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Books Read in October, 2009

Timeless Treasures Previous Review Timeless Treasures by Emilie Barnes

Dancing with Rose Dancing with Rose by Lauren Kessler

After her mother died of Alzheimer’s, Lauren Kessler took her guilt (years of ignoring her mother) and her journalism and went to work in an Alzheimer’s facility as an aide. Her goal was to learn more about the disease and get first hand experience with patients, then write about it. The resulting book is fascinating and easily readable, but troubling. Troubling not simply because it’s a tough subject and was a very tough job (she has my admiration for being willing to tackle the unpleasant physical labor).

Whether intentionally or not, she comes across as a voice of authority on approach to the disease, family vs. caregivers and the personality changes. Kessler stops just short of saying that who these people have become is really who they always were. She seems to catch before herself saying that these are people in their purest form, without all the restrictions that we put on ourselves to live in society. To me this is a ridiculous, silly and empty-headed view of Alzheimer’s. It is obviously a left-over philosophy from her hippie days. In fact, she says that she and her husband joke about nursing homes of the future: hash brownies and Black Sabbath music.

Which brings me to my biggest complaint about this book: the hidden buddhism. She doesn’t openly name her philosophy until nearly the end of the book, which I consider a cheat. Early in the book, and even without knowing her religion, I saw a pattern developing that bothered me. A more honest approach would’ve been to state it up front.

This was the second book on Alzheimer’s that I checked out from the Grapevine Library that took a buddhist approach to the disease and caregiving. The first book I didn’t even bother to read. If she had been more forthcoming , I wouldn’t have wasted my time on this one, either.

Because the other reason I resent her and her book, is that I wrongly took to heart something she said about a family member who was calling on the phone to talk to their parent. She wrote that she believed that they did it more for themselves than for the patient and that the patient would’ve been better off if they hadn’t called. I don’t know if she meant this as a general rule for everyone, but I took it to heart. We live in another state and can only get up to see my mother about every 3 weeks, so I call her on the phone in between times. With only one exception, she seems to enjoy the calls. But there was once when she was agitated and I thought maybe Kessler was right and I shouldn’t call; that it was making Mama unhappier. So, for several days I didn’t. Then I decided to call and talk to the nursing staff and get their opinion because they deal with her afterwards. I asked if she seemed worse after the phone conversations, more unsettled. Each one of them said that she enjoyed them and they considered that it was better for my mother if I did call. Then I felt like a lousy daughter for having taken Kessler’s advice. I don’t even know if she meant it generally, but that’s how I took it. She sure seems to think she’s one of the experts after her experiences.

Mrs. Miniver, Amazon listing Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther Previous review of book and movie. Related post.

A spoonful of poison

A Spoonful of Poison

A Spoonful of Poison, by M.C. Beaton

Published in 2008, this is the 19th Agatha Raisin mystery by M.C. Beaton. Publisher’s Weekly referred to it as ‘saucy’, which I found perplexing. Surely I’m not more liberal than Publisher’s Weekly! Obviously that’s not so, therefore I really don’t know what they meant. There’s no hard language, descriptive sex or gruesome details.

Cozy mysteries are my favorites and I certainly think that M.C. Beaton is probably the best at this genre, after Agatha Christie. Of course, Christie was the best by far, but both the Agatha Raisin and the Hamish MacBeth stories and light, diverting and easy reads. One of the things I appreciate most about her books is the unexpected humor.

Sooner Cinema, Amazon listing Sooner Cinema – Oklahoma Goes to the Movies, Edited by Larry A. Van Meter

Being a native Oklahoman and a movie buff, I was very interested in reading this book. Van Meter is the editor, rather than the author, because the book is a compilation of 19 chapters by different writers, each focusing on either a film which was set in Oklahoma, or someone who was a native (i.e. Woody Guthrie, Bound for Glory).

To be expected some of the chapters are better than others, but one that I found absolutely outrageous was the one by David Charlson called “Oklahoma Values in One Hour or Less: Gary Rhodes’ Banned in Oklahoma and Bradley Beesley’s Okie Noodling” .

Charlson is an instructor in English and Documentary Film at Oklahoma City Community College, which is really a shame. He is not a native and has nothing but disdain for the conservative atmosphere in the state. He is appalled that John McCain carried every single county in Oklahoma in the 2008 election (the only state in which this was true). He punishes conservative students who won’t watch one of his assigned films by giving them another choice: gruesomeness instead of child pornography.

Other chapters are about Cimmarron, True Grit, Silkwood,The Outsiders, Far and Away, Oklahoma Crude and The Grapes of Wrath, among others. The rest of the book is interesting, but Charlson’s chapter is so snide and irksome, it was a waste of time and money.

Handmade Home Handmade Home – Simple Ways to Repurpose Old Materials into New Family Treasures by Amanda Blake Soule

Speaking of a waste of money brings me to Amanda Soule’s book. I bought this one while traveling home from Oklahoma and we stopped at a book store to stretch our legs. I should’ve known better than to stretch them in a book store because books are my biggest weakness. I usually buy used ones. Rarely do I pay full price and I have kicked myself repeatedly for doing it this time.

It is craft book, a sewing book, which is what I wanted. What I did not want was a new age/green/hippie book. But that’s what I got.

In the store, I briefly looked at the introduction (she talks about the family history of practicality, which I appreciate) and some of the projects like pot holders, wall pockets, and computer mouse pads. What I didn’t see until I got home was the publisher’s leaflet advertising their zen/new age books on family. Had I seen this, it would’ve been the Red Warning Flag: Carla, you will hate this book. And I do. I don’t even like the smell of it. They probably used strange ink.

Sewing books should be just that. I’m not interested in her personal beliefs. I don’t believe that I should have to carefully look through a SEWING book to see if I’m going to be offended. As I was for the “Women’s Cloth”. Gross. Just plain gross. Besides which Soule doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She wrongly opines “Disposable menstrual pads have become the norm only in the past 30 years or so …” (emphasis mine). I am almost 50 years old and disposables have been the norm and around a lot longer than me. How do I know? Because one of the things I collect is old magazines. Frankly I was surprised that these products and some of the ones I considered more modern were available as far back as they were.

So, there were happy experiences with books in October, and some which set my teeth on edge. And I didn’t even list the ones I started and gave up on.

My November reading is off to a good start. Kind of gets some of the bad taste out of my mouth.

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Filed under 1940s, Alzheimer's, Books, Cozy, Faith, Fiction, Movies, Needlecrafts, Oklahoma, Tea

Mrs. Miniver, 1942

In the Anderson shelter

In the Anderson shelter

After the fall of France, England was struggling for survival under the relentless pounding by the Germans.  Tens of thousands of civilian lives and homes were lost. For over two years they alone fought the Nazis. Then we were attacked at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. America was immediately thrust into a two-front war, with very little preparation.  President Roosevelt had to choose where to concentrate our first efforts and he chose to stand with England while we rebuilt our decimated Navy.  Americans didn’t understand that decision because the Pacific was where we’d been attacked.  He felt it was vitally important to have the support of the American people in giving England much needed help.

This is the story of a family, of a little boy who takes his cat into the air raid shelter (of course, the cat looks calmer than anyone else), of the difficulty of a changing society, of romance. Of the importance of roses and those beloved cats. It is cozy, humorous and suspenseful. Most of all, it is the story of perseverance, courage and faith that sustains us in treacherous times.

Miniver home after a bombing raid

Miniver home after a bombing raid

Mrs. Miniver was used as the tool to illustrate to the American people just how rough the war had been on ordinary English citizens.  And it worked.  Winston Churchill was very pleased by the reaction to both the book and the movie.  He’s quoted by Bernard Wasserstein as saying that they did as much good as “six divisions of war effort”.

There’s been a lot of criticism of Mrs. Miniver for being war propaganda.  And I suppose it was, but still, it was accurate; actually maybe it wasn’t accurate enough.  William Wyler, the director, joined the U.S. Army after the filming was completed and was overseas when he won the Oscar. He later said that he had been too soft in his portrayal of war.  It seems hypocritical to me that modern critics ignore the blatant, agenda driven, anti-American bias in current films but point an accusing finger at patriotic movies.  The fight  was for the survival of the free world. And we should remember that it was made during the war. No one knew what the outcome would be but William Wyler was very clear about what we were fighting for.

A few of the reviews by the English complain about it being an unrealistic American view of them.  If anyone from the UK reads this, I’d appreciate a comment from them concerning inaccuracies.  I know it’s quite different from their modern culture, but things have changed.  How truthfully does it portray the 1940’s?  Also, the fake English accents have been  pointed out.  Well, yes.  I’m sure the British are sensitive about that.  I know that when I watch British productions like Fawlty Towers or Foyle’s War or Agatha Christie stories, I’m sensitive to not only how we are portrayed but also by the flat accents they employ when imitating us (they usually use British actors with fake American accents). Can you spot the Americans in Mrs. Miniver?  There are only 3 in the 15 credited roles; 11 are from the United Kingdom, (mostly England), and 1 from Vienna.  See * at bottom of page

Tea on the terrace

Tea on the terrace

I simply love this movie.

Sometimes after reading a story or watching a movie that I’ve really enjoyed, I want to know more about the story or the characters.  And often, whichever one I read or see afterward is disappointing.  But not Mrs. Miniver.

The movie is only based on the characters Jan Struther wrote about; originally the stories were printed in the Times (London), then compiled in novel form in 1939.  The book is simply a collection of vignettes about the Miniver family.  Almost no events are transferred from the book but still the book and the movie fit together hand in glove.  The screenwriters stayed very true to Struther’s tone and characters. More often than not, Hollywood has ruined original stories or at least twisted them out of all recognition.  But not here.  I feel that they took good material and improved it.  Jan Struther was not Kay Miniver; she might have been someone I wouldn’t have liked. After reading about her life, I can say I probably wouldn’t have.  But she was a good writer.

All of the actors are wonderful, especially … no, if I start naming all the good ones, I’d just end up listing the cast.

Wilcoxon Speech

Wilcoxon Speech

Some of the most memorable scenes:  reading Alice in Wonderland aloud to the children in the Anderson shelter, tea on the terrace, when Kay hears his boat returning after Dunkirk.  Possibly the very best is the last one: in the church Vin goes to stand beside Lady Beldon. And the vicar’s sermon.  Incredibly stirring.

From imdb “The vicar’s speech near the end was reportedly re-written by William Wyler and Henry Wilcoxon the night before it was shot. It was translated into various languages and air-dropped in leaflets over German-occupied territory, was broadcast over the Voice of America, and reprinted in Time and Look magazines at Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s request. This speech has come to be known as The Wilcoxon Speech, in tribute to actor Henry Wilcoxon’s stirring delivery of it.” The enemy was recognized and survival required resistance. The sermon reflects Winston Churchill’s embracing words. Here is a  short clip; this one is more complete.

Twelve Academy Award nominations, 6 wins.

Best Picture
Best Director – William Wyler
Best Actress – Greer Garson
Best Supporting Actress – Teresa Wright
Best Cinematography – Joseph Ruttenberg
Best Screenplay -George Froeschel, Claudine West, Arthur Wimperis & James Hilton (novels:  Random Harvest, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Lost Horizon)


Where I’ve Seen Them

Greer Garson – Good-bye , Mr. Chips, Pride and Prejudice
Walter Pidgeon – Meet Me in St. Louis, Forbidden Planet
Teresa Wright – Shadow of a Doubt, The Best Years of Our Lives
Dame May Whitty – The Lady Vanishes, White Cliffs of Dover, Suspicion
Richard Ney – Midnight Lace
Henry Wilcoxon – The Ten Commandments, The Big Valley
Reginald Owen – Mary Poppins (Admiral Boom)
Henry Travers – Dark Victory, Shadow of a Doubt, It’s a Wonderful Life
Brenda Forbes – Blithe Spirit
Helmut Dantine – Casablanca (the young newlywed who loses at gambling).  Although Austrian, he was really playing against type.  He had been involved in the resistance and was arrested.  His family  secured his release and sent him to the U.S.

Very highly recommended.

If your library doesn’t have a copy, you can watch it on youtube. There was a sequel, The Miniver Story, filmed in 1950 with both Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon, but I’ve not seen it (That’s what I’m doing tomorrow). This link has foreign sub-titles. Perhaps you can find one that doesn’t. If I do, I’ll update this post.

Please check back if you’re interested in this subject. I plan on writing more about this compelling period of history.

*The Americans are Teresa Wright, Richard Ney and Christopher Severn.

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Books Read in September

October! How lovely that sounds in north Texas. That means it’s very unlikely that we’ll have any more 100 degree days until next May.

So, I’m thinking about what I’ve been reading and need to get it written down. Every January, I start a list of books I read during that year, but towards the end of summer I get very lax in keeping it up.

Do you think we can tell something about a person by what they read? Whenever we go to someone’s house, I’m always fascinated by what books are on their shelves, or better yet on their end-tables.

Non-Fiction
Farewell by Horton Foote Farewell Memoir of a Texas Childhood- Horton Foote
This is probably my favorite autobiography. The world was a different place in 1916 when Horton Foote was born. He is a master storyteller and reading this book reminded me of listening to my parents and aunts and uncles talk about their early years (they were a bit older than Mr. Foote). He paints a vivid picture of small town life in the early part of the 1900’s.
*Highly recommended.

The Reagan I KnewThe Reagan I Knew – William F. Buckley
One of the last books that Buckley wrote before his death last year, this is a personal look at Ronald Reagan through correspondence and reminiscences.
*Highly recommended.

Losing Mum and PupLosing Mum and Pup – Christopher Buckley
“They were not – with respect to every other set of loving, wonderful parents in the world – your typical mom and dad.” What an understatement. Christopher Buckley is not my cup of tea, but he writes a fascinating book about one of the most fascinating men of the 20th century. William F. Buckley was a singular man; I just didn’t realize before how singular he really was.
*Highly recommended.

Making an exit coverMaking an Exit – Elinor Fuchs
Publisher’s Weekly: “Fuchs celebrates the richness and folly of life and language in this loving and often funny tribute to her nonconformist mother, Lillian Kessler.” After her brilliant mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Elinor began recording their conversations (how I wish I had done the same). Her insight into the disease and how she coped with it was very helpful to me in dealing with my own mother. Nearly all the books I’ve seen on Alzheimer’s are much too clinical and not terribly helpful. This is not a self-help book, but it had that effect.
*Highly recommended.

MrsAstorRegretsMrs. Astor Regrets Meryl Gordon
Let me say right up front that I don’t like Brooke Astor or anyone else in this book, with the possible exception of her grandson, the photographer Alex Marshall. Not even the author. Especially the author and the subject. Snobbery fairly drips from the pages. If Mrs. Astor isn’t referring to Bill Clinton’s objects of desire as “trailer trash”, then Meryl Gordon is describing someone as not coming from a house with a rusted pick-up on blocks in the front yard. And who are these people? Brooke Astor’s second husband didn’t like her only child, Tony, so he was promptly shipped off to boarding school. After her second husband’s death, she was proposed to by Vincent Astor (he was still married) and she absolutely married him for his money. The rest of her life seemed to be a struggle to buy a good name and position for herself and give as little as she could to her family. She hated her daughter-in-law and condemned her as a gold-digger. The DIL had cheated on her husband (the local vicar) with Tony and they married after each getting a divorce. What hypocrites. The author’s sympathies clearly lie with Tony’s oldest son, Phillip who sued his father for guardianship of Mrs. Astor. Pretty mean stuff for someone so proud of being a buddhist. Gordon doesn’t even seem to consider that Phillip’s motives look mercenary.
*Not recommended unless you want an inside look the vanity and debauchery of the upper class.

Fiction

A Proper Pursuit A Proper Pursuit– Lynn Austin
Set in the Chicago area, 1893 this is a tale about a young woman learning that there’s more to the world than what she learned at finishing school. Austin humorously develops the character of Violet Hayes from a silly girl to a maturing woman. Set against the backdrop of The World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair), as well as the impoverished life of immigrants, the author uses a good amount of history in the story. Her descriptions of the buildings at the fair prompted me to look up the photos on Flickr. It was amazing.
*Highly recommended as a well written, light Christian romance.

Still Reading

Green-Hell-coverGreen Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them – Steven Milloy
Very interesting. My husband follows his website on junk science. We’re reading this one aloud.

Against the Night Against the Night – Charles Colson
I found this one at the used book sale at the library. And I can’t write anything better about it than Larry Gott, who left this review on Amazon:
“5.0 out of 5 stars Most marked up book (next to the Bible), August 27, 2009
I have read this book twice, once when it came out in 1989, and once about 1998. I would mention that between the two readings, I lost my 1989 edition. However it was so marked up, it was hard to read the material for all the markings interposed. The 1998 copy I read mostly on an airplane (and marked it up again!).

In 1989, I thought it had the most substance of any ‘problem and solution’ book I had ever read. Colson was trying to be a ‘watchman on the wall’, and was warning us on what lay ahead if our nation, and the nation’s people (us), did not change our ways. The first half was diagnostic and prophetic (the problem), the second half was restorative and remedial (the solution).

By 1998, America, its people and its Christians were well down the road of what Colson was fearing. And now in 2009, we have arrived and have found ourselves in the middle of a giant mess. I’m going to reread it again, and see if the solutions might possibly still be valid. Highly recommended!”

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Filed under Aging, Alzheimer's, Books, Fiction, Politics

“Julie and Julia”

heavenlywood pulpitNora Ephron makes clever, entertaining movies like “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail.” She is undoubtedly talented, but could do even better if she worked within the parameters of the old studio system. We’d all be better off if she’d stick to what she does best: making a movie, not preaching. Guidelines by Jack Warner or Louis B. Mayer would’ve improved her movies.

Her current film is Julie and Julia, the interrelated stories of 2 very different women learning to cook. Properly Cook. The French Way. The first lady is, of course, Julia Childs, played by Meryl Streep. Amy Adams is Julie Powell, the modern blogger whose goal is to make all the recipes in Childs’ book in 365 days. The story is intriguing, the costumes and sets are lovely, accurate and true to the period. The acting is superb.

WRITING: The script is troubling. The language is embarrassingly coarse a couple of times. And not merely swearing. I never wanted to hear Julia Child describing male anatomy.

Julie Powell’s character development needed some fine tuning. Near the end, we’re told that she’s become almost impossible to live with. Why? Because she’s so self-absorbed? We knew that at the beginning, but it was supposed to be cute. Because she throws a tantrum on the kitchen floor like a 2 year-old? Another question left unexplained: why doesn’t Julia Child like Julie’s blog? Because of Julie’s foul language?

PERFORMERS: Everyone was wonderful, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that Meryl Streep was actually ridiculing Julia Child or at the very least, doing a parody. I’m still not sure.

I knew I’d seen them before: Julie (Amy Adams) was the fiancé in “Catch Me If You Can.” At least two others were in “You’ve Got Mail”: Julie’s husband, (Chris Messina) was the Fox bookstore clerk and Avis (actress Deborah Rush) was the lady stuck in the elevator with Tom Hanks. I had to check Stanley Tucci on imdb.com. He’s been in everything from “The Pelican Brief” to Kit Kitteredge. He’s great in this movie.

THE FOOD: Mostly gorgeous. The Beef Bourguignon looked wonderful, also the chocolate pie. On the other hand, I didn’t want a big screen tutorial on boning a duck or boiling lobsters. But that’s just French cooking.

CONTINUITY: Packages used to be prepared for shipping by wrapping boxes in brown paper; this is how Julia prepares her manuscript for the publisher. Lovely. A nice detail. Then the anachronism: her newly published book arrives in a manila envelope with a bubble wrap liner. That’s about 30 years wrong. I know. It’s a small thing, but everything else was so right with the era and this seemed really puzzling to me.

POLITICS: The biggest fly in the ointment is Ephron’s preachiness. In the special features menu on the “You’ve Got Mail” dvd, she talks about using movies as a pulpit (my term) for her opinions. She has such a livid hatred for Republicans that she gets in zinger after zinger against conservatives in this movie. On the occasion of Julie skipping work, her boss tells her something to the effect of “If I were a Republican, I’d fire you.” And is it even possible for Hollywood to make a movie set in the 1950’s without harping on Senator McCarthy?

So, does Nora Ephron want to be a great filmmaker or Michael Moore? She can’t be both.

Sometimes the best way to figure out how much I like a movie is to wait a few hours and think about the impressions that linger. In the theater, my husband and I were engrossed in the story, but upon leaving felt uncomfortable and a little irritated. Today I like “Julie and Julia” even less. Sad, because it had tremendous potential.

Ask me today how I feel about paying $25.00 (tickets and concession) to be repeatedly insulted.

(image of the pulpit from heavenlywood.com)

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