Saturday, December 20, 2014

Caroling on K-Love

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was given the incredible opportunity of playing with an ensemble on K-Love's national radio station. Last night, my niece in Kentucky sent a message saying that she heard me on the radio. How cool is that!

Here's a photo of our group:

I'm holding my $60 Craigslist instrument and I'm the only one in the group not wearing an official Salvation Army uniform (gave mine away back when I got married and joined my husband's church; not to mention, that one probably wouldn't fit me now anyway).

If you want to hear the brief blurb you can either click here for the sound cloud bite or go to the K-Love Morning Show blog. At the blog site, you can find a second carol. (I'm the one playing the second part - in the harmony line-up.) I don't know if they'll end up playing all four carols at some point, but it was thrilling just to have this rare opportunity to play with the group on the radio.

Merry Christmas from our small Salvation Army band ensemble!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Book Review: Dash & Lily's Book of Dares

I was all set to love this book. I mean, what could go wrong, right? It has the trail of a secreted notebook with clues for adventures, left in none other than a bookstore. It has a girl seeking a boy. It has Manhattan at Christmas time. It has a lover of words. I loved the idea that two authors worked together (Rachel Cohn writing the female voice and David Levithan writing the male voice). Yet, somehow, I didn't love this book.

Sixteen year old Dash is wandering the aisles of his favorite bookshop when he happens upon a red moleskin notebook with a challenge to join in a mutual dialogue with various dares thrown in. He is transfixed and cannot leave the notebook there. He must follow the clues and discover more about the female owner of this notebook, Lily. The notebook travels back and forth between the two characters with each one pouring out their authentic souls into the notebook. Will they still maintain this chemistry when they actually meet? Will true love descend at Christmas time?

I was truly worried I would get to my young adult book club to find that everyone else adored the book but me. Thankfully, that was not the case. Most of the others felt just as meh about it as I did. I didn't want to hear the descriptive word "snarly" one more time. And really, Dash isn't so much snarly as he is endlessly snarky and full of attitude. His love of words, while commendable, seemed to end up bogging down the dialogue instead of enhancing it. Moreover, the dialogue was a bit of a stretch for teen speak.

The willful suspension of disbelief was challenged to the limit (the notebook never falls into any other hands than it is intended for, the clues are followed without confusion, the one who happens to find the book happens to fit what Lily is looking for, etc.). If the brother knows beforehand that Lily's parents intend to uproot her to move to an exotic location, why would he send her on this wild goose chase hoping for a true love connection? Moreover, we decided in our discussion that it would have made more sense if the one who answered the notebook was in cahoots with her brother to begin with, thus having an inside view to what is going on. For whatever reason, the novel just left me wishing for more. I liked the idea and it held promise ... it just didn't deliver on all that it could have.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Book Review: Good Pictures, Bad Pictures

If you are a parent of boys these days, chances are great that you are deeply interested in finding a way to porn-proof your sons. Who isn't aware of the devastation wreaked by involvement with pornography? It is tearing apart our marriages, destroying our families, and sucking in our children at staggering rates.

According to statistics listed on Enough. org concerning Internet safety, 70 percent of children have encountered pornography on the Web accidentally (Kaiser Family Foundation, 11/2006). An even worse statistic, gleaned from the London School of Economics in January of 2002, estimates that "9 out of 10 children between 8 and 16 have viewed pornography on the Internet. In most cases, the sex sites were accessed unintentionally when a child, often in the process of doing homework, used a seemingly innocent sounding word to search for information or pictures." Our children are in danger. That is clear.

Kirsten A Jensen, MA, and Gail Poyner, PhD, have addressed this mounting problem with a book written specifically to assist parents in introducing the topic for discussion with young children, Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today's Young Kids. In the introduction to the book, the authors admit to their own discomfort with feeling led to write the book: "You may be asking yourself, 'Talk to a seven-year-old about pornography? You've got to be kidding! Shouldn't I wait until they're twelve or thirteen?' But the sad reality is that many American children begin viewing hard-core Internet pornography at the age of seven and even younger, long before most parents consider discussing the dangers."

You may feel like you've protected your child adequately because you've put in place the technology to block sexual content. Nonetheless, our sons are able to access it in ways we've not considered, perhaps through the phone of a friend. In the end, the best thing we can do for our sons is to assist them in developing their own internal filters. This book is key to opening that conversation. The authors stress the importance of "empowering kids by teaching them what pornography is, why they should avoid it, and how it can damage their brains and become a progressive addiction."

This book is effectively structured to introduce the topic and provide a solution for a child to master. The first seven chapters talk about the brain and how it functions in regard to the images they might encounter. It breaks down the information to a level a young child can grasp and appreciate. It highlights the dangers involved in opening the mind to these images which will be seared on their memories like the image of the space shuttle explosion will always be seared on my own memory. It teaches the child how pornography tricks the brain into an addiction. But, it doesn't stop there.

In chapter eight, the authors introduce children to an acronym to assist them in battling against the lure of pornography. They provide a CAN DO plan. C - The child is urged to Close their eyes immediately, even to shut down whatever device they are on, rather than continue to view the images. A - The next step is to Alert an adult. N - is for Name it as pornography. D - is a highly important phase, urging the child to Distract themselves with something different or some physical activity to divert the brain from focusing on the images. Finally, the O is for Ordering the thinking brain to take charge of the feeling brain. This is a conscious effort a child can make to extract themselves from the pull of pornography.

It is inevitable. Even with exceptional vigil, our children are bound to encounter this deadly evil at some point in their lives. This book offers an avenue for discussion and a plan of attack for a child to memorize and execute when faced with this foe. If you want a tool to help your children fend off the temptations of looking at pornography, you cannot go wrong by investing in this book and sharing it with your children (the authors highlight the dangers for both girls and boys in their introductory comments).

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Book Review: Walking Across Egypt

Walking Across Egypt wouldn't have been on my radar if it hadn't been for my book club. I had never heard of this author before or any of his books. I decided to check it out in audio form and I think the narrator did a great job of telling the story, infusing the characters with their own voices and pausing in just the right moments. It was a bit slow at times, but I did enjoy it. It reminded me somewhat of the tales of Grandma Dowdel in Richard Peck's books. With an old fashioned flair and the clear character of an elderly woman, I was swept into the tale and felt I knew Mattie inside and out.

Mattie Rigsby, at age 78, is slowing down.  When an old dog wanders into her yard, she realizes she has about as much business taking in a stray dog as she has of "walking across Egypt," (apparently the name of an old hymn). She calls the dogcatcher and ends up learning of his nephew, Wesley, a boy familiar with the hard knocks of life. Raised in an orphanage and now in a youth detention center due to the theft of a car, Wesley appears to Mattie to be "one of the least of these my brethren." She determines to take him a slice of pie and pound cake. What follows is a hilarious adventure as we delve further and further into the mind of this elderly woman and the plight of this wayward young man. She yearns for grandchildren, but her own children refuse to cooperate and get married. She serves up a helping heap of good food to everyone who comes her way.

With plenty of laughter injected into the story, this is a tale from yesteryear full of Southern charm. It includes ruminations on the necessity of good manners, the importance of family, the duty of compassion, the trials of children not taking the road you desire, and the need for a purpose in life. I delighted in the voice of Mattie and the imagination of Wesley. The whole cast of characters appealed to me.

Although the book is considered a young adult novel, I think it would probably appeal more to an older crowd than to teenagers today. It wasn't labeled as young adult at my library, but does have a review by the School Library Journal and has a special binding for school libraries. I noted at the end of the book that there is a sequel, called Killer Diller (which my library has, thankfully). Plus, it might be interesting to look into viewing the 1999 movie version of this book available on YouTube (although the casting of Jonathan Taylor Thomas as Wesley seems a bit too attractive for the character I saw in my mind's eye). I'm so glad this was our book selection for December.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Book Review: The Silent Sister

The drama unfolds seamlessly in Diane Chamberlain's novel, The Silent Sister. She carefully weaves each clue into the tale, one at a time, until the truth is revealed and the final crisis moment arrives. The suspense is palpable, but I figured out the truth too soon. Plus, I thought the resolution was a bit too quick and undefined. In the end, we are left wondering whether or not the silent sister meets her tragic end or not.

Riley MacPherson and her brother Danny have been told that their older sister committed suicide, as a teen, over the stress of being a child prodigy on the violin. Their family has been reeling ever since. The deceased mother spent the rest of her life as a shell of the woman she once was. Danny is angry and volatile in the aftermath of all the attention given to his older sister.

Now Riley is forced to confront the past as she clears things out of her family home after the death of her father. Danny is no help at all, wanting nothing to do with the past or his family. When information is uncovered suggesting that her sister Lisa's suicide was faked, Riley must uncover the clues of the past and discover much about herself in the process. Feeling alone in the face of loss, she is desperate to find out anything she can about this much older sister (15 year gap) even if her brother is determined to bring this attention thief to justice.

The beginning was a bit slow getting going, but once I reached the 100th page, I was deeply engrossed in the novel. This author does a fine job of maintaining the reader's interest and slowly unveiling the truth. I would be willing to attempt another suspense novel from this author. From the reviews on Amazon, it sounds like many have liked her other books even more.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Review: Remember Me?

I always love how Sophie Kinsella can craft a believable, strong female protagonist, inject ample humor, and weave an interesting journey of a tale. I adored the Shopaholic series. I knew this would be another example of a great story with memorable characters.

Remember Me? tells the tale of twenty-eight year old Lexi Smart, who wakes up from a jolt to the head to find that she has lost three years' worth of memory. One would think things couldn't change much in such a short amount of time, but for Lexi, her whole existence is different and she has to figure out how she got to where she is now. At first, it seems like she has won the lottery. She has a drop-dead gorgeous, wealthy husband, lives in a beautiful, expensive loft, and is no longer a clerk at her company, but actually the boss of her department. It would seem that life couldn't get any better than this. Only problem is, she is a different person and her past is riddled with questions and secrets she must uncover.

While I did thoroughly enjoy the story and really liked the main character, I simply could have done without the sexual part of the story. For one thing, I could only listen to the story when my boys were at school (since I checked this out in audio form to ingest while exercising). Even then, there were moments when my husband walked into the room and definitely gave me looks to say, "What on earth are you listening to?" This was awkward and embarrassing. Yikes.

If all the sexual details don't unnerve you, then you can't go wrong with another Sophie Kinsella offering. She remains one of my favorite authors (just learned that Sophie Kinsella is a pseudonym - didn't know that). So glad my mom recommended her Shopaholic series to me so many years ago. I'm hoping the next installment of that series, Shopaholic to the Stars, will be one I can listen to in any company.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Review: Lulu's Lunch

Here is yet another children's book my friend Anne is launching in time for Christmas purchases. Lulu's Lunch tells the age-old story of the bully who takes the lunch with a twist on the solution. When I read the book to my seven year old, he said his favorite part was that the children came up with the solution to the problem on their own. He also loved the illustrations of Brutus, the bully, who is three times the size of the other children. This book provides a great conversation opener for kids trying to deal with a bully.

I received this book in exchange for an honest review.