Monday, April 27, 2009
I am a reader of about any genre. I like the good, the bad, and even ugly books-sorry suzette I know that is dissapointing to you. But, what the heck was this book about. I am not sure if it is about vampires, a teenager on a acid trip, or if it is just an allegory for who knows what. I could not put the stupid book down because I was so confused by the story. A young girl comes of age and all these strange things start to happen, or is she just imagining them. Or is there a secret league of vampires that prey on young virgins? I need someone to read it to tell me what to think. I am incapable of finding my own answers on this one. The best quote from the book that explains the whole experience is "it doesn't matter if it is real, only if it is true." What????
I can't even rate it because it pulled me in and I could not put it down, but I can't say I am better off for reading it.
Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington
By Jennet Conant
How can a book be so very, very interesting and yet, at the same time, so eye-wateringly dull? Such is the sad state of The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington by Jennet Conant. There’s a lot of remarkable information in this book, but it often gets lost in details that may be of interest to a hardcore historian, but less so for the rest of us. So many times, I wanted to put this book down, never to return, only to come across a passage so fascinatingly brilliant that I had no choice but to plow on. If you decide to tackle this book, please consider a few humble suggestions:
Don’t expect Bond, James Bond: Mingling with the rich, famous, and influential? Absolutely. Hanky-panky? Oodles. High-tech gadgets? Not so much, although Ian Flaming did have a pen that ejected tear gas. Primarily, the spies in this book formed relationships with the right people, then kept their eyes and ears open (and occasionally seduced their sources) for information that would be valuable to Britain. Or they used gossip to destroy Britain’s enemies. True Bond-style action is rare, although the book does allude to a British spy training camp – Camp X, naturally – where spies were trained to “cripple police dogs by grabbing their front legs and tearing their chests apart, and to kill a man with…bare hands.”
Don’t expect too much Roald Dahl either: Contrary to the title, I don’t consider Dahl the main character in this book. There are entire chapters where he is barely mentioned. This book is really about the people and politics of wartime Washington. Dahl is useful to the narrative because as he wanders through Washington, he rubs elbows with many of the key players in the labyrinthine political scene and Conant can then introduce them to us in depth. The Irregulars doesn’t really suffer for this. Most of these other characters are vibrant and interesting in their own right.
Don’t feel like you have to remember everything: Especially all of the people and acronyms. Where it comes to all of the acronyms, just assume that each one stands for a clandestine government agency; its specific role generally isn’t important. As for the people, the ones you really need to know are mentioned so often that you’ll soon come to know them without too much effort.
Don’t be afraid to skim: A lot.
In the end, it takes a lot of effort to wade through this book. Most will probably choose not to, which is a shame. They won’t witness the elaborate lengths a rich tycoon will go to in order to conceal his mistress’ pregnancy. They won’t laugh at Dahl’s boyish pranks or marvel at the tale of the fake map that convinced the U.S. that the Germans had American conquest in mind. Maybe, if we’re lucky, Reader’s Digest will publish a condensed version that everyone can enjoy. 2.5/5 stars
Saturday, April 25, 2009
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
I'm Nobody! Who Are You?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us--don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.
How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!
Friday, April 24, 2009
In light of recent events in Lula’s life, I thought I’d share a picture book that my family has enjoyed for years. Imogene’s Antlers is the story of young Imogene who wakes up one morning to find that she has grown giant antlers on her head. The story outlines how Imogene and her family try to deal with these antlers, including a visit from the doctor, acting as a bird feeder, and trying to cover the antlers with a hat. Her mother doesn’t deal with the problem very well.
If you have little ones at home, read Imogene’s Antlers with them, then call Lula and tell her that things actually could be worse.
I’ll rate it a B+, or 4 stars.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Handsome in a smoldering sort of way, but I have to admit it's his snobbery that seems to put him over the top. If he was being all nice would I still like him? Hmm...
Alas, he will always be second fiddle, but how does he hold up on his own? He looks younger and softer somehow doesn't he, like creamy butter. I honestly felt he loved her, that she had won him over heart and soul, more so than in the first version. Sigh...
This man is an excellent actor. He managed to convince me that he was younger than he was - because he had to be at least 45 here (super old)and by the end I just didn't care. Anne loved him and so did I. My heart flutters...
Was there ever such a pouty mouth and intense stare? Too many choices...
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Suzette has already posted an awesome review here. It is her review that convinced me to read this book. And here I must make my guilty confession: The first time I read it, I thought it was just okay.
It's a nice enough story, I thought. Maybe kind of simple for a sophisticated reader like myself, and those asides to the “gentle reader” are kind of distracting, but it’s a pleasant tale. Nice. Did I mention that it’s nice?
Then, I decided to read it to my daughter. Reading it aloud, I suddenly heard rhythms and cadences in DiCamillo’s writing that hadn’t been evident before. The words rolled off my tongue. They were almost hypnotic. Those asides to the reader felt natural and inviting. And the book was suddenly funny. My eavesdropping husband actually burst out laughing once. My daughter and I (and my husband, too, if he’d admit it) were enchanted.
I am repentant. This book is a delight, but one best enjoyed read aloud. Even if you don’t have children, try reading it aloud. I promise I won’t tell. 4/5 stars
Whenever you see a legend, you can be sure, if you go to the very bottom of things, that you will find history.
Vallet de Viriville
Joan Anglicus is a frustrated young girl. The brightest and most scholarly of all her siblings, she is often denied the chance to learn because of her sex. The Dark Ages were a time when womens brains were thought to be smaller than a man’s and only needed for child bearing. Why teach a girl to read and write? Joan cannot accept this. She runs away with her older brother, and after he is killed in a Viking attack, she disguises herself and assumes his identity at a Benedictine monastery. As Brother John Anglicus, she is sought out for her great healing abilities and religious intellect, until eventually she is elevated to the highest throne in the world at the time, the papacy.
The story of Pope Joan, a woman who lived disguised as a man and rose to become pope of the Church in the ninth century, is one of the most fascinating in Western history, and one of the least known. Most that have heard of her regard her story as a legend contrived by Protestant reformers, or so the Catholic Church would have you believe, not at all based on facts. But as Viriville said, legend and history are often one in the same.
Even though much is not known of the Dark Ages, Woolfolk Cross has done her homework here. This book is well-researched and well-written. I was completely sucked in and had a hard time putting it down. I found the history fascinating. These troubled times were especially difficult for women - as they still are today in some countries. They had no property rights, no opportunity for education. They could be beaten and raped by their husbands at will. So it seems completely logical that a woman would chose to disguise herself as a man. She certainly wouldn’t have been the only woman in history to do so.
So why deny she existed at all? Extreme mortification of course, that a woman could deceive so many. History provides many examples of the deliberate falsification of records to suit the masses. But what of the proof? What of the so-called chair exam, where each candidate was examined to prove his manhood as part of the medieval papal conservation ceremony for almost six centuries? What of the “shunned street” in Rome on which Joan reportedly “John Anglicus gave birth to a child…” An interesting article about this is here, if you're wanting to know more about the legend.
Even with these facts, given the confusion of the ninth century it is impossible to know for sure if she existed. We may never know if there really was a Pope Joan. True or not, I sure had a good time reading about it. An excellent book. 4.5 stars
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
By Ron Hall & Denver Moore (with Lynn Vincent)
**Major spoiler alert if you're reading this for book club.
I don’t know what it is about my book club picks this year. They seem to be taking a religious, emotional turn at full speed around a curve with no side rail. Perhaps it’s because of the difficult times we are facing. Perhaps people are drawn to inspirational tales of overcoming obstacles and wanting to discuss them in an open forum. So far, 3 of the last 5 books we’ve read have dealt with death on some level and it’s not even Halloween yet. Not Sherlock Holmes solving a mystery type of death, but long drawn out, miserable suffering sort of death. Do I want to read about this stuff in a time of crisis? In the words of Charlie Brown, good grief, no, no, no. Not one right after the other. I’m starting to have nightmares. Seriously.
With that said, if you’re still even reading this depressing ink (if I were you I’d have stopped long ago) my third tale of woe in this series of “inspirational” reading, is one of Denver Moore, a man born and raised in Louisiana in the 40’s and 50’s, and until the late 60’s worked for “the man” on a share-cropping farm. He’s never been to school a day in his life. Never gotten a birthday present. Never owned a home or a car. He’s a man who’s skimmed along the surface of life without anyone noticing. Until he meets Ron Hall and his wife Debra at a homeless shelter, two rich people trying to make a difference. They notice him, and everything changes, for all three of them.
If this book had only been about Denver, I probably would give it 4 stars. His story was very interesting and almost unbelievable. A modern day slave on a cotton farm, he worked for nothing but food and a roof over his head until he literally jumped on a train to Texas, and while there remained homeless for almost thirty years. Somehow what he said rang true.
However, Ron Hall’s part of the story (as it is told from both their perspectives) I found to be self-indulgent and (here’s that dreaded word again) preachy. He talks of his “poor” beginnings in a white middle class family. How he smoked pot with “fat chicks” in college and how later he rose from Campbell Soup salesman to a fantastic and super rich art dealer of the famous. Somewhere along the way with the help of his saintly wife, and after he’s caught having an affair, he finds God and a purpose in life. His wife drags him to a homeless shelter where the two of them come across Denver, who is of course all too happy to be hounded by two rich people with a cause. It’s not hard to guess what happens next.
So, I’ll say no more of this get happy tale but this: ugh. 2 stars
Monday, April 20, 2009
The actors mill about the party saying rhubarb
Sunday, April 19, 2009
By Alice Sebold
Susie Salmon is murdered when she is fourteen years old. In The Lovely Bones, Susie tells us her story and the stories of her friends, family and even her murderer as she looks down on them all from Heaven. The end result is a devastating depiction of pain and suffering. Consequently, this is not an easy book to read. The murder itself is appalling, and the aftermaths are painful to witness.
Remember that article in the April 20, 2009 issue of Newsweek? It was called,” Why Is It a Sin to Read for Fun?” It put forward the idea that reading for fun is fine, as long as it leads a reader to more edifying texts: “…at some point reading should stop being a pleasurable diversion, and start being work.” How else are you going to grow?I sort of agree with that (although nothing is going to stop me from reading for fun). I did force myself to finish the book after all, even though I wasn’t enjoying it. But I’m still trying to decide if this book was edifying. Regardless, I don’t think the writing was particularly great.
Examples, please.“Her heart, like an ingredient in a recipe, was reduced,” or “She asked for coffee and toast in a restaurant and buttered it with her tears,” or “Her pupils dilated, pulsing in and out like small, ferocious olives.”
The narrator was a fourteen-year old. How great a writer were you at that age?Um…let’s move on, shall we? I have some problems with Susie’s Heaven. I won’t spoil the book for anyone by divulging details, but Susie’s Heaven and Susie’s attitudes toward it seemed contrived and often artificial (like a poorly conceived gimmick designed to draw in readers).
For one thing, Susie was bored in Heaven. What kind of Heaven is that? Also, Susie seemed to have very little interest in her afterlife. For example, God or a higher being is never in evidence, but not once does Susie (or anyone else) ask about His/Her/Its existence. I’m not saying the book had to dwell on the big philosophical questions. A few brief sentences (“You’ll find out when you’re ready,” or “We don’t know!”) would have sufficed. Ignoring The Big Questions made Heaven feel unauthentic.
First, everyone has a different idea of Heaven. Second, not everyone is as full of (annoying) questions as you are. Third, again, Susie is only fourteen.Fair enough, although personally, I think most people are going to be asking about God when they die, even if they are young. Look, I realize that a lot of people love this book. I don’t have any good reasons for disliking it; it’s just not my cup of cocoa. And there you have it. 2/5 stars
A synopsis from the Little Dorrit website:
The villainous Rigaud (under an assumed name), begins an extortion scheme against Mrs. Clennam. Pancks uncovers information that dramatically alters the future for the Dorrits. Now able to move beyond his shameful past, Mr. Dorrit enlists the help of Mrs. General to instruct his daughters in etiquette. Disquieted by all the sudden changes, Amy continues her connection with Arthur through letters, and forges a closer relationship with Pet Meagles.
A more detailed synopsis is on that site if you really want to know what happened last Sunday, and again, if you want to watch this episode or any of the others, it's posted here until the first week of May.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
In 1925 he headed out again with two other men (one being his 21-year-old son) looking for this lost city he dubbed Z. He believed he knew where to look after years of research and experience and that he would make one of the most important archaeological discoveries in history.
The group simply vanished. What happened to Fawcett? Did they die from starvation? Did illness finally get the better of him and his group? Or were they kidnapped or killed by some of the hostile tribes in the area?
Many have gone searching to see if they could find out what happened to Fawcett's expedition or to find his lost city of Z. Many have died in the search, been captured by tribes or went missing, just like Fawcett.
The author begins his research and finds previously unknown information on where Fawcett went and ends up going into the jungle himself to see what he can uncover about the "greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century." Does he discover what happened to Fawcett? Does he find the lost city of Z?
This is a great book that I highly recommend. I found it to be extremely interesting. I thought the author did a very good job of jumping between the past and the present to tell us the tale of Fawcett and his own personal journey into the Amazon. The novel is full of interesting details about Percy's life and his expeditions. I can't believe anyone survived going into the Amazon and would keep going back. The illnesses you could catch so easily were horrible! I also liked hearing about the author's own personal research and journey.
A side note: Apparently Brad Pitt has bought the rights to the book and plans on making a movie out of it. It should be a good one!
Friday, April 17, 2009
The story takes place in two different time periods. In modern day, Ella Turner moves with her husband from San Francisco to a small town in France. She struggles with what to do day-to-day (she’s a midwife, but has to get a license to practice in France). She begins to look into her French heritage after being haunted by nightmares about a specific color of blue. One thing leads to another and she discovers interesting facts about some of her relatives four hundred years ago.
The other part of the story involves those ancestors of Ella’s in the late 1500’s. Isabelle du Moulin is a young girl with red hair which she keeps neatly hidden since the other villagers frown upon red hair. She marries a man and starts a family, but the oppression she faces! She too is a midwife, but her husband’s family doesn’t want her to continue as such. They are Huguenots (French Protestants) and with all the religious unrest of that time, they flee to Switzerland where the oppression of Isabelle gets far worse.
As the book progressed I just hated reading about Isabelle’s situation, but I came to admire her. Ella, on the other hand, was a total wimp and she turned a little psycho in the end. Maybe a lot of psycho. I felt like Ella had no morals, no guts, no direction. I think she was too suckered in by the French (as I would be).
I was completely intrigued by the first two-thirds of the book. Sometimes I would get so wrapped up in it I would forget where I was. I think Chevalier has a unique writing style that really encompasses what the characters are feeling. And I am such a sucker for French. There is a lot of French in this book which I was able to mostly understand with my high school and college language background. I just LOVE the French language (not unlike Gomez Addams when Morticia would speak French to him—I completely relate to him). But for the last bit of the book, I was disappointed in the direction the modern story took. It was too unbelievable for me that Ella could form the relationships she did, abandon the relationships she already had, and find the connection to Isabelle du Moulin that she did.
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
EMBED-Susan Boyle Stuns Crowd with Epic Singing - Watch more free videos
I Dreamed a Dream (from Les Miserables)
I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving.
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung
No wine untasted.
But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
As they turn your dream to shame.
I dream he’ll come to me
That we will live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms
We cannot weather…
I had a dream my life would be
So different form this hell I’m living
so different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed
The dream I dreamed.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
By Tahir Shah
Shah gets all of that and more when he buys a crumbling palace, Dar Khalifa (The Caliph’s House) in Casablanca. He also gets three guardians (they come with the house). He gets an architect with a zeal for destruction and little interest in renovation. He gets an assistant, Kamal, that he doesn’t trust and doesn’t particularly like, but needs desperately. But mostly, he gets Jinns. Lots of them. And it turns out that jinns, invisible and usually malign spirits, can cause a lot of problems. Whether you believe in them or not is irrelevant.
The resulting (nonfiction!) book, The Caliph’s House, is a delight, a thoroughly entertaining description of Shah’s first year in Morocco. The characters he meets are almost unbelievably eccentric, like those in a zany comedy movie but all the more interesting because they’re real. His adventures are often laugh-out-loud hilarious. His first night in his new home, Shah has his very first run-in with jinns…in the toilet. Kamal manages to obtain a refund from the useless architect by throwing a feast. Shah’s world map is condemned by the censorship police because Western Sahara isn’t in the same color as Morocco. I laughed so much that my husband forbade me to read in bed when he was trying to sleep.
Best of all, the whole time I was laughing, I was learning. This book was, for me, a fascinating glimpse into a culture very different from our own. Moroccans have rich superstitions and traditions that infuse every aspect of their lives. Shah skillfully illuminates facets of Arab culture that, in this era of post-9/11 paranoia, we seldom see or bother to consider. He doesn’t ignore the fanatics; they’re there, lurking in the fringes of his narrative, but they don’t seem to have much of an influence on daily Casablanca life. I, for one, didn’t miss them.
In spite of frustrations and challenges, Shah comes to love Morocco and its people, warts and all. He lives there to this day. Having read this book, a part of me (a very, very small part of me) longs to join him.
This book does have some objectionable words, but in the context in which they appeared, they were usually pretty darn funny. 5 stars.
Children aren't happy with nothing to ignore,
And that's what parents were created for.
In honor of National Poetry Month and my son whom I inadvertently named after this man, I decided to delve into some poems by Ogden Nash , selected and illustrated by Quentin Blake.
Very much along the lines of Shel Silverstein of Where the Sidewalk Ends fame, Nash's genius is fun and wonderfully unadorned. At the time of his death in 1971, the New York Times said his "droll verse with its unconventional rhymes made him the country's best-known producer of humorous poetry".
From terse masterpieces like "The Kitten" (The trouble with a kitten is THAT Eventually is becomes a CAT) to the longer "A Watched Example Never Boils," and "The Tale of Custard the Dragon," this funny collection tickled by funny bone on more than one occasion. And I particularly enjoyed the frenetic illustrations by Blake. (His work is also included in another favorite of mine, Roald Dahl.) They added the perfect amount of whimsy to these animated tales, of mostly animals. Nash loved to write poetry about various animals (The turtle lives 'twixt plated decks/Which practically conceal its sex/I think it clever of the turtle/In such a fix to be so fertile.) And food. (I'm mad about mustard-even on custard.)
I had a lot of fun reading this book. It made me want to try it myself - ha. I'd prefer someone else to fill in the blanks instead, or better yet write your own and include it in the comments. Happy poetry month!
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Unburdened by prayer, unburdened by any supplication,
Monday, April 13, 2009
If light pours like water
if the rug beneath us is
rests with the sweet heft of fruit,
Amal is one of those people. She’s a typical teenager in her Melbourne prep school. She’s on the debate team, has a close circle of girlfriends, is concerned about her clothes matching and whether she has a zit, and most importantly, if the cutest boy she’s had a crush on for ages is noticing her. But there’s one thing that’s not so typical, she’s a Palestinian-Muslim, the only one in her school and this year she’s decided to wear her head scarf (hijab) fulltime as a statement of her faith.
It’s 2002, a year after the September 11th attacks and a few months away from the Bali explosion in Indonesia. Tensions against Muslims are running high everywhere, in her school, her neighborhood, and in her city. Yet, Amal is a strong young woman who has come to the decision to stand up for what she believes in, despite the obstacles, and in the end they only seem to increase her resolve to stick with what she believes in.
What’s not to like about a story about a young teen who clearly knows what she wants? For someone who knows nothing about the Muslim religion, I found what was discussed here a light taste of something infinite. The author was clearly trying to explain to non-Muslims that Muslims are just like everybody else through Amal’s interactions with her parents, her extended family and her friends, but I might’ve liked seeing a deeper look, like why Muslim women wear the hijab in the first place. Not all Muslims are terrorists, I get it. The majority of them are peace loving people trying to do the best for their families. This was probably the main point of the book, over and over and over again.
Therein lies my problem with this story. Think peachy with an r conveniently situated. The plot was so well calculated it didn’t flow naturally for me. It didn’t seem realistic at all, from her relationship to her parents, to her experiences with prejudice, and especially her discussions with her friends. In college maybe, but 11th grade? Really? What planet is she from? Maturatron. (I wonder if they wore leg-warmers there too?) Oh, why couldn’t I have been from there as a teen!
Kudos to you, Ms. Abdel-Fattah, for creating a strong female lead for other teens to look up to, but next time ease up a bit on the moral lessons as it sometimes makes a teen, er…an adult like me rebel and give you a 2.5 stars. Sorry.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Thursday, April 9, 2009
I thought this was the greatest movie evah, at the time anyway, just like I thought Xanadu was worth watching and Get Physical by Olivia Newton John was the best album ever made. Unfortunately, experience has shown me that time is the cruel teller of truth when it comes to revisiting these old gems. Often I'm left wondering, "what the...?"
So what about this story I heard, could they really be making another? I don't know if my stomach could handle the creatures actually looking real. Might be the stuff of nightmares. Could be a rumor I guess, but until then I'll drag out my old worn-out copy and peruse through the creased pictures of a partially clothed Harry Hamlin. Wow, was he ever cute! (He's the one on the left.)
A brief synopsis of this episode:
Romance and heartbreak are in the air. John Chivery proposes to Amy Dorrit,while Arthur Clennam's aspirations for Pet Meagles become deflated after meeting another suitor, Henry Gowan. Meanwhile, Flora Finching, concerned that Arthur's attention is being distracted by Amy, brings Amy to work for her. Opportunistic Fanny Dorrit leads on smitten Edmund Sparkler, stepson of famed banker Mr. Merdle. Cavalletto arrives in London, only to discover he has been followed by Rigaud. Learning of a box that contains Mrs. Clennam's secrets, Rigaud senses an opportunity. Mr. Pancks continues his investigation on Arthur's behalf. He recruits John Chivery and a lawyer for help. Tattycoram, outraged at what she considers poor treatment, declares she is leaving the Meagleses for good. Mr. Meagles watches with great concern.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
First, forget everything you have learned,
Do not assume meanings hidden from you:
When you can name five poets without including Bob Dylan,
I have an embarrassing confession. I’m so excited I’m giddy like a school girl, and I’m also apparently dumb like one. Until recently, I’d never heard of Georgette Heyer. See, told you – dumb. I had no idea of how many books she’d written on Regency England, about 60 I think, and I, who claim to love an excellent classic historical romance, have never read even one of her books. Not – one.
Have I been living in a hole these last 3 decades, stuck in an Austen, Bronte rut the size and scope of my pan-handled state? And so I would still be if not for my occasional scanning of the reading bloggernacle where I recently found a lone review of this book, Black Sheep. Be still my beating heart. This is an excellent book. And I almost took it back to the library unread, shameful, wicked girl!
Miss Abigail Wendover is our 28-year-old heroine who lives in Bath with her much older, often thinks herself ill sister, Selina and their 18-year-old ward and niece Fanny. Abby is quite settled in her life, where she is both nurse and confidant to her immediate family. Romance is the last thing on her mind. All remains unchanged until young Fanny thinks herself in love with a scandalous fortune hunter, a much older Mr. Stacy Calverleigh, and it falls to Abby to make Fanny see the light of this man’s true nature.
When Fanny and Selina remain unmoved in their undying devotion to this man, Abby, who fears there might be an elopement at any moment, enlists the help of an unlikely ally, Mr. Miles Calverleigh, the black sheep of the family and uncle of Stacy who has just returned from banishment in India. He, however has not the temperament or desire to become involved in the situation, but instead turns his attentions toward Abby, who secretly knows she’s met her match, but outright refuses to admit it all costs.
In case I haven't mentioned it enough, I really liked this book. It was written in the style of Jane Austen, but was much easier to read. Heyer has borrowed much from that great writer but in the end I couldn't have cared a wit. While the main characters were clever and sharp as a tack, it was the secondary characters as well, the nosy elderly neighbors, the friends of the family that gave this book real depth.
As I said I’ve not read any of Heyer’s other books so I’ve nothing to compare it to, but for a few days, I was able to escape back in time. No detail was left undone. I felt I was in Bath in the 1800’s. Miles Calverleigh now ranks very high on my list of outstanding male leads, and the ending – well, perfection, sigh... Truly, I can’t get back to the library fast enough. 5 stars***
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
By Jane Clayson Johnson
One day, I received a phone call from a friend I hadn’t seen in quite some time. This friend spent a few minutes telling me about her exciting career, then asked me the dreaded question: “So, what have you been up to?”
Frantically, I tried to think of something to tell her. Should I tell her about my potty-training woes? Our recent afternoon at the park? My daughter’s triumphs at Kindergarten? “Well,” I said lamely, “I’m a stay-at-home mom.”
There was a long pause. “Aren’t you lucky!” my friend finally said brightly.
The conversation pretty much died at that point, but it illustrates my point: mothers, especially full-time moms, don’t get the respect they deserve. To be honest, most days, I don’t even respect the job myself. It’s hard for me to find fulfillment in the endless rounds of diapers, tantrums and cleaning.
Jane Clayson Johnson is the former co-host of The Early Show on CBS. At ABC News, she covered national and international stories for World News Tonight with Peter Jennings and Good Morning America. She gave it all up to be a full-time mother. She wrote I Am a Mother to encourage mothers to be proud of their role, to stand up and say, with dignity, “I am a mother!”
Johnson uses numerous inspirational scriptures, quotes and stories as well as her own experiences to laud the importance of mothers. These serve as a great pep talk, but since I already know how important mothers are (thank you very much!), I found the most wisdom in a chapter titled “Walking in Each Other’s Shoes.” In that chapter, Johnson encourages women not to judge one another; an important reminder, I think, as battles rage over working vs. staying at home and breastfed vs. bottle-fed and the number of children to have. Sometimes we women are our own worst enemies, and it shouldn’t be that way.
I think it will be a long time before the world respects moms the same way it reveres doctors and lawyers and actors, but perhaps Johnson’s suggestion is a good place to start: stand up proudly and announce to the world that I am a mother! Maybe if we learn to respect ourselves, others will start to respect us, too. 3 stars
DISCLAIMER: Most everyone I know loves this book and gives it five stars. The only reason I didn’t is because I am a crusty, cynical, evil woman and I don’t enjoy inspirational books as much as most people.
Men and women and children knew, or felt, that when Gandhi fell by the assassin’s three bullets the conscience of mankind had been left without a spokesman.
Louis Fischer clearly loved Mahatma Gandhi. An entire nation loved him. How could such a tiny little man impress the world in such a way? Before I read this book I knew next to nothing about him. Only that he had strange diet practices (“Many such experiments taught me that the real seat of taste was not in the tongue but in the mind,”) was obsessed with spinning, and that he loved peace and India (“Prejudice cannot be removed by legislation…They yield only to patient toil and education.”)
This book spans his entire life, from his birth in 1869, to his schooling in England and time spent in South Africa, his many years in India, and finally his death in 1948. He did a great many things for his country, for their eventual independence from Great Britain, and most especially for the poorest among them. Even though this book deals very strongly with Gandhi’s philosophies - the history of his life being secondary, I still saw the underlying weakness of the man and his deep sense to overcome it, through his diet; through his fasting to make a point; through his celibacy. Through sheer will, he was able to overcome many obstacles, but he was not perfect. A foreigner once asked him, “How is your family?”
“All of India is my family,” Gandhi replied. Great men often make poor husbands and fathers. He was no exception, but by the end of this book I couldn’t help but forgive the man his faults. India may still have been under British rule today if not for his influence one hundred years ago. Can any person, no matter how small and meek change a nation? By the end of this book I felt that yes, they can. With all that's going on in the world today, I long for another Gandhi to reappear. No one seems willing to take up the mantle again. At least not yet. 3 stars
Monday, April 6, 2009
Oh you men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn, or misanthropic, how greatly do you wrong me.... The Heiligenstadt Testament
Three miles from my adopted city lies a village where I came to peace. The world there was a calm place, even the great Danube no more than a pale ribbon tossed onto the landscape by a girl's careless hand. Into this stillness
I had been ordered to recover. The hills were gold with late summer; my rooms were two, plus a small kitchen, situated upstairs in the back of a cottage at the end of the Herrengasse. From my window I could see onto the courtyard where a linden tree twined skyward — leafy umbilicus canted toward light, warped in the very act of yearning — and I would feed on the sun as if that alone would dismantle the silence around me.
At first I raged. Then music raged in me, rising so swiftly I could not write quickly enough to ease the roiling. I would stop to light a lamp, and whatever I'd missed — larks flying to nest, church bells, the shepherd's home-toward-evening song — rushed in, and I would rage again.
I am by nature a conflagration; I would rather leap than sit and be looked at. So when my proud city spread her gypsy skirts, I reentered, burning towards her greater, constant light.
Call me rough, ill-tempered, slovenly— I tell you, every tenderness I have ever known has been nothing but thwarted violence, an ache so permanent and deep, the lightest touch awakens it. . . . It is impossible to care enough. I have returned with a second Symphony and 15 Piano Variations which I've named Prometheus, after the rogue Titan, the half-a-god who knew the worst sin is to take what cannot be given back.
I smile and bow, and the world is loud. And though I dare not lean in to shout Can't you see that I'm deaf? — I also cannot stop listening.
Two of my favorite author's have new books out this week. That old mystery digger herself, Mary Higgins Clark has Just Take My Heart coming out today. I've only read a few of her books, but I have many family members who adore her mysteries. A brief synopsis:
In her new thriller, America's #1 bestselling Queen of Suspense delves into a legal battle over the guilt or innocence of a man accused of murdering his wife. Woven into her plot is an eerie, little-understood but documented medical phenomenon -- the emergence of a donor's traits and memories in the recipient of a heart transplant.
This looks like a good one and is already getting great reviews.
Also out today, the return of my favorite crime-fighting caterer, Goldy Schulz in Fatally Flaky by Diane Mott Davidson. That link also includes an excellent radio interview with Diane about this upcoming book. A synopsis:
Colorado caterer Goldy Schulz encounters Bridezilla—and murder—in another delectable novel by the New York Times bestselling author of Sweet Revenge, Dark Tort, and Double Shot.
It's been a long, rainy summer for Goldy Schulz, who is engaged in planning wedding receptions for what seems to be all of Aspen Meadow. It's bad enough that Billie Attenborough, the bride from hell, wants to move the location to the Gold Gulch Spa just a scant two days before tying the knot to her doctor fiancé. Then Doc Finn, best friend of Goldy's godfather Jack, is killed when his car tumbles into a ravine. But Jack thinks Doc was murdered because of research he was doing at the spa—allegations that are confirmed when Jack himself is attacked. So Goldy dons chef's whites and goes undercover at the spa. Add in the obstreperous owner, who years ago tried to sabotage Goldy's fledgling business, and she's got her hands full.
Above all, there seems to be a clever killer on the spa grounds, watching her every move. After what befell Jack, Goldy knows that she might be next. Catering weddings, and cooking low-fat food, could be killing her—literally.
I really like this series and am looking forward to, of course, the recipes she'll have woven into her story line. They are often as good as the stories themselves!
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Goldfish Are Ordinary
by Stacie Cassarino
At the pet store on Court Street,
I search for the perfect fish.
The black moor, the blue damsel,
cichlids and neons. Something
to distract your sadness, something
you don't need to love you back.
Maybe a goldfish, the flaring tail,
orange, red-capped, pearled body,
the darting translucence? Goldfish
are ordinary, the boy selling fish
says to me. I turn back to the tank,
all of this grace and brilliance,
such simplicity the self could fail
to see. In three months I'll leave
this city. Today, a chill in the air,
you're reading Beckett fifty blocks
away, I'm looking at the orphaned
bodies of fish, undulant and gold fervor.
Do you want to see aggression?
the boy asks, holding a purple beta fish
to the light while dropping handfuls
of minnows into the bowl. He says,
I know you're a girl and all
but sometimes it's good to see.
Outside, in the rain, we love
with our hands tied,
while things tear away at us.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Elegy for Sol LeWitt
by Ann Lauterbach
The weather map today is pale. The lines on the map
are like the casts of fishing lines
looping and curved briefly across air.
The sky now, also, toward evening, is pale.
On Sunday, in Beacon, there were lines
drawn on walls and also lines
drawn across the canvases of the last paintings
of Agnes Martin. One of them has two pale squares
on a blackened field.
The lines on your walls
as if there were a kind of logic
charged with motion
at the end of winter: the pale blue northern cold
almost merged with the pale green
at Hartford, and then the blank newsprint of the sea.
Friday, April 3, 2009
and yet we think that song outlasts us all: wrecked devotion
what else but to linger in the slight shade of those sapling branches
guess I figured to be done with desire, if I could write it out
what was his name? I'd ask myself, that guy with the sideburns
silly poet, silly man: thought I could master nature like a misguided
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Life at Hogwarts continues in this adventure-filled sequel. After a mind-numbingly boring summer spent with the hideous Dursley's, a warning from one weird-looking elf, and a short stint of joy at the Burrow, Harry is on his way back to Hogwarts. But as always, that's where his real trouble begins.
Truth be told this one is probably my least favorite of the seven. It was a little slow for me in the beginning, finally took root about half way, then finished with a bang by the end. I did have fun reviewing all the clever and witty details, and am looking forward to catching up on the next books. What a great escape they are. Care to test your knowledge of these soon to be classics?
Are you but a fair weather lover of all things Potter, or a seasoned traveler through these books? I'm somewhere in the middle. Either way, I enjoyed the trip back.
1. On the first page, how many times that week had Hedwig’s screeching bothered Mr. Vernon Dursley?
2. What did Harry miss most especially about Hogwarts?
3. Name Mr. Dursley’s potential drill clients.
4. Harry’s dinner for the night they were coming was?
5. What color are Dobby’s eyes?
6. Mrs. Mason was mortally afraid of what?
7. What was the color and make of the enchanted car?
8. What was the name of the Weasley’s owl?
9. The gnomes in the Weasley’s garden, what vegetable did they look like?
10. What’s the name of Ron’s favorite Quidditch team?
11. Who was Bill Weasley working for in Egypt?
12. What present did Draco Malfoy want his father to buy him in Borgin and Burkes?
13. Instead of Diagon Alley, where did Harry turn up?
14. What did Professor McGonagall suggest Harry and Ron should’ve done instead of stealing the car?
15. What award did Professor Lockhart win five times in a row?
16. What was the name of the new gifted brooms the Slytherin’s received to play Quidditch?
17. Ron’s detention was cleaning what and for whom?
For a different set of questions see here. 3 stars
by Rae Armantrout
The ghosts swarm.
They speak as one person.
Each loves you.
Each has left something undone.
Did the palo verde blush yellow all at once?
Today's edges are so sharp
they might cut anything that moved.
The way a lost word
will come back unbidden.
You're not interested in it now,
only in knowing where it's been.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Summer at Blue Creek, North Carolina
by Jack Gilbert
There was no water at my grandfather's
when I was a kid and would go for it
with two zinc buckets. Down the path,
past the cow by the foundation where
the fine people's house was before
they arranged to have it burned down.
To the neighbor's cool well. Would
come back with pails too heavy,
so my mouth pulled out of shape.
I see myself, but from the outside.
I keep trying to feel who I was,
and cannot. Hear clearly the sound
the bucket made hitting the sides
of the stone well going down,
but never the sound of me.
I've been waiting for this for awhile. An excuse to talk about poetry, even if it's only by myself. April is National Poetry Month. Check out the American Academy of Poets website for more details here. A review of their synopsis:
I'm going to participate in the Poem-a-day email, and will post them here for the entire month, along with any other favorites I can think of. I am also reading two poetry books, Final Harvest - Emily Dickinson's Poems and Custard and Company - Poems by Ogden Nash, both of which I will review and discuss at the end of the month.
Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month is now held every April, when publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, schools and poets around the country band together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture. Thousands of businesses and non-profit organizations participate through readings, festivals, book displays, workshops, and other events.
I encourage anyone else to chose a poetry book for this month and review it here. There are a lot of fun ones out there. If anyone has a favorite poem, or one you've written yourself, please post away.
Otherwise, happy poetry reading!
The house of fiction has many windows, but only two or three doors.
In How Fiction Works, the critic James Wood tries “to be mindful of the common reader” and reduce what Joyce calls, “true scholastic stink” to bearable levels. Like an art critic would break down the elements of artistic style, from drawing to painting, to penciling in the appropriate amount of shade, Wood reveals aspects about the art of fiction. Is realism real? How do we define a successful metaphor? What is a character, etc? Old questions indeed but like he says in this book, he means to answer them differently, by asking a critic’s questions and offering a writer’s answers.
This being one of the only books I’ve ever read of this type, I found it short and readable, yet supremely condescending at the same time. I imagined Wood more than once in a cardboard-colored tweed jacket with a pipe tucked supremely in the corner of his mouth, whilst sitting in the orange upholstered wing chair amongst his vast library of Chekhov, Joyce, Nabokov, just to name a few. Like the guy who used to do those Mobile Masterpiece introductions. I felt snobby and the need to adopt an English accent while reading it.
But still, he made me take a deeper look, at words themselves, at characters, at the art of the effective metaphor. I learned the how’s and why’s of why New York garbage men call maggots, “disco rice,” why Marilynne Robison called a grave a “weedy little mortality patch,” and Katherine Manfield’s “grandmother saying her prayers like someone rummaging through tissue paper.”
He is particularly obsessed of a certain kind of visual simile and metaphor that describes fire, calling them “tremendously successful.”
Lawrence, seeing a fire in a grate, writes of it as “that rushing bouquet of new flames in the chimney” (Sea and Sardinia). Hardy describes a “scarlet handful of fire” in Gabriel Oaks cottage in Far from the Madding Crowd. Bellow has this sentence in his story A Silver Dish: “The blue flames fluttered like a school of fish in the coal fire.”It’s not hard to tell, this is obviously a man in love with words, and an attentive lover he is. He made me question what I’m looking for in a book. Why am I reading? I want to escape. I want answers to life’s questions. I want to learn something new. I am like he, a woman in search of “that blue river of truth, curling somewhere; we encounter scenes and moments and perfectly placed words in fiction and poetry, in film and drama, which strike us with their truth, which move and sustain us, which shake habit’s house to it’s foundation.”
Did this book “shake habit’s house” for me? Absolutely. If you're looking to be intellectually dazzled and increase your knowledge even a tiny bit, I highly recommend reading this. Now if only a movie would've been included like on Mobile Masterpiece. Then it would've been perfect. 4 stars