Book Review: The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy

February 2, 2014 Books to Read, Fiction, Southern Fiction 4

The Lords of Discipline, Pat Conroy, The Citadel, Charleston, fiction, Southern fictionFiction
Released 1980
500 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Link to this book on Amazon

Plot Summary of The Lords of Discipline:

Granting the wish of his dying father, Will McLean attends Carolina Military Institute (i.e.”The Institute”) in Charleston amid serious doubts about the military and must confront a secret organization that is rumored to exist on campus.

My Thoughts on The Lords of Discipline:

Pat Conroy is one of my favorite authors and I would love reading his description of paint drying. I read most of his books when I was in high school and remember loving them, but now don’t remember enough detail to write about them on the blog. So, I’m now trying to re-read as many of his older novels as I can – lucky me! A few months ago, I posted my review of The Great Santini after a re-read.

Like The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline is somewhat autobiographical (it’s based on Conroy’s experience as a cadet at The Citadel, South Carolina’s military college) and deals with his love/hate (but, mostly hate) relationship with the military. This book is a study in contrasts between Conroy’s love affair with the city of Charleston and his hatred of its military college, The Citadel.

This book showcases Conroy’s signature writing style (absolutely perfect, in my opinion) with his gorgeous and sometimes hilarious descriptions of military life and of Charleston and its people (particularly the South of Broad “social elite”):

“[…] they do possess a municipal character that has a lot to do with two centuries of scriptural belief that they are simply superior to other people of the earth. [] The descendants of planters often found themselves with the bank accounts of sewing machine salesmen. But a modest income alone never denied access to those haughty parlors; and wealth alone could never insure it. If you were crass, lowborn, or socially offensive, it would have made no difference to the proud inhabitants South of Broad that you owned France; they would not invite you to their homes.”

Will McLean’s witty personality and status as an outsider to the Charleston South of Broad crowd and to “The Institute” (due to his decidedly lackluster enthusiasm for “The Institute’s” culture and traditions, particularly its treatment of freshman “knobs”) makes him a sarcastic  and entertaining narrator.

Usually Conroy’s novels are character rather than plot driven, but this one achieves both. And, that’s what makes The Lords of Discipline unique for Conroy and one of my favorite of books. The plot driven part of the book is the fascinating mystery of Will McLean’s pursuit of “The Ten”, a secret organization focused on ensuring that cadets “not fit to represent The Institute” get weeded out before graduation, which kept me on the edge of my seat in the second half of the book.

The mystery and drama of whether “The Ten” actually exists and is playing a role in “The Institute’s” extreme hazing of certain knobs adds an otherworldly element similar to The Illuminati’s in Angels & Demons. I obviously wondered if “The Ten” exists at the real life Citadel, but could not find anything on the Internet to suggest that it does. But, just the fact that it could possibly exist in real life make’s Will McLean’s interest in “The Ten” that much more exciting reading.

Finally, the fact that this is a story about boys in a military college during wartime (Vietnam) who have the sobering knowledge that most of them will be sent overseas shortly after graduation adds a certain poignancy.  

The Lords of Discipline is going on my Books for Guys List and is the first book I’ve added to my All-Time Favorites List since starting this blog.

You May Also Like:
My Losing Season by Pat Conroy
The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy
The Great Santini by Pat Conroy

Book Review: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

January 30, 2014 Books to Read, Fiction 4

The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach, coming of age novels, fiction, college fiction, baseball novelsFiction
Released September, 2011
516 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Link to this book on Amazon

Plot Summary of The Art of Fielding

The Art of Fielding is a coming of age novel set at a small college, featuring a star shortstop (Henry) who questions his entire identity after one horrible throw, his selfless team mentor, his gay teammate, and the President of the school and his daughter.

My Thoughts on The Art of Fielding: 

I added this book to my “To Read” list after reading Vanity Fair’s article “How a Book is Born” on Harbach’s  journey writing and publishing the book – I’m a sucker for coming of age stories!

My only concern going into it was the focus on baseball, as I’m about as interested in baseball as watching paint dry (because, well, baseball is about as interesting as watching paint dry!). But, don’t be scared away by the baseball premise – it’s just a backdrop to a fantastic coming of age story with lovable, complex characters. And, I ending up loving the sports psychology angle of how Henry’s uncharacteristic errant baseball throw completely shook his confidence on the field.

Finally, the characters I mentioned in the summary probably seem random, but they just add to the charm.

The Art of Fielding is on my Book Club Recommendations List.

Book Review (Southern Literature Month): All Over but the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg

January 29, 2014 Books to Read, Memoirs, Nonfiction 3

Southern Literature Month

This is my fourth post for fellow book blog, The Blog of Litwits’Southern Literature Month. My previous three posts were light and uplifting Southern fiction…this one is a bit different, but absolutely deserves a spot in Southern Literature Month!

All Over but the Shoutin', Rick Bragg, memoir, alcoholism, alcoholic fathers, Southern memoir, Southern, Alabama, povertyNonfiction – Memoir
Released December, 1991
354 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Link to this book on Amazon

Plot Summary of All Over but the Shoutin’

Bragg recounts his childhood growing up destitute, with an alcoholic and mostly absentee father, in rural Alabama.

My Thoughts on All Over but the Shoutin’: 

In his heart-breaking, but hilarious memoir, Bragg mixes stories of “young-boy-in-the-country” hi-jinks (i.e. the hilarious) with the impact of an irresponsible, alcoholic father on his family (i.e. the heart-breaking).

And, as a counterpoint to his father, Bragg’s memories of his mother add a much-needed heartwarming element.

This book is on my Book Club Recommendations and Books for Guys lists.

First Chapter, First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

January 28, 2014 Memoirs, Nonfiction 9

First Chapter First Paragraph

Every Tuesday fellow blogger Bibliophile By the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where bloggers share the first paragraph of the book they are currently reading or thinking about reading soon.

Brain on Fire, Susannah Cahalan, psychosis, memoir

As soon as I finish The Lords of Discipline, I’m going start reading Susannah Cahalan’s bestselling memoir, Brain on Fire, (about her unexplained, temporary break from reality) for my Larchmont Book Club. The first paragraph from Chapter 1 (note: there is a Prologue) sets up this medical mystery:

“Maybe it all began with a bug bite, from a bedbug that didn’t exist.

One morning, I’d woken up to find two red dots on the main purplish-blue vein running down my left arm. It was early 2009, and New York City was awash in bedbug scares: they infested offices, clothing stores, movie theaters, and park benches. Though I wasn’t naturally a worrier, my dreams had been occupied for two nights straight by finger-long bedbugs. It was a reasonable concern, though after carefully scouring the apartment, I couldn’t find a single bug or any evidence of their presence. Except those two bites. I even called in an exterminator to check out my apartment, an overworked Hispanic man who combed the whole place, lifting up my sofa bed and shining a flashlight into places I had never before thought to clean. He proclaimed my studio bug free. That seemed unlikely, so I asked for a follow-up appointment for him to spray. To his credit, he urged me to wait before shelling out an astronomical sum to do battle against what he seemed to think was an imaginary infestation. But I pressed him to do it, convinced that my apartment, my bed, my body had been overrun by bugs. He agreed to return and exterminate.”

What do you think? Would you keep reading? Stay tuned for my full review…

Book Review (Southern Literature Month): Return to Tradd Street by Karen White

January 26, 2014 Books to Read, Fiction, Something Light, Southern Fiction 3

Southern Literature MonthThis is my third post for fellow book blog, The Blog of Litwits’Southern Literature Month

Return to Tradd Street, Karen White, Southern fiction, Tradd Street series, paranormal, historic CharlestonFiction
Released January, 2014
336 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it…but start at the beginning of the series.
Link to this book on Amazon

Plot Summary for Return to Tradd Street:

In the fourth and final book of the Tradd Street series, ambitious Charleston realtor Melanie Middleton prepares for single motherhood and helps solve the mystery behind the remains of an infant that are found in the foundation of her historic Tradd Street home.

My Thoughts on Return to Tradd Street:

Return to Tradd Street is the fourth and final book in the Tradd Street series. For those not familiar with this series, read my review of the first book, The House on Tradd Street, for a general overview. And, as I’ve said before, definitely start at the beginning – these books all build off of each other.

I loved the first three books in this series and was looking forward to finding out how it all ends. I read the first two books years ago and then read the third (The Strangers on Montagu Street) and fourth back to back recently. I’ll talk about this more in a minute, but I think reading the final two books back to back absolutely affected my opinion of the story, and Melanie in particular.

Every book in the series includes a romantic and a mystery element, with the mystery involving the ghosts that inhabit historic Charleston homes. I loved Return to Tradd Street‘s mystery, but wasn’t as keen on this installment’s romantic element. This mystery was fairly complicated – I had to read over the “here it is on a silver platter” explanation TWICE before I fully understood it. But, this is a good thing, because Montagu Street‘s mystery was a bit simplistic and I easily figured it out on my own. Even after it was solved, this mystery left me with a real dilemma about the honorable course of action, which added depth to the book.

On to Melanie…WOW, did she ever drive me crazy in this book!! Her stubbornness and insistence on avoiding things (even really important things, like going to the doctor when you’re pregnant!) really made me dislike her in this book. She started to rub me the wrong way towards the end of Montagu Street and then it just snowballed in Return to Tradd Street…I think because I read the last two books back to back. Apparently, Melanie tries my patience so much that I need a break from her between books! My frustration with Melanie’s avoidance issues was also the reason I wasn’t as keen on this installment’s romantic element, but I don’t want to ruin the story by saying anymore than that.

Despite my annoyance with Melanie in this book, I liked the ending to the series and particularly loved this installment’s mystery. The whole series is a great choice if you’re looking for a light, quirky read!

You May Also Like:
Other books in the Tradd Street series (The House on Tradd Street, The Girl on Legare Street, and The Strangers on Montagu Street) by Karen White
Someone Else’s Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

Weekend Cooking: Oreo Ice Cream Dessert Recipe

January 25, 2014 Weekend Cooking 4

Weekend Cooking, Cooking books, food booksI’ve recently been participating in fellow book blogger, Beth Fish Reads‘, weekly meme (a “community” blog post, for all those non-bloggers out there) called Weekend Cooking. Until now, I’ve always posted reviews of books about food and cooking, so I thought it was about time to post an actual recipe!

Though I love to cook, I do not like to bake! This is not to say I don’t like to eat baked goods (I do!), it’s just that I hate measuring and being exact when I cook, which makes me a horrible baker. Lucky for me, my mother in law loves to bake and has numerous delicious signature recipes!

She recently came to visit us and made her famous Oreo Ice Cream Dessert – essentially layers of crushed Oreos, vanilla ice cream, homemade chocolate fudge sauce, and Cool Whip. And – she left a huge tray of it in our basement freezer – lucky us!

Oreo Ice Cream Dessert, Recipes, dessert recipes, ice cream dessert recipes

Lane’s Oreo Ice Cream Dessert

And, my son likes to top his with “blue peanuts” (i.e. blue M&M’s). My mom often has bowls of M&M’s and peanuts (such a delicious combination!) sitting around, so my son thinks M&M’s are colored peanuts…and his favorites are the blue ones.

Oreo Ice Cream Dessert, Recipes, dessert recipes, ice cream dessert recipes

Lane’s Oreo Ice Cream Dessert “Thomas Style”

Lane’s Oreo Ice Cream Dessert
24 double stuffed Oreos – crumbled (easiest to use a rolling pin to crush them in a ziploc bag)
½ gallon vanilla ice cream – softened enough to spread
12 oz. Cool Whip

1 package baker’s German chocolate
1 stick of butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 small can evaporated milk
2/3 cup white sugar
1/8 tsp salt

Spread crumbled Oreos in 9×13 baking dish. Spread ice cream over crumbled Oreos in baking dish. FREEZE before adding sauce.

Melt chocolate and sugar. Add all other ingredients and bring to boil. Lower heat just a bit to maintain the boil, but not a rapid boil. Boil EXACTLY 4 minutes while stirring constantly. Let cool.

Spread sauce over ice cream (quickly – it hardens fast!) and refreeze.  Spread 12 oz. cool whip over sauce and refreeze.

Book Review (Southern Literature Month): The Strangers on Montagu Street by Karen White

January 23, 2014 Books to Read, Fiction, Mysteries/Thrillers, Something Light, Southern Fiction 2

Southern Literature MonthThis is my second post for fellow book blog, The Blog of Litwits’, first Southern Literature Month. Also, check out my first Southern Literature Month post.

Strangers on Montagu Street, Karen White, Southern fiction, fiction, Charleston, paranormal fictionFiction
Released November, 2011
353 Pages

Bottom Line: Read it…but start at the beginning of the series.
Link to this book on Amazon

Plot Summary of The Strangers on Montagu Street:

In the third book of the Tradd Street series, Charleston Realtor Melanie Middleton faces still more issues with the restoration of her Tradd Street house and acquires a teenage houseguest (Nola), who is given a dollhouse full of “spirits”.

My Thoughts on The Strangers of Montagu Street:

The Strangers on Montagu Street is the third of four books in the Tradd Street series. The last installment (Return to Tradd Street) just came out, so I am quickly catching up so I can read the final book! For those not familiar with this series, read my review of the first book, The House on Tradd Street, for a general overview. And, definitely start at the beginning – these books all build off of each other.

The Strangers on Montagu Street, like the others in the series, is the kind of of low stress book that you just sit back and enjoy without having to think too much. And, sometimes you just need a book like this. It sure was exactly what I needed during the recent Polar Vortex!

Strangers supplies a good dose of likable characters (mostly – I’ll get to this in a bit), romance (or romantic tension, at least), and quirkiness. As I’ve said before about this series, it’s a bit like Southern chick lit with some Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil type ghosts thrown in.

Melanie is a bit like a modern-day, adult Nancy Drew with the power to see and communicate with ghosts. Despite her supernatural abilities, she is an extremely practical, organized, driven (and stubborn!) person in her daily life. She has a maddening way of avoiding serious issues and refusing to continue conversations that desperately need continuing or clarifying. Though this habit creates most of the romantic drama in the story (so, it’s obviously a good personality trait for the book), it really started to bother me and turned me against Melanie a bit towards the end. 

Nola, Melanie’s teenage houseguest, is a great addition to the cast. Her back story adds some depth and her attitude adds spice to all the Southern gentility. Plus, this installment’s mystery revolves around an antique dollhouse that is given to Nola. 

The Strangers on Montagu Street will be going on my next Summer Reading List.

You May Also Like:
Someone Else’s Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson
The House on Tradd Street by Karen White

First Chapter, First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy

January 21, 2014 Fiction, Southern Fiction 15

First Chapter First Paragraph

Every Tuesday fellow blogger Bibliophile By the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where bloggers share the first paragraph of the book they are currently reading or thinking about reading soon.

Lords of Discipline, Pat Conroy, The Citadel, Charleston, fiction, Southern fiction

I am currently re-reading Pat Conroy’s The Lords of Discipline, his novel about being a student at the Carolina Military Institute (the fictional version of The Citadel) in Charleston. This one is a bit, shall we say, long-winded, but I think it is a great introduction to the story.  That being said, the last two sentences are the kickers for sure:

“I define myself in this way: I am the son of Thomas Patrick McLean of Savannah, Georgia, a volatile, brawling man who attended Benedictine High School and Carolina Military Institute, and as a Marine captain won a Navy Cross for his valor under fire during the invasion of Iwo Jima. He returned to Savannah as a wounded hero in 1944, went to work for Belk’s department store, and married a girl from Dahlonega, Georgia, who worked in the perfume department after a brief stint in notions. I liked neither the Corps nor Belk’s nor my father, but grew up worshipping the black haired woman from the perfume department. My mother blamed my father’s temper on Iwo Jima, but I entertained the heretical thought that he was a son of a b*tch long before the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor. When he was dying of cancer, he made me promise to attend and graduate from Carolina Military Institute, and through tears, I promised. He told me to stop crying and act like a man and I did. Then he made me promise I would be a pilot when I entered the service, that he didn’t want any son of his getting killed on some godforsaken beach like Iwo Jima, especially a son he loved as much as he did me. Eight hours after he told me he loved me for the first time, he died of melanoma and left me a prisoner of his memory. At age fourteen, I was the man of the house.”

What do you think? Would you keep reading? Stay tuned for my full review…and check out my review of The Great Santini, Conroy’s other novel focusing on military life and abusive fathers.

Book Review (Southern Literature Month): Someone Else’s Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

January 19, 2014 Annual "Best Books" Lists, Books to Read, Fiction, Something Light, Southern Fiction 1

Southern Literature Month

Fellow book blog, The Blog of Litwits’, is hosting its first Southern Literature Month this January. This is a great way to spotlight Southern literature and, since I’m from Richmond, VA, I thought it was appropriate that I participate! Plus, I love Southern fiction! This is my first post as part of Southern Literature Month and the next few books I post will also be Southern selections.

Someone Else's Love Story, Joshilyn Jackson, Asberger's Syndrome, Southern FictionFiction
Released November, 2013
321 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Link to this book on Amazon

Plot Summary of Someone Else’s Love Story:

Shandi and her three year old son are caught in a convenience store robbery, where Shandi instantly falls in love with William Ashe, a fellow robbery victim and their protector through the experience.

My Thoughts on Someone Else’s Love Story:

Wow – I have so much to say about this book that would involve spoiling the story, but I won’t say it here. Mainly because I have always tried to make this site a place where people come to get book recommendations, not just read reviews. And, who wants to have the story spoiled while looking for a good book to read?

I loved this book – and it is not the cliche love story you might think just by reading the plot summary. The lack of cliche in this love story was one of the things I liked most about it. It’s a page turner and included grief and the response to tragedy, Autism (or Asberger’s, or some not quite defined place on that spectrum), faith, and that age-old “we’re just friends” dynamic (both Shandi and William have a childhood best friend of the opposite sex).

You are immediately pulled into the story…from the very first sentence:

“I fell in love with William Ashe at gunpoint, in a Circle K.”

I was impressed that Jackson managed to realistically make this love story a suspenseful mystery as well. And, the suspense was not just about the love story angle. There is a whole other question that I was dying to know the answer to. So much so that I kept reading for two hours after taking a sleeping pill…and that is a first!

Someone Else’s Love Story was unique for me because my view of what the book was about totally changed by the end of the story. And, I don’t want to take the fun out of it by saying anymore than that.

This is a great choice if you’re looking for something light or something Southern! It’s also going on my Book Club Recommendations and (belatedly) my Best Books of 2013 lists.

You May Like:
Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
The House on Tradd Street by Karen White

Book Review: My Mother’s Funeral by Adriana Paramo

January 16, 2014 Memoirs, Nonfiction 4

A big thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me with an electronic copy of this book and for inviting me to be a host on this tour.

My Mother's Funeral, Adriana Paramo, memoir, Colombia, Alzheimer'sNonfiction – Memoir
Released November, 2013
Pages: 288
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Link to this book on Amazon

Plot Summary of My Mother’s Funeral:

The story of Adriana’s childhood in Colombia with her mother and six siblings, and her experience with her mother’s death from Alzheimer’s.

My Thoughts on My Mother’s Funeral:

Adriana certainly lived an eventful childhood as one of six children of an essentially single mother and stories from this time made good memoir material. Adriana’s mother was a hard-working, superstitious, Catholic woman who seemed to have an infinite amount of patience for her derelict husband (who constantly disappears and reappears throughout Adriana’s childhood). She was also witty, quirky, and had very creative methods of disciplining her brood (i.e. she paid a taxi to ferry Adriana to and from school to ensure she was not skipping class to attend communist meetings).

My Mother’s Funeral tells Adriana’s story in two simultaneous threads: one about her life growing up in Colombia and one about her mother’s death and funeral

I enjoyed the childhood thread once I got into it, but Paramo lost me every time she switched back to the story of learning of her mother’s death and attending her funeral. After a quick Prologue and opening chapter about how her parents met, she dives right into her mother’s death. I had not gotten a chance to get to know her mother yet or develop any emotions towards her, so the going on and on about her death (even her rigor mortis!!) felt like blathering to me. I found myself skimming over every death / funeral chapter.

I also didn’t feel like I got a good sense of her mother’s Alzheimer’s and the effects that had on the family. Maybe this was because Adriana was living in the U.S. by the time the Alzheimer’s truly hit, but I feel like that was a central element to the story that wasn’t sufficiently covered.

There were certainly parts of this book that I liked. And, I think I would have liked it even more had Paramo focused exclusively on growing up in Colombia and her relationship with her mother. But, the sections about the funeral just filled up too much of the book for me to recommend it. 

TLC Book Tours