Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later - Francine Pascal

Synopsis from Now with this striking new adult novel from author and creator Francine Pascal, millions of devoted fans can finally return to the idyllic Sweet Valley, home of the phenomenally successful book series and franchise. Iconic and beloved identical twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield are back and all grown up, dealing with the complicated adult world of love, careers, betrayal, and sisterhood.

So, most in my book club and myself fondly recall reading Sweet Valley High and even Sweet Valley Twin books in our younger days. So I was the guinea pig for reading the “ten years later” update on Sweet Valley that just came out.

And I *hated* it.

I know; hate is a strong word. But so valid in this instance.

The overabundance of cursing and jumping into bed with people and affairs was too much.

I do not like who Elizabeth has become. I understand where she is coming from and that she was hurt seriously. But still…

Jessica was mainly the same. But I hated reading the parts where she was the narrator with all the “so” and “like.” Really? She’s almost 30. Surely some of that “valley girl” would have worked its way out by now.

Yep. I can think of no redeeming qualities to the book.

Prison Letters - Corrie ten Boom

This is a collection of letters Corrie and her sister, Bessie, both wrote and received while in prison for helping Jews during World War II. Additionally, there are little snippets of observations and ponderings Corrie wrote down on scraps of paper.

I am a little torn on this book. It was a very quick read, so worth the time. It was a very personal account of some of the issues and horrors in prison and concentration camp during WWII. You feel for Corrie and her sister and what they experienced. You marvel at their strength of faith and courage. That they can still praise and believe in a good God after what they experiences. You know that can only be because of a strong foundation and lifestyle that had previous to the war. And you marvel at their good attitude and positive outlook.
And that’s where I’m torn. It might be my more cynical side, but I’ve also read The Hiding Place. There were tough times and it wasn’t all “praise God” – especially where Corrie was concerned. She had some real bad attitude, defeated, depressed moments. And none of that is clear in the letters. Now, that is possibly because they didn’t want to let on to their family all of the misery. They didn’t want their family to worry further. And I can understand that. But parts of it were just a bit too cheery for me for “prison letters.”

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt - Beth Hoffman

Synopsis from book flap: Twelve-year-old CeeCee Honeycutt is in trouble. For years, she has been the caretaker of her psychotic mother, Camille-the tiara-toting, lipstick-smeared laughingstock of an entire town-a woman trapped in her long-ago moment of glory as the 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen. But when Camille is hit by a truck and killed, CeeCee is left to fend for herself. To the rescue comes her previously unknown great-aunt, Tootie Caldwell. In her vintage Packard convertible, Tootie whisks CeeCee away to Savannah's perfumed world of prosperity and Southern eccentricity, a world that seems to be run entirely by women. It is a novel that explores the indomitable strengths of female friendship and gives us the story of a young girl who loses one mother and finds many others.

Book club book for May, and I really enjoyed it.

I appreciated the tasteful handling of Camille’s mental disorder. I like watching CeeCee grow and change as a character, in some ways reclaiming a childhood she had missed and in other ways becoming a more mature and adult-like. I loved the different, kooky characters that CeeCee meets in the south. Most of all, I enjoyed the warm, “accept you as you are” feeling of the whole novel.

Probably my favorite takeaway from the book is something Camille has said that CeeCee remembers towards the end of the narrative:

             “It’s how we survive the hurts in life that brings us strength and gives us our beauty.”

That statement is so true. And something important for me to remember right now in life. With God and support, I can push through the painful bits of life and come out the other side a stronger, more beautiful person inside.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Red Herring Without Mustard - Alan Bradley

Synopsis from In the third installment of Bradley's bestselling series, Flavia de Luce must clear a woman's name to prevent a grave injustice, while trying herself to avoid an early (and unjust) grave.Award-winning author Alan Bradley returns with another beguiling novel starring the insidiously clever and unflappable eleven-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce. The precocious chemist with a passion for poisons uncovers a fresh slew of misdeeds in the hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey—mysteries involving a missing tot, a fortune-teller, and a corpse in Flavia’s own backyard.

I, of course, read this novel without having read the previous two. I'm not sure if that hindered my enjoyment of it or not.

I enjoyed Flavia's character. She is precocious and likeable. Her sisters (and even her father), on the other hand, not so much. The de Luce family history is one of the parts I do feel I was lacking from not having read the previous two novels.
Overall, though, I have to say the book was just okay. I don't read a lot of mysteries (usually more political espionage or true crime), so that may be why. I was able to figure out most of the mystery before it was revealed and really had little to no attachment and saw no development in any of the characters.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Cinderella Ate My Daughter - Peggy Orenstein

Summary from Orenstein, the acclaimed "New York Times Magazine" contributor and author of the groundbreaking "New York Times"-bestseller "Schoolgirls," grapples with where to draw the line for our daughters.

The acclaimed author of the groundbreaking bestseller Schoolgirls reveals the dark side of pink and pretty: the rise of the girlie-girl, she warns, is not that innocent.

Pink and pretty or predatory and hardened, sexualized girlhood influences our daughters from infancy onward, telling them that how a girl looks matters more than who she is. Somewhere between the exhilarating rise of Girl Power in the 1990s and today, the pursuit of physical perfection has been recast as a source—the source—of female empowerment. And commercialization has spread the message faster and farther, reaching girls at ever-younger ages.

While our household and two girls aren’t particularly into “princess” and “pink,” I still was able to glean some insight from this book. Especially in the Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus arena and just in marketing to girls in general.

The book seemed to go back and forth on sides and even talk in circles a bit. However, I think that’s because there is not necessarily a right answer of how much pink and princess is too much. You need to know your kids. You need to know the values you are trying to instill. And you do the best you can with much prayer (okay, I didn’t get that from the book) and the knowledge you glean from resources like this book.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Hiding Place - Corrie Ten Boom

Synopsis from Corrie Ten Boom stood naked with her older sister Betsie, watching a concentration camp matron beating a prisoner."Oh, the poor woman," Corrie cried."Yes. May God forgive her," Betsie replied. And, once again, Corrie realized that it was for the souls of the brutal Nazi guards that her sister prayed.

Here is a book aglow with the glory of God and the courage of a quiet Christian spinster whose life was transformed by it. A story of Christ's message and the courageous woman who listened and lived to pass it along -- with joy and triumph!

The Hiding Place has been my most recent read in Holocaust literature. And how refreshing it has been. Yes, the book deals with some of the atrocities of the Holocaust – the imprisonment, the invasions, the deaths. However, this book is different from the others I’ve read. For in this book there is also hope. And there is love. Love for your fellow human being. Hope from God. And it gives me hope for my life. I have faced nothing as dreadful as a prison or an extermination camp. I have never slept with fleas or been so surrounded by death and despair. However, in the midst of those things – even in the depths of dehumanization – God was there. His grace. His love. His mercy. People clung to Him. Sought Him. And He was found. On this earth and in the world to come. And therein lies the hope for me: God is forever with me, even in this.

I appreciated Mr. ten Boom’s explanation to Corrie’s hard question as a child. He responded that some knowledge is too heavy for children to carry. When they are older and stronger, they can bear to carry it. But for now they should trust their parent to carry it for them. The same is true for our heavenly father. I might not have all the answers – all the whys and wherefores for what happens in this world. But God does. And I need to trust Him with that knowledge until he sees fit to entrust me with it.

I appreciated how when Corrie ten Boom turned things over to God, she left them there in His more than capable hands.

Another scene stuck in my mind moment was when Mr. ten Boom was offered his freedom if he would just behave himself. Mr. ten Boom’s profound response was simply: “If I stay behind, I will open my door to anyone who knocks for help.”

This book was real and courageous. Corrie was not perfect and felt anger and dread. And she lets us see all of that – her most human sides. Yet continues to point us back to a God who is bigger than it all.