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Friday, November 29, 2013

The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

Mary was an unwanted child, so her parents had the servants spoil her just as long as she'd keep from being underfoot. One day tragedy strikes and Mary is sent to live with her cold and distant uncle.

He is often away on business, so she is taken care of by a few servants, who don't deal with her bad attitude. Even worse, she's expected to occupy herself. Though there are 100 rooms, she cannot explore, as they are all locked. She is left with her room and the garden. Even worse than her loneliness, though, is the wailing and screeching she sometimes hears at night.

Will Mary learn new ways or will she continue to be miserable? Will she discover the secret in the garden? And will she ever discover what that terrible sound is?

This children's novel is about becoming a better person and overcoming the obstacles in your life. It's also about friendship and the delight of keeping a secret among friends. While I feel I related to this novel much more when I was a child, I still appreciate the lessons in the book. It was especially timely as in one of my groups we have been talking lately about taking care of yourself and being your best self.

Recommended Reads:
Little House in the Big Woods
Anne of Green Gables - L. M. Montgomery
Charlotte's Web - E. B. White

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Prince - Nicolo Machiavelli

Utilizing examples of both failures and successes in ruling from his own time and in history, Machiavelli proposes the proper way to rule in this classic political treatise.

Machiavelli proposes ways to seize power to conquered kingdoms and how to establish new kingdoms. He explains how to both defend and attack using the state military. He expresses the importance of the qualities of the ruler. In what may be the most important part, he explains the many ways in which a ruler may gain the trust and fealty of his subjects, even when they do not like his rule

Regardless of where a person is in life, this is an educational read. Those in leadership position may learn how to best maneuver their charges into pliability. Those who aren't in leadership positions may find this an insightful tool in understanding those in leadership positions.

Recommended Reads:
The Art of War - Sun Tzu
A Book of Five Rings - Miyamoto Musashi
Tao Te Ching - Lao Tsu

Friday, November 22, 2013

Sarah, Plain and Tall - Patricia MacLachlan

Because she died the day after he was born, Caleb doesn't remember his Mama. He's told his Papa used to sing every day with his Mama, but now he is quiet. And his older sister Anna, his older sister, misses his mother.

One day their Papa announces that he thinks it's time he sought a new wife. He explains he put an advertisement in the paper. Soon a letter arrives from a woman named Sarah. Each member of the family writes a letter to ask questions, and she responds to these questions in a letter. Finally, Sarah agrees to meet them. "I am plain and tall," she says in her description.

Will Sarah enjoy the company of Papa, Anna, and Caleb? Will the family like her? Will she learn to love the plains like she did the oceans of Maine? Will she choose to stay or will she return to Maine?

Children will be whisked away in the daily events of a time long ago, so different from the life they live now. And they will be enthralled with gentle and determined Sarah, Plain and Tall.

Recommended Reads:
Little House in the Big Woods
The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
Anne of Green Gables - L. M. Montgomery

Monday, November 18, 2013

Ishmael - Daniel Quinn

After seeing an ad in the paper seeking serious students, an unnamed pupil decides to meet the teacher at the appointed address. When the author first meets his teacher, he's uncertain because this is definitely not what he expected; however, after speaking with Ishmael, he decides to stick it out for a bit longer. Ishmael challenges him to think: What is the myth of your people? With such a vague question the author and the readers are hard-pressed to know where to start.

And the questions and challenges only get harder as the author delves further into the teachings from Ishmael. Ishmael won't let the narrator slide away with a shrug or an "I don't know". He's forced to either think about it then or go home to think about it if he doesn't have an answer. The reader may find himself challenged and sometimes feeling threatened by Ishmael's questioning of the world, society, and how it works.

I've read many title of this type, but this is especially poignant. It challenges historical and religious perspectives. It challenges a person's personal actions and beliefs. I think for some readers this may be a difficult read because of the topics, but for many it may open their minds and hearts. Be prepared for a new way of thinking when embarking on this journey.

Recommended Reads:
The Four Agreements - Don Miguel Ruiz
Jonathan Livingston Seagull - Richard Bach
The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Friday, November 15, 2013

Don Quixote - Miguel de Cervantes

Between AP English and Spanish class, I read a hefty chunk of this tome in High School. Reading the entire novel has been on my to-do list for years, but I didn't get started on it until earlier this year. I also went through a couple of translations before I found one that I liked.

Don Quixote is an elderly gentleman who, after filling his head with too many books on chivalry, decides he will go out on his own conquest to become a knight errant. He recruits a townsman named Sancho Panza, who foolishly decides to follow Don Quixote on his misadventures and agrees to become his squire after receiving the promise of becoming a governor.

Don Quixote's wild imagination causes him to think that windmills are giants, inns are castles (which should gladly house and feed him without charge because of his occupation), and that ladies are all damsels in need of his help. At first people are merely annoyed by his fanciful adventures and some even give him a good thrashing when he doesn't act in accordance with modern convention. Even after these incidents, Don Quixote doesn't give up on his dream. His exploits only become worse, as he sets free prisoners who claim false imprisonment, attempts to set free his lady Dulcinea from enchantment (whom he sees in faces all around), and challenges peasants to battle who are minding their own business. At some point, word of this lunatic gets out and nobles decide to have their fun at the expense of the knight and his squire.

Reading the entire piece is a chore, but when viewed as a series of exploits it becomes more amusing. I'd recommend reading this in bits and pieces, rather than as a novel.

Recommended Reads:
Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift
The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure - William Goldman

Recommended Views:
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
The Adventures of Baron Manchausen
A Beautiful Mind

Monday, November 11, 2013

Practical Magic - Alice Hoffman

For generations the women of the Owens family were blamed for anything that went wrong. It didn't help that everything seemed to happen to everybody in town except them, like a storm missing the house. People have avoided the Owens family, saving if they need a specific kind of help. Sally and Gillian live with their aunts who enforced few rules throughout their child. Despite the love in the house, their childhoods were made so unbearable by the townspeople that they each decide to escape in their own way when they reach adulthood. While Sally settles down with her family, Gillian runs amok with her boyfriend.

Their relationship, though good, has always had its troubled spots, and it only grows worse as they get older. After being out of contact, Gillian suddenly lands on Sally's doorstep. Can Sally and Gillian put aside their differences to solve a very big problem? Or will Gillian have to suffer alone?

The part I enjoyed most about the story is how Sally and Gillian's issues as siblings are also reflected in the issues of Sally's daughters: Antonia and Kylie. Both sets of sisters manage to mend their relationships in different ways, but both are because of particularly traumatic incidents.

I'm not sure how I feel about the writing style. The point of view is third person omniscient, but more than anything it seems to meander than to give the reader an insightful view of what the characters are feeling. I think that sometimes the author doesn't know where to fit the bits about previous generations and she just puts them wherever she wants.

I think more people are familiar with the movie than the book, so I'm sure some are wondering how they compare. The characters are the same and the major plotline is the same, but other than that they are hardly identifiable. How things happen and for a large part what happens is completely different. I think fans of the movie may not like the book and vice versa; however, I like the book for it being more about family, but I like the movie for bringing in the community element.

Recommended Viewing:
Practical Magic

Friday, November 8, 2013

Simplicity Parenting - Kim John Payne M.Ed., Lisa M. Ross

We all want to give our kids the best care in both quantity and quality, but are we really giving them what they need? Payne's approach to raising children is called extreme by some, but many have found his advice sound and truly life-changing for both parents and children.

The first things he recommends is throwing out your kids toys. Why? The average American child has 150 toys. It's no wonder parents find toys strewn about the house and children are overwhelmed when asked to clean up their toys! How many of those toys do children really play with? How many have missing parts or are broken and just taking up space? You shouldn't throw all of your child's toys away, of course, but it's important to choose to keep toys that have staying power and can spark your child's imagination. This mom took her kids toys away and refuses to give them back. A year later she writes a follow-up explaining why it has improved her family's life.

It's easy to recognize when a child is physically sick by the signs of an aching stomach, a fever, or a hurting head; however, many of us don't know how to identify emotional sickness. Children who act out by throwing things, yelling, crying, or moping about may be overwhelmed or maybe understimulated. One parent relates how her teenage daughter was acting out on the whole family, so she asked her to take the weekend off from all of her extracurricular activities. Her daughter raged at being "grounded", but it turned out to be just what she needed. From then on she learned to take breaks herself. Another parent related how her young daughter had trouble going to sleep despite being physically active. It turned out she needed the addition of creative activity during the day, like drawing, to help ease her mind once bed time rolled around.

Payne suggests creating a routine, but with many households being extremely busy with both parents working or going to school, single parenting, or working multiple jobs it can be difficult. And that doesn't count the activities their children may be participating in. It's too busy for routine, isn't it? Payne explains that maybe you're too busy not to have a one. A rhythm, or routine, creates patterns that make things easier for everybody. Making Monday pasta day gives kids something to look forward to and keeps parents from having to stress out on what to cook. Taking a walk in the evening all together is a way to calm down before bed through exploration and conversation.

There are plenty more ideas on how to simplify a family's life within these pages. While not all of them may be for every family, they can certainly provide some ideas on how to adjust. This book isn't just for parents; these same ideas can be utilized by adults without children, as well. Simplifying your life may be just what you need to make life more enjoyable.

Recommended Reading:
NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children - Po Bronson, Ashley Merryman
Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) - Lenore Skenazy
The Myth of Choice: Personal Responsibility in a World of Limits - Kent Greenfield

Monday, November 4, 2013

Scary Stories 3 - Alvin Schwartz

Schwartz returns with more scary tales collected and retold from around the world, and along with it are the delightfully disturbing illustrations of Stephen Gammell.

A young man has an unexpected run-in with death and attempts to escape to the city, but can he escape his Appointment? Picking up a young woman at The Bus Stop may seem like the kind thing to do, but things are not always what they seem. Who is The Wolf Girl who runs wild? Sam always wanted a pet, but when his parents come home with a cute dog from Mexico, he gets more than what he anticipated. When a mother gets sick on a family trip, her daughter let's the doctor take her away for urgent care. But something's not right when she returns to the hotel in Maybe You Will Remember.

These and more await the reader in this thrilling anthology of Tales to Chill Your Bones.

Books in the Series:
Scary Stories Box Set: Scary Stories, More Scary Stories, and Scary Stories 3
More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Recommended Reads:
The Monkey's Paw and Other Tales of Mystery and Macabre - W.W. Jacobs
Ten Great Mysteries - Edgar Allen Poe

Friday, November 1, 2013

Autumn Gospel - Kathleen Fischer

With each generation, our lifespans are growing longer. While a longer lifespan means more time to experience life, it also means increasing challenges when it comes to health and relationships. Fischer understands these challenges through her own personal experience and the experience of those she has helped through her occupation as a nurse. By combining experience with spirituality, Fischer creates a book that expresses understanding and hope for the reader.

While the book is aimed at women who are reaching those who are older, many women will find this book insightful in understanding themselves and other women around them. Fischer covers topics like self-image, transition from one life stage to another, the sacred body, mourning, reconciliation, and continuing tradition.

Even though it comes from a Christian perspective, Fischer also discusses traditions from other religions and cultures. This book encourages exploration through imagination, participation, and personal insight. Along with individual activities, she includes group activities, including recreational and ritual. While many of these are Judeo-Christian in nature, a reader or group could easily adapt it for their own group.

Whether an individual or a group, I think this book can make a difference in how readers view the world and the aging process.