Friday, January 1, 2010


Welcome! The rules are real simple:

1. The challenge starts January 1, 2009 and ends December 31, 2009.

2. Books have to be either a memoir, autobiography, or biography.

3. You can overlap with other challenges:

4. Re-reads count.

5. You pick how many books you want to read.

6. You do not need to make a list. This challenge is flexible and the goal is to have fun and read.

Instead of leaving a review this year, we'll be using Mr. Linky which is much easier for everyone. Happy readings!

NOTE: I was trying to get Mr. Linky attached, but he hates me. So just leave a link to your specific post in the comments section.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


"Kitchen Privileges" by Mary Higgins Clark
(from inside flap)
Even as a young girl, growing up in the Bronx, Mary Higgins Clark knew she wanted to be a writer. Teh gift of storytelling was a part of her Irish ancestry, so it followed that she would later use her sharp eye, keen intelligence, and inquisitive nature to create stories about the people and things she observed.

When Mary Higgins Clark's father died during the Depression, her mother opened their home to roomers, announced by a discreet sign that read
Those who responded proved to be a colorful lot.

Studying these diverse people, then later observing passengers on the Pan Am flights on which she worked as a stewardess, Clark began to form ideas for short stories that later appeared in magazines.

When her husband died, leaving her a young widow with five children to support, she found work writing radio scripts and also decided to try her hand at writing novels, the second of which was Where Are the Children? That book launched her career and was the first of 27 (and still counting) best-selling novels of suspense.

As Mary Higgins Clark has said when asked if she might give up writing for a life of leisure, "Never! To be happy for a year, win the lottery. To be happy for life, love what you do."

In Kitchen Privileges, she reflects on the joy that her life as a writer has brought her, and shares with readers the love that she has found.

This book follows Ms. Clark's life from the time she is 3. It takes you through the Depression, the World War 2, the 60's and Viet Nam. Through all this Ms. Clark is writing short stories and submitting them to the poplar magazine's of the day. And trying her best to raise her 5 children by herself. It also looks into how a writer gets started and how she got her first book published. Well, the book we probably all have heard of. Her first book ever published is called,
"Aspire to the Heavens", which was based on George and Martha Washington's life. If you click on the name of the book it will take you to where they have the book listed. If you have read any of Ms. Clark's books, you should read this Memoir. It lets you see how she began her writing career.


This book concludes the reading challenge for me. 5 of 5 books read.

1. The Sum of Our Days - Isabel Allende
2. The Mighty Queens of Freeville - Amy Dickerson
3. Jantzen's Gift - Pam Cope
4. Dog Years - Mark Doty
5. Kitchen Privileges - Mary Higgins Clark

Monday, July 6, 2009


"Dog Years" by Mark Doty

(from the back cover)
Why do dogs speak so deeply to our inner lives? When Mark Doty decides to adopt a dog as a companion for his dying partner, he brings home Beau, a large golden retriever, malnourished and in need of loving care. Beau joins Arde, the black retriever, to complete Mark's family. As Beau bounds back to like, the two dogs become Mark Doty's intimate companions, his solace, and eventually the very life force that keeps him from abandoning all hope during the darkest days. Their tenacity, loyalty, and love inspire him when everyting else fails.

"As someone who is in love with a dog, I found this book to be an oracle of truth. For those who have yet to love a dog, it will be a revelation." Ann Patchett

The quote on the back of the this book from Ann Patchett summarizes this book to a T. I didn't think I would like this book when I got it. But it is a very good book, happy, sad, hilarious, and just plain fun to read. As you follow Mark, Beau and Arden around the country there are some really funny happenings along the way. It also gives you insight into the ways animals work into our everyday lives. Our family has 2 critters living with us. I can't even imagine when the time comes what we will do when they die. Mark Doty gives you the a way of letting go when that time comes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Up a Country Lane

Up a Country Lane by Evelyn Birkby

Up A Country Lane is part memoir and part cookbook. Through stories and photographs Evelyn shares what life was like living on a farm in rural Iowa during the decade following WWII. Neither Evelyn or her husband Robert were farmers but like many young couples from the era they were eager to rent a farm, put down roots and build a meaningful life on the farm. Evelyn shares everything from the sense of community, gardening,the ritual of grocery shopping and the use of meat lockers to raising chickens, milking, haying, harvesting, schools, social clubs and so much more.
Evelyn does not shy away from the reality of life on a farm and shares stories of drought, ruined crops, sickness and accidents. "A family on a small farm could have more than its share of isolation, loneliness, and constant need for hard, physical labor. So the memories of simple, happy events and celebrations must realistically be tempered by the struggles endured."
Many of Evelyn's stories made me smile but some were also heartbreaking.
If there was one thing that could bring a farming community together it was food. Potlucks, club luncheons, harvest feasts and holiday gatherings were all occasions to pull out platters, bowls and pie plates. At the end of each chapter Evelyn shares many simple recipes that were favorites in her family and many neighboring families as well. These are recipes that people really made and ate, recipes that the people were connected with.
One of the recipes I've tried was Curried Beef and Rice and let me tell you that was one hearty, filling meal. Beef, potatoes lots of vegetables and seasonings all served over rice. It was delicious but like I said very hearty and filling and I can see why a hard working farm family would enjoy that meal.
I love that every time I make a recipe from this book I can flip through the pages and read some of Evelyn's stories again. A treasure of a book. I'm glad I stumbled upon it.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


"Jantsen's Gift" by Pam Cope

(from inside flap)
Ten yers ago, Pam Cope owned a hair salon in the small town of Neosho, Missouri. Her life revolved around her son's baseball games, her daughter's dance lessons, and family trips to places like Disney World. She had never been out of the country, nor had she any desire to travel far from home.
Then, on June 16, 1999, her life changed forever when her fifteen-year-old son Jantsen died from an undiagnosed heart ailment. Drowning in sadness and needing to get as far away from her loss as possible, she accepted a friend's invitation to visit orphanages in Vietnam. From the moment she arrived, everything began to shift. By the time she returned home, she had a new mission: to use her pain to change the world, one small step at a time, one child at a time.
Within one year, Pam had rescued thirty children from the streets of Vietnam. Within five yers, that number had grown to more than two hundred. Then, in 2006, a New York Times article about young children being sold into slavery in Ghanna galvanized her to travel thousands of miles to intervene on their behalf. Today, Pam is the director and founder of Touch A Life, and organization dedicated to helping at-risk children all over the world, and she is working to build a center in Northern Ghanna that offers a safe shelter and a promising future for the children she has rescued from slavery.

This is a very inspiring book!!! I can certainly feel for Pam at the loss of a child. I have lost a child, our daughter Shondella Iris died February 26, 1977. She was 4 1/2 years old. This is a very moving and sometimes hard book to read. All the agony, frustration, and heartbreak is almost overwhelming. But I did keep going if for no other reason than to see if Pam acturally got the children out of slavery in Ghanna. And she didn't get them all, but got lots of them. At the end of the book she gives you the info on the children that she has wrote about in the book. How they are doing and what's going on in their life's at the time the book is written. Pam also gives you the website of her foundation. You can find lots more info at the Touch A Life website. Just click on the name Touch A Life and you will go there!


Thursday, May 21, 2009


"The Mighty Queens of Freeville" by Amy Dickinson

(from the inside page)
Like all good monarchs, the Mighty Queens of Freevile rule fairly and from a distance. Amy's memoir is in part a love letter to her hometown of Freevile, NY (population 458), a small town in upstate New York that satys simple and pure while the world changes around it, and in part iit is a tribute to a family of women who support and draw strengh from one another.
This is a memoir about the people and animals who have trampled through Amy's life. It offers a narrative that is both universal and personal.....honest and witty.

I really liked this book lots!! It was very funny at was also a little sad at times. As Amy comes to the conclusion that her marriage is over and she has to raise her daughter alone, Amy gets on with her life raising her daughter, finding a job, getting an apartment, and going home to Freeville. She has a few stops along the way. Washington, D.C. and New York are a couple of stops she makes. Amy also gives you glimpses into her dating and her cats life. Then you also get to see her daughter grow up and go off to college. Wonderful book, I didn't want it to end, but it does and there is a happy ending. But you'll have to read the book to find out what the happy ending is!!


You can see the reviews of all the books I have read for this challenge here. This will take you to my archives of all the books I have read and reviewed for this reading challenge. Sorry I haven't posted here, but totally forgot I could post my review at this blog. This is book 12 for me.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Other Half

The Other Half: The Life of Jacob Riis and the World of Immigrant America by Tom Buk-Swienty, translated by Annette Buk-Swienty

When Jacob Riis died in 1914 he was considered a hero and mourned by millions, including his personal friend and fellow reformer Theodore Roosevelt. But how many of us today know who Jacob Riis was or what he did to gain such a reputation?
In his very readable and fascinating biography Tom Buk-Swienty has brought the story of Jacob Riis back to life. "As if plucked from a variant Horotio Alger novel, his is the story of a poor young Dane from the isolated yet picturesque medieval town of Ribe who immigrates to the United States in 1870 because of broken heart, nearly starves during his first months there, and is so despondent that he nearly dies. He then goes on to live what can only be described as the proverbial American dream: He starts at the bottom, struggles mightily, and then makes a living as an iron salesman. Once again, though, he loses all; then by chance he gets a job as a low-paid journalist and, in a few years, becomes a star police reporter and, finally, the author of a resounding best seller and classic, How the Other Half Lives. At the same time he practically invents modern photojournalism, is knighted by the Danish King, and becomes a close friend of Theodore Roosevelt. Together they fight police corruption and work to eradicate the worst slums in New York City, their herculean efforts succeeding beyond anyone's expectations." (xv)
In short, Riis was an early progressive reformer and muckraking reporter before the term muckraker had even been coined. This poor Danish immigrant became one of the biggest social reformers of the day, campaigning successfully against the slums and tenements. Riis' work brought massive reforms including the destruction of some of the worst slums in New York Cty. Mulberry Bend was once an infamous slum and is today known as Columbus Park due to the efforts of Riis. Jacob Riis made it impossible for the wealthy and middle class Americans of the day to keep ignoring the poor and destitute living amongst them. Riis photographs, taken with a revolutionary new flash, literally brought the dark and dank slums to light.
Tom Buk-Swienty's biography does an excellent job of telling Jacob Riis' story, from his early life in Denmark, his heartbreak over the love of his life (and the amazing turn around that actually leads to him getting the girl), his early destitute days in America and his, eventual, dedicated hard work that led to him becoming a famous reporter and reformer. The book also provides an excellent look at life in New York City at the turn of the century and the break with old Victorian standards towards the poor and charity. A very compelling biography.Here are some links to more information about Riis:
-If you've got a few minutes, watch this video clip from a documentary about Riis. It showcases many of his photographs.
-An NPR article about Riis and Buk-Swienty's biography.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bad Blood by Lorna Sage

Pages - 281

This book won the Whitbread Prize For Biography in 2001.
I am also a little wary of biographies that have titles like Bad Blood, because there has been such an influx of biographies dealing with children being abused, that I am always concerned it is going to be of the same vein and I just can't read books like that. Luckily this book is not like that at all. It is quite a tragic story but there is nothing in it that would have made me not read it.
This memoir looks at three different marriages within Lorna's family. She looks at how these relationships made her the person she became. By being an integral part of her family, you realise why she strived so hard in her later life, as if she was always trying to clear the family name.
The first part of the book looks at the very destructive marriage of Lorna's adored grandfather, the local vicar who introduced Lorna to her love of books and her grandmother who never really grew up and took charge of her family and responsibilities. Her grandfather became destroyed by this unhappy marriage in the end and moved on to having two affairs, the second affair with his daughters best friend which shocked the small village they lived in and ruined his reputation.
The second part of the book deals with the marriage of Lorna's mum and dad. Lorna's mum never really recovered from her father's affair with her best friend. She spent most of her marriage secluded in her own house, also unable to take responsibility for her home and her family. Her father kept up a front by covering for her mother and obviously loved her completely.
The third part looks at the early relationship and marriage between Lorna and her husband Vic. Lorna ruined the family name and was seen to follow in her grandfathers footsteps by causing scandal to the family. Lorna fell pregnant before she left school and had to deal with the affect it had on all the family. During that time, it was the worst thing a girl could do, to be pregnant out of wedlock and she had to fight very hard in order to keep her child and to carry on her education. She eventually went on to university and Vic and Lorna were featured in the Daily Mail as the first married couple to graduate in the same subject at the same time and both get Firsts.
All through Lorna's life, you read about her love of literature, which she grasped with both hands from a young age. She had never needed much sleep and her doctor prescribed her with a light and a set of books to keep her occupied through the hours she no longer need to sleep through.
I enjoyed this book, it was interesting to be able to compare the three different marriages, but I would have liked the section on Lorna to be a bit longer. From the book, it is very clear how much Lorna adored her grandfather and writes about him in a way to try and win his redemption from everything wrongdoing he committed. She often writes scornfully about his antics, but there is definitely a firm underlying love for him. From the first couple of sentences you are aware that her grandfather wasn't your run of mill vicar. I couldn't help but think of the drunken vicar in Father Ted. See what you think.
' Grandfather's skirts would flap in the wind along the churchyard path and I would hang on. he often found things to do in the vestry, excuses for getting out of the vicarage (kicking the swollen door, cursing ) and so long as he took me he couldn't get up to much. I was a sort of hobble; he was my minder and I was his'
The book is partly set in places that are familiar to me, such as Tonypandy is South Wales. My family come from there and my aunt still lives there. Lorna's grandmother owned the little shop up amongst the houses and I couldn't help but imagine my nan visiting the shop when she lived there as it would have been one of a few shops in the area.
It was an interesting biography and I am really glad I read it. I don't know if I would have picked it myself, so I thank Annie for lending it to me. I would definitely have liked to read more about Lorna, but she obviously felt that the story of her grandfather was more interesting than her own life story. Personally I found her own story gripped me more, as she defied the way teenage pregnancies were treated during that era and went onto pave the way for other young unmarried mothers to achieve an impressive education and further along the line have a really successful career.
Lorna Sage was a professor of English at the University of East Anglia and also wrote a couple of non fiction books. She passed away in January 2001 after witnessing the success of her memoirs.
Has anybody else read this book?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Lincolns

Title: The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary
Author: Candace Fleming

What I loved most about this book is that it was not just another book about Abraham Lincoln but as the title implies was about both Abraham and Mary. It was very interesting to get a look at Mary along side her husband.
I also loved the scrapbook format of this book. It is absolutely full of interesting photographs, paintings, newspaper clippings and images of documents. Have a gander at Grant's hand written terms of surrender from Appomattox Court House or a copy of a draft from the Gettysburg address in Lincoln's handwriting. Great stuff. And because the book is set up like a scrapbook there are lots of little sections and snippets of information grouped together that just made a unique and interesting reading experience.
Filled with great trivia and bits of personal information about the Lincoln's this book is not to be missed.
I really want to track down a copy of the author's scrapbook look at Eleanor Roosevelt. That should be really interesting.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


In The Sum of Our Days, internationally acclaimed author Isabel Allende reconstructs the painful reality of her own life in the wake of the tragic death of her daughter, Paula. Narrated with warmth, humor, exceptional candor, and wisdom, this remarkable memoir is as exuberant and full of life as its creator. Allende bares her soul as she shares her thoughts on love, marriage, motherhood, spirituality and religion, infidelity, addiction, and memory—and recounts stories of the wildly eccentric, strong-minded, and eclectic tribe she gathers around her and lovingly embraces as a new kind of family.

Product Description(from Amazon.Com)

This is a wonderful, witty, and loving book! I really liked it. Isabel Allende is very frank about her life. The death of her daughter, her son's divorce and remarriage, and all the people she seems to "adopt". Very moving book!

Thank you for the invite to this blog. Here is my list of books:

1. The Sum of Our Days: A Memoir - Isabel Allende
2. Clear Springs: A Memoir - Bobbie Ann Mason
3. Her Last Death: A Memoir - Susanna Sonnenberg
4. Dog Years: A Memoir - Mark Doty
5. Kitchen Privileges: A Memoir - Marry Higgins Clark