Wednesday, February 28, 2007

What Books Have You Read?

The lovely Bellezza posted this meme. If you read it, you are automatically tagged, says she. I wasn't expecting that. Okay, so here goes:

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, 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! Also, what other books do you think belong on this list and why?

I've personalized a bit by highlighting the ones I started and abandoned in green and a few I haven't actually even heard of in purple (although in all but one case I've heard of the authors). I think there's only one I've read twice: The Count of Monte Cristo.

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)

I don't feel very well read, after looking over my answers. Hmmm. Since I don't know what hat this list was pulled out of, I don't know what I'd suggest. They're not all classics, so I'm not sure whether someone considered them all great books or just books that have had a high readership - I would not have put Mitch Albom on a list of great authors; and, books that sell like crazy often don't appeal to me in the slightest. Maybe I should come up with a list of my own, some day. I'm not sure whether I'll read the rest of the Harry Potter books, so I didn't italicize them. But, I might change my mind. I enjoyed the first two.

Thanks, Bellezza. It was oddly fun personalizing this list.

Tag to anyone who reads this and hasn't already done this meme!! You're it!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

First Light by Geoffrey Wellum

Up here the air is pure and clean. The sheer joy of flight infiltrates the very soul and from above the earth, alone, where the mere thought in one's mind seems to transmit itself to the aeroplane, there is no longer any doubt that some omniscient force understands what life is all about. There are times when the feeling of being near to an unknown presence is strong and real and comforting. It is far beyond human comprehension. We only know that it's beautiful.

Things are starting to get rough. Automatically I have followed my self-imposed drill that I always do at times like this. reflector sight on; gun button to fire; airscrew pitch to 2,650 revs; better response. Press the emergency boost override, lower my seat a notch and straps tight. OK, men, I'm all set. Let battle commence. Please, dear God, like me more than you do the Germans.

"Watch that bastard behind you, Yellow 2. He's close, boy, real close. Break Yellow 2, break you clot, break!"
There's even humour over the R/T and I laugh hysterically, confused and lonely.
"Blue leader, can you give me a hand? I'm just off to your starboard somewhere."
"Sorry, old boy, I've got three 109s on to me but don't worry, I've got 'em surrounded."

I reckon I'm a little above, just a fraction, and therefore gaining. God, I hope so. Coupled with fear, I now also feel a sense of anger. What right has this German to fly his snotty little aeroplane over our England and try to kill me? Who invited him? Just because he's stupid enough to believe his bloody Fuhrer and his master-race-dominating-the-world crap, he flies for his wretched Fatherland and tries to impose typical Teutonic bullying on our country. The bloody arrogance of it! Well, you'll not shoot me down you black-crossed sod.

No amount of training can prepare you for mortal combat. One has to realize before take-off that in order to have any chance of surviving and coming through you must remember a simple and straightforward golden rule: Never, but never fly straight and level for more than twenty seconds. If you do, you'll die.

First of all, I just have to say that I loved this book so much that I deliberately stretched the reading out to make it last as long as possible - at least, till I got close to the end. Then, of course, I got that itch to finish. However, the book was so utterly wonderful that I can't even begin to imagine parting with my copy.

First Light is the memoir of an RAF pilot who served during the Battle of Britain. At 17, two months before the outbreak of WWII, Geoffrey Wellum began training to become a fighter pilot. I like this part of the cover blurb: "Bursting with youthful energy and enthusiasm, he makes it through basic training to become the youngest Spitfire pilot in the prestigious 92 Squadron. Thrust into combat almost immediately, Wellum finds himself flying several sorties a day, caught up in terrifying dogfights with German Me 109s. Over the coming months he and his fellow pilots play a crucial role in the Battle of Britain. But of the friends that take to the air alongside Wellum, many never return." And then, yada yada, "gripping memoir of his experiences as a fighter pilot".

Gripping is right. While there were plenty of interesting, often humorous, moments on the ground, the most fascinating of his experiences usually took place while Wellum was airborne and were described in a way that made me feel like I was there, inside the Spitfire, living vicariously through him. I loved the chatty, journalistic style of his memoir. From all appearances, Wellum must have kept a journal. At times, he mentioned not having the time to write for a few days or weeks.

This is the first RAF fighter pilot's memoir that I've read. At AmazonUK, I noticed that Wellum's commanding officer in 92 Squadron also wrote a memoir. Of course, I jogged over to see what that was all about and I discovered that Geoffrey Wellum's memoir follows the standard pattern of RAF fighter-pilot memoirs: training, becoming an officer, going into battle. Similarity could become monotonous if one read such memoirs repeatedly, but I have not and Wellum's was thoroughly enjoyable. And, naturally, his commanding officer's memoir was promptly added to my wish list. I would really love to read a completely different perspective by someone else who served within the same squadron.

My only complaint would be the frequent use of technical jargon and terminology or abbreviations without explanation. But, most of those could be reasoned out, with a little thought. A jaunt online would have also helped, but I didn't bother because I still had a crap connection.

A word of warning about the reviews: I've discovered, lately, that Amazon reviews frequently - not just occasionally but frequently - contain spoilers. Even in a memoir, I don't want to know the ending ahead of time and I recall that there was at least one review that gave away a bit too much. Thank goodness I didn't view it till after I closed the book.

I'm giving this one my top rating because I loved every minute of reading.

5/5

Coming up: A review of Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

Currently languishing unread: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens; I think I'll have to start over and skim what I read earlier because I set it aside for far too long.

Still bouncing up and down repeatedly because of: DSL! I love it!!!

On the to-do list: Choosing a pile of unread nonfiction for the Non-Fiction Five challenge. There are plenty of non-fiction books lying about, so it's really just a matter of narrowing down and deciding which books I need a kick in the britches to sit down and read.

Nifty moments I'm reflecting upon: Chatting about Kazuo Ishiguro's books with the clerk in Off-Square Books; watching a coach physically (and loudly) tug a youngster toward the pool, insisting that he would have to wait to use the restroom until after his event because, "You're up now!"; the food, oh my gosh, the food in Oxford.

Must go: Take a nice warm bath.

Bookfool, ready for a good soak

Monday, February 26, 2007

Bookstore pics

Happy Monday!! Hope everyone had a fun weekend. We spent our weekend in Oxford, MS where youngster had a swim meet and eldest son attends school. While in Oxford, we made the requisite visits to Square and Off-Square Books (and other fun Oxford spots). The photo below shows Mamasita, the Off-Square store cat, chasing a ball through the store.


Here's a shot of one of the wonderful little corners in the totally awesome Square Books:


And, one at the coffee bar:

Hope to get around to writing some reviews, tonight, and start visiting everyone. We finally got DSL!! Yahoo! Now, if I can just find the time to sit still long enough to bop around!! More later!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Tangerine by Edward Bloor


Paul Fisher has terrible eyes and can’t remember exactly how his vision was damaged. Because of his thick lenses, he’s often teased. But, Paul is an even-tempered teenager and just wants to play soccer. If only his parents would notice that he’s an athlete, and a good one. But, they’re too busy focusing on his older brother’s football career to notice what’s going on in Paul’s life.

Erik Fisher is a natural at kicking a football with great distance and accuracy. His father is bent on making sure that Erik gets the chance at football that he never had. Apart from Paul, though, nobody in the Fisher family is willing to face the fact that Erik Fisher has some serious problems.

When the Fishers move to Tangerine, Florida to pursue what Paul refers to as “the Erik Fisher Football Dream”, they have a few surprises in store. In Tangerine, underground fires burn continuously, lightning strikes every day at the same time, and the tangerines that gave the city its name are almost completely gone, burned to make room for housing developments. As the Fishers deal with the oddities of life in Tangerine, the truth about Erik is slowly revealed while Paul deals with the challenges of school, soccer, home life, and the sharply different backgrounds of his teammates and friends.

I really enjoyed this book, to the point that I picked it up one day and finished it the next, unwilling to put it down for long. However, it does have some fairly substantial inaccuracies, according to a friend and my own understanding of civil engineering as a profession. Paul’s father is a county engineer who is so highly paid that his family lives in a huge house, virtually a mansion. While there’s corruption in the county where the story is set, I still find it hard to believe that a civil engineer working for a county would be hired at a high enough salary to live like that, especially with a non-working wife. I’m married to a civil engineer and it’s simply not a high-paid profession unless you're willing to go to hazardous areas (Bosnia, Iraq, etc.) or work ridiculous hours at a consulting company - neither of which Paul's father did.

Another problem has to do with Erik. I think it was troubling that the parents in this book were so disinterested in their youngest son and focused on the eldest. Erik's problems unfold rather slowly, but it's obvious early on that the grown-ups are deliberately blinding themselves to what's going on in the lives of both of their children outside of Erik's football. I think that happens, but I find it hard to believe that on one end of the scale you have Paul, who is a decent, hard-working and unprejudiced teenager and, at the other end of the scale, Erik is pretty much the opposite extreme - not just not a nice person but possibly even psychotic. How on earth could the same set of parents raise two such different people? It's possible. But, Paul's mother was particularly confusing. I couldn't get a fix on her and certainly couldn't relate to her blithe disinterest in her children and their lives.

When I originally wrote part of this review, I gave the book a 4/5. But, I've rethought it. There were enough bits that didn't work for me that I'm going to knock it down another half notch - not much, since I did find myself glued to the book, but just a bit. I still recommend it. Tangerine is a young adult novel.

3.5/5

In other news . . .

The sign fell down!!! Can you believe that after my silly post about that sign (pictured below), it was on the ground just 4 days later? I thought about picking it up and handing it to the ranger. But, I was hot, tired and sweaty. I went home and took a bath, instead. I'm really worried about all those potential stick-people injuries.

They're everywhere! Kiddo had to go to the doctor for a portion of his swim camp physical, which he couldn't do last week because of the fact that he lost both pairs of glasses. And, what did we see as we pulled into the parking lot? A hawk, of course. I grabbed my camera, which I've been carrying on sunny days, and slung it around my neck, signed the kid in and said, "See you in a little bit." Then, I dashed out and took photos of not one but two red-tail hawks circling. They were pretty far away, but the tails were a dead giveaway and it was certainly a lot more fun watching the hawks than it is to sit around listening to the soap opera characters holler at each other.

What's up with that? I'm still getting an abbreviated task panel, even with new posts, so I'm not sure what's up with Blogger but I still can't highlight and color. Darn. I also see a funky HTML code rather than a photograph when I upload pics. Hmmm. Methinks Blogger is being freaky. Most of these bits of weirdness do seem to disappear after a while, so Bookfool is exercising her patience skills.

Coming up next: A review of First Light by Geoffrey Wellum and possibly a trip to AmazonUK because I observed that Wellum's commanding officer from 92 Squadron (where Wellum was posted during the Battle of Britain) has also written a memoir. How cool is that?

Gotta go. Life keeps interfering with blogging time.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Don't let that sign fall off, people!


Because the kiddo used up all the hot water so I'm stuck trying to keep busy but I'm too tired to write another review and I can't focus and blah, blah, blah. So, does this little stick guy's accident look painful, or what? And, hey, what's the deal with the sign hanging crooked? Wait! There's a little plastic connector missing. Did it . . . possibly . . . could it have suffered the fate of the little stick man, crushed by the horrible moving gate? Oh, so sad. And, that little plastic thingy was in its prime. Just think of all the stick people injuries that could occur if this sign falls off.

In the Presence of Mine Enemies by Howard and Phyllis Rutledge


In the Presence of Mine Enemies is a tremendously difficult book to read, yet oddly uplifting. The story of Captain Howard E. Rutledge, who was held captive as a prisoner of war for seven years after his plane was shot down over Vietnam, Rutledge tells not only of the torture and deprivation he experienced but the rebirth of his faith. Torture, I should add, is the one area he did not go into in detail. That doesn't save the reader from many horrifying images, though.

How on earth could someone's faith be renewed while he was kept in solitary confinement--sometimes for years at a stretch--often with his hands and legs shackled so that he had to sit in the same position, unable to lie down or step to a corner to relieve himself? How could anyone even stay alive, much less find any hope to grasp while surrounded by spiders the size of his fist, rats waking him when they nibbled at his toes, swarms of mosquitoes that he could not even lift a hand to swat?

Rutledge attributes his survival to God, the renewal of a faith he had let slide and to the coded communication system devised by prisoners. As each prisoner arrived, often injured and usually terrified of the unknown, the other prisoners would make sure he was "on the line", teaching him their private code in bits and snatches. Using any method possible - tapping on the walls, sweeping a broom rhythmically, even using their sandals to shuffle in code - the prisoners "spoke" to each other. They shared Bible verses, song lyrics, plans, and information about their families and their lives.

The book is an amazing mix of horrific descriptions of pain and loneliness, endurance and faith in the future. A small section written by the wife who didn't know her husband's fate and who had to deal with her own anguish and tragedy on the home front rounds out the book. It's just a shattering but incredible read.

I misplaced the piece of paper I made notes on (again), but found a bio of Rutledge here with quotes, photos and plenty of interesting info. My copy was a library sale find and not in the best condition but judging from the fact that I was able to obtain a cover image (not the same as mine), the book must still be available. I recommend it but with a reminder that his experiences were shocking; it's probably not for the faint of heart. Actually, I'm usually one of the faint of heart but the descriptions of how he spent his time digging up verses and songs from his memory and mentally built houses (in painstaking detail) to keep his mind active probably helped a great deal.

4/5

Coming up: A review of Tangerine by Edward Bloor

Almost finished with: First Light by Geoffrey Wellum

Now flying in our area: You name it. I think the bleak midwinter is gone, baby, gone. The pear trees have budded, birds are flying around with bits of this and that in their beaks (homebuilding), everything is turning green, I've been sneezing my head off, I'm wheezy and my eyes are burning. We saw our first butterfly of the season on Sunday. Yeah, spring is here. I could have tolerated a lot more winter.

Best thing my kid has said all month: "Literature is cool." This was in reference to the fact that last semester he studied literature in English; this semester they're working on grammar. The corollary: "Grammar sucks." As my eldest did everything humanly possible to avoid actually reading any of his assigned literature, I'm definitely happy with the youngster enjoying that portion of his English requirements.

Romance is apparently cool, also: Wow, what a response to that post about my Valentine's Day! Sometime soon, I'll have to share how I met my husband. That's actually a pretty romantic story, as well, or so I'm told. But, for now . . . off to do the stuff that I can't avoid. Or maybe I'll go outside and watch the birds, again. It's in the 70's. Feel free to swap places with me, if you're living in a frozen wasteland.

Bookfool, listening to the wind chimes and reaching for another tissue

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Bits and Pieces


I've finished a second book that I've yet to review and I'm falling behind, but this was just one of those days that I felt like the robin, above. I just wanted to say, "I'm outta here." So, with that in mind, we grabbed the camera, hopped in the car and took a long walk in Vicksburg's National Military Park.

I am so freakin' sore. I've been a bum, lately.

But, I just had to drop back in to describe the hopelessly romantic thing my husband did for Valentine's Day. Bear in mind that he is, in general, just about the most unromantic guy on the planet. Before we were married, my spouse just about never gave me flowers (maybe once) but he did once give me a cactus. So, the fact that he made Valentine's Day special is kind of . . . baffling.

Anyway, hubby sent me an email on Valentine's Day. "Happy Valentine's Day. Pay homage to Beethoven and there might be something worth finding." Probably most people wouldn't get that and, frankly, I forgot what it meant. Paying homage to Beethoven is a reference to a British mini-series my husband and I love, Oliver's Travels. Whenever the main character is near a piano, he plays middle C as his homage to Beethoven. But, like I said, I forgot. So, I went to the piano and looked inside and behind the Beethoven music book. Nothing. I thought about looking in the bench but I had a horrible night and I was sluggish. I took a nap.

Since I failed (and I whipped out an email to that effect), later on the hubby gave me another clue. "Okay, then look in the bench." Quite a clue, eh?

Inside the piano bench was a DVD of The Sting (an old favorite) with a note that said, "Behind the Tower Bridge might be something." That one was easy. We have a framed photograph I took of the Tower Bridge in London on top of one of our many bookshelves. I moved the frame and behind it was a a lovely package that contained all sorts of adorable little bath items with a royal theme, including a package of bath salts with instructions on how to use them ("First, summon a servant . . . "), champagne lip balm with a touch of strawberry, a notebook for royal decrees, etc. Fun.

Attached to the package was yet another note: "To Edinburgh you go to find something to go with your ginger beer." That was another easy one, but darned if he didn't send the short wife to all the hard-to-reach places. We have a stoneware ginger beer bottle that I purchased in a shop in Edinburgh - very common, I think, but unique to us. And, it's on top of another set of bookshelves so I had to climb, but behind the ginger beer bottle was a heart-shaped box of fudge. Whoa. Like my butt needed that - but, how sweet is he for thinking ahead and planting all those little gifts?

So, in spite of the fact that the hubby was gone from Sunday to Friday, I had a lovely Valentine's Day that I'll never forget.

Hope everyone had a lovely weekend.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll


It is a very inconvenient habit of kittens (Alice had once made the remark) that, whatever you say to them, they always purr. "If they would only purr for 'yes,' and mew for 'no,' or any rule of that sort," she had said, "so that one could keep up a conversation!

I love that quote.

I've been hesitating to review this book for several reasons:

1. It's really, really difficult to describe.
2. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are actually two separate books under one cover. Disney warped my brain. Who knew?
3. Blogger weirdness. All of a sudden the little task bar has shrunk and there are several things I can't do - highlight and change text color, for example. How very annoying.

So, a few comments. Apparently, I'm into lists, today:

1. Lotus is so much better at this. If you want to read a decent review, go to her blog or straight to the entry here.
2. Wikipedia has a really terrific page about Alice in Wonderland.
3. According to the Wikipedia page, Oscar Wilde and Queen Victoria loved Alice in Wonderland; Terry Pratchett dislikes Alice. I'm siding with Oscar and Victoria on the first book and lean toward the words "nonsense without evident purpose" on the Looking-Glass portion (in spite of its obvious chess-game setting). But, that may be because I was so well-acquainted with the former, or thought I was.
4. Nonsense really fits me well, actually. I'm pretty much full of it.

Here's what little I know about Alice in Wonderland. The story was first told to a real little girl named Alice and her sisters to entertain them and was later expanded upon and published. I knew that much primarily because I've been to Oxford, England, where the story was created. At the time, I was much more interested in getting a glimpse of the fountain with a statue of Mercury in its center than hearing about Alice because I'd just read and watched Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Vaughn. I got my wish to see the fountain where one of the characters was "dipped in Mercury," and my aging camera picked that day to die. Of all places. So, I didn't manage to get a shot of the shop with Alice memorabilia, although I did take note of it.

In case there is anyone on the planet who isn't familiar with the story (and just happens to drop in), Alice in Wonderland is the tale of a young girl who tumbles into a rabbit hole and discovers a strange world where playing cards come to life, a cat disappears (leaving only his smile behind), and rhymes she's memorized in school come out all wrong . . . and too much else to mention. I have no idea why it took me so long to get around to reading this book, but it's loads of fun. My copy is the version shown above, with the wonderful original illustrations by John Tenniel. I think the fact that the illustrations fit the time period made the book even more enjoyable for me.

Among my favorite of the twisted rhymes is the following bit from You Are Old, Father William:

'You are old', said the youth, 'and your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak--
Pray, how did you manage to do it?'

'In my youth,' said his father, 'I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw
Has lasted the rest of my life.'

Okay, I get that. I've argued a case or two with the husband. Hahaha.

The second book, Through the Looking Glass, tells about the backwards world Alice encounters when she steps through a mirror. Within this world, Alice becomes a part of a chess game. I found this particular story a bit too bizarre, although I still enjoyed it. Wikipedia helped to make a little sense of some of the characters - a man dressed entirely in paper, for example, bore a striking resemblance to prime minister Gladstone. The point of representing these characters in the way the author did is lost on me, unfortunately.

Both stories are very much products of the time period and location in which they were conceived and written, loaded with satire and puns, illustrations of real people, and political stabs. So, it's truly quite amazing that they're still fun to read. But, who wouldn't find it adorable to read about a "mock turtle", the kind you find in mock turtle soup?

I absolutely don't know how to rate this one. I loved the first story and found the second story baffling, but still loaded with great moments of silliness. I think I can't help but give it an excellent rating because it's so utterly clever, a bit like Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers series in that it was all extremely weird but in a wickedly fun way that not just any bloke off the pavement could have come up with. Yes, that's it. I've settled on excellent and I'm happy to have read Alice in Wonderland.

4.5/5

This was my fifth classic of the year, so I've officially finished the Classics Challenge, but I still have several I want to read this year. I'm not done with the Classics, just yet. Also, Alice has been sitting here a while, so the book is another one for the TBR Challenge. Wahoo!

Best moment of the day: Am I turning into a complete wacko? Because it seems a little weird that I've become incredibly enamored of my bird moments. Today, a hawk flew into a tree beside the highway upon which I was driving just after dropping the kiddo off at school. A bluebird whipped past, later. And, I found an Audubon bird guide tucked away in a drawer, thereby enabling me to determine that a bird I photographed in my backyard was a pine warbler. Wacko, wacko bird lover bibliophile chick. Well, so be it. I do adore nature.

Next up: A review of In the Presence of Mine Enemies: Faith Reborn in a POW Camp by Howard and Phyllis Rutledge, which I finished yesterday. And, a description of the totally unexpected, ridiculously romantic thing my husband did for Valentine's Day. Bet you can't wait.

Now wondering:
Salmonella in peanut butter? What is the world coming to? If peanut butter isn't safe, Mom's apple pie is about to become suspect.

Grammar lesson of the day: Always write "female" when describing women in a particular profession. Female astronaut, female senator - not "woman"! You wouldn't call a male astronaut or senator a "man astronaut", right? Okay, just had to get that off my chest.

Are you going to end this post before the next federal holiday? Umm, okay. Yeah. I'll do that. But, the next federal holiday is coming up really soon. Yes, right, I'm done. Have a peachy day, booklovers.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day!



Happy Valentine's Day, everybody!

I'm still working on a review of Alice in Wonderland . . . slooowly. Pardon the delay. While it's probably balmy in Mississippi, by comparison with a good portion of the U.S., it feels darned cold to me. I'm going to take a break to go huddle under a warm cat and read. Hope everyone has (or had) a lovely day.

Monday, February 12, 2007

One of Saturday's Sights


I've posted several photos at my photo blog, Recent Developments in the Boonies, but here's my favorite from Saturday's hawk photos. As I was walking to the mailbox, a hawk of a different variety (very noisy - possibly a Cooper's Hawk) flew over my head. Unfortunately, I ran to get my camera and it needed a new battery. No photos of that fellow. But, then we went out to see what we could track down and saw 4 or 5 more hawks. This one is a red-tail that was perched in a tree near one of the Mississippi River overlooks, just above Vicksburg's Riverfront Park.

Just after I snapped this photo (it's heavily cropped to get in close to his face), he took off. Hawks generally don't let you get too close; once they spot you they leave. I was very fortunate to get this photo.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Firehouse by David Halberstam


Firehouse is going to be a hard book to review, I think, because you can't say you "enjoyed" reading about people who died tragically, can you? However, one can say, "I enjoyed the writing," and that was definitely the case. I thought the author, David Halberstam, did an exceptional job of getting to the heart of life in a firehouse and drawing in-depth portraits of the men who worked at 40/35 - Engine 40, Ladder 35 - a firehouse located on the west side of Manhattan, from which 13 men were dispatched on September 11, 2001 and only one survived (and the lone survivor was badly injured).

I've had a little bit of experience with the firehouse scene as an outsider looking in, since I had one published short story with an arsonist and that required a bit of research that involved chatting with a local fire investigator. Later on, I had a little help from two paramedics and the now-deceased founder of Journal of Emergency Medical Services (JEMS), Jim Page, who very kindly loaned me a copy of his history of paramedicine to photocopy and read. Unfortunately, I still haven't finished that novel.

Point being, I've been to a firehouse and noticed the quiet when an outsider steps inside the doors, the hesitation to say anything that reveals that which is germane to life within a group of people who know that they must rely upon each other not only to work together as a team but possibly to save each others' lives. Firefighters live in a very insular world and the fact that Halberstam was able to learn so much about the individual personalities is quite impressive. Real people are fascinating and three-dimensional. Halberstam definitely made those firefighters real to me and I closed the book with a feeling of gratefulness - grateful to have glimpsed their lives and thankful to those who are willing to take such huge risks for complete strangers. It's a very emotional read, of course, but a very good one.

4.5/5

The photo above is that of a local firehouse. I took it yesterday, while we were out searching for hawks to photograph. I've been told by several people that it's a haunted firehouse, but I've yet to find out the full story.

More info on the hawk search forthcoming. It was a perfect day; I can admit that much.

Just finished: Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. I'm feeling very daunted by the prospect of reviewing this one, as well. Lotus has written a beautiful review that eclipses anything I can even remotely think of saying about the book, but I'll try. Later.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Carl's Meme Made Me Think . . .

Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings wrote a meme that was bouncing around in various forms, a couple of weeks ago. And, it has had me thinking about book covers.

Which looks better? No cover at all? Slightly torn covers?

All four of these have at least a small tear in the cover and you can see the top two have spots at the top where a chunk is missing . I believe they were all published in the 1950's, so after 50 years you can expect some wear. Personally, I think a tear is a negligible thing when a slipcover adds so much beauty and character to a book. What do you think?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Captain and the Enemy by Graham Greene

"You can go now."
I turned my back and began to make for the classroom where I was overdue.
"I meant go with this gentleman, Baxter . . . What class do you miss?"
"Divvers, sir."
"He means Divinity," the headmaster told the Captain. He glared at the door across the quad from which wild sounds were emerging, and he swept his black gown back over his shoulder. "From what I can hear you will miss little by not attending." He began to make great muffled strides towards the door. His boots - he always wore boots - made no more sound than carpet slippers.
"What's going on in there?" the Captain asked.
"I think they are slaying the Amalekites," I said.
"Are you an Amalekite?"
"Yes."
"Then we'd better be off."

12-year-old Victor Baxter is taken out to lunch by a stranger who produces a note of permission from Victor’s father (aka, “the Devil”) on his birthday. While eating, the stranger--whom Victor comes to know only as “the Captain”--informs the child that he was won fair and square in a game of backgammon and then takes him to stay with a timid woman named Liza and changes Victor’s name to Jim. Because his mother is dead and Victor, now Jim, has never been happy either at his boarding school or with the aunt who has agreed to care for him between school terms (the Devil is seldom present), the boy accepts his kidnapping without complaint and even finds himself fairly happy living with a shifty man who is very likely a thief and a woman who has been damaged by an encounter with his own Devil father.

I was so curious as to other readers’ feelings about this book that I made the mistake of going to Amazon to read reviews, midway through reading The Captain and the Enemy. Big mistake; the first review contained a major spoiler. Don’t go to Amazon to read reviews unless you're willing to have a plot spoiled! I did, however, learn that this was Graham Greene’s final novel and that it’s not considered his best by the readers who left reviews. Reading on about Greene, elsewhere on the net, I discovered that Graham Greene was bullied in boarding school and eventually sent away to London for therapy and a change of pace. Aha! He began to sound much like Victor . . . or, rather, Jim.

I found this an easy and absorbing read and I liked it but must admit that the story was profoundly weird. In the end, I understood that it was a tale that aimed to point out how love can come in different forms. It was a sad, strange novel, very tragic in many ways and quite possibly even more bizarre toward the end; but, I liked the writing and if this were my sole introduction to Graham Greene, it would be enough to tempt me to read more by the author.

I was under the mistaken impression, in fact, that this was my first Graham Greene book. But then I looked up his writings and was reminded of another title, which I read many years ago: Travels with My Aunt. Nothing in that book stuck with me, although I do recall the cover was lavender. Hmmm.

3.5/5 - I thought the book was above average, as it read smoothly and I felt pulled in. I desired to know what would happen to Jim, whether anyone would bother to search for him, who the Captain really was, and whether or not Liza and the Captain would ever profess their love. But, it was also a little twisted and definitely tragic, possible too abrupt in its ending. Not excellent, then, but worth a read.

I don't think this one's a classic, but it's one that's been on the TBRs for a time - yea! One more knocked off the TBR pile!

Yesterday, I watched The Guardian while doing Nordic Track and read bits of Firehouse by David Halberstam. Okay, I'm going to need another upper, soon. I feel a fluff break coming on. Not that Alice in Wonderland isn't plenty light and flaky, but . . . you know. Romance with a happy ending sounds nice. And, maybe another bookmark-making break. I'm still terrified of casting-on; so, 6 weeks post-Christmas, I'm stopped dead on the concept of beginning to knit. There's something about that double casting-on method in Stitch 'n Bitch that confuses me completely. Knitters may feel free to drop by my house to give me a quick lesson. Suddenly, being a hermit seems like a bad thing.

Okay, I'm off to dig up the bills that need to be paid. Happy Thursday!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The African Queen by C. S. Forester

“We nearly done it that time,” he said; she could not catch the words because of the noise of the river, but clearly he was not discomposed.
Allnutt was acquiring a taste for riverine dangers--rapid running can become as insidious a habit as morphine-taking--apart from his new happiness in Rose’s society. Rose sat on the gunwale and kept her feet out of the water. She would not let her weakness be seen; she forced herself to be matter-of-fact.

In 1914, after Germans capture the local African villagers to train as soldiers and her missionary brother dies, Rose is left alone in an empty, isolated village in German Central Africa. When the man who delivers mail and supplies to their village, Charlie Allnutt, arrives, she insists that they must head toward the lake where the Konigen Luise (a German boat) patrols, to blow it up in the name of England. Rose and Charlie find love and adventure as they attempt to reach the lake at the end of the Ulanga River.

What I loved about this book: the language, the adventure, the romance, the visceral sense of life on an African river and the many perils the characters encountered. The author--also the author of the Horatio Hornblower series--was obviously very knowledgeable about boating, so the feeling of time and place along with the details of the workings of the African Queen (a flat-bottomed, 30-foot launch) and the descriptions of Africa really rock. My husband has read two of the Hornblower books and I definitely plan to read them.

What I didn't like: the ending. I'm afraid the ending was a huge let-down; in this regard, the movie is quite a bit better. I don't want to spoil the ending in any way, so I won't elaborate. I followed up the reading of the book with a viewing of the movie.

One item of interest: Charlie Allnutt is an English Cockney in the book, a far cry from the "Canadian" played by Humphrey Bogart in accent, but equally cheerful and loquacious.

I'm quite curious how other people feel about this book, so if you've read it please leave a comment and tell me what you thought. I enjoyed it enough to give it a high rating despite its ending.

4/5

The photo above shows my copy of The African Queen, which was discarded by the library eons ago and, therefore, qualifies it for the TBR Challenge as well as the Classics Challenge. Yippee to that!

Up next: A review of The Captain and the Enemy by Graham Greene and lots of housework. Blecch. You wanted to know that, right?

Anecdote of the day: While waiting for the pharmacist to fill a prescription for my husband, I overheard a woman talking about her mother's health. Mom was better but still not doing well, said the woman; and, unfortunately that meant she had to keep Mom's dog.
"It's a . . . a . . . what do you call that kind of dog? It's a Hilton! You know, the kind that heiress has?"
The pharmacist stared at her for a second and then said, "A chihuahua?"
"That's right!" the woman replied, pleased, and then she frowned. "Yappy little monster. I wish my mother would get better and take her dog back."

I really should get out more. You just never know what you're going to hear in the real world.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Why I Love Old Books

I've been chattering about this book on one of my book listservs and took some photos for fellow bibliophile Susan to look at, but I'm sure others will appreciate this wonderful old book. There's no copyright or publishing date inside, but this was a childhood book of my father's and my father was born in the 1920's. The more I look at it the more I think the illustrations look like they came from that decade. Could be 30's, though.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

The rushing yellow of the developing day went on behind their backs. When the sunrays at last struck full and mellowingly upon the earth, the youth saw that the landscape was streaked with two long, thin, black columns which disappeared on the brow of a hill in front and rearward vanished in a wood. They were like two serpents crawling from the cavern of the night.

The Red Badge of Courage is the tale of one young soldier's feelings during the (American) Civil War, as he wrestled with his fear and dealt with the reality of battle.

Sarah of Book Buff in Oz gave me the best capsule description of The Red Badge of Courage: "A simple yet compellingly human portrait of a young man at war." Absolutely perfect; thanks, Sarah. I mentioned in my earlier, whiny post, that I enjoyed reading the book immensely - even though there was a heavy use of vernacular and I read it on-screen. In fact, the book was so compelling that I eventually sank into the futon with my laptop and a pile of pillows to finish it off and then looked up cover art, reviews, and information about the book.

What I discovered was fascinating. Several reviewers mentioned that Stephen Crane didn't experience the Civil War first-hand and they found it surprising that he described a young soldier's experience so vividly. At a site specifically dedicated to The Red Badge of Courage (which, unfortunately, I failed to bookmark), the reason for his colorful portrayal became plain. When Crane read several newspaper accounts of Civil War action, he was sorely disappointed to find that the soldiers described their personal experiences without emotion, focusing on events and places without sharing how they felt. However, he read a large number of letters written by soldiers and from those he was able to glean the true depth of emotion felt by a soldier in battle or even the tiresome experience of merely waiting, waiting, waiting.

I'll keep this one short, but I thought it was an excellent read and I'm only knocking off one point for the annoyance of phonetically-written dialogue. I just hate that. I'm on the side of author Muriel Spark, who claims the choice of wording will make the accent apparent and therefore spelling things as they sound rather than using their correct spelling is unnecessary. Go Muriel.

4/5

And, go Peyton. He's our boy. Well, sort of - I'm not a native, but I've lived in Mississippi long enough to pretend we claim him.

Coming up: A review of The African Queen. 4 classics down, 1 to go.

Superbowl thought: While watching the Colts coach put on his Superbowl cap, followed by the advertisement for Superbowl merchandise, I asked the spouse if they had a whole second set of hats ready in case the other team won. "Sure," he said. "Somewhere, there are a whole bunch of unopened boxes of T-shirts."

I just hope they don't end up in a landfill. Recycle, Superbowl people!

Happy Superbowl Sunday!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Happy Pic

Because sometimes you just need an upper, I searched through my photo files in order to locate a photo that made me smile. There were more than I expected, actually, but I settled on this one because I love cat photos.

I Can't; I Just Can't


I can't review The Red Badge of Courage, today, because I'm just so wiped out and pissed off and want to hide from the world. I just can't. But, I liked it - even though I had to plunk a laptop on my belly and page down using a touch pad and a non-mouse button to read it. I really liked it. I thought it was emotional and fascinating - regardless of the fact that the dialogue was written in vernacular, which I truly, truly despise. But, that's as far as I can stand to go, descriptively speaking.

And, now that I think about it, I'm absolutely certain there was something that urgently needed to be shared on this blog. What? No idea. Maybe it had something to do with my discovery that photos of books in magazines like Real Simple make excellent bookmarks when chopped up and run through a laminating machine. No, I don't think so. But, that's not a bad thing to mention, is it? Shoot, I think I'll go make some bookmarks, take a bath, and read till my eyes pop. Maybe that will cheer me. Cross your fingers. I don't want this to turn into a whiny blog.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

God is an Englishman by R. F. Delderfield


The old Colonel could not have said when or why the premonition touched him, causing a small, inward shudder. He was not given to premonitions and today, with a June sun flaming in a cloudless sky, was not a day for gloomy thoughts. And yet the prescience was there, formless but real, and once it had appeared uninvited and unwelcome, it remained, a silent, brooding wraith standing a yard or two behind his right shoulder, refusing to go and yet refusing to leave cover and identify itself as anything more than a shade.

They were a generation of men who had grown to maturity under a small, plump woman ruling large slices of five continents. Perhaps this helped them to accept her invasion of their spheres of influence.

God is an Englishman tells the story of Adam Swann, a soldier turned tradesman who builds his business from the ground up and learns about love and humility from his growing family.

I tend to dislike epics unless they’re quick-moving, with lots of action, and there were times I put this book aside for up to a week without picking it up to read a single chapter. The sections in which Adam Swann’s business are described in detail can be a bit of a yawn; and, Adam has a tendency to talk in huge paragraphs. There’s not a lot of white space in God is an Englishman. There are also a large number of characters to keep track of; and the story of Adam Swann’s rise is less fascinating than the smaller stories within the story.

However, while the detail can occasionally be tiresome, what distinguishes Delderfield’s writing is the sense of time and place. Set in Victorian England during an eleven-year period, 1857-1866, the story firmly entrenches the reader in the atmosphere. I could easily imagine the little urchins working at the mills or sleeping near the Thames in muddy clothing. I could hear the sounds of horses clomping, harnesses jingling and people shouting, see the pall of smoke and feel the cold and damp, smell the unwashed and impoverished masses. And, the characters were, for the most part, so easy to distinguish that even a week of setting the book aside didn’t cause any trouble with resuming the story.

While I would have happily given up at the beginning because of frustration with the business detail, it improved in the second half. I did think the main character was a bit of a snob and didn’t care for the way he pontificated (he could be condescending and blunt to the point of tactlessness) and looked down his nose at his wife; but, I also understood that the author was trying to show how people were treated during the time period and he got his point across. Overall, an excellent read. There are three books in the Swann series and I would like to read them all.

4/5

Up next: A review of The Red Badge of Courage, which I read entirely off a computer screen. Miserable, yet . . . fulfilling.

And, just to make you smile, a quick anecdote:

Youngster brought home his school photos, earlier this week, and pulled them out of the envelope without actually handing it to me, as if he planned to keep them.
"Mr. H. said he wants one of the big photos of me," he said.
I looked up at him from the futon, perplexed. "The larger photos are for grandparents and parents," I replied very seriously. "Smaller ones are for aunts and uncles and friends."
I should mention that Mr. H. has known kiddo since he was in elementary school, as he was the director of our favorite summer camp. Over the years, the youngster has spent a lot of time telling Mr. H. goofy jokes and they've gotten to know each other pretty well.
But, still. "Why does he want a large photo?" I asked.
Youngster grinned. "Because he needs a new dart board."

This is why I love being a mother.

More later, assuming I can keep the kid off my computer. Apparently, I have a better graphics card than the old clunker we let him use. Darn.