Monday, April 30, 2012

True Sisters by Sandra Dallas

I love Sandra Dallas and when I heard she was writing a story of women in the Martin Handcart Company, you can be sure I preordered it!  I was eager to read this telling of Mormon pioneers written by a non-LDS (Mormon) author.

“True Sisters” takes place several years after the initial Mormon migration to Salt Lake City, led by the prophet Brigham Young.  Missionaries were in Europe converting thousands of new members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The Saints were then encouraged to migrate to Utah or “Zion”.  Many of these people were poor and could not afford the $300 to outfit a covered wagon so the Church initiated the idea of the ‘handcarts’.  The handcarts were basically large wheelbarrows.  Each person was only allowed 17 lbs. of possessions to take with them.  Each family would push and pull the handcart and walk the 1,300 miles to Salt Lake City. 

Thousands of Saints used this method to migrate to Utah with few problems, but in 1856 one group started too late in the season and ran into dire consequences. Due to a miscommunication in Salt Lake, supplies were not waiting where they were expected and the dire consequences turned deadly.

This book is about four women in the group.  Nannie, who is travelling with her sister and brother-in-law after being abandoned on her wedding day; Louisa, who’s married to the over-bearing leader of the group; Jessie, who’s travelling with her brothers, each of them dreaming of the farm they will have in Zion; and Anne, who hasn’t converted to the Mormon faith but who has no choice but to follow her husband since he sold everything to make the trek to Utah.

You will love these women as they struggle with hardships we cannot even imagine.  They learn to depend on each other as they serve each other along the arduous trip.  Some of the men in the book will make you angry.  They are pompous, overbearing and not as sensitive as we modern have come to expect our men to be. Those of us who are LDS would not expect the men of our Church to act that way today, but I think that, in general, men were more domineering in those days.

Ms. Dallas does an excellent job of portraying doctrine and the feelings of the LDS people.  As a member of that church I would like to make a few comments about some of the things mentioned in the book.  Tea, coffee and alcohol are not used by faithful members of the Church today.  “Celestial Marriage” in the book was a reference to polygamous marriage only.  Today a ‘celestial marriage’ refers to a marriage occurring in the temple where husband and wife are sealed for ‘time and all eternity’.

The book does mention that the prophet Brigham Young, upon learning of the plight of saints stranded in the snow out on the plains, abruptly ended the meeting telling the gathered members they needed to go help them….now.  His actual words to the church members at the meeting were that their own salvation depended on their going to rescue the Saints of the handcart company. 

Many wonder how the stranded Saints felt about the LDS Church after making it to the valley.  There is an account of many years later a group of Mormons were gathered and were discussing the foolishness of the leaders in letting the company start out so late.  This discussion went on for quite some time and was getting very disparaging toward the leaders of the group. An older man in the back of the room stood up and told them to stop the discussion.  He was Francis Webster and had been a member of the Martin Company.  He stated that not one of the members of that ill-fated group ever fell away from the Church.  He said, “Everyone of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities [greatest suffering].”

An absolute must-read book!

5 Stars (Rated PG for gruesome details)

Friday, April 27, 2012

One Heart by Jane McCafferty

Gladys and Ivy are sisters who live together and work at a camp for children cooking.  They are very different.  Gladys is glum and introverted. Ivy is more effusive and tries to break down the walls Gladys has built around herself. A young girl comes to visit Gladys and things start to change.

On the back cover, it is called a ‘charmingly poignant tale of two sisters’ and I like that description.  It is about families and what they mean.  It is about how you can know someone your whole life yet not know what it is like to be them.  It is about changing relationships and forgiveness (including forgiving yourself).  Some of my favorite quotes:

“Words get stuck in your eyes if you don’t let them out of your mouth.”

“..a tattoo on your body’s not too important compared to the things that end up tattooed on your soul.”

“Does time heal, or is that just something we like to say to people? I don’t believe it heals.  Not really.  Time goes by, and the buried pain gets duller, true enough. But is that healing? No. Healing is something else entirely. It happens within time, but it’s not just time doing the trick.”

“It came to me that we’re not really one age at all. We’re all the ages we’ve ever been.”

4 stars (Rated PG for adult themes.)

Sylvester by Georgette Heyer

First let me say that if it wasn’t for book club, I would not normally even think about reading a book published by Harlequin.  (Yes, I am that much of a book snob.) Oh, but I’m so glad I did.  What a delightful book!  This was written in the 1950’s and is classified as a “Harlequin Historical Romance” and is nowhere close to what we (or I) think of as a typical Harlequin.

Sylvester is the Duke of Salford and is looking for a wife.  He has a list of five women with their pros and cons and discusses this with his mother.  She gently scoffs at him and tells him if that is all he is concerned with he is not ready to get married.  Sylvester is arrogant and privileged and anyone raised as a Duke would expect to be, however we get a few glimpses that there is a caring soul under his somewhat stony façade.

Phoebe’s home life is not quite happy.  She lives with her father and step-mother (or mother-in-law as it was called in the book).  She has younger sisters and a nanny. But Phoebe is most comfortable in the barn with the horses and her best friend Tom. Her step-mother does not help Phoebe to fit into society and her father goes along with whatever her step-mother wants. 

Of course we know they will end up together in the end, but the ride along the way is filled with misunderstandings, mishaps and just plain enjoyable antics.  Most enjoyable for me was some of the slang words used.  I’ve called them “Heyerisms” and listed them here:

·     farradiddles – little lies (“If Lord Elvaston doesn’t know his daughter better than to believe the farradiddles she utters I have a poor opinion of his sense!”)

·     ninnyhammer – dim-witted (“…if she thought…she was no better than a ninnyhammer.”)

·     peccadilloes – little sins (“…loyally shielded her from blame in their peccadilloes.”)

·     fustian – inflated language, exaggeration – (“…don’t talk such fustian.”)

I would definitely read another of her books.

4 Stars (Rated G)

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama

Set in modern-day India, this book tells the story of a Mr. Ali. Retired long enough to be bored, he decides to start a marriage bureau to help pass his time.  He hires a young woman, Aruna, to be his assistant. Together they work to find matches for men and women and along the way encounter prejudice, extreme poverty, the intricate details of the caste system, and social activism.

Although the book doesn’t have an extensive plot the book did not drag.  Mr. Zama does a wonderful job of describing the country and sights.  He would often detail what they were eating and it made me want it, even tough I had no idea what it was. 

The cover touts this book to be a cross between Alexander McCall Smith and Jane Austen.  Also, I saw several reviews that compared this to “Pride and Prejudice”.  While I understand the comparison to Smith, I do not agree with comparing it to Austen unless it is to say, “This is NO Austen…” 

Now it sounds like I didn’t like the book and that is not true at all.  I enjoyed its meandering style and vivd descriptions.  I would probably read a second book by him.

3 Stars (Rated PG – nothing terribly objectionable, just some violence.)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

My Thoughts: A Confession and A Promise

Hi! My name is Melanie and I am a book-a-holic! I have realized this over and over again in my life. I am physically, emotionally and intellectually drawn to them. If I am in a room where I can see books I am not satisfied until I have inspected them and if appropriate touched them. It’s so bad that when I go to Ikea, I have to read the titles of the books in the bookcases…anybody with me here?

I think it all started when I was a young girl and my mother went on a trip. When she came home she brought me a book “A Child’s Garden of Verses” by Robert Louis Stevenson. She inscribed the flyleaf with my name and a small note from her. I do believe it was the first book of my very own. After that I was always picking up a book here and there. By the time I was a teenager I had quite a collection of my own books. I remember that summer when my family moved to Arizona. I was fifteen. We didn’t know anyone yet, so we would go to the Mesa Public Library every week. Libraries are sensory overload for me. It seems that I would go home with about 10 books a week. That was the summer I discovered Potok, Du Maurier & Betty Smith.

By the time I was a young adult and earning my own money, I often spent that money on books. I would often glean the shelves of Deseret Industries and Goodwill of any book that seemed interesting. I amassed quite a collection. I may be the only missionary returning from their mission with only books to declare at customs.

When I was married, my husband decided the books needed to be corralled and we bought two, five-shelf bookcases only to find out it was not enough, so we went back for another. As our marriage progressed, so did my book collection.  One day I came to the realization that I could not keep every book that came into my possession.  So I tried selling books back to the used books stores.  For years, I carried a three-figure credit at Bookmans. 

Along came the internet and some brilliant mind came up with (PBS).  What a inspired idea!  I can post my books-to-trade online and send them all over the US.  I pay to send the book (usually under $3) and then I get a credit. With that credit I can ‘purchase’ and book available on PBS (currently there are over 5 million books available).  I’ve been using PBS for five years now and I have mailed over 451 books.  On the other hand I have received 428!  It is sooo easy to find what you want.  All I have to do when I read something about a book I want is go to PBS and order it.

Now I have a five-shelf bookcase in my bedroom containing all the books I have that need to be read.  Currently it numbers around 100.
This entire story is a segue to my current confession.  I ordered six books from PBS today.  I DON’T NEED SIX MORE BOOKS TO READ. So I am hereby making a promise to my blog readers and to myself.  For the next five months, until my birthday on September 27th, two out of every three books I read will be from my shelf. I will tag them on my blog as “FMS” so you can help keep me honest.  Books that I have for my two book clubs will not count and any book I have ordered, but not yet in my possession will not count.  Anybody else out there with a plethora of books to be read that would like to join me?  

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Owl & Moon Café by Jo-Ann Mapson

After losing her teaching position at a local university, Mariah Moon takes her twelve-year-old daughter, Lindsay, and moves back home with her flower child mother Allegra and pious grandmother.  Together they run the favorite “Owl & Moon Café”. Everything goes quite will until Allegra is diagnosed with leukemia. 

The book was very enjoyable, I read it quite quickly. I just thought it was a little too neatly wrapped up at the end

3 Stars (Rated PG13 – brief language and sex scenes.)

Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr.

By all appearances, Junior Thibodeau is a normal young man, growing up in rural Maine. But he has a secret, a voice has been telling him things his whole life.  He is told about people he knows, events that will happen and most importantly, the exact date the world will be obliterated by asteroid.

Knowing the world will end when he is 36 is bound to affect one’s life.  How do you decide who to tell, would anyone believe you?  What would you do with your life having the knowledge when it will end?

This was a very interesting book. Very different from other books I’ve read lately.  I thought about it for quite a while after finishing it.  It’s quite a statement about what is important in life.

4 stars (Rated PG13 – brief language and sex scenes.)

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Diary of Mattie Spenser of Sandra Dallas

Mattie is surprised when the handsome Luke Spenser asks for her hand in marriage.  As they begin their life together he takes her to the Colorado frontier.  Her best friend Carrie gives her a journal as a wedding present and Mattie uses it to record the events of her days and her deepest feelings.  She hides the book in a trunk and writes in it only in the absence of her husband.

As she and Luke make a new life for themselves on the harsh Colorado plains, Mattie learns some bitter truths about her new life and her husband.

Sandra Dallas had become one of my new favorite authors.  She writes about women and their emotions with honesty and openness.  I love reading the details of days long past and find it fascinating to read about a everyday life that is so different from our modern days.

4 stars (Rated PG – for some violence and sex talk—although the sex talk is talked about in terms so obscure that a young person would more than likely not understand it.)

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

The Postmistress is set in the early days of World War II, in the town of Franklin, Massachusetts, on the tip of Cape Cod.  It covers the story of three women and how their lives intersect and how the war affects them.

Iris James is Franklin’s postmistress.  She takes the responsibility seriously and knows all about the town’s inhabitants.

Emma Trask just came to town as the town doctor’s wife.  Having been orphaned as a young girl, she is looking forward to “belonging” to someone and somewhere.

Frankie Bard is a radio reporter in London working with Edward R. Murrow.  Her desire is to covey to their listeners in the US the realities of war.  She is concerned that no one seems to believe the severity of the situation of the Jews.

Most people in Franklin think the War can’t touch them, but Iris and Emma have listened to Frankie’s reports and they know better.

I loved the history and scope of the novel. Ms. Blake does a great job of describing the horror of the blitz in London. The scenes of Frankie interacting and interviewing the Jews of Europe are chilling.  The way the novel comes together is believable and heat-warming. 

4 stars (Rated PG for disturbing image and brief sex scenes.)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

After reading Genova’s “Still Alice”, an absorbing story of a relatively young woman (50’s) and her battle with Alzheimer’s, I was extremely interested in what she would write next.  I was not disappointed with “Left Neglected”.  Ms. Genova holds a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard University and it shows in her fascinating writing about the human mind.
This book tells the story of Sarah Nickerson, a 37 year-old woman with three children, a husband and a very high-powered job.  She easily works an eighty hour week, all the while juggling the demands of her household and three young children.  All of this comes to a stop one day when she is in a horrific car accident.  She has sustained a injury to the right lobe of her brain and now has what is called Left Neglect.  This is where her brain no longer recognizes “left”.  She can’t see anything to the left of her and cannot make the left side of her body work.   

In one scene in the book, Sarah’s husband Bob gets a little frustrated with her and tells her to “just look a little more to the left”.  She replies with, “Bob, tell me everything you see in this room.”  Bob goes on to describe the room, when he is done Sarah says to him, “Now, if I told you that you missed half of everything that was in the room, where would you look?”  He admits that he doesn’t know and Sarah explains that is the way with her.  Her brain no longer “gets” left.

This is the story of Sarah and her family learning to cope with her condition and is a gripping read.  There is also a sweet sub-story of Sarah’s relationship with her mother.

4 stars (Rated PG – for adult talk and situations)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story by Ingrid Ricks

Ingrid Ricks tells the story of her childhood with honesty and candor.  Her mother is a devout LDS (Mormon) covert from Austria and her father a lax Mormon.  The story starts when her parents are divorced and her mother marries homeless, jobless Earl because he is thought to be a “good priesthood man”.  Earl makes life at home quite unbearable through his demands for respect and efforts to reform his ‘horrible’ step-children.

 Ingrid (or Hippie Boy as her father calls her) escapes by going on the road with her salesman father every summer.  It is only with her father that she feels safe and loved.  Their exploits on the road are entertaining, but the true story is of Ingrid’s growth as she learns to rely on herself.

This was written by a friend of a friend.  I must say I loved it. It takes a lot of courage to put your life out there for the world to see, but I’m so glad she did.

4 stars (Rated PG for disturbing situations)

The Innocents by Francesca Segal

I received this as an Advanced Reading copy from  It is a retelling of Edith Wharton's Pulitzer Prize winning novel "The Age of Innocence" reset in a modern-day North London Jewish neighborhood. Adam Newman is newly engaged to the beautiful, ideal, Rachel Gilbert when Rachel's wild younger cousin Ellie Schneider moves back to London from her wild, controversial life in New York City.  Adam finds himself drawn to Ellie in ways he cannot define.  He spends many hours dreaming of a life with Ellie, instead of Rachel.

While I must say that Adam did not seem to be quite the ‘insipid ass’ that Newland Archer was in “The Age of Innocence”, he still was not a character to whom I felt any affection and maybe that is the point.  “The Innocents” tells the story of a people with seemingly everything going for them, yet still they are not happy with what they have.  Ellie represents freedom from Adam’s traditional lifestyle. 
3 Stars (Rated PG)