Friday, August 2, 2013

Beyond Belief - My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill

From the outside Scientology is one of those weird things that you wonder what it is really all about.  It is very secretive and the concepts that have leaked out just seem so bizarre that I wonder how exactly do people buy into this?
Scientology has been very good at PR and marketing.  It has the celebrity thing going for it, or, at least it did.  John Travolta is still a good frontman, but the bizarre behavior of Tom Cruise hasn't helped their cause recently.  You also have some well known scientologists leaving, most recently actress Leah Remini has made a public exit.  
I was very interested in reading this book.  In fact I was surprised to see it to publicly visible, knowing how much the people on the inside try to hide and downplay what happens on the inside of their world.
Jenna Hill is a survivor of the worst of Scientology.  She was brought up in it.  Most of her family have been Scientolgists at some point in their lives.  Her parents both held high ranking positions and her uncle is David Miscavidge, the current leader of it all.  This is Jenna Hill's personal accounting of her life. She was raised by the so-called church, living at the Ranch for most of her childhood, apart from her parents.  The story she has to tell is worth reading.  It is in many ways very sad.  Hers has been a life of controlled by others and full of brainwashing.  It amazes me that this organization continues to run with charity status attached considering all the atrocities it has inflicted on people.  I am glad that this young woman survived and found her way out.  She now helps run the website .  I highly recommend this book.  It is a fascinating look into one of he most talked about cults of our time.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner

I was very happy to pick up The Next Best Thing as part of my summer reading pile.  I do enjoy reading Jennifer Weiner's books.  She is one author whose books I will purchase for my shelves rather than just finding them at the library.
As I started into this book I had the disconcerting feeling I had read it before. Just a couple of plot points triggered something in me.  But I know Jennifer Weiner is too good an author to plagerize, and it was driving me nuts.  I knew I hadn't read this book, but I had read it too, so I started to flip through.  Thank goodness Jennifer Weiner had the foresight to help me along here.  At the very back of the book was a short story she had published in 2006 called Swim.  Yes indeed I had read this before, a couple of times.  Ms. Weiner took her character, Ruth from that story and expanded it into this novel.  Breathing a sigh of relief, I could now continue enjoying this novel.  And enjoy it I did.
This is the story of Ruth, raised by her grandmother since the age of 3 when we her parents had been killed in a car accident that also disfigured her.  Ruth learned to write to express all that she felt and observed in life.  She and her grandma took a leap of faith to move to LA where Ruth could pursue her dream of writing for television.  Her grandma finds new life getting work as an extra and meeting her own special man.  The book does flip back and forth quite a bit to different times in Ruth's life, but mainly focuses on where she is right now on the brink of working on her own television program.  I really enjoyed the behind the scenes look at what goes into starting a new TV series.  Weiner took from her own experiences here working on her State of Georgia which aired for one season on ABC Family.  Overall I enjoyed this one and could relate to the main character's own insecurities.  This is one of the things I enjoy about Weiner's writing, she writes relatable characters well.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Calvin and Hobbes the tenth anniversary book

Thanks to our 8 year old son, my husband and I have been rediscovering our love for Calvin and Hobbes.  I kept all my collections from my youth and he had been enjoying those immensely.  He did find this gem at our library last weekend, one I don't own and hasn't read previously.
This is different from other Calvin and Hobbes collections.  It contains a lot of commentary from Waters about how he went about cartooning, including his battles with syndicates over licensing and publishing.  Calvin and Hobbes was truly a comic of genius proportions and I am glad to be enjoying it all over again.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Summer Readers

Both my husband and my brother call me a bookworm nerd.  They mean it in the most loving way possible.  And it's true.  I fully admit and embrace my bookworm nerdiness.  I have fond childhood memories of being read to at bedtime, having (weekly) visits to the local library (and being on a first name basis with the children's librarian - Elsbeth you rock!), and reading well pretty much everywhere: in the car, on a boat, in the stairwell, outside, in the tub, on the put a book in my hand and I was a happy kid.  My kids are being raised pretty much the same way.  I read to them from the time they were in the womb and continue to today (they are 3, 6 and 8).  They too love books.  My 8 (almost 9) year old just finished grade 3 and loves books about hockey and survival.  He loves mysteries and adventure stories.  My 6 year old just finished kindergarten and loves books about dinosaurs and trucks.  He loves silly stories like Mr. Men and Robert Munsch books.  My 3 year old is not yet in school and loves books too. She loves books about cars and trains, fairies and princesses.  She recently discovered Fancy Nancy darling.
My husband and I encourage our kids to read as much as they can and ask questions about everything.  We don't answer them with a pat answer either.  If we don't know we look it up, together.  Questions like "Are there any 3 legged animals?" get answered (tripodalism doesn't occur naturally, only genetic defects or 4 legged amputees).
As a teacher, I want to encourage a love of reading in my students too.  Sometimes it feels as though I fight a losing battle.  It is pretty clear pretty fast which kids come from homes with a love of books and which only see books when the school sends them home.  Reading to and with your kids really makes a big difference.  This year I read my class several chapter books* and what really spoke to me (as it does every year) is how the kids who claimed to hate reading hung on to every word of these books.  They "hate" reading because reading has not been made a priority in their families and has become a struggle for them to do.  But they really, really love books and stories.  They just struggle to read them for themselves.  I want to encourage families this summer to get involved in books!  There is a reason that we teachers give kids books for Christmas and end of the school year gifts.  It is not so they can be dust collectors shoved under beds, it is so they can be read enjoyed.
Here are a couple of things I found on Pinterest that really show how much time spent reading books affects your child's education.

Not sure where to begin?
1) Check out your local library.  More than likely they have a summer reading program going on, complete with story times and activities for all ages.
2) Read to your kids at bedtime.  Remember the childhood classics you loved?  Share it with them.   Or find common interest books and magazines.  Reading is not just fiction, my kids loved fact books too.
3)  Have your child read to you.  Ask them questions like, "What did you think when this character...?" or "What do you think will happen next?"  and share your thoughts too.  It's like your own family book club.
It's never too late to share a love of reading with your child!

*Chapter books I read my class this year (grade 3):
-Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwell (watch it and compare with the Jim Carey movie, they are very different)
-The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Edwards
-The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
-Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
-The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary
- The BFG by Roald Dahl
**Images courtesy of and

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

I bought this book when it was first released a few months back and it sat on my shelf.  Not because I didn't think I'd enjoy it, but because I knew I would.  I knew this was my last Maeve Binchy read and I wanted to save it to savor it.  I've counted Maeve Binchy as one of my favorite authors since I first picked up one of her books back in my university days.  I've found her writing to be like sitting down with a good friend over a cup of tea and catching up on all the gossip of our friends.  So it was for me a sad day last July to learn of her passing.  I'm very grateful that her husband decided to let this book be published posthumously.
Now for the book.  The book is similar in style to Evening Class and Quentins.  There is a main character that is the connecting force between the other characters.  Each story is told separately and could hold up as a short story in itself, but the lives of each character do collide in some form.  In this book the main character is Chicky Starr, an Irish lady who has spent many years in America only to come home to the village of her childhood and take over Stone House, a large home that has been owned by the Sheedy sisters for as long as anyone can remember.  Chicky is taken in by Miss Queenie Sheedy, whose dream it is to turn Stone House into a small hotel, displaying the kind of glory she remembers from her younger years.
The remaining characters have some sort of connection to Stone house, either as a guest, relation or worker.  Each story has the kind of well developed characters you would expect of Binchy's writing.  The end result is charming and enchanting. 
Some say that this book is not Binchy's best.  I would disagree.  It does match up to her previous works, I just wonder if it just didn't get that final polish that it might have otherwise had if she had lived to see it in its final draft.  The book does have a satisfying ending and is well worth a read.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

The Painted girls is set in Paris in the late 1870's.  It is inspired by the real life story of Marie Van Goethem who was a ballerina that became the model for Degas' Young Dancer at Age 14.  Intertwined with Marie's story of survival is the story of her sister Antoinette.  The book alternates points of view between the two girls.  
The Paris of this book is not glamorous.  It is the darker, grittier side. The story of hard work, washerwomen, broken dreams and promises.
What I really enjoyed about this book was how the author was able to recreate Paris.  I could see it and experience it through her words.  The story of the sisters was emotionally sustaining and at times draining.  I would highly recommend this book for a book club.  It is worth reading.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler

The Imposter Bride is one of those stories that I hesitate to write about in case I give away too much of the plot of the book.  Set in post-war Montreal, it is the story of Lily Azerov who arrives to marry a man she has never met.  He rejects her on sight, and his brother offers to marry her instead.  But Lily is not the woman she claims to be.  Her past in Europe begins to catch up with her and the new life she is trying to build in Canada. 
This book was so well written.  I did not know the answers to the mystery of Lily until the end of the story.  I immediately recommended this book to my Mom as a possible book club selection for her group.  I loved it and would love to read more of Richler's work.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Kingmakers Daughter by Philippa Gregory

Poor Anne Neville, daughter of Richard, Earl of Warwick, the Kingmaker - one of the most hated characters in English history.  She was used as a pawn in her father's game of power in the War of the Roses, also known as the cousins war.  Her sister Isabel was married off to George, Duke of Clarence in her father's bid to get George on the throne.  When that didn't work out, he switched sides from York to Lancaster, marrying Anne off to Edward of Westminster (son of Henry VI and Margaret of Angou), hoping Edward would displace King Edward and take the throne for himself.  (Confused yet?  There are many Edwards, Richards, Henrys, Annes, Margarets and Elizabeths in this time in history). 
Both Warwick (her father) and Edward (her husband) were defeated and killed in battle.  Her mother abandoned her and claimed sanctuary at an Abbey.  Her only protection was Margaret of Angou (whom she referred to as the Bad Queen).  Anne was taken in by her sister Isabel and husband George, who held her not quite captive, but not quite free either.  They wanted legal control of all of her inheritance. 
Anne did escape their captivity (though the official historical facts of where she went remains a mystery) and married Richard, Duke of York (later Richard III), brother to Edward VI and George, Duke of Clarence.
Yes, it's a confusing history but a very interesting one.  I'd never much thought of Anne before, just the quiet, pale wife of Richard III, who lived in the North and was sickly.  There is much more to her and her history than that and I'm glad for Philippa Gregory's take on that.
I quite enjoyed this book and am enjoying the Cousin's War series much more than the Tudor series. 
In publication order the books go:
1) The White Queen - 2009
2) The Red Queen - 2010
3) The Lady of the Rivers - 2011
4) The Kingmakers Daughter - 2012
5) The White Princess - TBA
6) The Last Rose? - TBA

In chronological order the books go:
1)The Lady of the Rivers
2)The White Queen
3) The Red Queen
4) The Kingmakers Daughter
5) The White Princess
The Last Rose?

Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

Jaquetta, Duchess of Bedford was a character from Philippa Gregory's previous "Cousins War" books that interested me the most.  Ms. Gregory doesn't write her series in chronological order.  Jaquetta was the mother of Elizabeth Warwick (wife of Edward IV), who in turn was mother to Elizabeth of York (wife of Henry VII, mother to Henry VIII).  She intregued me for several reasons.  the first being that her first husband was a Duke, much older than she, their marriage meant to strengthen ties between England and Luxembourg.  Her second husband was Sir Richard Woodville, the Duke's chamberlain.  They fell in love and had a secret marriage without permission of the king.  Jaquetta went on to serve in the court of Margaret of Angou and was a prominent Lancastrian at the beginning of the War of the Roses.
I really enjoyed this book.  It didn't disappoint.  I find Philippa Gregory's books to be hit or miss, this one lands at the top of her offerings for me.  It was well written about an interesting character in an intriguing time in history.  I am quite looking forward to her 5th book in this series, the White Princess about Elizabeth of York, I find that that is the missing piece of the story.

Rebel Heart by Moira Young

I really looked forward to this book after enjoying Blood Red Road as much as I did and it didn't disappoint.  I was back in the world I loved so much in a few pages.  It was so enjoyable to revisit this world and these characters.  Ms. Young is a gifted author and I hope more people discover and enjoy this trilogy she is writing.  I fully look forward to her next offering.
This book (while still action packed) found another, more emotional side to Saba, which I wasn't expecting.
Of all the dystopian fiction that is out there right now, this is by far my favorite series.  My only complaint is the wait I have until the next book is out!

The Kill Order by James Dashner

This book was the prequel to the Maze Runner series.  None of your known characters are in this one (with a few exceptions of mini flashbacks that hint of Thomas and Theresa).  The new main characters are Mark, Trina and Alec.  This starts where the Flare began.  And I just found it repetitive, confusing and full of zombie disgustingness.  It doesn't really answer any of the questions remaining left over from the Maze Runner books.  It is full of flashbacks.  A lot of this book is depressing and violent.  I had a difficult time getting through to finishing. 

The Death Cure by James Dashner

The Death Cure was the final book in the Maze Runner Trilogy.  I did continue reading the series, but I found it increasingly difficult to do so.  I finished it mostly because I wanted the answers that began Thomas's journey to the Glade.  As with The Scorch Trials, I found this increasinly violent and depressing.  I'm sure those who are into the Zombie stuff that's popular now wouldn't find this nearly as gross to read as I did, but I really did find it gross and had a difficult time finishing.

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

The Scorch Trials is the sequel to the Maze Runner.  Once I started the mystery of the Maze Runner, I knew I would be reading the sequel.  Dashner leaves the Maze Runner leaving a lot of unanswered questions and I really just wanted to know the back story of what was happening.  I didn't like this book as much as the Maze Runner, in fact I found the Maze Runner to be the best of the 4 books in the series. 
The story was still interesting, following the Gladers in life after the Glade.  I just found it increasingly violent and depressing.  I know people who have really loved this series, it just wasn't for me. 

The Maze Runner James Dashnel

When I bought Divergent last summer, the book store manager and I got into a conversation about us adults who are loving the YA dystopian fiction that's out right now.  She asked if I had read the Maze Runner, which I hadn't at the time.  She said it was good, more geared towards males (her husband really liked it).  So I put it on my TBR list.  Then on Thanksgiving (Canadian) friends of ours and I got into the same dystopian fiction conversation.  They hadn't read the Divergent books, I hadn't read the Maze Runner, so we traded.  (For the record Blood Red Road is still my favorite of this genre and I look forward to picking up Rebel Heart (Dustlands book 2) with one of the Chapters cards I got for my birthday this weekend).
The maze runner centres on Thomas, a young man with no memory of his past.  He wakes up in a dark elevator and enters into the "Glade".  The Gladers are all male, each one having entered the glade a month apart.  They all have a role in taking care of the Glade.  The Gladers that intregue Thomas the most are the Maze Runners.  The maze is an area adjacent to the Glade.  The gates open up each day, but the maze is always changing.  The maze runners are mapping the maze, looking for a pattern to aid in their escape.  The must get back each day before the gates close as there fatal dangers in the maze that come out at night.
The day after Thomas arrives, another glader arrives, changing the pattern.  This glader is female and they know that she is the last one ever.  After this, life in the Glade will never be the same, it marks the end.
The Maze Runner was a book I kept reading because I had no idea what was going on.  The mystery was so big and so interesting, I couldn't put it down.  It is a well written, enjoyable book.