Friday, March 26, 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

This was a charming book, to say the least.  It takes place shortly after WWII on a Channel Island named Guernsey.  Well, most of the story takes place there, anyway.  The whole book is basically letters sent back and forth between the characters, which tells the story of a young author discovering the island and it's people.  She falls in love with the island and the people on it and ends up marrying one of them.  (That's the shortest review EVER, I think.) I'd buy this book, it was such a joy to read! The story itself is simple and talks of the effect the war had on the island and it's people.  The characters are so well portrayed that I felt I was getting to know them myself, or was the main character herself, experiencing the beauty of life and coming to love these simply islanders.  The story wasn't one of suspense or a heady romance, but I found myself not wanting it to end, just the same.  I would definitely read it again and hope it crosses my path again in the future.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Unraveled, by Maria Housden

I finished this yesterday, but due to a new goal, I had to wait till today to post my review.

This was a hard book for me to read.  I wrote out a review for it yesterday while my thoughts were still in my head, but even now, I find myself abandoning even those thoughts to record new ones. 

First, what the book was about.  Maria Housden writes a memoir, basically, telling of her choice to abandon her role as a stay-at-home mom while turning over full custody of her kids to her husband.  She faces objection from her friends and eventually loses them all when she decides to move across the country from her kids to live with the man she had an affair with.  Her path is one of self-discovery, of being honest about who she is and what she wants out of life.  That, in a nutshell, is what the book was about.

Now, my thoughts.  A quick disclaimer, though.  If you're easily offended by other's opinions, read no further.  If you can appreciate my opinion for what it is while still standing firm in your own, by all means, keep reading.  I'm a stay-at-home mom.  I chose this.  I'm a firm believer that if you're going to have children, you should be the one to raise them.  I do my best to not condemn the choices of others when they go against my own beliefs.  This is hard for me, I'm very opinionated.  If anything, I pity this woman.  It almost sounds as if she has to keep re-convincing herself that she's done the right thing, that adultery isn't bad (ha), and that by doing what she's doing, she's becoming closer to God.  I cannot judge someone's relationship with the Almighty, nor is it my place to judge her for her decisions, hard as they may have been.  Her marriage was falling apart, and from the things she says her husband said, I can imagine why.  So, they get a divorce, which is hard enough for children.  But children need their mother.  She had them every other weekend, and during the summer.  She wasn't there for several milestones of their life.  She claims that her decision to be selfish (my way of putting it) and "live a simpler life" was for the benefit of not only her, but for her children as well.  I think she's been diluted in to thinking these things.

As far as the book goes, it was well-written, portrayed her thoughts well, and kept me turning pages till the very end.  It's a book that I'm sure many modern women can relate to.  I'm a modern mother, yet I cling to old fashioned ideas.  In reading this book, I've learned that I really do choose this (being a mother).  I truly appreciate her example in being honest with oneself and being "unapologetically" who you really are instead of trying to please others and fitting the mold other people think you should fit.  I am grateful to have read this book for this very reason.  I've been insecure as a mother, to say the least, but this book helped me realize that I can be my own version of what I think a good mother is, that I don't need to compare myself to others or be the kind of mother others think I should be.  I think it's very important for mothers to take time for themselves in order to preserve who they are as a person, but I think she should also be committed to her children.  My own mom always told me you need to feel 100% if you're to have anything to give to anyone else.  Being a full time mom is a selfless job, but that doesn't mean you have to keep yourself on the back burner or abandon it altogether to "find yourself".  I know who I am, and I'm grateful for that.  I'm a mother.  I chose this.  I'm going to be there for my children until they don't need me anymore.  I choose to be here when they get home from school.  I choose to be the one to teach them their first words, see them take their first step, and be the last one they see at night when they go to bed.  But, that doesn't mean I don't do things for myself or that interest me.  I'm going to make sure my life is what I choose it to be and that I'm always honest with myself and others and be true to who I am.  I'm thinking that was more for me than for you.  ;)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Hannah's Gift, by Maria Housden

Maria Housden tells the story of the short but profound life of her daughter, Hannah, who dies at the age of three after battling cancer for about a year.  She tells of her daughter's sweet example of faith and the happiness that can come from the simple things in life.  Her daughter's brief but significant time on this earth touched the lives of so many and continued to touch lives after her death.  She talks of her grief and of coming to terms with it.  She talks about the struggles in her marriage, of her thoughts on ending her own life, of the affect it had on her son, her beliefs as a Christian and the questioning of those beliefs.  She talks of her struggles with miscarriages and her role as a mother and all the imperfections and insecurities that come with one of the most challenging paths a woman can take.  In the end, she's able to accept life for what it is, do what she can with what she has and knows, and realizes her potential as a person.

This book, along with the other book on losing a loved one I've read, was foreign to me.  I've only lost one grandparent my whole life.  I, too, have had a miscarriage, but my own religious beliefs were a great comfort to me during both of these losses.  Maria questions a lot of things that I feel I have the answers too.  I don't know how I'd react to my own child's death after watching her (or him) suffer for a year.  This little girl was amazing.  She's said to have only been barely three when she dies, yet she talks like she's much older.  She (I believe) must've had a strong connection with "the other side", as she knew she was going to die, but knew she was going to live with God and was actually excited about that.  Knowing what I know, I have to wonder if I would have the same struggles with grief as this woman did.  I would hope not, but then again, I'm only human.  (And Heaven forbid I should ever find out first hand!) I have to admit, though, I was really growing tired of hearing about her daughter and how she was reminded of her in everything and wanted her to be a part of her "new life".  I wanted to say, "Get over it already."  But, having never been through that, I know that my ignorance of the matter is what is fueling those words, so please don't be offended if you've suffered a loss and know what she's going through.  I don't and hope to never know. 

This book and the last book I read talked a lot of breaking out of one's shell, embracing the unknown - about the world and about oneself.  They both talk of daring to break free of the stereotype we, as women, are expected to fulfill.  I found this author from an article I read online about mothers who willingly turn custody of their children over to their ex's after a divorce.  Her next book I'm going to start today is about that journey.  I'm anxious to see her point of view on the matter, as I'm very old fashioned in that I strongly believe the mother should be at home with her kids as God intended it to be.  Though, I can't help but read these things and wonder, "What if...?".

I've been finding quotes in a few of these books that I like to make a note of, quotes that might as well be coming from me.  Here are some from this book:

"Truth is fierce and unrelenting.... When we are willing to do the best we can with what we know, to be honest with ourselves and others about who we are and what really matters to us, only then are the lives we live and the love we receive truly our own."

"There was a part of me, I realized, that was overly critical of everything, that wanted to teach people, especially my children, about the "right" way to do things."

"I longed to bring the same attention to the busy-ness in my every day, to do something simply for the joy of doing it, without worrying whether people noticed or liked it."

"If I was serious about living life more fully, I was going to have to let go of my need for everything, including myself and others, to be perfect."

"I also knew that I had to start living my life.... I no longer felt willing for life to continue on without me."

This was a very good book, a quick read, and something that I think those who have lost a loved one would love to relate to.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Girl in a Blue Dress, by Gaynor Arnold

I love writing book reviews but I find it particularly taxing when the book invoked so many feelings and thoughts that I can't seem to keep them all straight, let alone remember them.  I had to take notes as I was reading it! I apologize if my thoughts are scattered and confusing.

On the cover of this book, it says "A Novel Inspired by the Life & Marriage of Charles Dickens".  Before the story begins, there is a note by the author.  She says that this is a work of fiction, that she's added conversations, characters, places and events that she has added of her own accord.  This makes me wonder what was real about her story, how much of it was what she got from learning of Charles Dickens and his marriage.  If I were to go by the gist of this story, I'd say Charles Dickens is not a man I would like. 

The story is told by the main character, Mrs. Dorothy Gibson, estranged wife of the famous author Alfred Gibson.  It's the time of her husband's funeral and she has not been invited.  She goes back through her memories of being wooed and courted by this man, and how her parents were against them getting married but she does it anyway.  As the years go by, she bears one child after another, totalling eight, yet her husband's affections towards her become less and less.  She has fits of jealousy, understandably so, as her husband has always been drawn to and is flirtatious with the younger of her sex.  After she loses her last child to death, her husband sends her away to a spa in hopes of her regaining her health.  But when she returns, she finds she is not needed and finds her husband has moved out of their bedroom.  She believes he's having an affair with her sister, who's basically taken over as mistress of the house and he denies it and says he feels they should live apart because their marriage has failed.  So she moves out.  He blames her for this.  He publishes a notice in the paper stating that it's her fault, that she was an unfit mother and a bad wife.  She then learns gradually of a young actress he's shown particular interest in and puts the pieces together in her mind.  After 10 years of banishment, her husband dies.  The will is read and she receives less than this actress, even though technically she is still his wife.  She now learns that her children were told they could contact her, but would never be welcome in their father's home again if they did so, which is why she never heard from them over the 10 years.  She faces the mistress, who claims she was a victim of her husband's influence, which, after getting to know his character, one can easily believe.  She also claims there was never any physical relationship between them, but that they did love each other.  Dorothy meets the Queen and finds they have much in common.  She ventures out into the world after 10 years of seclusion and finds she has the will to live, to be herself, to rely on her own intelligence and abilities.

I do not do this book justice, there is simply too much to tell.  If you want to know the whole story, you must read it yourself.  I highly recommend it.  What I can tell you, are the feelings it brought to mind while reading it.  How unfair to be treated the way she was.  She finds in the end he never really loved her, that she was basically a rebound from his last failed relationship, yet he stuck with her to "do his duty".  She was made to look like she was not right in her mind because of the lies he told people, lies he came to believe were true in his own mind.  Even her children were more or less forced to stay away from her because of the things their father said.  She had to go 10 years alone, without contact of her friends, save one, and all of her children, all because of her husband, who always blamed her and said she was at fault.  She's stuck all this time in a marriage that she is the only one willing to fight for.  She sticks by him and always is made to feel like she's the one in err when she questions him about the young ladies he flirts with.  Everyone thinks he is so great, but in the end, after he dies, they all come forth to voice how they saw his faults, too, and that they felt bad for her and that he treated her wrongly.  I don't like how she's made to question her own part in this tragedy of a marriage, how she wonders if it really was her fault, if she really had gone mad, all because of how good this man was at twisting words.  I love how she faces the mistress.  I have to wonder, though, being in that situation, who would I be more angry with? The mistress? Or my loser husband? I'd say loser husband.  What I find really interesting, is how, even in the end, after going over everything he's done to her and how miserable she was, she never denies her love for him.  Wow.  The author says at the beginning that Charles Dickens wife wanted all of his letters to her kept to prove to the world that he really did love her once. 

If you want to read a story that makes you feel things and see things differently, or even help you realize things about yourself, as it has for me, I say read it.  It's a very good book.

My favorite quote, that sums up what I got out of it:  "Is it so singularly amusing for a woman to have ideas of her own? To wish to be a person as well as a mother?"  All too often I feel like that.  She was talking with the Queen in part of this book and it said something along the lines of a woman is basically stripped of herself when she becomes a wife and mother, that we live for the man and the children and not for ourselves.  I say we have to live for ourselves first, if we are to have anything to even offer those we love most.  How sad that this woman bore so much grief before her husband died, and only upon his death realized that she was capable of happiness without him.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

This saddle sure is slippery

I think I've hit an all time record for myself in the slacking department as far as reading goes.  I've started the book I'm reading (on the right) and read it once in a while, but just don't sit and read like I've done in the past.  But I think I've overcoming this slump... I've gotten the itch again and will hopefully be scratching very soon.  I have a list of books from the library that I've checked out and even another on hold, so I best get reading, right? :)