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26 February 2011

This week I read Amy Chua's book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  I'm not at all certain I qualify as a "Chinese Mother", but I am certain that Chua and I agree on a great deal concerning parenting.
Chua has been eviscerated in the press for demanding so much from her girls, who are developing talents, gaining knowledge, and becoming high-achieving young women as a result of these demands.  Parents are lining up in droves to criticize her tough love parenting style.
As a mother, (the German, French, Mediterranean variety) I commend Chua for her non-apologetic stance.  She speaks truth when she says that the majority of parents reward mediocrity and lavish undeserved praise on under-achieving offspring.  More harsh truth is found when she observes that often, we parents take the selfish, easy way out while hiding behind clich├ęs such as, "Well, they have to find their own way", or, " They've got to make their own mistakes".  I admit to the truth in these statements, but I also recognize that they can be convenient excuses.
I wonder if Chua's critics are honestly upset that she doesn't allow play dates, sleepovers, and hanging out with peers, or if they are actually bothered by the realization that their permissiveness and absence of requirements has allowed their children to remain well below the heights to which they would have soared if excellence had been expected of them.
These parents claim that Chua (and parents like her) denies her girls fun.  By fun, they mean "belonging" to cliques of teen-aged girls who gossip constantly and turn on one another as viciously as a starving pack of wild animals.  The fun includes sexting, attending parties to drink, 'sharing' homework instead of doing it themselves, and worrying about looking 'sexy' to the opposite sex.  The fun leaves our daughters and sons conforming to the views of the peer group rather than thinking for themselves.  I have encountered these students through the years, and I must tell you, they are the majority.  These young men and women (who have a great deal of "fun") know which celebrity is cheating, who isn't wearing name-brand clothes, how to chug beer, and effortlessly lie to professors about why their paper is not finished.  But they cannot perform long division, fill in a map of our country's fifty states (we won't even attempt Europe...), and struggle to write papers that I would grade a 'C".  In the pursuit of fun, they have abandoned all meaningful, worthwhile pursuit of gaining knowledge and wisdom.  What good is all this 'fun' if it leaves our children ill-equipped for success in life.  The 'fun' most children pursue is empty, vain, and worthless for producing any admirable character traits.
'Chinese mothers', as Chua explains, act from a position of strength.  They expect A's.  They insist on success.  They BELIEVE that their children CAN.  They are willing to call shenanigans when their child says, "I can't", and then take the necessary steps to ensure that they do, such as enforcing a set study time, drilling multiplication facts twenty times a day, or hiring a tutor.  Some say this is militant and cruel, but I disagree.  This is honoring, as it proves the spoken belief in one's ability and fosters inner strength; this is love, as it works to develop the child to their full potential.
My boys do not practice musical instruments for hours a day, nor am I as intense as Chua in pursuing excellence.  I have been learning on the job in my twenty-one years of parenting, and my experience has led me to acknowledge the value of demanding excellence.  I have, like Chua, refused to accept a homemade birthday card, not because it was homemade ( I prefer them), but because minimal effort was put into it.  I routinely require assignments to be rewritten if sloppy penmanship is evident.  Many compositions have been shredded and reassigned when laziness produced drivel upon a page.  (Just ask my older children!  The younger boys are just beginning to learn).  I insist that the boys offer their best, whether it be in school subjects, sports, or performing a chore.  And, of course, when you insist on this, battles sometimes ensue.  At times tears commence, and I have even been referred to as "mean" and "unfair", but that's okay.  Chua's book, for me, was not only encouraging, it inspired me to examine areas where I can further exhort my children toward excellence, and called attention to other areas where I have neglected to stand firm.  The pride that shines in my children's eyes when they accomplish the thing that they earlier insisted they could not is a powerful encouragement to say the course.


12 February 2011

The Moonstone-Wilkie Collins

A Literary Gem........

The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins opens with a letter explaining the severed relations between a certain gentleman and his infamous cousin Herncastle, who is suspected of pilfering a rare yellow diamond from the sacred temple of the Hindu god of the moon while serving the British army in India.  Without proof, the gentleman only divulges his suspicion to his family to explain his behavior.  A brief history of the jewel in question follows to capture the reader's imagination and set the stage for the story's main focus; the mysterious and curious happenings surrounding the accursed diamond's entrance, by the will and testament of her late Uncle Herncastle, into the possession, however briefly, of Lady Rachel Verinder, and subsequent investigation of the gem's disappearance.

I must admit that before this novel was recommended to me, I had not heard of Wilkie Collins, but am certainly glad to have made the discovery.  Collins wove a delightfully suspenseful narration of individual eyewitness accounts that offer the reader each relevant perspective to follow the case to its ultimate completion.  Each account captures the personality and life story of the different writers seamlessly within the narrative of the ongoing investigation.  This Broad grew especially fond of the character Gabriel Betteridge through Collins' writing of his witty, honorable, and quirky observations throughout his re-telling.  I'm sure each reader will have a personal favorite after encountering the seven distinct egos within Collins' exceptional book. 

With smartly developed characters, well constructed sentences, vivid descriptions, and naturally flowing dialogue, The Moonstone was a great pleasure to read.  I recommend it highly.
~ Moira

Impulse-Candace Camp

When you're talking about romance novels, you've got to include Candace Camp.  With over 60 novels, she's a standard in the industry. She's nothing less than prolific, and if you've published that many novels since 1978, you've got to have something going for you.  I'd never read any of her stories until Impulse, so while she's well-known to many others, she was new to me.  First published in 1997 (now that's old school!), Impulse has been re-released by Harlequin. 

I'm not a huge fan of Harlequin's re-releasing books from the late 1990s.  At the very least, I think it should be made perfectly clear to the potential reader that the book they're considering is a re-release.  Lori Foster's Unbelievable, which we reviewed a while back, was a disappointment, and I hoped Ms. Camp's book wouldn't be.  But I requested it from NetGalley with confidence that at least I was going to be reading a story from a name that has become a standard in romance.

Impluse is about the love between Cam Monroe, a lowly stable boy, and Angela Stanhope, a wealthy young woman from a very prestigious family.  Forced to abide by the strict social stratification of English society, they are separated when Angela is only a teenager, and she is forced to marry Lord Dunstan.  Cam is run out of town by Angela's grandfather, never to be seen again.

Flash forward 13 years, and Cam is back, a self-made millionaire and success in the United States, and Angela is a divorced woman living back home again with her female relatives, consigned to a life of spinsterhood because her marriage to Lord Dunstan failed.  But Cam isn't back seeking a happy reunion with Angela.  He wants to punish the family that he believes ruined his life, and the best way to do that is to use all the dirt he's got on Angela's brother to force her to marry him.  Unable to find a way out of the marriage, Angela agrees to help her family and Cam gets the wife he always wanted, albeit an unhappy wife that doesn't believe she will ever love the man he's become.

Cam and Angela become close again through a series of attacks that indicate someone is trying to kill Cam.  In the end, after dozens of twists and turns, the two end up happily ever after, just as they have to in romanceland.

I'm torn about how to rate Impulse.  On the one hand, I liked it.  There was a little bit of mystery involving who wanted to kill Cam, and Camp included a little side drama of Cam looking to find out who his father was after all his life believing himself to be illegitimate.  I also liked the pairing of Cam and Angela and wanted to see them end up together, not just because it's a romance and that's what has to happen, but because I grew to like the characters.

On the other hand, I didn't enjoy the characterization Camp created for Angela in many parts.  Angela doesn't want Cam not because he basically blackmails her into marrying him but because she was sexually abused by her first husband.  The details of that were just overwhelming, and then the way Cam tries to help her to accept him sexually seemed a bit far fetched to me. 

But in the end, I can see why Candace Camp is still around writing romance books since 1978.  Impulse held my interest, and while I won't say it's a favorite of mine, I will say that if you like Regency romances and those similar to that genre, then you very well might enjoy this book.  I give it three stars because we don't have half stars here at the Broads'.  It's probably more like a 2.5 for me, but I'll bump it up to a three since the book is still good even after 14 years.  That's got to be worth a half star. 


Impulse was provided for review by the publisher, Harlequin, through NetGalley. 

The Second Time Around ........

Lady Angela Stanhope lives a quiet existance in the country with her family after the humiliating scandal of her divorce from Lord Dunstan.  With her family on the brink of financial disaster, the appearance of a wealthy American businessman offering to purchase the family's failing mining business seems to be fortune smiling on the Stanhope family.  But when the businessman turns out to be Cam Monroe, the one love of Angela's youth, whom her grandfather had forced away and threatened with ruin, the family realizes they are in the hands of a man bent on revenge. 

In exchange for Angela's hand in marriage, Cam Monroe pledges to keep the family's damaging secrets quiet and allow them to avoid bankruptcy.  Lady Angela refuses in a panic, terrified at being under another man's control after her abusive first marriage, but relents to protect her family.  Cam believes that Lady Angela married Lord Dunstan for money and title, spurning him due to his lack of position.  Over time, he comes to realize the terrible truth of her situation.  She married to protect him.  This realization and repeated attempts on his life lead the couple on the search for an unknown villian, drawing them closer together. 

Candace Camp's novels are a pleasure to read.  Full of romance and mystery, Impulse also included one necessary component which is often lacking in this genre.....namely, a plot.  Camp developed the characters and added personality.  Of course, this is a regency romance, so expect the usual hero with a somewhat tortured soul and the reluctant heroine.  Impulse is the second of Camp's novels I have sampled, and although I liked them both, this one includes shades of a plot theme I prefer not to encounter.  For this reason, I give one less star than I would have given if sexual abuse had been absent from an otherwise terrific romance.
~ Moira


Impulse was provided for review by the publisher Harlequin through, Net Galley.


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