Monday, May 30, 2016

Where the Sidewalk Ends

An absolute classic read which I needed to find after the last book.  It is the quintessential child’s ‘imagination run wild’ book, Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.  It is the 40th Anniversary edition!  Who doesn’t love rhyming lines of the most creative and ingenious short poems that push the boundaries of a young child’s thinking, or even my own.  I have so many favorites as this was one of my nieces favorite books (Tessa, Happy birthday as well!).  I think that is where she actually found her imaginary friend Fritz, a little white speck who would appear and disappear, sometimes giving her a funny voice to speak through… the book begins with an invitation:

                If you are a dreamer, come in
                If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
                A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
                If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
                For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
                Come in!
                Come In!

And so I did, and hope all of you do as well.  I loved so many, especially Jimmy Jet and his TV set (see what happens when you watch too much of it?  Wonder what will happen when TV sets are no longer). Or the great Unicorn!  There are so many characters to remember, so don’t forget to believe in your child’s concern for that monster under the bed, don’t be like the boy’s dad who looked and then was no more, as he was eaten!  Or Nancy Bates the weightliftress who will remind you she is strong, or even the little blue engine who could… until he ran out of steam at the top of the hill went backward and crashed into everyone else!  Smiles... that’s what this book brings.  It is a MUST purchase for any 4, 5, 6, or 77, year old.  Life and bringing creativity to it never gets old.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Child Called It

A really hard book to read today, it was disturbing and frightening to even fathom.  The book was called A Child Called It written by David Pelzer and written in the early 1990s.  The book is the real life story of the author who experienced tremendous physical and mental abuse at the hands of his mother, though his father was a supportive witness who did nothing (or very limited) to stop the abuse.  The author goes into great detail of the physical beatings, stabbing, and starvation that his mother did to him over a seven year period.   It was really hard to get through this book.  I can’t even understand how a mother of five singled out one child, attempted to kill him and encouraged through repetition to have her other children watch and even join in near the end.  His mother and father’s relationship was strange and clearly she had something over the father to allow him to be a quiet observer, though a few times he attempted to stop it.  If it wasn’t for the assistance of a substitute teacher and the school nurse, I have no doubt David, who was called “the boy” by his mother, would have killed him.  Freezing him, having him eat out of the trash, having him drink ammonia, doing chores all day and night, ten days without eating, the list goes on and David tells the higher levels of the abuse.  Children are sacred and to enter this hell was unfathomable.  There are two more books to the series as this one ends when the principal of the school finally intervenes after three other thwarted attempts.  This is not a book for that I would read as light reading.  It is heart wrenching, sickening, and a story that I’m sure needed to be told.  I pray that all victims of abuse find the courage and the support to receive the help that they deserve.  Congratulations to David for escaping, becoming a father, and loving his son as he never was as a child.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Little Princess

A reading frenzy at the lake with my Mom while vacationing!  Finished another kid’s favorite book, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  Well, if you have read one princess book, i.e. Cinderella, you probably have read them all.  OK, I’m not a huge princess story fan.  The story here, a young girl (Sara) is born into a rich household, mother dies while she is young, Dad brings her to a boarding home while dad travels.  While away, he loses his fortune, dies and word comes back to the boarding home.  The owner, who has fronted the bills, realizes that there is no money coming back to her, so she treats Sara worse than hired help.  Making her live in the attic, doing chores, not feeding her, you get the picture.  The problem with this story is the extraordinary measures that brings Sara back to fortune.  I won’t ruin it for you, but it isn’t the best rags to riches story out there, for sure.  Go watch Cinderella, a better story.  And yeah, all bad keepers of the young princess are pretty much all the same.  Off to read another book…. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

City of Ember

Enter the future and welcome to Ember, a city build 237 years ago, or so by scientists, engineers, and others before the apocalypse.  After 7 generation of rulers (mayors) a note from the treasure box is to be opened, but the mayor dies before he can tell the next one.  Years go on, and yet the box stays closed.  Welcome to Jeanne DuPrau’s City of Ember an enclosed city that is beginning to run out of food, light, and connection to things outside of itself (words that haven’t been spoken, are no longer understood).  Lucky for Ember, Lina Mayfleet finds the message from the box, when her baby sister is eating it!   (Her grandmother, whom she lives with after her parents die, had the box, no idea why?)  Lina has just finished eighth grade, a time when all students join the work force on their graduation day, by choosing a career out of a hat, during the ceremony with the mayor. Lina chooses pipeworker, and her classmate Doon Harrow chooses messenger.  Both very upset by the pick, decide to switch, which leads to a connection later on.  So, what did I think… good concept, but like all of these young adult books… it’s a series!  Dang!  What happened to “one and done” oh well.  The story draws the reader in quickly, the good young girl alone in the world after grandmother dies with her baby sister to take on the world, and she does.  And of course the budding friendship (hmmm... relationship?) with her friend Doon.  They finally learn the meaning of the half eaten message and find there is an escape route from Ember.  The escape scene is well written, and of course goes as planned, except the book ends just as it gets you to the next place… so, incomplete as a read.  How many more of these out there?  It’s a quick read, and has the flair of Hunger Games.  If I had more time, maybe I would venture to book two, but feeling there probably is a book three and four as well.  Have a young niece/nephew?  A good summer read.     

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Lee Strasberg’s Dream of Passion

Wow, just finished a flashback book back to my days in the world of drama/theatre, Lee Strasberg’s Dream of Passion.  Yes, for those who didn’t know I have a MFA in Directing of Theatre and I thought and hoped I would be directing on the big stage… well, maybe I am, Directing Student Life at NYU, that’s a pretty big stage, ok, I digress.  Strasberg is known as THE American inspiration for a new way to approach acting in the mid twentieth century.  Strasberg’s work was formed through his study of the great Russian acting teacher Constantin Stanislavski.  The Strasberg approach is known as “Method acting” which is based on the idea that to develop a deeper emotional and cognitive connection to the character, actors need to identify personally with them.  Actors are trained to reproduce the character’s emotional state by recalling personal sensations and emotions from their own life.  Strasberg asked his actors to replace the play’s situation with the actor’s own experiences.  Strasberg presents techniques grounded in replacement of emotions from one’s own life.  I remember being trained in many of his techniques, using relaxation, sense memory exercises, improvisation, and animal work – pretending to be an animal to help one with freer movements.  The book begins with an introduction by Evangeline Morphos, who at the time was the Director of the Undergraduate Acting Program at….. NYU!   (I swear one in ten books I read have an NYU reference in it, love it!).  After the intro, Strasberg shares how he entered the theatre, his influences, and how he developed his own techniques for acting.  His illustrious career is captured in pictures within the book and the various people who helped him create his thinking on how to improve the actor’s work.  He worked at a time that realism was taking over the main productions on Broadway and he was desperately attempting to make his audience “truly feel” the emotions that the actor was attempting to convey.  His work was very much working from the “inside -  out” which was later challenged by top acting teachers like his own student Stella Adler, a famous NY actress, and name of one of the NYU theatre studios.  Strasberg dissects many performances of actors and why it was so hard to recreate a part, night after night.  Strasberg was one of the most influential teachers for acting of his time, and beyond.  From Marilyn Monroe, to today’s stars Chris Evans and Anne Hathaway.  As a former director, I regularly had rehearsals using many of his strategies to try and help actors find their motivation through a recreation of their own life journey.  It makes great sense.  It was fun to recreate and trek back to my earlier life in theatre.  While I enjoyed it, non-theatre people may find it rather tedious and uninteresting.  But if you wonder how actors approach this work, or you need to do some acting on the job, take a look.  The exercises on how to relax are good for all.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Where’d you go, Bernadette?

I just finished a pretty quirky “dysfunctional family” book called Where’d you go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple.  There is humor in this one, which captures the story of Bernadette, a former renowned architect turned reclusive housewife (to Elgin) and mother to Bee (Balakrishna is her full name).  Bernadette had a series of miscarriages earlier in her life, but was able to have Bee and turns all of her attention to her.  Bee is in the eighth grade at a “hoity-toity” exclusive suburban grade school, though not at the highest level as it is competing with one other for Seattle’s elite students.  Elgin is employed at Microsoft as one of the top technical engineers creating a robot (Samantha 2) for the Walter Reed hospital to assist vets with disabilities.  With this as a background, the lives of the family goes haywire when the Galler Street School is having an open house for the elite Seattle parents at Bernadette’s neighbors home (not one of her favorite people!) which turns into a fiasco when a mudslide knocks into the home DURING the event!  Bernadette never liked the parents, specifically the mothers, of the Galler Street School, calling them “gnats!”  Add the fact that when picking Bee up from school, Bernadette is accused of running over the foot of the same neighbor parent, and all is about to break lose.  Let’s add in Elgin’s troubles: Microsoft having layoffs, Samantha 2 project under scrutiny, and his new admin assistant (a divorcee also a parent of a child at the Galler School) who has the hots for Elgin, and realizing his wife needs a psychological intervention (he finds her in a store asleep in the front window dressed in strange attire!) you have the making of a pretty outrageous family upheaval, including a disappearing Bernadette, a daughter off to boarding school, the admin assistant getting pregnant by Elgin, and a trip to Antarctica!  I loved the flow of the story, the creative writing style) almost like watching MTV – each section written in the voice of one of the characters, sometimes an email, a text, or prose.  It kept the story interesting, fun, and moving quickly.   It is a cute read, nothing that will make you think more about the meaning of life (some might think a mindless book, which doesn’t mean not entertaining).  Light-hearted and will keep you chuckling.  While I don’t think I will call it memorable, it was so creative and I could see it as a movie for sure.

Sunday, May 22, 2016


I always enjoy a great novel that makes you think deeply about choices people make in life, and so it goes with J.M. Coetzee’s novel Disgrace.  Set in the post-Apartheid era in South Africa, the main character, David Lurie, is a professor of communications (and poetry expert) at a university in Cape Town.   Lurie is a brazen fifty-two year old who is twice divorced with a grown daughter.  He frequently finds sexual activity with prostitutes, wives of colleagues, and as the story unfolds, he is attracted to a student in his course, this leads to his demise.  Melanie, his student, is invited to his home one day after a class dinner, which leads to him sleeping with her.  He continues his pursuit of her, even though she is reluctant, even when her boyfriend finds out.  This leads to his demise as he receives a complaint that Melanie files against him.  Lurie responds by taking full responsibility, but unwilling to apologize, noting he would do it again.  After losing his job, Lurie goes to the rural area of Eastern Cape to visit his adult daughter, Lucy, whom owns a farm land where she raises animals and has something resembling a farm.  Lurie faces significant dilemmas as a father when he and his daughter are robbed by locals in her home, Lucy being raped while her father locked captive in the bathroom after being burned.  Lurie is consistent in his thinking, being solo, selfish, and one-minded in living his life as he wants to live.  He loses it all, but he never compromises his self-belief that one can never look back.  He does change somewhat, trying to convince his daughter to leave the farm as one of the three rapists is working on the farm for the manager of the land, a local.  Lurie confronts his past often, even going to meet Melanie’s father to explain to him why he did what he did with Melanie, (feeling there was a mutual attraction).  He clearly is the ‘white’ South African who still believes in whatever path he wants to take, no matter who is in the way.  It is a glimpse into a culture that permeated the society of the time.  Lurie has to grapple with the question, is what he did to another man’s daughter similar to what happened to his own daughter, and how can one protect another from the grips of men with power.  Coetzee was awarded the Booker Award for the book.  His prose, psychological foray into man of the era, and the complexities of money, race, and sex are all magnificently written in this coming of age over 40 book.  It is a quick read and I would HIGHLY recommend it to anyone who enjoys novels for the ages.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Lighting Thief

I finished another young adult book from the RAs, this time Rick Riordan’s The Lighting Thief, the first in a series of books with the same characters.  Percy Jackson is a twelve year-old boy sent away to a boarding school by his mother to help him overcome his ADHD and dyslexia.  This is the seventh school for Percy in seven years as he continually gets removed for poor behavior.  His mother remarried after his father died mysteriously around the time of Percy’s birth.  The story begins near the end of the academic year, right before he departs for home, facing one more challenge in school.  Of course it ends with a “do not return for next year”… as heads back to Manhattan to be reunited with his mother and her new husband, an abusive slob (which we learn later).  Percy heads home after overhearing a conversation with his best-friend at school and his favorite teacher that he might be catching on to  the fact he has special powers… yes, Percy finally pieces it together when he returns home, that he is a descendant of a Greek God, Poseidon!  His mother confirms it while they are vacationing on Long Island near Montauk as they are being chased by monsters.  What happens next (the bombing of the car his mother and he are in), leads him to go to a special camp, a camp for those with special powers.  The journey begins where Percy and his two confidants, both from Camp Half-Blood, a camp for children who have one parent whom is a Greek God, are asked to attempt to stop the destruction of the world, the fighting of three gods all whom think that the other has stolen something from them.  Percy and his two companions face many battles and the tricks played upon them by the gods.  As the race to stop the gods to begin battle before the summer solstice, one week away, Percy is blamed by his step-father for the death of his mother!  Battling with gods, monsters, being a suspect in your mother’s death, and coming to grips with his own powers, are just a few of the action-packed moments in this thriller.  The book educates the reader on the various powers and history of the various Greek Gods, (Hades, Zeus, Ares, Medusa, Kronos), in this simple story-line with lots of action.  I am not a huge fan of Greek mythology so remembering the various strengths and weaknesses of each was ho-hum.  There was also a pretty predictable set of climaxes, always leading in Percy’s last minute success.  Pay attention to each of the various hints provided by the author, as they each come back to be used in solving the latest challenge that Percy faces.  The author is very creative and a good way for young readers to learn about mythology of the gods.  Not my favorite read of the recent fantasy books.        

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Maximum Ride

Always fun to read a young adult futuristic book with lots of action and questionable scientific ethics involved.  The book is called Maximum Ride by James Patterson.  The book’s premise is that a new kind of child is developed, from DNA mixing and avian upgrades (yes, bird-like creatures) so that they can do super-human things.  There are only six (Maximum Ride (the leader), Fang, Iggy, Nudge, the Gasman, and Angel) of them created by the scientist in the laboratory, Jeb Batchelder (whom may be Max’s real-life father? They have some evil enemies, the Erasers (who also have some sort of super-human DNA added) whom try to abduct them.   The Erasers do capture one of the flock, Angel, the youngest, and brings back to the “school” – an affectionate name for the laboratory – and end up doing ‘experiments on her’ to determine how much they have mastered the DNA upgrades.  The flock have many battles with the Erasers, always seemingly able to escape.  The flock are trying to better understand their ‘heritage’ (their parents, their homes, and whether they were born of a test-tube or from humans).  They get a tip to find the ‘Institute’ which is a secret place that holds the answers to many of their backgrounds.  The remainder of the book seemingly sets the stage for many future books that follows their journeys to find the answers, but also to have Max ‘save the world’ a message reinforced by a voice that speaks loudly to him as his travels progress.  I enjoyed the book, with lots of adventure and twists and turns.  A really fun read for the youth to add to a summer read.  It appears the book series will be on the big screen as well… can you say Hunger Games?  Enjoy!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

They Do It with Mirrors

The weekend ended with a trifecta of reading, this time a murder-mystery, by none other than the well-regarded and considered one of the best ever, Agatha Christie.  The book is called They Do It with Mirrors.  Christie’s book is the quintessential murder “who done it” with a group of family members and close friends as potential suspects.  Two old friends (Ruth and Jane Marple) are meeting when Ruth suggests that the other go visit her sister (Carrie Louise) who she is concerned about.  Jane Marples being the good friend, and not having seen Carrie Louise in three decades decides to go.  She doesn’t realize that she is entering a murder scene!  When Jane arrives to the family mansion (Stonygates) she is warmly welcomed by Carrie Louise, who is getting old and has some lingering illnesses, and the entire family.  A few days later she is engulfed in a murder mystery when Carrie Louise’s first husband’s son, Christian, is killed in the Stonygates estate.  Christian is the person who oversees the million dollar family inheritance trust and of course all of the family members whom are present are suspects, knowing all have a vested interest if Carrie Louise dies!  The list includes: Mildred Strete, her daughter from her first marriage, who is the only blood relative of Carrie Louise who is resident at Stonygates; her adopted daughter, Pippa’s daughter, Gina; Gina’s American husband Walter Hudd; Juliet Bellever, Carrie Louisa’s longtime companion and caretaker; Stephen and Alex Restarick, Carrie Louise's stepsons from her second marriage; her third husband, Lewis Serrocold; Edgar Lawson, Lewis’ assistant; and the local doctor, who is her psychiatrist.  Follow the money in this trust-fund battles is your answer.  I won’t give this one away, but there are lots of twists and turns and a great ending for sure.  This is a classic, so worth reading!  Loved it!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Water Street

The diversity of genres for books keeps on going, today a children’s book by Patricia Reilly Giff called Water Street.  The book is set in the 1870s in downtown Brooklyn NY, close to the site of the Brooklyn Bridge as it was being constructed.   The story centers on a young eighth grader, Bird, the youngest of three children.  Her mother is a ‘healer’ – like a nurse, and her father is a construction worker.  Her older siblings work as well, and everyone in the family has a bigger dream for the future, especially her brother Hughie, whom has become an underground fighter trying to raise monies to buy a farm.  Life with the Mallons is a struggle, living meal to meal in a large home with other families who also struggle.  Bird attends to patients with her mother on the weekends, when she isn’t in school.  The book captures the various seasons on her school year, which has an unexpected twist when Thomas Neary and his father move into the building.  Thomas becomes Bird’s shadow, doing everything she does and they become close friends.  Thomas’ dream is to become a writer.  His father leaves him alone most of the time as he works, and then frequents the local ‘drinking hole’ to avoid his life without his wife.  The story captures a critical part of Bird’s life and the fight to be like her mother, a healer, help her brother, who is trying to follow his dream, and befriend Thomas, who is struggling to live a life without the love of parents.  All comes to a head when Bird is faced with helping someone else who is facing death.  Will Bird help or flee?   Can she get over her own insecurities?  What can she do to help Thomas?  This is a coming of age, young adult book with lots of good lessons that make us realize we do learn a lot growing up….  Bird certainly is a great role model for that.  Good book to give to your young nephew/niece…

Friday, May 13, 2016

Criminal Macabre – A Cal McDonald mystery

There are a few times I have had the opportunity to read what they call a “graphic novel” – illustrated book, almost like a comic book, like The Hulk.  This one is called Criminal Macabre – A Cal McDonald mystery by Steve Niles.  The illustrations are by Ben Templesmith and show the underworld life a drug-addicted former cop, good guy (who is human) who befriends the ghouls and fights vampires, dragons, and all other underworld type ‘creatures’ who attempt to take over the world.  In this series, Cal is fighting a vampire who is attempting to ruin civilization.  Cal is brought into the case by a female detective, who obviously has some ‘feelings’ towards Cal, and they work together to destroy him by using the old formula against the vampire, sword to the heart, light, and steel objects.  The battle is of epic proportions as Cal loses the first few rounds, and eventually fights back when peril is all around him.  Cal is like most other super heroes who have a flaw, yet work for the betterment of society, even though most public law officials try and take him down.  This time Cal wins!  There are other books in the series, and the book was also turned into a movie.  Fun read, different from most of the other books I am given.  Worth a read, went by quickly!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Palace of Illusions

Getting back to reading the RA Favorite books, it’s been a busy couple of weeks.  The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, is an ancient historical tale that the author has re-told through the eyes of the heroine.  The original story rooted in Indian tradition, taken from Sanskrit, known as the Mahabharata, a tale of the Kurukshetra War and features the fates of the Kaurava and the Pandava princes.  In Divakaruni’s version, she tells the story from the voice of the King’s daughter, Panchaali, who fights historical notions of women, and creates her own legacy as a ruler.  She is told that she will live the prophecy of fighting in the world battle, but early in her life she initially has to fight tradition as a female watching her only brother be trained as a future warrior while she studies and does “womanly” type things. Panchaali decides to have her future read by a “fortune-teller” who describes a life she couldn’t imagine, fighting battles and marrying five men (who end up being brothers, their mother requires she marries them all)…. Guess what happens… ask for the future, and you never know what will happen.  She avenges the life her father would never let her lead and builds the mansion, the palace of illusions, where she becomes the queen.  One of her husband’s gambles the palace and all of their earthly possessions away and Panchaali and the family are driven from their home into the forest hiding in exile.  Finally at the end of being in hiding they fight the war of wars, pitting all of the Indian Kings in battle against one another.  Who will win?  The story does have some level of in depth detail, so the reader needs to pay attention, or else miss it.  It captures ancient times and the flight of the female leader is before it’s time.  After reading the book I tweeted to the author, who answered me back with a “thank you” tweet.  Maybe an invite for an RA book club read this fall?  Good epic story.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

Time to go back to ancient times for this RA Favorite book, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (circa 170 AD, they think).  The book has twelve “chapters” that researchers believe was a ‘journal’ that capture the authors views on how to best live his life, almost like an ancient “self-improvement” book. Having a strong foundation in one’s judgement is paramount for a person’s success.  Early in the book he credits his grandfather, great-grandfather, and mother for characteristics that illustrate his belief of balance, self-reliance, and modesty.  He then goes on to credit ancient philosophers for many of the virtues that share in their writings to be the “quintessential man,” who is able to appeal to others through a tranquil, modest, and thoughtful manner in relation to the world. He finally finishes chapter one thanking the Gods for having a family and friend base who provided so much to him for the gifts he has received. 
Here is one section from the book that captures the author’s journaling on the betterment of the person:
If thou shall find anything in this mortal life better than righteousness, than truth, temperament, fortitude, and in general better than a mind contended both with those things in according to right and reason she doth, and in those, which without her will and knowledge happen unto thee by the providence; if I say, thy canst find out anything better than this, apply thyself unto it with thy whole heart, and that which is best wheresoever thou dost find it, enjoy freely.  But if nothing thy shall find worthy to be preferred to that spirit which is within thee; if nothing better that to subject unto thee thine own lusts and desires, and not to give way to any fancies or imaginations before thou hast duly considered of them, nothing better than to withdraw thyself (to use Socrates his words) from all sensuality, and submit to thyself unto the Gods and to have care for all men in general: if thou shall not find all other things in comparison of this, are vile, and of a little moment, then give not way to any other thing, which being once though but afflicted or inclined unto, it will no more be in thy power without all distraction as thou oughtest to prefer and to pursue after that good, which is thine own and proper good.   

The book is fairly straightforward “life’s lessons” to be enacted through the wisdom imparted by those that Marcus holds in highest esteem.  He certainly studied the life and the manners in which people carried themselves and leaves us with some very thoughtful and sensible ways to live our lives.  The book seems to reiterate these lessons, over and over again.  So one chapter may capture most of his thoughts as they don’t necessarily go into layers of depth, but examples are clear-cut for the reader to take from Marcus.  Almost a pre-cursor to the lessons of a more modern Dale Carnegie’s How to win friends and influence people.  Treat others, as you would like to be treated, the golden rule… also good to read books on self-improvement.