Friday, October 19, 2007

A Thousand Spendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

I think everyone has or is reading this book. It is wonderful. I have read that many think it is better than Hosseini's first book, The Kite Runner. Personally, I liked The Kite Runner better, but it was close.

This one is about women in Afghanistan. There are plenty of places to go for a plot summery, so if you are interested in that, check it out on Amazon.

What I want to emphsis about this book is the history the author so wonderfully wove into the story. I felt absolutly stupid as I read that I didn't know more of the history of this country than I did. We went to war there, and our army is still there "peacekeeping." You would think I would have a better handle on the history of a place where my nephew was stationed in the army. But I did not. I am glad to have read this book for that reason alone.

And I knew about the really apalling treatment of some women in this part of the world, but this novel really brings it home. At one point in the story a husband makes his wife chew stones because he thinks his rice is undercooked. She breaks her teeth. I shudder. Things like this make parts of the book really hard to read. But there is a lesson here and I wish ....I don't know what I wish. Maybe that more people would read the book? It is a hard thing not to be able to change things but knowledge is power they say. There is my rant for the day.

Read this book.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

I love love love this book. It is exceedingly beautiful. The language is so gorgeous I wanted to just sink into it and never come out.

The story is told by Trond Sander a 67 year old man, recently moved to a remote cabin in the soon to be winterland of Norway, and his recollections of a summer with his father in another remote cabin where things happen to change his life forever. Much of that story is based on WWII and its aftermath. The current story is tied to the past in unexpected ways and the whole tapestry is a portrait of a life defined by an event.

This is not a sweeping saga, it is very controlled. And therein lies its pleasure. I was surprised by things that happened in this story, but it all felt inevitable. I liked Trond very much even though he was still a man who was "becoming." I think this book should be read without knowing much about it because it has moments that will indeed take your breath away.

It is a translation from the Norwegian and the translator is also a poet. I think that shows in the beauty of her construction.

Get this book!! Read it and tell others to read it. It deserves a wide audience.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Three Books

I have been a bad blogger. I have read three books and not written a word about them. I can not even claim to be too busy, maybe just lazy. Ah well, what's a woman to do?

First, The Book Borrower by Alice Mattison. I read this for my book group. It was pretty much panned by all of us. It is the story of two women in New York who become friends and it follows that friendship over decades. The title comes from a book loaned from one to the other on their first meeting. There is a novel within a novel in this book and the interior novel is called Trolley Girls. The reason this book was mostly disliked by my group was that we all found the characters pretty unlikable. Not enough to be villains you love to hate, but enough that it was hard to relate to any of them. Not recommended.

The second book is also a book club selection which we will be discussing next month. I ripped through this book in a day. How to be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward. This is the story of two sisters who are dealing a decade after it happened with the disappearance of their little sister. The family was dysfunctional to begin with and the loss of the youngest sister spiraled them further into destructive behaviors. When the mother thinks she has found a photo of the missing sister, all grown up, one of the girls goes west to find her. The plot is sort of unreal, but still these are people that I cared about and it was a good read.

Finally, Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. When you live in Wisconsin and Illinois, you are to some degree bound to know about Frank Lloyd Wright and his work and life. This is the story (fictionalized) of what was perhaps his greatest love affair with the married Mamah Borthwick Cheney. It was the scandal of the day and reporters followed the couple to Europe and harassed their families back in Illinois. The story focuses on Mamah who was a feminist and translator of Swedish feminist Ellen Key's books and essays. The famous Taliesin built in Spring Green, Wisconsin was where Frank and Mamah lived until a major tragedy struck.

I really liked this book. It puts a very personal face on the legend that is Frank Lloyd Wright and there was much here that I didn't know. A very worthwhile read.

Friday, September 07, 2007

I've Heard the Vultures Singing by Lucia Perillo

Lucia Perillo is a poet. That is how I came to know her and I love her work. When this new title came out, I was expecting poetry. I was surprised to get a book of essays. And delighted.

Perillo has MS as do I. This book explores what it is like to deal with a debilitating disease and the losses caused by that disease, especially when that person was so independent. Perillo used to work as a naturalist and spend huge amounts of time alone, outdoors, doing very physical things. Now she is in a wheelchair. Not that this book is a whine, more of an explanation with some bitching thrown in for good measure.

I kept reading parts aloud to my husband prefaced with, "wow, she really gets this right, this is exactly how I feel."

And maybe that is why I liked this book so well. She gets it right. But that is according to me. Our experiences are similar. Someone else with MS might feel completely different. A disease like MS with so many permutations is hard to pin down. And personality plays such a big role in how a person deals with the day to day crap of it all.

All that aside though, Perillo, is amusing and charming and a little sad and a total pleasure to read. Get this book!

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Dark River by John Twelve Hawks

I began this trilogy when the first book, The Traveler, came out in 2005. I feel slightly hooked into the series and plan on finishing it. That said, I would not push this book on anyone. The characters are rather flat and the writing just isn't that good. I can forgive a lot in my junk reading, but this one makes me cringe at times when I run across a less than lyrical passage--okay, way less than lyrical.

So why am I going to finish the trilogy--so many books so little time and all that? I guess because I like the idea of it. I know there are other books out there about big brother watching and the taking away of our freedoms and privacy and people living off the grid, but this one came to me at just the right time after 911 when these started becoming major concerns of mine.

I was still working in a public library at the time and one of the big tenets of public librarianship is the right that our patrons have to privacy. Things happened after 911 that lead me to believe that that privacy was being chipped at from the highest levels of government. I did not then or now think that was right, and John Twelve Hawks got in my brain with his ideas in this area.

You know, these books are fast reads and if the topic intrigues you, go for it, you won't be alone since the book made bestseller lists all over, otherwise, I advise saving your reading time for something with a bit more meat to it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

I got this book from the library and started to read it and was not excited, then I read a blog-review and was convinced that it wasn't for me. But alas, my some of my bookgroup members had already read it, so it was too late to change. I got it back from the library and read it.

This is the story of Rachel Kalama who contracts leprosy at the age of seven and is removed from her family and sent to the island of Moloka'i. It is about her growing up on the island and dealing with her own disease and leprosy in all of the people she lives with. This is a tragic story. Hawaiians had no immunity to Hansen's disease and it hit them hard. The only way to keep the disease from spreading was isolation. But it was a mean process stealing children from parents and parents from families. This book covers the years 1891 to 1970.

I have to say that I really enjoyed the history part of this book. I knew nothing of this Hawaiian leper colony until I read this book. But I didn't think it was particularly well written. I think because the writing felt too contemporary, especially in the beginning when it starts in the late 1800's. I guess ultimately it was too lightweight for the topic.

Last year I read a book called The Pearl Diver by Jeff Talarigo about a Japanese pearl diver who contract Hansen's disease and is sent to an island in Japan. It was so much better, that if I was going to recommend a novel on this subject, this would be the one.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

It took me ages to finish this book. In fact it is overdue at the library even as I write. I think I read four other books while in the process of reading this one. And it is such a good book that my excuse may seem lame, but here is it. This book was so sad and heartbreaking that I just had to take breaks from it. The plot was good, and it is incredibly well written and I have already advised a number of reader friends of mine to get it, but it still hurt my heart so much, that I couldn't read it straight through.

The big picture of this story is the war between the Nigerians and the Biafrans in the early 1960's. Adichie doesn't hold anything back. The starvation and rapes and genocide is all in here and it will break your heart. But it is the smaller stories that will really stay with you when you are finished with this book.

There is 13 year old Ugwu who becomes a houseboy for a university professor. He is a wonderful, smart young man who aims to please and who loves his job. His fate is the one that I think I followed most closely because I really liked him as a character.

The professor's love is the beautiful Olanna who has a twin sister Kainene. They come from a good family and are passionate about the cause of Biafra and about the men in their lives. They are quite different from each other, and how they come together is a big part of this story.

And Kainene's love interest is Richard. An English ex-pat who came to Africa to write and ended up being caught up, by choice, in the war and the war effort. In a moment of drunken foolishness he has sex with Kainene's sister and that changes everything.

This is such a sweeping novel I feel that it is hard to do it justice without giving too much away. If you know the history of Africa, you know how the war ended, but it is the small dramas of these characters that make this a stunning novel, perhaps the best that I have read this year.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Dirty Martini by J. A. Konrath

Just a couple of weeks ago I read Konrath's last entry in his Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels mystery series and I didn't like it. It was needlessly violent and just didn't seem to fit into the spirit of the series. With this new book, he is back in form.

This book is funny, it has tension, and a well done bad guy who is planning on doing great harm to the city of Chicago. High points of the book are Jack getting a marriage proposal, her partner, Herb, transfers out of homicide for a less dangerous job, her father may not really be dead after all, and oh yeah, there is a bad guy poisoning food all over the city.

I like Jack Daniels and I am impressed that a man writes these books. He seems to have an understanding of how women think. In fact, if I didn't know for sure that Konrath was a man, I would never guess it from reading the books. One other thing I like about these books is that Konrath writes chapters from the point of view of the "bad guy." He writes crazy psycho-killer very well.

This book is a worthy addition the the series. There are only four books so far and I have liked three of the four quite well. And like many of the series mysteries I read, these go fast. A day or two and your done.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Ever-Running Man by Marcia Muller

Another series that I am pretty much hooked on. I have been reading the Sharon McCone mysteries for years and am always happy when a new one comes out. I think the thing I like about Marcia Muller's books is that they are smart. Some series are much more fluffy than these, and some, like the Kay Scarpetta books by Patricia Cornwell, have gotten kind of dark and off track for my taste, but I can alway count of Muller.

In this one, private investigator, Sharon McCone, is hired by her husband's firm to find out who is bombing the company workplaces. She has to do deep background checks on the three men who hold the company, her husband included. She finds out some stuff about her husband that puts a major strain on their relationship. And people are getting killed or going missing. All the elements of a good addition to the series.

In some ways this felt like a transitional novel. It was good, but I am looking forward to the next one because so many things changed in this one that will lead to new directions in the future books.

I always find Muller satisfying to read. If you like series mysteries I think Marcia Muller is one of the best authors in the field.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Lean Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich

I have been slowly working my way through Half of a Yellow Sun for the last couple of weeks. It is just taking me a long time to finish. No excuses since it is really quite good. When I picked up the new Stephanie Plum novel at the library I thought that would be incentive to finish Yellow Sun so that I could dive into Lean Mean Thirteen. Then I cheated and picked up LMT yesterday and ripped through it overnight.

I do love the Stephanie Plum novels. They are like so much gooey chocolate with caramel. They make me laugh, I really like the characters, they read fast, they are a bit sexy, and even when they are not the best of the series, so what, they only take a day to read.

This one was pretty good. Maybe not the best of the series, but since I really don't read them for a great literary experience, I don't care. I am always glad to catch up with Grandma Mazer and in this one she makes a trip to Victoria's Secret to buy a push-up bra to impress her new boyfriend. That paints a picture. And then there is the skip trace Stephanie goes after who is a taxidermist. Only thing, he stuffs road kill and rigs them to blow up. Not big death blow up, just messy hair and stuffing all over blow up. It tickled my funny bone.

I just love this series. I'm glad I cheated and jumped it ahead in my TBR pile. So there! If you are a fan, pick it up, if you haven't read any of the series yet, get thee to a library and start with number one, in which, if I remember correctly, Grandma Mazer shoots the Thanksgiving turkey off the table. Fun stuff.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

My First Published Poem

I mentioned a while back that a poem I wrote was being published on Wicked Alice. Well here it is. It is really fun seeing my work in a zine. And I have a second one coming out this fall in another zine. Seems like poetry may well be my forte. Or I got lucky, who knows, but go read the poem. It is called Drive-up Motels.

Wicked Alice

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I would have sworn that I read this book years ago in High School, but it seems I only saw the movie. I have a very distinct memory of the end of the movie where the characters are walking around memorizing books. Quite the strong image for it to stick with me all these years.

So, I decided to read the book and I loved it and was horrified by it all at the same time. It is fifty years old and it is scary how much of Bradbury's vision has come true to some degree or other. We all know the story, the world has come to the point where ideas are deemed bad and harmful and books, as the carriers of ideas must be burned. One of the firemen, who burn the books, has a change of heart and must go on the run for his crime of keeping books that should have been burned. That's it in a nutshell, but there are the characters in the book that make it so much more than the simple description.

Guy Montag is the fireman turned book defender who we follow through the whole story. He wants to get back to a world that is more than entertainment and soundbites.

Clarisse McClellan is a young girl who is the catalyst to Montag's new way of thinking. I found her to be an odd character because she dies and I believe that she lived in the movie. And I never really got why she died.

Mildred Montag is Guy's wife and she spends all her time in a room with a television on three walls programed to put her into the storyline. This whole television thing is very scary.

Captain Beatty is the fire chief and the one who suspects Montag and ultimately goes after him. His philosophy as he sits next to Montag's sickbed is worth reading alone.

Farber is a retired English teacher who Montag turns to for help and understanding. He has a bit part, but is very important to the story.

I think they still teach this book in schools, at least I hope they do. It is a vision of the future that is awfully close to the truth of the world we live in. I while back I read The Higher Power of Lucky which won the 2007 Newbury Award and got a lot of flack for the use of the word scrotum. Libraries were not adding the book to their collection because of a word. Chilling!

If you haven't read this book you should, it is short and quick. If you have read it, it is worth a revisit I think.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Not about books

About six years ago I planted a peach tree and two apricot trees in our yard. This is quite the leap if faith since I live in Wisconsin. But hope springs eternal.

The peach tree flowered and got a bunch of fruit on it in the third year but after they grew to the size of nickels, the peaches all fell off. The second year the same thing happened so I took samples to the university extension office and found out I have a virus that isn't curable. In the meantime one of the apricots broke off in the wind. I needed two apricots for pollination.

Fast forward to 2007. The tree that had broken off had grown back from the root stock. We had a hard frost late, but the trees both blossomed. I started watching and one day I saw, way high up in one tree a little round thing. I kept an eye on it. Once I even used my binoculars.

Today when I looked up, the little round thing was gone. I was horrified. Darn blackbirds was my first thought. But, I scootered over and there on the ground was a little gold quarter sized apricot.

I picked it up and it was soft, but looked good, nice and lightly fuzzy. I took it to show my husband. I felt like a proud parent.

I broke it open with my fingers to make sure there were no worms or bugs in it. It was perfect. I put a piece in my mouth and was astounded by the flavor of the best apricot I had ever eaten. Yum!

Maybe next year I'll get two. I guess I won't be taking orders anytime soon, but still. Yeah!!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Rusty Nail by J. A. Konrath

I almost hate to say that this book did nothing for me. Konrath wrote two other books about Jacqueline (Jack) Daniels that I really enjoyed. They are smart, funny, sassy books with an amusing cast of characters and fun little mysteries set in Chicago and the surrounding burbs. Jack is a police lieutenant with the Chicago Police department. Her partner is Herb, who is typical, eats too much, weighs too much, but is there to help take down the bad guys. Her ex-partner is a kind of a creepy slob who gets in the way and ends up being helpful a lot of the time. Her love life stinks. Her mother plays a part in the books and in this one, is in a comma. You get the picture, pretty standard mystery fare here, but generally amusing.

So, what am I bitching about when in comes to this book? Well, the mystery is lame. As soon as the "bad guy" was introduced I knew it. Not that I need a giant mystery when I read these quickie genre novels, but come on, keep me in the dark for like, five seconds. And second, this book was a little violent. I feel kind of funny saying that, because I read violent serial killer novels all the time, but I guess I wasn't expecting what I got here. I don't remember the other two books in the series being this graphic. I might be wrong about that, but I have to say, with this book, I was a bit turned off, at one point, a lot turned off. Plus, there were some lose ends that I didn't think were wrapped up as well as they should have been. One dead guy that I really didn't quite follow as to why he died. Maybe that was just me, though, my attention may have been wandering.

So, I will give Konrath another try if he comes out with a new book in the series, but just one more try. There are too many other choices out there to waste my time on something that makes me shrug and say, eh.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Rocket Boys by Homer H. Hickam. Jr.

I am not sure how I missed this book when it came out in 1998. I was working in a public library at the time and I remember it being popular when it was published, then the movie based on the book, October Sky, came out and the book became popular all over again. I saw the movie and really liked it, but I still didn't read the book.

That has been remedied. My book group is reading this book for June and I am so glad. What a lovely memoir.

The time is 1957, the place is Coalwood, West Virginia, and the inciting incident is the race for space. Russia had launched Sputnik and suddenly the world was a new and bigger place. Hickman and a group of his buddies, nerds we might call them, started building and launching rockets. Family drama ensued. Mom wants her kids to be all they can be, to escape the coal mining life that she and her husband live. Dad sees in Homer a possible successor in his job as foreman at the coal mines. Homer dreams of space and working with the big guys in rocket engineering.

As harsh as the times and place are, this is a kind story. I suppose there is a Leave it to Beaver quality to it. Bad things and roadblocks to dreams do happen, but still I think Hickman would say that he lived the good life where neighbors knew each other and cared about each other, and cheered on a bunch of teens who where blasting off rockets in the mine slag heaps.

You know that people who read memoirs sometimes recommend them by saying they read like novels and I suppose this is true of Rocket Boys, but more than that. It is a story about a real person who has a goal and works hard to attain it. I am very glad that I finally got to read this book. Highly recommended. And if you have teenage boys who need a summer read, I think this book would be a perfect choice.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Invisible Prey by John Sandford

This is Sandford's newest addition to his Prey series starring detective Lucas Davenport.

I love this series. I would even go so far as to say that they are my favorite in the serial killer/police procedural books. There is some unevenness in the books in the series but for the most part they do not disappoint.

Invisible Prey, like most of the books in the series is set mainly in Minneapolis with forays in fast cars to small Wisconsin towns. This one focuses on the antique trade and is not nearly as violent as some of the others. Oh, there are dead bodies piling up, but I never really felt that Lucas himself was in any danger. That was unusual because as far as memory serves, usually he is in some danger.

Lucas Davenport is the sexist of the series detectives I read. That sounds kind of funny to me, but the way he is described and the randy times he has with his wife are certainly titillating and I think written with women in mind.

This is another series where I feel part of the family. Davenport has gone from a skirt chaser early in the series to a married man with a family. His wife has a career as a plastic surgeon and is a strong character--kudos to Sandford for writing a real woman character.

This was not my favorite book in the series. There is very little "who done it" because we know almost from the first chapter who the bad guys are, so the fun is in following the detectives and they figure out the how and why of it. I like other books in the series better, I think because there is more peril and more mystery.

As in other books of this genre, this is a fast read and fun. I would recommend that if you are reading the series, get it, if you have never read any of the series, start from the beginning. It is more fun that way I think.

Finally, as a side note, part of the mystery in this book is about antique quilts with curses sewn into the quilting stitches. That was rather interesting and made me want to do some research to see if this was based on any true stories. Quilters might find this book interesting for that reason.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

the house of blue light by David Kirby

I must gush about this book. What wonderful poetry!! If you don't read poetry, or think it is beyond you, or that you won't like it, I'm here to tell you that David Kirby is a marvel. One of the poems in this book had me laughing so hard, pop came out my nose. That can't often be said about poetry.

I think, first of all, that David Kirby doesn't believe in periods. If he had to give up any punctuation mark--no question about it, the period would be gone. And that is the marvel of these poems--they just run on in a kind of riff on whatever topic David chooses to expound on and you can't help being sucked in and go gladly along for the ride.

I want to give you a taste of one of his poems. They are all quite long, but here are two stanzas that tickled my fancy. And a note on this text, I don't know how to make it work, but every other line should be tab indented. Enjoy!!

Catholic Teenager from Hell Goes to Italy

Jock DuBois found out in our senior year
that one out of every seven Americans was Catholic,
so he figured if each of us would rise up
on a secret signal and kill seven non-Catholics,
we could take over the whole country in,
like, three or four minutes, a hypothesis
that cost us several jobs,
since Jock couldn't stop talking about his plan,
and even devoutly Catholic bosses
had no desire to see their employees
doff their brightly-colored paper caps
or throw down their mops and brooms
and start killing customers who had come in
for a burger, shake, and biggie fry,
not to have their throats cut by pimply fanatics.

That didn't stop Jock from talking,
even though I said the plan might work in America,
but what about the rest of the world,
including our immediate neighbors?
It just didn't seem like something
the Canadians would take lying down.
I wasn't sure I wanted Catholics
to run the world anyway, even though
JFK had just been elected president,
and some people were saying he was already
getting secret orders from the Vatican,
and others were passing out what they called
"Kennedy quarters," the ones
where Washington is wearing a papal skullcap
they'd painted on with red nail polish.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Obsession by Jonathan Kellerman

I confess to reading a lot of serial killer novels. I believe I have read all of the Jonathan Kellerman books featuring child psychologist Alex Delaware and his sidekick, LAPD detective Milo Sturgis. I like Delaware's girlfriend, Robin, and the fact that they have a french bulldog who livens up all of the scenes set in Delaware's home. He also raises koi fish. After reading twenty-one of these novels, I feel as if I am part of the family.

In Obsession the crime is a deathbed confession by a respected nurse, that she killed someone close by. Her daughter, to whom she made the confession, goes to Delaware for help. Both mother and daughter have OCD and had consulted with Delaware in the past.

With the help of Sturgis, the digging begins. There are many unsavory characters and a couple of new murders as well as sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I began to get some of the characters mixed up due the the sheer number of bad guys and good guys and one really bad guy who goes by more than one name. But in the end, I guess that didn't matter. I just kept plowing though and all became clear in the end.

I don't think this was the best of Kellerman. Without giving anything away, I was a bit disappointed in the ending. On the other hand, I read these novels kind of compulsively and I just like keeping up with the "family." This worked for me on that level. I think that if you have never read a Kellerman book before, this would not be the place to start. Go to the library and get some of his early stuff for a real introduction. If you are a fan though, this is a good read and worth your time.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton

In which a thirty-something American librarian with a social conscience goes to Africa to deliver books to the outlying settlements by camel.

Okay, I make it sound as dumb as I thought it was going to be. But I was wrong. This is no great literature, but it is a nice read and all but the main character, Fi, short for Fiona, come pretty much alive. I feel myself waffling as I write this. I think maybe I would have liked more focus on the tribes people and how they lived day to day. And yet, the characters are not one dimensional. There is a boy who was horribly scarred when he was a baby who holds the entire books-by-camel program in his hands and the school teacher who loves his wife, but she is doing the unthinkable, by having a relationship with Scar Boy's father. And there is the wise older grandmother who has seen it all an passes out good advice. There I went and did it again and made it sound sappier than it is.

It is about 300 quick pages and the setting is lovely and I think the idea behind the book is good, too. Essentially that books and education can change lives, even those of the people in the African bush. I would say this book has a good heart. And as a retired librarian I had to read it.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Book quiz

This little book quiz has been going around, I picked it up from Babelbabe.

A book that made you cry: The Fox and the Hound, Where the Red Fern Grows--you know, dog stories.

A book that scared you: The Jungle

A book that made you laugh: The Janet Evanovich Series about Stephanie Plum

A book that disgusted you: American Psycho--Bret Easton Ellis

A book you loved in elementary school: Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books by Betty MacDonald

A book you loved in junior high: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George.

A book you loved in high school: I found a copy of The Harrod Experiment and I was amazed, plus, even though my parents never stopped me from reading anything, this was a book I felt the need to hide.

A book you hated in high school: The Scarlet Letter.

A book you loved in college: Lady Chatterley's Lover--I felt so grown up reading this book

A book that challenged your identity: Illusions by Richard Bach. It changed the way I view the world.

A series that you love: The A B C books by Sue Grafton

Comfort books: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I just love this book.

Your favorite horror book: Misery by Stephen King

Your favorite science fiction book: Strange in a Strange Land--Heinlein. I think I like it so well because it was one of the first SF books I ever read.

Your favorite fantasy book: The Hobbit and more recently, the Philip Pullman series, His Dark Materials

Your favorite mystery book: Marcia Muller Series

Your favorite graphic novel: Never read one. Maybe I should

Your favorite biography: Tender at the Bone--Reichl--I like food bios and and read a lot of them, this one sticks out in my mind.

Your favorite “coming-of-age” book: I think The Life of Pi fits here, and I love that book

Your favorite classic: Lady Chatterley's Lover

Your favorite romance book: The Wolf and the Dove--Woodiwiss--I never read many romances, but I did read all the Woodiwiss books years ago and I loved them then.

Favorite kids’ book: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day--I have had days like that.

Favorite cookbook: Joy of Cooking--I love cookbooks, I own dozens, but if I want to be absolutely sure something is going to turn out, it's Joy.

Your favorite book not on this list: The Shipping News--Annie Proulx, Bastard Out of Carolina, The Book Thief

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Painted Kiss by Elizabeth Hickey

I was always fascinated by Gustav Klimt's painting, The Kiss. The clothing in that painting awed me. When I read about this book, a fictionalized history of Klimt's life and the life of Emilie Floge, I knew I had to get it.

It took me quite a long time to get through this book. It doesn't have much plot. If I had to write one line about what it is about, I would say it is the story of an unrequited love between Emilie Floge and Klimt. But that is probably a gross simplification. Klimt was a bohemian who had many lovers in his lifetime but always he came back to Emilie as the one person who seemed to hold his life together. Still, the love was more platonic than passionate. She was always there when he raged over the Vienna art world, or broke off affairs with other women. In this book he is kind of a clueless man who isn't really taking advantage of anyone, but as a reader I just wanted to reach out and shake him and say, Look what you have. Of course with these fictionalized art history novels, who knows what the true nature of the relationships really were.

Floge became quite a hot clothing designer in her day and many of the clothes painted by Klimt seem inspired by her designs. She is the main point of view character in this story and it is mostly a reminiscence she is telling from the summer home where she and her niece escape to when they are threaten by the Nazis in WWII.

This book pleased me. I like the little chapters inserted about particular paintings that I looked up on the net and it was fun to follow the history of the book while seeing the actual works. I think that the lack of drama in the story may turn some readers off, but I also think that Hickey really captured the life of the art world in Vienna in the late 19 and early 20th centuries.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Breakfast Served Any Time All Day by Donald Hall

I have always hated reading textbooks. Even in grad school I would avoid them all all costs. I could usually squeeze by the reading by being a good listener and note taker in class. So, I pick up this book by Donald Hall on writing poetry. It is not your usual how-to book, it is a book of essays on poetry. It was a real slog for me. Very text bookish. Some of it went fairly well, but when I came up against the drier parts, I wanted to throw it out the window.

But, I didn't. Instead I kept at it in little snippets and I am really very glad I did. Hall makes a good case for sound in poetry. He says that we, as a culture, have lost a lot of poetry pleasure because we no longer have to read aloud and we no longer get the mouth feel of poems, or any other literature for that matter.

I have to agree with him on many of his points. I am a silent, fast, reader who never lip reads. Doesn't matter much when I'm reading some quick little novel, but when I am reading and writing poetry, it matters a lot. You have to hear the words and feel them in you mouth to get the full effect of the reading.

Hall also talks in depth about a number of poets whom he admires. One entire chapter is spent on Robert Frost and how after Frost's death, an editor got hold of his work and changed a lot of punctuation. Seems a small thing, but Hall makes a heck of a case against these kinds of posthumous changes. I was drawn to a couple of the authors discussed and intend to pick up their books from the library.

I am glad I stuck with this book. I would not recommend it to people without an interest in poetry, but if you are interested, it was ultimately fascinating.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Pay Off

I have said before, I believe that if you want to write good, you have to read a lot. When I began writing short stories I immersed myself in short stories, both classic and contemporary and I also read many, many books on the art of writing fiction. Now that I have changed my writing focus to poetry I am doing the same thing. In some ways, poetry is harder. Oh, it is shorter, but there is so much to ferret out of some poems that many readings are required to "get it."

For me I got a little pay off for all of the work I have been doing with poetry. Yesterday I got an e-mail from the editor of an on-line zine asking to publish one of the poems I submitted. I was/am ecstatic. Wicked Alice is the name of the zine and it is really top notch. My poem will be in the July/summer issue and I will be sure to hawk it here, that the so inclined can read it.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Blizzard Voices by Ted Kooser

April is National Poetry Month. I read poems all the time because I write poems. I believe you can't write what you don't read. I tried to read even more poems this month. Ted Kooser is a favorite poet of mine because I believe in his philosophy that a good poem is one that you can understand.

I had The Blizzard Voices sitting here for almost a month before I finally read it today. I put it off because I knew it was going to be sad. I was right. The Blizzard of 1888, also known as The Schoolchildren's Blizzard, took many lives. I had read about it before, but Kooser puts words in the mouths of the survivors and it is tear making. People lost arms and legs, animals died, children stayed in the schoolhouses because they couldn't see three feet in front of their faces to find their way home across the wide open prairie. There were the brave and the foolish. A very sad time that proves what we all know, nature has no concern for us, and we shouldn't expect it.

This book of poetry is understandable and lovely. It reads in about a half hour but will stay with you for ages.

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

Ever since the controversy over the use of the word scrotum in this book, I have wanted to read it. And you know what, scrotum is in there, but there is so much more to the book that the word is really irrelevant to the story, or so I thought until I got to the end, where it comes back in the wrap-up. Still, I was not offended in the least, and if I had kids, I would not hesitate to read this to them.

This is the story of Lucky, who is anything but lucky. Her mother died, her father doesn't want her, and her guardian seems bent on getting back to France, leaving Lucky all alone again. What to do? Like any ten year old, the idea of running away makes perfect sense.

The Higher Power of the title comes from Lucky's penchant for listening in on _____ Anonymous meetings. She wants to find her higher power to help her come through her problems--namely that no one seems to want her.

Lucky has a best friend named Lincoln who is preoccupied with tying knots. In one of my favorite scenes in the book, the two of them go out on the highway where there is a sign: Slow Children at Play. He adds a colon to make it mean what it is supposed to mean.

There is not a single person in this book who is perfect. I think that is its charm. That and the setting in a tiny desert town in California where the people are given license to be a little eccentric, all 43 of them.

Kids will relate to Lucky I think and she is a plucky little girl well worth emulating.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien

This is my first book in the Newbery challenge. To start, I had a real forehead slapping moment when I looked up the author of this book. He also wrote one of my favorite YA books of all time, Z for Zachariah. Considering that, I am surprised I never read the Rats of NIMH book before. And I was also surprised to find out that O'Brien died young and it was his wife and daughter who finished Z from his notes. And his daughter went on to write a few other NIMH books. But enough history.

It is no wonder this book won a Newbery. It is a wonderful adventure about intelligent rats and mice. Mrs. Frisby is a mouse whose soul concern is saving her children from the farmers plow. Normally they would have just moved from the garden where they were living to their summer quarters, but this year is different because one of her children is sick and can't risk the journey too soon. Luckily, on advice from the wise owl, she goes to the rats to ask for help in moving her home to the lee side of a rock in the garden where it will be safe from the plow. In so doing she finds out that her dead husband had a connection to the rats. He and they had escaped from NIMH. A scientific lab where they were all getting shots to make them smarter and longer living. And it worked.

The rats have their own thing going on. They are planning a move to a new location where they will become self-sufficient and able to quit stealing from humans to live.

I loved this book. O'Brien writes in a style that I like to read. His sentence structure goes right into my brain and I fall right into the story. All around, a fine read and I am sure this would make a wonderful read-aloud for kids.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo

When you read non-fiction, I think that sometimes you decide that you like the author and therefore like the book and vica-versa. I liked Richard Hugo. He starts this book out saying that everything he says is wrong. When writing poetry, this is his method, but it may well be wrong for every other writer out there. How can I not respect that?

The idea of triggers is exactly what its name suggests, a thing that might trigger a poem, or the idea for a poem. But that is only one small part of this book. He also talks about sounds of words and how we have an ear for sounds we like and use them over and over. One chapter is on Roethke, who Hugo had as a teacher. I believe his chapter in defense of creative-writing classes is quite famous. And he finishes the book with the story of how one of his poems came to be based on an anecdote told to him at work.

I don't know that this was the greatest how-to write book I have ever read, but as I said, I liked the author and since many of the chapters are lectures he gave, I would have really enjoyed being in his class.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Newbery Challenge

I have decided to join the Newbery challenge proposed by I have loved the Newbery books I have read in the past and since I have been in a sort of slump lately, this will be a good way to get pumped up again.

Here is my list of 6 books:

Get on your mark,

1. The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron 2007 (currently waiting for me at the library)
2. The View From Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg 1997
(2. A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck (replaces Konigsburg which I already read.))
3. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien 1972 (I may have read this before, but I have no memory of it)
4. Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson 1945
5. Onion John by Joseph Crumgold 1960
6. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherin Paterson 1978 (I know I read this one, but it was so long ago that I need to read it again)

Get set,

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Trouble with Poetry and other Poems by Billy Collins

I like Billy Collins poetry. It is understated and understandable. It is also witty which appeals to me a lot. Collins sits in front of his window watching the world go by and writing poems about it. If that sounds trite, it isn't. Would that we all had such elegance in our souls when it comes to seeing the world close up. The first stanza of the first poem in the book:


The birds are in their trees,
the toast is in the toaster,
and the poets are at their windows.

I love that. It is simple, but it says so much about being there every day to work. Poetry is less about inspiration and more about showing up every day to give the words a chance to emerge.

Wonderful book by Collins who was US Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Ten Books You Can't Live Without

Kailana of The Written World suggested making a list of the ten books that bloggers think they or the world should not be without. Here is my list, but keep in mind that it is constantly evolving and might well change by the time I post this response.

1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
2. The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
3. Illusions by Richard Bach
4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
5. Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence
6. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
7. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books by Betty MacDonald
8. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
9. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
10. Life of Pi by Yann Martel

The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets by Ted Kooser

This has been an odd year. I have yet to be really caught up by any great novels--oh, I have read a few good ones, but nothing like last year's The Book Thief.

Instead, I have been reading poetry and poetry how-to books. And maybe that is the problem. I have started working on my own poetry with a vengeance and naturally want to fill my brain with books of this sort.

So, I just finished The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser for the second time. He is so wonderful to read. He believes in poetry readers can understand. Now that is a change from high school. Remember when you had to write papers on what a poem was about? What a chore that was. And here is Ted saying that it should be self-evident what a poem is about. We should write for the people we want to be our readers and whoa, our readers are usually normal human beings who don't have to write a paper to pass senior English.

Another thing to like about this book is that it has a feeling of kindness. As if you are sitting in a kitchen with your favorite uncle having a coffee and he is telling you what he thinks about poetry and quoting examples from memory of verse he really loves. He makes you want to try your hand at writing a poem just by his warm regard for you as a writer.

And his advice is sound. Something as simple as not using an ampersand (&) in your poems because it will stop the readers dream is perfect, because it is right. I have read poems with & in them and my eye does catch and I do wonder for a split second, why is this in here.

I think that if you are looking for a lot of technical information and exercises for writing poetry, then this is not the book for you. But if you want a prod in the right direction, this is one of the best. And if you don't plan on ever writing a piece of poetry in your life, but you want to read some poems and understand the process a little better, this is a very good place to start.

Below, I reviewed one of Ted's poetry books and there is a sample of a poem he wrote. His work is charming. As ex-Poet Laureate of the United States, you would expect good things from the pen of Ted and he delivers on that promise.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Plum Lovin' by Janet Evanovich

I like Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books. I have read them all and some of them were laugh-out-loud funny. I was certain to recommend them to library patrons who were looking for something light and fun with a little sexiness to it--you know what I mean, you get to go on the date but don't have to stay overnight.

So, that is where I stand on the previous twelve numbers novels. Then this one pops up and I put a hold on it at the library, but I was surprised that there was no number in the title. Previous books all had numbers. When I got the book I saw on the cover a subtitle, "A Stephanie Plum Between-the-Numbers Novel."


Now we are talking here about an author who had made it, big time. She is one of those lucky few who are rich, rich, rich from her words and I would never begrudge her that, but I think she then owes a little respect to her loyal fans as payback. This book is not that good.

First off, it is short, 164 pages to be exact. If I had bought it, which I didn't, it would have cost me $16.95. That is a lot of money when you are guaranteed a huge audience--this book made number one on the New York Times Bestsellers list. If it had been a first book it would not even have made it out of the slush pile in an agents office.

You think I am being harsh? There is a man in this novel who gives people, including himself, rashes. It is never explained how or why, it just happens. A mysterious man, Diesel, shows up to get Stephanie's help as a relationship expert. Huh? And Diesel seems to have some kind of "magical" powers that let him appear and disappear at will, and maybe turn people into toads. There was not a single fully developed character in this novel and if I had not read the previous books in the series, I would have given up in disgust.

The two main men in Stephanie's life have tiny cameo roles in this book so even the sexual tension of her regular novels is pretty much gone, although the author tries to keep it up with the handsome and dimpled Diesel. Sorry, I just didn't buy it. There is a scene where a bunch of woman watch porn, just not good enough, even though Stephanie's grandma is there, and she is usually good for a hoot.

I read this, it was quick, I got it from the library so it didn't cost me anything, it filled in one hole looming in the series, which was to get Stephanie's sister married--but really, this was hardly worth the paper it was printed on. If these in-between novels become the norm, I think Evanovich will lose me as a series reader.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Delights & Shadows by Ted Kooser

The thing about reading poems is that you don't get the payoff until the end, as it should be. Then you have to go back and start over to see what got you there. So, you read each poem at least twice. Ted Kooser's poems are worth the time. He believes in poetry that people can understand and in this Pulitzer Prize winning book, that is very evident.

I think one of the things that attracts me to Kooser is that he writes about plain old everyday stuff. Plates left to him by his aunt, tying a necktie, a peg board painted with the shapes of tools, and garage sales. What a pleasure to read about things I can relate to. I feel I may well have seen the same old man at the garage sale down the street, that is how immediate these poems are to me.

Here is a sample of one of Kooser's poems:

Just now,
a sparrow lighted
on a pine bough
right outside
my bedroom window
and a puff
of yellow pollen
flew away.

Wow, see what he did there, he made an ordinary sparrow extraordinary by metaphorically turning it into a puff of pollen. It is beautiful!

This is another book of poetry that lends itself to readers who are not sure they like poetry but want to try some. And a note that might make them sing even more--read them aloud. It really makes a difference when you hear them.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton

Even though this is a short book, 208 pages, it took me a long time to read it and I read two other books while reading this one. Sarton said things I wanted to ruminate on for a while before reading on. The copyright date is 1973, and the books is slightly dated due to its age, but it has mainly stood the test of time. I understand that this book was required reading for a lot of classes on feminism and well so. Sarton was a feminist and a lesbian and an artist. Journal of a Solitude explores all of those things and more.

Sarton lived alone in a house in New Hampshire where she wrote and gardened and contemplated the joys and sadness of solitude. I think some of my favorite parts of this book are when she talks about her gardens and the animals she lives with and the people who live around her. Of course that is what makes a life.

When she talks about the joys of solitude she is very convincing that the only way an artist can truly achieve something is to live alone enough to explore solitude and the way the mind works when it is alone and unencumbered by people. She whines quite a bit when she feels she is on a writing roll and is interrupted by people, even those she loves.

Throughout this book she studies her relationship with her lesbian partner--they see each other occasionally--and by the end makes a decision about that relationship. She also looks at the way her art is accepted by the public since she essentially came out in a previous novel. This all from a woman who is 59 while writing this journal. Yeah for her!!

I am surprised I didn't read this book earlier, in college or on my own. As someone who considers herself to have an artsy bent, it seems a natural, but I must have missed it. I am glad I finally got to it and Sarton intrigues me enough that I will find some of her poems to fill in the blanks there.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Keeping it short--meme

1. Short Stories? Or full-length novels? I love novels, but about five years ago I decided I was meant to be a short story writer, so I immersed myself in them. I still read Glimmer Train lit magazine every quarter and any short story books that catch my eye. Below you will see a review of Jim Thompson's book of short stories which was terrific.

2. And, what's your favorite source for short stories? (You know, if you read them.) Like I mentioned, Glimmer Train and I do read quite a few online. Plus, I'm a retired librarian. I get probably 90% of my books from the library.

America's Greatest Unknown Poet by John Lehman

My writing life has turned from short stories to poetry. Probably not the popular choice in most people's worlds, but it is working for me. Hence my reading life is changing a bit. I am reading more poetry and poetry how-to books than ever before.

I knew of Lorine Niedecker because she is a Wisconsin poet and living in Wisconsin I was bound to hear about our arguably most famous poet, but I never really read much of her work. I decided to remedy that by reading America's Greatest Unknown Poet: Lorine Niedecker Reminiscences, Photographs, Letters and Her Most Memorable Poems by John Lehman.

Lorine spent most of her life in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, living in a swampy place that flooded regularly called Blackhawk Island. Her poetry is totally influenced by place. She writes of floods and fish and green places. Her style is all about condensing everything down to its tightest form. Most of her poems are very short and require the reader to fill in a lot of what is missing by relating to their own lives.

Niedecker carried on extensive correspondence with some famous poets of her time, she was born in 1903 and died in 1970. She was published and her work well regarded in poetry circles, but in Fort Atkinson she was the woman worked scrubbing floors at the local hospital. Few knew of her other life of letters.

Many of her poems would make you think of haiku, but even more trimmed. They look simple, but are really not. She cared about sound and images and, I think, surprise. Here is one of my favorites:

Popcorn-can cover
screwed to the wall
over a hole
so the cold
can't mouse in

That poems seems perfect to me. I think I will read more of Niedecker's work hoping some of her brevity rubs off on me.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Books and movies

I am in the middle of three books. None of them are particularly long, but they are books that I have to think about, so I read a little and then put the book down to consider. Makes for good reading, but slow blogging.

My book group met this past week and I think that the consensus was that we liked The Bright Forever by Lee Martin.(see review below) It is a book that is hard to come right out and say you liked it. It is filled with marginal people doing bad, possibly immoral, things. Yet there is an overriding theme that we don't really know our neighbors and if we really did know them we might not like them. I was really glad that we talked about this book because it got me to sort out my feelings about it.


I think that people who read tend to like movies too. Last night we watched The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.I wanted to clap at the end of this movie. This is a movie about redemption and grace. That sound religious and that is not where I am coming from. Rather, I think we can all be redeemed and find grace as human beings when we recognise our shortcomings and forgive ourselves. That is a huge oversimplification of the movie, but it starts to touch on the themes.

The movie critics mainly liked this movie, but made much of the abuse of the dead body of the title character. I wasn't bothered by that. I thought the scenery was beautiful and the acting wonderful There were certainly some stock characters, but aren't there always? The movie is directed by Tommy Lee Jones and he is the main character. I like him. He seems to fit the stark landscape in the borderland that we are taken through on the journey to return Estrada to be buried in his homeland. The movie can be confusing at first with time and space jumps that take awhile to fix in your head, but once you understand what is going on, it is a wonderful ride. Two thumbs way up and they are both mine.

Friday, March 09, 2007

late wife: poems by Claudia Emerson

If you don't read poems, and you want to start, Claudia Emerson's Pulitzer Prize winning book would be a perfect jumping off point. She writes in the narrative style and her poems are very accessible. They are also beautiful. The final poem in this little book is about her current husband buying a turtle from some boys who are teasing it, some might say torturing it. After they buy it, they let it go. Listen to these lines: We were/already forgotten, then, like most gods/after floods recede, after fevers break. This is just a short sample of the wonder she creates.

The book is setup in three sections: the old relationship and her divorce, being alone and ruminating on the past, and her new relationship and living with the ghost of her new husband's dead wife. While each poem stands alone, the books is also a story of love lost and reclaimed.

The natural world plays a big part in these poems and I really liked that, it makes them easy to relate to.

Poetry is a hard sell these days, too bad. For people who read a lot and maybe write, poetry shows how language can stretch and bend and find exact moments in time that need to be savored and studied over and over. Certainly dipping into poetry anthologies is one way to go, but sometimes it is imperative that we stick with one poet to see where he or she can take us. Claudia Emerson takes us deep into her life and gives us something to compare ourselves to.

This is a five star offering.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Auggie Wren's Christmas Story by Paul Auster

A friend of mine talked about this book and the movie Smoke (which was based on this book) in his blog. I was intrigued because I trust his taste and because I am always looking for Christmas books for my book group. My group has been meeting for almost two years and mostly we are about the books and a little bit about the dessert that someone brings. In December though, we are about the food, and a little about the book. We did A Christmas Memory by Capote a couple of years ago and this past year A Christmas Carol by Dickens. Then we ate something delicious and talked about shopping we had left to do.

Even though this is a very short book, 35 pages, it is catalogued in my library system as an adult book. It is so short, in fact that it is hard to say much about it without ruining the charm of it. Best to say that it is about the pleasures of story and about how people see the world. I hate sounding so cryptic, but I was quite taken by the pleasures of this little book and would hate to spoil it for you.

If you are not in a Holiday reading kind of mood right now, put it on you TBR list and read it next December when the season is upon us again.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

In the Palm of Your Hand by Steve Kowit

When I was in the fourth grade I won a poetry contest. The prize was a quarter and the poem began something like this: Flutter flutter butterfly. I suspect it went on in this way and probably rhymed.

In high school I won a countywide poetry contest. I receive ten dollars and a copy of a book by a local poet. I remember the poem and it was very bad. I was also co-editor of the school literary magazine and as such got a lot of my own stuff in it.

In college I won some other contest and as an English major took lots of creative writing classes and even published a chapbook of my poems for a class.

Then I stopped writing poetry. And now I wonder why. Beyond the usual too busy, too this, too that, I think I considered poetry to be self-indulgent and maybe only for kids. I know better. I love Yeats and Elliot and Adrienne Rich. I know people make a lifetime of study of the art and craft of poetry, yet the kernel of that feeling remained, as if I should be embarrassed to be writing poetry, to be wasting my time.

About a year ago a friend of mine encouraged me to try poetry again. Low and behold, unlike my foray into novel writing, or my minor success at short story writing, here was something I was actually good at and enjoyed doing.

Not one to do something without studying the hell out of it, I started getting books from the public library. Steve Kowit's In the Palm of Your Hand proved to be one of my favorites. It is easy to understand, has fun exercises to get the juices flowing and covers a huge amount of material. It has made me a better poet, no question about it. So much so in fact that I just put my order in at Amazon for a copy of the book. I want to read it again and to have it available for reference. So, since one of my reading goals for the year was to read books that have been languishing on my home shelves, and since I just bought this book, does this count as a booked owned, or as a library book? I think I am counting it as a book owned.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Bright Forever by Lee Martin

The Bright Forever is an interesting book because I am not sure if I liked it or not. It is well written and a compelling read, but I felt, after reading some chapters, as if I needed a shower.

There is a premise here that no matter what we think we know, our friends and neighbors are unknowable in their deepest dark heart of hearts. I can certainly buy into that. But there is a sordid quality to these characters that kind of made me cringe sometimes and I guess I believe better of people. Maybe that's the thing for me, as much as I like serial killer novels and there ilk, Martin's book was so realistic that it was hard to take at times.

It is set in a small town in Indiana where everyone would say they know one another very well. Then a little nine year old girl from the town's most prominent family goes missing. The novel jumps between points of view, from an odd bachelor math teacher to the brother of the missing girl to the wife of the most likely suspect. These are people who could live down the block from you. I kept thinking of the Beetles' song, All the Lonely People and Elinor Rigby who kept her face in a jar by the door. I think that gives you an idea of the tone of this novel.

I am not against reading the end of a novel early on to make sure that the characters that I like are still alive. I know, I know, to some of you that is a sin, but it doesn't spoil a book for me. That said, I would never tell the end of a book to someone who might read it. All I can say then is that the end of this book surprised me and I think that this book will stick with me for a long time because of the end.

My recommendation is to get this book if you have kind of a strong stomach. If you are looking for a book group selection, I think this would be great. My group will be talking about it in a couple of weeks.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Summer book

It has been snowing and cold here in Wisconsin for what feels like forever. So here is a picture of my garden in high summer.

I was trying to think of books that were set in summer that made me feel warm. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver comes to mind as one of my favorites. Can you think of any more?

Book Meme

If it seems as if I have abandoned this blog already, I can assure you I have not, just that I am reading four books at once and it takes longer to finish them that way. In the meantime, Bookish Kitty's blog had this meme, free for the taking, and I thought I would fill it out and put it out there to show the gaps in my reading education and that I have a definite bent for modern literature. Back soon with a few book reviews.

Look at the list of books below:
* Bold the ones you’ve read
* Italicize the ones you want to read
* Leave blank the ones that you aren’t interested in.
* If you are reading this (and haven't participated yet), tag, you’re it!
**If there are any books on this list that I didn't italicize and you think I should read, let me know in comments!

1. The DaVinci Code (Dan Brown)
2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)
11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling)
17. Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
18. The Stand (Stephen King)
19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
21. The Hobbit (Tolkien)
22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
28. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)
31. Dune (Frank Herbert)
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
34. 1984 (Orwell)
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)
44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
45. The Bible
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
50. She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
54. Great Expectations (Dickens)
55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrew Niffenegger)
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
63. War and Peace (Tolstoy)
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis)
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
67. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Ann Brashares)
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
69. Les Miserables (Hugo)
70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
73. Shogun (James Clavell)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
78. The World According to Garp (John Irving)
79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
80. Charlotte's Web (E.B. White)
81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck)
83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
85. Emma (Jane Austen)
86. Watership Down(Richard Adams)
87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)
92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
98. A Woman of Substance(Barbara Taylor Bradford)
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
100. Ulysses (James Joyce)

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

I have read quite a few of Bohjalian's novels and I liked all but one, Before You Know Kindness, because I didn't like any of the characters.

The Double Bind on the other hand was wonderful. It had a nice blend of characters, good and bad, and a mystery that sucked me right in. It has a major connection to The Great Gatsby making me want to go back and reread that greatest of American novels. In fact I think I am going to suggest that my bookgroup read Fitzgerald one month and Bohjalian the next because I think the discussion would be great.

A little about the book, but not enough to spoil it: Laurel is a young woman who was deeply damaged by a visious attack by two crazed men when she is out biking on a back road in Vermont. She saves herself by clinging to the bike, but is still injured and the attack has long term affects on her life. She never bikes again, she dates older men, she kind of drops out of her peer society and focuses all of her energy on her photography and her job with BEDS, a homeless shelter where she feels safe and as if she is giving back to the community.

When a homeless man named Bobby dies, of old age, it is discovered he has a cache of photographs that he presumably took and that were the most important thing in the world to him. Laurel's boss asks her to work with the photos and maybe curate a showing to both honor Bobby and to raise money for BEDS.

Laurel become fascenated with the photos and soon realizes that they have a connection to her own life including a photo of herself on a bike on a backroad, very possibly on the day she was attacked. She becomes compelled to solve the mystery of Bobby and possibly of herself.

That is the setup. I hope I have made it sound as good as it is. Bohjalian is a beautiful writer. He puts the reader right in the head of his character and lets you feel what she feels. As early as it is in the year, I have a feeling this one will go on my best of 2007 list. Get it, read it, and let me know what you thought.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Things Kept, Things Left Behind

Jim Tomlinson's short fiction is amazing. That is why he won The Iowa Short Fiction Award for Things Kept, Things Left Behind.

These stories are about people that will have you saying, Oh, I know someone just like that. They are ordinary people and they are not even put into extraordinary situations, just trying to get by in their daily lives, be it dealing with a divorce or dealing with a parent who can't pay her taxes.

One thing that I found wonderful about these stories is Jim's sense of place. He uses just the perfect details to put you right there next to the characters. In the last story in the book he talks about starlings and grackles filling the trees around the home of a couple who are breaking up their household and divorcing. You can just hear the cacophony of the birds settling in to roost for the night and know that the people almost feel as if the birds are talking about them and mocking them.

Impressive work.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

I had four books going at once as I am wont to do, and this one floated to the top as the cream of the crop. A wonderful gothic ghost story with plenty of twists and turns to keep you thinking and just when you're sure you know whats really going on, Setterfield throws another wrench in the works.

One of the main characters in this novel is a writer, Vida Winter, and the other is a reader/writer/bookseller, Margaret Lea. I found both of these women's discussions of reading and stories and writing to be quite compelling. At one point Winter poses Lea a question, if all the books in the world were on a conveyer belt, moving toward a fire pit and controlled by one man, and you were alone with him in the room and had a gun, would you stop him? No one else need ever know. There goes all of Bronte, there goes all of Dickens, Twain, Shakespeare? Is one life worth all of the literature of the world? What is too precious to lose? What is the worth of story in our lives? To some people more, to some people less, but the question is an interesting one.

I was very taken with this book and I think it would make a great bookgroup selection. This one is worth moving to the top of the to be read pile.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

I had this book at home, looked at it and decided to send it back to the library without reading it. Too much stuff on my plate. Then I read in a blog somewhere that the reader considered this to be one of the best books she read in 2006, so I decided to give it another try.

Is it one of the best books that I have read in the last year? Not even close. Is it an amusing romp with a gothic feel filled with sex, drugs, and dysfunctional families? You better believe it.

The lead character is Camille, a reporter from Chicago, who is sent to her tiny Missouri hometown to cover the strange murders of two preteen girls. Camille is a cutter who is recovering from her compulsion to carve words into her flesh with sharp objects. Put her back into the family manse with her hypochondriac mother and her teenage half sister who plays with dolls at home and drugs and sex about town and things are sure to boil.

I knew what was going to happen before I got to the end and many of the characters are stock, but I still liked the way Flynn built atmosphere in this novel. And it reads really fast, so you won’t feel as if you have wasted too much of your life if you hate it.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Hannibal Rising

I do like my serial killer novels. Thomas Harris' newest, Hannibal Rising is a winner. I like a novel that gives the bad guy a sympathetic twist and this novel of the origins of Hannibal Lecter of The Silence of the Lambs fame does just that.

After I finished this book I heard that it is already a movie, or soon to be a movie, and that makes sense considering the popularity of Harris' other books that were made into movies. Unlike some of, say, Michael Crichton's more recent books though, Hannibal Rising doesn't feel like a script in book form.

One thing that kind of bothered me as I read this was the time line of the life of Lecter. This book is set during WWII and I aways think of TSOTL as being contemporary. That would have made Lecter a man in his sixties in the 1990's. I always think of him as being younger than that. But that is probably just a little personal glitch--math and age things in novels always must be worked out right in my brain or I get off on a tangent.

Finale word on this book, if you liked the other Harris books you will like this one. I did.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


I am a huge Jeopardy! fan. I don't watch TV during the day until 4:30 when Jeopardy! comes on in our area. It kind of punctuates my day. I was glued to the TV when Ken Jennings had his run on the show: 2 years, 75 games, 2,642 correct answers, over $2.5 million dollars. YeeHa!

I am a trivia geek of sorts myself and I have always fantasized of a little run on Jeopardy! but, I can face facts--I am out of my league when it comes to the likes of Jennings and probably most of the contestants on the show. Dining room Trivial Pursuit is more my speed. As a retired librarian who used to like to sit reference, there is a lot of junk just sitting in my brain waiting to be called out for a piece of the pie.

Anyway, when I stumbled across a reference to Ken Jennings book, Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs, I had to get a copy, if for no other reason than to see if he was the world's biggest geek, as I suspected.

Well, surprise. This is a charming book by a guy who has a sense of humor and isn't afraid to look a little silly at times. It has enough trivia throughout each chapter with answers at the end to make the reader feel smart even if they only get a few and the inside info on the game show is very cool if you are a fan.

Very worth a trip to the library to pick up a copy.

Monday, January 22, 2007

A boy and his truck

I have a crush on author Michael Perry. He writes like a dream and if he always tells the truth in his essays, he is a real woman's man. Got to love that. And most important of all, Perry makes me laugh.

His first book, Population: 485, was a wonderful, if incredibly sad, read about working as a volunteer EMT in New Auburn, Wisconsin. I think I knew something bad was going to happen right from the get go, but Perry's humor and story telling acumen just pulled me along to the inevitable.

Truck: A Love Story is all about celebration. With the help of his brother-in-law, he decides to fix up his old International Harvester truck and he falls in love with a woman he meets at a library book signing event. He alternates between essays on the truck and the company that built the truck and on his new love and her little daughter and on his garden and his squirrel problem. If it sounds like he is all over the place, he is, but don't be fooled, it all comes back to living a life that makes you happy with as few hiccups as possible.

I was just a little jealous of the woman Perry fell in love with. How stupid is tha,t since I am happily married to a wonderful man, but somehow I wanted him to be out there alone, just in case. But really, I can only wish a man who makes me laugh like Perry does, loads of love and happiness and a garden free of squirrels.

Wrestling with Gravy by Jonathan Reynolds

I like essays. I picked up this book because I like to cook and I thought it was going to be more of a foodie book than it turned out to be. There were recipes in the book, but none that I felt compelled to copy to make myself. The thing is, even though Reynolds and I have very different political views, and if we were in the same room, I might have to scream at him, he is still very charming and likeable. His views on Hollywood and the New York theater scene are a little catty and quite amusing. Since I feel no compunction in my reading life to ever finish a book that I don't want to finish, and I finished this one, I at least have to give it a lukewarm thumbs up for holding my interest all the way through.

Reading goal for 2007 and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

I read 59 books in 2005 and 72 books in 2006. I decided I need a goal for 2007 that doesn't involve numbers. Hence the 2007 READ WHAT'S ON YOUR SHELF CHALLENGE. I am a huge library user (having been a librarian in the past ) and when I get a book from the library it always moves to the front of the to-be-read pile, ahead of books that I own that are right here in the house and have been for a long time. It all has to do with those pesky due dates. So the idea for 2007 is that every third book I read this year must be one off my own shelves.

I finished my first Read what's on your shelf book today and I am so glad I did. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See is a lovely book about friendship and love and betrayal and the lives of women in the footbinding times in China. I was fascinated by the secret writen langauge of women, that is today, all but dead, except there is a group of women in modern China trying to save it.

The entire footbinding chapter made my stomach clench in pain and sympathy. I had to keep reminding myself: different time, different culture. My mind kept coming back to the practice of clitorectomy, still practiced in some places today, and even some less violent, but no less confining things that are expected/forced on women today. The burqa is just one example.

But, I digress. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was an engaging and fullfilling read. Thanks to my Aunt Becki for the recommendation and then for passing on her copy of the book.