The Duggars: 20 and Counting!

The Duggars: 20 and Counting!: Raising One of America's Largest Families-How They Do It
By: Michelle & Jim Bob Duggar
Published: 2008
# of pages: 240

Official Description: 

This practical, positive book reveals the many parenting strategies that Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar use as they preside over America’s best-known mega-family. Each time a new baby arrives, the press from around the world clamors for interviews and information. Visitors are amazed to find seventeen (baby number eighteen is due January 1, 2009) well-groomed, well-behaved, well-schooled children in a home that focuses on family, financial responsibility, fun—and must importantly, faith.Readers will learn about the Duggars’ marriage—how they communicate effectively, make family decisions, and find quality time alone. They’ll discover how the Duggars manage to educate all their children at home, while providing experiences that go beyond the family walls, through vacations and educational trips. And they’ll see how the Duggar family manages their finances and lives debt-free—even when they built their own 7,000-square-foot house.Answering the oft asked question—How can I do with one or two children what you do with seventeen(soon to be eighteen)?—Jim Bob and Michelle reveal how they create a warm and welcoming home filled with what Michelle calls “serene chaos.” They show how other parents can succeed whether they’re rearing a single child or several. With spiritual insights, experience-based wisdom,  practical tips, and plenty of humorous and tender anecdotes, the Duggars answer the questions that pour into the family’s Web site on a daily basis—especially after every national media interview and TV appearance—including their segments on the Discovery Health Channel’s “Meet the Duggars” series.
My opinion:  I started reading this book out of idle curiosity, not expecting to learn anything from it or even finish it.

Boy, was I wrong! This book was the answer to several prayers. From feeling insecure about new ministry responsibilities to parenting issues to what to do with some extra space in our house, this book has given me answers and peace.

The overall tone is very encouraging.  I expected to feel inadequate and guilty while reading this, like I often do when hearing about "perfect" families.   But although the Duggars have qualities and ways of doing things that I'd like to emulate, I feel encouraged and motivated.  This books makes it obvious that the Duggars aren't all that different from me.  They worked hard for what they have and were blessed in the process.  For some reason I thought they had always been where they're at now.  

I really believe that non-Christians will also find this book interesting and encouraging.  While the Duggars do share their faith in the book and talk about it throughout, it isn't pushy or really detailed.  

I just want to add, when I say I want to emulate the Duggars in some aspects of their lives, I do NOT mean that I will be having 19 kids!  I understand why they do, but do not at all feel convicted to do the same.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars: An answer to prayers, easy to read, helpful and practical advice throughout, very uplifting and motivating.

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Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey
By: The Countess of Carnarvon
Published: 2011
# of pages: 292

Official description: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey tells the story behind Highclere Castle, the real-life inspiration for the hit PBS show Downton Abbey, and the life of one of its most famous inhabitants, Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon and the basis of the fictional character Lady Cora Crawley.  Drawing on a rich store of materials from the archives of Highclere Castle, including diaries, letters, and photographs, the current Lady Carnarvon has written a transporting story of this fabled home on the brink of war. Much like her Masterpiece Classic counterpart, Lady Almina was the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, Alfred de Rothschild, who married his daughter off at a young age, her dowry serving as the crucial link in the effort to preserve the Earl of Carnarvon's ancestral home.  Throwing open the doors of Highclere Castle to tend to the wounded of World War I, Lady Almina distinguished herself as a brave and remarkable woman. This rich tale contrasts the splendor of Edwardian life in a great house against the backdrop of the First World War and offers an inspiring and revealing picture of the woman at the center of the history of Highclere Castle.
My opinion:  I saw this book at a small bookstore I visited in a town near Chicago.  I was intrigued since I had just started watching the series "Downton Abbey" on Netflix.  I had heard a lot about it for months and when I finally started watching it I fell in love!!  So this book caught my eye and I checked it out at the library when I came home.

I started reading it while reading a novel and it was hard for me to get into.  I figured it was just a boring history book and put it on the back burner.  But after a couple of weeks it was the only book I had left so I gave it my full attention.

Like I said, it took awhile, but I ended up really enjoying it!  It's not how I thought it would be, more of a day to day "story" of the family and servants.  For some reason I expected it to be more like the TV series, just with real historical figures.  But it's more like a history book and covers an extensive time period.  However, the Carnarvons' lives were filled with drama.  The entire family was involved in WWI and then Lord Carnarvon and Almina were involved in Egyptology, especially the discovering of "King Tut's" tomb along with Howard Carter.  I used to love reading about ancient Egypt and the discoveries of the Valley of the Kings.  It's neat to think that I once read about Carnarvon, but don't remember his name (instead Howard Carter's stuck in my memory).

It's kind of odd to think about this being the inspiration for "Downton Abbey."  I don't really get it.  Besides the fact that Lord Carnarvon married Almina for her money to save Highclere just like the Earl marries Cora for her money to save Downton, there doesn't seem to be much of a connection.  Of course, I haven't watched Season 2 yet...which I gather takes place during WWI.

I recommend this book to lovers of history and those who want to read an overview of WWI.  I think this would be an interesting way for high schoolers to learn about the time period.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Interesting record of historical events, especially WWI and the discovery of "King Tut."  Sometimes frustrating when it discovered people that were unrelated to the Carnarvons or their stories.  

Other reviews:  
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One Thousand White Women

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd
By: Jim Fergus
Published: 1998
# of pages: 320

Official description: One Thousand White Women is the story of May Dodd and a colorful assembly of pioneer women who, under the auspices of the U.S. government, travel to the western prairies in 1875 to intermarry among the Cheyenne Indians. The covert and controversial "Brides for Indians" program, launched by the administration of Ulysses S. Grant, is intended to help assimilate the Indians into the white man's world. Toward that end May and her friends embark upon the adventure of their lifetime. Jim Fergus has so vividly depicted the American West that it is as if these diaries are a capsule in time.
My opinion:  I liked that the author re-wrote history (with an explanation at the beginning).  The "historic event" he chooses is original and interesting.  If only someone else could take the same idea and write a better novel!  I didn't like the main character, May Dodd, at all.  She was hard to relate to, but also didn't seem realistic at all.  It felt like she was a modern day woman, an unfeminine modern day woman, put back in the 1800s.  I'm sure there were liberal, unconventional women in 1875, but not like May Dodd was in this novel.  I can't imagine even a modern day woman reacting the way May reacts when placed in a completely different environment, culture, and people group who don't speak the same language.  She wasn't a realistic woman, and that's what the book is about.  The physical and mental journey of white women whose lives are turned upside down.

She blasts everyone whose viewpoint isn't like her own.  That also includes Christians and I felt like Fergus realized he'd been too harsh and then included a Christian character that May likes at the end.  The reader doesn't get to know that character well, so it was odd when he seemed to be an important character at the very end.  Once again, I just felt like it was an obvious way for Fergus to pacify anyone he may have offended.

Most of all, I felt that it would have been better if there had been a different ending.  Since Fergus was rewriting history, couldn't he have rewritten history?  I think that would have been really neat.

Why I gave this book 2/5 stars:  Original story, interesting (and hopefully accurate!) facts about the Cheyenne history and culture in the late 1800s, unbelievable main character, too many unrealistic viewpoints for that period of history.

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