Category Archives: opinion

Broken Glass Park

Alina Bronsky, like her character 17 year old Sascha Naimann, is a Russian immigrant who moved to Germany. Broken Glass Park is Bronsky’s first novel, (English version translated by Tim Mohr), and was nominated for one of Europe’s most prestigious literary awards, the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize.

The main character, Sascha, starts out by telling us she has two goals in life. The first is to write a book about her mother, and the second is to kill Vadim, her incarcerated step-father who brutally murdered her mother in front of her and her younger siblings. Despite this intriguing piece of information, the book started off slow for me but really picked up the pace as the story unraveled. Even when the plot wasn’t moving as fast as I’d have liked, the writing was strong throughout with many unique metaphors and well developed characters. Sascha in particular is an especially memorable character; intelligent, witty, deep thinking, rebellious and angry as teenage years demand, yet responsible as a result of her circumstances. Broken Glass Park is a unique coming-of-age story which touches on the immigrant experience, domestic violence, poverty, and how the choices we make in life determine our destiny.

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Liselle and the Birch Prince


Book title/author: Liselle and the Birch Prince by Bryan P. Hunt/Illustrated by Tanya Lam

About the book:

It’s been called nature-deficit disorder: the disturbing reality that today’s over-protected, technology-addicted children are almost completely disconnected from nature. The phenomenon has been linked not only to childhood obesity and psychological imbalances, but also to the steady destruction of the environment—and some say it points to the eventual breakdown of society itself. For author Bryan P. Hunt, recognizing this dilemma was one of the main motivators behind the writing of his second children’s book, Liselle and the Birch Prince, a magical modern fairytale that weaves together subtle lessons on bravery, selflessness, and the eternal power of love against the enchanting backdrop of nature’s untarnished beauty.

My Review:

I sat down this evening and read this book to my youngest son, who is 8 years old. We don’t often read fairy tales anymore. We’ve read many of the classics, (most recently Alice and Wonderland), but this book is unique – not what we usually find at the library. The language was accessible to his age group while not being condescendingly simple in the least. The writing itself was good quality and he enjoyed the illustrations, (which looked to be watercolors.) His only complaint was when I finished the book he asked, “What happens next?” – This was partly a desire for the narrative to continue because it was good, and partly a comment on how abruptly the author ended the story. The ending is somewhat unsatisfactory and not exactly the “happily ever after” one expects, but my son wants to know when the rest of it will be written, so he did enjoy it. Perhaps the author will consider making it a series.

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Easy as Pi

I love these Reader’s Digest books. They’re just so readable and interesting. This one is called Easy as Pi: The Countless Ways We Use Numbers Every Day by Jamie Buchan.

Honestly, I can’t stand math. I’ve never liked it, for as far back as I can remember, but this book was great. The first part is definitely my territory, where they cover the origin of phrases such as “The Third Degree” and “Cloud Nine”.

The second section is another winner. This section covers numbers in Fiction and Movies, such as the book “Fahrenheit 451” and the Fellini film, “8½”.

The next two sections  cover “Numbers in Culture” and “Numbers in Mythology and Religion” and are equally interesting. The last section is called  “Numbers in Math and Science”.  I’ll admit that most of that very last section went completely over my head, but I really enjoyed this book over all. Easy as Pi is now officially math hater approved :)

Enjoy this article I’ve been authorized to share with you.

Brushing Up on Math is Easy as Pi
By Jamie Buchan, Author of Easy as Pi: The Countless Ways We Use Numbers Every Day

“World War II? I don’t know much about it. You’ve lost me. I’m sorry, I was always terrible at history. I just don’t have the brain for it!”

Few people would willingly admit to this level of ignorance about key events that shaped the world. But when it comes to math — which shapes not only the world but the entire universe — many otherwise highly intelligent and educated people will happily proclaim ignorance. In many cases, there’s the implication that math is boring and difficult — the exclusive domain of the severely geeky.

This may seem merely frustrating for mathematicians and scientists in social settings, but it has serious and wide-ranging consequences. On an everyday level, a lack of confidence about math makes it hard to split a bill, work on a spreadsheet, or help a child with homework (and this can easily become a vicious circle, since anxiety about math can be passed on to the next generation).

If you feel like you’re math averse, be not afraid: the book Easy as Pi can help. Math itself is based on a limited number of very logical rules and, whether we like it or not, it surrounds us in everything we do. As Pythagoras (the guy behind the famous Theorem) remarked: “Number is the ruler of forms and ideas, and the cause of gods and demons.” The head of a sunflower has evolved with mathematical precision into a double-spiral pattern that packs the most seeds into the smallest available space. The computer on which you’re reading this, and every electronic device — from cheap digital watches counting seconds and minutes to NASA’s Columbia supercomputer, which simulates the collisions of entire galaxies — is powered by a vastly complex system of ones and zeros, which only works at all because they can be interpreted mathematically.

Just like our explorations of science, humanity’s understanding of math has advanced amazingly since we were counting how many mammoth hides it takes to wallpaper a cave. The concept of zero — a number representing nothing — is taken for granted today (apart from anything else, how could all that electronics work otherwise?). However, for centuries it was a thorny philosophical and mathematical question. Roman numerals stopped being used in Europe when medieval Italians learned the zero from the Arabs, who in turn had picked it up from India. The ancient Greeks gave us much of our understanding of geometry, and the Romans put it into practice with structural engineering. We’ve come a long way. The Pirahã tribe, a few hundred people living in a remote area of Brazil, reminds us just how far — with almost no contact with outside cultures, their math is limited to counting “one, two, many.”

Numbers have also slipped into our language and culture in various ways — the third degree, the fourth estate, and fifth columnists spring to mind. And have you ever been asked to “deep six” something? Intelligence agencies use “numbers stations” — radio stations broadcasting strings of numbers — to communicate in code with spies in other countries. And they’ve gained a cult following of fascinated civilian listeners. The controversial conviction of the Cuban Five came after FBI agents found a decryption program for a Cuban numbers station on their computers.

The influence of numbers in our everyday life also seeps into our superstitions. The number 666 — still feared by many people as the “number of the beast” — is believed to be based on gematria, a form of numerically encoding Hebrew words, which is also at the root of claims about a “Bible code.” Math anxiety and ignorance allows people who practice numerology and astrology to make a lot of money by claiming to imbue numbers with a spiritual and cosmic significance. Not only is this completely unproven, it masks the far greater beauty of a mathematically ordered universe.

To sum it all up, math and numbers are everywhere, and they are embedded in our lives in every respect. Anxiety about them is really worth trying to overcome. The benefits they bring us are countless.

© 2010 Jamie Buchan, author of Easy as Pi: The Countless Ways We Use Numbers Every Day

Author Bio
Jamie Buchan was educated at Westminster School and is completing a Master of Arts degree in Architectural Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Many of his family members are involved in books: his great-grandfather John Buchan is the prolific novelist famous for The Thirty-Nine Steps; his grandfather D.J. Enright is a well-known Movement poet; and his uncle James Buchan is an award-winning novelist and historical writer. Both of his parents work in publishing.

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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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