Book reviews: 52 Life Lessons from Les Misérables and Let There Be Light

52 Little Lessons from Les Misérables

This book is a mixed bag for me. I want to love it, and everything I usually rate would mean I love it. The introduction is well done, Bob Welch does a great job explaining his purpose and methodology, and the premise is a winner. I spent days in the basement of my childhood home, devouring a dusty library copy of the unabridged Les Misérables. (The unabridged version is worth the read, and it’s not the literary snob in me saying this. With the abridged, we get the familiar story and action most people have heard or seen in the musical and movies. With the unabridged, we get the whole setup for why and how.)

The life lessons from a narrative point in Les Misérables are well-chosen, if a bit cliched, and the examples from Welch’s real life give a folksy, down-to-earth application. As I said, I should love this book…but I don’t. Perhaps the error was mine in thinking a “52 Life Lessons” title would mean more than short and superficial messages. However, the richly detailed and nuanced introduction left me disappointed when the following chapters gave only an oversimplified message.

Perhaps this is what the target audience wants. For someone wanting short, to-the-point, and easy-to-understand chapters that can be read in any order, this could be a useful devotional. I did enjoy some of the chapters.

by Bob Welch

Let There Be Light

By Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Illustrated by Nancy Tillman

Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s name on this cover commanded my attention, and I was eager to receive the book for review. It may be the small size and the board book version, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d anticipated. However, it would be difficult for any book to live up the expectations of Tutu’s name.

It’s a pleasant Christmas story that children will enjoy, and the message is certainly a good one.

(Books provided for review by BookLook, a subsidiary of HarperCollins.)

Ana’s Advent Calendar Day 5: 3rd Annual Blue Christmas

FB-CoverPic(1)

Saranna has been a friend since I first began publishing. She’s helped me with sex scenes (er, writing them and not performing them…), lent an ear, and been a good friend in more ways than one. When her mother died earlier this year, I watched Saranna come to terms with this loss in her usual amazingly strong way. Saranna is someone I respect and love, and I asked her to share her story with you.

Our dear friend Bas said two years ago, a few months before he died, that Christmas is joy and grief at the same time. Remembering those we’ve lost and making room for new loved ones. You can see Bas’ comment on the first Blue Christmas here. I also talked about Bas for Advent Calendar last year here. This year, I remember my dear quilting granny friend who died in September, and I worry about another friend whose health has taken a drastic turn. Heather Fortman, who ordinarily would be one of our rowdiest players, is grieving the unexpected death of her mother on Wednesday.

Life is not fair. But in the midst of the unfairness, I hope we can find community in our loss and love.

Saranna will respond to comments today. Please do respond to her post, but also name someone (or more than one) who is in your heart today. Hugs and love from Ana.

And now, for Saranna–

First Christmases

 

I had a lot I wanted to say when I started writing this post and a lot of it was hard and maybe just a little bit ugly. Not ugly like it was cruel, but ugly like the cry face that some people have that’s just so visceral it hurts to look at them. But I decided I don’t need that. I’ve got enough of it and that’s not what I want to spread around. It’s not what she would want me to spread around.

As I’m writing this, it’s my mom’s birthday. She would’ve been 73. This is my first Christmas without her. It’s my first of many things without her. It’s hard not to focus on the challenges of our relationship, because some of those are regrets. But regret is fairly useless emotion unless you learn from it.

She used to tell me I’d have regrets when she was gone, and I do, but not the same ones she thought I’d have. Even though I’ll give her that one. I learned in the last few years that it didn’t kill me to tell her she was right.

But I am who I am because of her.

I’ve never known a more stubborn woman in all of my life. Locking horns with her growing up, it was like a young ram hardening his skull. And it is that hard. I’ll lock horns with anyone, if I think it’s warranted. Correction: Not just anyone, but anything too. Even a brick wall. Eventually one of us has to fall down and it’s not going to be me. That’s served me well all through my many different career paths. You’d have thought that it would’ve served me best when I was a corrections officer, but you know what was harder than that? Being a writer.

She gave me my love of books and writing, too.

When my parents took me home the first time, I was a little over a year old. My adoption wasn’t final until my second birthday.

My first year of life was pretty much an Easy Bake recipe for How To Make A Sociopath. I was neglected both physically and emotionally. I wasn’t held, I was malnourished, and I had motor delays. I couldn’t even sit up for very long by myself when child services took custody. I have their original notes. The case worker thought I was retarded. Her words, not mine.

My mother read to me all the time, held me all the time, quit her job to stay home and work with me because I had an attachment disorder.

I’ve worked through my attachment disorder, I’m a mostly functional, empathetic, intelligent human being with a MENSA IQ. I’m a successful writer. I’m a successful mother.

And I can sit up on my own for however long I want to.

Christmas was her favorite holiday, at least it was until she lost all of her family. Then, not so much. Then it was more about melancholy and memories of years past.

But this year, when I first started missing her, I started getting out the Christmas decorations. Because she loved them. Because they made me feel close to her. Someone said that for every Christmas decoration out before Thanksgiving, a baby reindeer dies. Well, let’s just say at my house, reindeer might be an endangered species.

And I don’t care. Decorating for Christmas and feeling the Christmas spirit in my bones and in my heart isn’t about what other people think about it. It’s about me. It’s about her. It’s about the memories that bind us together, the rituals that commit these times past to the forever pages in our minds. It’s about getting a few more minutes to spend with my mother.

Not the woman who was there in her skin when she got sick, paranoid and delusional, but the one I know was there underneath trying to get out. The one who saw that little girl who needed her, held her in her arms and said, “yeah, we want this one.”

I’m determined this is going to be a good Christmas for my girls. We’re about to go shopping for our tree. They wanted to do it today because it’s my mom’s birthday. It’s going to be a new tradition that today is the day we buy the tree, today is the day that we remember, and today is the day we keep her with us always.

Thanks so much for reading and sharing this day with me. I hope the Christmas season brings you whatever you need most this year.

Xoxo

Saranna DeWylde

 

Saranna DeWylde has always been fascinated by things better left in the dark. She wrote her first story after watching The Exorcist at a slumber party. Since then, she’s published horror, romance and narrative nonfiction. Like all writers, Saranna has held a variety of jobs, from operations supervisor for an airline, to an assistant for a call girl, to a corrections officer. But like Hemingway said, “Once writing has become your major vice and greatest pleasure, only death can stop it.” So she traded in her cuffs for a full-time keyboard. She loves to hear from her readers.

http://www.amazon.com/Fat-Labels-Book-Saranna-DeWylde-ebook/dp/B00K23BQEO

www.sarannadewylde.com
www.facebook.com/SarannaDeWylde
www.twitter.com/SarannaDeWylde

Ana’s Advent Calendar 2014, Day 3: 2nd Annual Holiday Recipe Exchange

FB-CoverPic(1)

Today’s announcements: I have received some serious news about a friend’s health and took time yesterday to process it. Please don’t worry. I am fine, and Advent Calendar will proceed as normal. But I was not able to respond to comments the way I wished, and I apologize for that. This season can be a joyous one, but it can also be a difficult reminder of loss and times of heartache. In that spirit, we will have the third annual Blue Christmas post on Friday to honor those for whom this holiday is less than joyous. It’s a sacred tradition of Ana’s Advent Calendar, and for me it is the heart of the entire event. I created Advent Calendar specifically for those who feel alienated, sad, weary, or unhappy during a month in which the world seems to celebrate. There is a place for us, too. If you feel quiet, if you feel unsure about socializing or drinking eggnog, have no fear. Here, you are welcome just as you are. (Unless you are a troll. Trolls should go back to living under the bridge. :P)

Also, you may have noticed comments from the inimitable Kathryn Blake, best known as Headmistress Blake of disciplinary fame. She has returned for a second year as helper elf, and she is joined by the lovely Anna Jones of Witty Bard Press. They are helping me behind the scenes. If they ask you questions or give you a gentle reminder, please obey them as you would me. Wait. Without the merciless teasing. 😀 Never mind, tease away.

I will be away tomorrow through Saturday (or Sunday, if weather decides not to cooperate), but you will be in the capable hands of Kathryn, Anna, and an amazing series of guest posters. I will check in as I am able, and I will return to you for sure on Monday. Sunday, I hope. 🙂

Last year’s Holiday Recipes post generated an amazing wealth of tasty treat ideas. Michelle B collected all of the recipes into a surprise party favor. Michelle B has offered to do the same this year, so please make sure your recipes have clear measurements, all necessary steps, and are easy to understand. You can use either imperial (cup, teaspoon) or metric measurements, but please be consistent.

The following is a recipe I made with my mom every Thanksgiving. For some reason, ginger cookies were cut into turkey shapes for Thanksgiving, while Christmas meant white sugar rolled-out cookies. I always preferred the more flavorful ginger cookies, but to this day I think of ginger cookies as Thanksgiving cookies. It feels naughty to make them for Christmas, and we all know I’m about the naughty!

Rolled-out cookies are special to me because my mother (who baked/cooked because she was a woman and expected to do so, not because she enjoyed it) only made them twice a year. She hated her kitchen in a mess, and she particularly hated Ana creating mess in her perpetual excitement. (No one can picture me excited about a project, right?) I’ll never make cookies as perfectly or neatly as my mom, but I like to think that imperfections are a sign of love.

Here is this year’s holiday recipe for Advent Calendar. If you go to last year’s PDF, you’ll find a recipe for another of my favorites–vanilla caramels. Yum.

UPDATE: If you add an image to your recipe, Michelle B will include it in the cookbook. You can post the photo directly (I think) or a link to it.

Rolled Ginger Cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup shortening

1 cup white sugar

1 egg

1 cup molasses

2 Tablespoons vinegar

5 cups sifted flour

1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon ginger (powdered)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

Cream shortening and sugar. Add egg, molasses, and vinegar. Beat well (with a wooden spoon! Oh, joy!). Sift dry ingredients together and stir into the wet mixture. Chill for three hours.

Roll out on floured surface and sprinkle with sugar. Cut with cookie cutters.

Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 5-6 minutes (depending on thickness) on an ungreased cookie sheet. Cool slightly and move to cooling racks.

 

 

 

 

Today, I’d like you to do three things:

  1. Share your favorite holiday recipe. This is not a contest to show cooking expertise. If your favorite holiday recipe is to go to the grocery store and buy a pint of eggnog, tell us! If you like to slice hot dogs lengthwise and doctor them up with barbecue sauce, go for it. If you don’t cook, what food do you like to enjoy for the holidays?
  2. Reply to at least two other recipes in the comment thread. Have you tried it before? Is it new to you? Would you like to try it?
  3. If you have tried cooking or baking before, please share a story about your worst disaster. Mine? Too many to count. Most recently, I wanted to make Michelle B’s shortbread cookies from last year’s cookbook. I mixed everything together and set the dough in the fridge to chill. Then I got slammed with work, so I didn’t get a chance to check the dough…for two days. I had to throw the dry, crumbly mess away. Oops! Or there’s the time I wanted to make perfect lemon bars for my friend’s funeral and went through three batches, had to buy a new non-warped pan, and learned why RealLemon is not real at all. It took three tries, but I did finally get it right. 🙂

UPDATE: If you add an image to your recipe, Michelle B will include it in the cookbook. You can post the photo directly (I think) or a link to it.

Mrs. Claus surprise check!

Today’s Advent Calendar post is here.

I admit it.  Yesterday I wanted to conduct a surprise check for the first person to vote for Team Ana.  I told myself that this was *my* Advent Calendar, I set the rules, and if I wanted to use an after-the-fact bribe it was within my prerogative.  I figured if I put up a reward for voting for Team Ana, the votes would all come my way and it would be a landslide.

Then a vision of Mrs. Claus appeared, and I must say that her wooden spoon was rather intimidating.  I tried to reason with her that Sue was using bribery and it was only fair for me to level the playing field, but Mrs. Claus crisply told me that I should be concerned about my own behavior.  Then she gave me reason to become *very* concerned, *very* fast.

Let’s just say that Mrs. Claus and I have an “understanding” now.

She makes her wishes known, and I understand them.

In deference to the avenging Mrs. Claus, I conducted a “Mrs. Claus” surprise check for yesterday’s entries.  Everyone who mentioned “Mrs. Claus” in his or her comment was put into a prize pool:

  • Pao
  • Minelle
  • Joelle
  • Sunny Girl
  • Julia
  • Cat
  • Sassy Chassy

Then I randomly chose one of the names.  Who was the winner?  Why, it was our very favorite:

Sunny Girl!

I randomly selected one of Sue’s books for you, and you win A Firm Husband.

Congratulations, Sunny!  Please email me so I can set you up with a copy of the book.

Regarding the Perfect Attendance Award, we have an impressive eleven contenders as of yesterday!

  • Bas
  • Minelle
  • Abby
  • Jade
  • Julia
  • Kelsey
  • Pao
  • Renee
  • Sassy Chassy
  • SassyTwatter
  • Sunny Girl

***THIS IS AN ANNOUNCEMENT POST ONLY, AND COMMENTS DO NOT COUNT AS ADVENT CALENDAR ENTRIES***

Blue Christmas (Advent Calendar Day 4)

I don’t need to remind you to sign up in order to be eligible for prizes, do I?  (Yes, Julia, you are already signed up.  🙂  Only one sign-up required for the month.)

When I was younger, my church started a tradition called “Blue Christmas”.  During the first week or so of December, there would be a special Christmas worship service for anyone for whom Christmas was less than a 100% joyful experience.  (Really, isn’t that most of us?)

One lesser-known fact about Kat is that she lost her father at Christmas time.  She almost never talks about it, but every year the presence of his absence colors her experience of Christmas.  She also is not a huge fan of Christmas because she works in retail and dreads the crowds of stressed-out, angry shoppers determined to out-shop everyone else.

For some, Christmas is a wonderfully happy time filled with anticipation, family, and celebration.

For some, Christmas is pure misery.

For some (I think probably the majority), Christmas is a time of both loss and joy.  Maybe we burden ourselves with expectations of providing the “perfect” day for our children, partner/spouse, or family.  Especially in times that are economically difficult for many, maybe Christmas means wishing we could provide for our families.  Maybe we are separated from family, and an international holiday only reinforces that loss of family.  Maybe we can’t stand the enforced socialization of alcohol-laced office “parties” that require fancy dress and fake smiles on what should be our off time.  Maybe it is caring for a terminally ill loved one who may not make it through the holiday season.

Maybe, especially as we grow older, Christmas reminds us of loved ones who are no longer with us.  I think of my beloved grandmother who taught me to crochet.  A friend from high school who, before he was old enough to graduate, decided that life was no longer worth living.  A friend’s younger brother who died before graduating from elementary school.

Celebrations and happy times are wonderful, but sometimes watching other people’s celebrations can make it more painful to experience our own loss.  I’ve mentioned before that Christmas this year will be a quiet one for me, and instead of feeling sorry for myself I want to focus on celebrating what and who I do have with me.  Still, today I would like to honor those for whom Christmas may be a bit difficult.  You are not alone, and what you are experiencing is 100% okay.

Today’s Advent Calendar question is: If we were attending a Blue Christmas event today, who or what would be on your mind?  If the question is too personal, feel free to substitute this question: What about Christmas do you find difficult?

If nothing about Christmas is difficult for you (lucky you!), then perhaps: Had you ever thought about the holiday season not always being positive?

However, please don’t talk about pet peeves because that is a question for another day.  🙂

.

P.S.  For more on reaching out to someone who is having a difficult time, please read my guest post today at Renee’s blog.

Six Sentence Sunday: Performing His Duties

Good morning, Sixers!  If you want to play Ana’s Advent Calendar, please sign up here so that your comment today will be eligible.  If you don’t want to play and just want to leave a Six Sunday comment, that is also great!  (As a side note, sixteen readers are on their way to a Perfect Attendance award!  Congratulations!)

Today’s snippet is from my soon-to-be-released book, The Vengeance of Mrs. Claus.  Look for it on December 8th from Blushing Books!  Cover and blurb are below.

.

.

Minelle gave a nervous giggle.  “Matthew,” she whispered as she ran a hand down his arm, “slow down.  I don’t even know what we’re doing.”

Matthew gave a flick to his wrist that sent the soft, silky strands of the flogger playing across her breasts.  “I am,” he said slowly, “performing my duties as a husband to my wife.”  He unbuttoned her blouse further.

.

.

vitskymrsclaus

In some countries, turning 21 means gaining the right to vote and drink alcoholic beverages.  For Claire Labraun, the Christmas after her 21st birthday would be beyond her wildest imagination.

Minelle and Matthew Labraun believed in a traditional marriage.  Matthew was head of their household, and Minelle was his helpmeet.  When it came to raising their headstrong 21-year-old daughter, however, they found themselves at a loss.  Minelle had always taught Claire to do the right thing for right’s sake.  Claire, however, had different ideas.  She rebelled against their rules, flaunted authority, and connived to get things she wanted.  She had never been spanked in her life; Matthew and Minelle kept that adult privilege strictly between themselves.  But this year, a visit from Santa plus Claire’s newly adult status would change her idea of Christmas forever.

.

For more excerpts of other authors’ works, please visit sixsunday.com