and the role of the novel and novelist.

Ostensibly the book is about the murder of three year old Saville Kent who was found in an outhouse with his throat slit and the detective who first identified the guilty person. A number of readers, who have previously read about this crime were disappointed because there wasn’t a lot of new information in the book. I think this always happens when a new book is written about famous unsolved crimes like those of Jack the Ripper and Lizzie Borden. We ache to get that one piece of information that will be incontrovertible, and there is such disappointment when it isn’t there.

I found the real value in this book was the description of the detective, Jack Whicher, and the new role of the police detective. I have been reading books about this period lately including books by Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Poe. I also am a fan of Anne Perry’s Victorian mysteries. This book described how people felt about the new crime novels and as well as the emergence of a middle class with time to read them. Especially interesting was the role of the detective. People felt that prying into stranger’s business was a vile practice, but they also lived in a complex society where people no longer knew the people surrounding them well. In order for justice to be done, someone needed to find the criminal.

The book does drag in a few places and I thought the character development could have been a bit better, but I also realize that is a problem with books about real people. It is hard to make them seem real when there is little evidence available. I thought the author used the personal writings of some of the characters to let them speak for themselves and not put words into their mouths.

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

This is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the terrible wars in Africa. It is a story of a 12 year old boy living at the time of a civil war in Sierra Leone. At first Ishmael tells of village life and the kind of thing that normal boys do. He is aware of the war in Sierra Leone, but his village has not been involved at the beginning of the book. However, one day, when he and 4-5 other boys his age are out of the village it is taken over by rebels and most of the people are killed. None of the boys know what happened to his family. The boys hide out in the woods traveling from place to place trying to avoid both the rebels and the government soldiers. Eventually, they are caught by the army and given guns and drugs and turned into soldiers. The book does not go into great detail about all the atrocities the children commit, but the ones that are alluded to are horrifying. The use of drugs and the tactics that engender hatred of the enemy are terrible. One of the strongest things about this book is the ease with which children can be turned into terrorist. Ishmael Beah is able to give us enough of a glimpse into his pre-war life to realize that he is an intelligent and kind boy who was turned into a monster despite his intention to not become a soldier. Eventually, maelIsh makes his way out of Sierra Leone and into the hands of care workers who have set up camps to treat these boy soldiers and convince them that the things they did were not their fault. They have unbelievable patience and commitment to rehabilitate these children. The last part of the book is his reclamation and I was just in awe of the people who do this incredible work. One scene stays with me. The boys are in the reclamation center with other boys who fought on the opposite side, but finally out of danger. Despite the work of the staff, they end up in a fight and boys are killed. The terrible brain-washing that inflames their hatred is so difficult to eradicate that even when they are safe, it is hard to let go of. To all the things that happen, the staff continues to convey to the boys that it is not their fault. That is probably one of the strongest messages...the boys are not at fault. They have been turned into killing machines by adults and used for their own ends. Eventually, Ishmael is chosen to speak before the UN and tell the story of the child soldiers. He stays in New York and goes back to high school which is absolutely incredible when you realize what he has been through. This book is about Sierra Leone, but it is found all around the world. Children raised on hatred to this extent are unable to use the same kind of reasoning as adults and they kill blindly. Their childhood is being stolen from them and turned into something terrible.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Alas, Babylon

Alas, BabylonAlas, Babylon by Pat Frank
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book in the 8th grade when the threat of a hydrogen bomb was possible. There were a lot of similar books around, the best known was Hiroshima, but I also remember We Who Survived (the 5th Ice Age).

This book takes place in central Florida around Mt. Dora. It concerns a group of people who band together after a nuclear bomb. The protagonist, Randy, lives in a very large old southern home. His brother who is high up in the SAC warns Randy that war is coming and that he is sending his wife and children back to the family home for their safety. He also warns Randy that the Civil Defensive is woefully inadequate and that they need to prepare for a disaster no one wants to talk about.

Shortly after his brother's family arrives they see a large bright white light in the direction of Miami and then closer ones near all the big cities and military bases in Florida. As soon as they see the first bomb, Randy begins to prepare in earnest. I think one of the things that makes this book so real is the mistakes they make in the beginning. They treat the bomb as they would a hurricane and go to the grocery store to stock up on food. Unfortunately, they buy groceries as if the power was to be off only for several days...not permanently! Every day they find ways in which their future will be drastically different.

One of the most fascinating thing about this genre is that books of this type actually helped to change the political climate. As people began to explore these disaster scenarios it became apparent that no one could win in this kind of war. The authors' skill in creating a post war reality convinced most countries that war of this type would be a disaster for the whole world.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Brother's Journey

A Brother's JourneyA Brother's Journey by Richard B. Pelzer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the book that David Pelzer's brother, Richard, wrote about his ordeal after David left home. When David was there, Richard functioned as Mother's Nazi." He tattled about every little thing Richard did and often lied to get him in trouble. Several years younger, his mother groomed him from the time he could talk.

After David left, Richard became the outcast and as he became more and more abused, he felt terrible about the part he played in his brother's life. Eventually, he became "The boy," and finally, "It."

What I can't understand is why the Social Services didn't keep tabs on this mother after the terrible abuse David suffered. When he was taken from the home, it seemed ludicrous to not check on the other children. When the same teachers saw Richard begin to come to school in the same filthy old clothes, starving and with bruises all over just like David, why didn't anyone do anything? I realize it was a different climate in the 70's, but it seems bizarre to ignore what was going on.

As adults, these brothers have only met one or two times and there is some antagonism between them. It seems clear that Richard did suffer abuse, but there is some question as to how much. However, it seems to me that the mother spent the biggest portion of her days torturing David and I can't see that stopping after he was removed. She was filled with so much anger and it had to have a target.

Different people have tried to link her with a specific mental illness and seem to lean towards Borderline Personality Disorder. This book tells more about her relationship with her own mother and there seems to have been some abuse there. Whatever the pathology, she was never prosecuted and lived out the rest of her natural life.

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