Thursday, March 22, 2012

The God Box by Mary Lou Quinlan

Overview from Goodreads:

When Mary Lou Quinlan’s beloved mother, Mary Finlayson, dies, her family is bereft—until Mary Lou searches for her mother’s “God Box,” her private cache of notes to God on behalf of family, friends and strangers. To Mary Lou’s amazement, she finds not one but ten boxes stuffed with hundreds of tiny petitions that spanned the last twenty years of her mother’s life.

Note by note, Mary Lou unearths a treasure of her mother’s wishes and worries and insight. Mary asked God for everything from the right flooring for her daughter’s home to a cure for her own blood cancer. Her requests, penned on scraps of paper, were presented without expectation—the ultimate expression of letting go

My Thoughts:

This is a nice little book of 122 pages, with a big message.  The author’s Mom would put notes in a box as a request to God to take care of her own or someone else’s troubles – an illness, a lost job, maybe a job interview or a sick loved one.  The rule was that once in the box, the issue had to be “let go” and turned over to God.  Still want to worry about it?   Think you can handle this better than God?  Out comes the note (or that was the threat).

I like the book for its strong message about having faith in a higher power.  That there are situations in life we can’t control, so we should just let it go and believe that that God will take care of things.  I’m a bit of a control freak.  I often tell people that while I can turn things over to God, I will often say – now that I’ve given it to you, let me tell you how I would like you to handle it!

At the end, the author suggests that readers consider starting their own God box.   Simple – a jar or shoe box.  Fancy – a hand carved wood or fancy inlay box.  High tech – she has a website for posting anonymous thoughts.  I know I have issues that would go in a God box – do you?

Thank you to NetGalley and Greenleaf Book Group for allowing me to read this book in exchange for  my unbiased review.

The books publications date is April 17, 2012.
My rating: ****

Friday, March 16, 2012

Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland

Overview from Goodreads:

Against the unforgettable backdrop of New York near the turn of the twentieth century, from the Gilded Age world of formal balls and opera to the immigrant poverty of the Lower East Side, bestselling author Susan Vreeland again breathes life into a work of art in this extraordinary novel, which brings a woman once lost in the shadows into vivid color.

It’s 1893, and at the Chicago World’s Fair, Louis Comfort Tiffany makes his debut with a luminous exhibition of innovative stained-glass windows, which he hopes will honor his family business and earn him a place on the international artistic stage. But behind the scenes in his New York studio is the freethinking Clara Driscoll, head of his women’s division. Publicly unrecognized by Tiffany, Clara conceives of and designs nearly all of the iconic leaded-glass lamps for which he is long remembered.

Clara struggles with her desire for artistic recognition and the seemingly insurmountable challenges that she faces as a professional woman, which ultimately force her to protest against the company she has worked so hard to cultivate. She also yearns for love and companionship, and is devoted in different ways to five men, including Tiffany, who enforces to a strict policy: he does not hire married women, and any who do marry while under his employ must resign immediately. Eventually, like many women, Clara must decide what makes her happiest—the professional world of her hands or the personal world of her heart.

My Thoughts:

This book had been on my to be read list for quite some time.  It wasn’t until I read it that I discovered it was based on a real person.  Clara Driscoll was a creative, intelligent and feisty woman working at a time when creative, intelligent and feisty women were NOT appreciated.  As far as the Tiffany Company was concerned, a woman could not even work there once she got married.  Clara was enough of a value to the company that she was eventually made director of the Tiffany Studios' Women's Glass Cutting Department. 
As the story goes, Clara was the driving force behind the creation of some of the most popular style Tiffany lamps.  She took what she saw in nature ( daffodils, dragonflies, wisteria, etc.) and figured out to replicate them as Tiffany lampshades.  Because she was a woman, she received very little recognition for her contribution to the creation of these still popular lamps.
This is one of several books I have read recently where the women have essentially no rights.  It really did make me stop and realize how far women have come and how much we take for granted.  Women like Clara Driscoll were very brave for taking a stand and helped pave the way for the rights women have today.
This was the first book I have read by Susan Vreeland.  I thought it was extremely well written and an enjoyable read.  I will definitely be looking at some of her other books and keep an eye out for any new material.
Thank you to Netgalley and Random House Publishing for allowing me to read this in exchange for my unbiased review.

The book was first published on January 11, 2011.

My rating: *****

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives Of Katherine Of Aragon And Juana, Queen Of Castile by Julia Fox            

Overview from Goodreads:

The history books have cast Katherine of Aragon, the first queen of King Henry VIII of England, as the ultimate symbol of the Betrayed Woman, cruelly tossed aside in favor of her husband’s seductive mistress, Anne Boleyn. Katherine’s sister, Juana of Castile, wife of Philip of Burgundy and mother of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, is portrayed as “Juana the Mad,” whose erratic behavior included keeping her beloved late husband’s coffin beside her for years. But historian Julia Fox, whose previous work painted an unprecedented portrait of Jane Boleyn, Anne’s sister, offers deeper insight in this first dual biography of Katherine and Juana, the daughters of Spain’s Ferdinand and Isabella, whose family ties remained strong despite their separation. Looking through the lens of their Spanish origins, Fox reveals these queens as flesh-and-blood women—equipped with character, intelligence, and conviction—who are worthy historical figures in their own right.

When they were young, Juana’s and Katherine’s futures appeared promising. They had secured politically advantageous marriages, but their dreams of love and power quickly dissolved, and the unions for which they’d spent their whole lives preparing were fraught with duplicity and betrayal. Juana, the elder sister, unexpectedly became Spain’s sovereign, but her authority was continually usurped, first by her husband and later by her son. Katherine, a young widow after the death of Prince Arthur of Wales, soon remarried his doting brother Henry and later became a key figure in a drama that altered England’s religious landscape.

Ousted from the positions of power and influence they had been groomed for and separated from their children, Katherine and Juana each turned to their rich and abiding faith and deep personal belief in their family’s dynastic legacy to cope with their enduring hardships. Sister Queens is a gripping tale of love, duty, and sacrifice—a remarkable reflection on the conflict between ambition and loyalty during an age when the greatest sin, it seems, was to have been born a woman. 

My thoughts:

What a book!  I just could not put it down.  Ever since watching The Tudor’s on TV, I have been fascinated by this time period in European history.  The author of Sister Queens has put together a very readable, fact filled explanation of the lives of Katherine of Aragon and her sister, Juana of Castille.

Juana was married off to Phillip of Burgandy.  Upon the death of her mother, Queen Isabella of Spain, Juana should have become Queen.  Unfortunately for her, her father, then her husband and finally her son wanted the power.  To achieve this, they kept Juana secluded for more than 45 years.   She had minimal contact with anyone, while stories about her madness were circulated to justiyt her disappearance from public life.  So much for being “Queen”!

Katherine initially married young Prince Arthur of England, who died 5 months into the marriage.  She spent numerous years in limbo, waiting for a decision to be made on her marrying Arthur’s younger brother, Henry.  Tossed around like a pawn on a chessboard, her value as a strong marriage candidate changed as quickly as the blowing wind.  Along with this was the much debated issue of whether she had consummated her marriage with Arthur.  She and Henry were finally married, but Katherine was never able to provide a viable male heir, and this was ultimately her undoing.

What sounds like a simple outline on the lives of these two sisters has really been filled in with an amazing amount of detail by Ms. Fox.  This had to be an incredible undertaking.  Often, there was so much information given that I felt like I was right in the middle of some of the scenes.   I really never felt comfortable trying to skim, so this is a book best enjoyed reading at a slow pace.  And enjoyable, it was!

I want to thank Random House Publishing and NetGalley for allowing me to read this book for my unbiased review.  The publish date is January 31, 2012.
My Rating: *****