Showing posts with label family relationships. Show all posts
Showing posts with label family relationships. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Catnip by Valerie Tate: A Book Review

Catnip: A Hilarious Cat Mystery


What happens when a cat does really run the house? If, in fact, the cat owns the house? Find out in this first book of the Dunbarton Mystery series that stars the orange cat named, of course, Marmalade.

 Catnip by Valerie Tate:  A Book Review
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay, Text Added in PicMonkey
Though the title of this book is not unique, the book is.

The Characters 


Lawyer Christopher Mallory narrates the story, which begins in his office in the fictional city of Dunbarton on the shores of Lake Huron, as he reads a will. The family of longtime widow Amanda Dunbar has gathered to see how rich they will become. All that remains of the family are son James, daughter-in-law Alice, and granddaughter Alicia.The one most concerned about the inheritance is Alice. She had pressured Mallory to read the will right after Amanda's burial.

The deceased, Amanda Dunbar, had been widowed for twenty-six years. Her husband had been a prominent citizen and financier, descended from the town's founder. Among other assets, he had owned a furniture factory. Robert Allen Dunbar had been very wealthy and had left everything to Amanda. When he died, he had meant for his sons James and Robert to take over the factory.

Robert was as talented as his father in handling finances and James loved creating the fine furniture. Then Robert died in an auto accident and James had to handle everything. He was not good at business and the factory was not in good financial shape. James was hoping his inheritance would help save it.

James had married Alice against the  wishes of his mother, who couldn't stand  her. Alice dominated him, but James still adored her. Their daughter Alicia had gone off to college as a strong independent woman and came home broken, a shadow of her former self. We later find this was because of unrequited love.

The family had lived with Amanda and her cat Marmalade for twenty-six years. When she became crippled and confined to a wheelchair, they had to help out with her care. From Alice's point of view, she had waited on Amanda hand and foot while Amanda made Alice's life miserable. There was definitely no love lost between the two. Alice also hated Marmalade. Alicia loved Marmalade, and Marmalade at least tolerated her.

Those are the major characters, all of whom will suddenly find their lives changing after the will is read.

The Plot (without spoilers)  

The Reading of the Will


Amanda knew her family well. Christopher (henceforth called Chris) described Amanda this way as he remembered the day she called him to her home to witness her signing a new will she had written. He sized her up as "an autocratic lady with a shrewd expression and an underlying core of steel... a person not to be trifled with."  She had insisted her new will must be kept secret from everyone -- especially her family.

At the beginning of the book when Chris describes the family members entering his office, he recalls that James "seemed to fade into the wallpaper beside his more flamboyant spouse." He recalls that Alicia "drifted in behind her parents, gazed around with a disinterested air, and melted gracefully into a chair by the wall." Alice had "sailed into his office...with the assurance of the flagship of the fleet...about as warm as a Huron January....A gleam in her Ice Queen eyes...said she was about to get everything she had been waiting for." She showed no signs of grief.

 Catnip by Valerie Tate:  A Book Review


Chris knew an emotional storm was about to break in his office when he read the will. The old lady had made him executor and trustee and explained what his duties would be when she died. She had made her intentions very clear. He knew she was using the will to tell her family what she really thought of them. She admits in the will that living together had been uncomfortable for all of them.  She stated it was a wonder "That I have chosen to tolerate the chronic irritability of my daughter-in-law, the infuriating ineptitude of my son, and the vague placidity of my grand-daughter (sic)."

Chris proceeded to read the will. Here's what each got:

  • Alice: two gallons of vinegar with the hope it would sweeten her disposition
  • James: a can of starch to stiffen his backbone that hadn't been firm since he married Alice
  • Alicia: her jewelry "in the hope that one day she may prick her finger and awaken from that perennial slumber she now enjoys."
 Alice had then turned purple with rage and exclaimed with fury: "That old witch!...She made our lives a living hell for almost thirty years and now this...outrage!....When I think of how I waited on her!"

At this point, Chris called his secretary to bring in the last beneficiary -- Marmalade, who immediately spat at Alice, scratched his way out of the secretary's arms, and proceeded to rub against Alicia's leg. She stroked his head. He seemed totally in command of the proceedings. And he actually was. After all, he, as Amanda's "only true friend," was inheriting the entire estate.

 From the will: "since I know my family only too well, should anything happen to Marmalade that even suggests foul play" that anyone in the family had a part in, the estate will go to the Animal Protection Society. The will further stipulates that if Marmalade should die of natural causes, the estate would revert to Alicia "the only member of my family I have any use for."

Amanda appointed Chris as executor and Marmalade's trustee. The family would be allowed to continue to live in the house and care for Marmalade (who would have full run of the house) with all house expenses paid. Each person would get  a monthly allowance which Chris would determine. Chris would check on Marmalade at both scheduled and unscheduled times to make sure he was being cared for properly. If anyone mistreated him, they would lose their allowance and have to leave the house. Then Chris would hire a new caregiver and companion.

Living With Marmalade

 Catnip by Valerie Tate:  A Book Review
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay


As you can imagine, the Dunbar household was very tense living with a cat who was the boss. Nowhere in the house was off limits for him. He seemed to delight in destroying things Alice valued. The last straw was reached when she was carrying a family heirloom tea service that had belonged to her grandmother to the table during one of Chris's visits. Marmalade tripped her, and the china broke spilling tea all over Alice's gown. She grabbed him, intent on doing him violence when Chris shouted a warning to remember the will. She told Chris to get the cat out of her sight for a while.

Before the death of Amanda, Marmalade had been a cat-about-town visiting his neighbors at night as he pleased. He had usually let himself in and out through the window in Amanda's room.

When Amanda died Chris took Marmalade to the vet to get a microchip inserted and obtain a DNA sample from him.  For obvious reasons the family and Chris were reluctant  to let him start roaming free again.  But the cat was getting into so much mischief indoors, they decided his confinement in the house might be a contributing factor. So they began to let him roam when he wanted to again. That seemed to help calm things down in the household.

Marmalade Goes Missing

Once the information got out to the public that Marmalade was rich, he was in danger. Although he was pretty good at defending himself, he finally was abducted. This put the family into a panic, since family members were the first suspects. And if Marmalade wasn't found safe and sound, they would lose their home and their allowances. Chris did not believe they were guilty, and he and Alicia began to search for him with help from some of their friends. You will have to read the book to see what happens to Marmalade and all of them. 


My Review and Recommendation


I loved this book! It's not just about solving a mystery. It's about how people can change when they are motivated. Amanda's strange will was intended to help her son become all he could be by motivating him to take leadership. Amanda also hoped it would help Alicia regain her spirit and independence. And Alice? I don't know if Amanda had any hope that she would ever be good for James. But even she changed for the better by the end of the book.

I laughed all the way through this book as the characters interacted with each other and the cat. I enjoyed watching the romance begin to develop between Chris and Alicia. Although the book is a mystery, I felt the development of the characters was the heart of the book. And, of course, Marmalade behaved as you might expect a pampered cat to behave. He seemed to know he was in control and flaunted it.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves cats or mysteries and likes to laugh. I was glad I was able to discern who kidnapped Marmalade by using the author's clues. This was just the book I needed to read when I didn't feel up to working and wanted to completely relax. I think you will find it a fun, relaxing read, as well. Why not get it now?







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Thursday, May 3, 2018

Driving Miss Norma - Book Review

Miss Norma and Ringo
Life's defining moments often come when least expected and in ways that were never anticipated.  For Miss Norma, losing her husband of 67 years the very same week she was diagnosed with advanced cancer, meant the life she had known for 90 years was gone in two heartbeats.  Driving Miss Norma is not about loss, however.  It is a moving memoir about the joyful journey that emerges as a result of life-affirming choices that become Miss Norma's defining moments.  Over the course of a year spent on the road with her son, Tim, daughter-in-law, Ramie, and poodle, Ringo, Miss Norma and her family show us what happens when you open yourself up to the very life of life.

At the beginning of this book, Norma Bauerschmidt makes two enormous decisions that drive the stories within her story.  First, when faced with months of draining medical procedures for treatment of what is expected to be terminal uterine cancer, Miss Norma chooses not to undergo surgery, radiation, and chemo.  She decides to live out her life outside the confines of a hospital.  In conjunction with that courageous decision, Bauerschmidt accepts an invitation from Tim and Ramie to take to the road with them in their RV.  It is this coming together that will completely transform all of their lives.

Though the journey begins with the hopes of checking off some of Miss Norma's "Bucket List" items, it is her reluctance to compose such a list that makes for the possibility of a more fulfilling trip.  In the course of taking it one day at a time, one delightful encounter at a time, Miss Norma and her family discover beautiful new ways of communicating and connecting.

As their experiences are shared via social media and national news outlets, Miss Norma becomes an international sensation with over half a million followers on Facebook.  Her life becomes her message, inspiring countless others to truly embrace fullness of living.  Everywhere she goes, total strangers become caught up in wanting to enrich Miss Norma's days.  The lines begin to blur in terms of who is enriching whom.  All that really matters is that Miss Norma's growing sense of wonder creates an energy and magic that draws others in.  By choosing to say yes to life, Miss Norma and family start a powerful chain reaction.

I was drawn to Miss Norma's story by my own family circumstances.  When my mother was diagnosed with multiple cancers, I had this dream of going on the road with her in my RV.  I had a deep desire to be a part of something that might be meaningful for my mom during her season of dealing with mortality and end-of-life issues.  Sadly, I never got to take that trip with my mother.  Reading this book, and vicariously embarking on Miss Norma's journey, has touched my spirit in vital ways.  It has renewed my desire to be a person who makes it possible for these kinds of life-affirming journeys to take place.

We all have the opportunity to be the driver on the journey of life.  I encourage you to read Driving Miss Norma.  It is quite likely to inspire you to hit the road.  I hope to meet up with you along the way.






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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Patricia Polacco Is a Storyteller with Heart: A Review

Why I Love the Books of Patricia Polacco


Patricia Polacco's books aren't just stories. They are connections to the hearts of her readers. You will see why in a moment. Polacco is not just a talented artist with a style that's easy to recognize, but she's a storyteller with heart.


Patricia Polacco Is a Storyteller with Heart: A Review



Patricia Polacco is only a year younger than I, but she led a much less sheltered life. Her parents had divorced when she was only three, and she and her mother had been living with her grandmother in many different towns until her grandmother died. In one of those towns, Union City,  Michigan, they had lived on a farm. Life on the farm with her Babushka (grandmother) provided Polacco with many of her story ideas when she later began to write.

Most of Polacco's stories relate to problems and fears that children have. In some a child has lost a beloved adult -- a grandparent or neighbor.  I have read many other children's books, both fiction and nonfiction, that deal with these issues, but none have made the connection with my heart that Polacco's did. I believe that in almost every one of her books I've read, and I've read lots of them, her own heart and feelings were involved. In others, her love of books and reading connected with me.

Polacco understands the importance of family relationships in both the nuclear and extended family. She understands the value of intergenerational relationships. In many of her books a child and a lonely elderly person make a connection that ends their isolation. Not all children have grandparents and not all widows and widowers have grandchildren. Polacco shows that these intergenerational relationships can be just as vital even when child and elderly person come from different races or cultures.


Gifts of the Heart by Patricia Polacco


In this precious Christmas story, young Patricia and her brother have been living with their mother and her parents on a farm in Michigan. When Patricia's grandmother dies, her grandfather wants to sell the farm and move because the house is so full of memories. Meanwhile, Grandfather has hired a woman who says she is Kay Lamity to look after the children, as their Babushka used to do, while their mother went to work. Patricia's brother, especially, rebels at the thought that anyone can replace their Babushka. Rather than me summarizing the story, I will let you listen to the book be read aloud in this video. You will also see Polacco's wonderful illustrations as you listen, and you will also see what I mean by stories that have heart in this Christmas picture book for children 5-8. I really think it's for all ages.




A Gift for a Child with Dyslexia: Thank You, Mr. Falker


My brother had the misfortune to have dyslexia before anyone knew what it was. Born into a family with a mother and sister who loved reading and read to him all the time, everyone assumed he'd also become a reader. Except he didn't. As much help as he had from a mother who was a teacher and a sister who wanted to help, he just became more frustrated when books didn't make sense to him. Like Patricia, he didn't get help until he was in middle school. Like Patricia, he thought he must be dumb. He never told me what he might have suffered from teasing by his classmates. This is a book every teacher and parent should read -- especially if they have a child with a reading problem. Listen to Jane Kaczmarek read it on YouTube and see if you can keep your eyes dry. I couldn't




If you know a child who needs this book, please get Thank You, Mr. Falker for him or her. I recommend a physical book for all the picture books to enhance the reading experience.



My Favorite Polacco Book: Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair

This my favorite because I can't imagine a life without reading.  I've loved reading since I was three years old, and I loved being read to even before that. I've never been a great fan of TV, either. So I can imagine how it would feel to be Eli's Aunt Chip, the Triple Creek librarian, when people stopped reading to watch TV. Television was the center of their lives and they always had it on. Pretty soon even school teachers were replaced by television.

Although Aunt Chip still faithfully showed up to work every day, no one came. Finally the library was demolished and replaced by a giant TV tower, and Aunt Chip took to her bed. She told told the mayor and the townspeople there would be consequences to replacing books with television.

When Eli arrived on the scene, he loved his Aunt Chip. He did think it strange she'd not left her bed since he'd known her, but she told wonderful stories. Finally he asked her one day where she got her stories. She replied, "Some come out of thin air. Some come out of my dreams. Some come right out of books!"

Eli asked how you would get a story from a book. All he'd seen books used for were patching holes in the street, sitting on, building things, and even shoring up the dam. Never for reading. This is when Aunt Chip discovered that not only Eli, but no one else in the town could still read. So she showed Eli the inside of a book and explained about writing.

'Now look at this. Those are words. They tell about ideas, dreams, and feelings. They take you to places far from here....Books are a treasure. All you need is the key.'
Patricia Polacco Is a Storyteller with Heart: A Review
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay, edited on PicMonkey


I don't want to give the story away, but Aunt Chip leaves her bed and the town soon learns the consequences of their rashness in closing the library and replacing books with television. I think the ending will make you happy, and you will love what happens to Eli. This book is not a tear-jerker like the others I reviewed. Give it to anyone who thinks reading isn't important.

I finally found a video of someone reading this aloud, so if you don't mind a spoiler, enjoy the story.


Give a Child You Love a Patricia Polacco Book 

Here are more of my favorites. There's a story for almost any child in this group of books. You can find more detailed reviews of the books below and many others, as well as more about Patricia Polacco's life and inspiration in "Patricia Polacco and Her Books" at Books to Remember.  You will also find study guides and readers' theater scripts for the most popular of her books.




Find more reviews for children's books here at Review This!

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