Saturday, September 24, 2011

Emma - Charlotte Bronte and Another Lady

Synopsis from dustjacket: In the very last months before her death at age 39, at the height of her powers, Charlotte Bronte set the scene of a new novel entitled Emma...The wanton havoc wrought by Emma in the life of Mrs. Chalfont, the narrator, is not the only proof of her ruthlessness. She plays a part, too, in the sufferings of the abandoned child, Martina. The affection which grows between Mrs. Chalfont and Martina out of their mutual distress illumines this story. And Emma herself, with her inexplicable motives, her incomprehensible anger, and her darkness of soul, develops into a character of whom Charlotte Bronte woud have been proud.

Charlotte Bronte began this tale while "Another Lady" finished it. The beauty of it is that the transition from one author's thoughts to the other's is seamless. I really couldn't tell what was Bronte's from what was written by her successor.

The story was engaging and charming - even through it's depressing bits. I really grew attached to both Mrs. Chalfont and Martina. And, suprisingly, I didn't start putting the pieces of the puzzle together until close to the reveal.

F in Exams: The Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers - Richard Benson

Synopsis from B& "F" stands for "funny" in this perfect gift for students or anyone who has ever had to struggle through a test and needs a good laugh. Celebrating the creative side of failure in a way we can all relate to, F in Exams gathers the most hilarious and inventive test answers provided by students who, faced with a question they have no hope of getting right, decide to have a little fun instead. Whether in science (Q: What is the highest frequency noise that a human can register? A: Mariah Carey), the humanities (Q: What did Mahatma Gandhi and Genghis Khan have in common? A: Unusual names), math, or other subjects, these 250 entries prove that while everyone enjoys the spectacle of failure, it's even sweeter to see a FAIL turn into a WIN.

Wholly entertaining. Some of the "wrong" answers are so clever that you do kind of have to wonder if they really are the answers students actually put. However, as a teacher, I've received some rather interesting test responses. So I don't doubt too much.

This book was a fun 20 minutes entertainment.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work - John M. Gottman, Ph.D.

Summary from B&N: John Gottman has revolutionized the study of marriage by using rigorous scientific procedures to observe the habits of married couples in unprecedented detail over many years. Here is the culmination of his life's work: the seven principles that guide couples on the path toward a harmonious and long-lasting relationship. Packed with practical questionnaires and exercises, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work is the definitive guide for anyone who wants their relationship to attain its highest potential.

I don't think I got the full benefit of this book as it was a library book. So I didn't have time to do all of the exercises and activities, much less present them and do them with the husband person. However, in reading the regular text and scanning the exercises/activities, I think that Dr. Gottman's book offers a lot of practicality to healing and improving a marriage.

The only offputting part of the book was that the author comes off as a bit of a "know-it-all." However, as the "Country's Foremost Relationship Expert" perhaps he has a right to be. :)
Definitely worth checking out. I will be purchasing a copy of my own.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sarah's Key - Tatiana de Rosnay

Summary from B& Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to this past. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into the past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

I have been reading more Holocaust history/novels recently. But this is the first time I’d read one set in France. In fact, I’d never thought of how WWII affected other countries than Germany and what occurred in those occupied nations during the war. De Rosney says in her author’s note that this is not a historical work nor is it intended to be. However, I did learn history through it, and it opened my eyes to events and actions I’d never considered.

The first half of the book is told in two voices – the girl’s and Julia’s – alternating each chapter. This was not confusing in any way. In fact, I believe it added layers and dimension to the story.

I enjoyed getting to know Julia’s character. She is very dynamic. As she faces various moral dilemmas and emotional stressors in the book, she responds in a very human way. I feel that – even though she isn’t – she could be a real person who really walked out this investigation and her life.

Sarah’s character seemed more static to me. Perhaps because everything around her was depressing. Or perhaps because we stop hearing her story, told in her voice, halfway through the book and it is then carried on through the voices of others. The trauma she experienced perhaps led me to keep an emotional distance from her character.

All of the references to Paris sights and streets was a bit distracting to me, but I can imagine it would make the book more interesting to someone who has been there.

The secrets – in both the historic and the modern day accounts – were intriguing. To live with that kind of knowledge or memories and to never share…how hard that might have been. And the fact that the French government’s involvement in the deportation of the Jews is rarely acknowledged and not at all taught in their schools was surprising to me. After all, here in the U.S. we learn all about our wretched past – slavery, the Trail of Tears, etc.

Definitely a book to put on your “To Read” list – I was so engaged in it that it took me less than 24 hours from start to finish. I wanted to know what happened next – in both the stories.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Heartache No One Sees - Sheila Walsh

Synopsis from B&N: At a time that should have been considered the highlight of her career, Sheila Walsh admitted herself to the psychiatric wing of a Washington, D.C. hospital. Having worked for five years as cohost of The 700 Club, the years of treading water while trying to keep so much around her afloat and keep various plates spinning left her drowning in a hopeless sea of clinical depression. Despite her best efforts, she simply couldn't will herself out of it.

Now more than ten years later, Sheila understands what it's like to be wounded. It has been the passion of her heart to study what God's Word has to say about this and then share her liberty with other hurting souls.

It took me over a year to read this book. I kept picking it up, reading some, and putting it down to think it over. And then returning to it again days (or weeks) later.

Sheila Walsh writes in an easy-to-read style and tells her story in an approachable way. I appreciated the “Application Points” at the end of each chapter, and the study guide in the back was good – if some of the questions were rather difficult.

I think this excerpt from the book really sums up the message:

Our very wounds, when offered to Christ, become beacons of hope to others. When you have had your heart broken, you understand what it’s like to suffer, to feel despair. You recognize that drowning look in the eyes of someone else.

Now is the time to live as Christ lived. Now is the time to love as Christ loved. You don’t have to be perfect, just perfectly convinced that love is the only way to reach a broken heart.

Sheila challenges each of her readers to face and work through their past issues and hurts. Work through them with God, in themselves, and, at times, with others. And then continued walking in freedom by reaching out and helping Jesus heal others.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Queen's Necklace - Alexandre Dumas

Cover Image
Synopsis from B&N: The Queen’s Necklace dramatizes an unsavory incident in the 1780s at the court of King Louis XVI of France involving the King's wife, Marie Antoinette. Her reputation was already tarnished by gossip and scandal, and her implication in a crime involving a stolen necklace became one of the major turning-points of public opinion against the monarchy, which eventually culminated in the French Revolution.

This is our book club book for September. When it was first brought up, I asked if it had to do with Marie Antoinette and the scandal of the necklace. And, indeed, it does. But the story is so much bigger than that.

Apparently, this is book three in a series of six. But I think it could definitely be read as a stand-alone. There were a few points of confusion for me, but I’m not sure if that’s because I hadn’t read the first two books or because the first two pages of the book were missing out of my copy. ? And, really, the little confusion seemed trivial to the main plot and didn’t decrease my enjoyment of the story at all.

The book centers around Marie Antoinette and several members of her court. She is painted in a very sympathetic light – as having a good heart and trying to help others. It made me want to cheer for her side. But, ultimately, her trusting and helpfulness aids in her downfall and the particular scandal of an amazing diamond necklace.

It’s a thick book but don’t be deterred by that. Even with all the French words (I took Spanish in high school), it was a quick read.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire - Rafe Esquith

Overview from B&N: Perhaps the most famous fifth-grade teacher in America, Rafe Esquith has won numerous awards and even honorary citizenship in the British Empire for his outstandingly successful methods. In his Los Angeles public school classroom, he helps impoverished immigrant children understand Shakespeare, play Vivaldi, and become happy, self-confident people. This bestseller gives any teacher or parent all the techniques, exercises, and innovations that have made its author an educational icon, from personal codes of behavior to tips on tackling literature and algebra. The result is a powerful book for anyone concerned about the future of our children.

Okay, I’ll be honest. I’d never heard of Rafe Esquith before I read this book. And I’m a teacher…who reads books all the time about teaching, teachers, teaching methods, etc. After reading the book and about all he’s managed to accomplish, I’m wondering how I haven’t heard of him.

I did get a few key website and ideas and strategies for my classroom. For example, I will be instituting the “weekly essay” with my classes once we do our writing process/6 traits unit. Also, I love his economics system. I can’t use it, but our social studies teacher also does economics the first part of the year with our seventh graders. So I passed that idea on to her.

The book was easy to read. But it was also disconcerting at times – in that I wonder what I’m doing with my days and how I’m not able to manage all that he does (despite the fact I put in my overtime and such too). I found myself wondering how big his classroom is, how his family feels about all the time he spends at school, and what he does to get such amazing parental involvement and student interest. After all, his fifth graders aren’t that much younger and can’t be that much more un-world-weary than my 7th and 8th graders. So I would have liked to have some of those questions answered.

Additionally, much of the book came off as very condescending. “I accomplish all of this and if you were a halfway decent teacher you would too.” Or maybe that would just be my guilty conscious/wanting to be amazing and make my mark on the world self talking.

In the end, I would say it’s worth the read.