Friday, March 30, 2007

Ten Books I Couldn't Live Without

Kailana has a really great meme going: Ten Books I Couldn't Live Without. For some reason, I just couldn't keep it down to ten when I first started mulling that concept. Then, I had trouble thinking in terms of things I couldn't live without. I'm a little on the zen side; part of me has this vague notion that I could live happily in a monk-like empty space with just a pillow and a rotating supply of books (that part is completely wacko). Turning the idea on its side to come up with favorites that I love so much I've either read them repeatedly or find myself mentioning them repeatedly was a wee bit easier; don't ask me why. I started out with just five and then walked around thinking about others all evening, so if you've been here already and find yourself blinking . . . it's not all in your head; I've altered the post.

Ten Books I Couldn't Live Without:

1. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier - I still recall the oh-my-gosh, heart-pounding moment when everything became clear in Rebecca. Not a single one of the other Daphne DuMaurier books I've read has lived up to the suspense and surprise level of Rebecca, but a few of them have been pretty enjoyable reads.

2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - By far the best book I read in 2006, I was captured from page 1 and have still not stopped thinking about it - I actually envy anyone picking it up to read for the first time. While reading, I could hardly even bear to stop long enough to take notes on favorite quotes or eat. I didn't sleep till I reached the end.

3. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas - I have no idea when I discovered this book but it's among the rare few that I've read several times. I just flipped through my old copy, this afternoon, looking for a favorite moment. No luck finding that favorite little bit of dialogue, but I ended up reading about 40 pages. It's a rare book that is so wonderful you can pick it up and flip to any page - absolutely any page of this book grabs me - and find yourself completely sucked in. Of course, I've read it enough to know the characters pretty well.

4. A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark - Whenever I think of Muriel Spark, I think of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, first. Oddly, I've never gotten around to reading that particular Sparks book, but the movie has stuck with me. A Far Cry From Kensington - a wickedly clever story - is actually the only Spark book I've enjoyed. I happened across my copy when we had a salvage store in town and the remains of a bookstore disaster arrived. When the stock first made it to the store, everything was 60% off retail price and there were rows and rows of books. I spent hours and hours walking around, perusing spines while my little one was in preschool. The books were in no particular order - really, quite chaotic - and as the book stock shrank, the discounts rose. During the final days, when the salvage store stock was down to just a few shelves, the price went to 90% off retail, then 10 cents per book and then . . . oh, my gosh . . . $1.00 per bag. That particular sale was the origin of a good portion of my personal library and I discovered some terrific authors and titles (including Paul Auster) in the process. A Far Cry From Kensington was one of my favorites. Unfortunately, publishers have never quite figured out how to give it an adequate cover. Pink? What are they thinking?

5. Desiree by Annemarie Selinko is another book that has gone through a number of hopelessly awful cover incarnations. And, yet, the book just keeps coming back. My first copy wasn't really mine; I stole it from my mother when I left for college so that I could read it a second, and then a third and fourth time. Every time I came across another copy I'd buy it and pass the extra on to a friend. Eventually, I found a copy with a pretty interesting slipcover in a dusty English bookstore with crooked floors; and, I did ask my mother if she wanted her original back. She just shrugged. So, I sent it to my childhood best friend. Desiree is historical fiction, the story of Napoleon's alleged first love, whom he jilted to marry Josephine. Marlon Brando played Napoleon in the movie version (which I didn't actually know existed until after the fourth reading). I kind of hated the movie.

6. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - Love it, love it, love it. It's witty and fun and how could you not go nuts about Mr. Darcy?

7. The Hitchhikers Trilogy by Douglas Adams - I think people either love this series or hate it. I thought Douglas Adams was a genius. Funny thing about the first time I read the series (at my then-boyfriend's suggestion); in the middle of reading the second book, my boyfriend loaned it to a guy in his office. Ummmm, I was reading that, babe. And, no, whatshisname never gave it back, but I did buy my own.

8. The Return by Daoma Winston - This is a slightly off-beat choice, but it's one of those books that I've gone back to, many times. I think it was my mom's. Poor Mom; when I left, it was like I'd planted magnets in all the good books and took a giant horseshoe magnet . . . so they followed me.

9. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas - excitement, adventure, swashbuckling action, political intrigue . . . cool.

10. My Antonia by Willa Cather, or The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton . . . or anything at all by P.G. Wodehouse, or . . . oh, gosh, it's so hard to narrow down.

In other news . . .

I blew it on the meditation - completely forgot that I needed to read exactly what I was supposed to do in time to begin meditating on a Thursday morning, as recommended. Okay, I can wait a week. I'm already pretty mellow, anyway, so it's no big deal to me. It's very possible that meditating will simply turn me into a happy, pillowy little pudding that jiggles and grins when you poke it. But, we'll find that out next week.

Flowers!! I've got them! Now, if the pollen level will just drop a bit, I'll go out and have fun playing in the dirt. If you look at a pollen map for today in the U.S., you'll see us in the "extremely high" zone, a big red, evil-looking blob. And, trust me, that pollen is every bit as menacing as it looks for those of us who have to carry Epi-pens for completely mysterious reasons (hence, the occasional reference to my desire to move to a "frozen wasteland").

I've been online way too much, today, thanks to Les's mention of, which is just loads of fun. I haven't entirely figured out how to sort songs into favorite playlists, but I have a sneaking suspicion I'll waste plenty more time figuring it out, next week.

Thinking about: The plague of the plastic shopping bag. Since I began seeking out hawks to photograph, I've noticed that there are far more plastic bags than hawks visibly flapping around in the trees. Is this a plague specifically limited to the U.S. or just our area? I can't say. It doesn't seem like we're living in an area where people are keen on recycling. My entire family is, in fact, kind of unusual for our disinterest in super-sized anything and everything. If I ever buy an SUV, just kick me.

Listening to: Layla by Eric Clapton. Oh, yeah. They've got me pegged on this thing.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Wahoo Wednesday Returns

I used to do Wahoo! Wednesday posts all the time, and then I think I went through a week or two (or ten) of blues and let it slide, eventually forgetting the concept completely. But, with people like Jennifer discussing the concept of not complaining (with particular focus on quiet as a virtue) and a book called The Tibetan Art of Positive Thinking in the current-reading pile, I've been thinking about how good it is to focus on the positive. So, with that in mind, I'm returning to an attempt to post about things that I think are worth saying "Wahoo!" about, right now.

1. Purple with green. I just love those two colors, together, in any shade. My son and I were driving away from the library when I spotted the wisteria, at left, on one of the brick posts of The Great Hope Manor on Cherry Street and parked nearby to snap a few photographs. The youngster is remarkably patient for a 15-year-old guy. Incidentally, you can buy Great Hope Manor if you've got roughly $2.9 million lying around.

2. Surprising moments - like suddenly finding the perfect spot where wisteria is hanging over bricks, seeing a wild turkey running beside your car, discovering a new little corner that you've never noticed in the town where you live, finding an interesting use of words in a book (like "banquet of madness", mentioned in the review below). Kiddo and I were just leaving a parking lot when two birds flew overhead. I paused the car because the sight was unusual . . . they weren't the same size or type of birds, but why were they together? As they came closer, my son and I realized that what we were looking at was a crow chasing a hawk and the crow took a little nip at the poor hawk's tail feathers before they disappeared into the trees. It was truly an awesome, unexpected moment.

3. A great musical moment with a total stranger (and he didn't even know). Earlier this week, the three of us were eating out in a fast-food restaurant when a terrific song began playing on the store's speakers. I looked off to the side and saw a fellow shimmying with his shoulders. "That makes two of us that want to get up and dance," I told my husband. We memorized the chorus and I looked up the song, "Respect Yourself", when we returned home. Joe Cocker sang a version of it, but the one we heard was by The Staple Singers. Never heard of them in my life, but what a terrific piece of music. Which makes me grateful for . . .

4. Music clips on the internet. It is so freaking wonderful to be able to look up an album or a song and listen to a little bit, find the artist, check out a singer that friends are raving about. After figuring out who sang the version of "Respect Yourself" that we'd listened to, I decided to check out John Mayer. Les and Andi discussed him recently and I'd seen him in St*r Magazine (which I did not subscribe to; more about that, another time) but never had heard his music. Oh, wow. Oh, wow, oh wow. I've gotta get some of that fellow's music.

And, I also have to get off the computer because the husband is making cute little coughs, occasionally saying, "Same paragraph, same page, two hours." Funny guy. I need sleep, anyway. A good night's sleep is definitely something worth saying "Wahoo!" about.

The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima

Shinji rose to his feet. He was ashamed of himself for the way he had been squatting on the deck until now, practically cowering. The wind came attacking out of the black reaches of the night, striking him full in the body, but to Shinji, accustomed to rough weather in a small fishing-boat, the heaving deck on which his feet were firmly planted was nothing but a stretch of earth that was frankly a bit out of sorts.
He stood listening.
The typhoon was directly above the boy's gallant head. It was as right for Shinji to be invited to a seat at this banquet of madness as to a quiet and natural afternoon nap.

I love the words "banquet of madness". The Sound of Waves is the love story of Shinji, a young fisherman whose income helps support his widowed mother and younger brother Hiroshi, and Hatsue, the daughter of the wealthiest man on their tiny island, Uta-jima.

***Warning: Possible spoiler. Skip this paragraph if you plan to read it, soon. ***

Shinji's fishing income is crucial because his father's death during the last war left the family impoverished; but, he's hard-working, happy, and pleased that his income allows his mother to spend a little less time diving for abalone. Hatsue is a young girl who was adopted out and has returned to the small island village after the death of her only brother, ostensibly as a replacement child. When Shinji first sees Hatsue, he's so overwhelmed by her beauty that he catches himself rudely staring at her and leaves, embarrassed. When Hatsue and Shinji eventually meet and speak, though, their affection is mutual. And when the rich and arrogant Yasuo, whom everyone believes to be Hatsue's suitor, helps spread a vicious rumor about them Shinji and Hatsue must endure both the cruel gossip and her father's enforced separation.

***End possible spoiler warning***

I don't know where I've seen the name "Mishima" discussed in the bloggy world, but it was because of seeing the name mentioned at various blogs that I looked specifically for a Mishima book when we stopped at Border's, brandishing one of those gift cards that are known to burn holes in the pockets of bibliophiles. It was way the heck up there on the top shelf; thank goodness for tall family members. I am so pleased that I found this book and grateful to whoever it is, out there, who mentioned Yukio Mishima! The Sound of Waves is a sweet, gentle romance. The writing alone is worth savoring, but I was particularly thrilled with the innocence of the two characters, the comradeship, easy forgiveness and kindness of the people on Shinji and Hatsue's tiny island home. It's just a lovely, lovely story; even while reading the book, I found myself repeatedly thinking, "I will want to read this one over and over, again."

5/5 - Highly recommended

Coming up . . . a return to Wahoo Wednesdays, an early blogging feature that I sort of forgot I used to do. I like thinking about positive things.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Random Thoughts from the Bathtub Ranch

I'm not actually writing from the Bathtub Ranch, but the idea of sitting in an old bathtub (preferably claw-foot) on a pile of pillows with a laptop on my knees, legs flopping over the side seems like the height of coolness to me. Which only goes to show you just how desperate a person can become, I suppose. I took this photo west of Oxford, MS, as we left town after our trip to visit Rowan Oak, last weekend. I'd been hankering to photograph it for a couple years, but this was the first time the spouse was the one in the driver's seat and both willing and able to pull onto the narrow shoulder. The timing is seldom right; it's a busy road and the shoulder is puny. I had about 5 seconds to snap before he said, "I've got to move," but I thought the photos turned out pretty well.


I'm about 75% finished with The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima and absolutely loving it. Hubby wants my help sticking blue tape along the edges of the hallway wall in preparation for painting trim, but I should finish Mishima tonight and hope to have a review up, tomorrow.

The Tibetan Art of Positive Thinking has been briefly set aside because the author recommends beginning a 28-day cycle of meditation on a particular Thursday in order to end up on a Wednesday. I had to look at the calendar to see if that was really going to work and, sure enough, it is. The concept of waiting till a specific day to meditate briefly gave me giggle fits, but I love positive thinking and I'll give it a whirl. Why not?

Joe Hill's 20th-Century Ghosts is short stories; and, with short-story collections I have a tendency to read one story then set a book aside to let my brain finish playing with the characters and situation for a time before proceeding to the next, so it's going slowly but still progressing. Writing a review will require a lot of thought, but I can tell you that the man (son of Stephen King) has a knack for scaring the crap out of you. If that floats your boat, great. In general, I dodge horror but ghost stories are an exception. So, it's not surprising that my favorite story thus far was exactly that - a ghost in a theater. I loved it; it's still haunting me. Pun intended.

Start Late, Finish Rich has some excellent suggestions. My favorite concept is looking at everything you spend money on, for a time, to see where your "latte money" is going. By "latte money", the author means those little piddly expenditures that add up significantly - like a daily cup of latte. He does some tricky math and I don't always agree with him - seems like, at times, he's deliberately attacking other "save up fast" authors. But, I think with this type of book, you have to use your head and just give and take the principles that work for you as an individual. I stalled on it to finish up some fiction reads but it would be a quick read if I focused.


A character and situation have recently come to me, so I've been taking notes. Apart from two years of NaNoWriMo ( which I "won" - meaning succeeded at reaching 50,000 words - both years), I haven't done much fiction writing in quite a while. So, it's exciting to have a very specific and well-defined character suddenly tackling me; I missed that.

I hear the sound of tape ripping. Better go.

May the tape of your life be lengthy and multi-colored,
Bookfool, waiting to meditate

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Broken Shore by Peter Temple

This one's an Advanced Reader's Copy that I'm reviewing for Estella's Revenge, so I'm not going to post the full review on my blog. Instead, I'll post a link when the next issue of Estella becomes available, in April. However, I'll say a few things:

1. It's an Australian crime novel.
2. Peter Temple is an award-winning author in Australia, but his first American issue was released, says Peter in an interview I located online, "to the sound of one hand clapping." Not an auspicious beginning, but not unusual from what I can tell. Australian books seem to have a hard time kicking open the door to America and sneaking in.
3. The slated release date in the U.S. is June of 2007.
4. Don't let the lousy reception of that first book fool you.

For the uninitiated, there's a glossary of Australian terms in the back, which I can tell you I definitely appreciated. Somewhere around here, I have a dictionary of Australian slang but this particular glossary is focused on the terms used within the book.

Happy Monday!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Spring Reading Thing Challenge

Katrina at Callapidder Days is hosting a spring reading challenge called the Spring Reading Thing. It runs from March 21 - June 21, so I'm a bit late posting; it took me a few days to decide what I wanted to read. Isn't her button unbearably cute? I love the flexibility of this challenge and have chosen four books, each for different reasons.

1. The Moon on a Stick by Valerie-Anne Baglietto - A book that has been tucked away in a cabinet for at least a year.
2. The 10-Minute Life Coach by Fiona Harrold - Read halfway, last year, and abandoned it (not deliberately; I just became preoccupied).
3. Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov - Read 64 pages, put it down somewhere and it disappeared for months.
4. The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost - to see what all the fuss is about.

This may be the only new challenge I join; I haven't decided quite yet. Several other challenges appeal to me, but I think limiting the number of challenges I participate in works a little better for me.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

March has brought an end to the rain. The sky is raw now, a screeching blue between fast-moving clouds, and a sharpening wind has risen during the night, gusting in corners, rattling windows. The church bells ring wildly as if they too have caught a little of this sudden change. The weathervane turn-turns against the wheeling sky, its rusty voice rising shrilly.

Chocolat tells the story of Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk. A single mother and a drifter, Vianne arrives in Lansquanet-sous-Tannes during a carnival, drawn by the wind. She and her daughter open a chocolate shop in a former bakery and take up residence in the rooms above. Across from the chocolate shop, La Praline, is the village church, and Vianne's tempting shop angers the the local priest, Reynaud. How dare she tempt the villagers during the season of Lent? When Vianne decides to hold a chocolate carnival on Easter Sunday, Reynaud decides he must do his best to run her out of town. But, Vianne's shop and her touch of magic coax many of the locals to give in to happiness and their newfound strength may be too much for the father to fight.

I couldn't find an image of decent size, so I plunked my copy of Chocolat on our ugly old couch (we keep moving it closer and closer to our front door in the hope, I think, that one of us will suddenly invite a charity to haul it off) and photographed it. I just love that cover; I'd like to dive right into the photograph and walk the streets of France.

The book, though? Hmm, I don't know. This is another one I had mixed feelings about. Beautiful prose, achingly detailed descriptions that sometimes made me salivate (the candy, not the thought of Johnny Depp as Roux - okay, kidding), spirited and three-dimensional characters . . . there's a lot to love about Chocolat. I love Armande, the carefree woman about to turn 80 who chooses to defy her uptight daughter by wearing a bright red, silk slip and secretly meeting her grandson, Luc, in the shop. Guillaume is another lovely character, whose spirit rises with the help of Vianne and Armande after the loss of his beloved pet. Every character is believable and resonates, in some way, with a touch of familiarity; they're utterly believable.

What did I not like? Again, I'm not certain, but I'd say it might have to do with a feeling of negativity pulsing through the book - that toward organized religion. Vianne is a witch and this is reflected in the sachets she posts on the door frames, the way she forks her fingers to ward off evil. She's a good person and the priest is basically evil; he's the leader of a church for all the wrong reasons, justifies his actions regardless of how terrible they are and turns his personal vendetta into a church issue. There are plenty of pompous, self-righteous church leaders, no doubt; but it just seemed to me that the story was, in part, a castigation of Christianity and that didn't set well with me. They were both fighting their own personal demons; that I liked. The lengthy descriptions of various candies also were a bit tiresome. I'm impatient with an overload of detail, at least at this point in my life; that hasn't always been true.

I actually enjoyed the movie a bit more than the book, in many ways, as I thought the movie had a slightly lighter touch and more of a humorous spin. And, of course, it had Johnny Depp. I could only imagine him while reading the book and I had to keep mentally changing his hair color; red just doesn't suit him, in my mind. I can't remember if his hair is red in the movie, as it is in the book.

Since I liked the characters so much and thought Harris's prose was lovely, I feel compelled to give it an above-average rating and I will definitely read this author, again.


This is my 11th TBR book. So far, I've read the following from my stacks, this year:

The Nazi Officer's Wife - Elizabeth Hahn Beer
Summer of My German Soldier - Bette Greene
God is an Englishman - R. F. Delderfield (also a chunkster)
The Red Badge of Courage - Stephen Crane
The African Queen - C. S. Forester
The Captain and The Enemy - Graham Greene
Firehouse - David Halberstam
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll
First Light - Geoffrey Wellum
Stormbreaker - Anthony Horowitz
and, of course, Chocolat - Joanne Harris

11 down, 1 to go! Hope everyone's having a lovely weekend!

Bookfool, off for a nice soak in the tub

Good grief!! More books? Are you kidding?

My mother would have a cow if she saw what I brought home, this week. All but two of these books came from our library's perpetual sale and I paid $3.00 total, for those. The two which arrived in the mail, via Paperback Swap, are The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale and The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco. Not pictured is The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman, which arrived yesterday. The Goose Girl and The Mysterious Flame, etc. were placed on my wish list after reading positive reviews at favorite blogs; and, in both cases I had to stop myself from buying them outright. Book cravings, that's what they are. You hear about a fantastic book that swept someone away and you desire it like a dessert, the smell wafting from a restaurant door. Well, at least that's true of me. Can anyone relate?

If I was this weak around sweet stuff, I'd weigh 400 pounds. It may be time to go on a book diet.

Friday, March 23, 2007


Upon waking up (extremely late, with what my old boss used to refer to as a "screaming headache"), I discovered that I somehow managed to not enable comments on my Thinking Blogger post. Thanks to Les and Wendy for drawing that to my attention.

I love this photo from Walter S. Arnold's website. It expresses that "yikes" feeling so well, doesn't it? Many thanks to Walter (the sculptor) for granting permission to use this photo.

Coming up when I can focus, again:

*A review of Chocolat
*New challenge lists

I've been attempting to change my sidebar challenge buttons and links, but I think maybe it's not a great idea to attempt to make HTML changes with a migraine pounding away, so I'll quit for now. However, I hope to join in on the Spring Reading Thing and the Nonfiction Five and I can't remember what else. And, I need to put up a link to Estella's Revenge but my brain can't wrap around how to put up a button that actually links to a place. Later, later. Have a great day, everyone. I'm off to close my eyes.

Bookfool in agony

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

It's too nice to stay indoors . . .

It's been gorgeous outside, so I can't seem to sit still or stay indoors for long and I'm falling behind on reading and posting - or, it feels like I am. Here are a few recent photographs I hope you'll all enjoy! Top to bottom: a store counter in Jackson, MS; the coolest dog I've ever met, a border collie named Huckleberry (waiting for my son to toss his "flippy flopper" on the grounds of Faulkner's Rowan Oak estate); a dandelion photo taken in my backyard, this afternoon; store kitty Mamasita in the window of Off-Square Books in Oxford, MS.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Recent Acquisitions

No wonder we seem to be running out of living space. Here are some of my recent acquisitions - not all, mind you, but some. First, books sent by friends, found in the library sale corner and ordered from Paperback Swap:

Possession, a library sale find, looks fresh off the shelf and Joe, by Mississippi author Larry Brown, is a first edition. God rest Larry Brown. Friend Barbara (also known as the "Book Fairy") sent the shopaholic book, Wilderness Tips by Margaret Atwood and Pretty Bad by Shirley Jump. Friend Tammy sent Queen of Babble. Night Fighter is just one of about 6 recent acquisitions from Paperback Swap (I may have to add another photo, later) and is yet another war memoir. I've really been enjoying the war memoirs.

Next, books purchased using gift cards or with actual currency:

And, now that I look at this stack, I remember a few more. Sigh. I'm really that bad. Last Days of Summer and Hemingway Goes to War were purchased at Off-Square Books in Oxford, MS. Get Out of that Pit by Beth Moore came from Sam's Club. I got several books from Sam's, so I'll dig the camera out, again, later. Bad Bookfool, bad, bad!

Aloft by Chang-rae Lee, The Sound of Waves by Mishima, The Tenth Man by Graham Greene, Alas Babylon by Pat Frank, Howard's End by C. S. Forester and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo by Capt. Ted W. Lawson (yes, another war memoir) were purchased with gift cards. 20th-Century Ghosts by Joe Hill was ordered from a small press in England.

Thanks to Nat for the reminder to post photographs (and take them in the first place)!!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Coffee, Tea or Me? by Trudy Baker and Rachel Jones

Coffee, Tea or Me? The Uninhibited Memoirs of Two Airline Stewardesses is a reprint of the 30-year-old memoir of two stewardesses(now known, of course, as flight attendants). The book was actually ghost-written by a fellow named Donald Bain; he must have had a great time listening to those two ladies.

The tales are told first-person, through the eyes of Trudy Baker. "Trudy Baker" and "Rachel Jones" are pseudonyms and the airline they worked for is not mentioned by name. In fact, I searched online and couldn't find any information, whatsoever, about their true identities. I'd have thought the two would have been unmasked, by now. Interesting.

Trudy and Rachel's tale begins with a little background: Trudy's desire to see the world and escape from her small-town Texas life followed by a similar but shorter bit about Rachel. Trudy and Rachel were roommates at stewardess training school and became fast friends practically from the moment they met. In spite of their reputation as trouble-makers, they also managed to end up flying together once their training ended.

Originally printed in 1967, the book now serves as an excellent lesson in social change. Anyone remember the concept of "swinging"? Think "nice word for sleeping around". How about dressing nicely to travel? Remember a time when all flight attendantss were pretty and unfailingly friendly? If you can remember the days when flight attendants never frowned, you're really old. Sorry. Kidding, kidding, just kidding. At least, I think I am. It's certainly true that American women would not tolerate the kind of restrictions Trudy and Rachel experienced. "Call a woman too fat to employ in 2007 and they'll sue the pants off you," is the thought that crossed my mind as I read about Rachel doing calisthenics in a hotel room.

Trudy and Rachel's story simply could not occur, in our day; and, that's what makes it so fascinating. When they became stewardesses (or "stews"), women were hired for their looks and even a pound or two of weight gain was grounds for suspension. They had to be single and pregnancy was verboten. Training packets contained cosmetics, certain men known as "stew bums" went out of their way to hang out with stewardesses, troublesome passengers were the exception and air rage didn't exist. The book is not overly graphic or detailed about their exploits, but it was pretty racy at the time of its release; and, even now, it's a little strange to read about the drunken parties and the litany of lovers from a variety of countries and professions.

Coffee, Tea or Me? is an enjoyable and entertaining memoir--not a work of literature, by any means, but definitely worth reading if only for the glimpse into the past. There was never a point at which I laughed out loud, but I did smile at some of their antics.


Coming up: Kid goes back to school; husband returns to work. Oh, wow, I cannot tell you how anxious I am for Monday. This week was Spring Break for the kiddo and hubby took off all but one day. Kiddo got his learner's permit after eight failed attempts to gather all the correct papers and arrive at the driver's license bureau at the proper time; and, hubby bustled around the house, mostly removing doors from their hinges (???why???) and threatening to paint them. He managed to paint one side of the front door and I've been advised that, "You have to push it a little." I must have given him a really funny look because he defended the door. "It's not the door, it's the weather stripping," says he.

And, of course, there was that deal with our beloved kitty cat. Sunshine is looking perkier every day. Actually, she's looking a little expensive, also. Sunshine asked me to pass a kiss along to everyone who sent good wishes. And, of course, I said, "Gross, I'm not going to lick all those people." Yes, I'm joking, again. She'd give all of you a love rub, if you dropped by, though.

We took a drive up to Oxford, MS to see Faulkner's home - up Friday night and back on Saturday (just in time to pill the cat - what fun!). Thanks to Andi for the excuse. Now, I've got to sit down and write up an article about Oxford's bookish atmosphere for Estella's Revenge. Okay, I wrote it down so I can't get out of it. Someone kick me if I don't sit down the moment the guys leave the house.

Also coming up: Thinking Blogger post. Not that I've had time to think about who to nominate, with my husband going around unhinging the house. I haven't forgotten, though, that it's my turn to nominate.

Remind me to take a photo of: the treasures I've acquired during the past couple of weeks. I had a little too much fun with the gift cards, I'm afraid.

Gotta quit because: I'm getting glared at and the spouse claims it's his turn on the computer. What he doesn't realize is that I must grant him a turn. Silly man. Guess I'll go read.

Bookfool in search of a 48-hour clock.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sunshine is home!!

Just a note to let everyone know our Sunshine is back in the house and on antibiotics. She has a very treatable infection; she's actually even a little perkier, already. Wahoo! While it's possible she also has some early signs of diabetes, she'll only need to be monitored, occasionally, to see what's up with her blood sugar (at least for the time being). Squillions of thanks and hugs to all who sent prayers and wishes for Sunshine!!!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

That Summer by Sarah Dessen

This has been an emotional day, so I'm going to keep the book review as short and sweet as possible (bearing in mind that brevity is not my strong suit). In fact, I made the mistake of returning this book to the library before writing the review, which effectively prevents me from looking up some pertinent info. Oopsy. I guess that's one of the pitfalls of borrowing rather than owning.

Actually, I don't have much to say about That Summer. I read the book mainly because I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed Someone Like You, also by Sarah Dessen (see my review here). I followed up the reading with a viewing of the movie How to Deal, which was based on a combination of characters and plotlines from That Summer and Someone Like You. The movie was surprisingly enjoyable, particularly considering the fact that it lumped two stories together. Halley of Someone Like You takes on the divorced mother and soon-to-be-wed sister of That Summer, as well as a different last name in How to Deal. I had to wonder why on earth anyone would choose to combine two novels in such a way.

Having read That Summer, I understand. That Summer is, in a word, weak. As I read the book, I repeatedly found myself wondering, "What's the point? Where on earth is she headed?" Because, frankly, nothing seemed to be happening. And, in the end, there was a bit of cliched (if there's a way to add an accent to this word, someone inform me) revelation about life but still . . . nothing really happened. The most interesting character was peripheral (Haven's sister's former boyfriend) and the summer referred to in the title was a memory that Haven had to learn to let go of. That's about it. It took me a full hundred pages to figure out that, yes, the author really was referring to a summer of several years past.

As a kindness to the author, I should mention that I seldom enjoy reading a second book by the same author within a short time-span of reading a first. I routinely latch onto similarities and become annoyed by them. For example, Sarah Dessen's male characters have a tendency to drive cars that make distinctive noises and hesitate as they pass the houses of their girlfriends. Had I spaced out the reading of the two books by a few months, I might not have noticed minor quirks that the author regurgitated in two separate novels. But, I desired to puzzle out the how and why of the decision to combine the two books into a movie and there you have it. Some of us are simply plagued with the distressing habit of zooming in on detail.

What I enjoyed about the book was the fact that the author has, in my humble opinion, the ability to crawl into the head of a teenager and treat the issues that are major and life-altering, at that particular time of life, with honesty. My experience was completely different from that of Halley or Haven, but I remember the feelings of confusion and angst, how even minor things seemed magnified, those distressing emotional swings that accompany the strange half-life between childhood and adulthood. I think that's Sarah Dessen's greatest strength.

Unfortunately, the book just didn't work for me and I wouldn't feel right recommending it because it was simply too flat and lifeless.


Many thanks to both Andi and Les for nominating this blog for a Thinking Blogger Award. I'll have to do some pondering (and blog-hopping - oh, torture me) in order to come up with five blogs that haven't already been tagged. Post forthcoming, but please be patient with me.

We're all stressed because Sunshine, our 12-year-old orange tabby furbaby is not well. She's at the pet hospital for tests and hopefully we'll know more about what's going on and whether her current condition is treatable by morning. Sunshine (aka "Miss Shiny") is our puppy cat - extraordinarily companionable and smart. Till recently, she followed me from room to room and settled nearby, took nightly drinks from the bathtub and informed me if the water was too hot or too cold for her liking. She was an imp as a kitten but has mellowed to perfection with age. This past week, Sunshine's minor limp became more pronounced and she has been sluggish to the point of not bothering to eat. I feel much like I felt when I had a sick human baby . . . so helpless. I just love that cat.

Also thinking about . . . snow. It's hard to grasp the fact that elsewhere in the United States a blizzard was occurring while I was in the process of catching and releasing the first wayward red wasp of the season. Incidentally, my catch-and-release method has a two-fold origin:
1. I figure they really just want out or the wasps wouldn't gravitate toward windows and then buzz around the glass in frustration;
2. Wasps don't become quite as angry when you're not trying to bash them to death.

Off to indulge in my favorite healing remedy: a nice soak in a tub full of great-smelling stuff.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

To Hell and Back by Audie Murphy

The heat of summer has passed, and a sharpness is in the air. It is October. When we pause on our marches, Novak gazes over the earth, sniffing strangely. He must be thinking of the season and harvest. He grew up on a farm in Poland and has a feeling for land.
In his squat, gnarled body, one can see the record of toil. His knotted muscles bulge through his clothes. The long, hairy arms dangle like an ape's; the hands are large and calloused. In his eyes is a strange, broken light which heightens the habitual sadness in his features.
We all like him. He is a top-notch soldier, seldom complaining and fearing little. He has a great love for coffee and cigarettes, of which he can never get enough. They must have been scarce items in his former days. . . . To him all Germans, dead, living, or wounded, fall into one class: "Sonsabeeches." He hates them personally and passionately.

Snuffy is drunk. Reeling through the mud, he sings, "Glory, glory, hallelujah, for I am marchin' on." His voice is about as musical as a crow's.
"That guy claims to've been a bootlegger," snorts Kerrigan. "Be like a rabbit running a lettuce market."

At dusk, we halt in a grove, with orders to dig in. Novak's prowling eyes discover a strawstack.
"We sleep tonight like a hotel," he says. "Soft like a goose feather."
"Yeah. Complete with running water."
"We fix that too. You wait."
As we load our arms with straw, voices sound on the opposite side of the stack, but we pay no attention to them. There's plenty of straw for us all.
"We make a roof too. Weave. I show you. We get dry, you betcha."
"We'd better get some sack-time in tonight. Tomorrow things are liable to start popping."
"Sure. We get it easy too long."
As we prepare to leave, two straw-laden figures round the stack.
"You build a cover too. Is easy. You weave," says Novak.
"Gott im Himmel."
For an instant, the four of us stand stupidly sharing a mutual paralysis of surprise. Then, still clutching our straw, we take off.
If those two Germans ran any faster than we, they must have broken some track records.

A sergeant in the first platoon senses the predicament. If his men are isolated, they will likely be destroyed. He makes his decision quickly. Motioning his men to follow, he rises and with a submachine gun charges head-on toward one of the enemy positions two hundred yards away.
On the flat, coverless terrain, his body is a perfect target. A blast of automatic fire knocks him down. He springs to his feet with a bleeding shoulder and continues his charge. The guns rattle. Again he goes down.
Fascinated, we watch as he gets up for the third time and dashes straight into the enemy fire. The Germans throw everything they have at him. He falls to the earth; and when he again pulls himself to his feet, we see that his right arm is shattered. But wedging his gun in his left armpit, he continues firing and staggers forward. Ten horrified Germans throw down their guns and yell, "Kamerad."
That is all I see. But later I learn that the sergeant, ignoring the pleas of his men to get under cover and wait for medical attention, charged the second enemy strongpoint. By sheer guts, he advanced sixty yards before being stopped by a final concentration of enemy fire. He reeled, then tottered forward another few yards before falling.
Inspired by his valor and half-insane with rage, his men took over, stormed the kraut emplacement, and captured it. When they returned to their leader, he was dead.
This was how Lutsky, the sergeant, helped buy the freedom that we cherish and abuse."

The Germans turn mortar fire upon the beach. Our men leave the brush and race across the meadows to the vineyards. A shell hits a barn; and from it emerges a Frenchman leading a frightened cow by a rope. A second shell lands in the area. The bellowing cow jumps and starts running, dragging the Frenchman behind her.
"Put a saddle on her," shouts a soldier.
"Give her a flying tackle," another advises.
"Milk her on the run," yells a third.

To Hell and Back by Audie Murphy is subtitled "The classic memoir of World War II by America's most decorated soldier." You would never know Murphy was so heavily decorated by reading the book, though (apart from its obvious cover photo), and after perusing various websites I understand why. Audie Murphy was notorious not only for bravery during his time as a U.S. Army infantryman on the front lines in Africa, Italy, and France, but also for his modesty. Wikipedia has an excellent bio of Audie Murphy. Careful reading that bio if you plan to read the book, though, as it might spoil a few details.

As to the book itself, To Hell and Back is utterly amazing. From the quotes above, you can see that Murphy described the people and events in the manner of a seasoned raconteur. As in First Light, the story of a British RAF officer that I reviewed here, the entire book is told in a way that makes the reader feel like s/he was there. And, yet, the circumstances - the baking heat and freezing cold, shells and tracer bullets flying overhead whilst dug into a foxhole that quickly turned to mud (often pinned down for days, waiting for reinforcements), hunger, fear, thirst, endless days and nights of attacking the enemy and then not being able to sleep for the noise of the falling shells, the sights of death and maiming - were so extreme that one can't help but sit back and look around. What a nice warm house and a full stomach I had while reading this book. How incredibly quiet it was, with the pleasant hum of electricity and the only annoyance a three-legged neighborhood dog that seemingly never stops barking. I couldn't help but think about a dog's barking in comparison with the sound of bombs falling all around.

Because Audie Murphy described the people in the 3rd Infantry Division --their conversations, the often-morbid humor and individual quirks, their plans for the future--the reader comes to know each character so well that as they slowly die off (because he was on the front lines, almost nobody he knew for long survived), their losses become almost personal. I grew to love the men he served with and to cringe or even wipe away tears when favorites died.

Murphy's various heroic acts were described without skimping on true emotion but devoid of any hint of arrogance. When he was faced with danger, he was afraid and admitted it. But, he desired to fight to defend his country and, as he got to know his fellow soldiers, couldn't bear to leave his own men. Several times, he was knocked down by attacks of malaria and simply kept going until he collapsed. In a land where people often come close to knocking you off the road with their monstrous SUVs while talking on cell phones, it's hard to believe such a man ever existed. " . . . the freedom that we cherish and abuse." It's worth pondering. Apart from the fact that this book would probably be banned in schools due to descriptions of what some of the men did during the extremely rare days of leave time (involving women and STDs), the book should be required reading, in my humble opinion.

To Hell and Back is an exceptional story of courage, common sense, wit, survival, and comradeship. This one goes on the good shelves. Highly recommended.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Raspberries to Bookfool

I've been blog-hopping and I'm noticing some gaps on my list of links. Although I don't expect everyone to come running to my blog to say, "Hey, you missed me!", if you see that I've left you off my links (particularly if your blog happens to be one of those that is linked up to mine), would you please let me know? I don't want to leave anyone out - or miss anything wonderful.

That's my youngest at left, btw. Isn't he handsome? He doesn't like having his picture taken, so I get a lot of photos of his palm.

Crystal Line by Anne McCaffrey - DNF

I don't give up on books very often, although I frequently set them aside and return to them. Crystal Line, however, appears to be one I'm willing to give up on. It's the third in a series and I haven't read the first two. Normally, I can enter a series in the middle or at the end without trouble. Crystal Line, however, doesn't stand on its own well. There are too many things that I've been trying to understand for 100 pages and I don't want to try to unravel the meaning, anymore. With 200 pages to go and seemingly little happening (although there's a lot of talk about crystal - I'm actually really tired of the word "crystal", at this point), I've decided to abandon the book. If I decide to pick it up, again, and hack through it I'll just post a review, later; but, I think that's unlikely. Instead, I may search for a different McCaffrey title because she's new to me and sci-fi-loving friends highly recommend her.

And, about that robot I mentioned in this morning's early post . . . The spouse travels almost every week, as I may have mentioned. Usually, he warns me well in advance and I'm not particularly pleasant about his travel because it's been going on for almost our entire married life (with the exception of our early married days, when we were still at Oklahoma State University). Sometimes, he'll just spring the news on me at the last minute, as in: "Oh, by the way, I'm leaving for Timbuktu, tomorrow."

On Monday, I found out hubby was traveling via a completely different method: robotic phone call. When Delta called to confirm the spouse's first-class upgrade, he was home for lunch. I turned to him, as the robotic voice babbled in my ear, and told him the Delta robot was calling to inform me that he hadn't bothered to tell me he was flying somewhere and where are you going, you shameful husband? With a guilty grin, he told me he was leaving in the morning for Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He has not heard the end of this. When hubby called home, yesterday, I answered the phone, "Delta robot. Your wife is unavailable; please leave a message." Yes, he laughed.

It's a good thing my husband and I like each other.

Off to read because the pollen is killing me and otherwise I'd just curl up and sleep off the sneezies . . .

Grizzly Maze packs its bags

Because my review was uncommonly lengthy, I've moved the review of The Grizzly Maze here (January 1). Please feel free to jog over and read or comment. I have the feeling that many people who visit my blog would be disinterested in this book because it's such a sad and gruesome true story.

The gist of the review: I read The Grizzly Maze mainly because I wanted to read something by Alaska resident Nick Jans. The writing was a good, thorough assessment of the terrible deaths of two people who were killed by bears, which looked at the questions about the situation from all angles; and the author did a solid job of staying neutral with only a tiny bit of slant showing through. Because I had mixed feelings and felt the author didn't deserve a low rating but I would probably give it one merely because I shouldn't have read it, being a wimp, I chose not to rate it.

Coming up: a brief comment on my first deliberate DNF of the year and the story of the robot that gave a secret away.

Also, I should mention that there are two comments in limbo in my little bloggy world. Every time I go to my dashboard, 2 comments show need for approval (it was 1, until yesterday), but they don't appear at all when I click on the link to the comments. So, Blogger is apparently contemplating them but hasn't digested them, just yet. If you've posted and a message has not shown up, please give it another try. I'm not rejecting any comments.

Later . . .

Monday, March 05, 2007

Break from book talk

I've just been flipping through my eldest son's photos, taken in France on the former girlfriend's camera, and I just loved this one so I thought I'd share it. He traveled with his girlfriend's family to scope out a location for her year of overseas study in May of 2006. Lucky kid.

Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen

Someone Like You was another of those books that I didn't expect to read; it simply ended up being the right book at the right time. I found it while we were in Oxford, MS attending the state swim meet, which my youngster was participating in. While browsing in Off-Square Books, I came across Someone Like You and it looked like a terrific read. I love young adult (YA) books, in part because they tend to be excellent for breaking reading slumps and often address issues of importance from a unique (teenage) perspective. It's been quite a few years since I was a student and had to deal with all the stresses of assignments combined with parental and teacher authority and the wacky social dynamics of school. Being a young person with a circle of friends and unique challenges of the educational environment is a world all its own. But, as older folks with bills know, it was a simpler life in many ways and can be enjoyable to reflect back upon.

Today's issues are much the same as those we dealt with, but more complex. In Someone Like You, Halley Cooke has quite a few things going on in her life. Her best friend, Scarlett, calls her home from camp with the news that Scarlett's boyfriend, Michael, died in a motorcycle accident. She needs Halley's help to get through the funeral and the shock, in general, of losing Michael. Scarlett has a mother who needs to be mothered, herself; and, Scarlett is very grown-up for her age. But, her wall of strength has understandably collapsed. When Scarlett finds out she's expecting Michael's baby, Halley is there for her as she decides whether to keep the child, abort, or give it up for adoption.

Meanwhile, Halley must deal with a psychologist mother who doesn't want to let her make her own decisions and a radio-personality father who is somewhat embarrassing. They're busy people but when they show up, inevitably Halley gets in trouble. Although Halley doesn't set out to cause problems, she simply needs to push the boundaries in order to understand herself. Michael's best friend becomes a part of stretching her horizons when he takes interest in her. Macon Faulkner is a typical bad-boy type. When he makes it to school, he spends a good portion of his time in the counselor's office. When Macon begins to flirt with Halley, she's flattered. And, gradually, she begins to wonder if it's true love.

There are loads of relevant issues in Someone Like You: dealing with the hassles of a screwed-up school schedule, annoying classmates, first love, drinking and how it can alter judgment, whether or not to sleep with a boyfriend (whether he loves you or not), forgiveness, loss, and the sticky issue of pregnancy at 16. There are plenty of light and witty moments, but the book takes the characters and their issues seriously.

Again, there were no overwhelmingly wonderful passages (apart from a very fun scene in which Macon describes the Jedi Mind Trick he uses to get out of trouble), but I enjoyed the book and appreciated the fact that the author gave each character a strong individuality, a sense of humor, and an ability to make intelligent decisions. I can see why a friend who teaches has told me that her students gobble up Sarah Dessen's books.

Someone Like You and another of Sarah Dessen's books, That Summer, were combined to make the movie How to Deal. I was curious how screenwriters managed to combine two books with different characters and issues, so I watched the movie and then flipped through That Summer (which I currently have checked out from the library but have not begun to read). It's all rather fascinating. For purposes of movie-making, Scarlett's role was downplayed a bit and the bits taken from That Summer seemingly were designed to funnel the movie's theme to a single, streamlined question: Is there really any such thing as lasting love? I'll have to read That Summer in order to gain a full grasp of the combination of two stories.

I enjoyed Someone Like You. While in Oxford, I was so tired that I couldn't concentrate on any of the books I carried with me and Someone Like You sucked me right in. It's a smooth read with relevant issues and welcome moments of levity.


Friday, March 02, 2007

Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

There's a strange, twisted reasoning behind the reading of this book. My son has read 5 of the 6 books in the Alex Rider series; and, he and the hubby bought me the movie as a gift (obviously, youngest may have had an ulterior motive). Youngest tried to convince me to read the books but I hesitated, a while back.

As to the movie, I have to admit that I was completely put off by the pretty boy who was chosen to play Alex Rider. When I first watched the movie, it was almost as if I was looking for things to criticize because I get so darn tired of all the gorgeous people. I want to see humans on-screen, not surgically altered or genetically perfect beings. Not that I don't like looking at good-looking men; but, skill and the ability to transform oneself into a character is more important to me than looking at another pretty face. However, I did enjoy the storyline and thought the movie was entertaining. I love lots of action.

Fast-forward to February and a marathon laundry-and-mini-series session. After watching The Forsyte Saga I was so impressed by two of the actors, Rupert Graves and Damien Lewis, that I looked up their bios to locate other productions in which I could view their work. I particularly desired to see Damien Lewis playing a character who was not so despicable as Soames Forsyte. As it turned out, Lewis is in Band of Brothers (which I'd like to see) and Stormbreaker (which, of course, I own). He played the Russian mercenary in Stormbreaker. Oh! I vaguely remembered the Russian. But, I didn't want to watch the movie, just to see Damien Lewis, if I could read the book first.

See, I told you it was all rather twisted.

Stormbreaker is a quick and adventurous young adult read, the story of a 14-year-old boy (Alex) whose uncle, Ian Rider, dies in a tragic accident. Or, so it seems. But, when Alex traces Uncle Ian's car to a wrecking service and sees the bullet holes, he realizes the police and the "bankers" Ian Rider worked for have been lying to him. Ian was, in fact, a spy for MI6 - Britain's top intelligence agency. When Alex is recruited to complete his uncle's mission, he finds himself in the same deadly situation as his uncle. Can he stop the wealthy man who is plotting lethal revenge upon his adopted country?

Okay, first of all, the book is far-fetched. But, what is the purpose of a novel in which a 14-year-old boy--trained in martial arts, climbing, diving, and foreign languages with the possible intent of following in his uncle's footsteps-- serves as hero, working undercover to foil a sinister plot? Obviously, action and entertainment is the objective. And, far-fetched or not, Anthony Horowitz knows how to pack in the action and humor. Personally, I have less trouble suspending disbelief when I know a book is designed with the intent to simply entertain and the author doesn't take himself too seriously. My impression was that Horowitz set out to write an action-packed book in which a teenage hero deals with some serious issues, shows his intelligence and capability, and triumphs over evil. Well, then, he succeeded.

I followed the book with a repeat of the movie and there were some differences, of course; but, I enjoyed knowing the background of the characters, recognizing the changes, and just being carried away in a silly but exciting story. Unfortunately, Damien Lewis had a fairly small part and, again, played a nasty man. Darn.

There was not a single passage which made me scramble to write down a page number or mark a quote; but, I'm rating the book high for entertainment value.


Coming up: Reviews of Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen and The Grizzly Maze by Nick Jans.

I'm floating between reads, at this point. Nothing seems to be grabbing me at all, so I'll thumb through some more books and hope I find the right one, tonight. We shall see.