Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand


DownloadedFile-4My husband, the non-reader, was given an iPod Touch for Christmas and has embraced audio books, hooray!  His first book on the iPod was Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.  I read Unbroken with my book club last fall, so I was excited to be able to discuss it with him and get his impressions of it.

For those who don’t know, Unbroken is an amazing true account of the life of Louis Zamparini, a man in his 90s who was, among other things, a scrappy kid from Torrance, CA,  a student at USC, an Olympic runner, a WWII bombardier, a plane crash survivor who spent more than 40 days floating in the Pacific Ocean on a tiny raft, a POW in Japan, an alcoholic, a born again Christian, and a motivational speaker.  He met Hitler during the 1936 Olympics and met Billy Graham after the war.  I liken him to Forrest Gump.

Let’s just say I enjoyed the book much more than my husband did.  I was so surprised!  I mean, it’s a war book and a survivor book, guys like that stuff, right?!  But he felt it was too long and that there were just way waaaaay too many details about everything.  Details about planes, about weather, about the ocean, about the sky, about maggots in the food, about starvation and bodily functions.  Details about running and training and school.  Most of his annoyance, though, had to do with the abuse Louis Zamparini endured in the Japanese POW camps.  He felt that, if it were accurate, nobody could possibly survive it and live to tell about it.  He wondered if perhaps it was exaggerated, and we talked about memory and how a man in his 90s could recall in such great detail what had happened to him decades before.  I admit I wondered if there was some exaggeration in the book, too, but by all accounts the author did flawless research.  And, the old dude is sharp, even now!!  We watched an interview with him on youtube and he’s got to be the most with-it *nonagenarian ever (*that’s an old dude in his 90s, in case you don’t know that word).

The old dude

The old dude

Anyway, I’m just giddy that I was able to have an actual book discussion with my actual husband.  Friends, this has NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE!  Hopefully it’s the start of a trend.

Does anyone have any good recommendations for my husband’s next audio book?  He hates accents of any kind, so the narrator must speak American English.  No Brits.  Leave me a comment if you know of a good one.  I don’t listen to audio books so I’m not sure what’s good to listen to.  He likes history, action, adventure, and anything that would be motivational/positive thinking (you can perhaps see why I thought Unbroken would be perfect for him?!)  Thanks for any suggestions you can offer!

6 Years of Book Club

Six years.  11 regular members (although we’ve had as many as 13).  70 different books (we skipped two months).  Math is not my strong suit but even I can see that 11 x 70=770 individual books.  Some were borrowed from the library, but the vast majority were purchased in paperback, on Kindles, on Nooks, and on iPads.   That’s a whole lot of purchasing!

.

We talk and talk and talk about the books we read.  We dissect them.  We dog-ear them and mark them up.  Some of us go crazy with highlighters, others prefer post-it notes.

.

We share recommendations with each other.  We pass books around from member to member and have side conversations about those books.  Gone Girl is currently making the rounds, and before that it was The Help and before that, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Most of us have read those books now even though they were never actually selected for book club discussion.

.

When one of us falls in love with an author, we fall hard.  We’ll read their next book and we’ll read all their previous books.  We’ve discussed Lisa See’s books 3 times.

.

We tell our friends about the books we’ve discussed.  We blab about them at hair salons, grocery stores, offices, our kids’ schools.  We talk books at parties and backyard BBQs and family dinners.  We encourage people to read the books we love when we’re in a bookstore or staring at the stacks of books in Costco.  We gush about them on Facebook.

.

browniesI understand now why publishers court book clubs.  Book club members love books, book clubs buy books and book clubs sell books.  If any publishers would like to court us and donate a set of 11 books to help us celebrate our 6th anniversary in March, we would gladly accept, wink wink ;)  You would not have to twist our arms.

.

Six years.  770 books for our little club, plus countless more that were purchased by others on the pure enthusiasm of our 11 members.  Book clubs really are a powerful force!  And we also like to eat.  Pass the brownies.

CLICK HERE to see which 70 titles we’ve read in our first 6 years!

The Sunday Salon – February 27, 2011

What’s wrong with me?

I’m having a terrible time finishing a book.  There are at least six half-finished books floating around my house.

I need a bossy little book that will insist I sit down and read it, and will summon me back from my inevitable distractions and command me to finish.

.
A seductive novel that will tempt me to look at it, touch it, open it up.  That will entice me visually with it’s good looks and engage me mentally and emotionally, making me feel things; coaxing me to keep going, even if I’m not in the mood.  Even if I have a million other things to do.
.
A compelling and persistent story that will slam me up against the couch and declare with authority, “Don’t move.  Sit here and do this; I won’t take no for an answer.  You are mine now, and I will take you places you’ve never been.  You will not regret this; you’ll love it and I’ll have you begging for more..”
.
Wait, what were we talking about?
.
Ah, yes.  Books.  And my lack of follow-through.  In part, I blame the Nook for this.  Reading electronically just does not offer the same tactile experience as paper and glue, lovely covers and that book smell I’m addicted to.  Plus, the battery always seems to die at the best part.  Or the charge is so low that I leave it at home in favor of a real book.  This is how I came to have so many half-finished books all over the place (the car, my purse, every room in the house) and it is so unlike me to be such a book-floozy.  In general I am a one book at a time woman.  But lately I’m a slut.
.
This is the book I am committed to this week on the (dead and charging) Nook:
.
.
And these are the books I’ve been sneaking around with on the side.  It seems so wrong, but feels so right:
.
Wench (I think she’s going to be my bossy book today)
.
What book is holding your interest this weekend?  Are you committed to it, or are you cheating on it?

Review & Giveaway: Dear Mrs. Kennedy: The World Shares Its Grief, Letters November 1963

Dear Mrs. Kennedy: The World Shares Its Grief, Letters November 1963 by Jay Mulvany and Paul De Angelis

Hardcover: 240 pages

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press; First Edition edition (October 12, 2010)

Forty-seven years ago this month, Americans as well as people around the world were brought together by a senseless act of violence against our youthful and much-loved President, John F. Kennedy.  The outpouring of grief from around the globe directed at Jacqueline Kennedy, the beautiful and elegant new widow, was massive and immediate.  She received more than one million letters in the weeks and months that followed the tragedy.  Although Mrs. Kennedy vowed to display the letters in the Kennedy Library one day, the letters remained filed away in a warehouse for decades waiting for the library to open.

Volunteers reading and sorting the letters

From grade school children to dignitaries, nuns, moviestars, and royalty to politicians and famous names like Martin Luther King, Jr and Winston Churchill, the expressions of sorrow and sympathy came from everywhere.  I truly appreciated the authors’ decision to do more than just catalog the letters.  They introduced each one by telling who the letter writer was in relation to the president, giving the reader a much more complete snapshot of the history of the time.  This was so helpful to someone like me, who had heard of Anwar Sadat, for instance, but wasn’t quite sure why I knew the name.

I think of the Kennedy assassination as the 9/11 of that generation.  Both events shattered our collective innocence.  People en masse remember where they were and what they were doing the minute they heard the shocking news.  Both events brought everyday life to a standstill and kept us riveted to our televisions.

My reaction to this book surprised me.  I was a baby at the time so have no firsthand memory of the assasination, yet I was greatly moved by the expressions of sympathy.  I had to put the book down more than once as the tears just flowed out of me.  It also made me realize more acutely than ever before the value of the written word; the art and sensory pleasure of beautiful stationary and handwriting as opposed to emails and text messages.

This is a book every American who cares about history should read as it is a fascinating portrait of the time; an intimate portrayal of the hope personified in one young man and the shock as that hope was extinguished so violently.

Highly recommended.

I thought it would be interesting to ask a few bloggers about their Kennedy memories.  This is what they wrote:

From Suzanne at Preternatura:

I was in preschool in a small town in Northwest Alabama, and we were on the playground when the news came in. I remember the teacher herding us back in our classroom and telling us the president had been shot. We were really too young to get it but others in my class I’ve stayed in touch with over the years remember it the same way. They closed school early.

More than that, I remember watching the funeral on our black-and-white TV (God, does that make me feel old), not understanding it but mostly watching Caroline and John-John, as everyone called him, since they were about my age. I remember sitting and watching it with my brother and my parents, and my parents being upset, but not much else. I was too young, and over the years my memories have gotten mixed up with all the iconic images we’ve seen from the media.

From Debra at Bookishly Attentive:

My parents, my twin sister, my grandmother and I were in a lighting store in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, probably shopping for a dining room fixture. I was three. I actually remember the store (I was fascinated by the lights, evidently) and I remember the owner (an older, heavyset woman) coming up to my parents and asking if they heard what happened, and if they had, why are they still shopping in the store?  She was crying, wringing a white handkerchief. I then remember my parents hustling us out to the car. She closed the shop behind us.

I asked my mother about this memory years later, after watching some kind of JFK documentary, and she said I had remembered the events almost perfectly.

I was too young to really process what had happened, but I do remember my parents being subdued.  I distinctly remember sitting on the floor of the living room of our old apartment on Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn. My mother, my sister and I were watching the funeral on the old black and white in the corner. The thing that made the biggest impression on me and what I actually remember to this day is the horse (Black Jack?) with the boots backward in the stirrups. I remember that scared the heck out of me.

I just think how totally different this world would have been if that day in November, 1963 had never happened. And it makes me immeasurably sad. Always.

From Terri at Reading, ‘Riting, and Retirement:

I was 13; I was in a junior high class (English I think); the news came over the loudspeaker, our principal announced it. I don’t recall precisely what we were doing in class; when the news came over the loudspeaker, I was confused at first. It didn’t sink in until later when I saw my friends in the cafeteria. There was lots of crying and hugging. I think they let us out of school early.

We watched TV non-stop for days. It was quite surreal, especially when Oswald was shot. I hate to admit it, but I was taking my cues from my parents, so I can’t really recall what I was feeling, other than scared and sad.

I remember watching Jackie Kennedy and being fascinated by her and by the Catholic rituals. I don’t think I’d ever seen them before (kneeling, crossing herself, etc). In my naïve adolescence, I decided I wanted to be a Catholic, so for a few nights I knelt by my bed and crossed myself. That was as far as I went though.

It was the beginning of a very volatile time in our country – many assassinations, the Vietnam war and its protests, etc. The age of innocence ended in those years, I think.

I have one copy of DEAR MRS. KENNEDY to give away (US/Canada only).  To enter, just leave a comment and let me know where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news of either the Kennedy assassination (if you’re old enough) or the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01.  The contest ends Sunday, 11/14, at midnight.

Sunday Salon, November 6, 2010

What?  Activity on my blog??  Shocking, I know.

Also shocking- my oldest became a teenager this week.  I am the mother of a teenager. This is.. unsettling.  Moreso because she was doing teenager-ish things all weekend.  On Friday night her junior high band played with the high school band at the high school’s football game.  She tried to leave the house wearing eyeliner- I made her take some of it off (the black line under her eyes) because I just can’t stand her looking older than she is.  Naturally she got mad, talked back, stomped around and ranted about how “everyone wears it,” but then finally took it off.  Her “friend who is a boy” (NOT a boyfriend!!) wanted to go to the game, too, but didn’t have a ride, so she begged me to pick him up and I finally agreed.  (My husband said, ‘What the heck is this, a date?”)  On Saturday night she went out to a movie (PG-13, of course!) with a group of kids (all teenagers) and stayed out past 11 pm.  Today she’ll be competing in a swim meet.  Right now she is sleeping until the last possible minute- typical teenage behavior and NOT typical of her as she has been an early riser since birth.

My head is swimming with the fact of my kids growing up so quickly.  I swear they were just babies, recently, but by December 2011 I will be the mother of TWO teenagers, yikes.  It feels like they got old overnight.  I know there are many parenting joys still ahead, but I am mourning the end of their childhoods.  I’m sure there is a silver lining someplace (more reading time for me as my kids need me less??) but it is certainly bittersweet.

Speaking of reading.. I’ve been doing some here and there in between running the newly minted teenager and her ‘tween sister to all their various social engagements and activities.  I finished ROOM by Emma Donoghue this week; I loved it and immediately passed it on to my mother.  It would make such a great book for discussion with my book club but alas, we only read paperbacks, cheapskates that we are, so that will have to wait a year or so.  But at least if my mother reads it we can talk about it right away.  It’s one of those books that begs to be discussed.  I also finished Dear Mrs. Kennedy for my TLC Book Tour stop tomorrow and  Dracula, My Love by Syrie James for our book club discussion next week, and started reading our December selection, People of the Book by Geraldine March.  The teenager is reading The Miles Between by Mary Pearson and my ‘tween is reading Eragon by Christopher Paolini.

I hope you all enjoyed your extra hour of sleep last night.. have a wonderful, relaxing Sunday and a great week!

Review: The Girls by Amy Goldman Koss

Title: The Girls by Amy Goldman Koss

Pages: 128

Genre:  YA/Middle Grade fiction

Where did you get it? Purchased on The Nook

Why did you read it? I wanted to pre-read it before giving it to my 12 year old daughter

What’s it about? It’s about a clique of middle school girls lead by a very popular “Queen Bee” type named Candace.  Maya is part of the ‘in’ crowd until one day Candace decides that she is “out.”  The group turns on Maya simply because Ms. Popular decides she is boring and doesn’t like her any more, and the other girls in the clique do whatever Candace wants because they feel lucky to have her as a friend.  Whatever Candace decides is right, because if you disagree, she might turn on you too.  Although some of the girls are conflicted, they all turn on Maya.  One of the girls asks another girl in the group why they don’t like her anymore, and she acts like it’s personal and if Candace wanted her to know, she’d tell her.  The truth is, she doesn’t know either and is just going along.

What did you like? Well, it was very realistic.  School is a warzone, and lunch (with no teachers to watch over) is a minefield.  The author has clearly spent time around this age group.  I could feel Maya’s pain at being excluded, and boy did I ever want Candace to get her comeuppance.  Girls can be unbelievably mean to each other.  I felt like cheering when a couple girls in the group started to think for themselves and realized that they actually did like Maya and didn’t want to be told who they should hang around with.  Yay for brave, independent actions!!  My hope is that reading this kind of book will empower my own daughter to be independent and not go along with the herd mentality of the crowd.

What didn’t work for you? I can’t think of a thing- it was excellent with so many great lessons for kids.

Share a quote: “Everyone in the cafeteria could see me sitting with Candace Newman.  I could feel all their eyes on me, and it felt fantastic!  But I kept cool.  At least I tried to.”

Who would enjoy this book? Educators, middle school readers, parents, and anyone who remembers the horrors and cruelty of middle school girls, and the fear of rejection by the popular crowd.  It would be a fabulous book for a mother/daughter book club or a classroom discussion.

Who else has reviewed it? I couldn’t find any blog reviews!

Anything else to add? This one will mentally put you right back into the halls of middle school- the scariest place on earth.

Sunday Salon – September 19, 2010

nose in a book

And here is the age-old question.. does BBAW rhyme with Hee Haw?  Or do YOU say the individual letters B… B… A… W?

I say it rhymes with Hee Haw.

Even though I’ve taken a step back from blogging, I’d have to be living under a rock (I’m not, just FYI) to miss all the Book Blogger Appreciation Week (BBAW) excitement.  All the craze and praise has been really fun to watch!  It’s inspiring to see all the enthusiasm for blogging and books and so.. here I am again after a two month hiatus.  Thanks, BBAW, for helping me remember why I love blogging and how it’s just about the most fun you can have on a computer.  And a big enthusiastic Congratulations! to all the winners and nominees, many of whom I count among my friends.  Congrats, too, to Amy, the tireless force behind BBAW, and her hardworking team for another hugely successful awards week!

I marvel at the time bloggers put into their blogs.  I’m guessing (well, actually I know..) a lot of them don’t have kids.  Many do, of course, and it is really THOSE bloggers I marvel at the most..  I’m not sure how they keep up.  Maybe their kids aren’t as demanding as mine or don’t have tons of activities to be shuttled around to, maybe they don’t help with homework, maybe they have no friends IRL, maybe someone else cleans their houses and cooks their meals, maybe they don’t work or need 8 hours of sleep at night.. I really don’t know!  But between blogging and Twitter and Facebook, who has time for trivial stuff like laundry, grocery shopping, or in-person conversations?

I think about that.  I think about the amount of time my children spend online, time that could be spent hanging out with other kids face to face deveoloping their social skills, or time just being bored and thinking.  I remember a lot of time like that as a child- free time where I had to find something to do or where I could work something out in my head- time to be creative or at least creatively solve the problem of being bored.  This is when imagination kicks in.  My children need to be entertained, all the time, and they have zillions of options for that, with 500+ channels on cable, iPods and phones, Wii and the internet.  They can’t stand to be bored.  Which is why I regularly unplug them from everything (my favorite form of punishment, actually).  You’d think I was hacking off an arm the way they carry on about it.  But I look at it as I’m giving them a gift- the gift of boredom.  I tell them, “Go develop your imaginations!” to much groaning and foot stomping.  My husband tells them, jokingly, “When I was your age, we played with sticks and rocks!”  They roll their eyes and say, “Daaaaaaaaaaaad! That was back in the Stone Age.”  But before long they find something to do that doesn’t involve earbuds or keyboards or remotes.

But it’s hard to unplug kids when I’m always online.  I’m modeling the very behavior I’m trying to change in them.

So that’s what the last two months were about.  With my kids home for the summer, I’d work (online) while they slept in or played- I was online only as much as I needed to be. And I think that’s my new plan- no blogging in the summer or during school vacations.  I’d rather feel guilty about ignoring my blog than about ignoring my kids.  Priorities..

We had Back to School Night at my  youngest daughter’s school this week.  This is my 6th grader, my reluctant reader, the one who whines about her 30 minutes of assigned daily reading, the one I have to set a timer for just to get her to crack open a book, the one who claims to hate reading.  So imagine my shock and awe when I was told that based on her Accelerated Reader score she is reading at an 11th grade level.. what?!?!  How can this be?  That’s a full FOUR GRADE LEVEL jump over last year.  She has to get 69 reading points this semester, and if you’re not familiar with the program, let me just tell you- that’s a lot.  She’s going to have to pick up the pace considerably to make her goal.  She grabbed a book from the library called My Fair Godmother- 14 points- and started it at school but has yet to sit down with it this weekend.  The AR books I pulled out of our bookshelves for her are stacked up and gathering dust.  She wants to pick her own, which I understand, but she’s going to have to actually start reading them.

My older one would rather read than eat or do homework.  So we have the opposite problem with her.  She gets in trouble at school for reading when she’s supposed to be listening to teachers or doing her work.  She reads in the car, she reads in bed, she reads everywhere, oblivious to her surroundings.  It’s hard to get mad about it when I understand it so well- she’s exactly like me.

As for my reading, I’m currently enjoying Honolulu by Alan Brennert for book club.  I read Molokai a few years back and loved it, so was thrilled when this one got voted in.  It’s about a young Korean “picture bride” who comes to Hawaii to marry a Korean man and have a chance at a better life and education in the early 20th century.  Naturally, things don’t turn out as planned.  Most of this book is being read while sitting on the bleachers in the hot sun at the pool where my older daughter practices with her swim team 6 hours a week.  She can’t read while swimming, but if there was a way, I’m sure she’d try.

So.. we’ll see how this goes.  It’s nice to be back.  Hopefully this won’t be my last post for another two months!

What are you doing this weekend?  What are you reading?

Happy Sunday..

DEAD END GENE POOL Discussion with author Wendy Burden!

Hello, readers!

Tonight we are privileged to welcome Wendy Burden, author of DEAD END GENE POOL, to our Spring Reading Series discussion.  She will be here “live” participating in our discussion and answering questions for one hour beginning at 5 pm PST (8 pm EST) in the comments section of this post.

The conversation got going in this post, where I posed some discussion questions for everyone and asked for questions for Wendy.

I’ve been gathering your questions for Wendy and of course would welcome more.  Here’s what we have so far:

Here’s a comment from Lisa at Lit and Life, followed by a question from me:

One thing I found really interesting was how Wendy’s grandmother just threw money away in some ways (like buying prescription eyeglasses and then just tucking them away in a drawer) but was so tight with money in other ways (like stiffing the cabbies).    Any idea why she was that way?

From Nancy at Bookfoolery and Babble:

I’m curious who is on the cover of the book. Wendy’s mother or grandmother?

From Gaby at Starting Fresh:

Wendy comes across as so witty, intelligent, and spirited in the book.  Is she willing to tell us more about her life after the book ended?  We know that she’s owned and been a chef at Chez Wendy, but who did she marry?  Why did she decide to live in Oregon?  How is she raising her children?  How does she fill her days (aside from writing and touring)?

So many of us dream of money to become financially independent, have the mortgages paid off, take any job that we want, etc.  How has she chosen to shape her life and what makes her happy?  What would a perfect day for her be like?

Who does she like to read?  What is she reading now?

From Bellezza at Dolce Bellezza:

Is your irreverant, and often hilarious sense of humour, a way of covering up any pain you experienced in your unconventional upbringing?

From reader Vance Lancaster:

1. How much wealth was left when your grandparents died and how was it distributed? Did the fact that your brother was a co-executor of the estate affect the distribution or cause any problems?

2. What happened to each of the homes owned by your grandparents? Are they still standing? If so, do you know who owns them now and have you ever re-visited them?

3. I assume that most of your grandparent’s art collection went to MOMA. Was any great art left to you or your brothers or to your uncle? If so can you tell us who got what?

4. What is your most cherished item left to you by your grandparents? Is there anything that you coveted that went to someone else?

5. I understand that one of your uncles is alive and living in CT. Are you in contact with him? Can you describe his life today? Do you know if he has read the book and, if so, what was his reaction?

She'll be here for our discussion-ask her anything!

6. At the end of the book, you discover that Charles Thomas, your mom’s lover, contrary to what your mother told you is still alive. Have you made any attempt to contact him or has he reached out to you since the book was published? Have others that knew your mother or grandparents reacted strongly to the book?

7. Are your mother’s ex-husbands alive and are you in contact with them?

8. I understand that you have two daughters. Are their lives, in any way, similar to yours with your siblings. Do you recognize any of the traits of your relatives in them?

Edited to add:

From Ash at English Major Junkfood:

Did you write these as individual essays and then pull them together for a book, or did you know when you were writing that you wanted this to be a cohesive memoir?

Come by tonight at 5 pm PST (8 pm EST) to say hi to Wendy and see how she answers our questions!  Hope to see you then!

Spring Reading Series: DEAD END GENE POOL Discussion Questions

Hello Spring Readers!

This month we’re reading Dead End Gene Pool, a memoir by Wendy Burden, the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt which, according to her website, ‘qualifies her to comment freely on the downward spiral of the blue blood families.’ For anyone interested in the super-rich, this is a fascinating and witty account of growing up surrounded by tremendous wealth, but it’s also a tragic tale of family dysfunction and parental neglect.

We are so fortunate to have Wendy joining us in real time, right here at Books on the Brain, on May 18th at 5 pm PST. If you’ve read Dead End Gene Pool or are curious about it, please mark your calendars and join us as we discuss the book with Wendy!

Here is a synopsis of the book, followed by a few discussion questions:

For generations the Burdens were one of the wealthiest families in New York, thanks to the inherited fortune of Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt. By 1955, the year of Wendy’s birth, the Burden’s had become a clan of overfunded, quirky and brainy, steadfastly chauvinistic, and ultimately doomed bluebloods on the verge of financial and moral decline-and were rarely seen not holding a drink. In Dead End Gene Pool, Wendy invites readers to meet her tragically flawed family, including an uncle with a fondness for Hitler, a grandfather who believes you can never have enough household staff, and a remarkably flatulent grandmother.

At the heart of the story is Wendy’s glamorous and aloof mother who, after her husband’s suicide, travels the world in search of the perfect sea and ski tan, leaving her three children in the care of a chain- smoking Scottish nanny, Fifth Avenue grandparents, and an assorted cast of long-suffering household servants (who Wendy and her brothers love to terrorize). Rife with humor, heartbreak, family intrigue, and booze, Dead End Gene Pool offers a glimpse into the fascinating world of old money and gives truth to an old maxim: The rich are different.

SO READERS- let’s get the discussion started! These are just a few questions to get you thinking- you don’t have to answer them all. Please feel free to add your own questions, and respond to each others answers, too.

1. What was your overall view of the book? Was it what you expected?

2. Were there parts of this book that were difficult to read?

3. What aspect of the book did you enjoy most?

4. In the synopsis it says that Dead End Gene Pool gives truth to an old maxim: The rich are different. The rich ARE different, but in what ways are they different? How are they the same?

5. Wendy’s grandparents placed a higher importance on her brother’s education than on hers. Have you experienced that type of inequity in your own family? If so, was the sibling relationship damaged as a result?

6. Do you think Wendy’s mother was essentially ‘bought off’ by the grandparents, bullied into making her children available to them for long stretches of time, over holidays, etc? Or was she just a really neglectful parent?

7. Who do you think was the most influential adult in Wendy’s childhood? In what way?

She'll be here for our discussion-ask her anything!

8. Wendy almost seemed to raise herself. How did she cope?

9. Often you hear about people who have come into money either through inheritance or the lottery, and blow through it really quickly. They sometimes find the money doesn’t make them any happier. Why do you think unearned money can be so difficult for people to manage?

10. What adjectives would you use to describe this book?

We can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Dead End Gene Pool. Thanks for reading along with us. And don’t forget to join us on May 18th for our discussion with Wendy!

Do you have questions for Wendy? Leave them here in the comments or email me with them and I will pass them along, for her to consider before our discussion.

Review: Impatient With Desire by Gabrielle Burton

Westward, ho!

Many know the story:  The Donner Party was a group of doomed pioneers who left in a wagon train from Springfield, Illinois in 1846 for the promise of great adventure and a better life in California.  Due to a series of mishaps, poor choices, an ill-advised shortcut, early winter weather, and time-wasting travails, the trip took much longer than planned.  The group became snowbound in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for several months with few supplies and little food.  They are infamous for the way they attempted to survive, by eating the flesh of those who had died before them.

Impatient with Desire by Gabrielle Burton is told through the imagined letters and fictional journal entries of Tamsen Donner, 45 year old wife of George Donner, the party leader.  The book was a bit tricky to follow at first, because it’s not chronological, so it would shift from the present horror of starvation and death to happier times in their past, including Tamsen and George’s courtship, their decision to go on the journey and how it was made, memories from Tamsen’s childhood and first marriage, etc., then back to the freezing, starving, mind numbing realities of the Sierra Nevadas.  It didn’t take long, though, before I got into the flow of the narrative, and I was riveted.

Tamsen tries to distract her children from their hunger and harsh surroundings by describing the apple trees and cherry orchards from home, the lovely warm breezes of a Springfield summer.  When one of the children asks, “Why did we leave?”  their mother, sadly, has no adequate answer.  It’s something she thinks about constantly.

It is well known that the real Tamsen Donner kept a journal, but it unfortunately was destroyed.  One can only guess at what might have been written there, but certainly she would have recorded births, deaths, and details of the trip.  One might also expect to find dreams of the American West (the last frontier), fear of the unknown, feelings of regret and blame at the horrific turn of events, and hope for the future of their children.  That is all here in this fictional account.

I knew of the Donner Party because of the cannibalism but wondered how things could ever have gotten to that point.  By the time I discovered the answer to that question, it seemed like the only feasible option a mother could make- survival.  Tamsen Donner comes across as courageous, loving, strong, and full of wanderlust.  This book is a fascinating account of how things might have been and truly captures the pioneer spirit.

Highly recommended.

Many thanks to the author for sending Impatient with Desire for me to review.  It was lovely, and I will pass it along to my mother, who also enjoys historical fiction.  I think it would also make a great book club selection.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 84 other followers