Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

T Is For Titanic

It's not hard to ascertain what the subject of this children's book's a short primer on the great ship Titanic, of course, told in alphabetic style and a bit of rhyme. Each letter of the alphabet is represented by some fact about the liner (I was particularly impressed with "X": it was actually used as points on the map that shows the crossing and where it sank). Some of the choices are very interesting indeed, such as E being for Elevator (3 for the first class and 1 for the second class), and D being for Dogs (11 on board, including 4 that survived!). Each letter is accompanied by a short rhyme describing its signifcance to the ship, as well as a fuller paragraph of explanation and trivia. Good fun!

My only concern is that the binding of the book wasn't as strong as it should be, with the threads holding it together highly visible. I suspect with much use the book would fall apart easily as it did not seem very sturdy even upon my first reading. Other than that, however, this book is a good introduction to the historical tragedy that doesn't weigh a younger reader down with too many morbid facts. It's a good addition to the collection of any Titanic buff.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

My Uncle Bobby

My Uncle Bobby was always my favorite uncle. From the time I was quite small, I always loved his sense of humor and his bright, warm smile. Married to my mom's sister Freddie, he was a constant presence in my life from my earliest memories. I remember being a little girl and being fascinated with his hair cut; he had a traditional crew cut back in the 60s, and I loved to run my hand across the top of it and feel its wiry, brushy stiffness. I remember him bringing me pads of paper to write and draw on, and I remember him taking me out to get ice cream when I stayed with he and my aunt once. As I grew, he remained a loving family member whom I could count on to make me laugh at those wonderful Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners our family shared.   As a young adult, I moved into a rental house in back of my aunt and uncle's house and became sort of an extra daughter. They'd take me out to eat and generally check up on me when I was living there alone, and once Jeff moved in, they treated him as though he'd always been a member of the family. And though I was grateful for our first home, I was more than a little sad when we moved away from 90 Antioch Pike.

My uncle (pictured on the right in the photo, next to his younger brother) had an awesome sense of humor and generally seemed to be up to something often. Family lore centered on a Jeep he owned in the 40s and 50s; apparently he loved this vehicle more than life itself and drove it everywhere. He also kept a snake in a cigar box under the front seat; not sure how that happened initially, but it was quite well known he would torture my other uncle Clarence with it. Uncle Bobby kept us in stitches during visitation for my grandfather when he passed away; he loved teasing my Aunt Freddie and would say rather outrageous things (in his own understated tone) that would keep us all gasping for breath between the giggles.

My uncle loved being on the water, and he had a speedboat he called the Flip Dizzy for many years. There is a multitude of pictures of he and my father on the lake in their boats, and there are, of course, tales of "initiating" family members into lake activities. There was quite a special bond between my uncle and my dad, and the goings on at the lake only cemented that relationship.  Later on, Uncle Bobby bought first a pontoon and then a houseboat which he was happy to share with one and all. The worst sunburn Jeff ever got was on top of Uncle Bobby's houseboat...awful for Jeff but still part of a generous fun afternoon spent with family.

Today was my uncle's funeral. I spoke to him last a couple of weeks ago, and I knew (despite my denial) that he wasn't doing well. Still, I sort of thought he was indestructible. My aunt Freddie passed away 6 years ago, and he didn't fade into the background quietly. He just kept going and was always glad to hear from me. I'd call on his birthday and he'd answer the phone saying, "It must be my birthday!" which would make me laugh. When I talked to him last, he assured me he wasn't going anywhere and I wanted to believe him.

Did I mention my uncle had polio as a child? Thought I always knew he was "different" physically, it was such a secondary trait to his smiling, happy personality that it wasn't something I really acknowledged. It wasn't until maybe ten years ago that he began using a wheelchair; I do recall my father talking about Bobby's twisted body doing the work of any able-bodied man. Uncle Bobby never let his physical limitations slow him down. Today I learned that his doctors said he'd had the worst case of polio in Nashville and told him he wouldn't live but a couple years past his eleventh birthday. Instead, he lived 72 more years. That should tell volumes about his spirit.

During the funeral, a letter was read that a dear friend had written, and one line hit me especially. "Bob Miller was a difference maker." The reader (his former son-in-law) repeated the line 3 times...and it moved me more deeply every time he read it. Uncle Bobby never let his polio stricken body hold him back from anything; he always had a sunny, upbeat personality. He never even parked in a handicapped spot, though if anyone needed to, it would've been him in the past few years. Our Nashville Sheriff, Daron Hall, spoke of how Uncle Bobby ran the Sheriff's Jail: quietly, calmly, in charge. No disability to hold him on earth can I let anything hold me back?

Uncle Bobby, you made a difference to so many people, and to me, you were the best uncle in the world. In my life I am going to commit to making a difference in your honor. And though I'm sad you are no longer with us, I am sure you are now standing tall and running through the fields of heaven...probably continuing to tell Aunt Freddie she's not afraid of you.  :)  I love you and I am  so lucky to have had you in my life.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Selection

In The Selection, Kiera Cass's first installment of a planned trilogy, seventeen year old America Singer is a Five (out of the Eight castes of the futuristic Illean Society--the U.S. of the future), a musician whose family struggles, but is still better off than her secret love Aspen, who is a Six. Dreaming of a loving future with Aspen, America's world comes crashing down when he realizes the caste is too wide for the two of them to make a go of it and breaks it off with her. But there is no time to be devastated since America has been chosen to represent her district in The Selection: sort of a Survivor/The Bachelor contest wherein Prince Maxon chooses a bride among 35 beautiful, talented young women. And though America really has no interest in being chosen, she does want her family to reap the benefits, so the unconventional young woman strikes a deal with the prince: let her stay as long as possible, and she will become his friend and informant among the girls. Of course a bemused Maxon accepts, the two grow closer, and an attraction breaks out.

The Selection is filled with silly girls vying for Maxon's attention, but it is also filled with America's bubbly spirit and a slow growing romance that had me cheering for both the prince and America. America is everything Maxon really shouldn't want, but the fact that she can talk to him intrigues the prince, and America's realization that perhaps her feelings for him aren't just friendly fuels the burn. And of course there is a love triangle; count me among the Team Maxon folk as Aspen failed to ignite any sympathy after his "noble" dismissal of America early on. Nonetheless, I found a great deal to enjoy in this light-hearted novel; America's headstrong, independent attitude and her own personal growth kept me turning the pages as I needed to see where we are headed. I'm definitely going to be searching for the sequel the moment it's available and recommending this one to anyone who loves a good romance that's also filled with action and led by a strong female. Pick it up now! You'll be glad you did.


Friday, April 06, 2012

The Proposal

Mary Balogh is one of my favorite romance authors and I jumped at the chance to review her newest title, The Proposal. And while I ultimately can say I quite enjoyed it, I'm wondering if maybe I've reached the end of my suspension of belief as far as romance goes.

The story follows the gruff Lord Trentham, a military hero from commoner beginnings whose friendship with those with whom he recovered his wounds is solid and endearing. It is while he is visiting this Survivors' Club (I sense sequels), that he comes upon the widow Lady Muir, who has fallen and sprained her ankle while out walking. Ever one to do his duty, Lord Trentham (known as Hugo), scoops the resisting Lady Muir (Gwen) up and takes her back to the house of the Duke he is visiting for recovery, thus delivering her from the company of the so-called friend she had been visiting. But almost immediately, sparks fly between the two, and mutual attraction gives way to a sexual encounter. The two then leave separately for London, where Hugo's younger sister is longing for an introduction to the ton, and Lady Muir agrees to be her sponsor. Along the way, Hugo proposes marriage and Gwen declines, but does invite him to court her. Lots of family events and doubts ensue before the ultimate happy ending. Plot holes such as why Gwen must stay at the Duke's home and the quick forgiveness of Hugo's stepmother toward her family happen as well.

You pretty much know what you're getting when you pick up a Balogh romance: witty banter, love, denial, society, and a tad bit of angst. I liked Gwen quite a bit and enjoyed the fact that she was a slightly older widow who knew her way around and had made peace with her lot. Hugo...well, here is where things go awry for me. He is overly forthright and stiff; I cannot imagine that anyone would speak to a Lady as he does Gwen at that time. I kept picturing Arnold Schwarzenegger in his overly bumbling Kindergarten Cop movie, and thus I just wasn't as enamored of him as Gwen seemed to be. But other than that, I got what I wanted, with the banter abounding during a rather fast read. I suspect I'll be back on board if the other members of the Survivors' Club decide to entangle themselves romantically with unlikely prospects.


Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

John Green is a favorite author of mine and yet I was reluctant to pick this one up, simply because of its subject matter. I am NOT a reader of cancer tales, and in particular cancer tales involving children. And yet this one kept calling to me; when my daughter read it and loved it, I knew it was time, assuring myself that with Green, cancer would be a backstory to the main one.

Warning: It's a cancer book.

Other than that minor (not) detail, it's beautiful, full of truth about human relationships and life. Hazel is sixteen and has terminal cancer which has been held at bay for three years, but stealing her lungs' capacity to their work ("crap lungs"). Forced by her parents to attend a support group, she meets the handsome, witty Augustus, who becomes infatuated with her almost immediately. And though Hazel wishes to minimize the destruction of her impending, someday death by not becoming a "grenade", she finds herself falling in love with the dashing Gus, himself a survivor of bone cancer. Together, the two use his Wish to track down the author of their favorite novel, demanding answers to its unanswered questions (A Metaphor For Life? Certainly). Along the way, medical crises ensue and lessons about the fragility of life abound. And Green does all this with his usual funny, endearing, charming flair, making us sob buckets and forcing his characters into our hearts whether we want them there or not.

While I adored the characters, I did feel the necessity of involving cancer in their lives was manipulative and unnecessary, though very realistic. Green did his research; he knew the ins and outs of how medical teams work and what can go wrong. It's a story worth reading and definitely one that involves the reader fully. I do wish Green would move on from the road trip drama, but he's still one of the best young adult writers out there today, my personal feelings about cancer story lines aside. He can make you laugh and cry and realize things you already knew. Beautifully written and recommended.


Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

Reading Pandemonium not long after Delirium, there was quite a bit about the first book still fresh in my mind. That helped a good deal while reading Pandemonium because I truly remembered and understood just why Lena had taken so many risks to get away from Portland, and I knew why she was so depressed initially. I also understood why Lena fought so hard against any feelings she might develop for Julian; the specter of Alex was still too fresh. But in many ways, Pandemonium is a fuller, richer tale; Lena not only discovers her will to live, but her determination to fight, be it for the Resistance or for those she loves.

As with Delirium, Pandemonium starts a bit slowly, moving back and forth between timelines that show what happened to Lena immediately after her escape into the Wilds and approximately six months later, when she has become an active member of the Resistance. Lena's way into rebellion starts slowly, and she quickly learns that life in the Wilds is harsh, with starvation and raids constantly looming. And while I can understand Lena's reliance on the leader Raven, I never warmed up to her personality. Even so, I supported Lena's decision to "rejoin" the society she'd grown up in and try to get to Julian, the son of the leader of the DFA. When things begin to go seriously wrong, it was fairly easy to see how Lena could grow closer to the boy she seemed to despise; I loved their trek through the underground tunnels and the people they encountered along the way. But the sense of betrayal Lena feels is overwhelming as the climax of the story looms, and even the ultimate action still didn't redeem Raven fully to this reader. And that ending? Wow...even if you see it coming, it's still an electric moment, one that makes your jaw drop. This series is well written and involving, delivering action and emotion in equal amounts. If there are issues with the predictability, those can be forgiven for the way Lena's story is being woven out of equal parts of Then and Now. Good fun!