Sunday, October 29, 2017

Review: The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A haunted house and a strange cast of characters. Eleanor, Theodora, Luke, and Dr. Montague insert themselves in to Hill House to study the haunted phenomena that lurk there. Who will stay and who will go? A perfect, classic read for the Halloween season.

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Friday, October 27, 2017

Review: The Great Famine: The History of the Irish Potato Famine during the Mid-19th Century

The Great Famine: The History of the Irish Potato Famine during the Mid-19th Century The Great Famine: The History of the Irish Potato Famine during the Mid-19th Century by Charles River Editors
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This quick read details Ireland's potato famine in the mid-19th century. The book follows chronologically, discussing the political climate prior to the famine, through the years of mass starvation 1845-1849, and post-famine consequences. There is a good discussion on blight, the cause of the potato crop failure, as well as the mass emigration that happened because of the famine. Many tried to leave for Canada and America but were just too sick to finish the journey.

This is not an overly in-depth review, but it is a good overview to give the reader an understanding of the devastation to Ireland, including short-term and long-term effects.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Review: Our Spoons Came from Woolworths

Our Spoons Came from Woolworths Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the very strange story of a young 21-year-old Sophia, living in London just after World War II. Life was hard in Europe at the time, it is the middle of a depression and many people were struggling to get by. Sophia meets Charles, who she falls in love with. Against the wishes of his family, Charles marries Sophia in a quiet ceremony. The two lived a very bohemian lifestyle as artists grasping for their next opportunity to paint or model. But times were hard and the two often found themselves without money, food, or electricity and it didn't go up from there.

What was so strange about the book is that the story is told from Sophia's eyes and she has quite a dry sense of humor. The story was mostly sad, at times extremely sad, yet there were some almost laugh out loud parts. You feel so bad for poor Sophia and the situations she would find herself in but you had to laugh at her descriptions of her surroundings and her inner thoughts. If you're not laughing, you're crying. You want to hate her and her husband at times for the stupid decisions they make. At other times you want to cheer Sophia on when things are getting better. Then things will go so horribly you just can't imagine that she'll survive. I suspect that the poverty described is quite possibly true to life in post-war London and for that reason and for the ending, it is worth the read.

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Review: To Be Where You Are

To Be Where You Are To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To be where you are. Isn't that what most people want with their spouse or significant other? Or even a close friend or pet? Many people make sacrifices to be with their loved ones and to offer help when it is needed. The newest title in the Mitford series continues the story of Father Tim and his family. We met Father Tim, then a bachelor Episcopal priest, in At Home in Mitford. He had an eye for his new neighbor Cynthia, an issue with his dog, Barnabas, who only behaved when scripture was spoken, and the problem of a young orphan boy whose best behavior included cussin' and spittin'. Dooley was ornery, rough, and begging to be loved. Throughout the series, we have watched these characters grow, and in To Be Where You Are, Dooley and his wife Lace are planning a ceremony to make an official family declaration with their newly adopted son. Sacrifices have to be made to make life work, but that is what family is all about. Dooley continues to build his veterinary practice, and handle life on a farm, with a new family secret to tell.

I love coming home to Mitford. I don't know if this is going to be the last in the series. I hope not. I think there are still more stories to tell. We've seen Dooley grow up to be a wonderful man and husband. Father Tim has built a family and we have watched beloved characters come and go. Now it is time to see what stories can be told about the family of Doc Kavanagh.

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Review: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fahrenheit 451, the temperature that book paper burns. It is post-apocalyptic times when firemen now start the fires, not put them out. They burn all books, the homes they are found in and even the owners. It is a world where people spend their time watching TV and believe what the government tells them. This is not so far from today's society, which makes this book worth reading and contemplating. Guy Montag is the central character, he is a fireman who is sent out to burn books. He happens to meet Clarisse while out on an evening walk. Their discussion makes Montag question what he does and his life in general, making him spiral out of control. Or is he spiraling in control of his destiny?

This book is a classic but still resonates today. The idea that books and our right to free speech could be taken is not so far-fetched, but hopefully not anywhere on the spectrum of possibility. This book is about independence versus control and about the courage to stand up for what is right, despite the odds.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Review: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the sad story of a deaf-mute set in a 1930s mill town. John Singer's best friend, another deaf-mute is taken away to an institution and he finds himself surrounded by a group of misfits at his boarding house. Mick is a young girl that dreams of being a musician. Portia is the housekeeper and cook, her father is a local doctor. Jake is a wild drunken guy who works at the local carnival. Each person and their family faces adversity that they simply can't overcome.

This book is indicative of life in depression-era mill towns in the south. Everyone is always struggling to get by and just never seem to get ahead. Everyone has a dream that never seems to be realized. Life was hard and family and friends are often what got you through each day. This is a sad book, but it gives the reader an idea of what life was like during the depression.

I do like McCullers writing. You tend to get attached to some of the characters, so their fates cause a bit of a sinking feeling toward the end of the book. I was hopeful throughout the book, but ultimately I was left heartbroken for a couple of the characters.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: A View from the Fog: A Story of Grief and Loss, and Faith and Hope

A View from the Fog: A Story of Grief and Loss, and Faith and Hope A View from the Fog: A Story of Grief and Loss, and Faith and Hope by Jada D L Hodgson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a short book on one woman's journey through the fog of grief after losing both of her parents in a car accident. Jada Hodgson is a lawyer and Methodist Lay Minister. She is a very family oriented person and a bit of an introvert. To suddenly lose both parents caused her to go on an emotional rollercoaster. She never wavered in her faith, but she certainly had some questions for God. Her message is simple and two-fold, lean on your faith to shine a light through your fog and allow yourself to grieve. Cry, laugh, get angry. Grief will run you through all of the emotions. It's okay. It gets better. It gets harder. It's okay. Lean on friends and family when you need. They may not know how to help unless you tell them what you need.

A dear friend loaned this book to me when my father passed away. It was one of those things that I knew would happen at any time, but when it did it seemed so sudden. This book was a great reminder that it takes time to get through the fog. Many of the emotions that Hodgson went through, I am dealing with myself. It is comforting to know that the emotional rollercoaster is a normal part of the grieving process.

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Monday, October 9, 2017

Review: All That Is Bitter and Sweet: A Memoir

All That Is Bitter and Sweet: A Memoir All That Is Bitter and Sweet: A Memoir by Ashley Judd
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ashley Judd is not only an award-winning actress, she is an advocate for human rights and an ambassador for Population Services International (PSI). In her memoir, Judd details her involvement with PSI, traveling to Asia and Africa touring the brothels and slums while teaching the residents how to protect themselves against AIDS / HIV. Many women she encountered were trafficked into sex slavery or simply had no other choice to make money. While embarking on this humanitarian cause, Judd wrestles with her own demons. Born into a very dysfunctional and abusive home, the actress often found herself on her own, abandoned by her family while they pursued a career in music. In between tours overseas, Judd checks into rehab to help herself, so she can help others.

I have always liked Judd as an actress. I counted her as one of my favorites to watch; except for Bug, oh Lord, what was she thinking about that one? I had the opportunity to see her speak in person, about her work with PSI and a bit of her own family history. I came away from the talk conflicted and find myself feeling the same after reading this book. No doubt she is a wonderful humanitarian. You can tell that she immerses herself in the cause to help people, especially women and children in the slums of places like Rwanda and the Congo. At the same time, she has had a lot to deal with in her own personal life. At times, she comes across as angry at average people that she has come across who don't know what she's been through or that know nothing about her work. One passage in the book that took me aback was in chapter 9, "Back at the hotel, a perky tourist from Texas recognized me in the business center and asked me if I was on safari. I let her blithe obliviousness and her expensive khakis irk me, and I blurted out bitterly, "No. In fact, I am on a HIV / AIDS prevention trip and have just been to three brothels." I hoped I had ruined her evening." I would think that would be a great opportunity to educate others on the conditions of the area she was touring and her work with PSI. I know she has been in the news for being rude like this to people, so this passage reinforced the idea that she may be a bit unapproachable to fans and others she comes across in everyday life.

There was just something in her tone throughout the book that didn't settle with me. She wasn't "bragging" but yet, she had an air of "see what I've done, I'm making a difference" then would follow that up with how broken she was during this time. I don't want to diminish what she went through, obviously, her childhood was traumatic and was unfairly treated. She is also a great humanitarian, but I get the sense that she is not so humbled by it and that she still deals with some duality to her personality.

If the book does nothing else, it does bring awareness to the global issues of sex trafficking and HIV / AIDS in other countries. She is certainly passionate about helping others and has formed bonds with many of the people she has met during her tours. These issues are the sad reality that many face every day and it is not just in "third world" countries, but happens in the US as well.

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