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One move to America, one surprise pregnancy and a lot of fun later.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Behind the Mask by Metsy Hingle

Behind the Mask
Lily Webster is forced to flee with her son to New Orleans when she discovers her jealous husband trying to smother their young son. Ex-cop turned bounty hunter Michael Sullivan is the man hired by her husband to track them down. When Sullivan succeeds and reports back to his employer, he realizes the grave danger Lily and Timmy now face. In the blink of an eye, the man who betrayed them becomes their only chance for survival. Now all Sullivan has to do is convince Lily to trust him....

I chose to read this book because I wanted a predictable, easy flowing, crime thriller book to read and it did not disappoint as it was very predictable.   The characters and plot line have all been done before in various other crime thrillers so I was not reading anything new.  The setting of New
Orleans during Mardi Gras also seemed rather predictable and familiar to me (I seem to think deep down that I have seen a movie similar to this book).  It all concluded rather conveniently without any surprising twists although the end was so soppy I almost gagged on the sugary sweetness of it.  The writing style was fine, it flowed well and gave me the type of read I wanted to bridge the gap between two much heavier books.  Not one I would say to "go out a buy 'cause you must read it" but if you have it on your shelves and want an easy read to bridge a reading gap, then go for it.  I don't think I am inspired to go out and get anymore of this authors works from reading this but I am not totally put off her either if one happened to fall into my lap.

So nothing new, predictable but an ok read as expected.  A generous 3 out of 5 stars as it gave me what I wanted at that particular time.

Arts & Crafts from Things around the house by Imogene Forte

This book shows children that a variety of fun, attractive, and useful creations can be made from simple materials readily available in the form of household throwaways and scraps.  Each easy- to follow activity invites creativity and allows children to discover the thrill and reward of accomplishment.

I inherited this book from my friend Vicki, again from her pile of childhood books.  I think it is out of print but just in case anyone comes across it in their travels I thought I would do a small review anyway.

A nice size book with just the right amount of craft activities so that you don't get overwhelmed going through them.  The ingredients/materials are clearly listed and the instructions for each craft are simple.  One criticism is that some of the materials are not things you would just have lying around the house as the book cover suggests.  For Example, 1 packet cold water dye or dried corn husks - I certainly don't have these just hanging around my house.

It does start with a chapter called "Wait! Don't throw it away" which gives you some idea of what items to keep and store for future craft use.

Some of the crafts are also more for the adult helping the child than something a young child does themselves but still all good experience for the child to get involved with, even if the adult is doing all the crafting.

Good ideas for crafts but some prior planning and preparation is required for each craft, so don't expect to just pick this book up on a rainy day and go.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

fathermothergod: My Journey out of Christian Science by Lucia Greenhouse

fathermothergod: My Journey Out of Christian Science

Lucia Ewing had what looked like an all-American childhood. She lived with her mother, father, sister, and brother in an affluent suburb of Minneapolis, where they enjoyed private schools, sleep-away camps, a country club membership, and skiing vacations. Surrounded by a tight-knit extended family, and doted upon by her parents, Lucia had no doubt she was loved and cared for. But when it came to accidents and illnesses, Lucia’s parents didn't take their kids to the doctor's office--they prayed, and called a Christian Science practitioner. 

fathermothergod is Lucia Greenhouse's story about growing up in Christian Science, in a house where you could not be sick, because you were perfect; where no medicine, even aspirin, was allowed. As a teenager, her visit to an ophthalmologist created a family crisis. She was a sophomore in college before she had her first annual physical. And in December 1985, when Lucia and her siblings, by then young adults, discovered that their mother was sick, they came face-to-face with the reality that they had few--if any--options to save her. Powerless as they watched their mother’s agonizing suffering, Lucia and her siblings struggled with their own grief, anger, and confusion, facing scrutiny from the doctors to whom their parents finally allowed them to turn, and stinging rebuke from relatives who didn’t share their parents’ religious values.

I think to get my review across effectively, I really need to split it into three separate parts - a review of the writing, a review of the story and, finally, a review of the subject matter.

I thought this was a very well written book.  The author had  a humorous, self deprecating manner in what is a very serious subject matter.  She has not tried to make herself look better or "sugar coat" any of her experiences, which I truly appreciated as a reader.  It must have been a hard book for her to write as she will be judged rather harshly I am sure and, in fact, I found/find myself judging her choices and questioning her inaction at times and I believe myself to be a very tolerant, non-judgmental person.  One criticism of the style was the lack of defined chapters, just starting each new section with the date.  Perhaps the author meant this as it read more like a personal journal (albeit with large date gaps) but I would have preferred a more defined chapter structure.  Despite this, the story still flowed rather well and I found myself just wanting to read a little bit more, which I may not have done if I had to commit to a whole chapter (I am strange in that I hate stopping reading in the middle of a chapter). 

The second part of the review is regarding the actual story.  If this had been a fiction book, I would not have believed some parts of it but as the saying goes "truth is stranger than fiction" at times.  I did struggle to truly believe the thought process of many of the people in the book but I put this down to my own lack of religion and belief in a higher being.  I do admire people that have such a strong belief in their God (or whatever name they choose for their higher being) that they submit to the power of prayer.  That being said, I was incredulous about the beliefs of the religion Christian Science and how people, in this day and age, can shun modern medicine.  As the author said, the religion was founded in a time before modern medical and surgery advances so, perhaps, had a lot of relevance back then but nowadays....... just completely beyond my comprehension to know that there are people out there following this practice but that is their legal right!

So, this leads onto my final part of my review.  I must start by saying that, while not being religious myself,
I truly respect all other religions as long as they don't try to preach to me or convert me and as long as they are not harming others because of their own beliefs.  In the beliefs of Christian Science that were put across in this book, I am completely flabbergasted that they still exist today.  I would love to hear the story from the viewpoint of a practicing Christian Scientist and give them the opportunity to justify the actions in this story.

I got a lot from this book.  It really got my thoughts rolling and led me to do some research about the religion of Christian Science on the internet.  Here is the official website http://christianscience.com/ for anyone interested in reading further about it themselves.  It is a quite interesting website to read, even if you don't believe in what they say (and I don't).  I am also tempted to go a visit one of their Reading rooms just to see what they are all about, if I do go, I will certainly report back on here.

While on the internet looking at the religion of Christian Science, I also ended up looking up the practice of Scientology (absolutely nothing to do with Christian Science but hey, I was on a religious roll).  I was pleasantly surprised by what their website had to say (http://www.scientology.org/).  I had, previously, only heard what the media had to say about this religion when talking about the "Celebrities" that practice it and it was a completely wrong idea.  Take a moment to watch and listen to the videos on the website, they are very interesting and have definitely sparked an interest in reading further for me.  And who knew but the founding church is right here in Washington, DC.  I feel a field trip coming on!

So back to the book.  It certainly gave me a lot of food for thought and has led me onto a path of further investigation into religious practices.  It has also left me with a number of thoughts and questions I would love to put to the author.  My main concern and question is about the children of Christian Scientists. What if a child dies of a treatable illness or disease is there no culpability on the parents?  It is all very well respecting the parents religion and rights but until a child is old enough to make up their own mind should the parents beliefs be forced on the child to their detriment!?  Their must have been numerous cases on this subject and I will certainly be looking them up for some further research. 

A worthwhile read and a definite eye opener.  If any of my reviewing friends would like my copy to read and review themselves, then please email or text me and I will send it on.  4 out of 5 from me.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Black Obelisk by Erich Maria Remarque

Product Details

A hardened young veteran from the First World War, Ludwig now works for a monument company, selling marble and stone marks to the survivors of deceased loved ones. Though ambivalent about his job, he suspects there's more to life than earning a living off other people's misfortunes.

A self-professed poet, Ludwig soon senses a growing change in his fatherland, a brutality brought upon by inflation. When he falls in love with the beautiful but troubled Isabelle, Ludwig hopes he has found a soul who will offer him salvation--who will free him from his obsession to find meaning in a war-torn world. But there comes a time in every man's life when he must choose to live--despite the prevailing threat of history horrifically repeating itself. . . .

Picked as my book group read by one of the members, I was looking forward to something great from this book.  The copy I got from the library was a lovely Hardback First Edition from 1957 and the only copy of the book in the Montgomery County Library system (I couldn't find the correct photo of it so the one above, from Amazon, will suffice).
It was originally written in German so I am always nervous about translated books. A poor translation can kill a great book.  In this case I thought the translation was superb and the writing flowed very well.  

Despite a dark topic, Hyperinflation in Germany between the two world wars, a ruined generation coming out of the First World war and the business of tombstones, it was actually quite humorous in places.  The characters were very well described and most of them came to life in a very easy, animated way.  There were some laugh out loud moments and some very poignant moments. 

However, the point of the story was lacking throughout.  It just seemed to meander through various happenings and locations while never quite getting to a point.  Perhaps this was the way life was in the upheaval and disorganization in Germany between the wars and that was the authors point!  I felt that he needed to get to a stronger conclusion by the end or that he could have split the book up into several smaller books with each of the separate story lines standing on their own.

To me this is a prime example of great writing, and that is the only reason I actually finished the book, but a weak storyline. I struggled with what star rating to give this book.  I thought 4 at first for the actual writing style and 2 for the storyline so I split the difference and gave it a 3. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Story of Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman

The Story of Little Black Sambo

The jolly and exciting tale of the little boy who lost his red coat and his blue trousers and his purple shoes but who was saved from the tigers to eat 169 pancakes for his supper, has been universally loved by generations of children. First written in 1899, the story has become a childhood classic and the authorized American edition with the original drawings by the author has sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
Little Black Sambo is a book that speaks the common language of all nations, and has added more to the joy of little children than perhaps any other story. They love to hear it again and again; to read it to themselves; to act it out in their play.

Hannah inherited this book from her Aunty Vicki when Vicki was having a clear out of all her old childhood books from storage (watch this space for lots of reviews as we work our way through the box of books).  Vicki told us the story of how her family bought this book when there was talk of banning it for being racist.  I always think this is a shame where an innocent children's book is subject to a ban due to political correctness.  Saying that, I am Caucasian British so perhaps I just don't appreciate any offence that someone could take from this story.

The story itself is a lovely, simple tale of a little boy.  The drawings are just delightful and really help to tell the story.  They have certainly caught the imagination of my two year old as she is currently insisting on taking this book everywhere we go in the car to browse through.

Ok I guess it is the names of the characters that could cause offence to some - Little Black Sambo, his mother Black Mumbo and his father, Black Jumbo and I am aware of this when Hannah is carrying the book around in public.

If you are looking for a cute little tale to read to a child with delightful illustrations then get this book, but if you are worried about offending someone, then I would suggest that you give it a miss.  4 out of 5 from me.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Headhunters - The Movie

Product Details

 Synopsis: An accomplished headhunter who subsidizes his luxurious lifestyle through art theft risks it all to acquire an extremely valuable painting, only to discover something that makes him a hunted man himself. Foreign language movie with ENGLISH SUBTITLES.

When you find a good foreign language movie, you end up watching it and not really realising that you are listening to a foreign language while reading subtitles.  In this movie it was so entertaining that this happened.  The story was so interesting, fun and full of action that the annoyance of the subtitles could be ignored.

The casting of Aksel Hennie (an actor I have never heard of or seen before) in the lead role was physically and mentally perfect for the part.  He made me feel sorry for him even when he was being an arrogant twit, which was the point.  While Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was also perfect for his role giving even more fuel to Hennie's characters insecurities, although I did keep seeing him as his role of Jamie Lannister in Game of Thrones - a slight case of being typecast but I believe that was more in my mind than anything else. 

Some gory parts that did make me close to retching but these were very few and were necessary to the story, nothing gratuitous.  Some really funny parts that made me laugh out loud - see the cops Tweedledee and Tweedledum for reference.

A prime example of where European movie makers do it so much better than American movie makers for making a movie realistic.  When the lead character was struggling to move the dead weight of a dead body I just knew that in the American version (if there was one) he would have been able to lift it without breaking sweat.  This along with various other realistic moments made it a really good movie.

5 out of 5 from me and worth a watch even if you are not normally a fan of foreign language movies.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

God loves ugly & love makes beautiful by Christa Black

God Loves Ugly: & love makes beautiful

Whenever Christa Black looked in the mirror, she was waging a war with herself. Her hatred of her face and body drove her, as a young woman, into frantic overachievement, addiction, and an eating disorder that landed her in rehab. A preacher's kid, she'd grown up imagining God as a "thou shalt not" tyrant. It was only when she miraculously discovered God's unconditional love for her--physical imperfections, moral failings, and all--that she finally began to accept herself. As she tells her story, Christa shares the tools she uses to combat the self-rejection that harms so many people's lives.
In this raw testimony, Christa Black takes women on a step-by-step journey of faith and positive belief to reveal that if God loves ugly, then we can too.

To start, in compliance with FTC guidelines, I must disclose that I received the book for free through Goodreads First Reads. 

I laughed out loud when I saw that I was being sent this book as I had forgotten why I had put my name down for it.  A self help, memoir book about religion being sent to a highly cynical person that does not read self help books and an Atheist/Humanist who respects all religions but does not appreciate being preached to about anyone's religion!  Like every book though I started it with a fully open mind but a part of me was dreading it as I read for enjoyment and this would appear to be a book that I would not normally enjoy.

Let's start on a positive note.  It was actually well written and I liked the author Christa Blacks' attitude and the way she talked.  She came across as a real person and talked about her beliefs without being to preachy or coming across as if her beliefs are the only beliefs in the world.

I was brought up in a very religious family and attended church, Sunday school, bible class, Youth Fellowship etc etc so could empathise with her own upbringing.  I also fully agreed with her views on most Church goers that I and she encountered being the most judgmental and hypocritical people we had come across.  As that was one of the main reasons that I left all religion, it was a breath of fresh air to me to hear a Christian actually acknowledging my own thoughts on that matter.
  I loved the following quote from Graham Cooke that was in the book:

"The biggest problem in our world is simply a lack of goodness"

Just think about that for a minute and if everyone tries to be good to each other then the world would be a better place.  Do unto others as you would have them do to you, Luke 6 (yes an atheist is allowed to quote the bible.  Even if I think of it as a work of fiction, I can still appreciate the poetry and emotion of the words like any book I have read). 

Her discussion of turning ones anger at events outwith ones own control around so that it does not consume your life also hit home for me.  I used to spend a lot of time being angry and resentful at events and people, where I had no control over the outcome or happening so the anger was just pointless and would just consume me and suck any joy out of the rest of my life.  I am a lot more laid-back myself now and know how it is just not worth "sweating the small stuff" in life.

I am British so, in the words of the author, "everything sounds better with a British accent" and here are some criticisms of the book.

I struggled to believe the story of the authors abuse at age 3.  Not that some abuse happened but what I struggled with was believing that a 3 year old would be able to keep that a secret from her loving family.  No 3 year old I know has an inner monologue and would blurt it out in some way to her family or friends without even realizing it.  Everyone has heard the 3 year ask "Mama why is that lady so fat", or "Mama why is that man in a wheelchair" at the most inappropriate moment.  So I am struggling to understand how the authors loving family did not find out about this abuse in some way at the time.

My second criticism is that the books tone could almost not decide whether it was a memoir, self help book or religious book.  It changed tones and styles throughout which would normally annoy me, however, it flowed smoothly enough that it was not such a big deal but I felt that it may annoy some people and choosing one path would help it a lot.

I thought the title of the book was weak and would actually weaken it's sales strength.  If the reference to God was taken out of the title it might reach a wider audience and surely that is the point of a book like this to reach a wide audience.  If you already believe in God you would think you do not need to read this book, if you don't believe then the title would put you off.  I also felt that the religious references throughout the book were unnecessary and it would have been better to write the book without the religious references throughout but then conclude with an Epilogue dedicating the rest of the book and her life to finding God.  The existing Epilogue regarding nutrition didn't feel wholly appropriate to the rest of the book for me but I could appreciate that this was a big part of the authors issues so would mean a lot more to her personally.
In my opinion (and probably because I don't believe in God) is that the author is actually selling her own strength short by believing that all she has achieved is because of God.  God set her free from her addiction or was it her own inner strength!  Whatever it was, if she used God to anchor that strength to, then good for her, it must have worked but I just can't see that it was attributable to a higher being. The author should take some of the praise for doing it herself.       

So criticism out the way, I actually quite liked this book.  I even had a small emotional moment at one point as it brought back memories of my own father.  Without going into personal detail (if you were interested in my life I would write my own memoir) the injustice of what happened to my own father is another of the main reasons I don't believe in a higher being.  He did believe and dedicated his life to it and that did not do him much good in the end!  This is the section on P103 of my copy that brought a tear to my eye, all you have to do is substitute the last word with the word Dad for an insight into my own emotions.

" And that's exactly what He does, every single day, as I hand over my heart moment by moment to the safest, most loving, generous, kindest, magnificent person I've ever met.  My Father."

On a final note, I loved the song lyrics at the start of each chapter and would have loved an accompanying CD with each song on it to listen to as I read the book, in a similar way that Jodi Picoult did with her book Sing you Home.  I just think this would have been a lovely touch and added so much more to the book.

So a 3 out of 5 from me.  A nice enough read but has some room for improvement, in my opinion.

And to end here is my favourite quote from the bible.

1st Corinthians 13

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part,  but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put my childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.