Book Review: West with the Night by Beryl Markham

April 29, 2008

West with the Night, a memoir by Beryl Markham, is one of my all time favorite books to read. Both for the glimpse it gives into life in Africa during the early decades of the 20th century, and for the descriptions of life for a bush pilot.

As a child growing up with her father in Africa, Markham faced down lions and wild boar. As an adult she trained race horses before learning to fly airplanes and becoming a bush pilot. Eventually she became the first pilot, female or male, to fly west with the night and cross the Atlantic ocean solo from Europe to North America. Marham bring the African bush to life with stories of boar hunts and elephant hunts. Of horse races and airplane flights over desert terrain. And she tells her story beautifully. There are other famous characters here as well. If you’re familiar with Bror Blixen and Denys Finch-Hatton, who appeared in Out of Africa, you’ll find more about both of them in this book.

Markham lived a courageous life in a time when girls were only supposed to wear dresses and play with dolls and flying airplanes was a man’s job. Her account of the early part of her life is fascinating and provides a good example for older girls. I recommend West with the Night for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 14 and older.

Book Review: Sold by Patricia McCormick

April 24, 2008

I just finished reading Sold by Patricia McCormick. The story is about a Nepalese girl—13-year-old Lakshmi—who leaves home thinking she will be working to support her desperately poor family. In reality she has been sold into the sexual slave trade and is taken far away from anything that is relevant to her. A fictional tale of a very real event, Sold is an important book that sheds light on how easily girls can be lured away from their families and into situations from which it is difficult for them to escape.

To research her story, McCormick traveled to the countries of India and Nepal, and she interviewed the women living in Calcutta’s red-light district, as well as girls who had been rescued from sexual slavery. As the mother of two daughters, I think it’s important for them to know that cases like these are not isolated, and sexual slavery occurs all over the world, even in the U.S.

Sold has recently been released in paperback, and I believe it would make for a very interesting discussion with a mother-daughter book club. The scenes of Lakshmi’s life before she leaves home are bittersweet as well as enlightening about what life is like for the people who live in the villages of Nepal. And Lakshmi is as innocent as you might expect any girl her age to be. Her voice rings true throughout the book; she’s a very real character.

A non-fiction book I recently read on this topic called Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It by David Batstone makes a great companion to Sold. Batstone tells of organizations in many different countries that are fighting this horrific practice, and gives ideas for what each of us can do to help support them.

Shakespeare’s Birthday

April 22, 2008

Tomorrow, April 23, is considered the officially recognized birthday of William Shakespeare. My daughter, Madeleine, loves to watch his plays as well as act in them when she gets a chance to do that at school. I’ve always been surprised at and a little bit in awe of her early love of Shakespeare. My own theory is that she was exposed to his works when she was young, at a time when a lot of what adults said didn’t make sense to her. So she learned to appreciate the overall story without focusing so much on understanding every single word that was spoken.

I wish I could say the same is true for me. The first Shakespeare play I saw was Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was in high school and my class traveled to see the production at a local university. That play is certainly one of the most accessible of Shakespeare’s works, but I still struggle with it. And I read as much background as I can about a play before I attend any production so I’ll know the general story line.

We haven’t chosen Shakespeare for any of our mother-daughter book club meetings, but I think it would be great to read one of his plays and then attend a theater production together as a group. I’d love to hear from someone who has done this and how it went.

Happy 444th birthday William Shakespeare.

Peanut Butter Pie Recipe

April 17, 2008

My daughter Catherine can’t get enough of this super simple pie that’s easy to prepare for a mother-daughter book club meeting. Catherine loves just about everything with peanut butter, but she’s not alone. Every time I make this recipe the pie disappears so fast I think I should have made two.

Peanut Butter Pie

  • 1 8 oz. package of cream cheese at room temperature
  • 3 to 4 tblsp. milk
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • about 1/2 cup (or slightly more) peanut butter
  • 1 tub (8 oz.)  Cool Whip, thawed

Blend all ingredients together and spoon into a graham cracker crust. Refrigerate. You can purchase a pre-prepared graham cracker crust, but making one is easy too. I make a chocolate graham cracker crust.

Chocolate Graham Cracker Crust

  • 1-1/2 cups chocolate graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 6 tblsp. melted butter

Mix all ingredients together and press into a pie tin. It will be loose and crumbly, so refrigerate until cold before spooning the pie filling in. You can bake it at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes, but my family prefers it unbaked.

It’s that simple. I got the recipe from my mom, and she also finds that the pie is gobbled up quickly every time she makes it. Enjoy!

Book Review: Songs for a Teenage Nomad by Kim Culbertson

April 15, 2008

Songs for a Teenage Nomad

Songs for a Teenage Nomad by Kim Culbertson tells the story of Callie Smith, a teen girl who’s been moving from town to town with her mother for as long as she can remember. As far as Callie is concerned, the story seldom changes – her mom meets someone new, falls in love, they move in together, life is normal for a while, and all too quickly normal ends and they are packed up and on their way again. As she starts high school in a new town, Callie dares to make friends and has hope that this time things will be different.

As the story unfolds, Callie realizes her mom is keeping a secret about their past and Callie’s father, and the mystery becomes a great part of the story. A thread running throughout the narrative is the song journal that Callie keeps. It’s like having a soundtrack of her life, and I found myself thinking about the songs that would go in my own song journal, and what the soundtrack of my life would be.

Songs for a Teenage Nomad explores many issues that are of interest to teenage girls and their moms – when is it okay for parents to withhold information they think is harmful to their children? What obligations does a child have to a potentially abusive parent? There’s a lot to discuss in this well written book. To read reviews by other readers, click here.

Trading Spaces

April 11, 2008

This is not a mother/daughter book club post; I’m passing along some information that came to me by the producers of Trading Spaces, which appears on The Learning Channel. It seems they’re searching for women to apply to be on the show. Here are the details:

Trading Spaces and Paige Davis are looking for
homeowners with rooms that need a redo and
relationships in need of serious repair.
Do you have a rival who you’d like to trade
spaces with in the hopes of resolving your
issues? Do you have a problem that you want
to try to resolve through patience, power tools
& fun?
The format is the same; 2 rooms, 2 days, $1000
dollars per room, and all your favorite
designers. But this season, the stakes are even
Contact Trading Spaces Casting:
Ask for Nina or Rachel

The World that Made New Orleans

April 10, 2008

I attended an author’s talk last night at Portland State University. I almost didn’t go, because I’m usually cooking, helping with homework and generally tired at night. But I’m glad I made the effort. Ned Sublette talked about his new book, The World that Made New Orleans. Sublette, who is a musician as well as an author of history, sprinkled his conversation with current tales of New Orleans as well as the historical facts the book concentrates on (the period from founding through 1812). I was fascinated listening to him talk about the Africans slaves and free people of color and their music. As New Orleans has become less of a major hub for commerce in the United States and more what some consider a theme park for tourists, it’s easy for people to forget about the crucial role it has played in the ongoing history of our country.

I bought a copy of the book and can’t wait to start reading it.

Book Review: A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

April 8, 2008

A Northern Light

Last night my daughter Catherine and I met with our mother-daughter daughter book club. We had read A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly. The girls are in eighth grade, and this book addresses more mature subject matters than we’ve addressed before. The girls were ready for it.

Most of us thought A Northern Light was a beautifully written book with well-developed, complicated characters who made difficult choices. It was a great entrée to discuss the limitations put on women by society in the early 1900s, and to talk about how the girls’ choices in life are so different now from when the characters were living or even from when the moms were growing up.

Set in upstate New York, A Northern Light weaves the real-life story of Grace Brown into the fictional story of Mattie Gokey (Mathilda Gauthier). Mattie’s mother has died, exacting a promise from Mattie to take care of her younger sisters and her father and brother. But Mattie’s father is isolated from his family emotionally, as he works non-stop to eke out a living on his farm. Mattie’s brother has left, after a blow-up with his father, and no one expects to see him again. Mattie’s sisters need parenting, but not from an older sister.

And Mattie has dreams of her own. She’s a talented writer who’s been accepted with a scholarship to attend Barnard College in New York. But how will she ever get the money to live while in school or permission from her father to leave? Told in flashbacks between a time when Mattie’s story intersects with Grace Brown’s, a young girl who drowned on a lake at a summer camp in the Adirondacks, and Mattie’s life leading up to that point, the story moves along at a comfortable pace until we ultimately reach the point of Mattie’s biggest decision. Donnelly flawlessly weaves in vivid details of life in the Adirondacks – lumbering camps for logging, isolated farms, summer camps for wealthy tourists, supply boats, and one-room schoolhouses – that transports the reader back to that time in history.

It also deals frankly with several sexual situations. While the passages dealing with these situations were a little awkward to read out loud, they were appropriate for readers eighth grade and older, and they also gave us a chance to discuss some issues that are tough to talk about if you’re not discussing a character in a book. Highly recommended for older mother-daughter book clubs.

Blog on New Mother Daughter Book Club

April 1, 2008

I’ve been following a blog called Booking Mama, where Julie Peterson is writing about a new mother-daughter book club that she started with her daughter a few months ago. The book reviews are great, and Booking Mama’s descriptions of her mother-daughter book club meetings are really good too. The girls in the group are 8 years old, and if you have younger girls in your group this is a wonderful place to get ideas of what to read and discuss.

I also enjoy the reviews of books for adult readers that are included on the site. Julie reads even more than I do! Here’s a link to the Booking Mama blog so you can check it out.