Wednesday, December 26, 2007

An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England

My first inclination in describing this book would be to say it was a funny mystery. But really, this is a sad book about a tragic life led by a complete bumbler. But it's funny. And quirky and full of random, hilarious tangents. "An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England" by Brock Clarke is about a man named Sam Pulsifer who accidentally burned down the Emily Dickenson house when he was 18 years old. He spent the next ten years in prison for it, moved back home, his parents kicked him out and he went to college. Sam is not a criminal person. He is not even prone to temper tantrums. But he is the type of person to bumble (his word) everything he touches or attempts. He finds a career path that he's good at and loves, he meets a beautiful woman who loves him back and he has two wonderful children. He has also neglected to inform them of the ten years of prison and why he was there.

The more hilarious parts of the books are the descriptions of his fellow inmates at the minimum security prison he resides at: bond analysts who are obsessed with writing their memoires and whose conversation is littered with "dude". Clarke's painfully accurate description of suburban life had me in stitches. The people who wrote him letters begging him to burn down other writers' homes are absolute gems. Sam's parents are a sad mess and even in their somberness, there's humor there too. Thank goodness, or else it would all be too depressing to read.

When you think things are going to start falling apart, it does. Someone starts burning down writers' homes in New England. Sam starts his own investigation, but as you might guess, he bumbles it. Really, Sam is quite hopeless. He's like a socially awkward person at a fancy dinner party. You watch his antics with horrified fascination. He always realizes what he's done after the fact, but you so hope he'll kick his brain into gear and not say everything he thinks out loud. Then again, that makes him more of a real character instead of a fictional one, since how many of us actually say the exact right thing at the exact right moment anyway?

The mystery part of the book was really well done, with the reader figuring out the answer along with the main character, as opposed to many chapters before, which doesn't count as a mystery in my mind. That makes this book so far a tragic comedic mystery. That's a lot of genres packed into one book, if you ask me. Well worth reading, however. Watch out for a smattering of profanity, but no graphic descriptions of anything. And be prepared to have a curious desire to visit some writers' homes in New England.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Deceptively Delicious

Every time I say this title out loud, I want to sing it like from the old Lucky Charms commercial. "It's deceptively delicious!" Then I jump up in the air and click my heels together. This book was the most delightfully covert thing I've read lately. You'll have to go read the wikipedia link I put there. It's tickles me to no end to apply that to feeding my children. I have a secret passion for spies and subversive activities. I read "Harriet the Spy" too many times as a child. Anyway, back to the book. "Deceptively Delicious" by Jessica Seinfeld is good stuff. Yes, Seinfeld, as in Jerry. And no, it's not particularly funny. But it does have some good ideas. Now, before I go on, if your children have no trouble eating their veggies, then don't bother reading this post. My children aren't so angelic and well-rounded as yours, so I needed some fresh ideas. Basically, the author purees veggies and adds them to kid-friendly meals and treats. Spinach brownies, people. Yes, I wrote spinach. I can endorse the zucchini, cauliflower and carrots purees because in the last week, I've sneaked them into several standard dishes at our house. And no one noticed! Not even my husband! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Wow, evil laughter overload. Sorry. Something that Mrs. Jerry stresses in the book is that you don't stop making vegetables a part of what you serve at the meal, you are just guaranteeing that they are getting them anyway. She also had the wonderful idea of putting out crudités before dinner to fight off the starving whiners and get some veggies in them that way. It so far has worked well with all but my pickiest eater who wouldn't eat a raw carrot if it was the only edible food to be found on the planet Earth. She'd gnaw on tree bark first. Or starve with the wounded look on her face that she has perfected.
Back to the book. It's great. Fun ideas, yummy-sounding food, and I'm going to try the spinach brownies next. I love spinach, so it sounds good to me. My kids think it's poison, so we'll see what happens when it's chocolate-coated.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Sequels and Such

Most of my reading lately has been sequels or further. I've found myself pondering the merits of these kind of books. Was it that the author had more to say? Was there other stories that needed to be told, but were independent of each other? Was the author out to recreate the magic of the first book? Did the author need to continue eating on a daily basis and figured he/she could just regurgitate the same ideas and make some money off of unknowing saps? I've deduced some ideas of good and bad sequels. Maybe here would be a good place for a clarification. Fantasy novels are practically guaranteed to come in series. My guess is that it's because it takes a whole book just to introduce the fictional world/language/species/culture that fantasy novels typically come with. Then you've got to have some sort of journey, gurus to pursue knowledge from, treasures and/or people to hunt down and battles all along the way. I'm going to eliminate that entire genre from my discussion. I'm talking about books that either seem to be finished and yet the author writes another, or books that beg for more. My sequels lately have been "Eclipse" by Stephenie Meyer, which I won't go into great discussion about here for fear of losing sight of what I originally intended to write about. Ms. Meyer hasn't managed to wrap up this story yet, so I can understand why she keeps going. I've also read "Tears of the Giraffe" by Alexandar McCall Smith, the continued story of my dear friend, Precious Ramotswe. This is a prime example of books that beg for more. You finish one of these books and are ready to pick up the next one. The last sequel, or book in a series, is "Honey for a Teen's Heart" by Gladys Hunt and Barbara Hampton. I blogged about the other two books a few months ago and this is another great installment of ideas. Those books aren't fiction, yet I count them as sequels because the first book was such a success, that I feel like she kept going in an effort to cover more genres. That's fine. I'm okay with that, as long as it's a good read.

What I can't stand is books that have multiple volumes because the author thinks we're so enamored with the character that we want more, when in fact, we don't. This is really typical of detective novels. The first book will introduce a conflicted, cynical, sometimes bumbling sleuth and then their problems and issues are dragged out for another 20 or 30 novels. People in real life usually figure some stuff out or change to some degree, but that rule doesn't apply to fictional detectives, I suppose. One of my favorite of these characters is Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone. She's not quite as stereotypical and the author doesn't lay out all her baggage in the first novel. Kinsey has many layers and you get to find out more as you read further. I'm excited to read the latest, "T is for Trespass" which recently came out and has a wait list a mile long at the library. Ms. Grafton goes with the alphabet, so if you'd like to give them a try, I'd start with "A is for Alibi" and get to know Kinsey yourself. They have their more violent moments, but in general, highly enjoyable.

One of the worst examples, in my view, of sequel abuse if "The Lost World" by Michael Crichton. I thought this was a blatant grasp for cash on his part to write another Jurassic Park novel. So what if the first was fabulously popular? Does that justify another book? Mr. Crichton writes compelling, suspenseful novels that sell pretty much because his name is on it. Was a sequel necessary? Did "The Lost World" say anything that "Jurassic Park" didn't? I wish I could ask him. The book was dull compared to "Jurassic Park" which I remember everybody I knew was reading at the time, copies of the book being passed around at school (at least among the nerdy set I hung out with) and discussions abounding. "The Lost World" made no such reaction. Well, we were teenagers after all and you can't expect too much. But still, it irritates me.

What I'd like to hear is what sequels or series are worth the effort and which to avoid. Like I wrote earlier, fantasy novels are a given, but I'm open to hear about those too. Feed me information! Rant like a crazed blogger! Gush with enthusiasm! Just don't get any on the computer while you're at it.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Oh my goodness, I have not enjoyed a book nearly as much as this one in a very long time. I'm talking about the kind of enjoyment that has very little to do with being in suspense or held captive by a story line. I'm talking about good characters that you want to see succeed in life and you desperately want to be real and not fictional. The main character of "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" by Alexander McCall Smith is Precious Ramotswe and I wish she were my neighbor so we could be best friends. Alas, she lives in Botswana, Africa and with her inheritance from her father, has started up the first detective agency run by a woman in her country. She knows that she'll meet up with skepticism, but it confident in her ability to be a good detective. Mma Ramotswe is clever, insightful, observant, unwavering, determined, and fair-minded. She wears a size 22 dress and has men proposing to her right and left. She doesn't think much of men in general, other than her sweet father, but she tolerates a few kind friends. She's an absolute treasure and one of my favorite protagonists in a long time.

The story is told in such a matter-of-fact way that you find yourself agreeing with everything that goes through Precious' thought processes. The word choices and pacing make you hear the narrative in English with an African accent. There are sections that were laugh-out-loud hilarious and other parts that were desperately sad. The sad parts are when she encounters prejudice and antiquated beliefs in witch doctors and magic. The part that made me laugh for days is when Precious is contemplating a doctor's ability to keep confidences, as opposed to a lawyer who likes to tell jokes at his client's expense. She realizes that she doesn't have all that many interesting secrets anyway, medically speaking, other than corns on her feet and constipation. However, Precious thinks that's a pretty common affliction with enough sufferers to form their own political party. However, what could they accomplish as a political party anyway? They'd try to pass legislation, but fail.

Precious describes an Africa that is both beautiful and desolate. She's an African through and through and doesn't have much patience for her countrymen who sell their African souls to be more American. I wish there were more books like these out there that make people want to see Africa and it's people. It's a beautiful book and there are three more about Precious, so I've got some fun reading ahead of me.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Frustration that is New Moon

I forced myself to cool off for 24 hours before I wrote my opinion on "New Moon" by Stephenie Meyer for fear of becoming so incensed and irate that Mrs. Meyer's lawyers would come looking for me. I wrote about her first book, "Twilight" and was anxious to read the second, but I'm afraid I don't have nearly enough nice things to say about it. Mostly, it made me frustrated.

The main character (I hate to say heroine, since that implies a backbone), Bella, is still in love with her devoted vampire, Edward. She still wants to become a vampire, and he still refuses to do it. They are still slobbering all over each other and pronouncing their love, until Edward decides he's put her life in danger too many times and convinces her that he doesn't love her any more. Bella buys this lame break-up scene and falls apart. She spends the next seven months existing as a zombie and losing all her friends. Okay, so that's somewhat believable. I knew people like that in high school, but seven months seems pretty long. Bella comes out of it enough to make friends with Jacob, from the first book. This can turn into something real, I tell myself. I start to get excited that we've seen the last of Edward and Bella's spineless swooning. Now, I have to tell you that I have nothing against Edward. I think he's one of the most sensible characters in these books. The person who bugs me is Bella. She's a wuss. She's a great big self-centered mess. She can't possibly imagine why Edward would love her, so she buys the break-up fiction. She uses people for her own ends, mostly to get to Edward. She hurts people right and left. She apparently has no self-esteem to speak of. She needs to be shaken, hard. I think the main thing I hate about her is that everybody always has to take care of her. Bella cannot take care of herself. Don't start thinking I'm some sort of femi-nazi because I don't mind being swept off my feet. What I don't like is that Bella cannot seem to stand up on her own feet at any point in these stories. She's belligerent, impatient, selfish and she can't seem to stop swooning. Make. The. Swooning. Stop.

Jacob I like. He's practical. He's handy to have around. He cares about Bella (who knows why) and tries to look out for her. Bella and Jacob actually have a friendship, which is more than she has with Edward. And Jacob kills vampires. What's not to like?

What I'd like to see happen in the third book is Bella either growing some spine or dying. Jacob finds a really great girl and Edward finds him a little vampire honey so they can be immortal together. If Bella does become able to stand up without falling over, I want her to realize how much better Jacob is for her, but only if Edward is killed or something, because I don't want him to get hurt by Bella. Too bad the third book is already written and I don't have any say in this. Honestly, I half-way cringe at the thought of reading it. Maybe I'll put it off for a few months. I don't know if I can stand any more of Bella hyperventilating.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Life of Pi

Since the whole purpose of this blog is to get people talking about books and recommending them to me, I decided it was time to start working on those recommendations. "The Life of Pi" by Yann Martel was recommended by my friend, Jen, and I'm very glad I read it. I'm not sure how I feel about it yet, but I'm glad I read it. It's about a teenage Indian boy, Pi, who is traveling to Canada from India with his family and their assorted zoo animals. His father owned a zoo that he sold to somewhere in Canada, along with many of the animals that they had to transport. At some point in the Pacific Ocean on their journey, the ship sinks and Pi is left on a lifeboat with a hyena, a wounded zebra, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger. He witnesses the tiger dispatch of the other animals and then has to use his wits to stay alive with a hungry Bengal tiger in a 32 foot lifeboat. It's useful that Pi grew up with a zookeeper father, or else he wouldn't know so many things about animal behavior, particularly tigers.

This is a survival story and I'll spoil it by saying that Pi does live through this ordeal, or else he wouldn't be able to tell the story after. But with this tale comes all the gory detail of surviving. The hyena and tiger are vicious and lethal, according to their nature, and the narrator doesn't leave anything out. By the time he gets to land, Pi has eaten anything he can and in gory detail. I don't have a strong constitution for that sort of thing and found myself skimming those parts as much as possible. But everything is told with such humor! At one point, he gives instructions on how to train a tiger in a lifeboat to stay in his part and recognize your territory. I found myself trying to memorize the instructions, like I would possibly need them someday or something, I don't know. But it was riveting.

The beautiful parts of the story are at the beginning, describing how much he loves the zoo and his own religious conversion. He's raised Hindu, but decides that he also wants to be Christian and Muslim because of the beauty that calls to him from those beliefs. The local religious leaders are dismayed by this, but Pi makes it work. At one point on the boat, he is shocked by something and says, "Jesus, Mary, Muhammad and Vishnu!" He's got everybody covered. He is a brilliant, kind, charming young man who is then subjected to unbelievable horror and adversity. And through it all, his beliefs are unshaken. That was inspiring to me. The whole ordeal left him changed, though, and at one point in the narration he says that a part of him died that has never come alive again.

Can I say that I loved this book? I don't know. I know that I couldn't put it down, that it was the most suspenseful book I have ever read. I know that it made me a firmer believer in the virtue of well-run zoos. I know that it was a beautiful testament of faith. But I don't think I could ever read it again.

Now I'm going to move on to the next book recommended to me. It's about World War I, so I'm hoping it's got less tigers in it. We shall see.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Borrowers

My children loved this book. I picked up a copy at a used book sale at the library (a great way to get cheap books, if you're willing to hunt for the good ones) and when I brought it home, they were instantly curious about the tiny people depicted on the front cover. The picture I have posted here is not the same as the cover of my book, but it's the same illustrator, so it'll do. "The Borrowers" by Mary Norton is about a boy who goes to live with his Great-Aunt Sophy around the turn of the century. His family goes home to England after living in India and he comes down with rheumatic fever. He's sent off to the country to rest and there meets the Borrowers. They are a tiny race of people who live under the floor of this old country house. They borrow what they need from the human "beans" and try to stay out of sight. Great-Aunt Sophy knows about them, but since they only decide to show up after she's been drinking, she thinks they are a figment of her intoxicated brain. The boy discovers the Clock family, Pod, Homily and Arrietty, by accident and becomes a friend and helper to them, despite their initial dismay of being "seen." Arrietty is the teenage daughter of Pod and Homily and desperate to see the world outside of the passages under the floor. They are the only Borrowers left in the house since all the other families have emigrated, something Homily refuses to do. It was so fun to hear about how they go about their borrowing and what they do with the things they collect. The illustrations were detailed pen drawings that helped my three-year-old stay interested. All in all, they loved it.

Since the book was published in 1952 and all the action takes place several years before that, some of the language was a mystery to my children, and to me. I didn't have a clue what blotting paper is, but the Borrowers considered it quite a necessity. That didn't stop us or keep it from being enjoyable, though. I went to Wikipedia and read that there are five more books about the Borrowers. We might have to check those out sometime. I also read that there have been some t.v. and movie versions of the book, but when I went to imdb.com to see if it looked worth watching, I was really disappointed. The plot was nothing like the book, only using the premise of little people living within a house as a common thread. Oh well, movies are never as good as books, so I'm not surprised.

When I was a child, I loved to dream up these sort of things, so it was delightful to re-enter that imaginary world. Part of the fun of reading this book was watching my children's eyes open with amazement. The great part of childhood is that you can thoroughly believe in something like tiny people living within the walls of your house without practicality or realism ruining the fun. After we finished it, I asked my oldest child if she thought the Borrowers were real. She said no, but later, she and her sister were discussing where Borrowers might live in our house. I consider that a sign of a good book.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Twilight

I've always been a sucker for vampires (har har) and when I found out that "Twilight" by Stephenie Meyer was about my favorite fictional monster, I had to read it. Yes, I also religiously watched "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel". Yes, I buy vampire teeth every Halloween and give them to my children and we all run around pretending to suck the life out of everything. The cat hates it. Where does this gruesome fascination with vampires come from? Good question, my inquiring reader. In a fit of introspection, I discovered the beginning of my love for the creatures of the night (cue the flashback music, please). When I was in elementary school, I discovered in the non-fiction section of the library a collection of books about the old monster movies from the 30s-50s: Dracula, The Wolfman, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Godzilla, The Mummy, King Kong, Frankenstein, etc. I loved these books. They had little bios about the actors, like Bela Lugosi or Lon Cheney and then would describe the basic plot for the movies with photographs. These books fascinated me. I've always liked to be scared, in a spooky, creepy monster kind of way and these books provided that thrill. When these old movies would show up on TBS or something during the day in the summer, I hungrily soaked in the black and white scariness. The thing that frustrated me were the pathetic damsels who were always the victims of these tales. It's a sign of the generation and thinking of the time, but I was so annoyed by their complete lack of gumption. Run, blonde idiot! Can't you see how slow Frankenstein moves? But of all the villains, I loved Dracula best. He was dark and dashing, not freakish or grotesque like his monster fellows. You could see why the blondies stuck around. You could almost hear them thinking, "Hmm, one little bite might not hurt."

Stephenie Meyer's book is a love story, no less. Talk about unrequited love, especially when your true love also wants to suck your blood! It brought back memories of the dashing Dracula, or the brooding Angel, so when I read it, I was expecting something along those lines. It was a fun read, a definite page-turner, very exciting and had some great suspenseful moments. But a love story? Huh. The true love that is touted all over this book is all based on attraction. Buffy loved Angel because he was good! Dracula seduced his victims without any pretense of love! Edward and Bella in "Twilight" are in love because she thinks he's hot and he thinks she smells tasty. Really? That's it? There are two other books in this series, "New Moon" and "Eclipse" so I'm going to give Ms. Meyer a chance to redeem herself. I'm hoping there will be a new love interest, non-vampire related, or the "true love" will turn out to be that for real. Nobody spoil it for me!

While I wait for the other books to get to me from my holds list at the library, I think I'll go watch "Buffy the Musical" again. Nothing like some dancing vampires to perk a girl up.

Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters

If someone asked you to define evolutionary psychology, would you be able to do it? I wouldn't have either, but I have a better idea now after reading this book. "Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters" by Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa called out to me because of it's provocative title. It's a Evolutionary Psychology for Dummies handbook, answering questions about human behavior using theories based on this new brand of science. Evolutionary psychology explains human behavior through evolution. Why do men go after younger women? Because they have greater reproductive possibilities, making it possible for men to pass on their genes more successfully. Why are men more violent and predisposed to crime than women? Because their neanderthal ancestors had to compete for mates, making them violent and thus stronger and more appealing to the females. Does the media perpetuate the Barbie image, making women seek after an impossible ideal? Nope, we evolved that way, desiring blonde, curvy, young images on ourselves and others. The media didn't make this an issue any more than our desiring food only because the media bombards us with McDonalds ads.

The authors keep stating over and over again that all because it's true doesn't make it right, that you shouldn't put these ideas into a moral context. The evidence is convincing, but it doesn't excuse bad behavior, or good even. People are more than their evolutionary urges. And the authors don't come across as justifying behaviors, just explaining them. I have my own beliefs on these topics, but I found this book fascinating and thought-provoking, which is really what you want in a book.

By the way, I'm cheating by saying I read this book, when really I skimmed. I read all the theories and introductions, but the book is set up in a question-answer format, so I just picked the more intriguing questions to read. And why do beautiful people have more daughters? Well, that's based on the Standard Social Science Model and a bunch of other stuff that took me a while to understand, so I'm not going to venture into explaining it here. But you should read it, just to have a conversation starter.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Road

When a book gathers so much attention, I can't help but read it just to see what all the fuss is about. Such was the case for "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy. The blogosphere was making such a racket that I decided to give the book a try. I don't have anything against award-winning, best-selling books, it's just that there's lots of other good stuff on my reading list awaiting my attention. This book broke my heart. Here's a great description of it, but I'll sum it up by saying that it's your worst nightmare, especially as a parent. An unnamed man and his son are traveling across a great distance to reach the sea in a completely dead world. Some kind of cataclysm has occurred and nothing is living on the earth. The world is divided up into good guys and bad guys, with good guys scavenging canned food and staying hidden from the bad guys who are cannibals and killers. My heart broke for this poor little boy who was witnessing the absolute depravity of the human race, the worst possible behavior of human beings. Yet the boy remains pure, full of desire to be a good person, to see his father be the best person he can be and help people they see along their way. The father has no interest in helping others, but he takes great care to watch over his son, going to great lengths to provide for him. It was an interesting contrast in how they each showed love. The man for his son, the son for other people. The love that this man has for his son, the son's insistence on them staying human and not succumbing to the animalistic behavior of the bad guys made this book a beautiful story instead of a despondent one.

I cannot recommend this book to those with frail hearts. The burden of reading it would hurt too much. It has left a mark on me, but I'll never forget the beauty of it either.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Writing Motherhood

Sometimes I have a hard time with non-fiction books because there's no compelling finish that I'm racing towards. But "Writing Motherhood: Tapping Into Your Creativity as a Mother and a Writer" by Lisa Garrigues was so well-written that I found myself savoring each chapter instead of inhaling the pages, like I usually do with a fiction book. I would read a chapter and then sit and think about it for twenty minutes. Or I'd start to read and then just sit there and think instead of reading. Not typical behavior for me. This book is a great guide to writing well, writing more, and writing with a purpose. I'm not looking to become a professional writer and she's not gearing this book towards that. It's about channeling your creativity through writing and focusing that writing on motherhood. Since mothering is an all-encompassing task for me right now, I found this book to be a great help. She makes it sound so easy, so worthwhile and fulfilling! I always thought that my creativity will always and forever be expressed through music, but now that I don't have many musical outlets, I'm craving another venue. Mrs. Garrigues gives so many helpful exercises, writing starts and ways to get the muse fueled. Reading this book was like taking a writing class. I'm going to read it again and this time, try all the exercises, or "invitations" as she calls them. This book would be a great one to read for mothers of any age to find a way to express themselves.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Sci-Fi and fantasy, gotta love it

I know it must appear that I've forgotten I have a blog, but honestly, I was entrenched in some really good books. I've been on a sci-fi and fantasy kick lately. Maybe it's a side-effect of losing Harry Potter and I'm craving to fill the void, but I noticed the other day that all the books I've been checking out lately have fallen within those categories. One of them was a doozy. Last spring, I read "Inda" by Sherwood Smith. As far as fantasy novels go, this was a gem. The irritating things about fantasy novels? Learning the vocabulary. Every fantasy novelist feels compelled to make up new words for everything, preferably unpronounceable. In "Inda" the royalty all have bizarre made up titles that I have to guess at the pronunciation, which frustrates me. Then you have to remember what all these things mean later when they bring it up again. That almost stopped me. But the action and characters kept me going. It was really compelling discovering this fascinating culture. It honestly only felt like a fantasy novel in the sense that there's a tiny smidgen of magic and the entire world is, well, made up. It was more of a political novel, with different factions, plots, maneuverings and such. It was interesting enough to keep me reading, despite it's weird made-up words. When "The Fox" came out, which was the sequel to "Inda", I grabbed it. Again, action-packed, thrilling adventure story. Loved it. The author gives us a glimpse of different cultures within the world that are so different from the one that was focused on in the first book. The main character, Inda, is so likable, so noble, that you yearn for him to succeed. That's what makes a character convincing, making the reader empathize and worry over them. These books are no casual reads, either. At 650+ pages, I can tell how long it's going to take me to read it because I can't hold it with one hand. Therefore, it'll require my two-handed attention while I read. No nursing a baby while I read it, or standing over a stove. I'll have to sit down and use both hands, which won't happen all that often during the day. But well worth the effort and tired arms. The only thing that is perplexing is this sexually amoral society they live in. It is expected to have relationships outside of marriage in all forms and variations and considered abnormal not to. Huh, whatever. Another take on "fantasy" I guess. Nothing is pornographic, but plenty of allusions. Just to warn you.

Another great fantasy read, while I'm on the topic, was the second Fablehaven book. I wrote about the first Fablehaven book here and I finally got a copy from the library. Let me tell you, there's a darn good reason why there's a dozen holds for that book. I thought the first book was good, but I think the second was even better. More action, more excitement, more twists and turns, and less forced preaching from the grandparents. One thing that annoys me about sequential books is the way the author tries to remind you of what happened. I hate it when they just spout it out verbatim, like a "Previously on Lost" deposition. Boring. I'd rather it be covertly included and Brandon Mull did a good job of that. Another thing that annoys me in books is pathetic bad guys. Either they are so grotesquely evil that you can't even read about them or they aren't convincing enough to give you chills. Fablehaven has some evil guys that you haven't even met yet, but they are there, enticing you with hints of their dastardly deeds. You almost dread meeting them in future books. I love that word "dastardly". I wonder if I can find a way to include that in my daily life.

Last on my list of books I recently enjoyed is "One Jump Ahead" by Mark L. Van Name. This is pure, unadulterated science fiction. No magic or fairies here. It's been said that the difference between sci-fi and fantasy is that sci-fi has bolts and rivets and fantasy has trees. "One Jump Ahead" is full of bolts and rivets. My husband is a gadget guy. He loves technology and toys of that nature. When I read this, I thought to myself that he would love to live in this world. The hero is great in this book. Jon has a tortured, mysterious past that is enough to make you read more books about him just to uncover it all. He's also virtuous in a deadly way. You wouldn't want to meet him in a dark alley, unless he was already with you and had his vehicle, Lobo, nearby. It also helps that the action keeps it moving and the bad guys are, well, I already expounded on that.

It's time for me to explore some other genres. I've got some great non-fiction books on my bedside table waiting my attention, so that's where I'm headed now. If you haven't sampled any fantasy or sci-fi yet, these are good places to start. Broaden your horizons!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Lincoln Lawyer

I'm always game for a lawyer book. Any John Grisham I can get my hands on gets devoured very quickly, so since he hasn't come out with a fiction book lately (he wrote a very upsetting, but good non-fiction book, "The Innocent Man") I went on the hunt for someone else who writes lawyer fiction. Did John Grisham invent that genre, by the way? Hmm, I might have to look into that. Anyway, Michael Connelly is a worthy substitution. He writes a series for his character Harry Bosch, an LAPD detective, but this is about Mickey Haller, a criminal defense attorney. When you think of criminal defense attorneys, you probably imagine those ethically-challenged people from Law & Order who will defend baby killers if they get paid enough. Mickey sees the law less about innocence and guilt and more about manipulation and tactics. He defends drug dealers, bikers, gangsters and general purpose bad guys. Mickey is certainly no Sunday School teacher, but he loves his ex-wife and daughter and tries to do well by them. When they are targeted by a truly evil person, he's got to rethink his theories on guilt. I thought it was interesting how he justified his career choice and the fact that his office is his Lincoln Towncar was fun. The suspense was palpable and I thought it was a riveting read. Now I have to figure out what is the first book in his Harry Bosch series.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Horseradish

Did you know there was a new Lemony Snicket book? I've forgiven him his abysmal ending for A Series of Unfortunate Events. Well, forgiven, but not forgotten. I read this book despite his previous mistakes and it was a good laugh. "Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid" by Lemony Snicket is a collection of thoughts and sayings concocted by the pessimistic and paranoid Snicket. I mean pessimistic and paranoid in a good way, really. His radar for treachery and despair is very sensitive, but at least he can make it seem really funny. Snicket is an acquired taste, I think, as some take his dark outlook too seriously. Lighten up and enjoy the gloom!

As I sat reading it, I tore little bits of paper to mark my favorite ones. Soon, I ran out of paper and forced myself to narrow it down to the really good sayings. I'll share some of them with you, just to entice you and get you to read it. The book is organized by topic, including: home, family, school, work, entertainment, literature, travel, emotional health, affairs of the heart, a life of mystery, the mystery of life, an overall feeling of doom that one cannot ever escape no matter what one does, and miscellaneous.

I used to have a bunch of selections from each chapter here until I realized I needed the publisher's permission to reprint them. Oops! If I'm ever inspired enough and have my laundry done early enough, I'll get the permission and post it. Until then, read something else!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ignore the laundry

Having responsibilities has put a serious cramp in my reading habits. I used to be able to dive into a book and ignore everything around me until I finished. No longer. I became more aware of this recently when we were going to be moving to a new house and the daunting task of packing was my ever-present dread. The last time we moved I didn't have to pack, so I was seriously putting off doing it, knowing that it was going to be a big job and I was going to mostly do it myself. My mental to-do list length was in the league of "Les Miserables" (unabridged) and it was stalking me. Everywhere I would turn, there'd be that list. In the shower, in my car, hiding behind the ice cream in my freezer. It was getting to the point that I was considering getting a restraining order against it, but I figured since I created the list myself, a judge might look at me funny. Well, he wouldn't be the first.

Finally, I started on my list and was getting things done fairly quickly. After an hour or so of working, I'd reward myself with re-reading the Ender's Game series by Orson Scott Card. Sitting there in my rocker while my children played, oh so contentedly contemplating the nature of intelligence, I would start to fidget. I could hear my brain shouting at me, like someone screaming outside of a sound-proof room. Muffled, yet you can tell it's bad news. I would stop reading for a second to listen to my brain and it was screaming, "You have ten million more boxes to go! Get off your duff!" I'd shut the door on my brain and get back into the book, but I had already cracked the door and the screaming was easier to hear. Shoot! I'd throw my book down and stomp off to garage for more boxes, complaining to my brain the whole way. "I've got two weeks to go! I'll work on this tonight, after the kids are in bed. Would you leave me alone, for cryin' in the mud?!"

That's pretty tame compared to the other way my responsibilities are ruining my fun. Once again, I'd be rewarding my good behavior with a book when I'd hear the theme from Jaws. Da-dum...da-dum...da-dum......da-dum da-dum da-dum DA-DA-DUUM!!! I'd whirl around and I am not kidding, the laundry basket had moved two inches closer to me. Can't I be lazy in peace? Oh, to be a teenager again, with a mother to ignore so blissfully and no sense of impending doom, or killer shark laundry piles hunting me while I justify my lack of gumption! Sometimes it doesn't pay to be responsible. At least now I'm moved in and I can check out the new library near me. Oh wait, there's four billion boxes in my house for me to unpack. Da-dum...da-dum...da-dum...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Slice of Organic Life

I checked out this book for two reasons. First, it looked interesting. Second, the editor's name is Sheherazade Goldsmith. Wow! What a cool name! I've always wanted to give my children a musical name, but never was brave enough for something like Sheherazade. That's awesome! Back to my point. This book is a pretty good guide to all things organic, although there's no rhyme or reason to how it's organized. You have how to raise your own chickens, tomatoes, bees, apple trees, goats and whatever else you can think of intermixed with how to make your own soap, paint, baby food, bathtub cleanser, etc. There's also how to conserve energy and water, make your own compost and use untreated wood. It also has a large section on how to live more organically even in very small spaces, like apartments or places with very small yards. It's really interesting and has beautiful photographs. But this kind of book is also depressing to me. There's no way I can do--or more accurately--will want to do most of these things. I did a little dance of joy because our new neighborhood has free recycling, but I'm not going to raise goats or make my own paint. Then I feel bad that I'm exposing my family to toxins and hurting the environment. I just spiral downwards from there, wondering how I can be a good mother and wife if I don't raise our own pork and clean my house with only baking soda! Deep breath. Calm down. The fact is, I do try to conserve. I do try to recycle. I make my own bread and get organic milk from a dairy, for crying out loud. Ignore the fact that they deliver it to my door and that was most likely my primary motivation. The point is, there's only so much people can do, and that's got to count for something, right? I gotta draw the line somewhere and that line is most likely going to be at cloth diapers. There's only so much a woman can do. But go ahead and read the book. It's pretty.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

This book can seem daunting. It's 533 pages long. I had requested it at the library with the intent to read it to my children, but when I picked it up, I had second thoughts. I prefer read-alouds that I can finish in a reasonable amount of time and not lose my voice in the process. But when I flipped through the pages, I saw that it was at least two-thirds illustrations. Drawings, more accurately. And those drawings tell huge portions of the story. It brought back memories of being read to by my elementary school library who I was convinced was really Shel Silverstein. He looked just like him. He would pull pencil erasers out of our ears and read to us the most wonderful books. I remember one of my favorites had no words in it. I've just spent a good amount of time googling, trying to figure out what book it was, but when your search term is "picture books without words" it's not very helpful. Anyway, he could make the most marvelous stories out of these wordless books. We were absolutely entranced. Sure enough, my children were entranced by Hugo Cabret. Written and illustrated by Brian Selznick, it was such fun to read. Hugo lives in the walls of a Paris train station. The story starts out with him searching and stealing for mechanical pieces for his invention. The story sort of works backwards, telling his story in flashbacks; how he came to be living in those walls, where his invention came from and why he's building, or re-building it. But the action also propels forward, at times being so exciting that my oldest was covering her ears, it was so intense. Then she would take the book to bed with her and study the pictures. The pictures move the story at such a heart-pounding rate that you have to stop yourself from skimming through them too fast. The chase scenes especially were exciting. This book ranked up with some of our other favorites, like the E.B. White books, Roald Dahl's "Mathilda" and "James and the Giant Peach", Laura Ingalls Wilder books, C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, and of course, Shel Silverstein. Too bad my kids don't have their own Shel to read to them like I did.

Here are some authors who have written (or not written?) many wordless children's books. I'm going to check some out. I copied and pasted them from somewhere else, so pardon the last name, first name. Here's a link to some descriptions of wordless children's books.

Anderson, Lena
Anno, Mitsumasa
Day, Alexandra
DePaola, Tomie
Goodall, John S.
Hoban, Tana
Krahn, Fernando
Lionni, Leo
Mayer, Mercer
Oxenbury, Helen
Spier, Peter
Tafuri, Nancy

Monday, August 13, 2007

Don't read this book, wink wink

I can under no circumstances recommend this book. I shouldn't even tell you that I read it. I picked this book up while hunting for books to give as gifts at a sidewalk sale for an independent bookstore. I have to say I was embarrassed to have it in the same stack as the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow collection and a pile of pictures books for my children, nieces and nephews. Heh heh. "Me Write Book: It Bigfoot Memoir" by Graham Roumieu is hilarious, irreverent, crude, and funny in a fifth-grade boy kind of way. I loved it. It has some swear words, some references to body parts, and Bigfoot's writing is terrible. Here's an example. “I famous for ability to not be see but don’t think I not notice you not notice.” Bigfoot claims to be a tortured artist. Who knew that Bigfoot tried out for, but didn't get, the part of Snuffleupagus on Sesame Street, causing him to go into a rage and break Oscar's back, forcing to spend the rest of his days in a trash can? Some parts were so funny that I became light-headed from laughter. This book panders to my lowest sense of humor, the poop-joke part of my brain. I must remove it from my house, but for now, it's at the bottom of my book stack where I can read it one more time before I send it to someone. Maybe one of my siblings...

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Mysterious Benedict Society

Oh my goodness. This is one of those books that you get so excited about that you tell everyone who comes within a ten-foot radius about it. Imagine Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events" with better writing, better characters, better villains, better plot lines, a better ending, and contained in only one book. Don't get me wrong, I loved Unfortunate Events. I thought it was a hoot. But "The Mysterious Benedict Society" by Trenton Lee Stewart puts Lemony Snicket to shame. To shame, I say! It's a story about clever, brilliant children fighting against a seemingly insurmountable enemy. But these children do have some help from adults and they are infinitely more likable. There were parts in this book that literally had me at the edge of my seat. I couldn't put it down. And even better, the ending made sense in this book. That was my big complaint about Unfortunate Events, that the ending left something wanting. In Lemony's defense, however, Brett Helquist did a much better job than Carson Ellis, who illustrated this book. Ellis' illustrations weren't anything to get excited about, whereas Helquist's were amazing.

My point of all this is that you should go out and immediately check this book out from the library and read it. What are you waiting for? Quit reading and go! Now!

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Sadness of Maps is more like it

I went to the library without a list and without my handy Honey book to guide me along and I succumbed to grabbing books at random. "The Insufficiency of Maps" by Nora Pierce is a story of mental illness, Native Americans and substance abuse. I know, cheery stuff. The prose seemed lovely, told from a five-year-old's perspective and follows her as she gets bigger. But honestly, it was so depressing. You can't help but pity the girl's mother, since she's obviously mentally ill and out of control, but what was most depressing was that the book felt like it had no point. You just watched this family spiral further and further out of control until you didn't think it could possibly get any worse. Then the book ended. Seriously, that was it. Why Nora? Why? Was it to show us the way the White man has destroyed the lives of Native Americans forever? Was it to intimately describe how this woman destroyed her daughter's life because she never got help for her illness? What?

I think I'll go read Harry Potter again.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Post-Potter Depression 2

I was going to write in the last post where I got the phrase Post-Potter Depression, but I decided to make it another post. Here's where I found the phrase. I've already tried out several of the books they list and let me tell you, some of them are great and some stink. Or maybe you have to be nine years old and less discerning to like it. But hey, the great thing about Harry Potter was that the books stretched across age groups, liked by young and old. Right after HP7 came out, my realtor (a man in his 50s) came over for us to sign some paperwork and looked pretty worn out, having been up late reading. Juvenile Fiction isn't just for tweens.

The books that I thought were "meh" or stunk, I'll briefly cover here. But the ones that were great merit their own post. For a better description of "meh", try saying it with one lip curled up and eyes slightly closed. See what I mean? Nothing great. "Peter and the Star Catchers" by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson comes across as something Disney came up with to break into the lucrative juvenile fantasy market. Along those same lines is "The Kingdom Keepers" by Ridley Pearson and "Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg" by Gail Carson Levine. Yes, the same Levine who wrote the wonderful "Ella Enchanted" and the not-as-wonderful "Fairest." I'm reading the first Fairy Dust book to my girls and they are enjoying it, but as for me? Meh. Another book is "The Alchemyst" by Michael Scott. This book is everywhere! I saw piles of these stacked up at Wal-Mart. When I read it? Meh. It just felt too forced, like it was trying too hard to be good.

Here's a series of books that had potential for greatness, but made me frustrated at the end. His Dark Materials Trilogy by Phillip Pullman had me completely hooked. I couldn't get enough. Then I read the third book. It was the most blatant, hate-filled, anti-religious propaganda that I barely finished it. I wanted to find out what happened to the characters, but it was no fun reading Pullman's personal beef about Christianity. Man, take your issues to another forum, not a novel supposedly geared towards children! And now I find out that they're making a movie from the first book, "The Golden Compass." I'm still excited for it because that book was still great, but I wonder how they'll treat the third book.

The website I gave you in the first paragraph had lots of other great books, ones that I'll post about later. They need their own space to be praised. And there's some seriously good stuff.

Post-Potter Depression

Okay, so I didn't coin the phrase, Post-Potter Depression. I'll tell you who did in a bit. But I am suffering from it. It took me about three days to finish it, mostly because I pre-ordered the book, which meant I had to wait around for it to get delivered. Then I also had family in town and I could only be so rude and disappear to read so many times. But it was kind of nice to savor the last of these great books, to linger over it. I tend to devour books when I anticipate them, reading too fast to catch every last detail and then regretting it later. No such problem this time. But I did have to avoid news websites or other places that might ruin it for me. I did the internet browsing equivalent of plugging my ears and singing, "na na na na na." Nothing was spoiled, thank heavens.

If you haven't yet read the book, stop here. Get off your bum and read it and go no further in this post.

It is a beautiful book. One of my favorite things about the Harry Potter series is Harry's noble heart. Sure, he occasionally lies to get out of trouble, he breaks rules when he finds them unjust, he gets angry and hurts people, and sometimes he's frightened. In other words, he's human and imperfect. But he is full of goodness. Even though he is connected to Voldemort and tied to him in ways that no one else is, he is nothing like him. He doesn't hesitate to do the right thing. What I love about these books is knowing that we all have the potential to be brave and make bold decisions, to fight against injustice, to have friends that will stand by us. To be loved and be capable of love. These are all universal themes in literature, but J.K. Rowling puts it in such a nice package. There's a reason why the Harry Potter series has brought children back to the love of reading.

What I hate the most is people nick-picking the book to death. The inconsistencies (minor, believe me), the lack of or blatant support of certain religious themes (depending on which website you read, J.K. Rowling is either an atheist or slathers the books with Anglo-Christian symbolism), or not using the characters as they see fit. Write your own darn book! Sheesh! My complaint was that Snape didn't show up until late in the book when he was such a central character in HP6. So? Did that make the book any less great than it was? Nope. I got over it.

For some really good analysis of The Deathly hallows, read this online dialogue between Orson Scott Card and Patrick Rothfuss. You can also read the essay that Card wrote before HP7 came out and see how close he got to what really happened. I know I use a lot of Card references in this blog, but he's good.

I cried when Dobby died. I cried when Fred died. I cried when Mrs. Weasley battled Bellatrix Lestrange and yelled, "You will never touch our children again!" At that moment, I felt her pain, I felt her furious protection of her children. I cried when Tonks and Lupin died, knowing that they left a baby behind, another generation orphaned by Voldemort. I cried with Dumbledore as he talked to Harry. I cried when the headmasters applauded Harry in Dumbledore's office. And finally, if that wasn't enough crying, I sobbed when Harry tells his son who he's named after and why. That killed me. I had hated Snape along with Harry all through the books. After HP6, I was convinced that he was a self-interested fiend, whether or not he was for Dumbledore. As Harry watched Snape's memories, I felt such remorse, such pity for the boy that became Snape. For his bad decisions, for his unrequited love, for his sorrow that consumed him.

Man, I'm getting emotional just writing all this down. I suppose it's time for another reading of this lovely book. I can't wait until my children get old enough and then I can read it again and relive it through them.

P.S. All I can say is that Neville Longbottom rocks. He is one of my favorite characters in this whole series. I have loved watching him become the hero that he ends up being. If I could play any character in the series, I'd pick him. If I were male, anyway.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Fluff books

There's quite a few books I haven't blogged about that I probably won't. I re-read "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," but didn't bother to write about it. Like you really want my latest theories on Snape. I also re-read "The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger a few weeks ago, but debated about whether or not to write something on it. It made quite a splash when it was first published and I read it when it was in its height of popularity. Someone lent the book to Mike and I read it again, reliving the beauty of the story. But I decided to skip that book and maybe come back to it later. For now, I'd like to talk about fluff. Books that bear no weight on your mind and are easily forgotten. This is my problem: I go to the library and assume I can find something to read just by pulling random books off of shelves and reading the blurb on the inside front cover. Wrong. You cannot find good books by doing this, but you can find lots of junk and fluff. Junk books are ones that you wish you had never read or even bothered to check out, whereas fluff books aren't bad, just not great. They aren't well-written and they don't impact your life in anyway and, usually, you can't even remember that you read it a month later. What makes me sad is that someone wrote this fluff book and spent countless hours dreaming it up, maybe even quitting a job to fulfill their life-long dream of writing. Then I read it and think, "That was a waste of time." I've read so much fluff in my lifetime that I can't even remember most of the titles or authors. They lack the ability to register in my memory. The most recent one was "Thicker Than Water" by Rett MacPherson. The blurb said it was a mystery that took place in Missouri and was about a genealogist. Okay, so two subjects you don't often see in a mystery. Not only did the title have nothing to do with the book, but it was also the fifth or sixth book about the main character. I hate picking up books mid-series! Arg! Arg, I say! I read it anyway. I'm like a bad chocoholic, one who eats really stale candy at the bank teller's desk because it's there and hates themselves later for it. The characters were flat and annoying, the mystery was dumb, and the worst part is that the author had obviously done this before. Again, it wasn't really bad (despite my strong adjectives in the previous sentence), just not great. And I read this right after I finished "The Joy Luck Club" by Amy Tan, which is a great book. I highly recommend that one, by the way. So it was like eating stale, nasty bank candy after having just eaten chocolate mint truffles from Ghiradelli's. The juxtaposition probably made the MacPherson book taste even worse.

Something cool my library has online is a "book bag" option in my account. I can find books and reserve them in my book bag for future requests. I don't have to reserve them right then, I can do it later. Taking advantage of that option, I filled it up with books that from Orson Scott Card's reading list for the class he taught at Southern Virginia University. My project for another evening is to fill it with books from "Honey for a Woman's Heart" which I blogged about here. Now, when I need a book fix, I can go online and look through my book bag for what I know I want to read and either request it or go pick it off the shelf. No more fluff or junk for me, no siree! Or at least until I run out of books in my book bag and need a fix.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Fablehaven

While reading the blog of one of my favorite writers, he claimed to have found the next Harry Potter series in the making. Well, that sparked my interest, being an avid Harry fan. "Fablehaven" by Brandon Mull is pretty darn good. I was doubtful at the beginning since the plot seemed transparent. Of course the grandfather gives lots of warnings that the kids don't listen to. Of course they find out that it's really a preserve for magical creatures. But that is where it got good. My expectations were dashed. I honestly didn't know what was going to happen next and that's what reeled me in. I hope that this series ends up like Harry Potter where the first books are fairly innocent, relating to the innocence of its characters, but the later books develop into riveting epic clashes between good and evil. I put the second book on the waiting list at the library and I keep checking every day to see if I've moved up on the list. That, my friends, is a good book.

Friday, June 29, 2007

I Am Legend

I came about reading this book in a roundabout way. I was perusing movie trailers on apple.com and saw that a new Will Smith movie was coming out. When I clicked on it, the trailer wouldn't work for whatever reason, so I googled the title to find a working trailer. On digg.com, it had a trailer and a description of the movie, saying it was based on a book by Richard Matheson. I watched the trailer, found it to be delightfully spooky and decided I needed to read the book. It's a post-apocalyptic vampire thriller. I'm always a fan of vampires. I thought it was a suspenseful page-turner, packing a wallop at a mere 150 pages. This book was written in the 50s and you can tell by some of the language he uses and some of the slightly silly science he concocts. The main character's psychological state is a big part of the book too, which made me sit and wonder how I would handle being the last person on earth. Build a fortress and fight to the end? Give up and die? I don't know. All in all, I read the book in just a few hours and enjoyed it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel

Mike is fun to take to the library because he will pick up random books that look interesting. This last week he grabbed "Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel: A Biography" by Judith and Neil Morgan and it was a treasure to read. I usually avoid biographies because they're not always very good reading. Either dull or colored by the biographers views. The authors of this were obviously well-researched and made it easy reading. I've always been a big Dr. Seuss fan, but sometimes reading a loved figure's history makes them seem not so magical anymore. This biography just endeared Dr. Seuss to me more. Some interesting things I learned were that Ted Geisel participated quite a bit in the roaring 20s, he was nervous around children, had debilitating claustrophobia and stage fright, was married twice to two women who served as muses and organizers to his artistic mind, and was a talented painter. Ted Geisel always wanted to be taken seriously as an artist, but never got recognition except as a great contributor to children's books. Well, until he died anyway. He had an art show in the 80s with original sketches and paintings, but one reviewer said that it wasn't real art. Well, now those paintings go for 25K or more. I've already got my favorite print picked out if I ever have $1695 lying around, waiting to be spent. It's called "The Joyous Leaping of Uncanned Salmon" and I love it. Another favorite is "Venetian Cat Singing Oh Solo Meow" but it's sold out. For a mere $325 I can get "Oh the Stuff You Will Learn" which comes from one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books, "I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!" Coincidentally, that's where I get the title of my blog. The Cat says that reading with his eyes shut "is bad for my hat and makes my eyebrows get red hot. So reading with my eyes shut I don't do an awful lot."

By the time I got to the end of the book and read about his death, I mourned as if he was a favorite uncle, even though it was over a decade ago. Ah, Dr. Seuss. He thoroughly loved making his books and I so thoroughly love reading them.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Magazines are slowin' me down, man

Look at this, a week since my last post and why is that, may you ask? Magazines are why, curious reader. Darn magazines. Once a month, all the magazines arrive at the same time and I am compelled to put down whatever it is I'm reading at the moment and read all the magazines. For a ridiculous reason that has to do with unused frequent flier miles, we get tons of magazines. When we picked out these subscriptions, we didn't necessarily know what some of these magazines were about. We just thought the titles sounded good. Here's what we got from those useless miles.
Prevention: This sounded good, but it's actually geared towards old people. It looks like something that should be found in a urologist's office. It's all about dealing with age, walking for exercise, having regular prostate exams, etc. Can't wait for this one to run out.
Shape: Another one that sounded good in the description but ended up being a dud. We thought it would have helpful hints about exercise, but in actuality has half-naked women on the front of every issue. It goes straight into the dumpster the minute it arrives.
Forbes: I tried to read this once, but was bored to tears. Mike claims to enjoy reading it but half the time it stays on the desk so long that the corners start to curl up. A magazine for wealthy magnates. Hmmm, applicable.
Travel and Leisure: Ah yes, when I'm planning my next trip to tour all the finest hotels in Europe, this magazine will come in handy. Or perhaps when I'm going to hike Mount Kilamanjaro or take that cruise down the Amazon. Gosh, what will I do with my millions?
Computer Shopper: I have never actually opened this one up. I'm not much of a computer shopper, just a computer user. But I'm kind of glad we get it so Mike can keep things up to date and hummin'.
Time: I don't agree with everything in here, but it sure has made me aware of lots of things I never would have formed an opinion about otherwise. One thing I have most certainly formed a strong opinion about is that I'm sick to death of the 2008 presidential election. And it's June 2007. So sad.

Here are the magazines we get because our grandmas love us.
Reader's Digest: Classic, gotta love it. I read it cover to cover. Sometimes I skip the more traumatic stories, because now that I have children, I picture it happening to them. But the jokes give me chuckles and I love to read about life-saving new medicines and happy stories.
Highlights: This is a magazine I had a child and now my grandmother gets it for my children. They love the Timbertoes and the crafts, and Charlotte loves how easy it is to color on all the pages. Now that Madelyn can read, she enjoys it even more. And Lucy enjoys it now that Madelyn will read it to her and she doesn't have to wait for me to get around to it.

The last set of magazines are the ones we actually pay money for. Mike renews mine every two years and I do the same for him.
Popular Science: Mike's favorite magazine. If I forget to tell him that it came in the mail and it sits under a pile of stuff for a few days, it's not good. Not pretty. Then after he reads it, he talks about it for several days. His favorite is the issue that comes towards the end of the year and is the year's best inventions. That'll keep him going for weeks!
Family Fun:
I've been getting this magazine for years and just recently my kids have gotten big enough to do most of the crafts and things inside. It's just so full of fun ideas! And new books and videos and toys! And recipes! And travel ideas! I could just keep exclamation marking! They now have another magazine bye the same people called Wondertime that's geared toward baby through preschool age kids. I probably would have gotten better use out of it so, gee, I might just have to get it.
The Ensign: This is a magazine put out by the LDS Church. The problem with this is that it has to be highly visible for me to remember to read it. I have to leave it on my counter or in front of my computer screen to jolt my memory and read it. Once I open it up, I usually read the whole thing and feel wonderfully uplifted. But if it disappears in my house somewhere, it never gets touched.
The Friend: Same problem as above. If I can get Madelyn started on it, I'll read quite a bit out loud to the girls. If I need ideas for family night, I usually turn to this magazine. But if it disappears, well, you know.

So you see why our magazines keep me busy. One thing that's hard about magazines is knowing when to throw them away. You don't want to become one of those people who have to go in and out of their house by a window because the magazines are covering every exit, but what if you need one of them? What if you want to read that certain article again? What if? Okay, so the church magazines are fully indexed and accessible online. But they're church magazines, for crying out loud! It feels kind of wrong to just toss them out. I've managed to convince Mike to throw away issues that are more than few months old of his favorite reads, yet I keep years worth of my magazine. And yes, they are accessible online too. I can find most of what was in an issue on their website. Not to mention the fact that I never re-read magazines. I've got too many other things to read! I almost never re-read books, for that same reason! There are too many books out there waiting for me. I have certain books that I read every few years, but they are of a much higher caliber than back issues of Family Fun. Jane Eyre is a bit more compelling than making coin banks out of milk cartons. Honestly, I throw away most everything, but sometimes it's painful and I have to remind myself that there's this great thing called the internet. Ahhh, I love the internet. Providing me with more stuff to read.




Thursday, June 7, 2007

Harry Potter anticipation is killing me

I did something unprecedented. For me, at least. I pre-ordered Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows from amazon.com. In my previous location, pre-ordering was far from necessary since there'd still be dozens of copies at the local Wal-Mart two days after it's release. I guess Harry isn't as big an item in the South. I debated over this for weeks, since pre-ordering requires you pay shipping if you want the book to arrive on the day it's released and I'm morally opposed to paying shipping. My other option was to go to a book release party at this really great bookstore where I live. It's the kind of bookstore that started in someone's garage or something and now has author signings and other such cool events. They are also having a party starting a few hours before release day, with the books being handed out at midnight. I have to admit the geekiness quotient large enough to have always wanted to go to one of these. But with small children, I have once again opted to skip the party. Sigh. I wasn't willing to take the risk of just going to a local store and hoping to pick up a book. Too risky. So I pre-ordered. I coughed up the extra $3.99 for shipping. But I felt better when I realized that I still was paying less than getting my copy at the bookstore party. What can I say, I'm cheap!

The end of the Harry Potter books has me in a bit of a depression. I didn't discover the series until the first four books were already out, so I haven't been able to savor the stories for years on end. When book five came out, I re-read the first four. When book six came out, I re-read book four and listened to book five on CD from the library. There's about 30 CDs for the book, so it was a hefty package getting it home from the library. The man who reads the books, Jim Dale, is absolutely fantastic. I noticed that with my stack of CDs, there was one cassette tape. I thought that was odd, but figured they had lost a CD and dubbed it onto a tape. I was happily listening along when I got to the tape. I popped it in and what should I hear but a very southern drawl of a familiar librarian reading aloud where Jim Dale had left off. The effect was so startling that it was like biting into something bitter. I yanked the tape out of my stereo, put in the next CD to figure out what I missed and just read it from the book instead. Listen to Jim Dale and you'll know why nothing else quite measures up.

Back to being depressed that this is it. These books are such great stories, such riveting characters that I feel like I know these people. The only consolation is that there's still three movies to go. And that can drag this on for another three or four more years. I hope the actors don't start looking too old. It's creepy enough that Daniel Radcliffe bared all for his play in London without him having a five o'clock shadow and a receding hairline when he battles Voldemort for the final time.

The point of all this is that I'm excited. I can't wait to see what happens, can't wait to find out how this whole story wraps up. I'm sure I'll blog like crazy afterwards, but I'll wait a week or so, just to make sure I don't spoil it for slower readers. Just to warn you, though, don't read my blog after July 21st until you've read Harry Potter. I can only hold back so long.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A Brief History of the Dead

This book was a bit bizarre, but thought-provoking. I actually listened to this on CD a few years ago, but decided it was worth putting on my blog. The whole premise of the book is based on some African theology that when you die, you go to a sort of pre-afterlife, where you remain until everyone who remembers you on Earth has died. The author, Kevin Brockmeier, tells this story from two points of view, the people in The City, as they call it, and a woman in Antarctica. Something is obviously going on, since people in The City keep disappearing in the thousands and the woman in Antarctica can't get a hold of her fellow explorers or the outside world. The ending left me, well, puzzled and a bit dissatisfied, but you might like it better. The whole concept was interesting and it was suspenseful to realize what was going on, but have to watch the characters figure it out. I wasn't going to add books on this blog that I hadn't read recently, but decided this might get some people to read it and then tell me what they thought of it.

The Mother-Daughter Book Club

I'm on a book chase lately, reading books to find books. This one was recommended in another book I read, and then this book led me to the next one I read. It was mostly about the mechanics of forming a Mother-Daughter book club, but it had some great insights on developing your relationship with your daughter before they hit adolescence and want nothing to do with you. I know that I'm a bit premature in worrying about adolescence, but I figure if I read up now, it won't hit me as hard later. Basically, the author, Shireen Dodson, wanted to have a better relationship with her nine-year-old daughter. She decided to form a group where they could talk about different topics without fighting about them. The book club was formed with 10 different moms and their daughters and was a big hit. They let their daughters pick the books, from a pre-screened list and let them lead the discussion. There were great book recommendations and some of the ideas were interesting. The mechanics of running a book club bored me, so I tended to skim through those chapters. All in all, worth checking out from the library.

The next book I read was by the same author, but was more of a reference guide to great books for girls. I read the intro, then just skimmed through the rest of the book. This is a book worth buying, to refer to again and again. I'm going to hunt for it on amazon marketplace or half.com and get it used. Each book has a description, discussion questions, info on the author, activities related to the book and other books that you might like. The author picks just about every type of book you can think of, so everyone can find something they like. I'm thinking I'll just start at the beginning and work my way through. Then, when my girls are big enough to read these kind of books, I'll have read them too and we can talk about them. I don't know about you, but that sounds like fun to me!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Orson's blog

I'm a big Orson Scott Card fan and love it when he comes out with a new book. One day, while skimming through his website www.hatrack.com I noticed that he had a blog link on the left-hand side of the page. He writes about books, movies, t.v., food, schools, the economy, whatever strikes his fancy. I've found several book gems by reading his blog. This week he talks about the book choices he made for teaching a class on the Contemporary American Novel at Southern Virginia University. It's too long to include here, but I printed it up and put it in my stack of books to be read, so I can find some of them at the library. He has strong feelings on the merit of books that are understandable by most people, and little patience for the intellectual superiority complex of English professors en masse. I'm excited to try out some of these books. How fun would it be to take a class from Mr. Card?

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Honey for a Woman's Heart

Other than an overly long chapter on reading spiritual books, I thought this book by Gladys Hunt was wonderful. I was hoping for an annotated book list, just like her other book "Honey for a Child's Heart" but wasn't disappointed by the lack thereof. She convinced me to try some genres that I may not have tried otherwise, like westerns. Not that I don't like westerns, but I don't think I would have ventured over when there were some juicy murder mysteries to entice me. But as a testament to this woman's great writing, I checked out a Louis L'Amour book from the library this week. I haven't yet read it, but believe me, I'll tell you when I do.

For Sale Magic Kingdom-Stinks!

Can I tell you how much I didn't like this book? And I like fantasy novels! I like dragons and wizards and what-have-you. But I thought this entire book was written like Terry Brooks expected a producer to buy the rights and make it into a movie within five minutes of publishing it. I was so disappointed. I read another book of his, "Running with the Demon" and thought it was exciting and fun. This book I finished merely because I wanted to know what he ended up doing with the characters. But I thought the love story was contrived, the climax not very climactic, and the whole magic kingdom kind of dumb. Oh well, only a waste of a few hours of my life.