Saturday, January 26, 2013

Personal Stuff



I've had a lot on my mind lately...which is why I haven't posted much personal "stuff."
I've started a couple of times to write about it here, but I really just don't have the words yet.  
I've dealt with anxiety issues for a long time.  
I haven't always handled it well, but sometimes I handle it really well. 
 I've been honest about them here,  and I've been honest about how really down I was over the Christmas holidays after the shooting in Newtown, CT.  Did the shooting of 20 innocent children and 7 adults make me depressed and anxious?  No, but I think the tragedy and the enormity of it as well as society's response to it was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. 
 I was in a fog many days during the holidays.  
I didn't really want to go anywhere or see anyone outside of my family.  
I bought all Christmas presents online and read, read, read and read.  

Once we returned to work, I was busier, and one of the best places for me is in the classroom with my students.  
They are many times what pulls me forward.  They challenge me.  
They sit there, all 50 of them, looking at me, waiting on me to impart some knowledge upon them that is detrimental to their existence and future and for heaven's sake, to do it in a halfway entertaining way :) 

I stay in my classroom until I'm done teaching for the day and then return to my office to eat a quick lunch at my desk and catch up on all that's been going on in the faculty world while I've escaped. 
 I take care of the attendance and other daily tasks we all have to attend to and I watch the clock until time to pick up my youngest.  
I swoop through the pick-up line at the elementary school and am genuinely happy to see my girl's face...and she is happy to see me (unless of course, I'm the last person in line that day...then I'm in trouble.).  
We pull into our driveway, and before we can get the door to the house unlocked, we hear our German Shepherd Layla pawing at the door.  
She is beside herself that we have returned.  
And, we are beside ourselves to have returned to her.  

My girls slings her backpack onto the kitchen counter and begins rummaging for a snack while I take Layla out for a tinkle break. 
When we re-enter the house, I am barely settled with my afternoon bowl of granola before Layla is sitting on the couch, looking at me expectantly. 
"Let's go, Mom."  "It's naptime."  Those big brown eyes urge me to rest...and so I do.  

Rest and routine are good for me...as has been running.  
Yes, running.  
I'm beginning Week 4 of the C2K program and my oldest daughter and I will be running in the Color Run in Nashville, TN on March 30.
Right now I'm running 3 days a week for 30 minutes.  I have been blown away at how absolutely wonderful running makes me feel.
Yes, my lungs burn and my thighs scream for mercy.  
Yes, there are times when I think I'll just stay on the couch.
But, once I head for my running shoes and Layla realizes what's up, it's one of the most exhilarating things I've ever done.
Our girl joins us many days on her bike and cheers me on when I get really tired.  She's also a big help if Layla gets distracted by the charging Chihuahua two streets over.  

We return home, I hose Layla off and shower myself.  Then, if I've remembered to load the crock-pot, we sit down to a home-cooked meal together.  There's only 3 of us at home now, and with my husband's schedule, sometimes it's just the two of us.
But, that's ok too.

After we've fed the other animals, we try to make it to bed by 9 p.m. so we can read together.  Sometimes we each read silently, sometimes we read aloud and sometimes the youngest plays a video game with earphones while I read.  
Layla curls up at our feet because she knows the day is ending, and there's nowhere else she'd rather be.
Me either.

I needed a nudge to write...to get some of this out of my head.  Karen at This Old House 2 nudged me this afternoon with the following "I am poem"...thank-you, Karen :) 



I am: a mom, a woman, a daughter, a wife, a teacher, a feminist, an animal lover, a writer

I think:  ... way too much, way too deeply about way too many things
I know: ... a lot...but want to know more.
I want:  everyone to be happy and healthy  
I have:  ..everything I need
I dislike:  fake, dishonest people
I miss:  some of the traditions of my childhood

I fear:  not  much really...but lately I've begun to truly feel fear about the direction in which our country is going
I feel:  exasperated with all the bickering
I hear.. the soft hum of the washing machine as it washes the 85th load of clothes
I smell:  the Soft Scrub I just used to clean the bathroom...it gives me a headache but I love that clean, disinfected smell.
I crave: something sugary, doughy and chocolately

I search:  for meaning and peace all around me 
I wonder:  if I'll ever find it...and if I'm really supposed to find it
I regret: not much...I try not to look back too much...nothing I can do about the past  
I love:  my husband...
I care: about too much...but I care anyway.
I am always:  thinking
I worry:  that's an understatement
I remember:  what it was like to be 13 
I sing:  opera with my 8 year old...in the car...on the way to school :)
I argue:   with my husband about gun control

I write: to save myself
I lose:  my keyes in the bottom of my purse every. damn. day
I wish: my 18 year old self had known my 40 year old self
I listen:  to all the sounds of nature
I don't understand:  why everybody wants to rush around all the time
I can usually be found:  on the couch, with my dog, or reading in my bed
I am scared:   when a phone call happens in the middle of the night
I need:  peace and quiet
I forget:   what I went to the other side of the house for :(
I am happy:    truly, truly happy

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book Review - The Forgotten Queen - Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours



The Forgotten Queen by D.L. Bogdan
Kensington Books, February 2013

Format? paperback

Source? Kensington Books via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of The Forgotten Queen from the publisher in exchange for a review.  However, the review below and the opinions therein are my own and offered without bias. 

Title? The adjective "forgotten" confuses me.  I am no Queen Margaret scholar, but I couldn't figure out whether she was forgotten by her family or her people/countries or forgotten by history...maybe some of both?  Still mulling this.

Cover? I didn't picture Margaret like this, so the cover didn't work for me.  Bogdan richly describes Margaret in the beginning as a young child and then once she is married and begins having children, Bogdan just as richly describes Margaret's more mature, even "plump" body.  This cover didn't work for me at all with what I pictured.

Why? Oh, I'm a Tudor fanatic from way back...the only Queen Margaret info I had, however, was what I falsely learned from the Showtime t.v. series The Tudors...ahem, let's just say Margaret's portrayal in the series was more fiction than fact...and possibly even a conglomeration of both of Henry VIII sisters.

What Now?  My Tudor addiction has been re-kindled, and I've added 3 of the books from Bogdan's "Further Reading" section to my WishList :)


Golden Lines

This man, this king, was my father and never was the thought far from my mind that his were the hands that would shape my destiny. (11)

Was this what it meant to be a queen?  To give and give of oneself and only lose in return?  Your girls were sent abroad, your boys were set apart for their glorious educations, and God claimed the rest...(22)

Two hundred souls gone in one day, along with ninety-eight hundred more.  Ten thousand widows. (116)

I would be better, I vowed.  I would be the wife he wanted, the woman he wanted, and his head would turn for me alone. (151)

Whenever I beheld her, I could but think of her future.  Would she one day meet my eyes with the pain of her own agonizing  choices as a reflection?  Would she lose her children and her loves like me?  I could not bear the thought of it; we were all but repetitions of the vicious cycle born unto women, living one another's lives, crying one another's tears, over and over again. (181)

One of the few joys of returning was seeing my Ellen once more.  She was as beautiful as when I first saw her, fuller of figure, but it suited her; she appeared healthy and, as always, I cherished her calm, clear perspective on life. (208)

"A lovely sentiment," Albany observed.  "There are seventh days all around, those moments of calm and tranquility we must seize because there are very few times when life is not too much." (222)

The world did not belong to women, except for what they could do to further their men.  In this, my lot had to be cast with Jamie, as it always had. Such is the only fate for the mothers of kings.  (243)


Summary

Princess Margaret, daughter of King Henry VII, sister to the infamous King Henry VIII, was born knowing that she would be used in an international alliance...it was her job...it was her purpose in life.  It was the reason she had been born a daughter and not a son.  At the tender age of 12, she was betrothed to the adult King of Scotland, King James V, and by 13, after her own mother's death in childbirth, had moved there to marry him and become Queen of Scotland.  
King James V was a loving husband but an unfaithful, self-punished, religious zealot...Theirs was a happy marriage but ended soon after the birth of the child who would be King James VI when King James V went to war and never returned.  Queen Margaret is left regent of Scotland and vows to protect the throne at all costs for her son the child king.
Struggling with her personal life, Margaret is caught between three countries...England, Scotland and France...with allegiance to both Scotland and England and a political quagmire in dancing around the wishes of France, trying to somehow keep the peace between all 3.  


What I Liked

Oh, the history...the history...and then  more history...there were times I had to stop and almost draw a flowchart to keep up with the history of the monarchy and all its conspiracies, battles, mistresses, children (legitimate and illegitimate), feuds...gracious!

Some of my googling included:
Margaret Beaufort
War of the Roses
Houses of York and Lancaster
Elizabeth of York
King Richard III loses throne to Henry, Duke of Richmond who becomes King Henry VII, father of Arthur, King Henry VIII, Queen Margaret of Scotland and Queen Mary of France.
Isabella of Castile and the Inquisition
the Red Douglases

The reality of being a queen...or princess royal...not at all like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty or even Snow White's illustrious happily ever afters once they found their princes.  Margaret was 13 years old when she was sent to live in Scotland with her betrothed, King James V...13.  

The reality of being a monarch...such a heavy, heavy burden to bear...no matter how likeable or unlikeable the monarch was as a person.  Every decision is questioned, every move analyzed and criticized, expectations out the wazoo from generations before you were born.  No thanks.  The life of a commoner looks pretty good.

Most of the women of this era seemed to accept adultery as normal...I was glad to finally meet a character like Margaret who did not.  She expected her husband to be faithful.  Imagine that.  I would really like to know if there is truth to this and if there is evidence that there were other women like her.

Ellen - a friend to a woman in need.  Unfortunately a possible true friend who is legitimately afraid of being a the real friend Queen Margaret needs..she is a subject...and a slave to boot.  How can she speak freely?  Another incredibly sad part of the existence of a monarch.


What I Didn't Like

This is going to seem so mean...but Bogdan portrayed Margaret as so needy...and dramatic..."he must love me...he really must."  I am a cynic, I admit...and I don't respond to swooning women whose lives revolve around men very well...so these particular romantic comments really got on my nerves.  Perhaps the real Margaret was just like that...not sure...but she would have gotten on my nerves as well if she was.  Not that she would have cared or anything ;)

The reality of being a woman during this time in history...pretty much breeding stock...chosen to carry on the legacy or the family tree.  Spouses were chosen for their families, their countries of origin and their stock...their health.  Pregnancy, birth, many times death, and even in life, the removal of your child at a very young age from you were "normal" occurrences.  I couldn't help but think of how today breeders use female dogs until they're just used up...and then they die.  Very depressing.  And, yes, there were many times during this novel where I felt so sad.

Margaret - Good gravy, woman.  Get over yourself.  I rolled my eyes several times at her silliness and romanticism.   I saw Angus coming from 6 miles away, and she just ignored all the obvious signs.  And there were a couple of times where she literally stamped her foot like a spoiled child bc she wanted things her way...especially when Ellen asked to go home.  By this time, I was done with her, and her tears had absolutely no effect on me at all.  Monarch or no monarch, she could have been a better person.  Yes, she sacrificed her life for her son....but what about everyone else around her?  I realize she was brought up to believe that very task to be the most important of her life, but even so, she couldn't expect the rest of the world and/or those closest to her to just roll over and also sacrifice their lives as well.  Although, that in itself was probably pretty normal for living in the closest circles of a monarch.  I didn't like it at all.

The men in Margaret's life...from Jamie to Angus, Albany, and Harry...they all talked the talk about understanding what it meant to love a Queen...but when it came right down to it, they each expected her to eventually put themselves first.  And that just wasn't possible.  Margaret never pretended that it was; they just assumed that eventually their lives with her would reach that point.  In my contemporary eyes, that was just simply unfair.

Overall Recommendation

There is no doubt in my mind that Queen Margaret sacrificed her entire life for that of her son, King James VI...fulfilling the wishes of her father King Henry VII that Scotland and England could one day be reunited.  I think it is for this reason that The Forgotten Queen is recommended only for those who seek a fictionalized yet honest account of the story of one woman whose life was orchestrated from before she was born to the very end.  

The Author

D.L. Bogdan





Other Stops on the Tour

Monday, January 21 

Feature & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Review & Giveaway at Luxury Reading

Tuesday, January 22
Review at Peppermint, Ph.D.
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair

Wednesday, January 23
Review at My Reading Room 

Thursday, January 24

Review at Unabridged Chick

Author Interview & Giveaway at My Reading Room
Friday, January 25

Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Libraria

Monday, January 28

Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages

Review & Giveaway at The Broke and the Bookish

Tuesday, January 29
Review & Giveaway at Always with a Book
Review at Review From Here

Wednesday, January 30
Review & Giveaway at Ageless Pages Reviews
Author Interview & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick

Thursday, January 31

Friday, February 1
Review & Giveaway at The Maiden’s Court
Author Interview & Giveaway at The True Book Addict





Monday, January 21, 2013

TLC Book Review - An Uncommon Education - Jan. 21


An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer
HarperCollins 2012

Format? paperback

Source? the publisher via TLC Book Tours

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of An Uncommon Education from the publisher; however, the review below and the opinions therein are offered without bias.  I was not compensated for my review in any way.

Why?  I've always been a fan of academia and specifically women's experiences within the Ivory Tower.

Title? There are literal and figurative meanings behind the title...some of which I still don't have my mind wrapped around yet...which is perfect.

Cover? I like the colorful cover of the hardback better than the paperback...the only semblance of meaning in the cover of the paperback is the little yellow bird sitting in the top right hand corner.  



What Now?  I LOVED An Uncommon Education...so much that I've ordered a hardback copy from Amazon to rest on my keeper shelves...this is one that I can see re-reading in the future.  I'm happy to offer my paperback copy to an interested reader.  Just leave your email address and your blog URL in the comments if you're interested.

Golden Lines

My father wasn't a simple man, but the reverence he held for the world around us was as striking as a child's. (4)

It wasn't difficult to begin convincing myself that I, too, might be more than just an I, I might be a someone, a force in the world rather than a subject of it, vulnerable to the whims of my parents and other terrifying imbalances. (21)

The scar on her right wrist where she had tried, once, to take her life was always in the back of my mind.   I hated it for being there, for being a permanent mark on her skin, a lifelong symbol of her ubiquitous desperation. (52)

Sometimes, in the right lighting, the false comfort of achievement still worked for me.  The Wellesley grounds are receptive  to such wanderings.  Its founders knew that a woman aware of her own intelligence will be given  to the pathos of it all, the romantic and tragic qualities of being a female thinker. (143)

"It's strange that you girls would be so excited about plays that have so few mothers," she continued.  "It seems like you're so busy looking to lead the sort of lives that men have led, like that's a rare privilege.  Sometimes I wonder if you're not locked up in just as tight a frame as we were.  Despite all the opportunities you have now." (291)

And, finally, I told her how I'd tried to save Teddy, then Jun, and had always been trying to save her, and that by not allowing herself to be saved she had probably saved me. (327)

The entire last paragraph...(340)
I've read it multiple times already and will read it again and again, I'm sure.

Summary

From childhood Naomi Feinstein knows that she will attend Wellesley.  With a photographic memory, a confusing religious, cultural background (She's Jewish...but not Jewish enough) and her next door neighbor Teddy as her only friend, Naomi grows into a strong, independent young woman.  She shares her photographic memory with her mother who suffers from chronic depression, and her inquisitive nature with her father, her best friend and hero, through his heart attack, vowing to become a heart surgeon and keep her father well.
Once away from her family, at Wellesley, Naomi begins to realize that she might not be cut out for cardiac medicine and begins to flounder...who is she really and what does SHE want?  How does she separate individualism with what has always been and seems to still be expected of her? She finds a cadre of friends in The Shakespeare Society, girls like her, who are expected to be great, every day, every minute, and aren't really allowed the freedom to just enjoy their lives...even though they take their freedom anyway...sometimes with positive consequences and sometimes with life altering consequences.
A coming of age of age story destined to be a classic.

What I Liked

Naomi's father - what child wouldn't wish for a parent who loves as purely as he...and what parent wouldn't wish to be able to love a child like this.

Naomi - such a believable, rich character. Her thoughts are so deep, and Percer's ability to pull us into Naomi and care so much for her made this such a powerful read for me.

Naomi's mother, Theresa - so many times when writers paint a picture of depression, something happens and the reader just doesn't get it.  The reader may even respond with wishes that the character would "just snap out of it."  That isn't the case here...I felt Theresa's depression along with her (even though I wasn't depressed), and I never once wished she'd just throw the covers back and GET UP.  There's such truth in this character and in the way she interacts (and doesn't interact) with Naomi and her father that really helps the reader see this disease for what it is. Even more complicated is that I never felt sorry for Theresa or for the others in her life.  Not that I was happy that her depression had escalated to the point that is portrayed in the story, just that the writing makes it a part of the story...not the focus...I didn't feel asked about my feelings toward Theresa or her depression.  While Theresa's depression is a large part of story, it is not the focus.  I honestly don't think I've seen depression portrayed so effectively as Percer does in An Uncommon Education.  The story includes chronic depression as a part of this family's life; the story doesn't serve as an analysis of that depression.

The Academics - I'm a recovering academic...I can't help but appreciate this part...one of my favorite scenes is Professor Pope's explanation to Naomi when she questions the grade she receives on a paper.  Naomi and the other students at Wellesley are accustomed to earning stellar marks, but the profs at Wellesley are not pushovers, nor are they afraid of students whose parents have buildings named after them on campus.  They are there to challenge even the students they know will be leaders of the future.  Professor Pope refuses to accept a proposed argument from Naomi, no matter how logical her defense of said argument, that is not supported by the text.
I loved this part.

The descriptions of the Wellesley grounds...what academic doesn't dream of attending such a school?

The Shakespeare Society - a real live group of Wellesley students since 1877 - Dead Poet's Societyish - I have no intelligent words for this...it's just so cool :p

The words - quite simply there were many times while reading this novel that I stopped and re-read passages...not just for meaning...but just so the sentences and phrases and vocabulary could roll off my tongue. I was even tempted to read passages aloud...not something I usually do, except with my favorite classics.

What I Didn't Like

I'm trying really hard to think of something...but I can't.
An Uncommon Education was a perfect fit for me.

Overall Recommendation

If you like reading intelligent fiction about depression, mother-daughter relationships, growing up, Ivy League Schools, academics, and friendship, then An Uncommon Education will fit you as well as it did me.  


The Author

Elizabeth Percer

Website

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Other Stops on the Tour


Tuesday, January 8th: The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Wednesday, January 9th: Oh! Paper Pages
Thursday, January 10th: nomadreader
Monday, January 14th: 5 Minutes for Books
Tuesday, January 15th: Bibliosue
Wednesday, January 16th: Dreaming in Books
Monday, January 21st: Peppermint Ph.D.
Tuesday, January 22nd: Book Hooked Blog
Wednesday, January 23rd: Ted Lehmann’s Bluegrass, Books, and Brainstorms
Thursday, January 24th: Great Imaginations
Friday, January 25th: Kritters Ramblings