Monthly Archives: March 2010

The Memory Thief

Back cover description:

When Angel sets fire to her childhood home, it isn’t the end–it’s the beginning. Left with nothing but a few memories in her pocket, Angel escapes into the fields of tobacco, the only place she has ever felt safe. Hidden by those green-gold leaves, she sets her eyes on the mountains and believes someone waits for her there. Angel will do whatever she has to until she finds her. She longs to empty her pockets, hand over the answers to what became of her, and whisper, This is my story.

As Angel journeys toward the mountains, Hannah is struggling to tell her own story. The daughter of missionaries who follow the rules of a small and strict religious sect, modesty is prized above all else. Wearing floor length polyester skirts, and never cutting her hair, Hannah is forced to live a separate life from her peers. Until the summer her family moves to James Island, South Carolina. Slowly, Hannah begins to escape the confines of her strict upbringing, and soon makes a choice that will forever change the course of her life.

As these two women’s paths connect, Hannah’s past will prove to mean everything to Angel’s future.

My thoughts:

Sometimes as a writer I wonder if all the stories worth telling, have already been told. After reading The Memory Thief, I’m reminded that there are countless unique books waiting to be written, if one just has the imagination to conjure it and the skill to give it the words it deserves.

Rachel Keener writes from the heart in a convincing voice whether writing from the perspective of a girl living in heartbreaking poverty, or from the mind of someone going slowly insane. The voices of her characters are authentic, and the world she builds for them to live in feels as real as a memory.

Her writing itself is uniquely her own and overflowing with fresh imagery and original analogies you’ll want to remember long after putting the book down.

I knew from Keener’s first book, (The Killing Tree), that she would be a new author to watch, and her second book, The Memory Thief, only reaffirms that.

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The Power of Half

This is the inspiring true story of a teenage girl who encouraged her family to sell their home and give half away to charity. The Power of Half by Kevin Salwen and Hannah Salwen causes readers to ask themselves how to make a difference in the world by giving more and taking less.

Here is an article by the authors which I have been authorized to share with you.

Hannah’s Take: Believe You Can Make a Difference
by Kevin and Hannah Salwen,
Authors of The Power of Half: One Family’s Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back

About 111 women die of breast cancer every day in the United States. A million teenagers get pregnant each year. Someone dies every thirty-one minutes because of drunken drivers. I’m not writing this to bum you out. But you might be thinking, There are so many problems, there’s no way that I or any one person could solve anything.

When civil-rights activist Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a public bus in 1955, she never dreamed of the impact she would have on millions of lives. “I didn’t have any idea just what my actions would bring about,” she said years later. “At the time I was arrested I didn’t know how the community would react.” The reason Ms. Parks didn’t get up is that she knew the racist laws were wrong.

Rosa Parks is just one of the thousands of influential people whose actions changed the views of many people today. Think about Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Greg Mortenson, John Woolman, Madame Curie (if you don’t know them, check them out; they’re all remarkable). Sometimes small acts significantly affect a large group of people. But even when they don’t, they can have a big influence, maybe on just one individual.

So don’t get discouraged because you can’t solve a whole problem alone. As the British philosopher Edmund Burke said, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” I know exactly what he was talking about. Before our family project I kept telling myself that no matter how hard I tried or how much money I gave, I would never be able to fully solve any of the world’s big problems. When I worked at Café 458, the Atlanta restaurant for homeless men and women, I saw dozens of people come in looking depressed and lonely. But still I didn’t see them as individuals, but instead as a group, “the homeless.”

Then one day at Café 458 I heard two homeless men talking about a college basketball game that I had watched with my dad the night before. I snapped to the realization that these people are people. How stupid and rude I had been to see them as different from me. I realize now that having that epiphany was a big step for me. In that split second of comprehension, I switched from seeing them as a group of people to viewing them as individuals. When I started seeing people in need as individuals, the problem of homelessness and hunger seemed smaller and I felt like I could make more of a difference. I also started believing that I could help because the problem was on a personal level.

Activity

Think of a person from your community who inspires you. Look beyond his or her specific actions to the kind of qualities that person brings to work or volunteer activities. For example, some people are better at creating new programs than at actually putting them into action; other people are doers, ready to take someone else’s ideas and run with them. Is that aunt in your family a problem-solver? A good listener? An inspirer?

Now think about your strengths in the same light. If you took your best characteristics out into the world, how could you use them to make a difference? Are you patient? Maybe you would be a good tutor. Are you musical? Maybe you could be playing the guitar at a nursing home (and bringing your family along to sing — no talent required). We all have gifts the world can use.
The above is an excerpt from the book The Power of Half: One Family’s Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back by Kevin and Hannah Salwen. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Copyright © 2010 Kevin and Hannah Salwen, authors of The Power of Half: One Family’s Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back

Author Bios
Kevin Salwen, coauthor of The Power of Half: One Family’s Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back, was reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal for over 18 years. After his tenure at The Wall Street Journal, he started a magazine, Motto. He serves on the board for Habitat for Humanity in Atlanta, and works with the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Hannah Salwen, coauthor of The Power of Half: One Family’s Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back, will be a junior at the Atlanta Girls’ School, where she plays for the varsity volleyball team, and is her grade’s representative to the student council. She has been volunteering consistently since the 5th grade at the Atlanta Community Food Bank and Cafe 458, among others.

For more information, please visit www.ThePowerOfHalf.com.

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A Certain “Je Ne Sais Quoi”

A Certain “Je Ne Sais Quoi”: The Origin of Foreign Words Used in English by Chloe Rhodes, is another fabulous little book from the Reader’s Digest collection. The quality of the book is fantastic and very aesthetically pleasing on the book shelf just like the others, and it’s filled chock-full of interesting information, but in a very reader friendly format. I don’t have one negative word to say about it. (Unlike the others though, I’d be careful about letting the kids read this one. There’s very little in it that is inappropriate but they do cover the origin of some “risqué” words such as “schmuck” and “ménage à trois”.)

Here’s a little article from the author that I’ve been authorized to re-print here.

Carpe Diem and Become a Word Connoisseur!

English is filled with a smorgasbord of foreign words and phrases that have entered our language from many sources — some from as far back as the Celts. A Certain “Je Ne Sais Quoi,” which tells the story of how many of these expressions came to be commonly used in English, will both amaze and amuse language lovers everywhere. You’ll be fascinated to learn, for instance, that . . .

  • ketchup began life as a spicy pickled fish sauce called koechiap in seventeenth-century China.
  • honcho came from the Japanese world hancho, which means squad chief. The world was brought to the United States something during the 1940s by soldiers who had served in Japan.
  • dungarees comes from the Hindi word dungri, the thick cotton cloth used for sails and tents in India.

Organized alphabetically for easy reference, A Certain “Je Ne Sais Quoi” tells the little-known origin of some of these thousands of foreign words and phrases — from aficionado to zeitgeist. Inside, you’ll find translations, definitions, origins, and lively descriptions of each item’s evolution into our everyday discourse. With this whimsical little book, you’ll be ready to throw out a foreign word or phrase at your next party, lending your conversation, well, a certain je ne sais quoi.

Author Bio
Chloe Rhodes is a freelance journalist who has worked for The TelegraphGuardian and The Times as well as numerous other respected publications. She lives in North London with her husband.

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The Help

I stayed up several nights until 1 am reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. At a hefty 464 pages, it might be surprising that I wished it would have gone on for 400 more.

The story is told in various voices, but it is not at all confusing as each chapter heading states the character’s name. Set in Mississippi during the 1960’s and the early days of the civil right’s movement, The Help is the story of the black women who served as household domestics and nannies in the homes of rich white people. When one young white woman starts to become uncomfortable with the help’s treatment, she tries to be-friend the wary maids in the homes of her friends to interview them about their lives but the last thing they want to do is spill their secrets to a white lady which would be putting their very lives at risk.

The chapters told in the voices of two of the maids, Aibileen and Minny, use African American vernacular which is so authentic that you’ll do a double take when you see the author’s photograph, (she’s white.) The writing is flawless and beautiful with so many perfect lines that I had to constantly stop and re-read them for the sheer pleasure of it.

Despite the serious subject matter, and sometimes tragic, heartbreaking scenes, The Help is somehow also full of laugh-out-loud humor. Just thinking about some of the stuff the character Minny said and did still makes me snicker.

This book is a total package and definitely, without question, one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Now, somewhat off topic, the book mentions quite a bit of southern cooking, and I never fail to get literary induced cravings, sometimes for foods I’ve never even tasted before. This time it was Minny’s Caramel Cake. This cake was mentioned several times in the book, as Minny was known around town for making the best Caramel Cake.

Well, I never had Caramel Cake before, but that had to change! … So today I sought out a recipe, and while I can’t say whether it’s an authentic southern recipe or not, I can tell you it is AMAZING. One of the best cakes I’ve ever made. If you’re interested, the recipe is over at this food blog called “Piece of Cake“. She actually made cupcakes. I followed the recipe exactly except that I poured it into a round cake pan. (Note: The batter fits in 1 round cake pan, but, um… when it bakes, it sort of overflows… a lot… So if you make a cake instead of cupcakes, use TWO round cake pans and make 2 cakes.)

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