Tag Archives: family

I Hope You Don’t Mind

The Real Alice in Wonderland – A Role Model for the Ages by C. M. Rubin with Gabriella Rubin (AuthorHouse)

What better way to celebrate the real Alice of Lewis Carroll’s super-famous story than with a gloriously lush picture book?   C. M. Rubin and her daughter, Gabriella, possess the gracious and well-mannered charm of their ancestor, Alice Liddell Hargreaves.   Together, they have created a book worthy of serious consideration, especially by adults who cherish their memories of Alice in Wonderland.

Regardless of whether the reader was introduced to Alice, Dinah, the Red Queen and the Mad Hatter in the Walt Disney movie or a traditional printed book, the magic of Alice’s adventures easily captured the imagination of legions of children.   The quotes and illustrations from the story trigger memories of a time when this reviewer would turn the pages of an abbreviated, illustrated Disney version of the story while listening to the accompanying 78 RPM records on a portable phonograph.   It was a time for fantasy and make-believe!

The format is very well thought out.   The large pages provide an ample surface on which to arrange the many graphic examples of Victorian ephemera, family photographs and letters that flowed throughout Alice’s life.   The careful attention to detail and the artful layout are consistent with the talent Alice displayed in her watercolor paintings.

The account of Alice’s adult life is poignant and at the same time life-affirming.   After having been the focus of so much attention and curiosity as a child, Alice Liddell might have easily become a self-absorbed woman.   Instead, she honored the place that she holds in the hearts of both the young and the not-so-young.   As the authors note, she was a role model and an exemplary woman of her time.

It would have been easy for the Rubins to use the story of the real Alice to further their own link to fame.   Fortunately, they resisted the urge and have created a lovely homage to a woman who needed to have the written versions of the stories told to her by her friend Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll.   The book would make an elegant gift regardless of the occasion.

This book is highly recommended for the quality of the writing, layout and execution.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was received from the authors.

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Between Me and the River

Between Me and the River: Living Beyond Cancer by Carrie Host (Harlequin; $22.95; 304 pages)

Carrie Host’s book Between Me and the River is a moving memoir that chronicles her journey and struggles to survive an incurable form of cancer.   In the book, Carries shares all the pain, physical and emotional, she went through after her diagnosis.   She also relates the guilt she felt and anger at her new life.   But more than that, she provides a story of hope, love and self-awareness that many of us have never felt in our lives.

Host compares her trial in dealing with cancer to falling in a river.   Whether sinking into the deep water, rushing toward a waterfall, or resting in an eddy, it’s easy to identify with her as she explains where in the river she feels on any particular day.   It is heart wrenching to read of her account (being a mother of five) of how she delivered the news of her fate to her children, to follow along as she struggles to do the simplest tasks a mother must do, and to see her relationship with her husband flourish under the strain of what they have to deal with.

I applaud Carrie for having the courage to write so openly and honestly about her disease.   Reading this book has changed my life in a profound way.   It has made me more patient and loving with my children and more thankful of my husband.   While Host’s book at first is a heavy read, as you turn more pages you start to see the positive impact this devastation has on her family, her friends and her own consciousness.   Overall I found this book very easy to read, though I had to put it down at times to wipe the tears away.   I would definitely keep a tissue handy.

This review was written by Denna Gibbons and is used with her permission.   You can see more of her reviews at http://www.thebookwormblog.com/ .   Between Me and the River is also available in a low-cost Kindle Edition version and as an Unabridged Audio Edition.

 

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Clothes Make the Man

Proust’s Overcoat by Lorenza Foschini, Translated by Eric Karpeles (Ecco; $19.99; 144 pages)

“A rare and wonderfully written book.”   Michael Ondaatje

“Proust had also been measured for an overcoat in plaid with a bright purple lining.   He said he was going to leave it in the cloakroom…”   William C. Carter (Proust: A Life)

A confession is in order here at the beginning of the review.   I have never read the writings of Marcel Proust.   The only sense I have of him comes from the charming line drawing made by his friend Jean Cocteau.   The drawing is indicative of the clique of quirky artists who lived in France at the end of the 19th century.   It is the drawing and collage-like cover of Lorenza Foschini’s petite volume that drew me to this book.  

Don’t let the size of the book influence a purchase decision.   This is not a casual account of the artifacts of a world-famous writer’s life.   Rather, Proust’s Overcoat reveals the power of the collecting urge that can take hold of a person.  

Jacques Guerin was the collector whose passion for everything Proust led him to stalk the belongings that remained after Proust’s death.   Guerin’s perfume business afforded him the funds necessary to purchase the desk, bed, pictures and, of course, the iconic overcoat.   The surviving Proust family members and a junk dealer named Werner made these and many other acquisitions into sequential victories that were celebrated by Guerin over the course of many years.

Just as a curator arranges the items of the museum’s collection into a catalogue, author Foschini has done the same with the written and pictorial history of the items from Marcel Proust’s life.   The way in which his surviving family members treated the belongings revealed the mixed feelings they felt for him.   Isn’t that always the way with families?

Highly recommended.   A knowledge of literature or museums is not a prerequisite for enjoying this book.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was received from the publisher.

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Catting Around

Frankie Works the Night Shift by Lisa Westberg Peters (Greenwillow Books, 32 pages, $16.99)

People sometimes wonder what it is we cats do all night long.   Well, this neat-o book by Lisa Westberg Peters (illustrated by Jennifer Taylor) shows that we keep the household going, doing lots of essential stuff while the lazy humans are asleep.   We chase mice, clean counters, empty trash cans, water the yard and call meetings of the Neighborhood Watch Patrol.

Yes, we work while you sleep and if not for cats like Frankie, who knows what a mess you’d wake up to in the morning!   This is just a great 32-page book that introduces the young kids to us felines and helps them to learn how to count.   OK, so the adults in the household may not appreciate the so-called “ruckus” they claim we make when it’s dark but – as my favorite band the Eagles sing – get over it!

The illustrations are beautiful and do justice to us handsome cats and even the stupid dogs.   The end of the story finds Frankie sleeping after taking care of business all night.   Let sleeping cats lie is what I say.   Oh, and give them plenty of Purina Party Mix Treats.   You’d better add this one to the family library.

Highly recommended.

This review was written by Munchy Arellano, the brown tabby cat.   A review copy was received from the publisher.   Munchy has received no compensation for his endorsement of Purina Party Mix Cat Treats.  

Frankie Works the Night Shift is recommended for children between the ages of 3 and 8.

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The Barricades of Heaven

The Opposite Field: A Memoir by Jesse Katz (Three Rivers Press)

“Better bring your own redemption when you come/ To the barricades of Heaven where I’m from…”   Jackson Browne

“Some nights I think, just maybe, I have found the place I belong.”   Jesse Katz

There are probably just three groups of people who will be attracted to this memoir by Jesse Katz – parents, baseball fans and those who love the greater city of Los Angeles.   No, make it four groups, as nomads must be included.   Nomads in this case being defined to include those who were born and grew up in one part of the United States but found their true, instinctual home in another part of the country.

Jesse Katz is one of those nomads but in his case it was genetic.   His parents met and were married in Brooklyn, but felt the need to move a million miles west to Portland, Oregon.   This was the pre-hip Portland, a city of mostly white persons before it became the ultra-cool city that attracted Californians – a city with a bookstore so big that it requires a map to get around inside of it.

Author Katz grew up in a humble apartment complex near downtown Portland’s Chinatown, his father a suffering artist and later a professor at Portland State.   Katz’ mother was a late bloomer, a Robert F. Kennedy inspired feminist-activist who eventually was elected to the State Legislature, then became the first woman elected as Speaker of the Assembly before becoming a two-term Mayor of the Rose City.

But this is Katz’ story which describes his escape from Portland as a teen, moving to the wilds of Los Angeles, a city that he so accurately describes as the anti-Portland.   In L.A. Katz – “a white boy” – found that, “I had become a minority, the exception…  I was a curiosity even.   God how I loved it!   Los Angeles…  Where had you been all  my life?”

Katz first lives north of downtown before he moves to the multicultural community of Monterey Park.   Monterey Park, a city of taco stands, noodle shops and Mexican restaurants, bereft of national retailers, where the local 7-Eleven sells the Chinese Daily News.   There he burrows into the Hispanic-Asian suburb (yet an independent city) just 7 miles east of downtown L.A.’s skyscrapers.   And he finds a new life that centers around the seemingly minor sport of Little League baseball.

Katz, a reporter by profession, becomes the Little League coach of a team that plays at the La Loma fields in Monterey Park; coaching a team that includes his son Max.   Max, unlike his father, is himself multicultural, the product of his Jewish father and Nicaraguan mother.   The game of baseball as played by children may not seem to offer great lessons, but Katz comes to find the truth as expressed by writer John Tunis:  “Courage is all baseball.   And baseball is life; that’s why it gets under your skin.”

The game gets under Katz’ skin to the point where he agrees to serve as the Commissioner of Baseball for the multi-age league centered at La Loma.   This means that every waking moment for several years, not devoted to reporting on gangs for the Los Angeles Times or writing about the city for Los Angeles magazine, is reserved to keeping the league afloat.   It is, in many respects, serious business but also fun…  “I could not escape the feeling that Little League was like summer camp for adults, a reprieve from whatever drudgery or disorder was besetting our regular lives, a license to care about things, about events and people, that otherwise would have passed us by.”

Katz wisely chooses to omit little of the successes and failures that he encountered, both as “The Commish” and as the single father of a teenage son.   This is a look back at a life lived both large and small, and a look at a city, Los Angeles, that embraces the people who make up its communities.   Yes, the city and its suburbs embrace its citizens in a fashion that is far more real than the media’s myths of L.A.’s violence and tawdriness.

This reader, who lived in L.A. and learned to love it (and was embraced by it), would love to raise a toast to Jesse Katz (AKA Chuy Gato).   Perhaps one day he will let me buy him a beer at the Venice Room in Monterey Park (“the seamy cocktail lounge that sooner or later everyone ended up at…”).   A toast to greater L.A., the barricades of Heaven; a place to which we were not born, a place we discovered before it was too late.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from The Crown Publishing Company.   The Opposite Field was released in trade paperback form by Three Rivers Press on July 13, 2010.

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From The Heart

Mother-Daughter Duet: Getting to the Relationship You Want with Your Adult Daughter by Cheri Fuller & Ali Plum

Cheri Fuller and Ali Plum are ideally suited to offer advice about the always-complex mother-daughter relationship.   Each of these women has experienced her own challenges in life, among them alcoholism and marital discord.   As mother (Cheri) and daughter (Ali), they provide the voices for the book’s chapters that address key events in a mother-daughter relationship such as leaving home, weddings and the birth of grandchildren.   Their voices are first heard as solos and then as a duet.   The reader is advised on what works and what does not when specific issues are confronted.

Cheri and Ali have sought assistance and advice from professional counselors and trusted friends when dealing with their own issues.   As would be expected with a Multnomah publication, the book is written with a Christian perspective; hence the scripture citations and references to prayer.   Cheri is a well-known author, columnist and speaker on women’s issues.   Ali is a songwriter and makes a strong debut in this book as a writer.

The take-away from Mother-Daughter Duet is that life holds the promise of closeness with those we care for; however, it requires mindfulness and faith to experience these rewards.   Mindfulness and faith are not accomplished once and for all time, rather, they must be practiced each and every day.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was provided by Waterbrook Multnomah, a division of Random House. 

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My Body Belongs to Me

Do you have a child in your family between the ages of 3 and 9?   If so, it would be beneficial to consider buying a copy of Jill Starishevsky’s My Body Belongs to Me.   Starishevsky is an experienced sexual crimes prosecutor in New York City who saw that children need a way to determine if they’ve been improperly touched; she came up with this children’s book as a solution.   My Body explains to children, in words and rhymes they can understand, what the difference is between their public and private parts.

My Body also encourages children to report improper touching to trusted authorities such as their teachers or parents.   The book further explains to them that sexual assault is not their fault, and that they’re brave to act when it happens.   This is a fine job by Starishevsky and it contains beautiful illustrations (drawings) by Sara Muller.   Adults benefit from a reader’s guide that explains to them how to use the book when talking to their children.   There’s also an appendix with information on associations that can serve as resources for children and families affected by violence and/or sexual assault.

For a price of $14.95, this book serves as a valuable insurance policy that may help to protect a child you know and love, and protect others through a powerful message of prevention.   It should definitely be read and shared.

Recommended!

A review copy was provided by the author.

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A Not-So-Blue Christmas

We can’t mandate happiness on the calendar…  and yet…  we try to do it anyway.   We strive to be merry and joyful.

I’m not a big fan of holiday stories so I approached this trade paperback with some trepidation.   As I walked through Target one day, the cute cover caught my eye and I noticed that the author, Sandra Harper, is a USC graduate.   Ok…   I didn’t buy it that day but I finally gave in to temptation on my next trip to Borders.

Let’s just say that this book was not as bad as I feared it would be (holiday theme and all), but not as good as I hoped it might be.   Still, it’s an easy and relaxing read and if you’re going to read a story about Christmas, why not do so in December?   Oh, and it has a great subtitle:  “It’s all relatives…”

Over the Holidays deals with three women:  the usually happily married Vanessa who faces temptation in the form of a young playwright, her artist sister Thea, and sister-in-law Patience.   It seems that each year Vanessa and her all-too-dependable spouse visit the uptight, if extroverted, Patience in the Boston area for the holidays, but this year many factors combine – including economic hardships – to change the typical plans.   Thus it turns out that Patience, her husband and their soon-to-leave-for-college daughter (U.C. Santa Cruz or USC?) travel to Los Angeles to celebrate the holidays at Vanessa’s.

Part of the fun of the story is seeing how the visitors from the east react to a Christmas in a city where many simply don’t celebrate it, at least not in traditional ways.   Patience’s brood is like a trio of aliens who’ve landed in the overly sunny and warm climate of L.A.   Then there’s the fact that Vanessa and Patience have completely different perspectives on holidays:  “I’m just not great in the holiday department…  I’m better at everyday life…” says Vanessa.   To this, Patience replies, “I’m definitely a holiday person, I like to look forward to things.   Special days.   It keeps me going.”

There’s a good deal of humor in Holidays, although it’s covered up with more than a touch of sadness.   (“Why do we pretend things are different than they really are?”)   And while it’s a fun read, it starts off quite slowly, not really moving along until the reader has hit page 80 out of 325.   There are also far too many long conversations used to tell the story, to the point where it reads like a court transcript.   Pick up the book at Target, for example, and read page 66 – it’s just people talking back and forth to each other and all in quotes.

There are also too many characters for the average reader to follow without difficulty, and a few too many crude moments/scenes (and overly adult language) that could have been left out.   But in the end, the characters learn to accept what they already have and not to mistake paradise for that home on down the road.   Yes, they learn to love what they already have; at least once they’ve reached the month of January.   As Vanessa concludes:  “I love January, so blissfully free of holidays…”   Exclamation point.

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