Friday, June 29, 2012

Rather Outspoken by Dan Rather & Digby Diehl

Part Of The Synopsis From Dust Jacket: 

For half a century, Dan Rather has covered the major news stories of our time:  the civil rights movement, the assassination of JFK, Vietnam, Watergate, 9-11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib.  For 24 of those years, he was the network "face" of TV journalism as the anchor of the CBS Evening News.

At the end of his tenure, he became part of the news himself.  Now for the first time, Dan tells the real story of his final months at CBS, including his removal from the anchor chair in the wake of the controversy surrounding the story of George W. Bush and the Texas Air National Guard.  He also exposes the frantic and secret behind-the-scenes machinations that followed.  These clandestine maneuvers unmasked the "independence" of the investigation by the Thornburgh commission, revealing a News Division that had, Rather believes, temporarily abandoned its principles in order to enhance the bottom line of the parent company.

I was going to start this review off with the last paragraph, but after some more thought, I decided it wouldn't be a fair way to start things off.  Instead I'm going to admit why I wanted to read this particular book.  I think, like most people who have picked Rather Outspoken up, I was wanting to hear Dan Rather's account of what happened behind the story that brought an end to his career at CBS.  For that reason alone, I think this book is worth the read.

I was never one of those who thought Mr. Rather or his producers did anything wrong in their coverage of the story.  From everything I knew then, and know now, what happened to them felt like a raw deal.  Now that I've read the book, and understand everything that went on behind the scenes, I'm even more convinced that Mr. Rather paid a steep price for telling the truth.  His account of the way political and business pressure interfered in the way news was and is being told, scares the hell out of me.  It should scare everyone who cares about the public's right to know what our government does and how our corporations behave.  His story is not only an example of what can happen when things go wrong, but it's a call to arms.  It's a defense of the concept that journalism should be separated from politics and business considerations.  Sadly, I think it's a call to arms that has come just a bit too late.

I almost wish that this memoir only dealt with that one situation.  I would love to be able to divide that aspect from the rest of the book.  But I can't.  I have never gone into a memoir/biography with a higher opinion of the subject, than I had when I turned the last page.  It's been a fear I've had for years, so now that it's finally here, all I can say is that it made me sad. I hate the idea that I can read a book and come away with less respect for someone.  But less respect is what I'm left with.  I know it's hard for anyone writing a book about themselves to leave their ego out of it.  A good writer should be able to minimize the way that ego is expressed and how it will come across on the page.  I'm not sure what happened, but it seems as if the opposite took place.  Instead of the ego being minimized, it seems as if the ego was expanded and forced into every sentence.  I can't imagine someone in Mr. Rather's place wouldn't have a good sized ego, I just dont' want to be reminded of it on every page.  I'm positive that Mr. Rather is a terrific journalist, has covered stories in such a way that made a difference, and is an all around great guy.  I just don't want Mr. Rather telling me that himself.  Let it come across in the storytelling, not in the tonal voice of the narrative.

That ego got in the way of everything else for me.  It kept what should have been an informative read from being anything other than a justification of his life.  I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with that last concept, I just wish wish he would have been able to mesh the two ideas together in such a way that didn't leave me feeling cooler towards him.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The American Bible by Stephen Prothero

Part Of The Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

Since Thomas Jefferson first recorded those self-evident truths in the Declaration of Independence, America has been a nation that has unfolded as much on the page and the podium as on battlefields or in statehouses.  Here Stephen Prothero reveals which texts continue to generate controversy and drive debate.  He then puts these voices into conversation, tracing how prominent leaders and thinkers of one generation have commented upon the core texts of another, and invites readers to join in.

I love politics.  I don't think there is anyone around me who doesn't know that fact.  I follow it as much as I can, as much as being a single father with a full time job will allow me to.  I know enough to follow elections and debates with a degree of understanding.  Hell, I follow it enough that I'm pretty sure I could identify every sitting Senator, if not by name, by face.  I volunteer for campaigns.  I wear campaign shirts.  I voice my opinion, sometimes too much. I have never missed an election, primary or general, since I turned 18.  I take politics seriously, but not personally.  What I do not do, is make a religion out of my political, national, or world views.  What's more, though they don't realize it, I think the vast majority of Americans do make a "religion" out of their beliefs.  I'm still debating in my head, if this book simply reflects that, or if it glories in it.  I am leaning towards the reflection side.

By the way, I have a feeling this is going to be a rather long review, so for that I apologize.  You guys won't hurt my feelings if you don't feel like reading the entire thing.

From the title to the layout (more on that later), it seems as if the author is glorifying the idea that nationalism and our identity as Americans has turned into a quasi-religion.  All you have to do is turn on cable news for anything longer than 30 minutes to understand that for a lot of us, being an American has taken on some rather overt religious tones.  A lot of us consider this nation and, by default, ourselves as God's chosen.  It's a concept I have serious issues wish, least of which is that when you think you are doing what God wants you to do, or that you represent God's chosen, it's a little hard to have a serious debate that may actually change hearts and minds.  It's a concept that has set into stone, certain ideas and beliefs that doesn't allow any room for growth or compromise.

The book itself is broken down into chapters that mirror the Bible.  It's starts with Genesis and ends with Epistles.  I must admit that part of me was awfully glad that it didn't end with Revelations.  And it's in the way the author structures these chapters that redeemed this book for me.  Each chapter follows the same basic flow.  He introduces us to the topic, giving us a brief background and history on it.  Then, except in one case, gives us the material in it's entirety or if it's from a longer work, an excerpt of it.  That is then followed by commentary, both past and present.  Other than in the introductions, where some of author's biases come through (I dare anyone to write a book like this and not have that happen), the material is presented in a pretty straightforward manner.  The commentary we are presented with comes at the subject from all angles and all political persuasions.  I think he did a rather admirable job at giving the reader a cross section of opinion, allowing the reader to take everything in.

As you may suspect, Genesis, starts us off at the beginning of our nation.  It delves into the idea of how The Exodus Story has influenced our history and our present political climate.  It moves on through "A Model of Christian Charity" by John Winthrope, Common Sense by Thomas Paine, The Declaration of Independence, and The Blue-Black Speller by Noah Webster.  In each of these cases, the author makes a compelling argument for how each speech or book influenced the way Americans viewed themselves and the country at the beginning of our history.  He makes the cases that these are the foundations of what an American identity was built upon.

Law, introduces us to The Constitution, a document that many of us revere but have never read all the way through.  It's, in my view, one of the pillars of our country, but it's not widely read or understood.  You don't need to watch cable news to discover a lot of Americans not only don't know the history of The Constitution or the fights our founding fathers had in crafting it, but they really don't know what's in it.  Outside of the Preamble and the first 10 amendments, our schools really don't cover it enough to allow our children to really have a grasp on not only what The Constitution says, but what it doesn't say.   This chapter also delves into two Supreme Court decisions that altered society in ways that we are still fighting about, Brown V. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade.

Chronicles, delves into the novels that have formed and changed the way Americans relate with each other, racial minorities, and their government.  Of all the chapters in this book, this is the one that seems to be the most subjective in terms of what was included and left out.  It only lists three novels, Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe,  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.  Now that first two books I get.  I can understand how both books fundamentally changed the way society understood and changed in regards to race in this country.  I don't think either book worked alone in that aspect, nor did either one work miracles, but they both got a conversation started.  It's the third book I find to be an odd choice.  Don't get me wrong, I love Atlas Shrugged, and despite how it conflicts with my politics, it's one of my favorites.  And maybe when it first came out, it helped to define the current conservative movement in this country, but I think that's where it ends.  I think the politics and beliefs behind the book have a rather powerful cult following, but I think it's small.  I actually wonder how many people underneath the age of 40 have even read the book, outside of a college campus that is.  I'm not saying it shouldn't be included because it has made an impact, I'm just thinking there were other novels that should have been included before it.

The musical heritage of our country is diverse and strong, so I think it's fitting that there should be a Psalms chapter.  And while I think the three songs included deserve to be there, I'm not so sure they are the only three songs that have shaped our nation's identity.  Nor do I think they are the only three songs that have shaped our view of our place in the world.  "The Star-Spangled Banner" by Francis Scott Key, "God Bless America", Irving Berlin's response to the national anthem, and Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" are important songs.  I'm just not convinced, even after reading this book, that there shouldn't be an entire book on this subject alone.

Proverbs was by far the quickest chapter to read and one of the most entertaining.  Here is where we are introduced to one line sayings from Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, Abigail Adams, Sojourner Truth, Abraham Lincoln, Chief Joseph, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Regan, but the author lets us in on some of the background and history behind the words.  They are all sayings we are familiar with and I must say I'm amazed by the staying power of some of them.  There can be a pretty strong argument made in regards to how some of these proverbs have shaped the American identity in ways unrivaled by any other aspect of this book.

Of all the books I've read before this one, I don't think I've ever had Henry David Thoreau, Dwight Eisenhower, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X put into the same section before.  In Prophets, the author makes a compelling argument for lumping these men together.  Whether it's in Thoreau's treatise on  "Civil Disobedience", Eisenhower's farewell address, King's "I Have a Dream" speech, or The Autobiography of Malcolm X, these four men were giving us a glimpse into the future of this country.  In some cases they were meant to serve as a warning, in others, a celebration of where we were going.  But in all cases, they were men who were trying to give us their vision of our country's future and for the most part, they are visions that have stuck in our collective minds and hearts.

Lamentations is the one chapter that surprised me the most.  There are only two subjects discussed in the book,  Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial designed by Maya Lin.  I guess what surprised me the most was the controversy that both of those things stirred up and how both of them were used in such ways, by people who should have know better, to score political points.  When it comes to mourning our dead and how we choose to remember them, I think it should be off limits.  Sadly it never is, and this chapter made that all too clear.

Thomas Jefferson's and Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first inaugural address and Ronald Reagan's speech that introduced him politically to the nation are what the author set as the Gospels.  They are three speeches that changed the way Americans viewed themselves, their government, and their role in the world.  They were speeches that tried, and in large degrees managed, to shape the country's attitude and direction.  They were speeches that told a story, whether true or not, in order to alter the political landscape.

The shortest chapter, and the one chapter I could have done without, was Acts.    Apparently the only thing that warranted inclusion was The Pledge of Allegiance.  Now I don't want to rehash the fights we have had in this country over the Pledge, but it's not something I'm ever been comfortable with, especially after I learned the history of it while I was still in high school.  I'm not going to give my opinion of how I view it, I would just hope that everyone takes it upon themselves to find out where the Pledge came from and why it was altered to fit a certain narrative during the 50s.  Now with that being said, I'm not sure what else the author could have included, but I would be curious to find out if anything else was considered.

And that leaves us with the last chapter, Epistles.  Of all the chapters, this was the one I paid the most attention to, reading it twice.  The author includes George Washington's farewell address, Thomas Jefferson's "Letter to the Danbury Baptists", and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."  This chapter, more than the others, though only by a small degree, allowed me to get behind the eyes of the three men as they wrote down their words.  I was familiar with all three works, some more than others, but this book allowed me to look at them in a way I haven't done before.

I'm still not sure how much this book will allow people to be more open to political dialogue in this country, but I think the author has made a good opening move in that direction.  We seem to be living in a time that doesn't allow people to view those with opposite viewpoints as anything else but evil.  I live in a state where I'm in the political minority.  I have been called a communist, socialist, and been told I was going to Hell.  Granted, it's normally by people who don't really know the definition of the words they are using, but that's beside the point.  I guess my point is this, no matter how bad the discourse seems to be now, it's been worse.  As a country we have always been able to figure out a way to come back together and do the right thing for ourselves and the future of our country.  I have no doubt that though we deal with forces (cable news, blogs, talk radio) that seem to divide us even further apart than we have ever been, that books like this will have their own impact.  That eventually, especially after we remember where we have been, that we will figure out how to keep moving forward.  We just need enough people who are open enough, that aren't dogmatic in their beliefs, to reach across the political divide and get back to work.

I would like to thank Jordan of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read/review this book.  Please visit the tour page to read other reviews.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Favorite Fictional Character --- Sammy the Seal

Well it's my last day of vacation and I'm probably going stir crazy by now.  I'm probably wishing I had gone back to work today instead of extending my vacation to 6 days.  Now I could be completely wrong about that, but I doubt it.  After looking at the weather forecast I'm thinking my vacation will have been spent in really hot temperatures, which I don't like.  I abhor the heat and tend to avoid it as much as possible.  So while you are reading this, I'm probably staying in bed and watching a Buffy marathon.  I know it's an odd thing to do on the last day of vacation, but it's so relaxing too.  Who knows though, I may decide I love the heat and go for a run in the 100 plus weather we are supposed to have.  

I must admit that I'm feeling a little sad to be leaving some of my favorite children's book characters behind for a while.  This is the last Wed. of the month and next month I'm turning it over to some fabulous guest bloggers.  Once again I had to put some names in a hat and let fate decide who was going to be the last character featured this month.  Needless to say, I wouldn't have been unhappy with any of them, but I did get a little excited when I drew out the name of Sammy the Seal.  I loved him as a kid.  So with no further fuss on my part, I present to you Sammy, the seal who needed to know what was on the other side of those walls.

Sammy has been living a pretty content life within the walls of a zoo.  He gets fed on a regular basis and likes having the kids admire him.  But like most of us who are living the good life, Sammy starts to wonder what else is out there.  So one day our wandering hero decides he wants to see what else life has to offer.  He walks out of the zoo, with the keeper's blessing, and embarks on an adventure I'm sure he never forgets.

At first the world seems to be filled with sights and sounds the likes of which Sammy has never seen.  The fast moving cars, the tall buildings that tower above the streets, and even bathtubs.  You see, Sammy has never seen a bathtub before.  Though the bathtub is a bit smaller than his pool at the zoo, Sammy has to see what it's all about.  Of course the man who was running the bath wasn't all that impressed with the idea of a seal stealing the show.

It's when Sammy ends up at a school that he really starts to realize this trip may have been worth it after all.  I'm still not sure why the teacher would have allowed Sammy to stay in the class, but I think both Sammy and I are happy that she did.  Sammy got to do all kinds of things he's never experienced in the zoo before.  He joined the kids during their singing lesson.  He showed them how well a seal could play volleyball, he was amazing.  He even learned how to read.

Now you may be thinking Sammy had the time of his life that day and that he never wanted to go back to the zoo.  You would be part right.  Sammy, like a lot of us who stray far from home, realized something.  No matter how exciting or amazing new experiences can be, they still don't match up to that sense of being at home.  The world can be an exciting place, but it can't replace that sense of belonging and safety that being at home can instill.  So at the end of the day, a happy Sammy goes back home where he belongs.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Peanuts or Romance? Why Pick Only One!

Can I just say I think it's really funny of me to write about something I haven't done yet.  It's now day 5 of my staycation, and I have no clue what I'm going to do.  I would like to say that I will sit back, relax and take it easy, but I'm pretty sure that won't be what I do.  Today will probably be the day I get caught up on the house cleaning I avoided the day before.  I may end up doing laundry, always a good time.  For that matter I may break down, fire up the computer, log into my blog and write a review or two that are due later this week.  Either way, I'll probably start getting myself ready for returning to work on Thursday.  I love my job, so by now, I'm probably itching to get back to it.  Though I do understand the need to step away from it for a few days and recharge.

Today, I would like to turn the blog over to a blogger that I'm had pleasure of knowing from almost the beginning, and if I had a long lost sister out there, Michelle would be her.  Michelle of The True Book Addict, and about a million other blogs, has truly become one of my favorite people on the face of the planet.  She is an amazing blogger, writer, mother, and friend who has the energy of a hundred other people going at full steam.  She juggles more than I can ever fathom, and she never drops a ball.  I admire and respect her and I hope we stay friends for years to come.  Now that I'm done gushing about her, go on over to her blog and say hi.

I'd like to thank my good friend, Ryan, for having me as a guest today.  Now, since it's summer, I thought I would share a bit of nostalgia from the summers of my past.  When I was a preteen, and in my early teens, I went through a period of habitual summer reading.  Summer used to be my favorite season (until I moved to the South with the sweltering summer climate) and I looked forward to it every year.  My main focus in the years I mentioned above was getting plenty of sun and doing lots of reading.

My first order of business was to pull out my set of Peanuts books by Charles M. Schultz.  I had the whole set and they looked just like this image.  The books were full of the comic strips that Schultz wrote and I would spend hours reading these and laughing my butt off.  Snoopy never failed to crack me up.  I usually managed to read the whole set every summer and, you know what?  I still have this entire set.  My mom saved them and they have been enjoyed by my sister's kids and now mine.  Who knows...maybe I'll get them out this summer and bring back a tradition.

My other young adult summer reading habit is a bit strange to me now because I really have not had much use for romance novels for a very long time.  But back then, I had a thing for....Harlequin Romances.  Eek! I'm serious.  I had a stack of those books (I think I ordered them from a book club or something...they had one back then) and I used to read at least one or two of them every summer.  I guess I was like other girls that age.  Full of romantic ideas and illusions.  Not that I'm faulting anyone that still enjoys the romance genre, but, in my case, what a difference a number of years has made.  Now I'm just a cynical old adult.  I found this cover image and it is exactly like those books I used to read all those years ago.  When I look at that cover, it brings back memories of myself as I soaked up the sun on the patio, reading away in my romance novel, and dreaming of my future Prince Charming.

What was your summer reading habit when you were young?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Aliens Invade, Summer Vacationers Beware!

I was thinking of going to Chicago for days 4 and 5 of my vacation this year, but I decided a few weeks ago that I really didn't want to drive and flying is really not my thing.  It's not that I hate flying, I just can't say as I enjoy it either.  There was always the train route but it leaves from Newton, KS (just north of me) at two in the morning and I really don't want to stay up that late just to catch a train.  If I was going to go for a longer period of time, it may have been worth it, but for two days, I'll skip it as well.  So for day four, I'm still in Wichita, KS and by now I'm probably doing everything I can to avoid cleaning the house.  I'm not one that really enjoys down time, though when I decide to do it, it always sounds like a good idea.  So today I may drive up to McPherson to visit my old college and take in lunch at the Main Street Deli, best broccoli and cheese soup in a bread bowl I've ever had. And since I've gone that far, I may drive up to Lindsborg to visit Coronado Heights.  What, you guys have never heard of it?  Well supposedly, it's the hill that Francisco Vasquez de Coronado gave up on his journey for the Seven Cities of Gold.  There is a castleish structure on the hill now, but the view is amazing.  It's another place I haven't been to in a while, so a trip may be in order.

Now I hope the post title didn't make you guys panic too much.  Aliens really aren't invading, at least not that I know of.  But the title does foreshadow the post you are about to read.  Yvette of in so many words... was gracious enough, though I'm sure she has no other way of being, to step up and write a terrific post about one of her favorite summer movies.  Now for those of you who don't know Yvette, let me tell you that she loves her movies.  Her blog is one of those that is a feast for the eyes every time I head on over.  Besides being a book blogger, Yvette posts movie reviews (especially older movies that deserve the recognition), and has an art feature that I never miss.  Her blog is one of those that even if I'm tired and just worked a 13 hour shift, I know that I will be perked up by her newest post.  I'm pretty sure that if you visit her blog today, it will quickly make your list of favorite blogs.

Last year Ryan asked me to do a guest post on his blog while he was away living it up on holiday. I was only too happy to help. I must not have done a bad job because he’s asked me again this year and here we are. The theme is summer in any way shape or form so, I’m writing about what is to me, the quintessential summer movie: INDEPENDENCE DAY starring Will Smith, Bill Pullman and Jeff Goldblum and directed by Roland Emmerich.

 ‘On July 2nd, they arrive. On July 3rd, they strike. On July 4th, we fight back.”

I’m not usually a blockbuster kind of gal (most especially a ‘let’s see how many ways we can destroy the earth’ type of blockbuster), so my liking for this movie continues to amaze me. But summer is the season for blockbusters and 1996 was no exception. At the urging of my daughter, I reluctantly went to see INDEPENDENCE DAY and damn if she wasn’t right: it’s a terrific movie. I was completely won over by Will Smith and the rest of the exceptional cast. Most especially the occasionally odd-seeming Jeff Goldblum, a quirky actor with his own unique screen presence and Bill Pullman whose ‘white bread’conservative look served him perfectly as the hesitant President of the United States who eventually shows his mettle and helps win the day.

I’m actually surprised that here it is, 2012, and so far no sequels forthcoming, but maybe that’s just as well - turns out though that a re-mastered 3-D version of the original film will be out in theaters in July of 2013. Just recently found that out online.

When I think of Will Smith in his original television show, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, it’s still hard for me to imagine how he morphed into this larger than life leading man in one of the more iconic movie extravaganzas ever made. But there he was (and still is) – up on the screen, a commanding presence owning every scene he’s in. It is his insouciant charm, I believe, which makes Smith such a likable actor.

 The plot: When aliens decide to colonize earth, death and destruction follow. The aliens’ powerful space ships flash death-dealing rays which turn everything in their path into gigantic fire balls. The end of the world as we know it seems all but a done deal. These aliens are as different from us as we must appear to the earth’s insect population. They are definitely not E.T. nice guys.

The exceptional and truly rapacious special effects showing the aliens’ destructive powers are very well done, frighteningly so. Particularly good is the blowing up of the Capital and the White House – two events guaranteed to raise the ire of even the most lackadaisical American movie-viewer. I admit it, my hair stood on end. I mean, how DARE they!? And over the July 4th weekend, too.

The President and his advisors barely escape with their lives but unfortunately, the President’s wife (played by Mary McDonnell) isn’t as lucky. Just when all hope is lost and it appears as if most of the population of earth will be burnt to a crisp even while the few pockets of humans that remain frantically try to come up with a workable defense – in steps Jeff Goldblum’s character, David Levinson, a disgraced scientist turned cable technician who thinks outside the box and can’t help getting in trouble because of it. He’s figured out a way to stop the invasion if only he can convince the authorities. His theory is a bit silly and simplistic, but what the heck, it sounds good and what have they got to lose?

He’ll need the help of a fearless pilot to fly the alien ship lying in stasis in, of all places, Area 51 – that mysterious western site where it is rumored the government has secretly stashed a space ship. Guess what – it’s true, at least, in this script. That’s where the President and his remaining cabinet and advisors head and where we run into a crack-pot, wild-haired, loony-toons scientist played by Brent Spiner – ex Lieutenant Data on Star Trek, The Next Generation.

The fearless pilot is, of course Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith), who volunteers to man the alien ship. He and David will have to dock with the giant mother ship (she controls the alien forces) and slip the mother a mickey. Basically, that’s it. Of course, there’s a lot of impressive footage of jets flying about and being blown up as convoys of air force pilots make futile attempts to fight the aliens with conventional weapons. Even the President - once a pilot always a pilot - flies into the fray. But the build-up to the final KAPUT is nail-bitingly impressive and even, in spots, oddly amusing.

INDEPENDENCE DAY is a lot of fun, the humans are likable, the aliens are not. It’s all preposterous but perfectly in keeping with the idea that summer is for flip flops, blowing things up and popcorn.

Now that I’ve written this, I’m suddenly in the mood to watch INDEPENDENCE DAY yet again. Time to adjust my movie queue.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sheree's Top 5 Australian Summer Memories

Well, it's official, it's day three of my vacation and I have nothing planned so far.  Since it's the midway point of my vacation, I'm hoping I'll take it easy, but I get bored really easily.  I will probably end up going to the flea market at some point in time.  I don't know if many of you know this but the Sedgwick County Zoo is one of the highest ranked zoos in the United States and attracts around half a million visitors each year.  It's been a few years since I've been there, it's only about 10 minutes from my house, so I'm thinking it may be on my list of things to do today.  I'm sure that no matter what I'm doing, I'll enjoy myself.

I'm sure that as soon as you saw the title of this post, you knew who the wonderful guest blogger was.  For most of you, Sheree of The Eclectic Reader needs no introduction.  Sheree is one of the reasons I'm so grateful for what the book blogging community has done to enrich my life.  In what other forum would a guy from Wichita, KS, dead center of the United States be able to connect with such a passionate mother and reader in Brisbane, Australia?  This community has allowed some wonderful relationships develop between people who never would have otherwise never met.  I know I don't need to say this but I think Sheree is one of the kindest bloggers who always has a nice thing to say and can put a new blogger at ease.  I think she is amazing and I would hope that you guys, if you don't already know how great her and her blog are, to go on over and say hi.

I was delighted when Ryan asked me to guest post on Wordsmithonia while he’s enjoying a much needed summer holiday. Woohoo, permission granted to wreak havoc and swing from the chandelier do a civilised post on his blog and here I am Pina Colada in hand. 

 Being winter in Australia (the season I loathe) I’m in serious need of a dose of sunshine and warmth and as my fairy godmother is neither fairy-like nor godmotherly (I think she took her mean pills) and refused my Tahiti vacation request the next best thing is My Top 5 Australian Summer memories

1.      BBQ’s
Summer is BBQ season and despite all the international throw-another-shrimp-on-the-barbie advertising, in Australia it’s just not a barbeque without snags (sausages). A sausage in bread with or without onion and tomato sauce is standard fare at any Aussie BBQ. And it’s just not summer or a BBQ without flies. I honestly don’t know why it is we insist on having BBQ’s at the height of summer … are US flies particularly sticky or is that a talent reserved only for Australian flies? Flies that stick in your eyes (and in little kids snot) or flies on steroids and if you’ve ever had one of those fly up your nose (in search of god knows what) you’ll know exactly what I mean. They say you aren’t a true blue Aussie until you’ve swallowed a fly … I am, I have and I can tell you I fervently wished as I gagged (you never know where their feet have been *see Open Air Cinema section below*) coughed and raged indignantly that I was anything but.

Back to the BBQ … does anyone feel like eating now?

2.     Coconut Reef Oil

This is one of my favourite summer smells, I immediately think of white beaches, swaying palm trees and the new Old Spice man glistening in coconut oil

 … oh where was I
Coconut oil replaced good old cooking oil or baby oil as a means of turning glow-in-the-dark white skin to beef jerky. As a teen it was the ‘done’ thing to baste oneself in cooking oil and lay in the sun rotating, front, back, side, side … repeat, baking complete when you’re the consistency of crispy bacon . With increased skin cancer awareness, the Oompa-Loompa look surged in popularity, glow-in-the-dark white became the new tan and SPF was added to coconut oil. I wonder if they make scratch and sniff thingies to feed my coconut smell addiction? J

3.     Beaches
We really do have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world in Australia and for many Australians beach culture is very much a part of our lives. Our lifeguards and volunteer surf life savers do a fantastic job keeping Aussies & visitors safe on our beaches. What more could you ask for – sun, sand, surf, and for the most part the scenery isn’t bad.

4.     Water Fun
Set up the sprinkler in the back yard, add a giant length of plastic and a bottle of dishwashing liquid and you’ve got a  home-made water slide and hours of fun for kids and the young at heart. Or my favourite, the sprinkler going full pelt under the hills hoist clothes line, hang on tight swinging round and round in the water spray. And when you get your bottom smacked for making the clothes line sag and squashing the family dog as you land (not that I’m speaking from experience) you decide the stinging bum is worth one more go.

 With drought and water restrictions now very much a part of everyday life in many parts of Australia, home-made water fun is a thing of the past. We now have water theme parks; double the fun, safer for pooch and the sting is one to your wallet.

5.     Open Air Cinema

Only open during summer. Pull up a bean bag, deck chair, a patch of grass, picnic rug. BYO picnic, bring your favourite take-away or grab a typical movie treat on-site. Furry friends can see a movie too however disruptive canine guests will be asked to leave and unwelcome ‘deposits’ are frowned upon. In the case of untended deposits the offending pooch and owner will be evicted from the cinema without a refund (ok I made that last bit up but it sounds like it should be a rule and I mean … think of the flies!! *refer to BBQ section above*)

Ryan I hope your holiday is full-on R&R and you return refreshed and ready for anything.

So who’s got a favourite summer memory to share?

Teddyree aka Sheree

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Coast of Maine Looks Good This Time of Year

So what am I doing on my second day of vacation you may be asking, of course you may not be, but I'm going to tell you anyway.  Well more thank likely I got up a little earlier than I would have preferred so I would be able to take in the farmer's market that is less than 10 blocks from my house, but never get to visit. I'll have perused the stalls picking out some produce and hopefully this wonderful cottage cheese bread that is to die for.  I may pick up some fresh pasta, depends on what they have this time around.  After the market, I'll be visiting the Wichita Art Museum, which believe it or not, has one of the largest collections of American art in the country.  Admission is free on Saturdays, and I never miss a chance to go.  As far as the rest of the day goes, who knows.  I may go visit my favorite graveyard in town, no judging, and read for a bit.  I may go shopping, though at this point in time that holds no appeal to me.  I guess I'll just take the day as it comes.

In the meantime, I would like to introduce (though I doubt introductions are needed) to the wonderfully brilliant Sheila of Book Journey.  What can I say about Sheila that most of you don't already know?  She is one of the friendliest bloggers I have ever had the pleasure to come across and when I think about the stalwarts of this community, she is one that comes to mind every time.  When I first came across her, within my first month of blogging, and realized she was from MN, my home state, I started following her.  Her blog quickly became one that I looked up to and though I'm not sure I asked her a ton of questions, I'm sure I asked a few, and she never brushed me off.  She answered them and gave me helpful advice when I needed it.  Three years later, I'm still following her blog, and I'm pretty sure I won't stop anytime soon.  So when you are done reading her wonderful summertime book recommendation, head on over and say hi.

Greetings readers of Wordsmithonia!  I come in peace…..


Of course I come in peace!  It’s summer my FAVORITE time of year!  I love to be outside on my deck reading, inviting friends over to grill, biking, rollerblading, boating, hiking, going to the cabin…. Did I mention I LOVE Summer?

When Ryan shot me a message asking if I would do a guest post while he took a little break and my subject was “summer” I jumped at the chance.  He pretty much left the “what” up to me.  I could write about summer activities, a book, a movie, a song....

I decided immediately I wanted to talk about a book.

Many years ago I read a book that screams summer…. It is called The Summerhouse by Jude Deveroux and to this day it is one of my all-time favorite books.  The Summerhouse is about 3 girls who meet at the DMV when they are 16 and discover they all share the same birthday.  The girls are all from very different backgrounds, but build a connection through this encounter.

Now, flash forward and the girls are all turning 40.  Their lives have not turned out as they had dreamed.  Leslie’s dream of marrying the perfect guy is pretty much snuffed out when she realizes that “perfect guy” is having an affair with his much younger assistant.  Her two children are snots and don’t even acknowledge she exists.  Where did that young strong willed girl she used to be go?

Ellie is a writer, but recent happenings in her life and a nasty court battle coming up has left her unable to focus enough to write a word. 

Madison was on the straight track to becoming a dancer, her long lean limbs were perfect back in high school…. But a call from an ex fiancé who was in a serious accident and left wheelchair bound pulls her off track and she instead becomes an exhausted full time care giver for an ungrateful man who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and believes the world needs to cater to him.

Ellie, who owns a cottage in Maine, decided to invite the other two women, who she has not spoken to in years to celebrate their birthdays together.  She sends out the invites, not knowing what to expect, if they even remember her, and is pleasantly surprised when both accept the invitation.  

The three women meet in Maine and over an evening of wine and horduerves catch each other up on how their lives have turned out, and not for the better.  The next day, while exploring the town to find gifts for one another, each separately receives an invite to a Madame Zoya’s future reading.  As a hoot, the girls decide to go and check it out. 

Madame Zoya offers this:  “What if you could go back to a point in your life when you made a decision that led you one way that set your life’s course.  What if you could go back to that moment in time and choose differently… how would your lives have turned out?”

Each of the girls is put into a trance that takes them back in time for two weeks to that moment they chose and the book shares their “new life” as it would have been.

In the end, each has to make a decision….

1.   Stay with what they have and keep the memory of what could have been.

2.   Choose the life they just envisioned by taking that road not traveled, but then everything changes from that moment on, if you had kids in this life, you no longer do… all your memories from this time are gone…

3.  Stay with what they have and erase the memory of what could have been

This book was amazing… if you have ever thought of the “what if”, I think you will love this book.  We read it for our book club in 2003 and we had one of our best discussions ever over the topic of if we could go back, what would we do differently, what time did we say no and it should have been yes?  

I highly recommend you find this book, a spot on the beach, a lawn chair, your deck, a hammock, a boat…. A spot in the sun, and spend a little time with Leslie, Ellie, and Madison.  I think, I will do the same.  

(I was going to link my review to this book, but realized, I have never reviewed it since I started blogging…. I think perhaps it is time)

Enjoy your time of relaxation Ryan!  And readers, The Summerhouse by Jude Deveroux… my summer book selection I recommend for you. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Books to Beat the Heat

Well today is the first day of my vacation, and more than likely as you are reading this, I'm in the process of getting my brakes fixed.  Not the best way to start of a vacation, but it's the first time I've really had the TIME to get it done.  Not good since my break light and service light have been on for over a month.  So needless to say this will be a long day.  To top it off, I'm not one of those people that can just drop the car off and come back later, I have to stay there.  It's almost like a compulsion with me.  To pass the time, I will be bringing at least two books.  So wish me luck and send warm thoughts that this won't cost me an arm, a leg, and an ear.

So while I'm twiddling my thumbs at the mechanic, I thought I would let one of my favorite bloggers give you some reading suggestions that will help you beat the heat.  I'm pretty sure this is going to be another scorcher of a summer and anything that helps take the mind of the heat is more than welcome.  Simcha of SFF Chat is one of those bloggers who I would miss if either one of use stopped blogging.  I would have to find a way to keep in touch with her.  She is an amazing writer whose reviews are often times better than the book.  I know I can count on her to guide my reading in the right direction and that I would never regret picking up a book she recommended.  Speaking of, I still need to read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  I promised her I would read it last summer and I still haven't done so.  I promise it will be done by the end of the year though.  So please stop by her blog when you leave here and say hi.

Everyone has a different idea as to what makes a book a good summer read. For some it's a lighthearted romance and for others it's a fast-paced thriller.  As for me, I think a good summer read is one that helps me forget the scorching desert heat outside by transporting me somewhere nice and cold.

Here are few suggestions of great books to help you cool off this summer, in no particular order.

Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin:  I had read this book during the hottest time of the year and the scene in which Genly Ai and Estravan trudge through a blizzard was so descriptive that I was practically shivering.   This is a great book to keep handy in case your air-conditioner ever breaks.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu:  "The Snow Queen" is one of my favorite fairy tales and this modern retelling about a girl who travels through a frozen land to save her best friend  is a great summer read for kids and adults.

Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton:  I haven't had a chance to read this book yet but it's high on my list of things to do. It takes place in a world in which it's citizens are preparing for an ice age. It sounds like now would be a great time to read this book.

Swimming to Antarctica by Lynne Cox:  While I'm not particularly fond of swimming I do enjoy a good memoir and I've always wondered what it would be like to go to Antarctica. In this book Lynne Cox writes about her life and her experiences swimming the Bering Strait and the Strait of Magellan, which she was the first to do. She then swam a mile in the waters of Antarctica.

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder:  Sometimes it's fun to curl up with a favorite book from your childhood and this account of the Ingalls' struggle to survive a difficult winter will provide a great distraction from the summer heat. It might even leave you tempted to turn on the heat, just because you can.

 Double Black (A Ski Diva Mystery) by Wendy Clinch:  Since I know that Ryan enjoys reading mysteries I decided to include one on this list even though I usually stay away from them. But this story, about a grad student dropout who finds a dead body while living as a ski bum, sounded like enough fun to even tempt me to pick it up. I haven't done so yet but this book is high on my list and  now seems like an excellent time to read it.

Ice by Sarah Beth Durst:  In this retelling of an old Nordic Fairy tale a young woman journeys across the arctic in search of her missing mother who had been taken away when she was a baby. There is also a romance with a talking polar bear.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis:  It seems that this book manages to slip into almost every book-list that I make, but that's because it's a wonderful book suitable for nearly any occasion.  And summer is the perfect time to slip into a magical world locked in perpetual winter by an evil witch.

Cold Magic by Kate Elliott:  If you could use a bit of cooling off then some cold magic might do the trick. This steampunk novel was one of my favorite reads of 2010. It's got magic, adventure, spunky heroines and one handsome, if overly-haughty, cold mage. I think I'll be rereading this one.