Monday, November 26, 2012

Poetry as Medicine

I always find myself running to poetry whenever I have some sort of deep hurt. Novels fail me because they are too drawn out and I want a quick remedy. Poetry gets to the point and I have to concentrate on the words to pick out meaning and meter. In this way, it’s a small respite for my sore heart. O how poetic of me.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson
So off the book shelf flew T.S. Eliot, Robert Browning, and Victorian poetry. I scrounged through Eliot, but found that although masterful at his craft and a favorite, he was not what the doctor ordered. I then turned to Browning and although he has many poems that would work, I did not feel like scrounging through the dense volume to find something. So onto my Victorian poetry anthology. And it was Tennyson who caught my eye. His ‘In Memoriam’ is a series of poems about his dear friend who passed away. Actually it’s one very long poem made up of 133 cantos. The poem tracks Tennyson’s grief for over a decade. It took him a while to write. It is a beautiful requiem to his friend and one can see the stages of grief he goes through by reading some of the cantos.

I found solace in the cantos. The questioning of fate and God, the acceptance of loss, the anger at loss, the sorrow and hurt all encapsulated in these verses is so lyrical and beautiful that one cannot help but feel they've never known pain in the way Tennyson felt the loss of his friend. Basically, the poem was just the punch I needed to realize my hurt is not great, my pain is not uncommon, but loss is loss and all suffer it in one form or another.

Poetry can be tedious and hard to understand, but poetry is like a shot of alcohol. You don’t pussy foot around; you just get straight to the damned point. The difference being that you have to be able to pick out the meaning of a poem, whereas a shot is pretty self-explanatory.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Holiday Reading: Christmas!

The holiday fiction reading display is out at the library, thus it is time to start reading Christmas books. Well I’m not much of a cozy reads kind of person, but I decided that for my seasonal reading project I would read one of those heartwarming cheesy holiday books. So who should I choose other than the unofficial storyteller of Christmas, Debbie Macomber! And within that frame of reference, I went for Mrs. Miracle.

Seth and Reba are two people dealing with tragedy and hurt in their lives. These are old festering wounds that neither are able to move on from. Seth is the father of two young twin boys, whose mother died four years ago. The twins moved back in with Seth after staying with their grandparents following their mother’s death. Seth is trying to learn how to be a single father, but is having lots of issues. It doesn't help that every housekeeper quits on him and the agency is all out of options for new ones to send. Reba owns her own travel agency, but her hurt comes from the betrayal of her sister and loss of her former fiance, which happened four years ago. These two broken people might have remained hurt if not for the saving grace of one spirited and oddly knowing housekeeper.

Mrs. Miracle arrives on Seth’s doorstep to be his new housekeeper, and automatically the children take to her. Things start looking up from their and a relationship that neither Seth nor Reba saw coming suddenly starts spinning itself into existence.

My reaction to this book upon first opening it was “Wow, this is a Hallmark movie in book form”. As a matter of fact, they did make it into a Hallmark movie, so I was right. The characters' flaws are obvious, but they are loving good people all the same. The story is transparent and everything falls into place a little too perfectly. All in all, it’s not believable, but who wants believable this time of year? These books aren't made to be believable, they’re made so that you feel warm and snugly inside. Sometimes you just need something that goes right in this chaotic world, and books like Mrs. Miracle provide an outlet for a happy ending. Although there may be tragic circumstances that happened in the past and drama during the book, these books aren't violent or shocking. Mrs. Miracle also has Christian themes running throughout it. There are a couple of side stories that are attached to the main story within Mrs. Miracle and I thought they were fun to read and provided some diversity to the book.

I must say I didn't care for the characters because they were unrealistic. Sure they had problems and issues, but they said the right things all the time and provided the perfect amount of drama while making up for their shortcomings in the end. Another thing I found unbelievable was that all the other housekeepers thought the twins were so out of control, and this one woman, within an hour, calms them down. Honestly, they didn't seem any more rowdy than other seven year old boys, so why are housekeepers who are used to working with children having such a problem?

All in all, Mrs. Miracle is good for what it is, a potato chip read. It’s doesn't have any nutritional content, but it can be so yummy. This is a nice little story about forgiveness and family, all surrounded by the Christmas holiday. If you want something with Christian undertones about family and Christmas this is a quick and easy choice. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Holiday Reading: Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is a fantastic holiday. You gather to enjoy a delectable meal (so long as whoever cooks it is a good cook), you relax, watch football or movies, and give thanks for what you have. No worries about buying presents or having to prepare more than just the meal. It’s truly a lovely holiday.

Well for Thanksgiving, the first book I read was An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott. Alcott, the author of Little Women, sets a quaint scene of family life in early 1800s New Hampshire. The Bassett’s are in the midst of preparing for the Thanksgiving feast that will occur the next day. The girls help their mother cook, while the boys do chores and care for the animals. Suddenly, mother gets word that her mother has become very ill and she must rush away with Papa to be by her side. This leaves the children alone at the house with the oldest child being 16 year old Eph and 14 year old Tilly in charge of all the kids. Now unlike today’s children who would probably run rampant, these children do their chores and maintain the house. The next day, Tilly decides to continue with the Thanksgiving feast anyway because Papa is supposed to be coming home for dinner. Thus her and the girls start cooking their mother’s recipes from memory, which, of course, ends up being a bit of a culinary adventure.

This is a sweet story. It gives the reader a descriptive sense of home life during the time and introduces a loving family. The story reminded me a bit of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories in the Little House on the Prairie series. The way the family divvies up chores and interacts with one another is similar to Wilder’s accounts. It’s always fascinating to me to hear about how people lived when they had to make most things themselves and live a self-sustaining life. This is a very short account of that.

The story is about fifteen pages long, so yes it is very short. Think of this as a good story to tell your children on the Eve of Thanksgiving. It’s warm and easy to get through. Some of the language is outdated, but remember this takes place in the early 1800s and was written in the 1800s, so it’s no wonder some vocabulary and syntax are old fashioned.

If you enjoy adorable things and family events, then sit down for 20 minutes and read this story. If you regret it, it was only 20 minutes!

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Different Kind of Alyss

I’m coming to the realization that I love fantasy fiction. I do not like giving myself that title, because I lump fantasy in with sci-fi and I don’t enjoy sci-fi. But I love fairies, magical lands, and fairytale-esque storylines. The little princess in me screams for her dresses and Prince Charming. Cliché? Yes I know. Actually I prefer the magic and adventure over the marrying, but sometimes a little romance is fun too.  

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor is my latest fantasy read. Based on Lewis’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Beddor takes the idea of Wonderland to a whole new level. Actually this book is a combination of fantasy and sci-fi, but we’ll get to that later.

Alyss Heart’s seventh birthday is quite the celebration in wonderland. The Princess who will one day secede to the throne of Wonderland is beloved by the people and shows a lot of promise as a practitioner of imagination, but her Aunt Redd has other plans. The rival sister to the queen, Redd has been in exile because of her practice of black imagination, but she has built up her forces and on Alyss’s seventh birthday, Redd overthrows her sister and takes control of Wonderland. Alyss witnesses her mother’s death and barely gets out with her own life. The only way for Alyss to survive is to takeher chances in another world with Hatter, her mother’s body guard. But things go terribly wrong and Alyss and Hatter lose each other. Alyss ends up on the streets in Victorian England, while Hatter makes it his mission to find her. In Wonderland, things are going poorly with Redd’s rule, but after many years, Alyss finally makes her way back to Wonderland. She must learn once again how to wield her powers and stop Redd.

Beddor created a Wonderland that is both magical and technical. The card soldiers and more like robots and there are a lot of devices that fall into the sci-fi aspect of fiction. The story is interesting to see the twist from Victorian children’s fiction to what Alyss’s reality was in Wonderland. The characters were a little shallow for me. Motives and desires were easy to see and I didn’t feel there is a lot of depth to their personalities. The story is engaging and adventurous. It is a storyline that has been done hundreds of times before. Bad guy takes over and reeks havoc, so hero must step up to right things.

All in all, this is an easy read and entertaining. It is the first and a triology along with having offshoots of graphic novels devoted to Hatter. I am not itching to read the next two books, but I may pick them up at some point.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Holiday Reading: Halloween

Well Halloween is a couple weeks gone and we are well into the Thanksgiving hype, but I need to talk about my holiday read for Halloween. This year I read Death Makes a Holiday: a cultural history of Halloween by David J. Skal.

This is a book of essays about different events, history, and paraphernalia of Halloween as we know it today. There were essays on events like, the candy man, Halloween parades, horror films, and haunted houses, along with a short history of the holiday and how witches came to be a symbol of Halloween. All the essays were informative, entertaining, and researched. Skal makes it easy to get into the spirit and see this spooky holiday from an industry and eerie perspective.

I have read other nonfiction books on Halloween and its origins, but this book focuses on the current celebration of Halloween while nodding its head at where we derived these traditions from. I thought the book was fresh and fun.

For those of you who are Halloween lovers or enjoy reading about societal trends, this is a good choice

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Casual Vacancy

O my dear friends. How very much I want to tell you how much I loved JK Rowling’s new book The Casual Vacancy, but alas I never finished it. Rowling, as I’m sure you all know, is the author of the Harry Potter series. Rowling wanted to venture outside of the children/teen book sphere to a new arena…ADULTS! Thus she wrote her first adult book The Casual Vacancy.

 The town of Pagford recently lost of member of its council. Barry Fairbrother died leaving the town in shock at his untimely departure and a spot open on the council. Pagford, supposedly a lovely little town, is now undergoing a war with itself. Who will get the spot on the council and change the fates of Pagford?

 What I expected was something sort of cutesy. A small town life with some cranky neighbors shaking their fists at each other, but still baking pies for the neighborhood bake sale. O no, no. Silly me. Rowling is a real writer. Although I did not finish the book, I can tell you that she holds strong and proves that she can certainly make the leap from children’s to adults’.

 Pagford is thought of as an idyllic hamlet by some of the people who live there. It’s tucked away behind hills and has a monastery to boast of. But the town is divided. Real life has intruded on the picturesque surroundings and low cost housing developments have driven in some not so savory new neighbors. There are those on the council who want nothing more than to kick out these loafers and see their town restored to its former glory. Yet others, like the late Barry Fairbrother, don’t want to kick out a whole set of people just because they don’t meet certain standards. The story is complicated and Rowling outlines, underlines, and sheds light on her characters in all their glory and ugliness. Rowling shows the humanness of these people and gives the reader an almost objective look at the lives of the townies. Rowling does not back off from the ugly aspects of life and the human psyche. No one is a saint because there are no saints in life. People can be mean and bad, even if they have a smiling face and friendly demeanor.

 I did not get through this book because it is a tedious read. Capping in at 512 pages, the book was not picking up for me after the first 100 pages, so I decided to let it go to patrons who were waiting for it. I like a book that is character-driven, but that felt like all this book was, driven by characters. Nothing else was happening. Maybe it picks up, but I hit my wall and backed away. Again, if you like character driven books and you’re not afraid to put some time in and be confronted with reality, please, please, please read this (then tell me what happens).

 Sorry to disappoint with a non-fully read review, but I still wanted to state my opinion on the piece.